This is the third part of a fiction serial, in 1173 words.
Most of the other cops called him ‘Old Tom’, but he wasn’t really that old. He had just been around a long time, and had struggled to make the grade to detective. Even after all this time, he was still only a detective constable. His sergeant was ten years younger than him, and the Inspector leading the team was fifteen years his junior. Tom Henderson was a plodder. He got the job done in his own fair time, and didn’t rush around like the new blokes. Unlike so many of his colleagues, he wasn’t divorced, didn’t drink much, and had never had an affair. Nobody ever saw him at a night out, not even the Christmas party. He did his work, put in the hours, and then went home to Karen.
She needed him around, relied on him. After his daughter Janet had been killed in that horse-riding accident when she was just ten years old, his wife had never been the same. She couldn’t work, hardly ever went out, spent her day in a dream, dazed by her anti-depressants and pain-killers. Money had been tight when she stopped working, and they eventually sold the big house, trading down to a small flat at the edge of town. Too many memories in that old place anyway. A child’s laughter, her first steps along the rug in the hall, and dancing in front of the TV, watching a pop video. The new-build apartments were ideal. No garden to get neglected, good security, and his own parking space. The other residents liked having a police officer living in the small block. He supposed they thought it put off any criminals.
Not that there was that much crime in that town, nothing too serious anyway. In fact, there was talk of shutting down the big old police station in the town centre, and moving everyone out to County Headquarters, in the city fifteen miles to the east. His sergeant had told him he was sure it would happen, just after the new year. Tom had examined his options when he heard that news. He had almost thirty years service, enough to go with a full pension, and an unblemished record. No need to face the upheaval of the possible move to the city, with a longer commute, and a wider area to cover. He could just put his papers in, and retire. But then there was the thought of spending twenty-four hours a day looking at his damaged wife, or the prospect of a part-time job doing something he wasn’t interested in. Maybe he would forget about retirement for now, see how things worked out after the move.
Inspector Mullins kept giving him all the burglaries. He would bring over a file, and cheerily announce, “This one has ‘Burglary Tom’ written all over it mate”, before slapping it down on the desk. When some out of town hard men robbed the main Post Office at gunpoint, Tom had been miles away, looking into the theft of some medals and jewellery from an antique shop. But he never complained. He was good at what he did, and tried hard to investigate the burglaries, for the peace of mind of those victims. He knew the locals prepared to fence stolen goods, and most of the few burglars who regularly plied their trade in the town and surrounding villages. His clear-up rate was above the national average, and though it was hardly exciting, he found some satisfaction in his success.
It wasn’t unknown for Mr Conroy to do a snap inspection. Though hardly frequent, he sometimes appeared with his briefcase and clipboard, ready to check stocks, outstanding orders, and the general tidiness of a specific department. There were lots of underlings who could be sent off to do that for him, but he was known to be a man who liked to show his face to the employees on occasion. So it didn’t really surprise Sheila when he turned up at her office in the Cleansing Department, close to the end of the working day. She was in charge of anything to do with the town’s cleaning and refuse services; from rubbish collection, to street-sweeping, and even the cleaners who kept the Town Hall tidy. Although she was classed as Senior Management, she was always careful to call Alex Mr Conroy. If nothing else, she wouldn’t mind his job one day, when he retired, so it wouldn’t hurt if he liked her, and spoke in favour of her application to replace him.
He followed her around the various store rooms under her control, nodding as she outlined the stock situation, or advised him of staffing issues. In one large underground garage, many of the small carts and cleaning vehicles were parked, and he pretended to inspect those too. At the back of the big space was a room with a sign on the door that read ‘Contagious and Infected Stores’. This was where everything needed to deal with things like decaying corpses or fatal road accidents was stored, and in one dusty corner was a shelf marked ‘CBRN’. Not that the town had ever had cause to to deal with a Chemical, Biological, Radioactive, or Nuclear incident, but it was always best to be prepared for that possibility. As Sheila started to drone on about something to do with outstanding orders, Alex suddenly stopped her. “Sorry, Sheila, I have forgotten my clipboard. I must have left it on your desk. Be a love and get it for me would you? I need some of the stock sheets fixed to it”.
Sheila smiled, muttered “Of course”, and left to make the considerable walk back to her office. She checked her watch as she walked, less than five minutes to going-home time. He always cut it fine. Alex opened the empty briefcase, and removed the waste paper that bulged it out. Reaching right over to the back of a shelf, he removed one of the one-piece suits used by the unfortunate people employed to clean up after dead bodies had been removed. He checked the size. M for medium, just right for his build. The suit was bright orange in colour, and included a hood, as well as large foot coverings that easily fitted over shoes. He slipped it into the briefcase, before leaving the room and throwing the waste paper into a rubbish skip next to the parked vehicles.
Sheila returned with the clipboard, slightly red in the face. Alex smiled as she handed it to him. He looked at his watch, and shook his head. “Sheila, I just realised how late it is, I’m really sorry. You must be wanting to get home to your family. We can do this another time”. Sheila thanked him, and they walked back into the main office complex together, nodding to the security guard as they made their way to the car park.
Once in his car, Alex patted the case, and smiled. He had the suit.
To be continued…