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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.

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