Smoke

When I’m thinking I like to smoke. My wife never let me smoke in the house, she never liked me smoking at all. One year she got me a Zippo lighter with “Smokers Suck” stamped on the side, I took the hint and I got into the habit of doing my thinking in the great outdoors. That’s how I found myself on a lonely high street at 4am, smoking my last cigarette and wondering where I could get some more. I was cold and I had the beginnings of a first class migraine coming. I needed to go home and sleep but I knew that sleep wouldn’t come tonight. I was working on a case, although it felt more like the case was working on me. I knew I was missing something important but I just couldn’t figure out what. So I just kept on walking and smoking and waiting for inspiration to hit me.

 

The thing was, this case should have been simple, we knew exactly what was going on but we still couldn’t get to the bottom of it. Someone was targeting people with serious money, breaking into their well-protected mansions and ripping off whatever they had worth taking. Whenever one of them called the police we would go round and see the same MO each time, the thieves had gone straight for the main attraction, whether it was jewels, the family Gainsborough, bonds whatever, plus whatever else they could carry out of there. After the first couple of robberies we started seeing some of the items showing up in pawn shops and through known fences, but never the big stuff. The paintings, the bonds, the jewels, they were never seen again. There were always plenty of fingerprints but we could never match them, which was strange because these were pretty tough places to crack. Any one capable of getting in there should have had a bit of form. They should have been known to us.

  

I took a last draw on my cigarette and threw it down into the flooded gutter, then something caught my eye - it was a mobile phone, still dry on the wet pavement, and it was ringing. I picked it up and answered it.

Hello.”, I said.

Hello Mr Chapel, I have a message for you.”

The voice on the other end was female and sounded stilted, like she was reading something out.

What message, who is this?”

It’s from Pauline, she says to meet her at Coopers Wharf.”

I threw the phone right through a pizza shop window.

Pauline was my wife, she worked as a reporter for the paper here until she killed by a drunk driver seven years ago.

Whoever it was had really touched a nerve mentioning her. I was so furious that I didn’t think how strange it was that that phone had rung just as I had passed by, or that the caller had known it would be me who answered, or that they knew just what to say to make me react. I didn’t think at all, I just ran.

I got to Coopers wharf still boiling with rage, the years and the cigarettes hadn’t been good to me though and I ended up bent double in a coughing fit that made me see stars. Once I could breathe again I straightened up and took a look around.   

Coopers wharf was where the scum of the city washed up, the wharfside had declined along with the heavy industry that used to support this city. Now it was home to a few rusty barges, some half-dead junkies and a whole lot of rats. Tonight it looked like it was just me and the rats, the place was dark and deserted, I could just about make out the shapes of the old loading gear rusting in the dark. There was no street lighting down here, the things that went on at Coopers Wharf were best done in the dark. 

Mr Chapel?” I jumped at the sound of the voice behind me, it was the same woman as before. She was in her early twenties, dressed in office clothes, smart but slightly dishevelled. She was holding a mobile phone in front of her. Suddenly her face was lit up as the phone’s screen came on, she looked petrified.

You must follow me.” She was reading messages from the phone, “I have a message for you.”

Screw you!” I shouted into the night, “If you want to speak to me come down here and do it.”

The girls face lit up again, another message.

You must follow me,” she read shakily, “otherwise I will kill this girl.”

There was a crack and a bullet thudded into the ground about 3 feet away from where she stood. I couldn’t make out the gunman in the gloom, there were plenty of places to hide around here though, he could be anywhere.

OK.” I was sounding into the darkness again, “I’ll come with her, please don’t shoot again. I’m unarmed”.

Again her face lit up as another message came in.

“I know.” She said as she walked into the darkness.

I followed her into a rotting warehouse, the floor was littered with broken glass and it stank. A voice came out of the gloom somewhere to the left of me,   

I don’t like loose ends Chapel”, I hadn’t heard that voice for nearly ten years but I recognised it instantly.

Harrison,”, I said, “I thought you were dead”

Not dead Chapel,” he replied, ”just sleeping.”

Harrison was a bent copper from way back, he’d been caught taking bribes and extorting protection from local businesses but the rumours were that he was up to much more. He never made it to court – too many witnesses backed out of giving evidence. He would still have gone down if Pauline could have testified, she’d been on his case for years but the paper would never publish what she had for fear of upsetting some people in high places. With her death the case against him collapsed and he just disappeared, until now.  

Harrison, you bastard…” I moved towards him when he loomed out of the shadows with his gun drawn, without warning he shot the girl dead in front of me.

You’ve killed her! What did she have to do with this?”

I didn’t kill her Chapel, you did. You lured her down here and killed her. The police will find that the last number she called was to a phone with your prints on it, they’ll find a gun that shot her with your prints on it and they’ll find you dead at the scene. Suicide – it was all too much for you after your wife died.”     

But why? Why did you come back?”

Come back? I’ve never been away. Who do you think has been relieving the well-to-do of this town of their silverware?”

That was all you?”

Of course it was, although I was going to have to stop soon, running short of assistants you see, they only have a short shelf life.”

You killed them, Jesus Harrison you’re a monster, there must have been over 30 burglaries.”

I told you I didn’t like loose ends, and now I’m going to cut off one more. I should have done you when I got your wife, still better late than never.”

He levelled the gun at my chest and shot, the pain was agonising at first then I slipped out of consciousness.

The next thing I knew I was in a strange bed with a nurse leaning over me asking if I knew my name. The bullet had hit the lighter in my jacket pocket, I had a few cracked ribs and some bruising that had to be seen to be believed but otherwise I was OK.

Now we knew that Harrison was still at large we'd catch up with him sooner or later, for now I just needed a cigarette.  

 

  • The phone is dry on the wet pavement

  • Chapel is being framed for the girls murder

  • I don't like loose ends

  • Chapel wife knew about the crimes

  • Police corruption was behind the burglaries

  • Wife was a reporter, killed in hit and run

  • Girl was stooge in break in

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