Authors: Roger Silverwood
ROBERT HALE · LONDON
Sheffield, South Yorkshire, UK. Thursday, 14 December 1940. 11.50 p.m.
It was the first night of the Sheffield blitz in World War II. Stick after stick of bombs had brought death and destruction to the city centre. Houses, hotels, factories and shops had been reduced to piles of rubble in minutes. Only skeletons of some buildings remained standing; some were on fire. The sky was yellow and the air tasted of sulphur.
The poor people of Sheffield had not experienced anything like it. The continuous boom, boom, boom of exploding bombs disturbed the mind as well as the ears. Those who had been caught outside in the raids were scurrying to shelter in hotel basements or any below-ground level cover they could find. Many streets, roads and pavements were impassable. Buses, taxis and cars were left abandoned. In places, the smell of burning timber and dust filled the air. Fire engines and tenders were trying to reach fires but could not always reach their objective because of the heavy piles of stones across the roads. Ambulances were crammed full of the standing wounded on their way to the hospitals, which were themselves damaged in the onslaught. The police were out in force doing whatever they could to protect the people and their property.
A lone policeman, PC Shaw, was standing in Fitzalan Square in front of what had been the Marples Hotel, which was now a shell. Several small fires were emanating from what remained of the ground floor. Shaw had just pulled a man out of a bed that had been blown into the street, and managed to find a place for him in an ambulance and assist it on its way, when he saw a canvas-sided 15-cwt Morris van with a green flag fastened to its windscreen rocking towards him over a heap of stones. As he shone his torch at the vehicle, he could see that it was a khaki army vehicle and that it had battalion flashes on its front. There were two men in it. It shuddered and stopped quite close to him. One of the men got out and rushed towards him. PC Shaw saw that he was a uniformed army officer wearing RAOC flashes and had three pips up. His dust covered hand was carrying a few sheets of paper fastened at the corner with a paper clip.
‘Ah! Excuse me, Constable,’ the officer shouted above the barrage.
‘Yes, sir?’ Shaw said and shone his torch on him.
‘I have to get to Liverpool first thing tomorrow morning. I don’t seem to be able to get out of the city,’ he said loudly and pushed some papers at him. ‘This is my movement order. The highest priority.’
Another bomb exploded dangerously close. Shaw stepped smartly away from the front of the hotel.
‘I should move to the middle of the road, sir. It’ll be safer.’
‘One hell of a mess,’ the officer said, looking round.
‘Aye,’ Shaw said, trying to make sense of the papers. ‘What’s all this paperwork for?’
The officer said, ‘I have to get a very important consignment to Liverpool before morning. That is a movement order. Thought you would want to check it. Security and all that.’
‘Oh yes?’ Shaw said irritably. ‘Well, Captain. Don’t you think I‘ve got enough on?’
‘Look at the signature at the bottom, Constable.’
Shaw shone his torch on the document. He read: ‘Pier 16, Liverpool docks, the SS
, two sealed wooden cases to be delivered by 15 December by order of W.S. Churchill, Prime Minister. 13 December 1940.’
His eyes bounced when he read the signature and the typewritten name underneath.
‘It’s a very important consignment,’ the officer said. ‘For the war effort. Can you please direct me out of here and get me on my way to Liverpool?’
Shaw coughed and stuck back his shoulders. ‘Right, Captain. Of course I’ll try.’ He rubbed his chin and looked behind him and then in front. ‘Well, the roads round here are hopeless, sir. Debris all over. Try and avoid The Moor. I know Atkinsons went up more than an hour ago. You’ll not get through that way. You’d be better turning round, going down the hill, working your way along West Bar, past the Police Station and out of Sheffield on the Barnsley Road, then through to Bromersley, then over Woodhead towards Manchester. You can get to Liverpool that way.’
Another huge bomb shook the ground. It landed on C & A’s, which was directly opposite the remains of the Marples Hotel. The racket was deafening. The front of the store exploded and blew out. The blast knocked the two men to the ground.
The Police Station, Bromersley, South Yorkshire, UK. Wednesday, 14 February 2007. 5.00 p.m.
‘Poison, sir?’ Detective Sergeant Ronald Gawber said as he screwed the cap on the little bottle. ‘It’s for my cough. My wife swears by it.’
Detective Inspector Angel shook his head. Gawber looked at the label on the bottle.
‘Don’t you know that some cough medicines contain arsenic?’ Angel said. ‘Doesn’t it say “Shake the bottle thoroughly” and “Do not exceed the stated dose”?’
Gawber looked up from the label, his eyebrows raised. ‘Yes, it does, sir. I didn’t know.’
‘If you’re not well, Ron, you should see a doctor. Too much of that jollop could muck up your kidneys.’
‘It’s only cough medicine, sir,’ he said, stuffing the little bottle back in his pocket.
‘Have you already forgotten Paracelsus’s maxim?’ Angel said impatiently.
Gawber’s mouth dropped open. ‘What’s that, sir?’ he said.
‘Paracelsus’s maxim? You should remember that, Ron. Every doctor, forensic wallah and detective, who regularly investigates murder cases, must know what Paracelsus’s maxim is.’
Gawber shook his head.
Angel wrinkled his nose. ‘Well,’ he said slowly. ‘Read, note, learn and inwardly digest, Paracelsus’s maxim says that the only difference between a medicine and a poison is the dose.’
There was a moment’s hesitation, then Gawber said, ‘Point taken, sir, but I’ll be all right. I won’t take too much. I only take a little sip now and then to stop me coughing.’
Angel looked at him impatiently and shook his head.
‘It’s nothing, sir,’ Gawber said. ‘I always get a bit of a cough and a cold at this time of the year.’
‘Right, lad. Be careful. That’s all I wanted to say on the matter.’ He turned to the door. ‘I’m off for my tea.’
Gawber quickly said, ‘You were telling me about the difficulties in catching and securing a conviction against a murderer.’
Although Gawber had been on Angel’s team for eight years, and had observed at first hand some of his remarkable deductions, he had never discovered how the great man actually functioned. He was eager not to miss hearing anything useful he might want to say.
‘Was I?’ Angel said, turning back. ‘I think all I was saying, Ron, was that catching a murderer is never easy, and that you might have to use subterfuge. That’s all.’
Oh,’ he replied. ‘What do you mean exactly, sir? What sort of subterfuge?’
‘It depends. Subtlety. Craft. Guile. You might not be able to solve a case by means of straightforward police work.’
Gawber said, ‘Oh? Can you give me an example, sir?’
Angel wrinkled his nose and rubbed his chin. ‘Well, suppose you had a tapeworm.’
Gawber’s mouth dropped open again. ‘A tapeworm?’
‘Aye. You couldn’t catch
by a process of question and answer and then deduction, could you? Why, you can’t even see it. A slimy thing, a tapeworm. Close to you, inside you, but out of sight. You can’t see it, but you know it’s there. Elusive. Eating your food. Threatening your life. Just like a murderer. It has to be caught. And dealt with.’
Gawber stared at him.
‘Here’s what you might do,’ Angel continued. ‘You might go down to a sweet shop and buy a lollipop.’
‘A lollipop? What sort of a lollipop?’
‘Any sort. It must be on a stick, that’s essential. Then put yourself on a diet. Stop eating. Just live on water. It won’t do you any harm, if you’re in good health. In that way, you are starving the tapeworm … starving it, you see? After three days, take the lollipop and stick it up your backside.’
Gawber gawped at him. ‘Up your backside?’
‘The tapeworm will be
hungry,’ Angel said. ‘It will come out for it. Then you have got him!’ he added waving his hand triumphantly.
Gawber looked perplexed.
‘I tell you this because I want you to be subtle and patient and adaptable, Ron. Adopt whatever means you need to solve the crime. Catch the criminal. Get him sentenced. Clean up the streets. Solving the crime is the thing. That’s what we coppers in CID are about. Solving the crime. Don’t let anyone else tell you any different. Form filling and fannying around with minor parking offences is for your young, brainless eager beavers. But making this town fit for ordinary decent people to live in, that’s what we in CID are for. You can’t always catch your criminal by doing
what the book says. You have to use whatever means or device is at your disposal.’
Gawber still looked rather vague.
Angel rubbed his chin and looked up at the green ceiling and flickering strip lighting for inspiration. ‘I’m not getting through to you lad, am I?’ he said, pursing his lips. Then, after a few moments, his eyes brightened. ‘Did I ever tell you about that sixteenth century Chinese clockmaker?’
Gawber frowned and shook his head. ‘No, sir.’
Angel smiled. ‘Ah!’ he continued enthusiastically. ‘Well, there was this genius, who had a white rabbit. He used the rabbit to help him to reveal his wife’s paramour.’
Gawber frowned. He hadn’t heard anything about a Chinese clockmaker with a crime-detecting rabbit.
‘How I envy the wisdom of that Chinaman,’ Angel said. ‘That rabbit made history. You know how a rabbit’s nose is twitching all the time, sniffing and listening. It never stops working. Never stops. Marvellous animal. Well now, our clockmaker knew his wife was being regularly bedded by a lothario in the town, but he couldn’t find out which man it was. But he thought about it and thought about it, and worked out how the white rabbit could be employed to sort it out for him. So he rounded up the suspects. They all denied having anything to do with his wife, of course. He lined them up and invited them to go into a darkened room one at a time to stroke the rabbit. He told them that the rabbit would pick up the vibes and tell him which one of them was the deceiver.’
Angel appreciated that he had his interest. ‘Accordingly,’ he continued, ‘each man went into the darkened room for a few minutes and then came out. And the Chinaman immediately knew which one of them it was. How?’
Gawber’s face turned serious. He shook his head. ‘Don’t know, sir.’
‘Simple, when you think about it,’ Angel said. ‘He had sprinkled soot on the rabbit, and the man who came out with clean hands was obviously the deceiver.’
The Mortuary, Bromersley General Hospital, South Yorkshire, UK. Thursday, 15 February 2007. 9.30 a.m.
Doctor Mac was leaning over the naked body of a man stretched out on the rubber topped examination table, partly covered with a sheet. A powerful light was suspended over the table. A microphone was hanging next to it that lead to a small recorder on an instrument table at the side.
The pathologist, in green coat and rubber gloves opened the body’s eyes with his thumbs. He sighed, then with a glance up at the microphone, said, ‘Body of unidentified man found under the railway arches at Bull’s Foot, Wath Road, Bromersley. Aged about fifty. Two gunshot wounds to aorta. Clean. No other wound or abrasion. Blue eyes. He appears to have been well nurtured … Slim. Has a suntan … wearing off. Must have spent time in a warmer clime … until recently. No distinguishing marks, tattoos, jewellery, body piercing or the like. Hands, regularly manicured, I think, in the past few months. Hair … greying … well maintained.’
Mac picked up an auroscope and turned the corpse’s head to one side. He squeezed the switch and the light came on. He poked it into the dead man’s ear and peered through it. ‘Nothing untoward in the right ear.’
He turned the head over the other side and peered into the other ear. ‘Nothing untoward in the left ear.’
He straightened the corpse’s head and then pulled down the jaw. The smell wasn’t pleasant. He pulled away.
He reached down to the table for a pencil torch and shone it into the corpse’s mouth. Something glinted. He looked more closely. He spotted something unusual. Holding the orifice open with one hand, he inserted a pair of tweezers carefully into the mouth and slowly pulled out something small and yellow. It twinkled in the light. It clattered loudly as he dropped it into a kidney bowl. He lifted the bowl up to the light, then, after a few seconds, glanced up at the microphone. He was about to speak when there was a knock at the glass door behind him.
He pulled a face. He didn’t like interruptions in the middle of a post mortem. He banged the dish down on the instrument table and switched off the tape recorder.
‘Yes?’ he called, and a young woman in a white coat opened the door. Standing next to her, was Detective Inspector Michael Angel.
‘Just passing, Mac. Wanted to know how you were getting along.’
Mac licked his lips and said, ‘You’d better come in, Michael.’
The young lady turned away.
Angel called after her, ‘Thank you, miss.’
Without looking back, she waved an acknowledgement.
Angel strode into the examination theatre and took in the corpse on the table in front of him. ‘That the tramp character?’
Angel wrinkled his nose. He had seen hundreds of bodies in the course of his work as a policeman, but the sight of another always filled him with sadness. He had expected to become used to it, but he never had. And sadly, he rarely saw a natural death.
‘Just started the visual. SOCO any help?’ Mac said.
‘No. A load of inconsistencies. Wearing tramp’s conventional clobber, mucky cheap suit, well-worn and torn, but expensive, handmade shoes, and silk underwear. Had very little in the pockets. Nothing helpful. No cash. No ID.’
Mac nodded. ‘I can confirm that this chap hadn’t been “on the road” long.’
Angel sniffed again.
‘Whatever motivates people to take up that sort of existence?’ Mac said.