For July we picked at random a line from a book. The line contained the words “massacre in the wood”. This became the topic for the month.
1. Massacre in the Woods
An old priest walked down to the woods last century
And encountered a gruesome surprise
His terrier whined and scratched at the leaves;
Torn clothing, dried blood and the flies
There had been a massacre before his eyes
Tossed like tailors dummies with broken arms and legs
Their dismembered corpses lay half buried by a stream
Three lives had been extinguished by the slash of a butcher’s knife
But savagery is seldom silent, had nobody heard them scream?
Six vacant eyes stared up at the man
Their faces tinged with a bluish grey
Each wore a red bead necklace as the autumn heat pressed down
The bodies swollen, and in the air the foul stench of decay
He murdered in the woods that day, fuelled by drugs and vodka
Three innocent men from the village
With a sharp blade in his hand he wreaked his revenge,
These men had defiled his only daughter
The old priest wailed and clutched at his heart
As he slumped to the ground in despair
To find such horrors on an evening like this
With trembling hands and silver crucifix he offered up a prayer
And every year on a certain day
Wild poppies appear by the stream
The woods fall silent, as if to remember
The terrible act, the mindless atrocity
That had taken place in those woods in September
2. The Massacre in the Woods.
Columbine and her sister Jasmine were happy youngsters. Their life was a simple one but they felt that they had all that they needed. They lived with their parents in a small, rather tumble down cottage which had a small plot where vegetables were grown. For the rest of their provisions their father foraged for wild berries, nuts and herbs. Their mother was skilled at producing tasty and nourishing meals from what they grew and what her husband gathered in the surrounding countryside. The nearby Shoebury Wood provided a rich store of food for the table, but also offered the two sisters their own adventure playground. They spent many happy hours there and when the weather was warm they delighted in stripping off their clothes and swimming naked in the small brook that gurgled and chuckled its way through a sun dappled glade. They didn’t lack friends either for there were others who had made their homes in the wood and surrounding countryside. It was a fairly remote area with little intrusion from roads and the accompanying traffic. All in all it was a peaceful place.
The change to the surroundings came gradually. So gradually that it took a while before anyone noticed. Mr Hoo was the first to notice something amiss. Trees were being cleared on the far side of the wood and a wire fence had made an appearance around the perimeter. He reported his findings to a worried Mr Campion, the childrens’ father.
“I don’t know what is going on,” he said, “but it’s worrying. I hope our tranquillity and way of life is not going to be spoiled.”
“Let’s not get too worried for the moment. No-one has threatened us yet. But you are right, we must keep an eye on the situation.”
Neither of them discussed the matter with their respective families. No need to cause alarm just yet.
As it happened it was Columbine and Jasmine who were the next to bring bad news to their father.
“Father, Father,” they breathlessly shouted, “the brook is drying up. There’s hardly any water in it and we couldn’t swim properly.”
Their father put down the spade that he was using to dig potatoes for dinner and said, “right we’d better go and have a look. But it’s probably just an early drought, there hasn’t been a lot of rain in the last little while.”
He wasn’t convinced by his explanation but didn’t want to cause undue alarm. The three of them set off into the wood to look at the brook. When they got there they found other inhabitants of the wood already there, all looking worried. Mr and Mrs Hoo were adamant that they had never seen it this low, and they were among the oldest inhabitants. Little Mrs Brown became quite agitated, “What shall we do? If there is no water nothing will grow properly and then we shall starve.”
Mr Campion comforted her. “I’m sure it won’t come to that, my dear. But we must all stick together. There is always strength in numbers.”
“It’s all very well for you. You are strong. I am a poor widow. What will become of me?” and she began to weep.
“We will look after you. Don’t upset yourself.” He turned to Mr Hoo. “You and I must put our heads together and discover what is happening. Perhaps we should follow the brook upstream to see if there is an obstruction.”
“Good idea, but it’s too late to do anything now. I suggest we all go home and try not to worry. You and I should meet at first light and set off. Agreed?”
“Certainly. I’ll meet you under the great oak tree at dawn.” He turned to the assembled company. “Go home now. Try not to alarm the womenfolk and the children. I’m sure there is a logical explanation.” He said this with more conviction than he felt.
The following morning, with a pack on his back containing a flask of tea and a packet of food, he left the house. His two daughters had heard him get up and begged to be taken along. Their mother had clipped them round the ear and sent them back to bed.
“Take care,” she whispered as she saw her husband walk away.
It was an anxious day as they waited for their husbands to return. In fact it was nearly dusk by the time the weary pair came up the path. Mrs Campion had suggested that Mrs Hoo spend the day with her, but she had declined as she couldn’t trust leaving her youngsters on their own. Mr Hoo said that he should get home to his family immediately but thanked Mr Campion for his company.
“We need to tell our neighbours about what we have discovered but this will have to wait until tomorrow. I will get messages circulated, my youngsters can help.”
“Well done Mr Hoo. We will meet under the great oak tree as soon as possible.”
Mrs Campion, Columbine and Jasmine could hardly wait to hear what had been discovered.
“It’s not good,” Mr Campion started. “We had to go a long way upstream. The brook is in the process of being diverted through a pipe which leads into an artificial pond. Mr Hoo can travel faster than me so continued to scout around. There is a large fence being constructed and several enclosures have been erected. We can’t figure out what exactly is going on, but it’s serious. I fear we may have to move.”
His family were horrified. Where would they go? How would they get there, wherever it was? And what would await them?
The following morning their immediate neighbour Mr Black came knocking on the door. He had bad news.
“I was up at dawn,” he reported, “and went right round the edge of the wood. There are men working all the way round, erecting this huge fence. I know what’s going on now because I spotted pheasants being unloaded into one of the enclosures. They are going to rear pheasants for the shoot.”
“Where does that leave us? the Campions asked in unison.
“Depends what they have decided. We might be able to stay but the lack of water is a problem and it looks like the brook is going to dry up in our part of the wood.”
Later that day they all gloomily assembled under the great oak tree. They listened in silence as first Mr Hoo and then Mr Campion told what they had discovered. Then Mr Black addressed the company. There were gasps and cries of despair. Eventually it was agreed that they would see if it was possible to remain. As someone pointed out pheasants were food and the vegetarians amongst them would be able to plunder the nuts and grain.
So they returned to their homes but the general mood was one of pessimism. Their fears were well founded and the disaster came quickly.
It was a sunny afternoon when the peace was shattered by an hysterical Mrs Brown rushing up to the Campions’ door. It took a while for Mr Campion to understand what she was saying. By then several of the neighbours, hearing the commotion, came to see what had happened.
“It’s terrible, you must come. They have taken some of the Black youngsters and others that I don’t know. Come quickly and see.”
The assembled company followed the distraught little Mrs Brown into the wood and they came to the glade where the brook was now only a trickle. In the middle of the clearing a grizzly sight met them. A gibbet had been erected and from it hung the lifeless bodies of three of the Black fledglings along with two young fox cubs and a selection of rats and mice.
There was a stunned silence until Hoo and Campion took charge of the situation.
“Get the children out of here,” they shouted. “There is nothing for us to do but leave. Back to the great oak tree. Now.”
As the shock wore off, anger took hold. “What have we ever done to the men, why do they have to destroy everything they touch? Why can’t they leave us in peace?” was the recurring cry.
“This is getting us nowhere,” shouted Mr. Hoo over the noise. “We need to evacuate, and the sooner the better.”
“Yes but where to?” was the question. Mr Campion stepped forward to address the crowd.
“I remember an old uncle of mine telling me of a land far away where animals and gnomes can live in peace without the interference of men. Mr Hoo, you fly far and wide. Would it be possible for you to scout it out and report back?”
The owl smiled, and said “Of course. But I hope you can give me directions.”
Several days passed before Mr Hoo returned. “It is a wonderful place. There is a big forest called Roveny Forest. I talked to some of the locals and they have a good lifestyle. And Mr Campion, you and your gnome family will get on very well with the local piskies. They can’t wait to meet you.”
“Piskies, you say. I’ve heard of them. I look forward to it. And now we must all prepare. Those of you who are weaker and older can be carried by our larger bird friends. And Mrs Brown, we shall look after you.” And he smiled at the little red squirrel.
And so it was that after a long and weary journey the inhabitants of Shoebury Wood finally reached the safety of Roveny Forest in the wonderful land of Kernow where they were greeted by the locals and made welcome.
The Hoos’ raised several young owls; the Blacks raised many young blackbirds and Mrs Brown met an elderly grey squirrel widower. As for the Campions’; well they were the last gnomes left in England but their daughters Columbine and Jasmine fell in love with handsome piskies and raised some beautiful bi-lingual youngsters, who kept alive the gnome history and blended it with piskie folklore.
Pat Stearn July 2014.
3. Massacre of The Woods.
It’s thirty years since I emigrated to North Island in New Zealand. At the time it was a very big wrench, leaving many friends behind, the place of my birth, England’s beautiful countryside, picturesque coasts and many historic buildings and towns. It was important for me to be closer to my children and grandchildren who had emigrated a few years prior to me.
Over the past years I have daydreamed about England, especially through the seasons, my thoughts being embellished with the words from the poets, “Home Thoughts From Abroad” by Robert Browning, William Wordsworth’s “The Daffodils” and “The Donkey” by C. K. Chesterton, having had to learn and recite this in church at Easter time, I must have been about eight years old at the time. This fantasising must stop, so a decision has been made to go and visit England for two months.
As the plane touched down at Manchester Airport a feeling of trepidation and excitement came over me. What will I find? Changes will have inevitable taken place. It is like stepping out of a time capsule, have I been transported back in time or has the old town been completely modernised out of recognition and brought up to date to the twenty first century, will eight weeks furlough be long enough for me to explore?
Having picked up the hire car at the airport, I drove to my home town of Birkenhead, sadly not through the villages of Wirral as planned as these have all been bypassed by the M56 and M53 motorway, quicker but not as pretty. On reaching the small hotel in
Oxton Village, a five minute walk from my old address, I was shown to a very comfortable room which overlooked the front garden. After unpacking and a nice refreshing shower there was just time for a short rest before supper. Feeling tired and jet lagged the thought of a good nights sleep was very welcoming.
After a good nights sleep and a hearty English breakfast, it was time to start exploring! What a beautiful day, sunny and warm with a slight breeze, just the weather for a country walk through fields and woods, armed with a camera sketchbook and notepad, packed lunch and waterproof in my backpack, not forgetting an up-to-date map and of course mobile phone, a sturdy pair of walking shoes on my feet I was ready for the road.
Walking through Oxton Village, I was very surprised to see that very little had changed. It is a quaint village, with one main shopping street, having typical Village shops on either side, and a very nice Village pub. Having reached the end of the shopping area, the road continued up past old houses and cottages, with their beautiful gardens in full bloom, eventually meeting up with the main road, crossing this road brought me to the entrance of the Arno.
The Arno, a disused quarry, was turned into a recreation ground, originally owned by the Earl of Shrewsbury, who in 1910 handed over the deeds to Birkenhead Corporation, on the condition that they always kept it as a recreational park for the people of the borough. As I walked past the playing field, with the rocks and
overhanging trees, memories of childhood came flooding back, remembering the times I had playing here with my brother, also when my children were tiny and I brought them here to play. Birkenhead Council have kept their promise, and kept the area in good order, the rose garden in particular, where at this point I joined some elderly local people, we sat on the park bench chatting about times gone past, drinking in the fragrance from the roses.
Time to move on, continuing through the Arno to the two large fields where events are held throughout the summer, I came to the area that was once known as the Flat Lanes, which eventually led to Arrow Park, this was a public right of way across fields and woodland with the river Fender running through, Sadly, the whole area had been flattened and two housing estates had been built, the river still meandered through with another housing estate on the others side of its bank. Green fields and woodland gone forever, a massacre of the woods and green countryside.
The poem by Rudyard Kipling immediately springs to mind.
‘The Way Through the Woods’
They shut the road through the woods
Seventy years ago.
Weather and rain have undone it again,
And now you would never know
There was once a road through the woods
Before they planted the trees.
It is underneath the coppice and heath,
And the thin anemones.
Only the keeper sees
That, where the ring-dove broods,
And the badgers roll at ease,
There was once a road through the woods.
Yet, if you enter the woods
Of a summer evening late,
When the night-air cools on the trout-ringed pools
Where the otter whistles his mate,
(They fear not men in the woods,
Because they see so few)
You will hear the beat of a horse’s feet
And the swish of a skirt in the dew,
Steadily cantering through
The misty solitudes,
As though they perfectly knew
The old lost road through the woods….
But there is no road through the woods.
Fortunately I still have my vivid memories of my childhood and courting days of the area, the wild flowers, small fishing ponds, birds singing in the tree tops and squirrels scurrying up the tree trunks in the woods. Gone but not forgotten.
Jackie Hannen July 2014.
4. A MASSACRE IN THE WOODS
It had been a very busy summer: tourists being fleeced, pockets being picked, drunken brawls, the usual thing every year. Now it was early autumn and I was relaxing with feet on desk and hat over eyes when there came a rapping on the door.
“Entrez!” I like to show off my knowledge of foreign languages.
“Come in!” I called after nobody appeared.
In hopped Sergeant Frogg (his peculiar gait being the result of a gunshot wound), saluted and took out his notebook.
“Inspector Hector, sir, some bodies have been discovered in Bigdark Wood.”
I flicked the hat out of my eyes, took my feet off the desk and let the chair fall forward so that in one fluid movement I was fully alert, elbows on the desk and looking straight into the sergeant’s bulgy eyes.
“There’s more than one body, sir. We’re still digging and not sure if we’ve found them all but it looks certain they are all from the dwarf community, sir.”
“Dwarfs, eh? Thank you sergeant.”
Dwarfs. A very clannish and close-knit community. They have their own language, customs and laws. They work hard, play hard and sing a lot and are despised by many but I have nothing against them. As long as they keep to themselves and stay out of trouble, that’s all I ask.
Constable Plod was overseeing the crime scene when I arrived.
“We’ve dug up seven bodies, sir,” he said nodding towards a row of small humps covered with handkerchiefs (dwarfs are pretty small, if you don‘t know). “We’re sure there aren’t any more.”
I walked over to one and lifted the cloth. The dwarf still wore the traditional red hat and his face was half covered by a shaggy grey beard. His eyes were closed and he looked peacefully asleep.
“No signs of violence, constable?”
“No, sir. Looks like they were already dead when they were put in this grave.”
I heard a cough and looked up to see a familiar face. It was Andy Axman and at his side was his dog, Lagotto.
“He found the bodies, sir,” said Plod.
“So what were you doing out here, Andy?” I said, strolling over to the man and patting his dog.
“Just exercising my dog, inspector. He was digging around, like he does, and he uncovered this lot. Well, not all of them, if you know what I mean.”
“Hmmm. Can you prove this? Was anyone with you?”
Axman was well known to us; petty stuff. He wasn’t a killer but I liked to wind him up.
By this time more of the force had turned up and I said to Axman,
“OK, go with the officers and make a statement.”
He turned to go.
“Oh, just one more thing,” I said. “Come here and empty your pockets.”
“Why?” he whined, “I’ve done nothing wrong.”
“Empty them!” I barked.
Shamefaced he produced half a dozen large black truffles.
“Tut, tut. Who’s been a naughty boy, then?”
If you don’t know, round here truffles, like sturgeon and swans, belong to the monarch and you need a royal permit to deal in them. I knew he didn’t have one.
“Hand them over,” I ordered.
I put them in my pocket, thinking that they’d make a tasty lunch. That bit’s off the record, do you hear? Capice?
“Constable!” I called and Plod stomped over to me. “Do you know anything about the victims?”
Plod had lived here all his life and knew nearly everything about everybody.
“Not a lot, sir. You know what dwarfs are like.”
I nodded and said,
“Tell me what you know.”
“Well, sir, they are brothers and own a gold mine in the Goddarn Hills.”
One of the forensic lads came up then.
“We’ve finished here, sir. Can we take the bodies away?”
“Yeah, sure,” I said. “Have you any idea how long they’ve been there and any cause of death?”
“They’ve not been here long; maybe not much earlier than midnight and there are no marks on the bodies. Could be natural causes or poisoning. We’ll know more after the post mortem and toxicology reports.”
“Thanks. Keep me informed, will you?”
I started walking to my car when constable Plod spoke up.
“Sir. There’s more.”
“Yes?” I said.
“They have a very unusual living arrangement. They share their home with a human. A young woman called White.”
“Do you know where they live?”
“Yes sir. A fair ways into the wood and we’ll have to walk, I’m afraid. There are no roads in these woods.”
“OK. Lead on McDuff.” I like to show off my knowledge of literature.
“It’s Plod, sir. Not McDuff. He’s in………”
“Alright, Plod, it was just my little joke.”
“Of course, sir.”
On the way Plod filled me in with what he knew. The deceased all had silly adjectival names, except for one who was probably the oldest. Just what White’s role in the household was was open to conjecture. Some said she was their housekeeper, others said sex was involved some way or another while others say she was the human face of their business. I must admit a bit of totty gives a far better PR image than a bunch of ugly hairy dwarfs.
It was a dinky little house in the woods. Neat little front garden with a freshly painted picket fence, cheerful gingham curtains in the windows and just visible round the back, a washing line of little breeches and tiny underwear. All was very simple, pleasant and domestic. This Snow White (Plod had given me her full name) was obviously devoted to the dwarfs and for once I looked forward with great trepidation to breaking the bad news to her.
I was right. She sobbed, howled and wailed for ages until I began to think it was all a bit OTT. When the floods abated I questioned her gently.
“When did you last see them?”
“Last night, when they left for work.”
“They work nights, then?”
“Yes, all dwarfs prefer the darkness. They spend all their working hours in the dark mines and prefer travelling at night.”
“Did they have any enemies?”
“None that I know of. I’m just their housekeeper, they don’t discuss their business with me.” I looked around the room but could see nothing suspicious.
She continued, “Any letters or correspondence they get is sent to the mine and I suppose they keep their money there as I never see any here.”
“Don’t they pay you?”
“Not in money they don’t. They took me in when I was homeless and in return for housekeeping they let me stay. We’re completely self sufficient for food and fuel so money, or the lack of it, is no problem.”
“You said you were homeless. Where were you living before you came here?”
“I’m not entirely sure where I originally come from. For as long as I can remember I lived with the woodcutter’s family.”
“Andy Axman, by any chance?”
“Yes. Do you know him?”
“Oh yes, we know him well. It was he who found the bodies this morning.”
The mention of bodies produced another torrential fall of tears and I had to wait several minutes before she resumed her story. Constable Plod made us a cup of tea. Kind of him, but I’d have preferred something with a bit of a kick to it.
Snow White, sniffing now and then, continued.
“I stayed with Mr. Axman and his wife till around three years ago when I was about 14. It was then that he started interfering with me. I told his wife but she threw me out saying I was the one who’d been making advances. I wasn’t. Honestly.”
“So that’s when the dwarfs took you in?”
As soon as I said that I knew I’d made a mistake. The mention of the dwarfs set off the sprinklers again. I carried on when she was ready.
“You know nothing at all about your life before the Axmans?”
“No, not really. He used to say I was a princess and that I had a wicked step-mother who didn’t want me around. She told him to take me into the woods and kill me. He took pity on me instead and they raised me as their daughter.”
I pondered for a while on her story. It wasn’t particularly unusual. In these parts wicked step-parents are two a penny. I wondered.
“Have you ever received any death threats?”
She thought a bit and said,
“Not that I’m aware of.”
That’s a strange thing to say, I thought to myself. Surely if someone had made a death threat you’d certainly be aware of it. Anyway, it set off a little niggle in my brain. Maybe she wasn’t such the innocent that she made out to be.
“But there was one strange incident,” her voice interrupted my reverie. “Last year I bumped into a little old lady in the wood and she gave me half an apple. I don’t remember anything after that until I woke up in bed. The boys said they found me lying on the ground and carried me home. They reckoned I’d been poisoned and would have died if they hadn’t found me. It made me think about what Mr. Axman said about my step-mother. Would she still be after me? If it wasn’t for my dear little friends I’d be dead now.”
I gave her my handkerchief this time. She was in danger of de-hydrating with all this lachrymosity. It was also beginning to grate on me and I decided enough was enough.
I got up and gave her my card and said,
“Thank you Ms. White and I’m sorry for your losses.”
Then I hustled Plod out of the door before another tsunami of tears could engulf us.
“Phew, I’m glad to get out of there. And I don’t just mean all that wailing. Did you notice that smell, Plod? Like something’s dead in a cesspit of rotten cabbage.”
“That, sir, is the smell of dwarf tobacco and I suggest you take your suit to the dry cleaners this afternoon.”
It was past lunchtime by now and the thought of the truffles made my mouth water. A quick call to the station confirmed that Axman was still there. I told them to hold him till I got back. There were questions I wanted to ask him.
“Tell me about Snow White?” was my first question to the woodcutter.
“What’cha want to know? I’ve not seen her for years, thank God.“
“I’m not interested in what you did or didn’t do to her. I want to know about her background. Where did she come from before you took her in?”
“She’s really the daughter of the king of Poundland and his first queen; the one that died young. He then married this harridan, beautiful, I grant you, but so greedy, vain and evil. So much so that she wanted to get rid of her step-daughter who was, even then as a baby, more beautiful than her. Well the bitch told me to go out and kill the babe. I couldn’t. I took her home and my wife and I raised her. Until, that is, when she came onto me one evening. When I wouldn’t play she went and told my wife that I’d touched her up. My wife, to her credit, would have none of it and we threw the ungrateful brat out.”
“A bit harsh on a fourteen year old?”
“Yeah, fourteen going on twenty four. I reckon she thought she’d died and gone to heaven when she landed up with those dwarfs,” and he added with a smirk, “You know what they say about dwarfs.”
I chose to ignore that unsavoury comment this time and said,
“So she’s a real princess?”
“Oh yes, definitely.”
“How about the step-mother?”
“I do know that the king divorced her some years some years back and banished her. I’ve no idea where she is and don’t want to know. I just hope I never run into her again. I may well have because she’s reckoned to be a shape-shifter.”
“Thank you Mr. Axman, that’s all for now. Brilliant truffles by the way.”
The case was getting a trifle messy. My niggles about Snow White were heightened by Axman’s comments. She’s probably not as pure as she would like everyone to believe. Drifted, perhaps, and I chuckled to myself at my clever joke.
Now there was the WSM (wicked step-mother). Was she involved? Did she intend to kill Snow White and got the dwarfs instead? My musing was disturbed by the arrival of the post mortem results. All seven dwarfs had been poisoned, though the actual poison hadn’t yet been identified. A poisoner, eh? I needed to talk to the WSM. She was beginning to become a major suspect.
A call to my counterpart in Poundland informed me that she had indeed been divorced and banished and believed to be right here on my patch.
I got my officers to circulate the underworld, tapping their grasses and snouts for any information about her whereabouts.
It didn’t take long to strike lucky. The WSM was working as a beautician under the name of Coleen Collagen.
I must admit I was taken aback when she was hauled in. I imagined a WSM as some wizened old crone, but here was this gorgeous looking thirty something – and she knew it. Arrogant and full of herself but she was no slut. When she crossed her legs she made sure I could see she was wearing knickers.
She was unashamedly blatant about hating dwarfs; “horrible little things” she described them as, “all dirty broken nails, greasy skin and reeking of that tobacco”, said in such a way that even I shuddered at the thought.
She didn’t even deny trying to kill Snow White. Being an ex-queen and so arrogant with it must have made her feel above the law. So it came as rather a shock, I think, when I arrested her on suspicion of murdering the dwarfs and attempted murder of Snow White.
She shrilly protested her innocence as she was being taken down to the cells but I was told later that she made even more of a fuss about being separated from her make-up bag.
I knew my case against her wasn’t strong. I needed more evidence and decided I had to look into the dwarfs’ background to see if she had a motive for killing them or if it was Snow White who was her intended victim.
It’s notoriously difficult to penetrate and get anything out of the dwarf community such is their sense of solidarity to each other. However, I sent one of my sergeants, we call him Lofty on account of his being part dwarf, to investigate.
When he returned he came straight to my office.
“I found out some very interesting stuff, sir.”
“Go on,” I said.
“Well, sir, do you know about dwarfs’ inheritance laws?”
I shook my head.
“In dwarf law, property is passed from brother to brother and the last one alive gets the lot and he can decide what happens when he dies.”
“Peculiar,” I commented.
“Yes, and it makes fratricide a common occurrence; so much so that dwarfs don’t bat an eyelid.”
“Peculiar and peculiar,” I muttered, alluding, inaccurately I know, to another literary reference. “So what happens in this case when all the brothers die at the same time?”
“This is where it gets very interesting, sir. It turns out that there’s an eighth brother called Stumpy. He’s the youngest and, though most likely to inherit, he’s the most vulnerable to fratricide. Some years ago the others conspired to do away with him but he got wind of the plot and scarpered.”
“So this Stumpy is going to cop the whole shebang. Gold mine and all.”
“Not necessarily, sir. You see the others made an oath severing all fraternal links with Stumpy. You can do that in dwarf law. So legally he’s no longer a brother.”
“I see. So who gets it all?”
“This is where it gets really interesting, sir.” I think Lofty was relishing his part in the tale and was milking it for all it was worth. “The dwarfs made another oath (dwarfs are very oathful people, you know) stating that should Snow White survive them all then she inherits.”
“Wow, lucky girl.”
“Yes, assuming she lives that long. Don’t forget the average life span of a dwarf is over a hundred years – that’s if he avoids being bumped off by his brothers, of course.”
“But a pretty good motive for hastening their demise,” I said, then added, “Do we know where Stumpy is now?”
“No, sir, but I’ve left feelers out and hope to get some feedback soon.”
“Thank you sergeant. Good work.”
“Thank you, sir.” He saluted and turned towards the door. But I called him back.
“It seems a very male oriented society, what role do female dwarfs take? Just as a matter of interest.”
Sergeant Lofty hesitated for a moment, then,
“That’s a very tricky question, sir. Dwarfs aren’t male or female, they’re hermaphrodites. That’s why they all tend to look the same. They can be either sex; swapping from one to the other whenever it takes their fancy.”
“Oh,” and I must have been staring at the sergeant in an odd way because he said, laughingly,
“Don’t worry, sir, I’m only part dwarf.”
With that he saluted again and left.
“I think Snow White needs another visit,” I said to myself after my office door closed.
I took Sergeant Lofty with me, partly as a reward for his sterling work and partly because his knowledge of dwarfs would be a match for Snow White’s.
I’d not been there for a day or two and she looked a bit surprised to see us.
“Do you know about the eighth brother?” I asked.
“What eighth brother?” she replied.
“Stumpy, your dwarfs’ youngest brother.”
“I told you before that they didn’t discuss their business with me.”
I was pleased to notice that her eyes remained dry. She’d obviously got over the demise of her pals.
“So you won’t know that you stand to inherit their estate. They made an oath to that effect.”
She looked shocked.
“No I didn’t know,” she stuttered.
“Their death makes you a very wealthy woman, doesn’t it?” I made this comment sound as accusatory as possible.
“Are you insinuating that I had something to do with their murder?” Our meek and tearful little Snow White was suddenly angry. “That’s a terrible thing to say. It’s time you went, inspector.” And she opened the door.
“OK,” I said, leaving, “but I’ll probably be back and I hope by then you’ll have got rid of that foul dwarf tobacco smell.”
The door slammed shut.
“Phew, that pong,” I said to Sergeant Lofty as we walked down the path.
“You get used to it after a few years,” he said. “But I’ll tell you one thing, sir, that’s not stale smoke. It smells fresh to me.”
“Really?” I said. “Well, either she’s taken up smoking, which I doubt, or there’s a dwarf in there with her. I think we should go back and have a little look around, don’t you, sergeant?”
We knocked, but didn’t wait and walked in. She was standing by the sofa looking startled and a little flushed to tell the truth.
“I thought I told you to leave,” She was really cross, I could tell.
“Yes you did, ma’am, but my sergeant here said something about the tobacco smell. You don’t smoke dwarf tobacco, do you?”
“No, of course not. No human could.”
“Well, it’s just that my sergeant says it’s fresh smoke.”
“ He must be wrong or lying, “ she spat back at me. “Now get out of my house or I’ll sue you for harassment.”
I ignored her.
“Well, if you don’t smoke, then there’s someone here who does. Do you mind if we have a look around?”
As I was saying this I motioned Sergeant Lofty to go up the stairs.
She moved to block his path. Her mistake. As she moved there came a muffled squeal and a small hand appeared from under her skirt. A red pointy hat, then a face partly covered by a grey beard emerged from underneath her.
“You idiot!” shouted the dwarf, for it was obviously one of them. “You trod on my foot. I think you broke my toes!”
“Ah, Mr. Stumpy, I believe,” I said, “and in what a compromising position, too.”
“Ow, my toes,” groaned Stumpy.
“What do we have here?” I asked rhetorically. “A rich young woman and a disinherited dwarf up her skirt. No wonder you look a little flushed, my dear.”
She started to say something but stopped when I cautioned her that what she said could be used in evidence against her.
Stumpy, cad that he was, said it was all Snow White’s doing. It was her idea to kill the dwarfs and inherit the gold mine. He had no grudge against his brothers for trying to kill him. He’d have done the same thing in their place. He had no reason or motive to murder them. He wouldn’t inherit anyway because of their oath. He only went along with Snow White’s plan because he was so much in love with her.
To give her her due, Snow White stood by Stumpy and stuck to her story that he had nothing to do with the plot. She’d poisoned the dwarfs’ breakfasts knowing that the substance she used would take half an hour to take effect, by which time they’d be well on their way to work. She intended to sell the mine and live happily ever after on the proceeds with Stumpy.
It was only at the trial that she finally broke down when faced with the evidence that only a dwarf would have access to that particular poison and dwarfish fingerprints matching Stumpy’s had been found on a spade in her shed. She then said, sobbing genuinely this time I think, that Stumpy had coerced her into a joint ownership of the mine, controlling and manipulating her because of her infatuation with him.
I was inclined to believe her and so was the judge. Although both were found guilty of murder, she was handed a lighter sentence.
That only left one loose end. Coleen Collagen. She was released without charge but given a sharp warning about her future behaviour. She retorted that she had no reason to get rid of Snow White now, because prison life would ruin her good looks and then she would be undisputed “fairest of them all.”
Is there a moral here somewhere? I don’t know. Maybe it’s that we shouldn’t overlook the little things in life; they can spell trouble later.
23 July 2014