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Short Crime Story




Pushing up the Daisies

by Karen Taylor





The body was right big. Took all his strength to heave it into the van and out of it. Took two hours of hard graft to dig the grave. Jack leaned back on the handle of his spade and wiped sweat from his forehead. He didn’t regret getting involved. No. Anything for Zoe. But sometimes he could think of better ways to spend his nights in retirement.

There was a full moon this evening, his own spotlight. No one, apart from the foxes and the occasional cat, joined him in the allotment past seven early March. You didn’t see too many humans in the day either. A lot of them were yuppies. Did they still call them that? Well, they were young and earnest and liked to play farm boys and girls and brag about their crops on Facebook or Instagrin, or wherever. Sometimes they would sidle up and flatter him about his courgettes, or beets – not beetroots – and ask if they could be photographed with him. ‘Give me a tenner and I’m all yours’ was his usual response. And they would laugh, mug and move on.


They don’t make them like Zoe anymore. She can’t get out much these days, but boy is her brain bristling. Beats all those eggheads on TV quizzes.


Jack smiled thinking of her sitting in her room, a hand-crocheted shawl over her knees, reeling off her answers to the TV screen. He dipped his spade in the earth, scooped up another heap of earth and tipped it onto the mound of freshly turned earth before him. He patted the earth down nice and neat and pulled over a bag of manure and a crate of pots as finishing touches. People expected to see freshly turned earth on an allotment, but it never hurt to be too careful.


Jack put the spade back in the small shed on the far end of his plot, took his jacket off the peg on the wall, shrugged it on and shut up for the night.

*****


The light was on in Zoe’s small living room when he passed in the van. He took a left and parked in the residents’ car park of their sheltered accommodation. He turned the key to the front door which led to a carpeted hallway with two doors off either side. You rarely met anyone in the hallway. Most stayed in their rooms.


He knocked on her door.


‘You took your time,’ Zoe said, her frail-looking hand on the door handle. Appearances can be deceptive he thought as he followed her back in.


‘I’ve put him on hold,’ she said nodding at the landline phone. ‘He thinks I’m going to send him the cash to unlock my investment in a tin dredge in Indonesia. Off the coast of Bali, he says!’


‘Exotic,’ Jack said, a small smile forming.


‘That’s what I told him. I said I would be coming out to inspect my investment next week. I asked him to book me a flight. I’d send him the money, in addition to what he’d already asked for to liquidate my assets,’ Zoe scoffed. ‘Liquidate my assets. I had some fun asking him just what that involved.’


Zoe picked up the receiver, an old fashioned one with a twirly lead. She liked to fiddle with it while she talked. ‘You were saying, dear, how much you were looking forward to meeting me in Jakarta. Aha, lovely. Book me an early flight – I’d like to touch down while the sun rises. It rises in the East, doesn’t it dear?’ She paused. ‘What do I look like?’ Zoe placed a hand over the mouthpiece and raised an eyebrow at Jack. ‘Well, I don’t mean to boast, dear, but I was in films, you know. I have been likened to Marilyn Monroe. Have you heard of her, dear? Good. Yes, I’ll transfer the money to you. I’ll just get my pen. Ah, now where did I leave my reading glasses.’ Zoe put down the receiver and turned with a satisfied smile to Jack. ‘That was fun.’


‘How long did you toy with him?’ Jack was still standing. He had manners and waited for Zoe to gesture for him to take a seat on the small threadbare sofa covered in her trademark crocheted throws.


‘An hour. Maybe more.’ She waved a hand. ‘I let him amuse me until your return. Nothing on the box tonight.’ Her face hardened and she fixed Jack with gimlet eyes. ‘Any problems?’


‘No, love. He slipped into the hole like the weasel he were.’


Zoe nodded. ‘I’ll put the kettle on.’


Jack went to protest and get up, but Zoe held out a palm. ‘Least I can do, love. You have the hard part. I get all the fun.’

*****

Two weeks later and Zoe was back on the phone looking to win an Oscar.


‘Oh my word. Oh goodness. How did it happen? How did those nasty men get into my account? Oh dear. You’ve managed to stop them? You’ve refunded the money? Oh, I see, you need me to replace the amount … as a temporary transaction? Of course, of course. Anything to help.’


Zoe looked up from the phone and winked at Jack. ‘I’ll be here. How much did you say you wanted? Five Thousand Pounds.’ Zoe said the amount slowly and loudly, her thumb touching her forefinger to form an O. Job on, thought Jack.


‘See you in half an hour,’ she said, putting down the receiver and turning to him. It would be well dark before the thieving toe rag turned up. More manure for the allotment.

*****

Jack heard him coming down the street on his motorbike. He twitched the curtains and watched him turn the Honda into the carpark. Nice and helpful. Jack would ride that down to a mate he knew in Hove at the weekend. A bit of cash wouldn’t go amiss. He’d treat Zoe to an M&S dinner for two and one of those fancy jigsaw puzzles she liked.

The main doorbell buzzed.


Zoe smiled, wrapped a shawl around her shoulders and opened the door. Jack watched as she made her slow way down the passage to the main entrance. He pulled back when the bugger came into view. This one was skinny. Pasty complexion, wispy goatee, dark incognito clothing. He could hear Zoe going through her lines. She was a bloody good actress, he had to admit. He’d seen some of her walk-on parts in old footage on Youtube. She was a right looker back then. There was a resemblance to Marilyn, as she told the scum in Jakarta. Or wherever he was. Could have been Plymouth, for all they knew.

‘Come in, dear.’ Zoe was at the door now, Jack waiting in the kitchen his hand on his butcher’s knife.


‘I just need to find my cheque book. Seven thousand you said?’


Jack loved that touch. Upping the money, just when the little tike might have been getting nervous about entering the apartment.


‘Yeah, seven thousand. Leave the addressee blank. That will mean it will go straight back into your account by the morning.’


‘Lovely, dear. I can’t thank you enough. Would you like a cup of tea while you’re waiting?’

‘No. Best get this done ASAP.’


He was in the apartment now. Jack heard Zoe close the door and draw the bolt. The bugger was trapped. But he didn’t know it right then. Jack heard him follow Zoe to her bureau. He poked his head around the kitchen arch. He was right behind her. Breathing down her neck. A twenty-something piece of filth threatening a vulnerable elderly lady made his blood boil. His hand clenched the knife. Not yet. Not yet. He loved the next bit. It was Zoe’s tour de force. She was opening the bureau and pulling out her chequebook, pen and a paper weight.


The thieving bastard was tapping a foot. The noise grated.


Jack moved out of the kitchen at the exact time Zoe swung round and smashed the paper weight in the toe rag’s face.


He reeled back in surprise and agony – right into Jack’s arms. Jack dragged him across the carpet into the kitchen, one arm around his neck, a tea towel over his mouth to stop him screaming. Once he was in the kitchen, he drew the knife across his throat, waited for his arms and legs to stop thrashing and the life to ebb from him, then threw him onto plastic sheeting.


Zoe was watching from the living room.


‘You turn the TV back on. It’s your favourite. University Challenge. I’ll just tidy up in here and be off.’


‘Another one bites the dust,’ Zoe said, smiling. ‘Back for supper? Macaroni Cheese?’


‘Sounds tasty.’


Ding dong.


‘You expecting anyone, Zo?’


‘No.’ She picked up a bottle of Febreze and sprayed it in Jack’s direction. ‘Best stay in there a while, Jack. Let me sort this.’


Zoe edged the door open a few inches on the chain. ‘Hello, love.’


‘Hello, love. You okay? I thought I saw someone lurking outside. Came on a motorbike.’ It was Trevor, the kindly gent who had a room down the corridor.


‘I was watching University Challenge. Didn’t hear anything.’


‘What’s that smell?’


Jack froze.


‘Macaroni Cheese. Bit pongy,’ Zoe said. ‘I just Febrezed it.’


‘Enjoy your supper, love. I’m watching the game tonight. Chelsea are playing. I’ll check in tomorrow.’


Zoe closed the door and rested against it.


*****


Jack waited until the football was well under way, before pushing the body out of Zoe’s apartment in a wheelchair and into the dark corner of the carpark where he kept his van. He didn’t use the tail lift – too noisy – just opened the back doors of his transit and shoved the chair in. The ring at the door had unnerved him. Trevor was a well-meaning resident who looked in on Zoe. That was for the good. But his involvement was putting him under pressure. He’d need to move the bike tonight.


An hour later, after a rushed job at the allotment – he’d make good in the morning – Jack was wheeling the bike out onto the road. He pushed it well away from the apartment block before starting it up with the key he’d found on the body. He’d put on three layers of clothing, but there was a nip in the March air. It was too late to go to Hove, so he dumped the bike at a local scrap yard. No money in it this time. But money was never the point. It was revenge, pure and simple. Zoe was sharp as a tack most of the time, but she was also trusting. She’d been fleeced left right and centre until he – they – decided to take matters into their own hands. The charities that hounded her for donations were easy to ignore. The overseas callers luring her with forgotten investments or sob stories. Zoe enjoyed stringing them along.


But the villains were getting nastier and closer, circling their prey with banking fraud scams and the like. It was now ‘Call and Collect’. And that was their downfall.

*****

It was two days before Jack called in on Zoe. He had some handyman work on the go and he liked to keep his distance after a major ‘Pest Control’ job. Trevor was sitting at her table, poring over the Evening Standard he’d picked up at the station.


They nodded at each other.


‘There’s an interesting article in here about some travellers going missing.’ Trevor had looked up from the paper.


Jack was stony-faced. ‘My heart bleeds for them.’


Zoe was standing between them. ‘Are you staying for a cup of tea, love?’


‘I would not say no.’


‘Been hard at it have you? I noticed your van’s been out and about.’ Trevor took a sip from Zoe’s Harry and Meghan mug. Not her favourite.


‘Yep. Bit of plumbing work and I’ve been busy on the allotment. Should have some fine crops this year.’


‘Excellent. Put me down for any—’ Trevor was interrupted by the sound of a car pulling up outside and a flash of light.


Zoe came out of the kitchen and went to the window. ‘Police.’


‘What you been up to!’ Trevor said, a wide grin on his face.


Jack wasn’t smiling.


‘Maybe something to do with that ruffian who was lurking round here a few days back. Could well have been one of those travellers. He must have come back for his bike,’ Trevor said.


The main doorbell buzzed. ‘Is Mr Trevor Carter at home?’ said a voice over the intercom.


‘You not paid that parking fine yet, Trev?’


Trevor smiled, put down his mug and got up. ‘I trust the residents will club together for my bail. Best let them in.’


‘And you best go back to your apartment, Jack,’ Zoe said when Trevor was out of the door.


Jack nodded. ‘I don’t have to tell you to—’


‘No,’ Zoe replied. ‘I’ve been rehearsing this part for some time.’


‘Thank you, Jack. And good luck,’ she said as he went to leave.


*****

The Detective Inspector at Jack’s door was a handsome, intelligent looking cop. Smart and clean shaven. Tall with a muscular frame like they used to make them. Jack would have liked to help him solve the crime, in any other circumstances. He’d come alone, which, Jack thought, boded well. As if this was a perfunctory call.


Jack ushered him to a dining table chair.


‘Mr Dunn, have you noticed anyone unusual hanging around the apartments?’ DI Jones said, when he had settled at the table.


‘No. We get a lot of strangers dropping in – delivery men, cleaners, carers, council – no one who struck me as suspicious.’


‘Did you see this man?’ DI Jones passed him a photo of the first man Jack had disposed of. Vicious-looking bleeder. He was doing the world a favour getting rid of him.


‘No.’


‘Or this man?’ The second had similar features to the first.


‘Brothers?’


‘Cousins. Recognise him?’


‘No. I would have remembered that ugly scar down the side of his face.’


‘How about this bike?’


Jack made an involuntary jerk, shifted in his chair, and made a play of peering over the photograph and scrutinising it. ‘A Honda. They make a high-pitched whine. I’d have heard it, even if I hadn’t seen it.’


‘Trevor Carter, one of the other residents, said he saw it in the carpark two nights ago.’


Mouth Almighty Carter. He’d kill him if he’d dropped him in it. Just as well he’d scrubbed the bike down proper before dumping it at the scrappies.


‘I don’t recollect it.’ Jack paused, before adding. ‘What makes you think they were hanging around here?’ Had the family fessed up to the scam?


DI Jones was a true pro. ‘Just a line of inquiry we’re following. Is that your van in the carpark Mr Dunn?


‘It is. Has my name on it.’ Dunn Jobs. Zoe had come up with the name.


‘You still working?’


‘Supplements my meagre pension. Need any work done, Detective Inspector?’


The DI smiled. ‘More than likely, my wife would tell you.’


‘Don’t get the time to do those small jobs?’


‘Don’t get the time to notice those small jobs.’ DI Jones got up from the wooden dining chair. ‘If you do remember anyone, or anything, then give me a call,’ he said, handing Jack a card.

*****

Jack had a bad feeling about the visit. He waited a full half an hour before knocking on Zoe’s door. The TV was off. A cold cup of tea rested on her side table.


‘He asked me if I’d been targeted by banking scammers. He said they were operating in the area. The missing men are suspects.’


Jack looked impressed. ‘Blimey, Zo, he got to the nitty gritty with you.’


‘You’re not allowed to say nitty gritty anymore,’ Zoe said, the mischief returning to her eyes. She was always picking things up in the papers and on the telly. Right smart.


‘What else they ask you, Zo?’


‘They mentioned “The Vaccinator”. Remember that dodgy looking kid that tried to pass himself off as a medic in January? Wanted to charge me £197 for a jab – save me waiting. As if I had long to wait with my 80th a thing of the past!’


‘Seems a lifetime ago when we were queueing up for our jabs,’ Jack said, biting his lower lip.


‘Well, I did report the young man, after giving him a flea in his ear for such a cruel trick. He could have robbed me of a month’s groceries and given me a false sense of security. I might have cancelled my legitimate jab.’ Zoe sniffed and brushed her hands down her thighs.


‘He picked the wrong one to fool, didn’t he Zo?’


‘Yes,’ she agreed turning to face him. ‘But he did catch another lady out. And the police? Nothing. They just let him get away with it.’


‘Only interested in the big jobs, love.’


‘Like murder.’ Zoe looked him in the eye.


‘Like murder.’

*****

The police car pulled up outside the car mechanics garage just as Jack was paying for his oil and tyre checks and a full valet.


DI Jones got out of his car and waited for Jack to come over.


‘Getting some work done?’ Jack said, looking him in the eye. They were roughly the same height; six foot two and had similar muscular frames. Jack was ex-military and had mostly kept his physique.


‘Saw your distinctive van and thought I’d pull over, see if you remembered anything. What were you getting done?’


‘Tyres and oil and a valet.’ No point lying. The DI could check.


‘Dirty work?’


‘Always.’


‘The odd jobs or the allotment?’


Jack looked down and then raised his head slowly. ‘Both.’ How did he know about the allotment?


‘One of the patrol cars spotted your van outside Wheatfield Allotments the other day.’ DI Jones had read his mind. ‘What are you planting?’


‘Carrots, beetroot, spring onions and turnips.’


‘Take a lot of time?’


‘I have the time. And the produce is good. Good honest fare, produced with my own labour. You reap what you sow, Detective Inspector.’


‘I might pop round sometime. Pick up some tips.’


‘You might not catch me. But there will always be someone toiling the land – or trying to cop off with our veg and equipment.’


DI Jones gave a sympathetic grimace, before getting back into his car.


*****

It was April before Jack saw DI Jones again. Things had largely gone quiet on the investigations. The missing men’s family weren’t kicking up too much of a fuss, probably because they didn’t want to spill open a can of worms. The stolen bike had been returned to a local paramedic. The bodies hadn’t been found.


‘Good to see you DI Jones. You are a man of your word,’ Jack said, getting up from his director’s chair to greet him as he walked onto his allotment plot. Trevor also rose to greet him, but Zoe stayed seated. She was finding it increasingly hard to move.


‘I hoped to catch you here, Mr Dunn. Apologies for disturbing your afternoon tea.’

Jack nodded.


‘I won’t take up your time, but there was just one question I wanted to ask.’


‘Go on,’ Jack said.


‘On the night Jake Riley went missing your van was caught on CCTV driving along Grove Road.’


Jack thought for a bit. ‘That was the 18th of March?’


‘Yes.’


‘I’d popped out to get some beers. The match was on. The boys in blue.’


‘You’re a Chelsea supporter?’


‘Of course,’ Jack said a small smile forming.


‘We both are,’ Trevor chipped in, smiling broadly. ‘We watched the game together. In my room. And he didn’t get the beers in the end. Forgot his mask.’


‘Those bloody masks,’ Jack grunted.


‘I had some beers in though. So, it didn’t spoil the match.’


‘Yeah, I owe you, Trev,’ Jack said turning back to DI Jones.


‘Maybe you can repay him with some of this year’s harvest. Those seedlings are doing fine by the looks of it,’ DI Jones said his eyes glancing from the vegetable beds to Jack.


The DI held his gaze for a good few seconds.


‘And the daisies. Just look at that crop of daisies on the grass verge,’ Zoe said, smiling. ‘Makes you glad to be alive.’



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