This is the opening chapter to a novel I'm working on.
|A Body on the Beach
Dawn was breaking over the expanse of shingle beach that ran along most of the seafront at Whitby Bay, holiday resort to the faintly bewildered and mildly regretful. A dark grey leaden sky hung over the scene and seemed reluctant to allow dawn's light to intrude on its melancholy brooding. A cold light drizzle filled the air and fizzed as it landed on the forbidding dark North Sea as it gently lapped at the waters edge.
A walker on the beach that morning would naturally have had their head pointed downwards, looking towards the stones as they made their progress along the shore, mainly in order to avoid getting the worst of the north east coast morning rain in their face but also because the scenery at Whitby Bay was not altogether breath-taking. However, had they bravely (for two reasons) raised their head for a moment as they approached within about a quarter of a mile of the rather dilapidated pier on the northern end of the beach, a very odd sight would have met their eyes.
Difficult to make out at first, the shape was small but looked so incongruous and out of place that it had the effect of making the observer, had there been one, feel that something here was definitely wrong. Wrong in a way that made you want to turn around and head quickly in the opposite direction, muttering about how you had forgotten to neuter the cat and must immediately remedy the oversight.
Approaching nearer (had our observer been made of sturdier stuff than the would be cat fancier so cruelly ridiculed in the passage above), the shape would have become more distinct and the form would reveal itself, but in the dim morning half light that had the effect of making it appear even more threatening. The shape itself was not alarming at all, but the fact that it was here, on a north-eastern coastal resort beach in the early hours of a cold, damp April morning, was enough to make you stop and wonder. For standing at the waters edge, being gently moistened by the incoming tide was a standard, domestic household ironing board. Apart from its current location there was nothing else remarkable about the board itself; regular in size and design, nice floral cover - large print sunflowers on a sky blue background, - conventional operating mechanism, currently fully extended and in theory, ready to tackle a mountain of newly laundered clobber.
The main issue about it on this particular morning was that the nice floral cover could not easily be seen and ironing even the most rudimentary piece of cloth (say a pant or handkerchief) would have been especially challenging, even for the most hardy and intrepid de-creaser of washing. For lying motionless and clearly lifeless, on the pretty sunflowers was the body of a human being. The body's head was supported on the matted area designed to place the hot iron in between bouts of steam pressing, and the rest of the torso was spread along the length of the ironing surface with the lower limbs and leg ends - sometimes referred to, in very advanced, civilised societies, as feet - hanging over the end like lost children in a puppet theatre.
The body was firmly anchored to the board's surface by a heavy bailing twine wound around both and tied in neat knots at strategic points. Whoever had done this act had clearly taken time and trouble, working methodically and precisely to ensure that the combination of cadaver and final resting place did not experience a premature separation. The rope and knot work was almost artistic in its execution. Whoever had carried out this seeming atrocity had clearly done so in a very detached and professional manner, omitting not the smallest detail.
A closer inspection of the body itself would have revealed it to be that of a male, approximately in his late thirties. A sandy coloured head sat atop a small neat frame that was dressed from head to toe in black. The only additional splash of colour to invade the pervading black motif was a small, thin pure white oblong strip of delicate celluloid running along the top of the collar, just underneath the chin. In the age old, family favourite game of "Guess The Occupation Of That Body You Schmuck", a skilled and experienced proponent of the game (in other words; a smart arse) would cry:
And they would be perfectly correct in that assertion, chalk another 10 points up for Great Uncle Know it All. Apart from his job description, for the moment, no further details regarding this hapless figure are available, save his name; which was Stephen Porridge, or Reverend Porridge, Vicar of the Parish of Throckmorton in Oswestry, to give him his official title.
Why exactly a vicar would end his comparatively short spell of life elaborately tied to an ironing board and left on the beach at Whitby Bay appears at first glance to be an intriguing and perplexing mystery. It remains so on several subsequent glances as well. Even when examined intensely over a period of weeks (including bank holidays and religious festivals), this situation would still be, in every sense of the phrase, bleeding odd.
Oddness aside, the undisputable fact remained that the body and the ironing board sat on the beach that morning as the tide gradually advanced up the beach like an invading army and the light of dawn increased to illuminate the scene. Lonely and implacable body and board sat and waited in the gloom of the morning. Lonely looking but eventually not entirely alone, for in any peaceful, serene and enchanting environment, be it in town, country or seaside, with the grim inevitability of an unloved relative comes that perennial pest and scourge of clean pavements: the Dog Walker. In this particular case, two dog walkers, a middle aged couple out exercising their Airedale Terrier.
Picture the unfolding events that followed the grim discovery of the body by Malcolm, Ginny and Bunty. The initial shock, hysteria and tears; (Ginny), the need for a restorative nip from the ever-present hipflask to steady the nerves; (Malcolm) and a crafty crap in the corner when no one was looking; (you guess).
After they had all coped with the initial shock in their various idioms they then made the call to the police and the calm, cool face of officialdom stepped in to take control. Firstly closing off the beach and putting a close cordon around the body so that the forensic nosy parkers in sterile paper overalls could do their NCIS impersonations. Then the removal of the body to a secure location (Whitby Memorial Morgue). Finally the setting up of an incident room back at Rozzer Headquarters to collate all of the information relevant to the case and shout vital and case breaking things like
"More tea Gov.?" and "Where's the antelope food?"
The eventual examination of the body revealed no obvious injuries or cause of death, which upset the authorities no end, as they like to have a neat and tidy report to file so they can all go home for tea feeling that they've had a productive and rewarding day at the office. A mystery, a blank space on a form, a question mark of any sort means only one thing: more work for someone, the key thing of course is to ensure that the someone is not you. On digging into the victim's past it transpired that Stephen Porridge had led a fairly dull and blameless life. Unmarried, no surviving relatives, he was a lonely man, devoted to his parish and small number of regular parishioners who found him a dedicated, if slightly colourless, man. Obviously he had no known enemies and was not observed to associate with any one of a disreputable nature. Put simply, there was absolutely nothing to indicate any possible reason why this harmless chap should ever have ended up dead and tied to an ironing board on Whitby Bay Sands. In fact the manner of his demise was the single most interesting thing ever to have occurred to him in his entire existence - irony in its most powerful and cruel guise.
As the case work ground on during the first month following the discovery, eventually each lead led to a dead end, until the leads dried up all together, leaving nothing to investigate. The task force was wound down to a bare minimum and the report was left with so many blank spaces and question marks that it became a source of embarrassment to the force. It is usual at this time in a case when something big is required to happen in order to kick-start the process; a fresh piece of information, an overlooked key fact, an eye witness suddenly coming forward etc. Unfortunately none of these helpful events happened, but the case did take a dramatic turn about a month after Stephen Porridge's body turned up, but in a way no one could have predicted. Over the course of May, a further two bodies, bizarrely also both vicars, were found in identical circumstances. The authorities were baffled, no clues, no motive, no witnesses. Apart from their common occupation, painstaking research revealed no links between the three dead men. Dead vicars tied to ironing boards and left on holiday resort beaches in the early hours of the morning seemed to have become the new craze. But killed and left by whom and for what purpose appeared to be a puzzle that would have left even Great Uncle Know It All scratching his head in a highly distracted manner.
This is the opening chapter to a novel I'm working on. Aiming it to be a dark, comic, murder mystery.
Vicars are found, murdered, tied to ironing boards and left in the middle of the night on holiday resort beaches.
A "hero" and his friend become involved in investigating the deaths and meet some strange and dangerous villains.
Set in a bizarre and slightly surreal version of modern day Britain. The basic idea was to take a set of odd characters and put them into increasingly eccentric situations and see what happens.