The story so far: Following fanciful rumours of an escaped jaguar, human remains have been discovered in Chester city centre. It soon transpires that not only have these remains been half eaten by some wild animal, but they have been purposely dumped in the city centre AND they’ve been eaten some time after death and, presumably, burial. To make things more complicated, irritating internet star Jessie Hobb, caught sniffing round the crime scene for views, was lured there by a tweet from one Gordon Gloucester. Gordon Gloucester, it transpires, is none other than the man who now lies on a mortuary table… If that sounds crazy, don’t worry, it is! We pick up the story the following morning as Proctor and Gershwin set out to discover what kind of animal they’re dealing with.
HEAR ME ROAR
EXHIBIT C: Conochaetes Praedonius
It had all been a dream, a nightmare. Everything from that phone call about the rogue jaguar to the Gladstone mug being broken to the late Gordon Gloucester’s tweet luring an irritating internet star to his own mutilated remains. None of it was real. Gordon Gloucester didn’t exist and neither did Jessie Hobb. Jessie Hobb certainly couldn’t exist. Nobody could be that annoying. The only thing it could all have been was a feverish nightmare.
I lay in bed, seven of the AM, wondering what lovely, simple, uncomplicated nuisances the day would have in store for me. A shoplifter perhaps, an old lady accidentally knocking over a cyclist, a man who’d chopped his own toes off after being drunk in charge of a lawnmower. That was what I wanted out of today… Nothing that involved bloody corpses or liars or anything more serious than some scuffed elbows or a few missing toes. I wanted simple, I wanted day to day police work, the kind of work that comes with a territory where very little that is exciting ever happens, a territory where people just get on with their lives and the only thing that ever disturbs me is bloody minded stupidity and incompetence.
I had a blissful shower, warm and soapy and free from the worries of the world…
And then I walked into the kitchen and found the notes I had brought home the night before, notes on Gordon Gloucester and his demise.
He was sixty seven, retired naval man, lived alone in a house on Deans Way, out in Tarvin- A typical, middle class, suburban home of the early eighties with large front garden, garage, plenty of room to potter around in, nosy neighbours. Never married by the looks of it, no children that anyone knew of, no dependencies either. Gloucester was a man who had almost nobody in his life.
He had a twitter account but only six followers, one of which was the official account for St Blaise’s church, where he seemed to spend a lot of his spare time- One of his last tweets was a photograph of a bat box he’d put up around the back of the churchyard there. One of his other followers was the reverend, a man by the name of Greensborough Dewdrop, whom I unfortunately knew of old. The third was Dewdrop’s son, Timothy, the fourth Cheshire Wildlife Trust and the final two looked to be spam-bots.
In all, his seemed a lonely existence and it was no wonder, therefore, that he had dedicated his life to animals. He was a patron of the zoo, regularly gave to wildlife sanctuaries and charities and bred hedgehogs in his back yard. I would have hazarded a guess that he preferred animals to people. In today’s society, where out of control gobshites can run around causing mischief for internet views and practically get away with it, who wouldn’t? Animals don’t intentionally hurt you and run away shouting ‘it’s just a prank brah…’ Ok, wasps… But they’re wasps and total bastards anyway.
His death, a week ago, had been exceptionally sad and untimely. Not a natural death, but one of those misfortunes that befalls people from time to time. According to the coroner’s report he’d died of carbon monoxide poisoning, the result of an ancient and faulty boiler that hadn’t been replaced since the house was built. One of the flues had become clogged and the contraption started leaking poisonous gas. Sat in his armchair, unaware of the toxic air he was breathing, Gloucester slipped away, first into a deep sleep and then into death. It was painless, he wasn’t even aware of it, but that didn’t make it any less sad. He’d been discovered the next day, by Dewdrop the Elder.
The notes ended with a short paragraph stating that he had been buried in St Blaise’s churchyard, the day before he was dumped in that alley. Everything, it seemed, came back to St Blaise’s… The rumour of the escaped jaguar had started there, Gordon Gloucester had attended the church there, spent his time there… The reverend of the church had discovered his body. What the connection was with the heartless thing that had been done to Gloucester’s remains I did not yet know, nor of the connection with the would be Jeremy Beadle, but by going there I would find the answer.
I heard the front door open and close again… Corwen? Corwen… I heard his key drop onto the side table. He’d probably come home to change and scrounge breakfast before going to work. He often did that when he stayed at Carla’s. Usually he’d slip his ugly mug around the kitchen door to see what I was up to but today was an exception. I heard his footsteps enter the living room and then nothing. He didn’t even switch the television or the radio on, like he normally did.
Sensing that something was up, I left the notes on the table and went to check on him. He was perched on the sofa, knees up to his chest, vacant, listless stare on his face.
“Corwen? You alright?”
“Huh? Yeah… Fine.” No. He wasn’t.
“Has something happened? Between you and Carla?” No answer, just the vacant stare. Something had happened.
“You can’t fool me you know,” I told him. “I didn’t get to Detective Inspector without knowing how to weed the truth out of people.” Still no answer. I passed a hand in front of his face, clicked a few times. The vacant expression didn’t budge.
I retreated into the kitchen. If Corwen wouldn’t answer me then maybe Carla would. I rang her on my mobile and before I had even opened my mouth I got an earful.
“If he’s getting you to do his begging for him, think again… Don’t bother.” She hung off. She sounded angry. She sounded enraged. She sounded hysterical. I was left to wonder what the hell was wrong, to contemplate and come up with the solution that Corwen had said something stupid and refused to apologise… Though that didn’t explain his catatonic state. It couldn’t just have been that he’d said something stupid, it had to be more serious.
Half an hour later, as I was reading the newspaper, there was a knock on the door. I had quite forgotten that I’d agreed to drive Gershwin down to see this Doctor Caroline Faulkner about wild, predatory animals. I opened the door to see her waving and blowing kisses at a white Volkswagen, quite the opposite character to the rough, bollocks chomping detective sergeant I had worked with the day before.
“My mammy,” she explained. “She agreed to drop me off here and take the kids at school. It was easier that way.”
“You all live together?”
“Aye. Mammy doesn’t have to live alone and I’ve got somebody to look after the girls.”
“So long as she isn’t anything like my mother. I’d rather not have a crotchety old scouse madam pottering about the place.”
“Ah… You’re a man… Men prefer to fly the coop and get away from their mothers as fast as possible. Though, saying that…” She pointed to the still catatonic Corwen, who hadn’t even noticed the new arrival.
“Oh… His mother and I are divorced… Have been for a long time… Getting on for seventeen years now. Thank goodness.”
“Cheap imitation Audrey Hepburn!”
“I’m sorry I asked… What’s up with him anyway?”
“Not a clue. Some sort of girlfriend trouble I think.”
“Speaking of trouble…” Gershwin’s face changed from cheery and amiable, the face of a lovely lady, to that of a hardass bitch, the face of the same woman I had worked with yesterday.
Gershwin rifled around in the bag which she had with her and pulled out a tablet. Instantly I knew what this would be. Our would be Jeremy Beadle had done something silly. I led Gershwin into the kitchen.
“What has he done now?”
“You remember in the interview yesterday where he said he’d never been to St Blaise’s?”
“He lied? Of course he lied. The little gobshite couldn’t tell the truth if you asked him to.”
“Worse than that. After he was released on bail last night he uploaded another video, in total breach of his bail conditions.” A little voice inside my head told me to scream, to go mad, to stab a cushion with a kitchen knife, to smash a wine bottle or a window. Another part of me was tempted to raid the Christmas sherry and down the lot. I reined myself in, tried to remain calm and collected.
“Right. Let’s see it then! It might give us more evidence to throw at him.”
“It does that alright,” Gershwin smiled sinisterly.
The video was another of those which I absolutely do not want to recall or describe, though I fear that I will have to. It might well have been Hobb’s most disgusting video yet.
The first thing I noticed was the location. Clear as day, that was St Blaise’s church. I recognised the steeple and the tower and the old lich gate which some muppet had built a wall right through the middle of. There, in the middle of it all, was Hobb, claiming to be seeking his ‘jaggy-jag.’ He was again with his camera man.
“We need to find out who’s been filming these,” I pointed out.
“I set Baskin onto it for homework sir. I had him search through Hobb’s social media profiles, to see what he could dig up. So far all he’s come up with is a nickname… Icepicks.”
“Good lass… Hopefully this Icepicks is more sensible than…” We were still watching the video and I froze in terror as Hobb scooped up something from off the church footpath. It looked like… Oh, what foul demons created this monstrosity to torment the honest souls of planet earth? What devil walked amongst us in human form? What did we mere mortals do to deserve such damnation? It looked like, and surely was, a steaming pile of turd.
“Awww… Looky look at this may-ats! Jaggy-jag poop!” Hobb whooped for joy and then started sniffing at the faeces in his hand. He very nearly licked it but instead he started laughing and then ran to the church door and started smearing the poo all over it.
“I don’t want to see any more of this,” I said, almost vomiting.
“You might want to sir… It… Well…” She pointed to the notes on Gordon Gloucester, specifically the page that listed his twitter followers.
Sure enough, thirty seconds later whilst Hobb was prancing about the churchyard with yet more poo, which he’d discovered behind a gravestone, there came onto the scene Timothy Dewdrop- A boy only a year or so older than Hobb, bookish, bespectacled, the sort of nice boy whom all girls avoid with all the desperation of doomsday. It looked very much like he was troubled by something. His eyes were bright red, his clothes (a waistcoat and bowtie) messed up and there was something severely unconfident about him.
“Excuse me,” he squeaked at Hobb. “What do you think you’re doing?” In the background somebody, also messed up and shaken, holding a smouldering cigarette in one hand, was seen coming around the corner of the church. I recognised him as the Reverend Dewdrop, an especially odious sort of holier-than-thou snob who, based upon only the slightest glimpse, had not changed one bit in the six years since our previous run in. Hobb appeared not to notice him.
In response to Dewdrop the Younger’s question, Hobb reacted with particular villainy. He laughed, picked up the largest turd he could and flung it right at Dewdrop the Younger. As it hit him Dewdrop the Younger screamed something awful and fell to his knees, at which point Hobb pelted him with another turd.
Only now did he see Dewdrop the Elder bearing down on him, dropping his cigarette into the grass, grabbing him by the collar and shaking him.
“Geeert off me brah… It’s just a prank brah… It’s just a prank brah,” Hobb screamed before kicking Dewdrop the Elder in the shin. Was that kick just a prank as well? I think not.
All the time something was going on with the camera man. He was backing away, although he still held Hobb captive in his viewfinder.
Then Hobb did something unforgivable, even for the cameraman. Freed from Dewdrop the Elder’s grip, he picked up another turd, the biggest and sloppiest he could set his hands on, and then…
Dear God, I do not want to repeat it, but you might well be able to guess what the disgusting little gobshite did. The camera dropped into the grass and there was seen a scuffle between two pairs of legs, one of them of the cameraman and the other of Hobb, before the video ended. No sign off, no explanation.
“Classic sign of doing something for attention that,” Gershwin pointed out. “End suddenly. Keep ‘em guessing what is going on, that way they’ll come back for more, hoping for an explanation.”
“I’m more interested in the Reverend Dewdrop to tell you the honest to God truth. I’ve had a run in with him before. I don’t know if he still does, but he used to take RE up at Christleton High, not far from the church.” I stood and entered the lounge, hoping I might be able to spur my son into some life by way of some unwelcome nostalgia.
“Corwen… You remember the Reverend Dewdrop?” There was no response. “Didn’t he call you a godless sinner?” Gershwin put a hand to her mouth and giggled. “No… It wasn’t funny.” I couldn’t help half smiling for Corwen’s face had finally altered. That meant his catatonic state had to be related to something Dewdrop had once said to him… To Corwen being a godless sinner… There was only one thing it could be. “What did he always say? That you’d get some poor girl pregnant one of these days? Do you think I should tell him that his prophecy has come true?” Corwen’s head almost did a one hundred and eighty and his eyes popped out of their sockets.
“How the bloody hell did you guess that?”
“Nearly thirty five years interviewing criminal scum, laddy! You can’t pull the wool over the eyes of an old copper!”
“I don’t want it,” Corwen jabbered. “She insists on keeping it… Saying she can’t take a life and all that bullshit… But I don’t want it…”
“You tried to beg her to get rid of it?” Corwen nodded. “At the end of the day it’s her choice mate… But remember, you do have a say in this as well. It’s your life we’re talking about, as well as hers. The two of you need to reach a compromise. Even if you put it up for adoption or foster it out… Just do something. Think about it… Calm down, have a shower, take a nap… Do whatever… But make sure at some point today you get back round there and sort things out.”
“I’ll do what Mam did… I’ll run off to Rome and live out a film star fantasy!”
“Become a cheap imitation Richard Burton?” I thought aloud. “That’s the coward’s way out… And just remember as well, the aforementioned Mam is going to have kittens when she finds out about this. Your grandmother may also drown you in the nearest river. I’ll speak to you later… D.S Gershwin, shall we go and see what we can find out about predatory animals?”
It was only when we were sat in the car and Gerswhin was figuring out how the seatbelt worked that it actually, properly hit me. I let out an enormous ‘Oh Crap!’ and gripped the steering wheel so hard that my knuckles turned white.
“Not a fan of this baby then?” Gershwin half grinned.
“No… Actually… No! Do I look old enough to be a grandfather? I don’t suppose I would mind if it weren’t for her!”
“Not a fan of the girlfriend either?”
“She’s nice enough… But not the kind of person you’d want for a daughter-in-law. And they’ve only been dating for six months… Worse than that… I keep getting the impression that Corwen has got himself caught up in a serious rebound. That’s my fault I think… I’m the one who put her last boyfriend behind bars.”
“Did she know this when she started dating Corwen?”
“No. It might be a worse situation if she had…” I started the engine and tried to forget about it.
The stereo cut in and started blasting out Gotta Get a Message to You by the Bee Gees. Gershwin looked unimpressed so I told her she could pick another CD from the slip case in the glove box. She tutted over the ridiculous number of Bee Gees CDs in there. She didn’t look very impressed by most of my music collection actually- Bee Gees, Billy Joel, Donna Summer, all those golden greats of the late seventies whom musicians ever since have never topped. I was used to that look of disdain for Corwen hated my music collection in exactly the same way. That was why, at the back, there were a few CDs for his benefit, mainly soul singers of the eighties and mid-nineties. Gershwin found a Whitney Houston right at the back and she came over all nostalgic.
“Oh my gosh… My first boyfriend bought me this album! He was a total tit, but I love the album!” In the CD player it went and for the next twenty minutes, until we reached the small village of Bruera, where Doctor Faulkner lived, we jammed and sang along to Whitney. It must have been a strange sight, two middle aged coppers driving along in a third rate (other people’s opinion, not mine) sports car blasting out Whitney Houston and joining in with all the songs. At one point, in the mirror, when we were stopped at a set of traffic lights, a lady in a Toyota directly behind was staring in bewilderment and disbelief at the crazy scene before her eyes. Gershwin and I cared not, for we enjoyed ourselves. It took our mind off the lunacy of the case, the stupidity and the sickening behaviour of Jessie Hobb, and the grandchild shaped meteor that had appeared in the skies over my life.
You need that kind of thing when you work in policing. More than any other career you need something to take your mind from the job, to take you elsewhere. Even in a quiet place like Chester we spend our lives wading through the black swamps of human nature. We see so much shit, figurative and literal, every day, so much that is wasted and so much that has gone awry, so much time is spent attempting to keep the civilised world in order, playing the fiddle which calls the criminal to justice and brings comfort to the befallen, that if we did not we would fall into a desperate abyss. Being silly and singing to Whitney Houston may only have been a small thing, but for that day it would provide a small contribution towards keeping despair at bay for both myself and for Gershwin.
“We should do that again,” Gershwin grinned as we climbed out of the car at Doctor Faulkner’s house. “Though I’m buying you some better music.” And there our twenty minutes of escapism ended, for now it was time to return to the deadly serious matter of the crime that had been put before us.
Bruera is unforgivably tiny, a village of no more than ten houses, most of them belonging to farms, and a church. There is no post office, no pub or inn, not even a little shop for when you really need those bare necessities that aren’t worth driving all the way to the supermarket for. It was not even what you might call close to the city, twenty minutes and ten kilometres from my own house in Boughton, which in itself is right on the edge of the Chester conurbation. It was so far out of the city that it was practically in Shropshire. It was so far that it was not even within my jurisdiction or even the jurisdiction of the Chester City police. It fell within the bounds of what they term ‘Rural Cheshire,’ a place so quiet it makes the city look positively gangland.
Faulkner lived in a big, fancy, former farm house set back a fair way from the road. There were numerous buildings around, none of which appeared to be habitable or in use.
She answered the door looking very tired and bedraggled and exactly how you might expect someone to look had they recently got off a fourteen hour flight from Brazil. The only thing going against that fact was that she was so pale you wouldn’t think she’d been anywhere at all.
“Hello…” I said that in a very strange, high pitched and unusual way, holding up my warrant card at the same time. “I’m D.I Simon Proctor, this is D.S Gershwin… We’re here about…”
“The wild animal! Yes! Of course! Come in the pair of you…” Faulkner pulled us both through the front door. “Is it too impertinent of me to ask you to take your shoes off?”
“Not at all Doctor Faulkner.” We both shrugged off our shoes.
“Please, call me Caroline… And sorry about the mess everywhere. I’m not usually this disorganised. Two weeks in Brazil and suddenly I’m all over the place…”
“Did you hear about the rumour whilst you were out there?”
“Yes. My niece, Zara… She told me about it over the phone the other day. She got it all from this internet star she’s obsessed with…”
“Jessie Hobb?” Gershwin and I both asked together.
“Yes. How did you know? Would you like something to drink?”
“Tea, earl grey, hot,” I smiled politely. “So long as there is one going.”
“What about you D.S Gershwin?” Gershwin was examining some photographs on the wall.
“I’ll have a coffee, thank you… These pictures… They’re you with a jaguar aren’t they?” Faulkner beamed.
“Yes. Thirty years ago… After I graduated I spent three years working at a sanctuary in Columbia. Best time of my life.”
“You’ve kept up with the conservation work since?” We entered the kitchen, a large country affair with old wood panelling, a range cooker and a big table which Gershwin and I sat down at.
“Yes… Mainly protecting jaguars who’ve ended up in this country. Idiots think they can keep them as pets but then they can’t look after them and it all ends up very messy. Could be what you’re looking at here.”
“Not exactly… The picture that went viral… It isn’t exactly… Well…” I took it out and placed it on the table where Faulkner could see it. She, rooting through a cupboard for some mugs, looked over her shoulder at it.
“Who would you like?” she asked whilst still looking at the picture. “I’ve got William the third, Queen Victoria… Maggie Thatcher for some reason… Oh, I know why! That was my ex-husband’s…” I saw that the cupboard was full of mugs similar to those in Corwen’s office, all big, three dimensional faces of famous people.
“Where did you get those?” I sprang, half excited that I might be able to replace the broken Gladstone.
“There’s a shop in Stoke… I bought a whole box of them about five years ago. I’m sure it’s still there.” If nothing else, I thought, this voyage out to the sticks had at least given me the prospect of a visit to this shop in Stoke and a replacement for the broken Gladstone.
“I’ll have anybody except William the third,” Gershwin grumbled, glaring at me as though I were Jessie Hobb.
“You got Gladstone? No? I’ll have Cilla Black,” I said, pointing to one on the end of the bottom shelf.
Mugs of tea and coffee brewed, Faulkner sat on the opposite side of the table and pulled the picture over to take a better look. She squinted, examined the smudge, and then shook her head.
“No. I’m sorry. That’s definitely not a jaguar. If it’s anything at all it’s far too small for a jaguar.”
“I’m glad you think so. Because we don’t think this was a jaguar either.” I took a sip of the tea. My mind was enchanted. This was the best tea, earl grey, hot, which I had ever tasted.
“So what’s the trouble then?” Gershwin and I both breathed deep before I revealed the answer to that question.
“There’s been… An animal attack, I suppose you could call it. One… fatality.” Doctor Faulkner looked absolutely stricken.
“And you think that may be a jaguar?”
“Well if it was I can see how it might remain undetected… Rooftops! They’re excellent climbers and one of them could easily prowl about up there, out of the way of people, and remain undetected.” Thank goodness the internet hadn’t worked that one out. Our irritating Jeremy Beadle would have been scaling the walls and throwing things down at people, all the while shouting ‘it’s just a prank brah!’ from on high.
“We don’t think the jaguar escaped Doctor Faulkner,” Gershwin told. Faulkner sat back and nodded.
“One of those pet owners then… It has to be. Some unthinking clot releasing it into the city because…” Gershwin held a hand up to silence her.
“There’s no jaguar roaming the city centre at all… In fact, it’s pretty clear that the body was dumped after being partially eaten.”
“It was human?” Faulkner trembled. Gershwin and I both nodded and Faulkner got up to take a long walk around the kitchen. She looked desperately worried about this situation.
“We have reason to believe that somebody fed this person to the jaguar…”
“Fed? As in, killed them and gave them over as meat? No… That doesn’t sound right. Jaguars are hunters, predators… They prefer to kill their own prey… I mean, in captivity they will eat fresh meat but mostly they prefer to stalk it.”
“How fresh does the meat have to be?” I inquired.
“Shockingly fresh Mr Proctor, so fresh it has to have been butchered within the hour if at all possible.”
“Not a week then?”
“A WEEK?” Doctor Faulkner sat down again and started shaking her head.
“No… No… This cannot be a jaguar. I’m sorry. This has to be something else. Jaguars aren’t carrion feeders. Do you by any chance have a picture I could see?”
“How strong is your stomach?”
“I’ve seen people killed in animal attacks, Mr Proctor… This should be no different.” I pushed a picture of Gordon Gloucester’s remains over. Faulkner took one brief look, was nearly sick, then pushed it back. “No… That’s not a jaguar. That’s definitely not a jaguar… I don’t know what this thing is… But it’s not a jaguar.”
“Are you absolutely sure?”
“Yes. If that was a jaguar the head would likely not still be attached. That… That could be anything… I don’t know… It could be a predatory wildebeest for all I know!”
“If you know anybody who could be of help… A predatory wildebeest expert, if possible…”
“There’s a former colleague of mine, Professor Ingwe… He works at Cape Town University right now…” She checked her watch. “Cape Town is two hours ahead of us, I think… Would you like me to give him a ring?”
“If you could. It would be a great help to know what we’re dealing with,” I pressed.
“Do you mind if I have a look around the farm whilst I’m here,” Gershwin diverted. “The outbuildings and such?” I wondered what she was doing but Faulkner didn’t even raise an eyebrow. She nodded her consent and Gershwin wandered off to check the outbuildings.
It took a while for Faulkner to get an answer but eventually the phone was answered by a strong, friendly, African voice. Faulkner put the phone onto speaker.
“Ingwe… It’s Caroline… Faulkner! How are you my old friend?”
“All the better for hearing your lovely voice again my dear. To what do I owe this pleasure?”
“I’m here with a police officer I’m afraid. He’s got a bit of trouble identifying an animal attack. Looks like some bastard has been keeping something as a pet.” She knew from a look I gave her not to say any more.
“Ahh… I see. What do you have to go on?”
“Well, for a start the head is still attached and this was a definitely a carrion feeder.”
“A carrion feeder? Your police officer friend must have something very nasty on his hands. Tell me, did the creature eat just muscle tissue or bone as well?”
“Both… And bits of suit,” I intruded. “It ate everything it could.” There was a deep, rattling breath on the other end of the line.
“We were thinking it might be a predatory wildebeest.”
“No. Most certainly not. I’ve spent my life studying the behaviours of predatory wildebeest and I know for a fact that they are not carrion feeders.” There was another deep, rattling breath, and then a long pause. “I may be wrong Caroline, but I think I do know what your police officer is looking for… And it is so very not good.”
“What are we looking for?”
“A hyena, detective… A HYENA!”
NEXT WEEK: ST Blaise’s Church… The heart of the madness? Find out in EXHIBIT D: HYENA HYENA
For more stuff like this you can check out the stories tab above, where you’ll find the likes of Aunt Mable and my previous serial, Away With The Manger. The prequel to this story, D.S Proctor, is available from Amazon and most major eBook retailers. You can also follow @Morfas_Family on twitter.
Image from National Geographic.com