A Box of Skullduggery

“As many of you know, my first love in writing is spending time with my special sleuth Holly. Let’s join her as she and her granddad puzzle over a box of bones!”

I wrote this story in answer to the following prompts:
FOWC with Fandango — Regurgitate
Your Daily Word — Rickety
#Writephoto Challenge — Picture above by Image by KL Caley
Word of the Day — Gnarl

A Box of Skulduggery

“Well strike me down with a fibula. What sort of skulduggery is this!” Old Archie Hamilton had been a forensic pathologist for forty years. He thought nothing could surprise him.

Then the box arrived in the mail this morning.

The regular brown cardboard box smelled like death. For that reason, Archie had decided to open it on his mortuary table. Inside was the morbid collection of animal skulls and bones.

“What a thoughtful gift,” remarked Doctor Rose Quinton another of the police pathologist. Dressed in her blue gown, she was preparing to examine the remains of a poor soul found in a drainage ditch that morning.

“And there was me hoping for a nice bar of chocolate,” Archie rolled his eyes behind his glasses as he picked up the phone. “Detective Ward, can I see you in pathology, please?”

It was ten minutes before DCI Derek Ward arrived in his graphite grey suit and trench coat. The ageing detective wasn’t alone. With him, wearing an almost identical trench coat was his sleuthy eighteen-year-old granddaughter Holly. The teen was the head waitress in her mother’s Workhouse restaurant. She wasn’t an official police officer of course, but with kindred training was good at solving criminal mysteries.

Archie beamed, he had fond memories of watching her grow up with her grandfather. “Good Morning, Detective Ward. How nice of you to bring your grandfather along,” he said with a wink.

“Hello Archie, it’s lovely to see you,” Holly said with a smile.

“I slap you for that, old boy,” Derek began with a proud nod toward Holly, “However, my treasure is undoubtedly a better detective than me.”

“Quite, the criminals of Norfolk have quite a headache with you two on the case,” Archie beckoned them to his table. “Anyway, I received this generous gift in the mail this morning. I thought you ought to take a look.”

Derek handed Holly some blue gloves and invited her to see.

Holly carefully opened the box and grimaced as she played her icy-blue eyes over the fetid collection of bones. “Is this some kind of mail-order osteology or Halloween prank?”

“Good question, I think it’s more like archaeozoology for the most part,” Archie said having removed a skull complete with a horn from the box. He placed a jawbone and a scapula with it.

“Is that from a sheep?” Derek asked.

“Well, I thought at first, this was the remains of a bizarrely mutated three-headed chimaera. But —”

“That would make you insane, Archie!” called Rose from beside her mortuary table.

“Precisely.” Archie grinned. “So, we’ve got a mixture of sheep, pig and cow bones. They’re mostly skull and facial bones although there are one or two scapula or shoulder blades.”

Holly looked to her grandad, “It’s not a crime to send stinky bones in the mail, is it?”

“Not necessarily, no. I doubt these are breaching any C.I.T.E.S regulations,” Derek picked up a pig’s snout, “So, there’s no crime here.”

“Which means you’re keeping secrets, Archie.” Holly gave the old pathologist her best suspicious look.

Archie threw up his hands, “Alas, caught in the act. Go easy on me, Detective Ward.”

Holly giggled, “Send him to the cells, granddad.”

“Let’s give him a chance to come clean first,” Derek replied.

“Thanks for the leniency,” Archie placed a lower jawbone away from the other animal bones. “This one is a human mandible minus the teeth. If the owner of this was killed, then it is indeed illegal to murder and mail him to me.”

“No kidding!” Holly’s mirth was gone. “That’s horrifying, we need to figure out who this belonged to and fast.”

“Agreed, this is now a murder enquiry. What else can you tell us?” Derek asked.

“This is the mandible of an older male, I believe. I’ve already sent some bone samples to DNA in the hope of confirming identity soon.”

Holly had been studying the box. “Can I use your computer, Archie?”

“Help yourself, detective.”

“Thanks.” Holly flicked her silky black ponytail over her shoulder and went to sit at the computer. She was soon clicking away within a Google search.

“What did you find, Treasure?” Derek asked joining her.

“The postmark is for Laundry Lane post office, here in the city.” Holly pointed it out on a map. “There’s an old abattoir just two streets away. Looks like it closed a few years ago. However, with that postmark and the boxes contents, that’s where I’d start.”

“Are you deliberating retirement yet, Derek?” Archie asked looking impressed.

“Are you kidding! With my new partner here, I’m about to catch more criminals than anyone could believe possible!” Derek gave Holly a proud wink. “I’ll send Elliott down to help you process this lot for evidence. In the meantime, I think it’s high time the detective’s Ward went to investigate these bones.”

As 11 AM chimed on the City Hall clock, detective Ward parked his old Citroen outside the Laundry Lane post office. It was one of those small, almost village-style post offices they came complete with a little convenience store.

“Let’s go have a poke around,” Derek said as he and Holly alighted from the car.

Holly had a manila folder in hand. “You be the nice detective, I’ll slap them around if they won’t talk,” she remarked with a giggle.

Derek chuckled as he held the door open, “Have you been taking lessons from my old partner Harry?”

“Maybe,” Holly stepped inside and groaned as a fleece-jacket-wearing man slammed her into a shelving rack of crisps as he pushed his way outside.

“Hey! Mind my, granddaughter, you rude, pillock!” Derek said rounding on him.

The man flipped his fingers at him and stalked away.

“You okay, Treasure?” Derek asked feeling ready to chase and deck the guy in Holly’s honour.

“I’m fine, let’s go.” Holly returned some crisps to the shelf and walked to the post kiosk with him. She watched the middle-aged postmistress take money for a sizeable parcel and two letters from a gentleman. He received his receipt through the glass window hatch and left.

“How can I help?” she asked while cleaning her glasses.

Holly took the photograph of the label that was on the bone box from her folder and pushed it through the hatch. “We need to know who sent this from here yesterday, please?”

The lady glanced at the photo before giving Holly an intrigued look. “I can’t breach the data protection act like that. May I ask who you are?”

Derek stepped forward, “DCI Derek Ward. The contents of that box have sparked a murder investigation.”

“I see.” The lady glanced at Holly. “Surely, you’re too young to be a detective?”

“Call me an amateur sleuth. I’m his granddaughter and helping on the case. May we have the information?”

“Of course,” the lady tapped away on her computer for a minute. “Okay, all I can tell you is that the packages were sent at 10:15 AM yesterday morning. The purchase was paid for in cash.”

“Thank you,” Holly pointed to a camera mounted above the kiosk window. “Can we access and check the CCTV please?”

The lady glanced at Derek as if she was going to refuse. She passed Holly her photograph and a printout of the receipt for the delivery. “Sure, come through to the office.”

Holly and Derek were soon stood in the tidy little office. The postmistress spent a few moments rewinding the footage to the time the box was posted. “Here we go,” she said hitting play.

“That’s the guy who hit me as we came in,” Holly gasped.

“I knew he was a dodgy pillock!” Derek remarked.

“I think he knew you were a police detective too!” Holly realised that was why the guy had been in such a rush to leave the building.

“He always used to come in smelling like dead animals. I’m pretty sure he used to work for the abattoir around the corner until it closed,” put in the postmistress.

“Ha, well done, Treasure!” Derek smiled at Holly before catching a bemused look from the lady. “Sorry, Holly guessed from the label that the abattoir was involved. We’ll get forensics to come and get this video evidence from you later on today.”

“So long as they get here before five.”

“That, shouldn’t be a problem.” Derek led Holly back to his car, “Well, we know where we need to go next.

Not ten minutes later, Holly found herself standing on a concrete floor covered in bloodstains. Most were old, yet some seemed much more recent. Turning in a circle, she took at the heavy metal hooks and chains hanging from the derelict and rickety-looking ceiling. Beams of light cut shafts into the dusty remains of the abattoir. She could make out the gnarl and bark of an old oak tree whose branches extended over the dilapidated roof up there too.

“Ugh, anyone who visits a place like this will become an instant vegan!” she remarked with a cold shudder.

“No kidding, I think I’ve just gone off chef Tim’s Workhouse Sirloin steak too!”

“Until Tim cooks you one on Tuesday night, anyway,” Holly jested as she followed a conveyor belt through a door. She saw the hooks could also be drawn along rails in the ceiling.

“Put it this way, if I order a veggie burger instead. You’ll know why?” Derek took out his torch as he followed her.

“So, they killed and hung the animals back there. Then the carcasses were conveyed through here to be butchered before going …” Holly passed through some plastic flaps. Here was, the enormous thick doors she was searching for. “Into the refrigeration before delivery.

“That seems to be the gist of this place.” Derek agreed.

“Look,” Holly indicated a stack of bleeding black bin bags. “Somebody was doing butchery in here recently.”

Derek pulled on the gloves and peered at the grim contents of the top bag. “Gah, I think that’s a cow skull in that one.”

“My mum. had a guy arrive at the back door of the restaurant a couple of months ago. He was offering beef and lamb at really low prices; he said due to his butcher’s shop getting too much and needing to sell it quickly. Of course, mum realised the meat was probably stolen and made him leave.” Holly distanced herself from the stinking bags. She felt close to regurgitating the contents of her stomach the stench was so bad. “Do you think animal rustlers are doing their butchery here to avoid detection and then flogging meat wherever they can afterwards?”

Derek nodded. “Yes, I think so.” He crossed the preparation room and peered into the former office. He got one hand on the desk and flinched.

“Granddad, Come over here!” Holly’s voice echoed around the deathly quiet building.

“What is it?” Derek ran to her fearing the worst.

“If this place is disused, why is that refrigeration room cold and its door sealed by a new padlock?” Holly indicated the display showing ‘3oc’ the perfect cold temperature for a refrigerator. Her face was a picture of graveness and fear.

“I’m not sure we want to know the answer to that question,” Derek took out his lock picks and made short work of the lock. Throwing open the door he swore.

Holly saw a pile of decaying cows, the smell was horrendous. Amid them was a human leg. She couldn’t tell if the rest of the body was there it was thankfully obscured by the cows.

Derek made use of his radio. “This is DCI Derek Ward requesting police back up at the old North Broadland Abattoir, please. We have illegal butchery and murder taking place here.”

‘Request received, officers en route.” came the reply.

“What a pity the next thing’s to get butchered in here, are you two.” said the rude man from the post office stepping into the room. In his hand was a large, bloodied cleaver

Holly felt his voice was cold as ice. She could see his eyes were devoid of emotion too. There was no doubt in her mind, he was a cold-blooded killer.

Derek stepped in front of his granddaughter, “Put that bloody thing down. Nobody else has to get killed here!”

“Oh, but they do.” said the man stepping closer

“Freeze where you are!” Derek yelled. “If this is only about cattle rustling, there’s no need to kill anyone.”

“Actually, I think there is,” Holly said gulping back her fears.

The man sneered at her. “Why don’t you enlighten us before I chop off your pretty head.”

“I’ll break your face before you get near her!” Derek warned.

“This is a trap, Granddad.”

“What do you mean, Treasure?”

“If he wanted to keep his illegal butchery a secret, why did he send evidence to Archie in the post?”

“She is a clever sweetheart, isn’t she?” jeered the man running a finger on the blade of his cleaver.

“Eyes on me. You will leave her alone – got that?” Derek took an aggressive stance. Ready to fight to the death for his granddaughter if he had to. “Why trap a police officer?”

“Not a police officer — you,” Holly answered. “This psychopath knew Archie would call you the moment he saw the human bone in the box. He knew you’d follow the clues and come straight here.” Holly looked at the man. “That’s right, isn’t it?”

“Every word. This whole game was for a little vengeance against you DCI Ward.” The man was almost salivating at the evil thoughts running through his warped mind. “Maybe, I’ll just chop off your feet so you can watch me butcher your treasure.”

“You sick, scumbag!” Derek shouted. “What did I do to you?”

“You really don’t know me, do you?” The man stepped closer. “You wouldn’t, you were too busy arresting my parents and my brother. I went to a foster home where they tortured and beat me. You made me suffer, and now it’s your turn!”

Derek saw the man’s shoulder muscles twitch. His boxing training clicked into gear and he parried the cleaver away. “Run, Holly!” he ordered having turned the man and his murderous weapon aside for the moment.

“No — Stop!” Holly screamed with tears glistening in her eyes. “My granddad is a good man. I’m sorry that your family committed crimes that got them arrested. Please, understand my granddad never meant anything bad to happen to you. Had he known your foster carers were monsters, he would have come and arrested them too! Please don’t hurt us!”

“It’s too late for sorries and apologies!” The man swung again.

Derek dodged and flinched as the cleaver clanged off the metal table. “Before you kill me, who owned the human jawbone you sent Archie?”

“Stalling for time, are you?” the man raised his weapon. “Let’s play a game — treasure — you tell us who owns that jawbone. Get it right and Granddad lives a little longer. Get it wrong and you choose the order in which I chop his legs off.”

“I don’t play games with sadistic monsters!” Holly stood tall. “However, I do know that you’re a butcher who used to work here. The postmistress told me you used to stink of blood when you went to post mail.”

“Very good. What else do you know?”

“I believe you took advantage of the illegal butchery going on here. The man who owned the jawbone and the leg in there was that butcher.” Holly paced toward the door to the slaughter room. “I think you came back here looking for a way to get revenge on my granddad. You found and killed him, then used bits of him and those animals from the bags to bait your trap.”

The man banged his cleaver on the table as if applauding with it. “Well done, sleuthy knickers. My, my detective. She really is a smart one. I —” he swung for Derek and caught him by the throat.

“Oi, Psycho! You broke the rules of your game!” Holly yelled.

Derek’s face was turning crimson with the pressure.

The man looked at Holly and swore.

Holly had seized one of the hooks hanging from the ceiling and swung it with all her might.

The heavy stainless-steel hook and chain whizzed along its track and stuck a foot away from the man.

“Ha! You miss—”

Derek buried a fist in his stomach and wrenched free. Seizing the hook, he smashed him in the face with it. “No, she didn’t miss.”

The man roared as he staggered away still wielding the cleaver. Raising it, he made a mad swing at Derek, stiffened and collapsed to the floor.

Holly had seen officer Jake Klass and four other officers piling in from the rear door. It was his Taser stun gun barbs sticking out the man’s back that has put him down.

“Stay where you are and don’t move!” ordered the officers piling onto him.

“Detective, Miss Ward, you both okay?” Jake asked once the man was restrained and safe.

“We are now!” said Derek with his arm around Holly. “Who knew a box of bones could lead to a murderous mystery with a crazy pillock at the end of it?”

Holly giggled, “I did. It was obvious the moment Archie called us to look at it!”

The End


Did you enjoy that?

Join Holly Ward as she investigates The Steam Train. – Available on e-book and paperback at Amazon now!


Thanks for reading my friends.

There’s more in the Poetry CornerPoetry Nook, and the Short Story Collection

Have a great day!

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