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the case of the punter gunner’s bollards

Copyright 2014 David Pearce

table of contents

chapter 1 - mud

chapter 2 - the punt gunner’s pursuit

chapter 3 - brave gesture

chapter 4 - executive decisions

chapter 5 - what to do?

chapter 6 - confrontation 1

chapter 7 - deduction

chapter 8 - confrontation 2

chapter 9 - conclusions and cuddles

The case of the punter gunner’s bollards is a Daveshort written specially to divert commuters from the awful fact of their daily lives. It may be read in the course of one average rail journey. It is not rude and it contains a bare minimum of strong language. It may be read in perfect safety by ladies, servants and infants but not ducks, geese or any other species of wildfowl.

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chapter 1 – mud

It is difficult to know exactly where and when to begin. Here is a mud bank that is exposed for much of the time but the soaking it receives at high tide keeps the mud soft and receptive. It was soft and receptive enough one afternoon in May to receive a body that had fallen from on high headfirst and bury it so that only the legs from just below the knee were exposed, the feet pointing in opposite directions. There can be few places in England more remote than this fenland channel, a fact that made it an attractive choice as a place to dispose of an unwanted body.

But why should such a journey have been made, for the log of the helicopter indicates that it had taken off from a location in Exeter, a round trip of four hundred miles or so? The answer to this question has to do with that most capricious of industries – tin mining. The moment the extraction of tin from beneath Cornwall resumes, as it does from time to time, a valuable resource is lost for nothing is as capable of swallowing objects, materials and employees who have become surplus to requirements than a disused tin mine. This happy state of affairs had existed for some years until recently the price of tin rocketed and a Canadian entrepreneur arrived to open up the mines and clear a whole army of literal skeletons out of the metaphorical cupboard.

For many enterprises based in the west this brought about a crisis and within a short time many of them groaned under the burden of redundant employees. How Celtic Literary Enterprises solved the problem is told in more detail in another place; in essence, all that the reader of this account needs to know is that it involved a fortuitous coming together of Frank Prettyman, the owner and CEO of the firm and a helicopter pilot whose main object in life was to drop things – from the higher the better, as he rather obtusely, ungrammatically and in private, puts it.

There are a number of other facts that are essential to an understanding of this case. In no particular order of importance they are; the reason why a pair of legs, feet pointing in opposite directions, were to be found embedded in a remote muddy bank; the nature of the punt gunner’s art or craft and the role it played in the exposure of all but the head and shoulders of the owner of the legs; how the activities of the formidable Detective Inspector Clout brought an inveterate, though in this case entirely innocent criminal to book and enabled the guilty to live happily ever after – though in Frank’s case briefly.

chapter 2 – the punter gunner’s pursuit

The punt gunner’s objective is to kill wildfowl, ducks and geese. This he (there are no known examples of female punt gunners) does by stalking flocks of birds resting on the water. The punt is a flat bottomed craft in which the gunner lies. The gun is mounted over the bow. It is an enormous and powerful weapon capable in the right hands of sinking a moderately armoured frigate. Such is the quantity of shot that it propels that birds are killed by the dozen at a single firing. Bear in mind that the recoil from such a gun is considerable because this is vital to the unfolding of events that must otherwise appear unlikely. It is hardly necessary to point out that a pursuit that could, if not undertaken with extreme caution, sink one of Her Majesty’s ships, two even if they were involved in close operations, can only be allowed to operatein the remotest regions. Most punt gunners are intelligent and sensitive men. They are, however, fanatics. This has been known to lead to errors of judgement, one of which is at the heart of the present case.

In normal circumstances a pair of legs protruding from a mud bank, no matter how remote the location, would be immediately recognized and investigated. There are, however, circumstances that the punt gunner in question could advance as mitigating. They are these: there had been in the days preceding the discovery a series of high tides followed by high winds; conditions unfavourable to the sport. This had allowed the legs time in which to accumulate an encrustation of mussels, barnacles and seaweeds such that even in bright daylight they were effectively disguised, but punt gunning is not a pursuit of the bright daylight hours, in addition it has to be admitted that punt gunners tend to take advantage of whatever may be on offer as an alternative to anchoring. Heaving a mud encrusted anchor into a punt is a messy business so that to come across a readymade bollard may be considered, and in this case literally was, a gift from heaven.

Punter gunners have strict standards when it applies to their prey. They would, for instance, prefer to be drowned at sea rather than leave dead, or worse still wounded, birds unretrieved but they have a robust attitude to life and it is easy to imagine how they would justify the use of such a gift as a heaven sent bollard even if they had taken the trouble to identify it as belonging to a dead body. To have arrived upside down in such a locality would suggest to such individual and tough-minded folk extreme foolhardiness, negligence or being surplus to requirements so that when he found himself in murky visibility being swept inland by the current the punt gunner seized the opportunity and his mooring rope and made fast.

It was a perfect anchor. To describe it as snug on a misty moisty morning with the tidal current gurgling beneath the bow one would have to be a punt gunner but he was well satisfied and once he was confident that it would hold he addressed himself to the immediate future rather than pondering at the emergence of a curiously shaped bollard in that part of the fen. In fact such is the force with which the tides scour these channels that it is not unusual for hitherto obscured objects to show up only to be covered again on the next tide.

Once snug and settled the punt gunner ate a bacon sandwich and addressed himself to the abrupt curtailment of the future of a flock of ducks that bobbed in the vicinity. At present he was conscious of them as if by instinct. They were quiet, unaware of the awful doom that was in preparation. As yet there was insufficient light for either punt gunners or ducks but in another ten or fifteen minutes they would be there for the taking, provided nothing intervened to disturb their dreams.

The punt gunner waited trying to suppress his nervous excitement. Before him stretched the barrel of the gun. It was a monster and new to him, a recent and as yet unfired acquisition. He was half afraid of it and he felt his way anxiously along the ropes that would help to control the recoil. All appeared to be in place. The gun was loaded, everything was ready; all that remained was to wait for first light. The gunner had worked out a strategy. As the tide fingered its way along the thousand muddy channels that convey the sea inland the ducks would for some minutes rest peacefully on the surface and bob unsuspectingly towards him. At the crucial moment they would become alarmed and take flight. He would fire when they were just lifting off the water; an added advantage, the dead ducks would drift towards him and would be easily picked up.

The scheme worked perfectly. The light had improved to the point at which he could begin to discern the colours of the birds. The tide had begun to gather pace. He was convinced that when the water began to move beneath them the birds would decide that now was the time to move inland. He closed his eyes and began to visualise every action he needed to make; first an adjustment of the angle of the punt by means of his starboard paddle, a check on the alignment of the barrel of the gun and its inclination, then silent pythonesque movements of his body so that there was no danger of the butt crashing into his jaw and...there was movement, a number of birds sat upright and began to flap their wings. Was this the signal? First one or two then birds by the dozen made as if they were to fly into the dawn sky. He pulled on the lanyard.

No one can anticipate the roar of a punt gun. Flame shot from the barrel followed by a dense white cloud. The colossal bark carried across the fen, roused undergraduates from their beds and rattled the tiles of their lodgings in distant Cambridge. The gunner barely had time to say “Christ almighty!” and open his eyes before he became aware of a further sensation.

He had anticipated a recoil but nothing like this. The punt shot backwards and rocked violently. He was forced to hang on to either side to avoid being pitched into the swirling water and his ringing ears registered yet another surprise. They heard a sound that he later described to himself as a cross between the sound of ripping material and an uncontrolled fart. Filtered though it was through his ear defenders it was nevertheless dramatic and as the smoke of the explosion was dissipated into the still morning air he raised his head to see what had happened. He half expected to find himself the captain of a punt that had been torn apart by the forces he had just released. Water would rush in and he would drown in a whirling soup of plywood chips and dead ducks but before he had time to pray or to address a farewell message to his wife and child calm was restored. He patted about him. Nothing wet, nothing broken, nothing torn. A swift appraisal was enough to reassure him that he was still afloat, still dry, deafened but alive.

The punt came to rest. One or two wounded birds attempted to fly from the carnage all around them. Dead birds began to float past. Removing his ear defenders he could hear water lapping the bow of the boat but his attention was drawn not to what he could hear, or the dead birds but the dead man, or to be more accurate, most of a dead man, who lay on the mud bank, the punt gunner’s painter wrapped neatly round his ankles. The recoil had dragged all but his shoulders and head from the mud.

The punt gunner was stunned, literally by the noise and force of the explosion, the echo of which could still be heard across the distant fen and metaphorically as the truth dawned on him; he had used the shins of a man as the most convenient imaginable means to moor his punt in the absence of a proper bollard. As his senses began to reorganise themselves into working units he realised that he had passed them before, perhaps making a mental note as does any punt gunner worthy of the name that here was a projection that he might need to avoid – punts are susceptible to damage from submerged anchor flukes for instance; or one to use as a point of reference, a life saver when fog descends or at one of those moments when one half full channel looks much like any number of other half full channels.

This one he would distinguish in the future as Dead Man’s Dyke but for the moment his preoccupation was to free himself and to make the best of the incoming tide to return to his berth. At present he lay on his stomach in the company of a score of wet dead ducks. These are not ideal conditions in which to form coherent thoughts. On land he would stand unencumbered and decide what actions to take. He could not even be sure that the object to which he was tied was a man. All that he could see was a shape coated in thick grey mud. Even the feet looked as if they had been formed from play-dough by a clumsy child.

He could be excused for having failed to identify a human body. Even now the only point that gave the game away was where his painter had laid bare a strip of what, examined carefully might have been identified as the sort of material from which trousers are made. The punt gunner looked back over his shoulder as, having deftly turned his punt in the narrow channel he drifted from the scene. What he saw looked much more like a reclining seal than anything else but he could only delude himself for a moment. Reclining seals, even dead reclining seals, do not make ideal bollards.

The punt gunner’s thoughts were confused; is there a law forbidding the use of human bollards, even on a temporary basis? Would he have used this one had he realised? Suppose the whole lot of him (or her – the body was so mummified in mud who could tell?) had not emerged so dramatically would he have reported his find or would he have regarded the prospect of an exhumation as an unnecessary loss of amenity? He could not recall any locals having been reported missing lately and if it was a foreigner, what was he up to, diving head first in these parts? Probably no good.

The punt gunner paddled his way inland towards bacon, sausages, fried bread, toast, marmalade and a pot of proper coffee. His was a comfortable and organised household. He was too entrenched to free his watch arm so he did not have an accurate idea of the time but by now his wife would have his daughter fed washed and watered, she might be packing her into her car and off to grandma for the morning. They both led busy lives and neither of them would recall having heard a helicopter in the vicinity recently and if they had it is doubtful that either of them would have looked up, besides it is reasonable to suppose that anyone intending to drop a corpse, living or dead as his wife remarked, demonstrating once again her tendency to a macabre turn of wit, would do so at night, a deduction that was both obvious and true.

chapter 3 – brave gesture

There had been very little conversation since the take-off from the roof of Celtic Literary Enterprises Tower. At the best of times the pilot did not indulge in chit-chat. Normally this impressed his passengers and gave them confidence for it is obvious that one of the most desirable attributes required of the pilot of anything as improbable as a helicopter is the ability to concentrate on the job in hand. Whether this was true of the present passenger in the circumstances in which he found himself is doubtful. Early in the flight he had become aware that they were not flying in the direction of his home and furthermore, night was falling. Whoever it was, Blunder, Henchman, Princeling even, remarked upon the direction in which they were flying only to be told that they were taking the scenic route.

It was deep into the night before they reached their destination, a fact that was bound to disappoint them both, the pilot from the moment he precipitated his passenger into a dark sky and his passenger when he realised that all he had left was to make a brave gesture. As far as the punt gunner is concerned it is the brave gesture that is of relevance.

From the moment he began to fall Blunder, Henchman, or it might even have been Princeling, realised that his only hope was a fortuitously placed bouncy castle since even hayricks are not the haven they once were for descending passengers. For a fraction of a second he tried to decide to which city the distant loom of light belonged but he quickly realised that such speculation had little relevance. He found himself clawing at the air as if he might slow his progress by throwing himself on the mercy of those wavy lines of gravity he had seen on diagrams. A vision of how appallingly undignified he must look came to him but he had no time for philosophical thoughts nor did he appear to reflect how little his appearance mattered since the light from the distant city cast none on his predicament. Nevertheless, his reaction had an effect not only on his trajectory but on the lives of others yet to become involved. It was an effect that may give some credence to that most far-fetched of theories that suggests that the fluttering wings of a butterfly in a Devon garden may set off a tsunami in distant oceans. Now a further fraction of a second (all he had left were fractions of seconds) later it occurred to him that all he had left was time for the briefest of gestures. It should, therefore, express style and defiance now that he found himself face to face with the ultimate enemy and who better to summon to his aid than Tom Daley. All that Olympic summer he had followed and rejoiced in the career of that majestic diver. His toes had curled in his slippers as Tom positioned himself on the edge of the board before he launched himself into the air, flew and, most magic moment of all, entered the water, upright and rigid as an arrow, without spilling a drop. All his life he had longed to emulate such precision and such beauty of body and execution, though he had never managed anything much better than a belly-flop from the lowest board. Now was his chance. The bodily perfection of his hero was several decades behind him but when it came to uprightness and rigidity he would do his best and he would imagine the roar of applause as his toes followed the rest of him into the water without the hint of a splash to spoil the effect.

It is probable that the plummeting figure never realised that when fate and the pilot had conspired in their choice as to the disposal of his body it had gone to mud rather than water and that though the mud was of an extremely viscous consistency it would not allow for total immersion. As a result, though he had done his very best with regard to style and might even have earned a mark or two and the crowd might have applauded his defiance, when it came to dignity the result was problematic. To have arrived like an arrow may be thought of as commendable but to have legs left sticking out simply crying for misuse was a miscalculation.

The pilot sheered away from the scene with a sense of deep dissatisfaction. This may be attributed to the artistic soul. There is not an artist living or dead who has added the final note to a score, raised his hammer for the last time and returned his chisel to the rack, signed and dated a canvas or written “The End” who has been entirely satisfied with the work he, or she, has completed. In the case of the punter gunner’s bollard the pilot had three reasons for unease; first, he was not sure that he had the right person or that he had accurately interpreted his master’s wishes; the second was that the challenge he had set himself had proved not to be a challenge by his standards; and third, even from the height at which he hovered he could discern a black mark on the mud that he had not noticed before. He had anticipated a splash. The significance of these reflections cannot be overstated. He was, of course, aware that even the greatest artists have failed to live up to the expectations of their patrons from time to time but few of them have faced consequences of such drastic potentiality. The pilot wriggled in his seat as if a seam in his underpants had begun to chafe. This was an infallible sign that it was not merely his backside that was under tension.

The pilot was one of the few left in these secular days who believe in miracles; how else to explain how he had been united with his employer. How many modern employers still believe in keeping their employees happy so fervently that they will occasionally (to use his own phrase) throw them “a juicy bone”? In the case of Celtic Literary Enterprises this consisted of those rare but eagerly anticipated occasions when an employee became surplus to requirements. But the pilot was aware that there were caveats. Some, that widows and orphans should on no account become a pecuniary burden on the Enterprise, for instance, were no concern of his, but others quite definitely were. Chief of these was traceability. The pilot’s highly original and artistically satisfying method of disposal was an irresistible solution to the problem of down-sizing, at least until the discovery of DNA threatened to spoil the whole thing but it had to be done discretely.

The black mark! The pilot could remember shovelling a top layer of gray mud on the beach at Shoeburyness when as a child he buried his father and later went digging for lug-worms. The layer beneath was much darker. The impact of a body dropped from several hundred feet would undoubtedly have disturbed the top layer and exposed the darker underbelly. Was that what he had seen or was it the body itself? He had expected something much neater. The body would arrive, part the surface and bury itself in one fluid and final movement that he saw in his imagination as poetic as that of, for instance, ice-skating. The discomfort in his nether regions suggested to him that his knowledge of fluid mechanics, as applied to estuary mud was not as comprehensive as his knowledge of the air. He flew high before heading west. This had been a long excursion and he was far from sure that he had his employer’s approval. There was an air of freelance about the whole affair and one thing was certain: tempers would not be improved with the discovery of the body. In the meantime he remembered his mother’s often repeated mantra, “Least said, soonest mended”.

chapter 4 – executive decisions

If Frank Prettyman, owner and CEO of Celtic Literary Enterprises noticed a significant peak in fuel consumption for his helicopter that week he drew no one’s attention to it and a further week passed before he sent for Blunder, Henchman or it might even have been Princeling, only to be told that he was no longer available. This was disconcerting. He knew that anyone of the three might have been described as surplus to requirements but he was adamant in asserting his prerogative in such matters. He sat at his desk, his hands forming a pyramid beneath his chin. This was a characteristic “considering every angle” posture and one that his PA recognised as a sign that he should on no account be disturbed. When he called for her she approached with caution.


He did not need to try to express his surprise. His entire staff was resolutely healthy and regular recipients of ’flu jabs.


His PA shook her head. She looked at him quizzically. She had worked for his father before him and she knew all there was to know but, wiser than her years, one of her earliest resolutions was never to concern herself with anything that was not strictly her business. She was relieved when, having eliminated two possibilities, Frank resumed his “do not disturb” pose and she was able to sidle from his office.

Not ill, not involved in an accident – depending on how one defines an accident. Frank was well aware of the range of accidents that may result from untethered seat belts, doors flying open unannounced, extreme angles and an encouraging shove but these things should have been and had always been authorised at the very highest level – that is to say him – Frank Prettyman. He forced himself to make an honest appraisal. Had he said anything that might have been misinterpreted? On second thoughts had he said anything that his pilot might legitimately claim to have understood as an invitation for him to indulge his passion for ejecting the unwary? He had introduced the concept of “the juicy bone” but it had always been his prerogative when it came to throwing one.

Queasy feelings had begun to threaten his digestion. Frank walked to the window from which he could survey the river and people who were making their way down to the pubs and restaurants that line its quays. They were about to eat sandwiches untroubled by thoughts of rogue helicopter pilots and the consequences should they run amok. It had seemed a good, an excellent, idea at the time. Such a simple way to keep an invaluable employee happy when “downsizing” was all the rage and he had proved an adept; one at Stonehenge; another, Henchman perhaps, on the roof of the overnight sleeper; a third at Goonhilly and what they had in common was accuracy and artistry.

Frank had two reasons to trouble his stomach. His first question was whether his pilot had chosen to go it alone; the second was whether he was losing his touch, and since in an ordered world all such matters come in threes there was a third: what was he to do about it?

chapter 5 – what to do?

Frank was not alone in this preoccupation. This was the question that most troubled the punt gunner. He thought about it as he manoeuvred his punt into the shed that he hired for storage. He tied together the feet of bunches of ducks with lengths of binder twine to make them easier to carry to his van. The gun he would take to the security of his garage where he would clean and store it under lock and key. But should he mention anything to the butcher who welcomed the range of fresh ducks that he could add to his display.

He would say, casually, “You’ll never guess what happened to me this morning.” and take careful note of his reaction.

It was as he tethered his last bunch of ducks that a further thought struck him and it did so as if it had administered a physical blow. Much of the county had heard an explosion that must still be ringing in the ears of those people in the vicinity. At the epi-centre of the bang there was a dead body. He resumed breathing after what felt like a long period of inaction. Ducks hanging from a clenched fist, he went to the back of the van and sat on the floor.

The punt gunner was not merely physically handsome but he was respected by the members of a team whose job it was to provide the technical backing for a further team of radio astronomers. He led the technical team and his expertise was legendary. His wife, who was still proud of his good-looks after a decade of married life, might have been surprised to see how such a simple and obvious thought had aged him. Anguish seemed to have collapsed his chiselled features. His astronomer friends might have been astonished to discover that their endlessly capable and inventive colleague appeared to have been stunned and rendered helpless. This was a man with a strong sense of and appreciation for the absurd. He sat at this moment feeling as if he had been allocated a role in a farcical movie; it took several deep breaths and the realisation that one or two of the ducks were dripping blood from their beaks onto his wellies before he was able to recover his mind from deep space.

He was comforted initially by a vision of the effect that his gun would have had on anyone unfortunate enough to have got within its range. The only way the gun could have killed the man, assuming that it was a man, on the mud without blowing him to pieces was by frightening him to death. So far, so good. Only his wife knew that he was out on the estuary at the critical time though the local butcher would be able to make a reasonably accurate assessment if he were to drive over and deliver the ducks as he intended. All these considerations would remain merely academically terrifying should the body remain undiscovered. Two scenarios occurred to the punt gunner: in the most favourable the body was carried out to sea on the ebbing tide to be consumed by the almighty deep or marine carnivores, probably both; equally likely was the possibility that it would be wrenched entirely free of its muddy prison, washed clean and readily identifiable and delivered to the beach when the tide returned.

The punt gunner’s respect for his wife’s intelligence was on a par with her appreciation of his handsome features so, having hosed down his wellies and made all the necessary arrangements for his punt and the mighty gun, he headed not for the local town and the butcher and game dealer but home. As he knew his wife was by this time at work but she would be back at midday for an hour of semi-repose before she set off to pick up their toddler from grand-ma. He cooked breakfast but his heart was not in it and he burnt both pork sausages. By the time he sat down to the kitchen table his preoccupations had destroyed his appetite and only the thought of the repercussion were his wife to notice sausages, bacon and eggs in the waste bin forced him to chew his way through the assembled food. Best, in fact to get it over with, to ride his bike down to the police station and tell them everything he knew, but targets...the coffee mug in his hand trembled so violently that hot coffee splashed onto his hand.

“These days they have targets for everything, robberies, rapes, murders. Supposing they’re one short of murderers?”

His wife gazed adoringly at those finely chiselled features that she compared favourably with those of Paul Newman. His eyes were dark brown, more manly in her estimation but after a hectic morning and his mother complaining about her being late picking up their daughter she was a little exasperated with their owner.

“You have been..? You didn’t realise they belonged to..?”

Man’s capacity for self-deception never ceased to amaze her.

“And when you let fly with that bloody howitzer...”

Of course, if she put it like that...

“And now you want to charge off to the police station.”

As the daughter of an ex-striking coal miner and now-retired publican the punt gunner’s wife felt her knees weaken. She staggered to a chair from which to observe her handsome husband as if he had just confessed to child molestation or an affair with her sister. He was among the elite, a master technician and...

“Have you taken leave..?”

She wanted to express herself with the force of a tornado but the words emerged as stilted as if she had no means of expressing her incredulity but her expression conveyed everything.

“They have targets. You realise they have targets? You want to become one of them? They won’t even have to go out looking for you. You want to walk through the door, “Oh, by the way, you know that body that just got washed up, that’s got my DNA all down the legs.” Bullseye!”

She shut her eyes. Sometimes if you shut your eyes tightly enough naiveté floats out of the window. The only alternative is to kick it in the...

Their daughter gurgled, “Silly daddy.”

But further protestations were unnecessary. The first time that his mother had met the girl, the first time he had taken her home for his parents’ approval, his mother had taken him into the front room and shut the door behind them.

“You look after that girl,” she said. “That girl’s got a head on those shoulders. You listen to what she tells you.”

He promised he would and he always had.

chapter 6 – confrontation 1

Some confrontations require stage management as meticulous as that of a theatrical production. Frank Prettyman ran that thought back through his mind and was well satisfied, even rather proud of it, but his office was better adapted for friendly chats, tete-a tetes amongst nearly equals rather than the dressing down of employees who have overstepped their boundaries. Nevertheless a degree of humiliation was in order, beginning with the entrance. The normal procedure was a gentle tap on the door followed by a smile from his PA who would usher his visitor in, turn and close the door behind her. This would not do for helicopter pilots who appeared to be developing dangerous tendencies. His first encounter must be a frozen smile. He would instruct his PA that this must be the case and require her to demonstrate her ability to freeze the blood with apprehension in the manner of an encouraging hangwoman.

Frank despaired. He said, “You’re the world’s best PA but you are a bloody awful hangwoman.”

He had hoped to lighten the atmosphere but he remained apprehensive.

The question of seating was the next consideration: to seat or not to seat? He could be invited, or ordered, to sit; tone here was of the essence. He could be seated and Frank remain standing, “towering over him” was the phrase that came to mind though Frank was not sure that he had the figure for towering. He thought he might manage a loom and “to loom over” sounds even more menacing with the correct emphasis. Tone again, so much comes down to tone and posture, of course, one must maintain the appropriate posture. But what is the appropriate posture? Threatening? Aloof, with a hint of disappointment – how could you do this to me?

Frank considered threatening and he immediately became aware of the delicacy of his position. To threaten or humiliate a man who might later that day convey him to a great height began to sound like one of the worst ideas that had occurred to him that week. The more he thought about it the clearer it became that he had two choices, either to sack the man or to administer a friendly admonishment. In the meantime he was forced to live with the notion that a senior executive, albeit a redundant senior executive, was missing and that his helicopter pilot had made an excursion that might have taken him to the northern extremities of Wales, to southern Ireland, a considerable portion of northern France, vast sea areas including the Channel, the Bristol Channel, the Bay of...or... his blood froze in his veins – The Fens, oh my god The Fens...he reached for his intercommunicating ’phone.

chapter 7 – deduction

There are excellent reasons why one should be cheerful, even better reasons to worry especially if they include the strong possibility that one may become involved in a murder mystery, in spite of the fact that the discovery of DNA has made murder far less mysterious than it once was. On the other hand it is important to remember that the majority of those responsible for bringing criminals of no matter what stamp to book tend to rely on what they characterise, usually portentously and with pronounced shaking of the jowls, as good old fashioned detective work. By this they mean close examination of the corpse if a suspected murder is the subject of investigation. This frequently involves peering at the remains through a large magnifying glass.

Detective Inspector Clout examined the corpse through a large magnifying glass. It would have given him huge satisfaction had he known that at this moment there were two as yet unsuspected crims (he tended to call everyone who was not actually a member of Her Majesty’s Constabulary a crim) who were having some difficulty in controlling the effect that anxiety has on the bladder. They were not in a position to appreciate that the fact that of all the detectives who might have been chosen the best reason they had to be cheerful was the selection of DI Clout to hunt them down.

On the face of it this is a most unlikely proposition. He was a man who had grown in the service. In fact he had grown to alarming proportions and developed the jowls to match. One of the sillier of the younger members of the force had suggested that with a ring in his nose...but he had stopped mid-sentence when he realised the effect he was having. Here was a man with a detection record second to none and he had medals and certificates of commendation to prove it. His technique was simple and had the punt gunner and Frank been aware of it they would have sighed with relief and bought the next round, and in the punt gunner’s case, an extravagant bouquet for his wife.

Two important decisions were being made: the punter gunner decided to agree with his wife who gave him a list of things that needed his attention about the house and exacted a solemn promise not to venture anywhere near the police station. At much the same moment, though at the other end of the country, Frank Prettyman made up his mind to approach his helicopter pilot with extreme caution. He would cooperate with the force of law and order only in the event of the discovery of the missing executive in compromising circumstances. He was uncomfortably aware of how one thing has a tendency to lead to another.

What neither man knew was how Detective Inspector Clout’s methods would work in their favour, for the detective inspector had long since decided that to work from the crime to the criminal was an absurd and time wasting procedure, and since in his view everyone outside the police force and the vast majority of those within it are capable of every crime in the book it is logical to keep a mental register of crims so that the moment a suitable crime comes along they can be brought to book. All that was required was to identify the method – fingerprints and incriminating evidence could be provided as and when the need arose.

No one had been reported missing. If he were married a wife might have noticed an absence at table or perhaps in bed but Frank had not yet checked exactly who had not turned up for work recently and by now, whoever it was, immersion and exposure to marine carnivores had done nothing to improve the possibility of facial identity, but this was not what attracted the attention of Detective Inspector Clout. He invariably amazed himself with his perspicacity. All the other plods he knew would be extracting teeth, attempting finger prints and badgering camera people to take shots from every angle but would they have spotted what his eagle eyes had homed in on? That he doubted because the evidence was so faint, yet to his razor-sharp perception it was present and within moments he was flicking through the card-index of his mind for the likely culprit. What he had seen was no more than an impression but when the encrustation of mud, seaweed and barnacles had been washed away from both legs DI Clout detected a faint line that extended from one leg to the other, encompassing them both and having traced one impression he now realised that it was not alone. It was clear to a discerning mind that something thin, about the thickness of a finger, he deduced, had been wrapped round those legs. Those legs had been roped together. Clearly this was not merely an unreported case of man overboard but one with all the hallmarks of a mafia murder. Those legs had been tied together but, in the absence of the incriminating rope, this was a tricky one to pin on a crim no matter how guilty. Tricky, but not impossible. The enterprising Detective Inspector might have just the thing and as for the guilty party his card index mind was already examining a range of possibilities, one of whom was serving a life sentence but he had a brother who lived in Grimsby. In the DI’s book this alone was cause for deep suspicion.

Had they known! The punt gunner was a minor genius in his field. His expertise helped others in their pursuit of ultimate insights but when it came to such matters as avoiding involvement in murder investigations it was to his wife he turned. He marvelled at her ability to multi-task as modern jargon has it. She fed, watered, interrogated, sponged the tiles that their toddler had liberally decorated, decided the menu for the evening meal, made an appointment with her hair...the punt gunner felt quite weak just thinking about it, and in the meantime...

She said, “Who knew you went out?”

“I might have mentioned to the butch...”

She gave a subdued “tcuk” of exasperation. This was no time for “mights”. Had she only known that DI Clout was, at that very moment, heading for Grimsby! Had she known that there are many crims who would rather face a life sentence than DI Clout in full cry she would have rejoiced.

The punt gunner’s wife said, “Plan B. Take five ducks to the butcher. If he mentions a body feign surprise. Show me.”

The punt gunner did his best; he was not adept at feigning. His wife grunted.

“We need to work on that but there is no time. Practise on your way there.”

Five ducks, crafty. It does not take a punt gun to shoot five ducks and there is not a shotgun on earth that is capable of dragging a fully grown man from Fenland mud. What a wonder! What a marvel! He must remember to tell her. They were going to live happily ever after. He must take care not to feign too much. That would raise the butcher’s suspicions. When he returned from the butcher he would be forced to spend the evening up to his elbows in dead ducks, they would fill the freezer, they would be sick of the sight of ducks, a small price to pay but whether he should keep that gun was another matter. Perhaps he should ask her...but if she ever found out how much he had paid for it...

chapter 8 – confrontation 2

Frank Prettyman paced his office. In his mind’s eye he had an image of a small man approaching the length of an echoing hall. His eyes glance nervously from side to side. He had already realised that he had grave problems with towering and even had he had the foresight not to carpet his office it could not become an echoing hall without major reconstruction.

Perhaps one should always bear in mind the possibility of a confrontation with a helicopter pilot who has taken to acting on his own initiative. It was as he sat and tipped his executive office chair back to a semi-reclining position that he realised that there was only one reaction open to him, two if ignoring his impromptu adventure altogether may be counted as a...of course, it cannot. Frank tipped forward as an expression of his dissatisfaction with the illogical thoughts that had now begun to, he badly wanted coffee. His PA, bless her, would draw attention to his excessive caffeine intake but what is that to a man who is in acute danger of incurring the wrath, or at the very least offending the sensibilities of a helicopter pilot addicted to dropping things.

He would have to tread very, very carefully, really really carefully as everyone says these days. He would have to be careful to avoid that “after all I have done for you” scenario so beloved of injured parents but he could not avoid a feeling of self-justification. How many other employers would have taken so much account of their pilot’s proclivities as to throw them “a juicy bone” as he put it? And whose fault was it that his generosity had rebounded on them both and that the consequences might result in..? the last thing that Frank Prettyman wanted to think about at this moment was a range of possible consequences.

Yet here he was bound on the wheel of fortune possessed by an unnerving feeling that it was, as far as he was concerned, on a downward trajectory. It would not do. His wax wings were melting. Nothing would do. The black bird of fate had perched on his window sill and clattered its beak against the glass. He was trapped, hoist by his own petard, a grim skeletal hand had reached in and tapped...what was happening to him? Something had scrambled his brain...his own petard, he wasn’t even sure what a petard is, or was, or how it hoists or hoisted...all those romantic novels he had been forced to read, all that Cornish poetry in translation had left him with a whole swathe of tired, damaged or over-active neurons. Outside the sky was just as grey, people strolled down to the river, which continued to behave as rivers have behaved for as long as he could remember. There were swans and inept oarsmen and if he asked her his PA would indulge him in his need for coffee. If he asked her nicely she would administer a cold compress, stroke his temples and whisper reassurances. The stroking and whispering might be going a touch too far but...

chapter 9 – cuddles and conclusions

This is how events come to their unsatisfactory conclusion. The roar of the exploding charge packed into the punter gunner’s cannon can, in all probability, still be picked up at the farthest reaches of the universe and its consequences affected all who came into contact with it for the remainder of their lives.

Best served was the punt gunner who, his ears still ringing, as they were to ring for years to come had an invaluable lesson reinforced. Astronomers royal respected his expertise and turned to him for the solution to some of their most other-worldly problems yet when it came to the crunch to whom had he turned? Long into old age and the brutal confusions of Alzheimer’s he continued to revere every aspect of his wife – a treasure, as he put it, beyond the worth of diamonds. Ironically he had always known this and he had never needed to blow-up ducks and to risk a close encounter with Cambridgeshire’s foremost and most formidable detective to prove it.

“Silly daddy,” repeated his daughter, who revealed with every day that passed how much of her mother’s intelligence and practicality she had inherited. She banged her apple crumble charged spoon to emphasise her point. The punter gunner wiped the kitchen floor, smiled indulgently and agreed.

For Frank the outcome was less optimistic. He was only too aware that he had come within two feet of disaster and from the outset he had an intuitive and accurate conviction that this was to have unfortunate consequences. He did not have long to live with his fears. For an instant, as he discovered that he had been right and that it was his turn to plummet earthwards he might, had there been anyone close enough to listen, have been heard to say:

“I should have sacked the bastard.”

The phrase proves yet again the beauty of hindsight. For reasons that we shall never know he had not done so but he had very little time left in which to regret his decision.

The punt gunner was happy; his wife happier still, but of all those involved in the consequences of the big bang no one was happier than Inspector Clout. He encouraged his wife to slosh a further measure into his glass and restrain her enthusiasm for the soda. His life had been a succession of triumphs but he rated few more triumphant than this. It was, he informed his admiration struck wife,

“Hall down to hol fashin hobservation.”

The inspector had observed marks on the legs that could only have been made by a rope. All that remained was to find the rope. Where had he last? flicked to and fro in the remarkable memory index contained within a cranium that had shared its knocks over the course of a long career but which remained formidable. An image emerged of a garage, expensive motors, expensive everything and neat...even the rope, on the hook, not a coil out of place. No need for GPS, no sooner had the image come into focus than Inspector Clout was on his way to Grimsby. Thirty minutes later, with none of Frank Prettyman’s doubts and reservations, he confronted Mafia Mike with the rope that, trimmed to length and subject to immersion, would be evidence enough to remove him and the majority of his “family” from the streets for a satisfying stretch.

The inspector permitted himself a satisfying stretch but wanted he wanted now was cuddles. In his view that is how all the best stories should end: satisfying stretches and cuddles. Mrs. Clout was only too happy to oblige in the cuddles department, but as in the very best of stories there is a final irony. Of all the protagonists in the punter gunner’s saga who might have been expected to rail against his fate with the greatest bitterness? Frank?.not yet, for even he could not see that awful spider with the scissors approaching his life’s thread. Mafia Mike?.he had been “fitted up” as they say in the trade so blatantly that even his most loyal colleagues whispered that Clout had gone too far this time.

But Mafia Mike was far from unhappy and not in the least bitter. As a result of gang warfare on the mean streets of Grimsby his personal security had for some time been so costly that it was ruining the business. Now, with a henchman in the cell on either side of his he slept peacefully and given the facilities on offer in the rest and recuperation suite he could manage his affairs profitably and without fear of hoodlums – hoodlums with Kalashnikovs that is.

A note from the author! You made it to The End! Thank you for reading my story. I do hope you enjoyed it enough to spare a moment or two to place a review on your favorite retailer. Thanks again and happy reading,


About the Author

David Pearce writes and publishes under his own name and that of the mysterious Clarence Duplicity Moreclay, the author of The Party at the End of Time. Encouraged by the said Moreclay Dave has written a number of books that you will find below.

Connect with the Author

David Pearce lives in southern France in an area renowned for its truffle and wild boar hunting dogs. When not writing he rides around on his electric bike and walks the spectacular gorges. Connect with him at

Other books by this Author

Please visit your favorite ebook retailer to discover other books by Clarence Duplicity Moreclay and David Pearce:

The Novels

The Party at the End of Time

The Pursuit of Percipience


Dave’s Shorts


A Pistol Shot


Appetizers !

A bit of a Bang!

There was a colossal explosion some of which can still be heard if you travel far enough and listen carefully.

“What have you done now?” asked Mrs. God. “You’ve blown me clean out of my knickers.”

God was hugely impressed and promised to buy her a new pair without delay.

“That,” said God, “was a Big Bang. That was a very Big Bang.”

A Pistol Shot across the bows

These encounters were early morning affairs, mist shrouded, seconds and surgeons in thick cloaks, the antagonists trying desperately not to shiver in their thin shirts and remote peaceful spots where birds would sing right up until the moment when the shouts and grunts or the pistol shots terrified them into flight, or so the count assumed.

A spot of Therapy

As I glanced up at Ollys wife I realised that her reaction was not what I had expected at all. She was looking at me as if I were small and many-legged and had just crawled from beneath my plate, so no change there. She invariably looked at me as if I were one of the more obnoxious insects.

You, she spat (literally I felt the impact of a shower of tiny droplets) have never read Anais Nin.


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