This is the seventeenth part of a fiction serial, in 742 words.
A patrol car finally showed up after two hours. There was the classic cop combination, a weary old-timer who had seen it all, and an excited female copper who was probably brand new. The old-timer handed it over to her, as he wandered around the caravan looking completely disinterested.
Keith did most of the talking, even managing to get in a reference to his job with the influential member of parliament. The girl was impressed, the old-timer just grinned. Halfway through taking her notes, the girl’s radio went off, calling her number. She went outside to speak. When she came back in she was white-faced, and spoke directly to her partner.
“A dog walker has found a body on the beach at the bottom of the cliffs. They want us to go to Beachy Head to secure the scene for the helicopter”. Old timer looked at us. “You lads stay right here, we will be back”. I suspected that Johnny was going to be that young woman’s first dead body.
We heard the helicopter fifteen minutes later, but we couldn’t see it. Probably air-sea rescue coming in from the other side.
Feeling really tired, I suggested some breakfast. Terry shook his head, and so did Keith. So I made do with a family packet of crisps that we hadn’t eaten the night before, and Keith made us all a strong cup of tea. It was another two hours before the cops returned, and by then I was almost asleep on my feet. This time, the man did the talking.
“The young man seems to fit your description. They are taking the body to the mortary in Eastbourne. You three will have to come with us and make statements at the police station, and the police in London will contact his parents to come down and make a formal identification. I reckon it is going to be a long day, lads”.
He was right about that. Most of the day went by in a blur, and I was having trouble staying awake. Unlike Keith, who apparently gave a word-perfect version of the depression and possible suicide story, and Terry who said he had drunk too much and only realised Johnny wasn’t there when he woke up. I mumbled something about Johnny being very depressed in London, but I was adamant I had not expected him to commit suicide.
It wouldn’t have done for us all to say the same thing.
Johnny’s dad drove Jeannie down from London. Even though they had split up, the possible death of their son reinstated their bond, albeit temporarily. We didn’t see either of them that day. We heard later that they identified the body as Johnny, both agreed that he had been depressed, then told the cops what great friends we all were. There was going to be a Coroner’s Inquest at some stage, following a mandatory post-mortem.
Old-timer drove us back to the caravan site, had a word with the manager to confirm that we had asked about Johnny, then said we could go home if we wanted to. They might need us back for the Coroner’s Court at some stage, and if so, we would get letters in the post.
Driving home in the car that evening, Keith was talking non-stop. He was saying how we would never be suspected of anything, and we should all go and see Johnny’s mum and dad next week, to offer our condolences. Terry didn’t speak for the whole journey, not even after I dropped Keith off in Central London. Back at my house, Terry wouldn’t even come in and see Susan. He just got in his van and drove off without looking back.
Susan didn’t cry when I told her. She just shook her head. “So sad, love. Johnny has never been the same since he went into prison. I reckon Keith is right. He set up the boy’s weekend like some final farewell. He knew he was going to kill himself, and he must have walked to that cliff intending to jump. He had been to his auntie’s caravan a lot over the years, and knew Beachy Head really well. No wonder he chose that spot for your weekend break.”
She made me something to eat, and sat with me at the table while I was eating. “What do you think, love? I reckon he knew exactly what he was doing, don’t you?”
I told her I thought she was right.