Friday, 30 March 2012

New mystic(2)

Ruth was being held on remand in Wolverton’s women’s prison just South of Manchester. It was a sad, miserable and dejected place to visit. Paul went to see
her having first obtained a visiting order. He had to take his passport with him to prove who he was, since his name had already been submitted a week in advance of his visit. He was searched and had to empty his pockets of everything including his hanky(!) which were put into a locker. He had his hand stamped with indelible ink and was given a numbered orange wrist band to wear. He was told that hugs and kisses on the cheeks were allowed but not on the lips. When he finally reached the visiting room he was struck by how working class the women prisoners were, apart from Ruth. Actually the prisoners were not working class they were probably long term unemployed or would be outside of prison. Some were persistent shop lifters, a few were or had been on heroin, and a few were inside for acts of violence including murder. All were white apart from one young South-Asian woman. Most were under 40.

Ruth looked dreadful, had lost a lot of weight and there were marks beneath her yes showing how badly she was sleeping. Her hair usually so well presented looked lank and in need of treatment. Her prison clothing did not suit her or fit her that well. But it was not just her physical looks, she was not her usual bubbly self, her voice was quiet and he was dejected and probably clinically depressed.
- You don’t belong here!
- That’s what several prisoners and prison staff have said to me.
- Oh Ruth what are we going to do?
- Get me out of here! (said with some of the old Ruth spark!)
- OK tell me again about the cake.
- It was in an ordinary cake box with a label attached. It said, ‘A sweet cake for a sweetheart (Yeuch!) from a secret admirer’ And it was chocolate and I hate chocolate!
- Me too!
- Oh Paul, I killed them! (Ruth began to sob.)
- No you didn’t! Your secret admirer killed them! In fact he meant to kill you!
- Oh Paul! .... I could have killed you!
- Not you the cake!
- Whaaat?
- Nothing… Did you give the box and the label to the police?
- No, I threw it away. I just thought the cake would be nice to offer to my pupils and that someone would own up to having baked it.
- Home made then?
- Yes for sure.
- Any left. One slice that the police took away.
- They wont be able to prove you did it.
- Maybe not, but they wont let me out until they are sure that I am safe.
- That’s ridiculous.
- So my solicitor says…but all the publicity in the local rag has made it hard. (Ruth sighed and looked about to break down again.)
- Chin up. (Where did that phrase come from? It produced a weak smile from Ruth.)

Paul was glad to be let out of the prison. He cycled back home with his thoughts on Ruth and her predicament. The trouble was he cared a lot about her and this could get in the way of the kind of cool thinking he knew was necessary. It was time for a long bikeabout maybe with his Australian friend.

Saturday, 24 March 2012

New Mystic Detective story

Paul’s piano teacher Ruth had been arrested on three counts of murder and Paul felt responsible. If only he had not blurted out his suspicions to Micky Flynn then none of this would have happened or probably not or probably not now and in this manner. It had all seemed so innocuous at first. Paul often passed Francine on the stairs outside Ruth’s flat. Francine was thin, intense, average height, expensive bottle blond hair, well bred, casually dressed in upmarket clothing. She was bright but had a perpetual frown on her face as if life worried her and if only she could properly figure it out everything would be OK. But it never was and now it was too late. She’s died of natural causes or so it seemed.

Ruth was, not surprisingly, upset at Francine’s death, and for someone usually so well turned out she was rather dishevelled, hair all over the place, showing signs of being well raked by her fingers.
- She was only 39!
Paul nodded, resisting an impulse to question Francine’s age.
- And already a professor of nursing.
- Hmm.
- She had so much to live for …. And already Grade 3 after just 18 months!
(Paul in contrast was an enthusiastic if haphazard beginner who never practised sufficiently regularly and who Ruth had not yet entered for a music exam.)
- What did she die of?
- Natural causes they reckon.
Ruth, paused thoughtfully, and crossed to the window and looked out across the moors,
- There’s too much death around. First Jeremy and now Francine.
- Jeremy?
- Jeremy, my beloved red setter.
- Oh.
- Yeah, too much cake.
- Cake?
- Cake. He scoffed some of my leftover Christmas cake and died later on.
- Death by cake.
- That’s not funny, protested Ruth.
They both laughed although Ruth’s laugh was a bit hysterical and turned shrill and she started sobbing. ‘Oh Fuck’ said Paul under his breath feeling awkward as he usually did around female or indeed male tears. Ruth sniffed and pulled herself together.
- - Let’s hear you do ‘Over the rainbow’. How are you getting on with it?
- OKish.
- Well (sniff) you play it through and I’ll make us some tea – you want tea?
- Yeah, thanks.

The next morning in Fuel Café Paul was joined by Micky Flynn. Micky was dressed in his usual off duty clothes – denim jeans, mod shirt and a leather jacket. His attempt at a hip look was spoilt by his thinning hair and thickening beer belly. But he could still handle himself pretty well and most people got the message not to mess with him. He used to work with Paul when they were both policemen patrolling the streets of Manchester, though often by car rather than by foot which spoils the image somehow. Paul had left the force some 5 years ago after a big falling out with his Chief and had set himself up as a self employed private detective, mostly doing missing persons – spouses usually – but also an occasional more taxing, sometimes more scary case. Paul and Micky met up from time to time out of friendship and to swap notes and information for their current cases. All strictly off the record and if the Chief ever found out well that would be it for Micky, and Paul would face some charge or other – ‘whatever the Chief could dream up that would put you away’ or so Micky reckoned and Paul wasn’t about to challenge him on it.
- This music teacher of yours Ruth isn’t it?
- Yeah?
- Yeah, is she on the level?
- Sure, a bit highly strung but then most musicians are.
- Most women if you ask me!
- Yeah?
Micky took a swig from his latte and pulled a face and then said,
- It’s just we’ve picked up a guy – Dave Ashton – who used to be one of her pupils and he said some strange things about her.
- Strange things?
- Well between you, me and this wall (Micky had a curious and old fashioned way of expressing himself) he reckons she’s a call girl.
- What!
- Yeah, call girl.
- No way!
- We wondered, it would be a good cover.
- No! Maybe he made a pass at her and got knocked back.
- He also said she is dealing drugs.
- This is getting daft. She is just a retired musician earning a modest living as a piano and violin teacher. And her flat is very sparse and small and Levenshulme, a cheap part of town.
- OK if you insist.
- I do, trust me.
Micky nodded and left soon after.

Paul looked over to the counter where Chloe, a newcomer to Fuel, was serving, or rather waiting to serve whilst moving roughly in time to the Fleet Foxes track playing on the café laptop. When Chloe looked over his way Paul held up his coffee cup and point to it.
- Cappuccino?
- Please.
- With chocolate?
- Please.
Paul was between cases which made a change but he knew that such quiet times did not last long. At that moment his good mate Frankie came into Fuel. This was unusual. Frankie, being half Italian was very fussy about where he drank his coffee (Café Muse yes, Costa no, Café Nero yes) and Fuel did not really come up to his high standards. However, since Paul was not in his office in the city centre Fuel was a good second guess. Frankie was by far the best looking and best dressed of all Paul’s friends male or female. (‘Bloody typical’ as Martha, his secretary and paramour of Paul’s, had said, ‘good looking well dressed guy, there has to be a catch, oh yes he’s gay’). Frankie had that delightful olive coloured Mediterranean skin and the verbal charms of both his Welsh and Italian ancestors. He was almost invariably snazzily dressed, - today being no exemption – lime green cord trousers, orange short and mid brown suede shoes.
- Hey Frankie.
- Hey Mystic. (Mystic was Frankie’s pet name for Paul. They shared a male hug, more relaxed and demonstrative on Frankie’s side, as Paul was still a bit unrelaxed about male physical contact, even with his good friend Frankie.
- What brings you here? Asked Paul after Frankie had ordered an Americano.
- One of our porters has been arrested.
- Hmm.
- Guy called Dave Ashton.
- Oh!
- Oh?
- Yeah Micky Flynn has just been talking about him.
- Glad I missed him! (Frankie and Micky did not get on. Frankie was gay and pretty out and Micky, who found him rather flamboyant, was rather unreconstructed to say the least and his casual sexism winded Frankie up no end. A less caring person than Paul might well have enjoyed some sport at his two friends’ expense.)
- Yeah, he didn’t say why but they have arrested Ashton. And he has been slagging off Ruth my piano teacher.
- Yeah?
- Yeah, some nonsense about her being a call girl.
- Whaat?
- And a drug dealer.
- No way and I should know.
- Get you! (Paul laughed at his own joke.)
- Do you think he is slagging her off to take attention away from him?
- Sounds like it. What’s he like?
- Nasty bit of stuff really. A bit of a bully… I wouldn’t put it past him to be doing a bit of dealing himself. He has the look and attitude of someone who can handle himself.
- And he plays piano?
- Apparently. He is a bit of a charmer and has a good signing voice apparently.
- Uh huh… so any way did you want to see me about him?
- Well, Frankie paused a bit embarrassed, he claims Claudia owes him some money for drugs.
(Claudia was Frankie’s recently discovered daughter, unexpected offspring of his disastrous one and only heterosexual marriage who had become addicted to heroin. She had gone into apparently successful rehab triggered by Frankie’s suicide attempt (see the first ‘Mystic Detective’ book).
- Oh.
- Yes and he has produced some IOUs that she signed was she was desperate and half out of her mind to get some heroin.
- Are they legal?
- Probably not but they could be used to embarrass me. He has already threatened to contact the Daily News. And you know how they love to run stories slagging of the Uni. And she’s not got the money herself. It’s driving her mental.
- Do you want me to see him?
- Please!

Frankie left soon after leaving his friend with plenty to think about.

A distraught Ruth rang Paul up just before his next piano lesson,
- Sorry Paul I am going to have to cancel your lesson
- Oh?
- Yes (starts sobbing) I’m sorry…. but there’s…. there’s been another death.
- Yeah?
- Jonathan.
- Jonathan?
- Jonathan Burley.
- Oh yeah, the artist.
- That’s tight, natural causes again and he was only 52!
- Jesus Ruth what are doing to them?
- Paul! Paul! (more sobbing). Don’t joke this is serious!
- Sorry Ruth, I realise it.
- Is…just is… just a bad coincidence.

Coincidence or not the next morning Micky Flynn joined Paul for breakfast in Fuel.
- Hi Paul.
- Sorry Paul I am going to have t cancel your lesson
- Hi Micky, how goes?
- OK Paul. You know your piano teacher Ruth? (Paul nodded) Well we have been keeping an eye on her and she is squeaky clean.
- Well I did tell you so.
- So you did but there’s an end of it.
- Unless you think she is a murderer!
- Whaaat?
- Well two of her pupils and her dog have all died recently apparently of natural causes, or in the case of the dog of cake.
- Cake?
- Cake.
- Sounds like a nasty case of coincidence to me.
- Me too.

But a thirds death occurred and yet again it was to a pupil of Ruth’s. And as Micky was already ‘on the case’ he saw to it that Ruth was taken into custody. A careful search of her flat led to the discovery of a half eaten chocolate cake that was subsequently found to be laced with a deadly poison. Ruth was remanded in custody whilst awaiting trial despite he very best effort of her lawyer James Burlington. Few believed Ruth’s claim that the cake was a present from a grateful by anonymous pupil and/or admirer. Paul was hired by Ruth’s lawyer to work on the case that was regarded by Micky Flynn as ‘open and shut’ despite Paul’s protests.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Visiting Styal women's prison

I went to Styal women’s prison yesterday to visit a friend of mine who is serving a 12 week sentence. I had to prove who I was, my name had already been submitted well in advance of my visit. I was searched and had to empty my pockets of everything including my hanky which were put into a locker. I had my hand stamped with indelible ink and was given a numbered orange wrist band to wear. Hugs and kisses on the cheeks were allowed but not on the lips. I was struck by how working class the women prisoners were, apart from my friend. I said to her, ‘You don’t belong here’ and she replied that several prisoners and prison staff had said the same to her. Actually the prisoners were not working class they were probably long term unemployed or would be outside of prison. Some were persistent shop lifters, a few were or had been on heroin, and a few were inside for acts of violence including murder. All were white apart from one South-Asian woman. Most were under 40. My friend had read a letter sent to her cell mate and had offered to write her a reply since she could not read or write. It was a sad miserable place to be. Everything takes ages to happen there, everything has to be controlled and accounted for. I guess if you have had a very chaotic life the structure there might have some use. I’ve been to Broadmoor and Park Lane - men’s hospitals for the criminally insane, but there was something troubling about visiting Styal. I would like to think we could do it all much better. If so it would take money which I guess is politically unrealistic. My friend should be out in a couple of weeks.

Monday, 5 March 2012

What shall we eat?

What shall we eat?

Waiting for you again
I’m early as ever
And yes you’re late
Why break a habit of a lifetime
Now and for me

Ah but when you arrive
Your smile melts me
And I hardly even hear
Your mumbled apology

But this can’t be good
And certainly isn’t for me
Now what shall we eat?

Friday, 2 March 2012

Poem for Alun Turing

Poem for Alan Turing

I stood near you
Well, it wasn’t really you
It was just a statue of you
But that worked for me
And I felt gratitude for
All your gifts - to all of us
Cracking the code
And thinking the computer
And I felt sadness
At never being able to meet you
God, you could have been my teacher
But I was fourteen years too late

And I felt anger too
At how you – a hero- was treated
How can a loving act
Between two adults in private
Be called gross indecency?
Gross indecency?
Now that describes how you were treated.