Friday, 8 April 2016

The Favoured Son

“Right, answer me this: Do I look like a flipping postman to you?” Robin said, stood in the doorway of my apartment. I was eating a piece of toast and struggling to answer any of the questions she was posing me. Luckily, however, she didn’t expect a reply. This was a one sided conversation, but then I suppose all conversations with her were. “I mean, where on me does it say postman? Do I have a hoard of black and white cats following me? I could accept it if I were called Patricia, but I’m not!”
I finished my piece of toast and, after wiping away a crumb suspended in honey on the side of my lips, shook  my head. “Robin, I’ve no idea why the postman asks you to deliver our letters, but I imagine it’s probably because he’s got into a row with the receptionist again, doesn’t feel like walking the six flights of stairs to this very apartment, and then sees an athletic, kind hearted girl such as yourself and decides to ask you the favour instead. I don’t understand why you’re so angry with him.”
“It’s a matter of principle.” She said. “He should expect me to do his job. I don’t expect him to write brilliant real crime reports.”
“No.” I said. “You expect me to write them for you. When was the last time you actually wrote the article, by the way?”
Rachel entered by the corner, strolling across the course of the room and towards me. “You winding each other up again? You’re like children sometimes.”
“What do you mean sometimes?” I demanded.
Robin handed Rachel the envelope she’d carried up the steps. “This arrived for you. Addressed to a Mr and Mrs Rathbone, but I assume you wouldn’t go that far without telling me. “
Rachel accepted it and slid her finger under the lid. “How strange. Probably some old dear you’ve interviewed, Gabriel, getting confused.”
“Yeah. Probably.” I said, standing up and walking towards the top of the spiral staircase. I grabbed my jacket and my scarf- it may have been April but we were still in Scotland- and grabbed my car keys from the small bowl next to the coat wrack. 
“Gabriel, have you booked up a holiday?” Rachel asked, a hint of confusion in her voice..
I turned and frowned at her. “No. I don’t think so.”
She showed me the contents of the envelope. Two tickets for a budget airline. “Where to?” I asked.
“South of France. It’s a one way ticket.”
“Sounds like someone’s trying to run you out of town.” Robin laughed.
“Lawrence Brooks if we’re late for our meeting.” I said. I turned back to Rachel and said, “Don’t worry about it; I’ll investigate later. Have a good day. You got another meeting?”
“The university is being taken into a trust and now that Tom’s passed over, I haven’t got a shield to bat away the meetings with.” She sighed. “Still, if it comes with a bigger check, I suppose it’s worth it.”
I grinned and rushed over to her, kissing her on the cheek. “See you tonight. Good luck.”
“You too. Don’t take any rubbish from Lawrence.”
“I’ll try not to.”  I smiled and hurried down the steps, Robin quick to follow. Together, we followed the mass of steps and stairs that the postman had been so insistent to miss, passed by the scary receptionist, wandered into the garage and found my car. The engine was roaring and we were up the ramp onto the street in miutes.

Since the series of events that began with a bullet lodging itself in my shoulder (see Publishing Demands), security had come much tighter on the new, temporary offices of the Pavilion Post. Robin and I were searched once on the ground floor doors and then again before entering the waiting room outside Brook’s office. By the time I was able to sit down, a blessed relief considering how much my shoulder had been hurting me of recent, I felt throughly searched but for some reason no safer. Robin picked up a back issue of the paper, the type of pointless object that defined the Post, and was flicking to Page Eight when the door swung open and a man walked out. I stared at him for a second, my brain running a furious recognition program, and then realised who he was. “Richard!” I cried. “Good to see you my man!”
Richard caught my glimpse and grinned. “Gabriel Rathbone. Good God. How many years has it been?”
“Too many.” I went over and gave him a friendly, yet manly, hug. “God, I thought you were working at the Gazette nowadays. What’re you doing here?”
“I’ve just got a job here.” He said. “Brooks- he hasn’t changed a bit, has he?- wants someone to replace the sports reporter and here I am. It’s good to be home.”
I grinned. “We’ve got a meeting now but I’d be glad to catch up later. How about the Victoria tonight?”
“That old dive?” Richard cried. “Sounds good to me. Who’s your friend?”
Robin put down the back issue and stood. “Robin Greenhouse. I’m his partner.”
“In love or in work?”
I waited, ever so slightly worried, to hear what her answer would be. Rachel’s bombshell from almost two years earlier was in the forefront of my mind and making me comfortable. (See the Evolving Robber.)
“In work.” Robin laughed. “Me and him? God, god no. That would never happen. Not in a billion years. Nope. Never. No way, Jose. No, no, no, no. Huh, Gabe. No way would any of this be going on. Robriel, maybe even Gabin, is not a ship that will be leaving the harbour. Nope. No way.”
“Right, okay. Sure.” Richard said, shooting me a glance that asked me whether or not the girl was a loony.
“I am a free bird.” She continued. “Flapping through the air, no man, no responsibilities. Just an open mind, a happy heart and a sense of adventure. I am definitely single.”
“Maybe you should come along for a drink tonight, then?” He suggested. 
“Oh, you old flirt!” She cried, patting his arm. “Calm down! You’ll be suggesting we get married next.” She let out a grand laugh.
Richard frowned. “See you later, Gabe.” He said, and wandered off.
I waited until he’d gone and then said, “What the hell was that?”
“Shut up.” She said.
“Ooh, you old flirt.” I mocked her.
“Shut up.” She said again. “Who is he?”
“Richard Burleigh.” I said. “He was the other candidate for my column when I first began, Amelia’s other apprentice. When I got the job running our column, he went and worked for the Gazette. I haven’t seen him in years.”
“Well, he seems like a cracking fella.” Robin said. 
“You certainly acted like he was.”
“Shut up.”
Brook’s secretary smiled at the two of us. “You can go in now.”
“Thank you.” I said, and knocked on the door. There was a pause a moment and then a voice cried, “Come in!”
I pushed the door open and we wandered into the office. There were a selection of pictures and covers from salvaged from the fire at the old building, (See A Breadcrumb Trail of Clues) with ashy corners and illegible headlines. They looked nice in the Sepia tinted glass frames, however, and the fact that one of the covers was one of my own brought a smile to my face. Brooks looked up from the papers he was reading, his stocky, ugly face reminding me perfectly why some called him the Ogre. “Alright, you two? How’re you doing?”
“Good, thanks.” I said, worried as to why he was being nice. Were we both going to be sacked? “How are you, sir?”
“I’m well, Gabriel. I’m well. Did you see Richard?”
“There was no missing him. How did you rope him over from the Gazette?”
“They owed us slightly after the kidnapping (See Publishing Demands), and considering that they’ve been downgrading their real crime section, I thought Richard was a perfect pick. Shame about Amelia, otherwise you could have had a little reunion.”
I smiled. “That would have been nice.”
“Just because I am actually in this room,” Robin interrupted, “why have you called us in, sir?”
“Good question.” Brooks leant in a little closer. “We’ve had a tip off. There’s been a murder. The police are currently attending it; I’ve liaised with them and got you access. Unfortunately it’s not Inspector Lodsbury, instead some other officer named Thompson but I said you wouldn’t mind.”
“Do we know who the corpse belongs to?”
“Well, that’s where it get’s interesting.” Brooks said. “Our tip told us that the body hasn’t been identified yet. That there isn’t enough of this corpse left for it to be identified.”
“Right.” I said. “Should be interesting. Where is this corpse? We’ll go now.”
“Hm. Before I tell you, just let me remind you, I’ve found you a nice, interesting murder to get your teeth into. So far, I’ve been pretty good to you.”
“Lawrence?” Robin said.
The Editor sighed. “I don’t think you’re going to like the crime scene very much.”

“Sewers.” Robin sighed. “Why is it always bloody sewers?”
“What do you mean always?” I cried. “We’ve only ever had one case in a sewer and I went in there on my own.”
We’d driven down from the Post’s building, racing through town until we left the thriving labyrinthine mass of lime rock and history for the polite roads of rural Scotland. It took us half an hour up the motorway, passing two petrol stations and a McDonald’s along the way, before we found where we were heading. The smell hit us before we even opened the car doors. I cringed as I turned off the ignition. “Why would anybody want to work here? I mean, like, seriously. Why in the name of sanity would you go to your careers officer and say, ‘Excuse me mate, I’d like to work at a massive cess pit.”
“Sewage treatment plant, thank you very much.” Robin corrected me.
I saw a couple of workers stood with policemen who looked as if they were doing their best not to break down in tears at the odour. “I wonder if anybody who works here actually has a partner. I mean, can you imagine it? Your partner comes home stinking of this every bloody day. It must drive you insane. Imagine if Richard smelt like this, you wouldn’t fancy him that much then.”
“Oh ha ha.” Robin said, climbing out of the car and pulling a face like she was choking to death. “I don’t fancy Richard.”
“Oh no. He was flirting with you, the old flirt.”
“I hate you so much.”
“I know you do.” I said and followed her across the car park towards where the police cars were waiting. A breeze, which was doing it’s best to suffocate us in the horrific scent of the sewers, played with the Do Not Cross Tape. Robin ducked under it and set about walking straight through the centre of the cars and towards a procession of white tents next to a porter cabin in front of the Sewage Treatment Plant itself. She was about halfway there when a police officer came over.
“Excuse me?” The officer said, her accent thick. “Who are you and where do you think you’re going?”
“Robin Greenhouse.” She said, drawing a business card. “Pavillion Post. That’s my assistant, Gabriel Rathbone.”
I caught up with her, ever so slightly out of breath. “Hi there.”
“Our editor called ahead.” Robin said. “So if you wouldn’t mind letting us through, that’d be much appreciated.”
The officer gave Robin a curious glance and reached towards her radio. “This is PC McAvoy. Inspector Thompson, are you there?”
“Go ahead Constable McAvoy.” The Inspector said, his voice crackly.
“Got a couple of journalists from the Pavilion Post. Said their editor has phoned ahead?”
“Greenhouse and Rathbone.”
I stopped myself from announcing it was Rathbone and Greenhouse. 
“Send them on, Constable. We’re in the tent.”
“Roger that.” McAvoy said and turned the radio off. She gestured for the two of us to go to the closest tent. “You’ll be needing to put on bunny suits before they let you through.”
“Thanks.” I said, hiding my grimace. I didn’t mind bunny suits; I’d got used to them after far too many years as an investigative journalist, but since I’d suffered the injury in my shoulder, they weren’t ideal. I sighed. The things we do for justice.
As we neared the tent, the smell got worse and worse. I mused to Robin that you’d think it would be this bad in a place where they treated the sewage, but she reminded me that we walking with the city to our backs, so we were probably approaching where the  sewage entered.
Robin held the door for me as I went in. There were several policemen inside, drinking cups of coffee from polystyrene cups and trying not to concentrate on the smell. “Rathbone and Greenhouse.” I said. “Thompson is expecting us.”
“Bunny suits.” One of the officers said, pointing to the table to his side.
There were several packages holding never before used bunny suits. I threw one to Robin and then began to shrug my trench coat off, pulling the bunny suit on over my shirt and trousers. My shoulder screamed at me as I moved it but I’d learnt to put up with the pain. Once I’d got the suit ready, I pulled up the hood and looked at Robin. “Ready?”
She, being a youthful and energetic soul, had already got her suit on. “Sure.”
I looked to the officers who pointed to the door in the side. I smiled to thank them and we walked through.
Inspector Thompson was stood on the other side with a couple of forensic scientists and the source of the smell. Robin and I both stared at the half decomposed, half rat nawed body laying on the stretcher. They were right when they’d said it was unrecognisable; the face and fingers had been eaten and the rest of the body was either bloated beyond proportion or burrowed open. Any part of me that didn’t feel completely and utterly sickened by the body was repelled by the smell; a thousand times stronger than that outside. I could tell that Robin couldn’t wait to get out of there.
“Mr Rathbone, Miss Greenhouse.” The Inspector said. He was a young man, but his eyes were tired. A weary smile of greeting clambered slowly across his face. “You’ve joined us at the opportune moment; a few seconds earlier and you would have found us downstairs.”
“He was in the sewers?” Robin said.
Thompson nodded. “We’ve no idea how he got down there; security here is absolute and there are few places in the city accessible to the public where such a huge item could be disposed off. Needless to say, it’ll become much easier once we’ve identified him.”
“That might be harder than you’d wish.” One of the scientists said. “Finger prints are gone, as are the eyes, and there’s no clothes to check for labels. No tattoos, no accessories. We’re going to have to run this one by Dental Records.”
“How long will that take?” Robin said.
“Potentially a week or two.” The scientist said. “The Administrators have brought in a new system that’s taking a very long time to get working.”
“Right.” I said. “Notify us when you identify it; we’ll start our investigation in ernest then. Do you want us to have a look around any suitable entrance points for the sewers?”
I heard Robin sigh, “Great.”
Before Thompson could answer, an officer was sticking their head into the tent. “Inspector, can I have a word for a second?”
“Yeah, of course.” Thompson said. He turned to us. “Excuse me.”
He went out and I turned to Robin. “Damn inconvenience about the identification.”
“Bit of a coincidence, don’t you think?” She replied. “That every conceivable element for identification has been destroyed.”
“Besides the teeth.”
“Besides the teeth, that aren’t going to be any good for God knows how long.”
“Are you suggesting that one of the administrators is the murderer?”
She laughed. “I’m not going that far, but I think whoever’s being this is aware of what they’ve achieved.”
The tent flap opened and Thompson walked through. He had a grave look on his face. “Mr Rathbone. I’ve just had a call from Inspector Lodsbury.”
“Oh yes. How is he?”
“Confused. He’s investigating a case of kidnapping at the moment and they’ve just received a ransom note.”
“Does he want any assistance?”
“No.” Thompson said. “The note was written using letters cut from the paper, pretty old fashioned stuff really, and, well, all the letters are cut from your articles.”
“They are?” 

Thompson nodded. “For that reason, Gabriel Rathbone, I’m arresting you on suspicion of conspiracy to kidnap.”

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