Since taking the Masters course in creative writing, I’ve been reviewing my self-published books, which means finding edits with them.
Especially my Cozy Mystery book, Stella Windermere: the case of the Polish sailor. Its fine as plot points go and the character of Stella is something I’m proud to have created.
I just wanted to ‘fill’ bits of it in. Do you know what I mean?
As a writer, I’ve come to the realization that we are never complete unless our works are creative masterpieces!
Well, I wouldn’t go that far with my offering, but here’s an extract from the new version!
So, in preparation for the second book in the series, Stella Windermere: the case of the Drowned Man, here’s an excerpt from the first!
You can find it on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07HXTV1VB
Stella Windermere: the case of the Polish Sailor
‘Right Stella, that’s you done. Let’s see how it looks.’ Jenny lifted the blow-dryer off her head, gently pulling at the front of her hair. A roller pulled free of its confines, the hair springing back in a light silver curl.
She clicked her mouth in delight. ‘It’s taken lovely; I knew it would. That’s a new colour from Tansy’s hair products. Silver Fox it said, and it looks a success. I’ll just put you in your favourite spot, by the window. Do you want a cuppa?’
Stella smiled. ‘Not just now, Jen. Could you pass me a magazine? I love the crosswords inside, don’t you?’
The hairdresser laughed and rummaged in the pile, handing Stella Woman’s Weekly.
‘I’ll be with you shortly, Stella; make yourself comfortable here. Ashley will bring you a drink later, I’ll just see to Mrs Parsons, won’t be a moment.’
Jenny walked over to another sink, her buxom hips swaying in a tight pencil skirt. Stella settled back with the magazine, flicking through its glossy pages. It revealed the usual features; knitting and cookery recipes plus a feature on the Royals. Totally immersed in an article about vegetables, she jumped as a splatter of rain hit the window next to her. The awning over the salon creaked as a sudden gust blew it nearly inside out, just as an old tear in the corner of the striped material exposed a streak of grey sky as a gush of water fell onto the pavement below. Shadows approached from the direction of the path outside and Stella could see the outline of burly arms set off with a cap, pushing a wheelchair. The figures were distorted for a moment, weirdly shaped by the condensation on the windowpane. It was Joe Howells and his mother Wendy.
Joe was a quiet shy lad, some would say too introspective, but Stella always had time for him. The headmaster at his school had told Wendy that he’d ‘never amount to anything,’ but he’d managed to hold down a job at the local factory and look after his mother. There were many that wouldn’t bother, Stella knew that. She watched as he pushed the wheelchair to the left, towards the newsagents and out of sight of the salon. Stella knew their routine, Wendy had told her often enough; a packet of Benson & Hedges for her, and a sci-if magazine for Joe. Wendy never bought magazines, preferring to read snatches of them at her doctor’s, especially now she was a regular patient since breaking her hip last month. Stella turned back to Woman’s Weekly, finding the crossword at the back, the pages torn and dog-eared in this section. She didn’t mind, it was better than paying and was one of the perks of visiting a salon in the first place. Today though, the crossword squares had been filled in. She frowned in annoyance. The salon door opened behind her, quickly and suddenly, and a blast of cold air hit the back of her neck. She shivered, despite the heat from the radiator and the blast of hairdryers.
With a squeak and a shudder, the cumbersome wheels of the wheelchair sat heavily on the ‘Welcome’ mat. Joe Howells’ face glowed red as he pushed his Denim cap further onto his head, wiping the sweat off his brow.
‘Shall we call back mum…?’ he queried, looking down at the top of Wendy’s head. Stella glanced their way. He looked awkward, Stella thought; uncomfortable in a woman’s domain.
The salon had a large bay window at its front and a glass door next to it that squeaked when it rained. Inside, there was just enough room to squeeze in a couple of sinks, a unit that held an assortment of shampoos and conditioners, plus a set of chairs for waiting customers. A huge yucca sat in the far corner, Jenny’s nod to an exotic Mexican holiday taken last year. The plant looked downtrodden and positively miserable; it may have thrived in a desert, but in the salon, it looked in need of water, and air.
‘Can we bring the wheels inside Jen?’ Wendy suddenly looked hopeful. ‘It’s only for a couple more weeks until I get my hip sorted. It’s a nuisance really, but just look at my hair!’ As if to emphasis the point, she held up a lock. ‘It badly needs a cut.’
Jenny, twirling a lock of grey hair around a pink roller, nodded. ‘Yes, that’s fine Wendy love; I don’t mind at all.’
Stella noticed frown lines forming between the hairdresser’s eyes. ‘It’s just that I have no space in here, you can see that,’ she added. ‘Could Joe drop you off and come back with the wheelchair? You don’t mind, do you Joe?’
She grabbed a chair, placing it in front of the wheelchair. Taking her cue, Wendy slide over, trapping one of Joe’s hands underneath her bottom.
‘That’s all Joe, see you in a couple of hours. Don’t rush back,’ Wendy called back over her shoulder, ignoring his yelp of pain.
Jenny tried to close the door against the clumsy looking wheels at the same time as Joe tried to manoeuvre the unyielding ‘beast’ outside. The wheels slipped, and his hands became caught inside the doorframe. He yelped for the second time, just as someone in the salon tutted. Jenny’s face was a picture; annoyance and politeness morphed into one, her routine interrupted, her control diminished by a local lad. Stella flicked a page of the magazine, shaking her head. She wondered what this lad could do to make himself more likeable. He was often shunned by his peers, who had chosen to either ignore him or bully him as he walked down the street, often with his mum in tow. Today was no exception.
She watched him amble down the disabled ramp, pushing a now empty wheelchair.
An hour passed, and Stella’s hair was a triumphant mass of permed curls and hairspray. It was more a Dull Grey than a Silver Fox, but it was the best she could get from an old-fashioned corner salon. Beggars can’t be choosers she muttered under her breath, or there’d be no telling what she’d get next time. She walked over to the counter as Jenny’s daughter Ashley looked up from the latest Jackie magazine. Ashley helped on the weekends; making tea, tidying up and working behind the till. Spotting Stella’s bemused glance at her reflection in one of the salon mirrors, Ashley flicked the magazine closed and put it to one side. Stella had already spotted the latest pop star grinning up at her from its front cover. David Cassidy, she thought, feeling pleased to have guessed him correctly, noticing his benign smile and pale blue chambray shirt.
‘You okay there, Mrs Windermere? Is everything satisfactory?’
‘Of course, dear, just talking to myself.’ Stella patted the young girl’s hand, setting off a rattling of colourful bangles on her wrist. Jenny’s daughter reminded her of one of those hip young things she read about in the magazines. A small silver pendant fell onto the counter from one of the bangles; a tree set in a circle. Ashley reddened and covered it with her hand. She was the same age as Joe Howells, but in an altogether different league; a popular girl who hung around with a local gang. Still, the girl was pleasant enough and she added a colourful slant on a somewhat tired looking salon.
‘You have a good day, Mrs Windermere. See you next week,’ she replied somewhat vaguely, the teen articles pulling her back into their pages.
The salon door closed with a sharp click. Outside, a sharp gust blew at Stella’s scarf, but at least the rain had eased. She walked gingerly down the path, holding onto the paint chipped railings. Flakes of sage green paint broke off as she clung to the barrier, embedding in the cream wool of her sheepskin gloves. She patted the gloves and they flew off into the sky, floating in the air like tiny flies. Just then a set of wheels flew past, causing her to jump as someone steered a skateboard down the grassy muddied verge. She glimpsed a flash of long blond hair and a denim jacket before the figure disappeared around the corner of the path, wheels thumping over the tarmac.
‘I know your mum James Flanagan!’ she called to the retreating figure, frowning as he ignored her.
She heard a flapping noise as the wind picked up. The striped awning of the butcher’s shop had become caught in a gust of wind, exposing more tears. It was the second shop in, in a row of retail shops that made up the small shopping precinct that included a florist, a newsagent, and a tiny betting office tacked onto the far end as an afterthought. Stella rarely ventured down that part of the precinct, preferring to avoid the betting office, once a popular domain for her husband Alf. Many a bet had been placed in the small brick building but nowadays he preferred his birds to the horses.
As she stood there wondering whether to look into the newsagents, the door to the butchers opened and Mrs Fricker stepped out. She pulled a trolley on wheels, and her hair flapped under a bright blue patterned scarf.
‘Morning Stella,’ she said, walking over. ‘Been to have your hair done? Thought Friday was your day.’
‘It is normally, Mavis, but Martin’s just gone back home. He’s been here all week,’ she said, referring to her and Alf’s son. Martin lived in outside Bristol with his wife Helen and their daughter Abigail.
‘Ah yes, I thought I saw him down the beach the other day with Alfie. I said to my Bernard; ‘I think Stella’s boy Martin is home this week;’ I was right.’ She pulled her coat closer as a gust blew up. ‘How’s he keeping? And your granddaughter Abigail?’
‘They’re fine, just fine,’ she replied, as Mrs Fricker carried on walking down the path. Stella hesitated, not sure if she should be out much longer, the wind was picking up sharply. She thought of the dram of whiskey at home, waiting to warm the cockles of her heart. That’ll cheer the day, she thought; if Alf will agree to her having a nip. Since she’d had that fright with her heart last year, he’d insisted she drank a copious amount of tea instead.
She smiled, imagining her husband of fifty years at home with his pigeons and jigsaw puzzles, fussing around her, insisting she had more rest. It was nice to get, even for a little while. She turned down the path, but not before a movement caught the corner of her eye. Had that Flanagan boy come back, Chopper bike in tow?
‘You okay there, Mrs Windermere? Do you need a hand to get down those steps? That’s where my mum fell two weeks ago; at that very spot where you’re standing.’
Joe Howells stood in the alcove in front of the newsagents. He’d parked the wheelchair and was patiently waiting for his mum in the cold. Stella felt a renewed sense of compassion for the lad.
‘Hello, Joe. I didn’t see you there. I expect your mum won’t be too long. She was just having her hair washed as I left. I’m fine though really, you have enough to do.’
‘I don’t mind, I’m glad to help the old folk,’ he said, grinning. He fumbled in his coat pocket before handing Stella a packet of chewing gum. ‘Here, these have got a new flavour; apple. Try one.’
She shook her head. ‘Very kind of you, but no thanks.’ Just as she took a step, she looked back at the lad. ‘What are you doing later this afternoon, Joe? I know that Alfie would like a hand with the pigeons. He’s racing them up on the common. He’d be glad of some company, I’m sure.’
Joe’s face lit up. ‘See you later then,’ he answered. The door to the salon opened and an acrid blast of hairspray filled the air as Wendy shouted from inside.
Marine Drive was one of the many ordinary streets that made up the council estate. Built just after World War Two, the estate consisted of rows and rows of houses that had been constructed to accommodate the docklands and the new steelworks. As a result, there were lots of newcomers to the area, from all over the country. The busy docks ensured that there were also sailors roaming around the town until all hours, drinking at the pubs and making as much noise as they were permitted. The police had their hands full patrolling the town and the estate but managed to keep most of it at bay from the main police station in Station Road.
Stella drove her Golf through the gates on her driveway and pushed the car gear into neutral. From her rear view mirror, she spotted the janitor of the school opposite locking the gates up for the afternoon. Mr Ferguson, or Fergie as the children called him, often worked on the weekend to keep the grounds neat and tidy, and today was no exception. She opened the car door as he got into his Rover and drove off. It was lunch time, but the school was quiet for once; no school children sniffing around as they sometimes liked to do. Just last week she’d spotted one of them peering into her back windshield then trying the car door. Alf had banged on the window and they’d scarpered. No thieving, not on their watch.
She heard the radio coming from the back of the house, so bypassed the front door and pushed at the small gate to the side. Alfie was in the pigeon coop, talking in hushed tones to a figure next to him. He stopped when he saw her.
‘Stella love, you look a picture as usual. What colour have you gone for today?’ He moved to peck her on the cheek.
‘It’s supposed to be some sort of silver-grey Alf, but I’m not sure. I wouldn’t be surprised if Jenny is just using me as a guinea pig for her colours. She’s gone really posh since she went on that course in London. She’s charging more too.’
She pulled at her head scarf, patting her hair as she nodded at Bert Henderson. ‘Morning, Bert. Is Maggie with you? I want that knitting pattern off her.’
Bert was one of Alf’s oldest friends, both having served together in the RAF during the war. A small wiry man with a wicked sense of humour, he reminded Stella of a small terrier. He grinned back at her, exposing a set of gold teeth.
‘Morning Stella.’ Bert’s Irish lilt never failed to cheer her up. ‘You’ll find her in the kitchen, making up a brew.’
Half an hour later saw them sat under a large umbrella on the small patio, sipping tea and eating slabs of fruit cake. The rain had held off, the sun was out. Drops of excess rain from earlier that morning fell from the colourful potted blooms as they sat there chatting. Marigolds, fuchsia and tulips (an eclectic choice, but Stella was that way inclined) tried to outdo each other as the largest blooms in the small strip of garden. Towards the back were the results of Alf’s hard work, as potatoes and carrots sat alongside onions and silver beets, whilst huge leaves of rhubarb took up the far corner. Statues of gnomes and other furry creatures were dotted about the garden, as if standing guard over rich jewels. Their dog Luce, a sweet mongrel that Alfie affectionately called ‘a mutt of 57 varieties,’ sniffed around the pathway looking for slugs.
‘Come here Luce! Look what your mother has brought from the butchers.’ Alfie pulled a packet from Stella’s bag. It was bulky and wrapped in newspaper; a juicy bone.
Betty Turner from next door popped her head over the fence. A colourful scarf partially hid a set of rollers perched above pencilled in eyebrows and ruddy cheeks.
‘Good morning Stella; Maggie; although it’s nearly lunchtime. I’ve got some tomatoes from the greenhouse if you’d like; they’ll go lovely with a bit of ham and salad.’
‘That’ll be lovely Betty thanks.’ Stella stood up and reached for the bowl of luscious red fruit. Betty had added green beans and a couple of small cucumbers to the bowl as well.
‘Have you heard the news this lunchtime?’ Betty continued. ‘The body of a man’s been found on the beach, just by the Lifeboat Station. The lunchtime news says that he’s been strangled.’
‘Really, oh my,’ Maggie Henderson looked horrified. Stella patted her on the knee, turning back as Betty continued.
‘He was a sailor, by all accounts,’ Betty said. ‘The police suspect he was a stranger to the area, judging by his ID badge. Foreign it was; Polish they seem to think, although they’re not giving much away. There’s a ship in now stacked full of iron ore, so Stan told me this morning. You can’t keep anything from that postman.’
Stella stared at her neighbour, sensing something sinister. ‘Where was he found?’ she asked. ‘By the slipway leading down to the beach, Betty?’
‘Yes, not far from the hotel,’ Betty replied. ‘He was stinking of booze too, so I’m told, although that wasn’t on the news. Where Stan gets his information from is anyone’s guess. Sounds strange though, don’t you think? Not your regular drunk. Right up your street, Stella.’
‘Now, now Betty. We’ve had enough dramas lately. Don’t go thinking anymore.’ Alf frowned, looking at his wife. He picked up the bowl of tomatoes and headed for the kitchen. ‘I’ll make some tomato sandwiches for lunch, with some of that nice leg ham. Stella, can you make some more tea?’
Maggie shook her head. ‘None for us Alf; we’ll have to go,’ she said, looking at Bert. ‘We’re visiting my mother this afternoon and I want to get there just after they serve the lunches, or we’ll be in the way. The nurses are marvellous with mum, but I should see to her myself. Thanks for the tea Stella; I’ll give you a ring in the morning.’
Stella nodded absent minded, a thoughtful expression on her face. Maggie laughed, placing a booklet on the glass topped table.
‘Here’s that pattern Stella. It knits up lovely with that wool I got from Terrys, although by the look on that face of yours, you have darker thoughts on your mind. A terrible business, no mistaking. See you next week for Howie’s do.’
Joe arrived after lunch. Stella could hear the familiar tread of his trainers on the gravel that edged the driveway. He usually kept away from her Golf, preferring to squeeze down the small path on the outside of the garden to avoid it.
‘He’s afraid of scratching the paintwork, no doubt,’ she said in passing to Alf as she watched Joe through the nets in the front room.
‘More likely he’s scared of you, Stella!’ Alfie replied. ‘He’s seen how you talk to those school kids across the way. He thinks he’ll be on the end of that broom too.’
Joe appeared around the back of the house. He wore a denim cap set down low on his face to shade his eyes. A camouflage jacket, a pair of Doc Martins and a rucksack slung across his shoulder completed the look, along with a beaming smile. He held up a plastic bag with a Fine Fare logo stamped on the side.
‘I’ve got some feed here for the birds, Mr Windermere. I remembered that they liked this one the last time. Will they let me feed them?’
‘Go ahead with you lad; the birds know you now anyway! And call me Alf; everyone does. Mr Windermere reminds me of my old man, God rest his soul.’ Alfie’s Liverpool burr became more pronounced in company. ‘I’ll get us a drink.’
Stella looked out of the kitchen window, pleased to see Joe chatting to Alf. Poor lad, she thought; he’s not had much luck in his young life. His dad had left Wendy when he was still a boy and had not been heard of since. Alf showed his face at the kitchen door, coughing politely.
‘Two lemonades when you’ve got a minute, love,’ he smiled. Stella had just finished the lunch time dishes and was listening to Radio Two. She wiped her hands with a tea cloth, hanging it over the cooker handle to air.
‘Alf, I think I might pop out, but I won’t be long.’ She glanced at her watch, avoiding the look in his eyes, dismayed to find that it was past two. She would have to hurry; the tides usually turned at about four thirty.
‘What for? You’ve been out all morning at the hairdressers. What could you possibly need at the shops? Besides it’s getting cold and there’s a good film starting at three. I want to settle down and watch that with a cup of tea. Where you gadding to again?’
But Stella was already buttoning up her cardigan and pulling a wool coat over her shoulders. She pushed a woolly hat onto her head carefully, not wanting to crush her new perm. But this was more important than a hairdo; she could feel it in her water. Someone needed help, and she was the one to do it.
Alfie looked on in amazement as she pulled on her wellies. He shook his head, rubbing his chin at the same time. ‘Are you going where I think you’re going, love? Down the beach to where that body was discovered? Stella look; you can’t do anything. The police won’t want you there for a start; you’ll just be in their way. Just because you helped them with their enquiries last summer…?’
She raised her eyebrows. ‘I did more than that and you know it, Alfred Windermere! I solved a crime for the police, and grateful they were too.’ She glanced at the framed photograph on the wall in the front, proudly hung next to a picture of their son Martin in his graduation gown. The photograph was of her and the Head of the south Wales police, Mark Trevally. Trevally was grinning into the camera, shaking Stella’s hand. She looked pleased by the attention, if somewhat bemused. Alfie stood next to her, proud as punch in his best jacket and bowtie that she’d bought for the occasion. The caption underneath the photo said:
“Local woman solves mystery crime of the stolen rubies.”
Joe’s face appeared around the door of the kitchen. He held up an empty glass and wiped his mouth with back of his shirt sleeve.
‘Just the man I need! Joe, how do you fancy coming for a stroll with me down to the beachfront? We won’t be long, but we have to hurry before the tide changes and the evidence……’ Stella stopped as she looked at Alf’s bemused face.
‘Dearest, please don’t…,’ Alf called, but Stella had already swept past him through the kitchen.
‘Hurry up Joe. We have a crime to solve,’ was all she said.
Then she hurried through the back door, a puzzled Joe at her heels.
The beach front car park had at least a dozen cars parked inside its fenced off area, as well as more parked along the street next to it. Stella squeezed the Golf into the last remaining space behind a battered looking Subaru that had a dent in its rear and a cracked reverse light. A gust of wind blew from the beach side of the car, coating the windscreen with a fine dusting of sand. Joe opened the passenger door and yelled when the door flew out of his hand as another gust struck, narrowly missing a lamp post.
‘Be careful Joe. It’s only just come out of the garage!’ Stella fussed.
‘I’m trying,’ Joe replied. ‘Shouldn’t we be tucked up at home? This wind is too sharp.’
‘Goodness, where’s your sense of adventure?’ she said. ‘I can leave you here in the car, if you like.’
‘That’s okay. I promised Alf I’d take care of you, and I will. Lead the way.’
Giving Joe a sharp glance, she kept quiet. With woolly hats securely perched on heads, they walked across the road towards the beach front. The Bay View club loomed on their right, weeds clogging the cracked bricks of a low wall that was the only protection from the seafront. The wind blew directly from the Bristol Channel and had been known to knock a person over in one fierce gust. Just the previous winter, a local man had walked out of the club, too drunk to know where he was heading and had been thrown into the dunes by a storm. He suffered minor scratches and bruises and a compound fracture to his head, although his intoxicated state meant that he’d barely remembered a thing.
Another flurry of wind drew them closer to the beach front where a group of people huddled around the slipway down to the beach. A police barrier flapped in the breeze, stopping anyone from venturing down onto the beach. A police constable stood by one of the barriers, talking animatedly to Tom Griffiths, one of Stella’s neighbours. Tom was also a pigeon fancier like Alf and often popped around to discuss homing and breeding methods. They were members of the pigeon fancier club which met in the Naval Club most days.
‘Hi there, Stella! What you doing out here then? It’s far too cold this afternoon. Is Alf with you? I’ll call around in the morning; I want some advice about the best way to train my new bird. A beauty she is.’ Tom nodded.
‘Afternoon, Tom,’ Stella smiled at her neighbour. ‘I’ll let Alf know. This here is young Joe Howells; you know him, don’t you? Helps Alf out now and again.’
‘Of course,’ Tom replied.
‘Any more news as to what’s happened?’ she asked, grabbing a hanky from her hand bag as she felt a sniffle coming. Her cold was not going to thank her for this outing.
‘Well, I’ve just been talking to Frank here. He says that it’s top secret, but they’ve found a body. Apparently, it’s that of a sailor.’ Tom whispered, as a couple of people looked on, interestedly. A couple that Stella did not recognise were looking at them intently. Maybe new to the area, she thought. There were families arriving all the time, since they’d opened that Japanese electronics factory on the moors. An influx of jobs was always a good sign, but it meant that there were more strangers in the town than ever.
PC Frank Lomax rubbed his hands together against the cold wind and nodded. ‘Seems there’s foul play going on here, but I’m not at a liberty to say anymore.’ His gruff voice became louder as he spoke, and a group of people moved away, standing against the railings that led down to sunken gardens.
As the crowd dispersed, the policeman turned to Stella. ‘Hello there, Mrs Windermere. I haven’t seen you since last summer. How’s your husband doing? Well, I hope?’
Stella recognised the young policeman. He’d helped when she’d got trapped in a disused warehouse alongside the steelworks lake last summer. It had been rather hairy at the time, but the mystery had been solved, with no bones broken and the thieves locked away for a few years at least.
She fumbled in the depths of her raincoat and produced a bag of Murray mints. ‘We’re both fine, thank you. I’ll let Alf know that you send your regards. Now, would anyone like a mint?’
She left the bag in Joe’s capable hands and sidled up to the policeman. ‘What can you tell me, Frank? It won’t go any further.’
The policeman shook his head. ‘You’ll have to learn about it from the local rag I’m afraid, Mrs Windermere. This may be just out of your league.’ He glanced over Stella’s shoulder. ‘Ah, here they are now, late as usual.’
A large man in a suit and Macintosh hurried up behind their group, rudely pushing past Joe. He held a notebook in his hand, fumbling for a pen from his jacket pocket. He flung a battered bag onto the tarmac that became covered in sand dust almost immediately.
‘Please folks, let me through. Can’t you see I’m at work? I could have got here sooner but there’s been an accident on the M4 involving a car and a lorry.’ He held up his hand as Stella opened her mouth to speak. ‘Just check your local paper in the morning ma’am, if you wish to find out more. I’m busy.’
Stella held her tongue, feeling irritated. She knew the reporter from her own adventures last summer, down at the dockside. He’d been pompous and patronising then. His name slipped her mind for a moment, but it was something like Fishtail, or Fishbone.
PC Lomax held up his hands, hoping to push the crowd back. More people had arrived even though it was so cold as to wake the dead.
‘Now, now, Mr Fishman, there’s nothing much to report. I’m afraid I’ll have to ask you to step back like the others. The Chief Inspector is due shortly. I’m just ensuring that no one gets past this spot.’
As the policeman spoke, he glanced down the slope that led down to the beach itself. A group of men were leaning over a tarpaulin sheet, looking at whatever was underneath. One of the men was dressed in white overalls from head to toe, and the other two were scrutinizing the sand around the body. Another policeman stood further down the slope, guarding the area. It seemed that the body had been pushed into a little alcove under the slipway, almost out of sight from the promenade above. Stella remembered her son Martin looking for sea crabs and minnows at that very spot, his fishing net grasped firmly in his hand. She spotted a couple of cider bottles thrown onto the edge of the slope; Betty Turner had been right about the alcohol.
Just then the young woman reporter arrived. She was so petite that her holdall looked like a small child strapped to her shoulders. ‘Hello there Dave,’ she said to Fishman. ‘Not too late, am I? Any sign of action yet? PC Lomax isn’t it?’ She smiled sweetly at the policeman, pulling out a notebook from its depths. They watched as she placed a smart Canon camera on the floor, followed by a tripod.
‘I’m doing the photography today, Dennis is off covering a wedding in Swansea,’ she said, looking up at the senior reporter, who snorted and turned away.
‘Nothing happening yet miss; not until the Inspector arrives. Even then it’ll be restricted. Now move along folks.’ PC Lomax held up his hands and people trailed off.
Stella smiled to herself. She remembered the young reporter as a child; Julie Runcorn and her family had lived behind them, not far from the shopping precinct. Three children in all in the family, one brother in jail and the other living away in Bristol. Julie was smart and determined even then. A memory flashed in her mind as she looked at the green eyes that seemed huge under the woolly hat; Julie, at just 6 or 7 years old, throwing handfuls of gravel at a large Alsatian dog that had escaped from next door’s yard. She had shown no fear, even then. The dog had been larger than her, but she’d stood her ground before the dog’s owners had grabbed him. Julie’s mother Marge had shouted down the lane at the dog owners, her voice screaming blue murder. She’d wanted to report Stella’s neighbours to the police for keeping a ‘rabid dog’ but it had all blown over by the next day and Marge had been down the club the next night as if nothing had happened. They were that type of family. Marge was Jenny the hairdresser’s sister, and often had her hair done at the same time as Stella. Stella barely spoke to her though, preferring to listen and observe. Marge would strain to talk over the noise of the hairdryers whilst she bragged about her boys, but she rarely mentioned Julie.
Julie barely glanced Stella’s way, preferring to turn her back, nose in the air. She leaned against the beachfront railings and whispered something to Fishman, made a show of coughing behind his scarf, while looking across at Stella.
‘Clear the way, folks,’ Lomax shouted as the purr of a car engine announced the arrival of Inspector Trevally. They watched the police car pulled up and the Inspector got out of the back seat. A tall and imposing looking man, Trevally had played rugby for Cardiff as a young man and could still be found most days shouting from the side of the Aberavon rugby ground, cheering the team. He was well known in the town for his harsh but fair demeanour. Stella admired him immensely. Looking every inch of six foot, he gave the crowd a cursory glance and turned to PC Lomax.
‘What are these people doing, constable? This is not a circus.’ Trevally’s voice seemed to boom over them, even louder than the wind that had picked up as the afternoon progressed.
‘Err, yes, sir, of course, sir,’ Lomax looked uncomfortable as he moved to one side to let the Inspector through the barrier. Luckily, another two officers got out of the car and started to ward off the crowd. Stella looked over her shoulder, shocked at the number of people that had formed small groups behind her. Some were sheltering under the overhanging canopy in front of the fish and chip shop. The blue canopy, bleached and salt crusted at its edges, flapped in the wind. The neon sign flashed ‘Open’ and the owner peered out of the doorway.
‘What’s happening here then? I hope you lot finish soon, otherwise my business will suffer!’ Mario called out, his Italian accent becoming more pronounced with each syllable.
‘No need to panic folks; I suggest that you all go home.’ Lomax looked hopefully at the crowd, who ignored him.
Just then a wailing sound cut through the air and an ambulance rushed down the promenade, its lights flashing. It stopped just at the barrier and two paramedics jumped out, hurrying down the slope behind the Inspector.
‘They’re a bit late,’ someone sniggered.
‘Its just to be sure he’s dead, precautions and all that,’ Lomax replied. ‘Someone has to take care of the body.’
‘Look, Stella, can you see what they’re looking at?’ Joe had sidled up next to her. He pointed to the left, towards the silhouette of three cranes perched on the edge of the harbor belonging to the steelworks. Two of the policemen on the beach had left the body and were walking towards the cranes.
She nodded. ‘Good spotting, Joe. Where are they off to, I wonder?’
They walked quickly in that direction, away from the nosy onlookers. The Jersey Beach Hotel loomed ahead of them, a huge dark blot on the landscape as the light diminished. A splatter of stars twinkled in the sky behind them as Joe’s trainers crunched on broken glass in front of the railings. A couple of bollards had been placed there and Stella swiftly walked around them, glancing up at a damaged lamppost. The windows of the hotel were a deep orange, reflecting the last rays of the sun on their panes. A small covered rest stop for walkers loomed on their left, and the sea on their right. Stella crinkled her nose as she smelled urine and discarded rubbish. She fumbled in her handbag before pulling out a pair of binoculars and a camera.
‘One must be prepared at all times, Joseph,’ she smiled, looking at Joe’s astonished face.
‘You are a one, Mrs Windermere,’ he grinned. ‘What can you see?’
Aiming the binoculars at the beach, well away from the direction of the body. Out of the corner of the lens’ she could make out dark patches in the wet sand from footprints. The Inspector and a second policeman stood looking at the sand. There appeared to be something embedded in the shore just at the tide’s edge.
It looked like a small child.
Suzanne Bowditch, 2018
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