The man who never was, p.1
The Man Who Never Was
Copyright 2013 by Hylton H Smith
Hylton H Smith
No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping or by any information storage or retrieval system.
Certain characters and locations in this story are based on real events.
The remainder is a work of fiction, in which the names, characters and incidents are products of the author's imagination. Any resemblance therein to persons living or dead is entirely coincidental.
The views expressed in this work are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher, Promethean, and the publisher hereby disclaims any responsibility for them.
This book is dedicated to:
Winlaton Mill 1987
As he stood on the Butterfly Bridge, Philip Greenwood was all but overcome with worry. The pedestrian bridge crossed the river, which in days gone by, was his route to work. His most urgent concern right now was Rocky, his untrained puppy. He’d let the dog off the leash several minutes ago and lost sight of him.
The River Derwent was unusually swollen and the forecast intimated that worse was to come. The old footbridge creaked and moaned incessantly as if it knew it couldn’t survive much longer. It was Philip’s favourite route and yet he had underestimated how many times Rocky needed to cross the bridge before it would become second nature to him. He cursed himself for such naivety, especially in this freak weather. Deciding which side of the river the Golden Labrador was on had become critical, as the rain was now so relentless it was affecting how far he could see into the distance.
Philip was already pretty downbeat before he’d lost Rocky. He’d been made redundant from Derwenthaugh Coke Works less than a year ago. At sixty-one he was resigned to perpetual unemployment, and he was still angry at the way the National Coal Board had handled the closure of the works. It had been painful for him to watch the demolition begin in 1986. Having been the major employer in the area, it felt as if he was being crushed, along with the village itself. Although some had considered the complex to be a blot on the landscape, it was now a massive spoil heap, and in his view that was even worse. In an attempt to quell protests, the authorities quickly submitted grandiose plans to turn the area into a recreational park with a small lake and ambitious landscaping, which would take years. The de-contamination process itself was expected to take a very long time. Philip’s father had worked in the coking plant from its inception in 1928, and in its predecessor, Crowley Ironworks, which had been the largest iron producer in Europe at one time. ‘What a bloody mess’, he thought, ‘I’ll be dead before me village recovers from this sodding abandonment’.
He gathered his thoughts in the middle of the bridge while he whistled for Rocky. Every few moments he had to pause his intake of fresh air, to listen for any response. It was difficult enough already with the raging river, the pounding rain, and the rapidly rising winds.
Once the demolition had kicked into gear, a perimeter fence had been erected around the site for safety purposes, but also to prevent thieves from purloining all manner of scrap metals. There were also pockets of coke which had been unintentionally buried in shallow seams by the earthmoving plant, and they attracted scavengers.
He heard a faint bark and was pretty sure it was Rocky; his heart skipped a beat because it came from the direction of the perimeter fence. ‘Shit,’ mumbled Philip to himself, ‘I hope he hasn’t bumped into them security guards, they might injure him or bloody worse’.
He put up his hood and zipped it tight as he headed for the fence. Philip had become a little overweight since he lost his job, and he couldn’t run more than a few yards at a time, without bringing on chest pains, thinking he had angina. He kept calling out Rocky’s name. As he got closer to the fence the barking changed to a whimper and he feared the worst. Then, as he conceded to putting his distance spectacles on, he saw the breach in the wire containment. Dispensing with his glasses because of the instant distortion of his vision by the pelting raindrops, he forced himself to run through the treacly mud toward the hole. “Rocky, come on boy, here Rocky.”
He almost blacked out, gasping for air. ‘I’ve got to get through this damned hole, but I’m far too big’. He frantically looked around for something to make the hole bigger. Searching seemed to be taking an eternity, and all the while he rebuked himself continually for coming out in this weather, when he saw it in the patch of grass, about thirty yards away. A forgotten scaffolding pole.
He charged through the deep mud again and was on his knees as he grabbed the flattened end. Several times he alternately lifted then pulled it horizontally before it was released from the compacted earth. He was rapidly running out of energy and his well-worn shoes were taking in cold, muddy water. He had to press on, and he began flailing the wire in every possible direction with the pole, he had to make the hole bigger.
After two frustrating failures and a third session of pummelling, he squeezed through the fence.
“Rocky, Rocky, here boy.”
The whimpering seemed to have stopped and, his feet were now very painful, gripped by icy, squelching mud. Philip had to climb the mound of earth ahead to get his bearings again. As he scrambled to the top he heard the dog once more, and this drove him on, with at least some idea of direction.
He thought he saw the outline of Rocky through the blinding rain, but the landscape was no longer familiar. He pressed on and within a few minutes he realised what had happened. Two days of torrential weather had caused a landslip where he estimated one of the engineering offices had been. The demolition people had not yet removed or decided not to remove a huge concrete foundation slab, which from his recollection of the plant layout must have subsided, and then slowly slid down the slope toward the river. Philip started thinking out loud. ‘The slab movement must’ve left this stepped shelf behind as it fractured from the rest of the foundation, hell, it looks just like a flippin’ archaeology dig.’
One of the layers seemed to contain part of the skeleton of a human arm. Rocky was sniffing and then whimpering, cautiously followed by careful pawing at the bones, as if they belonged to a living person. He was obviously waiting for some reaction before engaging again.
Philip was utterly exhausted but relieved that Rocky was unharmed. He quickly put the confused dog on the leash and headed for the security cabin. He didn’t receive a particularly warm welcome from the two guards, but he silenced their intended admonition with his declaration. “You buggers have got human skeletal remains on ya site. Me dog got through a hole in ya ‘keep oot’ fence and followed his nose to a mudslide. There’s a flippin’ arm sticking oot of the remainin’ section, aboot twelve inches from the bottom.” Only then was he offered a seat and a mug of strong tea, while one of the security guards called the police, and the other one switched on the kettle.
Newcastle Criminal Investigation Department
Superintendent Oswald Moss lit his pipe for the umpteenth time that afternoon, as darkness began to descend on the city. He let his office phone ring several times before picking up the receiver; it was part of his routine, ensuring as much order and tranquillity as possible. He hated false urgency, especially as he was preparing for retirement. He delegated as much routine stuff as possible, concentrating his own time on keeping the department squeaky clean in terms of procedure. He was at the wrong end of his career to begin challenging edicts from above. This approach gave him plenty of time to engineer a soft landing from the police force.
His office phone rang, breaking his chain of thought,
“Sorry to bother you, sir,” said Detective Inspector Black, “we’ve just been made aware of a skeleton amongst some earthworks at Derwenthaugh. Uniform are already there, PC Reichert is looking into it but she wants us to see the remains, she seems to think it’s urgent.”
Black was impressed with Maggie Reichert. He could tell that she loved her job as a police constable, and he’d heard on the grapevine that she had always harboured ambitions to move to C.I.D. and she’d already submitted a request to that end. He knew that she was diligent, and easy to get along with, but most importantly he rated her as being very perceptive.
She had a particularly upright slender frame, and was quite tall, even without the police boots. Her short, straight blond hair was hardly noticeable under her cap, and she never wore make-up, giving a freshness to her face, which on occasion, masked a fiercely tenacious mind.
Moss thought about it, puffed on his pipe and said,
“You’d better go then, can’t it wait until tomorrow?”
“Apparently the foul weather is washing soil away from the bones and PC Reichert thinks the pathologist and crime scene investigation team would want to recover the skeletal remains as soon as they can. They’ve got floodlights and have already put a tarpaulin over the area but the weather is worsening. I think I should go now and ask Constance Carr to come with me.” Constance Carr was the resident pathologist.
“Fine, call me at home when you’re done at… remind me where is Derwenthaugh again?”
“It’s the coke works which was demolished last year, between Swalwell and Rowlands Gill. It’s supposed to be a secure site for all sorts of reasons. Apparently, a ruddy great slab of concrete slid down a slope and exposed this skeleton. I’ll need to trace any managerial staff or other personnel who were familiar with the site layout, because the security men are just contractors. I’ll get back to you.”
Richard Black was considered by some to be a very promising recruit for the Newcastle force. His promotion from Detective Constable to his current rank had been meteoric, and largely based on his performance in his native Manchester. In his early thirties, he exuded confidence, was extremely thorough, and was reputed to have an almost photographic memory. He was highly image conscious and therefore always smartly dressed. He tended to speak too quickly for most of his colleagues, particularly Superintendent Moss, and was often reminded to slow down.
He wasn’t universally liked, some colleagues had issues with him. But despite all this he was highly results-driven, and his disarming self-critical approach was not a comfortable trait for some subordinates to emulate. Nevertheless, he demanded it. He felt that such transparency was required to promote a real team ethic. Every subordinate was encouraged to question his decision as long as it was directed at overall progress. It had worked spectacularly in the Manchester force.
Even Oswald Moss had been sceptical at first, but the results alone had validated Black’s methodology to the hierarchy, and offered the attendant benefit of making his own job easier. Impeccably groomed and perennially brimming with energy, Richard J Black had soon split the jury on what he was like to work with. But in the end, results were always going to dictate his potential for promotion.
He picked up Constance Carr, the senior medical examiner, and they fought their way from the Market Street HQ through the evening city traffic exodus.
“I think we should avoid the western bypass tonight, Connie, there are serious road works in progress. I’ll try Scotswood Bridge. Maggie wanted us there as soon as possible and this rain together with the road repairs? It’ll be a nightmare.”
“It’s probably going to be jammed whichever way we go; it always seems to be worse when we have such driving rain, but if you can get us there sooner via the bridge, let’s do it. I want these bones out of there as soon as possible.”
Winlaton Mill Coke Works Demolition Site
She was right, every alternate route they tried was at a standstill, and Black apologised. They eventually pulled up at the security cabin an hour and a quarter later, when normally it would take no more than twelve minutes.
Black offered another apology.
“Sorry, Maggie, despite using the blue light and klaxon, there was simply gridlock everywhere and we had to wriggle through stationary traffic most of the way.” Maggie noticed the exasperated expression on the face of Constance.
“Ok,” she said, “let’s try and make up for lost time, I hope you’ve both brought your waterproofs, you’re going to need them.”
Black was somewhat over-prepared with industrial grade waterproofs and footwear, while Constance had pink wellington boots and a designer Gore-Tex luminous jacket. PC Reichert had been thinking ahead and had already insisted that the security people erect three converging floodlights around the scene. This unwelcome chore had prevented them from enjoying a sausage roll around the warm gas fire, dispelling the prospect of a cushy shift.
Maggie Reichert had also taken a statement from Philip Greenwood and asked him to stay in the cabin until C.I.D. arrived. He was happy to oblige.
As Constance began to study the skeleton, Black glanced at the luminous jacket and pink boots. It seemed strangely out of character for a medical examiner. He had already noticed in previous conversations with her that she was pretty feisty, uncompromising, and had a dry sense of humour. He knew little else about her as a person, simply because she didn’t say much or invite curiosity. He had been told she was a keen rambler, having done walks all over the country. She was stoutly-built, plain-looking and extremely plain-talking. He’d just observe for now.
She took a close-up flash photo of the arm, which had already been padded about by the dog, and now the rivulets of storm water were forcing it to point downhill. The security men stressed that they all needed to vacate the area as soon as their examination was complete; the stepped area was gradually being carved apart by the downpour, and another slide could be imminent. Black and Maggie replaced the tarpaulin in the hope that it would minimise further disruption to the skeleton. A forlorn hope was judged to be better than no hope.
Black scurried back to the cabin to speak to Philip Greenwood and rang HQ to ask Detective Constable Freda Collins to search for an experienced local archaeologist who may be willing to help tease out the skeleton as soon as the rain permitted. He knew she would complain. Freda was the kind of person who did something she was asked to do and then stopped until she was asked to do something else. At least that was Black’s opinion of her. He often wondered how she ended up in C.I.D. and why nobody else seemed to notice she was pretty much non-interactive. She was rather diminutive, a little bit overweight, and very outspoken. She had no interest in romantic relationships. She was, however, very good at analysing data and looking for discrepancies.
Black finally turned to Philip, “Ok Mr Greenwood, I have your statement. Can you just run through it again for my benefit? I want to make sure you haven’t forgotten anything.”
During Philip’s recap, Black intervened to ask how he knew that the concrete slab was part of the engineering office.
“Because I’ve worked here for years, man, and I knew the place like the back o’ me hand. I can’t remember exactly when they poured the concrete for the office building, but that’s definitely where the foundation was.”
Black had now conjured up a mental picture, and contemplated a link between concrete being poured and a hidden body being underneath, or next to it, as part of what was thought to be miscellaneous hard-core base.
“Great, well thanks again, Philip, PC Reichert has your address if we need to speak with you again, and thank you Rocky, without your sn
As the two security men were puzzling as to how their delayed snack had disappeared, Black asked them for the telephone number of anyone who was involved in the management of the closure and subsequent demolition operation. They could only offer one such contact. He rang the number.
He was about to give up, thinking there was nobody at the other end of the line, when he heard the click, followed by a man’s voice.
“Hello, Jeffrey Stark.”
“Hello, sir, this is D.I. Black from Newcastle C.I.D. and I’d like to speak to you about the demolition of Derwenthaugh coke works.”
“I see, what exactly is it you need to know?”
“Well, where you are would be a good start.”
“I’m in London right now, I’m only at the site when there are contractors working there.”
“Aha. Right, I really need to speak to someone who would have site plans and stuff like that.”
“I’m simply the financial winding down officer, reconciling all closure costs against the budget, and taking care of legal procedures. I know virtually nothing about the plant itself, in fact it was partly demolished before I was despatched there from London. As I already said I’m only at the site when there are contractors to deal with.”
“Well, you may want to change your schedule because we’ve found human remains on the site. This means I need you to put me in touch with any ex-managers or directors or other employees who had responsibilities for running the plant.”
“Oh…, of course, but I’ll have to call you back when I can retrieve and look through the personnel records. Give me ten minutes.”
“Thanks. I’m at the site cabin with the security people, I assume you have the number.”
“Yes, I do, you’ll hear from me as soon as I’ve checked the files.”
The phone actually rang within five minutes and it was picked up by an irate security guard who was still cursing about the missing sausage rolls. He asked the caller to hold while he handed the receiver to Black.
The Man Who Never Was by Hylton Smith / History & Fiction / Mystery & Detective have rating 3.2 out of 5 / Based on16 votes