FUNERALS ARE FOR dead people. So why do so many of the living show up? Maybe they hope, if they turn out for funerals regularly enough, they’ll get a good showing at their own. But then again, what does it matter? They’re never going to know who goes or doesn’t go, because… funerals are for dead people.
One Thursday morning Detective Inspector Christy Kennedy of Camden Town CID was standing in a rain-soaked graveyard distracting himself with such thoughts, and waiting for the recently deceased Daniel Elliot to be laid to rest. Although it was the middle of July, London had endured seventy-two straight hours of sheet rain. Every time Kennedy found a solid piece of ground to stand on, in a matter of seconds it would start to give way under his feet.
No doubt the delay of the arrival of the funeral procession was due to the slowness of London traffic in the rain, Kennedy thought. He headed off to stand under the largest tree in the graveyard, not for shelter so much as for the firmness of ground he thought he’d find close to the trunk. Kennedy disliked funerals. They were for dead people. But now and again, as on this particular morning, he was professionally obliged to attend. There was a social reason as well: Daniel Elliot was a friend of Kennedy’s ex-girlfriend, ann rea. Kennedy had met Elliot a few times while working on a case concerning Elliot’s daughter. It hadn’t altogether been a pleasant experience but Kennedy had been impressed with the way Elliot had dealt with the situation and had continued to be supportive of his daughter, Bella Forsythe.
Miss Forsythe, currently detained at Her Majesty’s pleasure, was here on a morning’s compassionate leave. She was handcuffed to two guards. At the far end of the graveyard Kennedy could just about pick out the silhouette of Forsythe, her guards, and the lonely figure of ann rea, separated from the trio by about two yards of mucky earth and quite a few gallons of water.
Kennedy saw the hearse draw up at the gates of the graveyard and watched about a dozen old soldiers stiffly hobble around to the rear of the hearse. Kennedy made his way over to the freshly dug grave. Bella Forsythe was standing at its foot between her guards; all three were soaked to the skin. ann rea had come better equipped, in a body-length, see-through mac and a pair of Wellington boots. She walked over to Kennedy as he arrived and kissed him politely on the cheek. She nodded to him, saying nothing. Kennedy walked over to Miss Forsythe to offer his respects. She ignored him completely, looking straight through him as though he didn’t exist. Maybe in her life he didn’t exist. She just continued to stand, hands restrained by her side, and directed her stare down into her father’s grave.
The coffin bearers – eight instead of the usual six – made their precarious way along the path towards the mourners, slipping and sliding all over the place. Kennedy half-turned towards them and made to offer assistance. The undertaker, positioned at the front of the coffin, gave a discreet shake of his head that no one but Kennedy would have noticed.
Kennedy turned back to the grave and followed Forsythe’s gaze down. In the split second that he thought he saw two marbles in the mud, Forsythe let out a scream so loud and sinister it would have frightened a banshee. ann rea ran over. The security guard on Forsythe’s right raised the palm of his free hand towards her, as his partner turned towards their captive. He seemed to think she was being overcome with emotion and wanted to offer her some comfort.
Forsythe was having none of it and pushed him away. He stumbled in the mud and fell to his knees, barely managing to keep himself from falling into the chasm. Forsythe kept staring and screaming at the top of her lungs. She was trying to raise one of her hands to point.
Kennedy moved closer to the edge of the grave and looked down into the mud. For a second he nearly offered a scream of his own. The marbles he thought he had spotted were not, in fact, marbles after all. They were a pair of open eyes and, as the rain washed away the soil around them, it became increasingly clear that they were still attached to a body, albeit a dead one.
‘SO IF IT hadn’t been for the rain they would have gotten away with it?’
So spoke Detective Sergeant James Irvine, Kennedy’s favourite bagman.
‘Yes,’ Kennedy replied, ‘and that’s the closest we’re getting to seeing the perfect way to dispose of a body.’
‘Are we to assume that it’s a regular method, or a one-off?’
Kennedy looked at Irvine, unable to stop his shoulders drooping in disappointment.
‘Sorry, sorry,’ said Irvine quickly, before Kennedy had a chance to reply. ‘Of course we can’t assume anything at this stage in the investigation.’
On this answer, Kennedy’s shoulders returned to their original position.
A good forty-five minutes had passed since the cuckoo body had been found. The graveyard had been cleared of mourners, who had been moved to the sanctuary of the church to give statements. The several dozen solemn brethren were replaced by an even larger group of Camden Town CID Scene of Crime Officers (SOCO). The mourners and the police resembled one another inasmuch as they all dressed predominantly in black. Bella Forsythe had been transferred to North Bridge House, the oldest building in Camden Town and workplace of Kennedy and his colleagues. The remains of Daniel Elliot had been returned to the undertakers in nearby King’s Cross where his coffin was opened and checked for further irregularities. None were found.
Irvine left Kennedy by himself, staring into the open grave. The corpse had been joined in the pit by a forensic team, who were carefully excavating the body. The more earth they removed, the more the smell of rotting meat threatened to overpower them. The rain might have stopped, but it was still a miserable job.
The corpse was male. Once black-skinned, he was now reddish-green, having met his maker wearing a shiny emerald-green suit. His T-shirt, originally white, was now an inconsistent chocolate colour and his hair was matted with soil and mud. His facial features had been made indistinguishable by the inevitable processes of death.
As the SOCO photographer snapped away, an additional two officers eased themselves cautiously into the grave and gingerly started trying to lift the body out.
After a few minutes it became clear that manpower alone was unequal to the task. Irvine called a halt to their efforts and went scurrying off in the direction of the church, returning a couple of minutes later with a plank and a length of rope. He passed the plank down into the grave, and the four police officers – two at the head and two at the feet – struggled to roll the body on top of it. This done, they fed the rope underneath and passed the ends up to their colleagues to begin hauling. As it tightened, the white rope darkened, and the body rose unsteadily from the grave, limbs jutting horizontally, supported only by rigor mortis.
Pathologist Dr Leonard Taylor, kitted out in Barbour jacket, Barbour hat and green wellies and looking every inch the country doctor, completed a graveside examination of the corpse in about four minutes.
‘No marks, no wounds, no sign of injury of any kind as far as I can see,’ he began. ‘I’d say by the state of the body and the presence of spiders our friend here has been dead for at least forty-eight hours.’
Taylor, unlike the majority of his profession, was not shy about guesstimating the time of death. He loved to offer his opinion, and consistently proved that his gut instinct was equal to the exact science.
‘If you don’t mind old chap, I’d like to take the body back to civilization,’ Taylor continued, once the SOCO had searched the body, finding nothing.
‘Fine,’ Kennedy said. ‘Please do.’
‘I’ll give you my provisional report by last watch today.’
Kennedy looked at his Simon Carter wristwatch. It was three twenty-nine. He guessed that the end of this particular day was going to encroach on tomorrow by at least a few hours. He also accepted the fact that another day was going to pass without him finding out, at his superior’s request, who exactly had been letting the once-elegant building opposite North Bridge House fall into ruin. He watched the SOCO zip the corpse into a body bag, and just as they were loading it into an unmarked police van the heavens opened again, destroying what, if any, evidence remained in the graveyard.
The Detective Inspector braved the rain and watched his men at work. A group to his right were kneeling in the soil searching for footprints, and even when they found what looked like traces, they couldn’t be sure if they were the prints of the mourners, the genuine gravediggers, the churchmen or the workers. They did, however, know for certain that they wouldn’t be the footprints of the ever-efficient SOCO team, led by DS James Irvine. Another group were gathered around the trunk of a tree using white arc lights and a UV light to search for evidence. A third group were diligently examining the sides of the recently vacated grave.
‘Look, sir,’ Irvine said about an hour later, ‘we’re getting absolutely zero here. I’m not sure it’s even worth hanging around. We’ve already bagged everything that’s moveable but it’s my bet that this graveyard is not going to offer up anything worthwhile.’
‘I wouldn’t be so sure, James,’ Kennedy replied, the fingers of his right hand twitching furiously. ‘Whoever left our friend in the grave was convinced that the body would never be found. He’s not going to have been too worried about covering up his tracks…’
‘Aye,’ Irvine cut in, ‘but the rain has certainly made amends for any carelessness.’ He hadn’t really meant to interrupt or contradict his superior but had committed both sins simultaneously.
Kennedy didn’t react to either faux pas, and went on: ‘Let’s just walk through this for a while, James. Let’s not pack up just yet.’
‘Sorry sir, yes, of course, no problem.’
Both detectives headed over to the main entrance of St Pancras Old Church, located in the bend on the left-hand side of Pancras Road as you headed towards Kings Cross. The origins of the church were in the 13th century but it probably hadn’t seen so many men in uniform since it had been used as a barracks for Cromwell’s men in the Civil War.
‘Now let’s see what we have,’ Kennedy began and then, when he appeared to be drawing a blank, he continued, ‘what exactly do we have here, James?’
‘Well, we have a freshly dug grave. The sexton of the church, a Mr…’ Irvine paused as he consulted his notes, ‘Mr Davy Stewart, told us that the grave was dug yesterday afternoon between showers. The work was completed by four o’clock. So, someone spots a freshly dug grave, something clicks in the weird and wonderful workings of the criminal mind, and he, or she, sees the perfect way to dispose of a body.’
‘Let’s back up a wee bit. How did they know there was a freshly dug grave here, James?’ Kennedy began nodding back towards the graveyard. ‘You can’t see it from the street.’
‘Good point, good point, sir,’ Irvine said, getting into the swing. ‘Insider knowledge, perhaps?’
‘Nagh,’ Kennedy replied, deadpan. ‘Too obvious, too traceable.’
‘But you’ve already said, sir, that our suspect didn’t expect the victim to be found.’
‘True, but at the same time he, or she, is not going to want to raise unnecessary suspicions by inquiring about freshly dug graves. It’s hardly an official anorak hobby.’
They stopped talking and listened to the sound of the rain driving relentlessly into the ever-expanding puddles.
‘Of course,’ Kennedy continued, appearing to remember something. ‘There was a piece in the Camden News Journal two days ago about the father of mass-murderer Bella Forsythe dying. I believe the story also carried details of the funeral arrangements and the fact that Miss Forsythe would probably be granted compassionate leave to attend. Come to think of it, that’s probably why there were so many mourners here today. Even the atrocious weather couldn’t keep them away.’
‘Okay. Good. That all works for me, sir. So our murderer has a body he wants to dispose of and now he’s found the perfect hiding place.’
‘Right, but let’s forget for now about whether or not the victim is already dead at this point and concentrate on how the murderer gets the victim to the grave side.’
They were standing by the churchyard gate. Kennedy made a 360-degree turn. To the right of the church and the surprisingly well-manicured grounds was a high wall, running down to the Fleet River. To the left, the graveyard was bordered by the Hospital for Tropical Diseases. Which brought him back to the gate. Kennedy looked back up the eleven steps to the church. His stare continued across the busy road to once-elegant Goldington Crescent with its forty-four windows overlooking the churchyard.
‘Perhaps not, perhaps a little too public,’ Kennedy murmured, as much for his own benefit as Irvine’s. ‘The best way to blend into the surroundings is to appear to be part of the furniture. So we have to think of the least obvious way of moving a body around a graveyard.’
‘Nagh, we’re already covered for two of those.’
‘How about people who would look after the graveyard; maintenance and whatever?’
‘You’re not thinking of landscape gardeners, are you? Would churches employ such professionals to look after their property? I have to admit, the grounds are in first-class condition around here.’
‘Yep,’ Irvine agreed, ‘so someone has been taking great care of it, even as the rain is trying desperately to undo all their work.’
‘Okay, good point, so we’d have to say that if someone, say across the road there, saw a man walking around the graveyard in overalls and with a wheelbarrow he wouldn’t draw any unnecessary and unwanted attention.’
‘Yep. So, for the sake of the argument, our murderer removes the victim,’ Irvine offered, picking up Kennedy’s thread, ‘out of the back of a van, say wrapped in a tarpaulin, places it in a wheelbarrow and just wheels it into the heart of the graveyard.’
‘He’d have a bit of difficulty getting a wheelbarrow up these steps,’ Kennedy chipped in, walking down the steps.
‘Yes, but not impossible.’ Irvine countered, clicking his fingers to spur himself on. ‘Maybe he places the empty wheelbarrow at the top of the steps and then throws the body in its tarpaulin over his shoulder, carries it up the steps and dumps it in the wheelbarrow. He then wheels the body across to the grave. Perhaps he digs the grave an extra foot or so deeper, dumps the body in the bottom and covers it with a layer of soil. He then simply wheels the wheelbarrow out of the graveyard just like you imagine he would have done every day of his life, and no one pays a blind bit of notice to him. Next he drives off in his wee van, confident that the gravediggers and the burial of Daniel Elliot are going to do the rest of his work for him.’
‘That could work,’ Kennedy said, rushing back up the steps and heading off in the direction of the grave, ‘so what we need to check is if there was any extra soil visible.’
‘Well that’s easy, sir,’ Irvine called after him. ‘Both the gravediggers are still here. They were ready to do their work after the memorial service and we’ve kept them hanging around just in case.’
The gravediggers, with a little checking and a lot of moaning, confirmed that the grave had been dug an extra fifteen inches. ‘At least,’ they remarked in unison. However, no extra soil had been added to their original mound of extracted earth. Which meant of course that at least the equivalent of a body’s volume of soil was missing.
Go to The Justice Factory page
About Paul Charles
Also by Paul Charles:
I Love The Sound of Breaking Glass
Last Boat to Camden Town
Fountain of Sorrow
Ballad of Sean & Wilko
First of the True Believers
Hissing of the Silent Lonely Room
I’ve Heard The Banshee Sing