DI Summers had a feeling of déjà vu as he looked down at the wallet. Close by, the expected pool of blood seemed to accuse the detective of inefficiency. This is what happens, it seemed to say, when you don’t do your job. But when you have bodies, both living and dead, disappear, and no clear suspect to confront, how was he to do his job? Maybe Picasso had got it right. The universe went round and round, but that didn’t mean it had to make sense. And none of this was making sense. Unless it really WAS the ghost of Jack Thomas, taking revenge on the family that burned him to death.
Summers shook his head vigorously, banishing such thoughts from his mind. He imagined them flying off in all directions, but was shocked to imagine them bouncing off the walls in the street and shooting straight back through his ear. Then another thought came to him as he looked at the butcher’s shop. No, ridiculous, he thought. But maybe he should have tests done on the pies.
Dale Crawford had problems of his own, although he realized that they had been halved. Julia had turned from a nightmare to a dream, but Bobby was a different matter. Fighting the hangover that threatened to ruin his day, he realized it was time for confrontation.
‘You’re being bullied, aren’t you?’ he said over breakfast.
Bobby looked shifty, made more so by his squinty eye. ‘Err … define bullying,’ he replied.
‘Don’t mess me about, Bobby. Yesterday was no accident.’
‘That depends,’ said the boy.
‘On whether it was meant.’
‘You’re not making sense.’
Bobby sighed. He leant forward; adopted a philosophical air. ‘You see, dad, let’s suppose – hypoteticly – that I WAS being bullied.’ He paused for confirmation.
‘And let’s suppose it had been going on for some time.’
‘And they had been very careful not to go too far.’
‘And suddenly they go too far.’
‘Then you could say they didn’t mean to go too far.’
‘Which means it was an accident.’
Dale Crawford couldn’t help but smile at the logic. He was also aware, now, that kids didn’t confide in their parents over such matters. He couldn’t remember which pint had brought that conclusion, but he realized he was getting nowhere regarding his son accepting it. Perhaps, he realized, the best he could do was arm him.
‘You do realize bullies are weak, don’t you Bobby?’ he said.
Bobby thought of the pain. ‘That so?’ he replied, sceptically.
‘That’s so,’ said Dale. ‘They’ve got a crap life themselves so they have to make sure others have a crap life too.’
‘And your point is …’
‘My point is, you don’t have to put up with it. If you won’t talk about it, then stand up for yourself. Show them, once, that you won’t take it, and they’ll leave you alone.’
‘It’s as easy as that, is it?’
‘I’ll tell my friend.’
‘You do that.’
Rachel Hollis had had a terrible night, and the day was already turning into a terrible day. It had begun when DI Summers had banged on the door. ‘Can I come in?’ he had said.
Rachel looked him up and down. She soon discounted him as a future conquest. Was she becoming that desperate? ‘If you must,’ she had said.
‘Is your uncle in?’
‘Can I see him?’
Summers was shown into the Old Man’s study. The Old Man stood there, in shock. A tear seemed to fall from his eye. ‘My entire family has been wiped out,’ he said.
‘Gee, thanks,’ said Rachel.
He ignored her. ‘And you seem to be doing nothing about it.’
Summers seemed edgy. ‘I’m trying my best.’
‘Your best isn’t good enough.’
‘But we don’t know they’re dead.’
‘That’s the point, inspector, you don’t know anything.’ Which was, indeed, the point. ‘And at this moment, I don’t really want to see you.’
Summers made a diplomatic retreat. It was not the time. The Old Man sat down, then.
Rachel said: ‘So I’m not even part of the family, aren’t I?’
The Old Man raised his head, stared nonchalantly into her eyes. Said: ‘Go away.’
DI Summers found himself sat on a bench by the corner of the street. He had a good view of the crime scenes from this position, but more than this, he found himself able to think. And what he was thinking was not nice.
Why do I even bother, he thought. Here I am, at the junction of my life. I’m no longer young, and I get a case like this. Maybe I should just give up and retire; go off and see the world, leave crime way behind and have a life. Then he corrected himself. This was not the time for him to descend into a mid-life crisis. But that yearning deep inside would not go away.
As for Rachel Hollis, she was having an early-life crisis. She stormed out of the house, wiping away the tear that threatened to flow. Stop it, you stupid girl, she thought, I’m harder than this. And when life gets to you, you get even.
Vernie James came out of his house at that moment. The scowl on Rachel’s face suddenly changed. Holding her shoulders high, she walked over to him. Said: ‘I thought you ought to know. Your wife is having an affair with Dale Crawford.’
Thadias Grimes was no better off, psychologically, than DI Summers. For so many years his life had been ordered. He’d had problems in the past – nightmares of that night when he …
… no, better not to dwell.
But he’d gotten over that; got his life together; got his own butcher’s shop. Cut joints, made pies. The best pies in the world.
His own tears wanted to flow now. His business – his very life – was in danger. Forces bigger than himself wanted his shop; wanted to knock it down; wanted to build God knows what.
For how long could he fight?
For how long could he hold out?
‘You’ve got to help me,’ he said as DI Summers entered the shop. He just bounded over, his massive bulk bearing down on the detective, his arms held out in welcome.
Summers stepped back, shocked. Thadias realized he still held the meat cleaver in his frantically beckoning hand. He dropped it to the floor.
‘You’ve got to stop doing that.’
‘But I’m desperate.’
‘So have killers down the ages.’
Thadias was taken aback. ‘But I haven’t killed anyone,’ he said. At least, not recently, he thought.
Summers adopted a determined look. ‘Do you think you’re the only one with problems?’ he eventually said. ‘Have you any idea what it’s like being a detective? You’re given all these crappy unsolvable cases and you go out to investigate and no one wants to speak to you and no one likes you and they wish you’d go away and you wish you could do your job and things just build up and build up …’
It was coming to a head. The detective’s body seemed to shake, momentarily. This was followed by a wail, and then the tears came.
Thadias Grimes looked nonplussed. Then a touch of humanity came to him. He placed an arm around the detective.
‘There, there,’ he said.
Veronica Dean was getting into her own investigation. As well as Peter Picasso’s precognitive events, there was the ghost of Jack Thomas. It was clear to her that a form of supernatural infestation had taken hold of the street.
This was, she knew, the reality of the paranormal. Things rarely happened in isolation; rarely did just one form of phenomena occur. Rather, a window was usually opened to another world – a spirit world adjacent to the physical. Indeed, such a world had always interacted with the physical. The first known religions were animistic, with everything in the physical world – from animals, to rivers, to winds – having their spirit shadow.
But where does one begin such a psychical investigation? Peter was clearly one conduit, but her gut feeling centred upon Jack Thomas’s burnt out house. After all, the happenings had begun here; and Peter’s gifts first began with a painting of the house on fire. Yes, she was convinced the conduit was the house itself.
As such, it was to here that she came, laden with equipment and paraphernalia of a more archaic nature. As to the equipment, this included cameras of all kinds, tape recorders and sensors to identify everything from electromagnetic disturbances to changing air pressures and temperature. On the more archaic side, no good psychical researcher went anywhere without crystal ball and dowsing rod.
Soon she was ready and measurements were being taken. It was just as she was stumbling around the rubble with her dowsing rod when it suddenly twisted in her hand and pointed in the direction of the street. Knowing how to read the rod perfectly, she said: ‘Oh, shit. Trouble.’
Trouble did not come in the form of an angry ghost, but more an angry detective. Fortified by his collapse into the arms of Thadias Grimes, he had grasped reality for a little while longer. Hence, he bellowed: ‘What the hell are you doing on my crime scene?’
Veronica sighed. ‘Well that’s a matter of opinion,’ she said.
‘And what do you mean by that?’
‘It depends on how you classify a crime.’
‘An act by one or more persons on other persons or property.’
‘Well there you go,’ said Veronica, triumphantly.
‘Absolutely. Can you still class a ghost as a person?’
Reality was such a fragile thing. And DI Summers was beginning to shake once more.
Bobby Crawford was also beginning to shake. His mind had been flooded with his father’s words. Was the solution so simple? Were bullies really wrecks themselves, who only picked on those who appeared vulnerable? Would a simple act of defiance be enough to stop them?
The school bell went for the end of the lesson, and Bobby was aware that if it was going to happen, it would happen soon. And sure enough he took longer than everyone else to get his things together; and sure enough he was the last to leave the class. And sure enough, Moz and Jimmy stood there, in the corridor, waiting for Bobby to pass.
A supreme act of will stopped the shaking, and Bobby Crawford stood proud in front of his foes. Placing his bags on the floor, he held his head up high and said: ‘I’ve had enough.’
Moz was taken aback. ‘You’ve had enough?’ he said.
‘He’s had enough,’ answered Jimmy.
‘Well I haven’t had enough,’ said Moz.
‘Well I have,’ said Bobby.
‘He has,’ said Jimmy.
‘Shut up,’ said Moz.
It was at that point that Moz moved forward, his bullying beginning to start. And it was at that point that Bobby Crawford found that last shred of courage, stood firm, and planted his fist right on the end of Moz’s nose.
For a moment, the universe was suspended. Then a trickle of blood issued from Moz’s nostril. At first Moz was stunned, unable to comprehend what had just occurred. Then, his face began to change form.
For a second, Bobby was convinced anger was spreading across Moz’s face. The possibility of running came into his mind, but he swallowed the urge and stood firm. But as the expression spread across Moz’s face, it turned into incredulity, followed by hurt.
At that point, Moz burst into tears and ran off, whilst at the same moment, a teacher came round the corner and spied the end of the event.
‘I will not have bullying in this school,’ the teacher said as he dragged Bobby Crawford off to the Head.
(c) Anthony North, December 2007