Monday, 4 February 2019

When is a murder not a murder?


When the police rushed into 116  Buddleia Avenue they found Louise Slater lying on the sofa dead with Jim Slater beating her and  cursing furiously. He was taken into custody on suspicion of murder, it seemed a straightforward case, although DCI. Miller wasn't so sure. When the lab results came back he was even more puzzled.
‘ Everything alright boss?’ DI. Gill asked,
‘ Post mortem results on Mrs. Slater, inconclusive as yet but it turns out her old man couldn't have killed her.’
Gill looked up from his desk, ‘What? but he..’
Miller pushed his chair back, ‘ She died a few hours before we were called out. He was in town at the time at the chiropodist, all verified. It seems like what we found  was some sort of outburst of grief.’
‘Where is he now?’
‘Back home I expect.’
Dave Gill squinted at his friend and boss, 'I'd say, “that's that then”, but I know that look, you've got something on your mind.’
That Look- of Miller’s was impenetrable until he had worked out what he thought, which was often  crazy and usually right. ‘Mmm something, don't know what; but there's more to this. See if you can find out anything about the Slaters.’
He found out a lot about the Slaters over the next couple of weeks. Speaking to neighbors, local proprietors and Mrs Slaters’ friends he pieced together a very sad picture.
         Miller tossed the findings down, 'Jim Slater, what a piece of dog dirt, and his wife, an angel, why did she stay with him?’
Gill walked over from the filing cabinet,  ‘ Well I just found out last night that she left him for another bloke about 20 years ago, and Slater being the loving forgiving type ha ha, had her back. And never let her forget it, but from what I gathered he’d treated her badly before that.’
Miller got up and paced around, 'This is all very strange: he didn't love his wife, he seemed to despise her for some reason, and yet he was in such a state when we found him.’
‘Maybe he was overcome with guilt or remorse,’ Gill offered.
Miller shook his head, 'He should have been but he seemed  angry.’
Gill asked  whether Slater might have been angry with himself, but Miller was thinking and heard nothing.
A couple of weeks later Gill had some news:
‘Interesting development boss, Jim Slater has been admitted to mental hospital.’
‘Really? what's up with him?’
‘The neighbors had been hearing a lot of banging from his house, and he'd been walking around the garden and the street muttering and  shouting. I won't repeat some of the things he was saying but he kept referring to, “That bitch”, in pretty atrocious terms. He'd started punching walls.’
‘ Which hospital is he in?’
‘ The one off the Newland Rd.’
Miller looked pleased, 'Mmm, I know one of the consultants there. I think I'll go and have a chat with her.’
A few days later Sarah Cunningham was sat with Mike Miller in a corner of the staff restaurant. She was staring into her coffee and talking half to Mike and half to herself, ‘ So the case is closed. But you're still following it up, “under the radar”, and I'm asked to report on a patient, “under the radar”. Which is another way of saying breaching every code of professional conduct and breaking the law. So I could lose my job and end up in jail! Why can't I have ordinary friends?’
Mike knew that she would help him so he continued, 'Sarah, I’m pretty certain this guy  killed his wife, and whether he ever comes to justice or not I have to find out for sure. These are some background reports that Dave put together about the Slaters from people who knew them.’
At that moment Mike's phone beeped a reminder, ‘ Sarah, got to go: meeting with the Boss. See what you can do.’
As Miller was grabbing his coat Sarah asked, “ By the way, this murdered women, how did she she die?’
‘ Natural causes,’ and he was gone.
There were a number of articles about Mrs Slater's death in the local paper over the next few weeks. One in particular risked a libel case due to its scathing account of Jim Slater's character, the only problem was everyone knew it was true.
                                            The shop assistant was wrapping up the coat that Sarah Cunningham had just purchased, ’She came in here you know with that husband of hers, she was a lovely woman, she asked if we stocked a particular brand: Tiklas, Scandinavian, ooh beautiful stuff, anyway she got the name wrong and asked for Rikki-Tikki Tavi, well we laughed. Until. He pulled her away. He was going on about how she'd humiliated him in public, made a right fuss. Dreadful man.’
The telephone went in DCI. Miller's office: ‘ Personal call for you sir, I don't know if you want to take it, it might be a joke: a lady who wouldn't give her name asking for Sherlock Miller.’
Miller smiled, 'Put her through Debbie please.’
‘ Hello Sarah,’
‘ How did you know it was me?’ She sounded surprised.
'Well not because I'm a detective. Your sense of humour doesn't change!’
‘I’ll take that as a compliment,’ she said, ‘can you meet me at that restaurant on the bridge tomorrow afternoon, the garden at the back is always quiet then, you're paying. I've got something for you.’
Mike liked this place: relaxed, classy, and slightly bohemian, 'Shall we share a bottle of wine with our food, by the way what are you having?’
Sarah looked up from the menu, ‘ I'll have the Beef and Horseradish platter, no wine for me I'll have a glass of beer please.’
‘ Yes, beef and beer, perfect. Anyway first off, why are you treating a natural death as a murder?’
‘Because I don't think it was natural.’
When their food and drinks arrived and the waiter had gone back Mike  was keen to hear what Sarah had to tell him.
She began, ‘Jim Slater is currently in a time out room, which  sounds nice but it's a padded cell, he's hitting things all the time. But I think it's what lies behind this that may be important for you: he has a personality disorder.’
‘You're not kidding the guy’s a complete sod.’
Sarah continued, ‘ Yes, but this is a technical term for a group of disorders, one of them is narcissism, and your Jim Slater is a classic case, that is clear from the reports you gave me.’
‘ So what are the symptoms of this disorder?’
‘ Controlling, lack of empathy: indeed a complete inability to understand or care about other people's feelings which they routinely crush. They try to own people,  but refuse any kind of commitment themselves, they are very clever at laying guilt trips on people, they are never to blame for anything, they have a massive sense of entitlement,’
‘That last one sounds like my kids!’ Mike laughed.
Sarah smiled too, ‘ but it is taken to very cruel degrees in this disorder.’
Mike was intrigued, ‘ So what's going on with him now?’
‘That's a puzzle: narcissists use people and if those people escape they just move on to someone else, as long as they are feeding off someone they don't care. But there is something else at work here which means he can't move on. I think that is why he is so angry: angry with her for having the audacity to die; so now he has no-one to control.’
‘I reckon I need to do some reading up on Narcissism.’
'Read this then,’ Sarah passed him a booklet,’ It's a sort of dummies guide to personality disorders.’
'Careful, remember I'm paying.’
Gill walked into the office, and noticed Sarah's booklet on the desk,‘ Thinking of becoming a shrink boss?’
‘Don't think so, this job's hard but…. My consultant friend lent me this, have a read of the highlighted section and tell me what you think.’
Five minutes later Gill had finished reading the booklet.
‘ You could change the title from, “ How to spot a narcissist”, to “ How to spot Jim Slater,” ’ Gill observed, ‘it's all there: nasty control freak, puts people down all the time, blames everybody; and it seems his missus was at the receiving end of it all.’
Miller shook his head,‘ How does someone live with that eh Dave?’
Miller was on the telephone when Gill came back from lunch.
‘ Thank you very much for calling, Mrs. Edgely, I'll check my appointments and arrange to come and see you with my colleague, you've been most helpful. I'll be in touch.’ Miller looked very pleased, 'We’re going to Reading, Dave to see Jacqueline Edgely.’
‘ And who is she?’
‘Louise Slater’s sister.’

It was to her sister that Louise had fled twenty years ago to escape her cruel domineering husband. She hadn't left him for another man: the rumours were untrue; she had just left him. And nine months later to Jacqueline's horror she went back to him as he appeared to be having some kind of mental breakdown. After that the two sisters had difficulty keeping in touch as letters were destroyed or hidden, but they did manage to keep up some contact over the years by Jacqueline sending letters to the post office where Louise would pick them up. She was as mystified as anyone as to why her sister stayed in such an abysmal situation.
Mike and Sarah sat down with two coffees,‘ So, I can see through layman's eyes how difficult it would be living with someone like Jim Slater but what does your experience of these things tell you? Could it bring on an early death for instance?’
Sarah thought for a moment, 'Mental pressure of any kind could have that effect, and goodness knows she had more than a fair share. But, there would be symptoms: like high blood pressure, high blood sugar maybe diabetes, low immune system, addictions, but from what that post mortem report says there weren't any signs of these, she just, died.’
Mike kissed his wife goodnight as she went up to bed. The kids were asleep, it had been a lovely evening and he wasn't thinking about work. He turned on the TV.  A documentary about the resettlement of Native Americans in the nineteenth century only mildly interested him but he left it on. He was half asleep when a comment caught his attention: “ Many otherwise strong and healthy native men died young for no apparent reason. Sympathetic people who knew them said that as they had been deliberately resettled on land far away and very different from their homelands they felt their lives had been stolen. They died of broken hearts”
'That's it!’ he shouted, DCI. Miller was awake, so was was his wife now.
She wandered back in, 'Are you alright darling? Ha, well I know you're not that's why I married you!’
Miller explained his discovery to Gill
‘ I'd been reading some accounts by people who have lived with narcissists, mostly partners, employees, sometimes kids. They all talk about having the life drained out of them, I'd imagined that being a purely mental phenomenon. But when I heard about the Native Americans dying, “of broken hearts,” as they put it, I realized that was what happened to Louise Slater, Jim Slater crushed and sucked the life out of her until there really wasn't any left.’
‘Huh, a murder that's not a murder, but really is one, that's a first for us. Looks like that is that.’
‘I guess so, but I can't stop wondering what made old Slater turn out like he did?’
Mike Miller was thinking again.

                              WILF JAN 2019

Thursday, 20 December 2018

Characters in Search of a Story

Part 1
The man suddenly became aware of himself and then slowly, of a half lit stage which he didn't understand for a few minutes. But thoughts and ideas were coming very rapidly, like scrolls unrolling to him from many directions. He soon understood a lot of things.
              In the corner a middle-aged woman appeared, she had no expression on her face. Looking  up towards him, at first she was puzzled, then she smiled and realised somehow that his name was Richard. And that hers was Vareena.
Richard was reading a notebook he had found in an office at the back of the stage. Vareena joined him and together they read outlines of their characters, their backgrounds and personal details, she discovered that she liked gin and tonic and wondered what it tasted like. Richard's pronounced Adam's apple was exactly  how it was described. There was a lot of crossing out and some parts looked as if they had been spat on. On the front page barely visible was a title:
                         “RICHARD AND VAREENA”,
               A play in( various numbers crossed out)  acts.

They looked again and again through the notebook but there were no clues  to any story. And the swift unrolling of thoughts and memories in them only told them about their past and not why they were here on an empty stage.
Then from somewhere came a loud hard noise and a cry followed by wails and sobs. They found the source of the noise: inside an apartment at the back of the theatre. By now the sobbing was quiet and weary. They stood in a yard outside the front door wondering what to do, but when desperate choking sounds came from inside, Vareena quickly went in. Richard followed and to his surprise saw her giving a blue faced man violent bear hugs from behind carefully flicking her silk scarf away as he spewed out a mess of flem and tablets; lots of tablets. She had remembered being a doctor and knew what to do. Richard gave him his handkerchief to wipe his face.
The choking man was asleep. He had tried to shoot himself but the old gun hadn't worked, he'd smashed his desk with it, and then tried to swallow a great many sleeping tablets. When he eventually came round his bleary eyes set into a fixed stare at the two mysterious figures looking at him.
“Hello Gordon”, said Richard and Vareena simultaneously.
Part 2
“My head felt like it had been hit with a brick, my guts were burning and I could hardly move. But when my eyes focused, I knew those two faces: the heroes of the play I couldn't write, Richard and Vareena, peering at me with that intense kindness I knew I would never be able to convey. I didn't know whether I was dead or alive, or something else, I'd certainly wanted to be dead: I've never known writer's block to get to me so much. I felt angry and cheated that I was still here, but this was overtaken by a growing outrage that here in front of me, holding my hands were two people who shouldn't exist, except in a script and on a stage.”
“They say they just appeared on the stage, and somehow their minds filled up with memories and knowledge of who they were but beyond that, they know as much as me. They don't seem to be bothered about the impossibility of this, but they're here and there's no arguing with that.”
After being put to bed that first night Gordon slept until early evening the next day. Over the next week Richard and Vareena  gently nursed him back to health.
Gordon needed to get out, so the three of them walked into the West End, it was early Friday evening, not too busy. They wandered into a bar that boasted the largest selection of gins in London, and there Vareena discovered the taste of gin and tonic, Gordon just drank orange juice.
                                             It was late when they returned to Gordon’s place, he felt much better but he was very tired. When he bid his strange friends goodnight he didn't really hear their reply: “Goodnight, Gordon,” they said almost in unison, “you’ll see us again.” Richard looked at Vareena, “ Home?”  Looking up towards him, at first she was puzzled, then she smiled and nodded.
                               In the morning they were gone.
Part 3
Gordon was wide awake, he couldn't stop thinking about the past few days with the mysterious couple, “ Who the hell were they, where did they come from, where have they gone, and why were they so good to me? With all those tablets and my pathetic mental state maybe I imagined it all. Perhaps I should go and see someone and get help.”
                    By lunch time he had decided that it had all been some kind of mental episode, and went into town to try and forget it. He passed the gin bar and went in, his agent Jerry sometimes came here. It would be good to bump into him.
“ Gin and Orange without the gin please”
“ How come you're drinking orange juice?” Beryl the landlady asked.
“Oh, I've not been well.” Just then he noticed something behind the bar; his mouth dropped and he stared.
“ You alright? You look like you've seen a ghost, and we ain't got any since that priest came, what's the matter?”
Gordon was staring at Vareena's silk scarf hanging on a hook by the mirror.
“ Er, that, scarf, it's my friend's, we were in here the other day.”
“Oh yea, she left it here, very nice, Liberty by the looks of it, you'd better take it to your friend.”
When Gordon came home  he layed the scarf on the table and stuffed his hands into his pockets; Richard’s hanky! He'd forgotten. He placed it flat on the table by the scarf. A dirty hanky stiff with dried flem, and a beautiful blue silk scarf with an abstract diamond pattern. He stared at them for a long time, then he began to cry. For a long, long time.
The following day the telephone rang. For the first time in weeks he picked it up. “ Gordon! I've been trying to get you for ages,” It was Jerry, “ Listen I know you've been going through a hard time but I've had ‘Nightmare’ from the BBC on to me. She really wants a new play from you for this Thursday evening series in the Autumn, darling they love your stuff but they won't wait. I hate to be a bull…” “Good to hear you Jerry, sorry I've been a bit elusive lately. She'll have a finished script by the end of the week. Three episodes.” Jerry was surprised and happy, “ What's it about?”
“ Oh failed suicide, people appearing from nowhere and then disappearing. But mainly kindness”
                                 WILF DEC 2018

Monday, 29 October 2018

Empty Crosses

                   EMPTY CROSSES
After it had finished I waited with Mary,
When everyone had gone, we went up the hill,
But through our tears we couldn't see
Which empty cross was ours.
We could hardly see while it was going on
And now among the jumble of wood we couldn't tell.
We would have taken it home if we knew:
He had touched that wood.
They told me that crosses were bad:
You might end up worshipping an idol.
But I didn't want to do that,
I wanted something to focus my unruly mind.
They said if I did have a cross it  had to be empty
Because Jesus wasn't there any more,
I understand, but every cross is empty now
How would I know which one is His?
This step, so small, yet  impossible
A trivial sacrifice that I cannot but must make.
To think that this is the very cross
That He said we must bear!
His cross was bigger than the world
I don't understand it
Mine; immeasurably small,
I understand it well: it will kill me.
Into resurrection.

                   WILF OCT 2018

Thursday, 26 July 2018

Pansy Boy

                         PANSY BOY

There he was,
Out on his own
Out in the cold because he was different.
You couldn't miss him, even with his head down
All colour and beauty

They called him, “Pansy”, they were right,
But not for any reason they knew.

All his life had been a winter of cruelty
He sighed and cried prayed and
Stayed right through the coldest times
And he blossomed
Pansy: beautiful tough.
                             Wilf July 2018

Today, Give Flowers to the Dead

Today, give flowers to the dead
Yesterday they weren't here
Tomorrow they will be gone.

The poor you can give to yesterday
(Oh, but you didn't) or tomorrow,
They will still be here
They are always here.
Any other day you can give to them

But today give flowers to the dead
Fill their graves to overflowing
Let today be a day of waste.
                               WILF 06/ 2018

Tuesday, 3 July 2018

A Prayer

               A PRAYER
Lord I don't know what to say
I have no confidence that my words
Could express my heart
Even if I spoke to You in the tongues
Of men and angels……….

But take my sighs: the breath of my heart
These informed words
Whatever they may be they are my heart,
They are for You, All Knowing One
I know you will understand
And answer me
                                 Wilf July 2018

Saturday, 16 December 2017


On a night when something beautiful died,
I glanced at the large wooden cross
Above our fire
It reminded me of somewhere You'd been,
On a day when something beautiful died.

The cross was hard, awkward, unyielding
Like everything else in that moment
But I had to cling to it maybe somehow
I could be closer to You.

Your beauty had died, mine too
My grief burst
The wood melted
Warm and soft like a body
I embraced it, You embraced me
In the  sacrament of that moment
In the cross You ask us all to bear.
               Wilf Dec 2017