Category: Amy Rowlings Spin Off

Murder at the Mill. Chapter 3

Chapter Three

‘Bodkin!’

Both Amy and the detective turned towards the sound of the angry voice. Walking towards them was a fifty-year-old, thickset man, wearing a light-grey trilby and a heavy, double breasted, overcoat. He stamped his booted feet on the cold concrete of the loading bay floor and scowled at Bodkin.

‘This had better be bloody good, Bodkin. I’m supposed to be driving my wife to her mother’s in Tunbridge Wells this morning and, if Mrs Laws isn’t happy, then you can guarantee, Inspector Laws won’t be happy, either.’ A look of pain came over his face. ‘It’s a long drive to Tunbridge.’

Bodkin straightened and pushed his feet together. Amy thought he was going to salute, but instead he snapped out a quick report.

‘There’s a body inside, Sir. The deceased is the factory owner’s son, one Edward Handley. He appears to have been attacked in the repair shop, which is to the left of the loading bay doors. The body is in the spare-parts section, which is connected to the main repair room. We don’t know yet how long the It has been there as the night shift maintenance team had no reason to go into that area during their stint, so Mr Handley could have been lying there since the shifts changed over, yesterday evening.’

Bodkin stopped his report, waiting for a response from his superior, but when nothing came, he continued.

‘The deceased is lying on his front; he has suffered a traumatic head wound on the right hand side of his head. There is a large, adjustable pipe wrench, lying at the floor at his feet.’

Bodkin stopped again.

‘That’s about it so far, Sir.’

Laws looked past Bodkin to the interior of the loading bay.

‘Who reported it?’ he asked without looking at the sergeant.

‘One of the maintenance crew, Sir. He discovered it at six thirty this morning when he turned up for work. The two teams meet in the repair shop for a shift report before they begin their daily checks. The night crew let the new team know of any incidents they encountered with the machinery during—’

‘I think I can guess what sort of things they report, Sergeant,’ snapped Laws. He turned his attention to Amy. ‘Who is this? Don’t tell me the bloody press have got hold of it already.’

‘No, Sir. This is Miss Rowlings. She works here.’

‘Here! Outside in the freezing cold?’

Bodkin did his best not to bite. He allowed Inspector Laws to get under his skin, far too easily.

‘Miss Rowlings is a machinist, Sir.’

Laws pushed his head towards Amy. ‘Then, why aren’t you at your machine, doing what they pay you to do?’ he barked.

‘I’m just going,’ replied Amy, quietly. ‘I was…’ her voice tailed off, not wanting to add to Bodkin’s problems.

Bodkin, spotting Amy’s nervousness under the inspector’s scrutiny, came to her assistance. ‘I was just asking Miss Rowlings when she last saw Mr Handley alive, Sir.’

Laws shrugged. ‘And…’

Amy responded quickly. ‘Five-thirty yesterday evening, Mr Laws. He was standing by those doors as the staff were clocking out.’

‘Inspector Laws,’ the detective corrected her.

‘Inspector,’ repeated Amy.

‘Right, get to your machine. There will be a team of officers deployed to take statements from all members of staff later this morning so, if you remember anything else, that’s the time to bring it up.’ The inspector narrowed his eyes and issued a dire warning. ‘If you breathe a word of what you have just heard out here, to anyone, and I mean, anyone, I will have you up for accessory to murder. Do I make myself clear?’

Laws dismissed Amy with a flick of his head and turned back to Bodkin.

‘Let’s have a look at the scene of the crime, Sergeant.’ Laws pushed his way past the stragglers, still being directed to their places of work by the foreman, and stepped into the loading bay looking at his wristwatch. ‘Today, of all days,’ he muttered.

Bodkin beckoned PC Davies towards him.

‘I want you outside the door of the maintenance room, Davies. No one goes in or out without my express permission, do you understand?’

Davies nodded and took a quick look at the figure of Laws as he entered the factory.

‘Someone got out of bed the wrong side this morning.’

‘Constable, if you had met Mrs Laws, you’d know that whichever side of the bed you got out of, it would be the wrong one.’

Bodkin turned to follow his superior officer into the building. At the entrance to the repair shop he stopped and looked back at Davies. ‘Once those few are in, shut those doors. Parkins and Wallis can keep watch over the yard, and cheer up, man, you’re inside in the warm this time.’

 

When Amy reached the changing room, she found it to be a hotbed of conspiracy theories. Everyone seemed to have a different idea of who had killed Edward, and by what means he had been dispatched.

Margaret Beech, a seamstress of some forty years’ experience, claimed to have, ‘cast-iron, proof’ that that Edward’s sister, Beatrice, had done the deed, whilst the twin sisters, Sarah and Louise Keddleston, both thought that he had taken his own life after being outed as a homosexual. Neither of the rather portly, forty-five-year olds had been the subject of Edward’s amorous attentions and that fact formed the basis of their theory.

Jennifer and a few other trainees, were under the impression that Mr Handley had been shot. Rachel, another trainee, even claimed to have heard the bullet being fired when she took a toilet break at three-thirty the previous afternoon. No one contradicted her, even though he was seen alive on the loading bay at five-thirty.

Katie Hubsworth, who worked on the machine behind Amy, insisted that he had been repeatedly stabbed, while her next-door neighbour, Wilhelmina, told everyone within earshot that she had been informed by the policeman on the door, who was a Saturday drinking partner of her husband, Bernard, that he had been strangled with his own cravat.

Carole twisted the handle of her locker, pulled it shut, and ambled over to Amy.

‘Well, this is a strange state of affairs isn’t it? Hark at this lot. He’s already been stabbed, garrotted, shot, battered, choked, decapitated and disembowelled, not to mention committing suicide. You’d think they’d have more sense than speculating like this. A man has lost his life for pity’s sake.’

‘You can’t blame them,’ said Amy, looking around the room. Twenty conversations were taking place at once. She had to raise her own voice to be heard amongst the babble of noise. ‘It’s the most excitement they’ve had in years. The last time they got so animated was when old George Blenkinsop fell under a bus, and that was five years ago. Some of them are still adamant that he was pushed.’

Carole rolled her eyes to the ceiling. ‘He was drunk, wasn’t he?’ She leaned closer to Amy. ‘Look, I don’t want to add to the mountain of conspiracies, but what have you heard?’

‘I can’t tell you. I’ll be in trouble if I do.’

Carole’s eyes opened wide.

‘You do know something then? Come on, out with it, you know you can trust me.’

‘I’ll tell you later on, when all the witness statements have been taken,’ replied Amy. ‘I do know how he was killed… and I do trust you, honestly, but that grumpy inspector out there told me that if I breathe a word of it to anyone, I’ll be in court myself. I can’t risk being overheard, Carole.’

Carole was appeased. ‘Fair enough, but if you tell anyone before you tell me, you’ll be up in the court of Carole and I’ll be the judge, jury and executioner.’

Before Amy could reply, the door burst open and an angry, red-faced, Mr Pilling stood in the opening.

‘What the hell are you lot doing in here. Get to your machines this instant or the whole shift will be docked an hour’s pay.’

Locker doors slammed and the foreman was unceremoniously brushed aside as thirty women, still chattering among themselves, rushed past him to get to their work stations. Amy and Carole were last out. As she walked by him, Mr Pilling grabbed her elbow.

‘I don’t know how you managed to hang around out there for so long, Rowlings, and it’s a good job that police sergeant vouched for you, because I was about to issue you with a verbal warning. That’s the second time in twenty-four hours he’s done that. He seems to care more for your employment status than you do.’ The foreman pointed to the shop floor. ‘Now, get on that machine, I expect ten percent more from you by way of finished garments today, and there had better be no shoddy work, either.’ He shook his head. ‘You’re a common or garden machinist, Amy, not an amateur sleuth. Stay away from those policemen.’

 

At nine o’clock, the first of the machinists was called into the canteen to give a statement about their whereabouts and actions the previous day. Mr Pilling began with the workers in line five, the closest to the canteen. That week, Amy was working on line two. She kept a watchful eye on proceedings as she stitched together the parts of her allocated garments. By ten o’clock, she was well up on her usual rate, she was determined to get the extra ten percent done, it was a matter of honour. The bonus pay she would receive for producing the additional dresses, would be welcome too. Her uncle, who imported the latest records from America, had managed to get hold of a copy of the new Al Donahue release, Jeepers Creepers, and he had put it aside for her.

Amy hummed an old Bing Crosby song as she worked. She was brought out of her reverie when she felt a tug at her sleeve. It as Emily Frost, who was working on the second machine on line two.

‘They want you next, Amy,’ she said.

‘Me? but there are a couple of dozen to go yet.’

‘I know, but they told me to get you. I couldn’t say no.’

Amy stood up, brushed the loose pieces of cotton from her pinafore and walked smartly along her line of machines. At the end she turned left and crossed the room to the wide, blue painted, double doors at the far corner of the workshop. She felt forty pairs of eyes burning a hole into the back of her head as she went. The buzz of sudden conversations seemed to rise about the noise of the machines.

Amy walked slowly down the three steps to the floor of the canteen. On the front row of tables were a line of uniformed policemen scratching details into notebooks as they questioned the factory workers. In the centre of the second row, sat Inspector Laws. Next to him was a police constable with an open notebook and a pen in his left hand. He seemed eager to be writing. Standing behind the constable was Bodkin. He raised his hand and gave her a quick wave and a nervous looking smile.

‘Ah, Miss Rowlings.’ Laws beckoned her towards him. As she approached, he stood and addressed the policemen on the front row. ‘When you have finished this batch of statements, get yourselves a cup of tea, go to the back of the room and wait until I give the order to resume.’ He turned back to Amy, who was standing patiently at the side of the Formica-topped, table. He reached across and pulled a low-backed chair towards him. ‘Sit,’ he commanded.

Amy sat. The inspector tapped his foot impatiently until the last of the interviewees had left the canteen and the policemen had lined up for their drinks.

Laws studied a hand-written sheet from the notebook on the table, flipped a page, then turned it back again.

‘Miss Rowlings,’ he said, sternly. ‘We have been given evidence that you had a confrontation with Edward Handley as recently as yesterday.’ A cold look came across his face. ‘Is this true?’

Amy silently cursed Carole, who had been the only person she had told about the incident. She was puzzled as to how the inspector had got hold of the information, as her best friend hadn’t yet been called in for questioning. Something was amiss.

‘Yes, that is true,’ she said. ‘He came into the changing room at lunchtime, while I was there.’

‘I see,’ Laws read the statement again. He flipped over two more pages as he saw Amy twist her neck in an attempt to see who had given the evidence. ‘So, this altercation. What brought it about?’

‘I don’t really want to speak ill of the dead, Inspector.’

‘You’ll tell me what occurred, and you’ll tell me in detail, or I’ll have you carted off to the nick right now.’ Laws made a fist and slammed it down, hard.

Amy sighed and took him through the details of the attack.

‘And was this something out of the ordinary?’ he asked.

‘He wasn’t called Wandering Handley for nothing,’ Amy replied.

The policeman at the inspector’s side, snorted. Laws gave him a withering look.

‘Wandering Handley? I’ll be honest with you, Miss Rowling, that’s not the first time I’ve heard that nickname this morning. Didn’t anyone think to report him?’

‘HA!’ Amy retorted. ‘And just what would have you lot have done about it. We’d have been risking our jobs and you wouldn’t have done a thing to help.’

‘You seem to have a very low opinion of the police, Miss Rowlings.’

‘Not at all. I think the police have an extremely difficult job and they do it very well in the main. But, when it comes to the abuse of women, you always seem to turn a blind eye. My best friend, Alice reported—’ Amy stopped, not wanting to bring Alice’s former relationship with her abusive partner into the conversation.

Laws made a note on a clean page of the notebook.

‘So, he allegedly attacked you. What then?’

‘There was no allegedly about it,’ snapped Amy. ‘He did it, I’ve probably still got the bruises.’

‘All right, let’s assume this attack actually took place. How did you get yourself out of the situation?’

‘I elbowed him in the throat and he went down like a sack of… coal,’ she replied.

Laws put down his pen, laid his forearms on the table and looked hard at Amy.

‘Is that when you threatened to kill him?’ he asked.

 

 

Murder at the Mill. An Amy Rowlings Mystery

Chapter One

The shard of winter sun burst through the mass of black cloud like an archangel’s lance. The heavy snow that had fallen overnight, enveloped the thick layer that already covered the town, making the roads and verges indistinguishable from the pavements. January, 1939 had announced itself in spectacular style.

Amy Rowlings shielded her eyes as she trudged through the thick, white blanket, stepping into footprints made by earlier travellers in an attempt to keep the snow out of her ankle-high winter boots. Another day spent at her machine at Grayson’s Garments factory wearing cold, soggy, woollen socks, was something she could well do without. Locals called the factory, The Mill, because it produced cotton fabric back in the 1800s, nowadays the workforce spent their days manufacturing women’s clothing; anything from underwear to winter coats. Ahead, Mildred, a fellow machinist, tripped on a hidden kerbstone and fell headlong into a drift that had covered the short privet hedge that lined the pavement. Before Amy could reach her, she picked herself up, and cursing, turned through the huge, wrought-iron, gates into the factory yard, where the snow had already turned into a slushy mess by the hundred pairs of feet that had tramped over it when the night and day shifts changed over.

As Amy approached the gates, a car pulled up on the opposite side of the road, and a late-twenties, man, wearing a grey mackintosh, and a black fedora, opened the rear door and slid out in one movement.

He swore as he realised, too late, that the snow would cover his patent leather, brogue shoes, and looking up to the heavens, trudged around the front of the car before nodding to a uniformed policeman standing at the ornate, snow-tipped, iron gates that guarded the forecourt of Wainwright and Sons Builders Merchant. The policeman wiped his runny nose on his sleeve, shuffled his booted feet, and blew into his hands.

‘Cold one today, Sir.’

The man in the mac nodded and examined the police constable as he would an object left behind at the scene of a crime. The uniformed colleague stamped incessantly in the snow, his bright red cheeks and chapped lips told him he’d been there for some time.

‘Report, Davies, and make it snappy.’ He pulled his unbuttoned mackintosh tightly around himself and tied off the belt.

‘Reported robbery, Sir. Estimated at three o’clock this morning. No suspects. We don’t even know how they got in. Two men attacked the watchman, tied him up and took away the cash tin. We don’t know exactly how much was in it, but apparently, the company takes about a hundred pounds every day. Because they don’t close until after the banks, the money is kept on the premises. They bank it every morning.’

The officer stamped his feet again and blew into his hands.

‘What do you mean, we don’t know how they got in?’

‘Well, Sir, there were no footprints.’ He turned to the gates and pointed. ‘The two pairs of prints, you can see, belong to myself and PC Watkins.’

The detective rolled his eyes to the dark sky. ‘What about round the back?’

‘They can’t have got in that way, Sir. The building is tied to a twenty-foot wall that separates it from the railway. There are only two ways in and out of the premises, and they are both accessed from here.’ He pointed across the yard to a red-painted door at the front of the building. ‘That one, and the side door where the goods are delivered and collected. But, as you can see, they would have to get through the gates to reach either one, and, as I said, there are no footprints. Apart from ours, that is. Two sets going in and one set, mine, coming back out.’

‘Where is the night watchman now?’

‘He’s inside with PC Watkins, the lucky so and… Sorry, Sir. Watkins is St John’s Ambulance trained, so he’s provided a little bit of first aid. The watchman wasn’t badly injured. He’s got a black eye and split lip. He managed to free himself and ring the police at about six o’clock. Do you think he might be in on it, Sir?’

The detective sighed.

‘I have no idea, Constable. I haven’t spoken to him yet.’

‘No, Sir, of course you haven’t. Sorry, Sir.’

He stamped his feet again and shivered under his heavy navy overcoat.

‘Oh, for God’s sake man. Go and sit in the car. Tell the driver to come out to take your place for half an hour. His name is Hodges.’

The policeman nodded gratefully and scurried around to the black Ford as Amy carefully crossed the road.

‘Has there been a burglary?’ she asked.

‘The detective swivelled on his heels to face her.

‘I’m not at liberty divulge that, Mrs…Miss.’

Amy smiled.

‘Oh, I wasn’t trying to get any information that might help a criminal.’ She smiled again, showing off a perfect set of teeth. A whisp of blonde hair loosened itself from beneath her hat and wafted in front of her eyes. She brushed it away with the back of her gloved hand. ‘My name is Amy Rowlings and I work at Grayson’s over the road.’ She pulled up her sleeve and looked at her men’s style, leather-strapped wristwatch. ‘And, if I don’t hurry, they’ll dock me a quarter of an hour’s wages.’

Amy turned away from the detective and began to make her way back, treading carefully in the footprints that she had made originally.

‘I didn’t think you were attempting to assist a criminal, Amy Rowlings,’ the policeman called after her. ‘I’m Detective Sergeant, Bodkin. I’m sorry I was a little abrupt just then.’

Amy stopped and looked back over her shoulder. The man was in his late twenties and handsome in a rugged sort of way. He took off his hat and gave her a curt nod. His hair was thick, dark and was in need of a good cut. He had two days’ worth of stubble on his chin and the bags under his brown eyes, told her that he hadn’t been sleeping well, or for long enough. His coat had fallen open revealing a creased, white shirt with a badly starched collar, a pair of wide, striped braces, held up his baggy, black trousers that bunched around his ankles.

Unmistakeably a single man, said Amy to herself.

He smiled and his tired face lit up.

‘Don’t worry about being a few minute’s late… Miss, erm… Rowlings, was it? I’ll tell your boss you were helping me with my inquiries.’

Amy laughed.

‘I’d get more than fifteen minutes docked if they thought you’d been questioning me, Detective. I’d be given my cards. They’re a suspicious lot over there. They think everyone is stealing from them.’ She thought for a moment. ‘A lot of them are, as it happens.’

‘No need for the formalities,’ he said, smiling again. ‘Everyone calls me Bodkin.’

She raised a gloved hand and waggled her fingers at him.

‘Well, Mr… sorry… Bodkin, it’s been nice chatting but I really should be going in.’

‘Please don’t rush away. I’ll tell them you’re helping me with this case. I’ll say you’re a vital witness.’

‘Ooh, that will get them all talking in the canteen,’ replied Amy. She brushed the errant hairs away again. ‘As it happens, I can help you with the case.’

‘You can?’ Bodkin took a step towards her. He smiled again. ‘And what would you know about my crime scene, Miss Rowlings?’

‘They got in via a skylight.’ Amy pointed to the snow-covered roof where footprints were clearly visible across the gently sloping, snow-covered roof.

Bodkin swivelled around in the snow, stared at the roof with his mouth wide open and shouted to the policeman sitting in the back of the car.

‘Davies!’ he yelled.

‘It’s not his fault,’ Amy said to the back of Bodkin’s head. ‘You can’t see the roof from that side of the road and it would still have been dark when he arrived.’

Bodkin turned back towards her.

‘There are no street lights,’ she pointed out, quietly.

Bodkin appraised the roof again. The trail of footprints led across the roof from the still-open skylight, to the adjacent building.

‘Looks like they got to the roof via the fire escape,’ said Amy, pointing out the obvious.

Together, they walked the thirty yards to the entrance of Harrington’s timber yard. Any footprints made on the forecourt had been wiped out by the twenty or so staff that worked there.

‘Stay back, please, Miss. This is a crime scene; I have to protect the evidence.’

Amy ignored him. ‘I’m not going to steal your precious footprints, am I?’

She marched onto the forecourt and crouched down at the bottom step of the fire escape. Bodkin leaned over her to examine the steps himself. Two separate sets of prints were clearly visible, one much larger than the other.

‘Blimey, those are big feet,’ she said.

Bodkin laughed. ‘That’s a hell of a clue. There can’t be too many men in this town with feet that size. They must be a size twelve.’

‘True,’ replied Amy. ‘But that is assuming the criminals live locally.’

‘All right, Miss Marple. It’s time you were at work. I’ll get Davies to guard the evidence.’

The detective gave orders to Davies and the policeman muttered to himself as he trapsed through the snow to take up his position guarding the fire escape.

Bodkin walked Amy over to the factory, they came to a halt at the staff entrance.

‘Could you tell your foreman I’d like a word please, Miss Rowlings? I’ll explain the situation to him.’

‘Call me Amy,’ she replied with a quick smile. ‘And, it won’t make any difference, they’ll still stop me the quarter hour.’

 

 

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