Authors: J.J. Campbell
âThe skeleton you found,' de Lacy continued, âwas that of Thomas Baker, a sailor who was hung from the yardarm of HMS
in 1801, hence the injuries to his neck being consistent with a long drop hanging. His crime was mutiny and his body was given up for medical dissection, following which his skeleton was donated to the then newly built medical college here at Solsbury, listed in the catalogue as HS004 and therefore storedÂ â¦'
He paused to pull out the lowest of a set of drawers, revealing a set of neatly arranged bones.
ââ¦Â here,' he finished, âalthough as you have no doubt deduced by now these are not the bones of Thomas Baker. So, without further ado, I have the pleasure of introducing you to the Mr Andrew Sixsmith, late of Islington, London and the victim of Albert and William Whadcoat, also of that borough.'
âOK,' Susan answered, âI understand, but how did you know to come here?'
âThe matter was simple enough,' de Lacy replied. âIndeed, one might even use the word “elementary”, although naturally there was a degree of detail work to be done and I had to be sure of my facts before presenting them to you.'
âAnd to get maximum effect,' she pointed out.
âBut of course,' de Lacy replied. âIt wouldn't have been any fun otherwise.'
âSo Hodges swapped the skeletons?' she asked, âand I understand why he had to retrieve Sixsmith's remains when the new housing estate was built, but why bury a different skeleton?'
âBecause,' de Lacy replied, âwhat Hodges couldn't disguise was the presence of a grave. The shape, after all, is rather distinctive, and with diggers cutting into the soil he must have reasoned that it was likely to be noticed. He therefore chose to substitute another skeleton, one with which he had no connection. As you say, he must have learnt of the construction of the new estate and thought Sixsmith's body would be found. We now know it wasn't, as the edge of the estate stops some way short of the grave site, but Hodges wasn't prepared to take that risk. Thinking a grave would be found, he took the skeleton of Thomas Baker and buried it in Sixsmith's place, no doubt hoping it was be dismissed as the wayside burial place of a condemned man. Had the grave been discovered, and had not John Fellowes made his deathbed confession, Hodges' plan would almost certainly have succeeded.'
âBut wouldn't the university have noticed the swap?'
In answer de Lacy pulled open the next drawer up, revealing a similar set of bones, then the one above and the one above that, each with the same macabre contents.
âThe university possesses several human skeletons,' he explained, âall of which are carefully labelled and recorded. A missing skeleton would quickly have been noticed, but a similar one, also with a broken neck, would pass casual inspection, and indeed, anything short of being brought out for study by an anthropologist, something the relevant departments at Solsbury currently lack. Hodges was working as a porter here, and no doubt weighed the risks involved, quite well in my estimation. You'll have realised, of course, that his choice of a skeleton with damaged neck bones provides strong evidence that he knew how Sixsmith died, and at least implies that he was present at the time.
âThat also explains why no trace of Sixsmith was found. No doubt his body was wrapped up, probably in plastic sheeting or something similar. Hodges would have known that, thus allowing him to retrieve the entire skeleton. Indeed, it is easy to envision the entire, ghastly process. Yes, I think we can fairly speculate that he would have removed the bones of Thomas Baker first, taking the risk that their absence would be noticed as less than that of having to visit the grave site twice. He'd have then driven to Hertfordshire, effected the exchange, evidently with great care, and returned here. No doubt there would have been a little preparation to do, the sordid details of which are probably best not dwelt on, but as a porter here he'd have been able to get hold of chemicals such as ammonia with no great difficulty. A day, maybe two, and he'd have been able to place Sixsmith's bones where you now see them. And
âTime to arrest Victor Hodges then,' she replied. âThank you, Charles.'
âTime enough for a glass of Champagne to celebrate, I'd have thought,' de Lacy replied, determined not to miss what might be his last opportunity to invite her to bed, âif you'd care to join me in my room at The Bell?'
De Lacy was smiling happily as he strode out from the door of his club. It was an expression he'd worn almost continuously for the best part of a month, partly for the satisfaction of the way he'd solved The Case of the Incriminatory Skeleton, but far more for the memory of the warm, sensual embraces he'd enjoyed from Detective Sergeant Susan McIntyre in his room at The Bell that same afternoon. She had been a little surprised at his invitation, having assumed that he'd been holding himself aloof because he felt he was too good for her, but once the misunderstanding had been cleared up and they'd shared a bottle of Krug she had given free rein to her passion.
The encounter had not been repeated, but there was at least the implication that it might be, adding a pleasant sense of anticipation to de Lacy's generally good mood. His efforts had also born fruit, with the arrest not only of Victor Hodges but of William Whadcoat, with the police apparently convinced that modern forensic methods and the possibility of finding new witnesses could secure a conviction, while there was also the confession of John Fellowes. Even his modicum of sympathy for Hodges was no longer an issue, it having died after the encounter with Mark Whadcoat, who had evidently been tipped off. To make de Lacy's happiness complete there had been no sign of Mark Whadcoat, who was clearly no more than a bully, relying on the reputation of his family to make his threats seem realistic but in practise too concerned for his position as a businessman to risk the consequences.
Now whistling an air from a favourite musical, de Lacy turned into St Alban's Street, stepping out to go around a black Mercedes parked with one wheel on the pavement and glimpsing no more than a movement in the shadows before a sudden burst of pain struck the back of his skull. He twisted around, and one brief, horrid instant found himself staring into the scowling face of Mark Whadcoat before blackness closed in. Panic seemed to follow on the instant as he opened his eyes to darkness and an agonised throbbing at the back of his head. His body jerked, kicking and striking out with his arms by pure instinct to meet hard metal, with fresh terror well up in his mind as he realised he was in the boot of a car.
Time passed, his consciousness returning to normal only slowly and his feelings of fear and panic welling up time and again despite his efforts to think clearly. Yet when the car finally stopped he had managed to coil his body tightly together in the hope of delivering a powerful kick to his attacker. The chance never came, the boot swinging up to reveal Mark Whadcoat stood well back and with a gun in his hand.
âOut,' Whadcoat ordered.
De Lacy obeyed, moving slowly and carefully as he took in his surroundings. They were parked at the entrance to some sort of abandoned garage site, with concrete underfoot and a rusting barrier wedged open beside the car. Moonlight provided a dull sheen to the ground and made black shadows of nearby trees, while showing the glint of metal in the car boot.
âTake the spade and walk that way,' Whadcoat commanded, keeping the gun carefully trained on de Lacy as he gestured with his free hand.
âLook, IÂ â¦' de Lacy began.
âShut up!' Whadcoat snapped. âAnd stay quiet. You put my old man away and you're going down, dead, like you fucking well deserve!'
Whadcoat's voice was hard, pitiless, bringing de Lacy's terror up to the point at which he could barely think at all. His hands were shaking violently as he took the spade.
âThat's right,' Whadcoat went on as de Lacy began to walk away from the car. âYou're going to dig your own grave, Mr de Lacy, and then you're going into it, alive.'
They'd reached the edge of the concrete, which gave way to soft, mossy ground.
âThis will do,' Whadcoat said, flicking the gun sideways to indicate a smooth area in the shadow of the hedge. âGo on, dig, and while you dig, think about what's going to happen to you, you fucking little ponce.'
De Lacy's lips parted in a whimper of fear as he pushed the spade to the earth. Whadcoat gave a brief, cruel laugh that turned to a gasp of pain as the spade smacked up against his hand, sending the gun high into the air. Whadcoat cursed, clutching his wrist, as de Lacy struck again, in blind panic, bringing the spade around with every ounce of his strength and the full reach of his long arms. The blade bit home, stuck, and pulled free as de Lacy jerked it frantically back for another blow, only to hold back as Whadcoat slumped to the ground, all too plainly dead.
Shaking violently, unable to move and fighting the urge to be sick, de Lacy stayed as he was, but his brain was already in turmoil, running through all the possible consequences of his actions. None were at all good, and yet it seemed certain that nobody else knew where he was, nor what Whadcoat had intended to do. His kidnapping had to have been carefully planned as well, and a man of Whadcoat's experience would surely have chosen a CCTV blind spot as well as a quiet street late at night. All that was needed was to dispose of evidence, especially anything that might link him to Whadcoat. The gun would be easy, while the car could be taken some distance away and burnt out to destroy any DNA, along with the spade, but first came the body.
With a long sigh and still-trembling hands, de Lacy began to dig.
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Published by Accent Press Ltd 2014
Copyright Â© J.J. Campbell 2014
The right of J.J. Campbell to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
The story contained within this book is a work of fiction. Names and characters are the product of the author's imagination and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
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