“A perfectly brewed cup of tea can’t fix everything. However, a nice cup of Earl Grey can sharpen your mind and bring the solution into focus.”
Sleuth Holly Ward on solving Mysteries
‘I need to report a murder.’
‘Where are you please, madam,’ replied the emergency dispatcher.
‘The field gate in Merton’s wood … You can’t miss the body in the field beyond.’
“Thank you. Your name please.”
… the caller hung up.
Between pristine woodland and sun-kissed Meadow was an old gate. In the shadows of the ancient oak, it stood guarding the land border. Its bolts rusted and hinges squeaked and complained yet it did its duties well.
This morning it was opening and closing more times than normal.
“Ahh, DCI Ward, I’m glad you could join us,” remarked young officer Jake Klass.
“At least you chose a nice spot for a murder,” Derek remarked as he arrived at the gate decked out in his slate grey trench coat and suit.
“The woods and countryside are beautiful this morning. Anyway, it seems the deceased passed through the gate before being shot in the back by a small calibre shotgun.” Jake opened the gate and step through. Lying in the grasses, shadowed by the tree was a man wearing a brown and silver tracksuit.
Derek crouched beside him. “Seems to be mid-thirties. He’s wearing a Christian cross and holding a GPS device. His clothes indicate he was quite fit. Hopefully, there are more clues in his pockets.”
“What you think? Is he a zealot killed for his beliefs, maybe?” Jake asked.
“Probably not.” Derek rose to his feet, his sharp hazel eyes picked out divots in the grasses along with displaced and flattened wildflowers and weeds in both the field and woods. The detective imagined somebody scratching about with a trowel. A closer look revealed two pairs of boot prints. One smaller with club-shaped impressions, the other large military-grade treads. The latter matched the deceased. “Looks like this guy or somebody else was searching for something around here. There’s even scuff marks on the tree trunk as if somebody climbed into the canopy.”
“So, he was killed for whatever he was searching for?”
“Perhaps, we need the coroner to —” Derek heard footsteps. A woman wearing jeans and a T-shirt had appeared in the woods.
Jake crossed through the gate and intercepted her. “Sorry, madam. There’s been an incident. You can’t come through this way.”
“Wait! What? What happened?” she replied overcome by sudden fear.
“A man’s been killed. He is in his mid-thirties and wearing a brown and silver tracksuit. Sound familiar?” Derek set his examining eyes on her. He noticed her hair was slightly damp but saw very little to indicate deceit.
The woman’s face paled but she said nothing.
“Maybe, you can tell us what’s going on here?” Derek approached her with his notebook in hand. “There seem to be a lot of people in this area considering it’s in the middle of nowhere.”
“I — no. You don’t think I had anything to do with his murder, do you?” She said taking a step backwards.
Jake blocked her way. “Did you? Do you know who he is?”
“That sounds like Darryl. I was coming down to find him. He didn’t come back for breakfast as he intended you see.”
“That’s a start.” Derek gave her a small smile. “Look, there’s no need to worry. We just need to know who you are and what was going on around this gate.”
“I’m Lucy Salinger. I own and live at the Cremello Farmhouse back on the main road. Darryl is part of a group of World War II enthusiasts. They play at being Homeguard agents. They would leave dead drops in hidden places to pass messages around. Their leader gives them a GPS location and they have to go and find the drop. The latest one must be here somewhere.”
“Oh, your farms the place famed for the pheasant shooting,” Derek said.
Lucy nodded, “That’s right.”
“I assume there must be some sort of prize for the dead drop finder then?”
“Oh, I don’t know?” Lucy shrugged. “I guess.”
“There has to be. Why else would it be worth killing somebody to find one of these dead drops first?” Derek looked around him. A field vole was playing in the undergrowth not far away. Had the dead drop been discovered that was the question?
“I don’t suppose you know anything about the dead drop location?” Jake asked.
Lucy shook her head, “No, sorry. I only this much because Darryl told me about it over dinner. He staying at the farmhouse bed and breakfast you see.”
“Thank you, Ms Salinger. We’ll need to investigate his room as soon as the coroner —”
The officer and detective snapped around toward the field. A man had run into view and stopped close to the deceased.
“Stay here please, Ms Salinger.”
Jake was through the gate like an Olympic sprinter. “Hold it right there, Sir. This is a crime scene. No trespassing!”
“Good morning, Officer,” said the man looking mortified. “That’s Darryl Haynes. He is one of the best dead drop hunters in our game group. What happened to him?”
“Somebody shot him within the last two hours. You are?” Derek inquired.
“Peter Dooley, I Rival him most weekends. We found fourteen drops each. This area holds the final one.”
“So, you’re tied for the grand prize then?” Jake asked.
“Exactly. The winner would get a cheque for ten thousand pounds.” Peter glanced at the deceased. “Now, he’s dead. I guess nobody wins.”
“With such an important drop to find. Why are you only just arriving?” Derek asked as a twig snapped behind him. He glanced over his shoulder in time to see Lucy edge closer to the gate.
“The bloody bus was late. I’d have been here searching way earlier if it hadn’t been for that. The drop was made at 6 AM. The coordinates were sent to us shortly after setting the game going.” Peter explained.
“Who else is playing today?” Jake asked.
Derek was looking between Lucy and Peter now. Was she trying to reach him? To signal him?
Lucy had stopped at the gate and was leaning on the top trying to look innocent.
“Arthur Cane, Trevor Wallace, and Gerrard Radley all play. Arthur and Gerrard resigned from this year’s competition having found so few drops. Trevor was still playing though, he should be around somewhere.” Peter took out his phone. “I’ll call him if you like.”
“I’ll do that. Can you let me have his number?” Jake replied. “Who runs the competition and places the dead drops?”
“That’s Ian Starling. His number’s in my phone too.” Peter said while searching his contacts.
“Great, will need to speak to him too,” Jake said ready to take the numbers.
“So, there are no prizes in the dead drops themselves then?” Derek asked.
Peter shook his head, “No, just a roll of paper with a code. You text the code to Ian. He uses that to confirm you found the dead drop and records your win.”
Derek caught sight of a kestrel hovering over the field. The bird of prey dove on some breakfast and took off into the trees. The detective followed its flight, his eyes settling on Lucy. The woman was focusing intently on the gate. “Ms Salinger, join us for a minute.”
Lucy nodded, “Sure, are you ready to go to the farmhouse?”
“Not quite.” Derek beckoned her and stepped toward a disturbed patch of grass. “Officer Klass, who reported the murder?”
“That’s unknown. The female hung up before the dispatcher could get her details,” Jake replied.
“Hmm, funny that.” Derek looked straight at the woman.
Lucy stopped beside the detective. “What? You don’t think …”
“Five men play this competition. Two didn’t come. One is unaccounted for. Peter was delayed by his bus and Darryl is dead. This spot is so isolated, I don’t even see any indication of dog walkers here. That makes you the only woman about. Did you, or did you not report the murder?” Derek demanded to know.
“You saw me arrive,” Lucy answered her lips thinning with annoyance.
“The second time, yes.” Derek pointed at the ground. “That footprint with the club marks was already here. You just made an identical one there.”
“Anybody could wear the same shoes as …”
“Don’t give me that nonsense. We already established very few people come this way. You were the one who discovered the body. Why lie about that?”
Lucy looked past the detective, then turned away to wipe her eyes.
“Peter? I can tell you already know Lucy. What’s going on?” Derek urged.
“Fine. I found out where Darryl was staying. I offered Lucy money if she could help me get to this drop first,” Peter revealed.
“So, what. You follow Darryl here. Wait for him to find the dead drop and then shoot him?” Jake questioned with his fingers on his handcuffs.
“No — no! I swear he was already dead when I got here!” Lucy shouted.
“Stay calm, please, madam.” Derek urged as a familiar figure walk through the woods. “Archie, it’s about time you got here!”
“Sorry, old boy. I took the scenic route and became stymied by a bus with a flat tyre. The driver was most upset. He reckoned he’d been perfectly on time all day until then.” said doctor Archibald Hamilton the police coroner. He grinned, as he zipped up his blue forensics suit and gazed upon the body. “Well, At least you picked a beautiful place to pop your clogs, fella.”
“Thank you, Archie.” Derek rounded on Peter, “The bus was delayed, was it? I suggest you start again. This time don’t lie to me.”
“Alright, I’ve been here since 7 AM. I told Lucy to call the police when we discovered the body. We got out of sight and returned after you did so we didn’t look guilty.”
“You both look guilty as sin to me,” Archie said now examining the deceased. “Seems he was killed with birdshot at close range.”
“So, which one of you has the dead drop?” Jake asked.
“They didn’t find it,” Derek stated with conviction. “Darryl did. He wouldn’t reveal where it was, would he, Lucy?”
Lucy folded her arms and went silent.
“Lucy Salinger, I’m arresting you for the murder of Darryl. You do not have to say or do anything. Anything you do, do or say can and will be used against you in a court of law.” Derek nodded to Jake. “Handcuff and take her away please.”
“On what grounds?” Peter demanded to know.
“The victim was killed with birdshot. Lucy has both the guns and the ammunition to match. She was here and close to the body, her blueprints confirm it. You were not here according to the evidence.”
“That’s preposterous you must have more than that,” Peter argued.
Lucy stayed quiet.
“I do, Lucy made the call to the police but hung up before identifying herself. Doing so to not implicate herself in the murder. Lucy has showered since being here. I suspect an examination of her bathroom will reveal the deceased’s blood. Lucy also knows where the dead drop is.”
“I do not!” Lucy yelled.
“Liar!” Derek walked over to the gate. A glance around revealed what he was looking for. Withdrawing a false bolt from the post, he held it up. Curled in a hollow section was the cheque for ten thousand pounds. “You knew the prize had been hidden here. When Darryl found it, you had to kill him to make it yours. You left it in the gatepost to hide the secret. You were going to come back and get it when the police left. Now, all you’ll get is time behind bars.”
“No! I swear I didn’t kill him,” Lucy said breaking down in tears.
Peter opened his mouth to speak. Looking from Darryl’s body to Lucy. “I … She’s innocent.”
“Really?” Derek raised his eyebrows.
“The gun’s in the woods behind the oak tree. I took it from Lucy’s farm and shot him when he refused to give me the dead drop. She heard the bang, that’s why she came and found him. She tried to resuscitate him and that’s how she ended up bloodied. I was hiding in the woods when she arrived. She saw me. I offered to pay her to forget she’d seen me and to recover the dead drop when the heat was off. I killed him.” Peter explained.
Derek smiled. “Jolly good. Now, you’re both under arrest for murder.”
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