Chapter 1: THE FIND

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Romance  |  House: Booksie Classic

Reads: 140

The air had taken on an autumn chill. The first flash flood in living memory had now subsided. The raging torrent of water of the previous day had swept down from the hills, collapsing a dry-stone wall in its path, allowing the water to flood the lower land.

All that was left was the debris scattered at the height of the water’s edge. Branches, leaves and fencing posts littered the small fields, giving away the tell-tale signs of what had taken place. The long grass had been flattened on the banks of the stream by the weight of the raging water.

  Nigel Brown, the farmhand, observed the scene as he strode out towards the wood. He was a lanky lad, wearing an old pair of jeans ripped on one knee. His old brown jumper covered his thin frame. His straggly mousy brown hair flew back in the breeze.

  The mud beneath him squelched and splashed his Wellington boots. He carried an old iron bowl containing grain for the hens. He could see in the wood the sun’s rays filtering through the branches and leaves, like shafts of light.

  He noticed a white object on the ground tucked away in the debris, illuminated by the streaming light. As he walked closer, he couldn’t decide what it was. Perhaps a stone washed down in the flood.

  Horror struck when he realised its significance. He turned it over with his boot for confirmation and he knew then for certain, it was a human skull! The eye sockets seemed to stare back at him with cold darkness.

  He immediately dropped the bowl, spilling some grain, and turned and ran back up to the farm buildings, shouting for the farmer. Neil Dale appeared from around the cooling house. He was wearing blue overalls; he sauntered towards Nigel.

  “What’s up wi you, lad, you look as if you’ve sen a ghost.”

  “There’s a human skull in the wood,” Nigel shouted, trying to get his breath back.

  “Don’t talk rubbish, lad, it’s probably an animal’s skull.”

  “Come and see for yourself, if you don’t believe me,” Nigel retorted.

  They both set off to the wood in silence. The sun had disappeared behind a cloud, so the skull was no longer visible in the sun’s rays.

  “It was here, I saw it, I know it’s here somewhere.” Nigel continued to search where he thought he had seen it, kicking up the dirt and debris with his dirty wellington boot. “Here it is, I told you I’d seen it.”

  Neil bent over his tall, sturdy frame to inspect it. “Looks as if she’s been dead centuries.”

  “How do you know it’s a she?” Nigel demanded to know.

  “I just thought it was a smaller skull than a man’s skull, that’s all,” Neil said convincingly.

  Nigel responded, “It could be a boy.”

  “You’re probably right, lad, it’s a boy, died ages ago. Now don’t be telling anyone, I don’t want the whole farm dug up looking for more ancient bones.” Neil instructed the farmhand to bury it and forget about the whole thing.

  Nigel picked up the bowl he had left and opened the sliding door, to let the hens out of the small shed. He scattered the remaining grain left in the bowl, on some dry ground. He returned to the buildings to find a suitable spade to bury the skull.

  Lying in bed that night, Nigel could not get the sight of the skull out of his head. Those eye sockets staring up at him had deeply disturbed him.

  He tossed and turned in bed, the farmer’s words going around and around in his aching head. He thought he should tell someone but was frightened of losing his job.

  He was only 17 years old and work was hard to come by. Most farmers had sons or staff to help on their farms and didn’t want inexperienced workers like him.

  Faith in Love 4 5 the find Neil had some staff, but it was a large intensive farm, so it needed more hands. Nigel had always wanted to farm; he loved the outdoor life and the animals.

  His parents were not farmers – they worked at the local dairy in Townsfoot about five miles east of the village of Finley, where he lived.

  Several weeks of disturbed nights were taking their toll.

  “Wake up, wake up. What are you doing falling asleep over your supper? Is he working you too hard?” It was his mother waking him violently with a shake.

  He was stunned for a few seconds then turned to his mother and asked, “If I told you something will you keep it a secret?”

  “Well, that depends,” she replied with her arms akimbo.

  “What I have to say must go no further than these four walls, promise me,” Nigel whispered.

  “I promise,” she said meekly.

  Nigel explained the whole story. His mother listened intently, her eyes widening as the story unfolded. Then silence.“Well say something!” Nigel said in a raised voice.

  His mother looked shocked. “I think you should tell the police, son.” Her voice was soft and quiet.

  “No, no I can’t tell the police, I’ll lose my job!” he protested loudly.

  “I’ll tell you something, my boy, that farmer Neil, he was married to a young woman, Emily. She was supposed to have run off with a travelling salesman. No one has seen her since, not even her parents!” Nigel slumped back in his chair shocked at what he had just heard.

  “Mind you, I heard she was never happy at home or with him, poor soul. You must tell the police, or I will,” she shouted.

  “You promised, Mum, you promised,” screamed Nigel, angry about the whole thing. Nigel stomped out of the room and went for a walk to calm himself down. His mother heard the front door of the cottage slam shut behind him.

  She thought hard through the night, about what had been said. The guilt tore at her core for not phoning the police immediately.

  The next day, she decided to ring Townsfoot Police Station and told them exactly what her son had told her. She recorded it in her diary, 1st November 1982.

  The police arrived on the doorstep very quickly, wanting to interview Nigel. It was his day off. They found Nigel on the village green talking to some friends. He was led away and driven back to his cottage at the far end of the village, in a police car.

  He felt betrayed and very embarrassed in front of his friends. Nigel was really afraid; his mother could have ‘opened up a can of worms’ and he could lose his job.

  The two policemen were very patient and kind during the interview. Nigel was so nervous, he was a quiet, shy lad. His right leg was shaking, moving up and down with nerves, and he was anxiously biting the side of his left thumb.

  He told them what he knew. The police asked him to accompany them to the farm and show them where he had buried the skull.

  They left but it wasn’t long before several police cars and a van were seen driving through the village, heading towards the farm. Neil Dale, the farmer and owner of the land, was very cooperative and allowed them into the wood.

  It took a while for Nigel to find the skull again. He had hidden it very well and covered it over with leaves to match the rest of the surrounding area.

  The area was cordoned off. There was about a fifty acre stretch to search for the rest of the skeleton that may have been washed further down during the flash flood, into the large swollen river below.

  Neil Dale was being questioned in the farmhouse. He was calm and composed and he was as surprised as everyone else at finding a skull on his land.

  The police found a leg bone further down in the wood and were confident about finding more of the skeleton. The light was fading so the search had to resume the following day.

  Nigel walked through the fields on the well-trodden public footpath. It was 5.30 am, it was still dark; his torch light lit the mile walk from his cottage, into the farm yard. He had been thinking a lot about the events of the previous day.

  He didn’t know if he still had a job, Neil was sure to blame him. Neil was there rinsing his hands off in a water trough.“I didn’t think I’d see you, lad, again,” Neil said, looking up at Nigel. He was thinking Nigel would suspect he was a killer and stay away.

  “I want to come back to work if you will have me. It was Mum that told the police not me. She promised me she wouldn’t tell. I know you didn’t do what folks are saying about you,” Nigel nervously blurted out.

  “And what would that be, lad?” Neil questioned, wiping his wet hands down his dirty overalls to dry them.

  “They’re saying you murdered Emily,” he replied sheepishly.

  Neil laughed. “Ah rubbish, now you get back to work and don’t listen to gossip.”

  It was a wet, miserable day for the team of police to resume searching every inch of ground. They combed the area in a line across the designated area with sticks, but nothing more was found.

  The leg bone had been identified as being from a young male adult. The skull was from a young female adult. This surprised everyone as they assumed at first it was from one skeleton. Now there could be a serial killer at large as the bones were not centuries old as Neil had assumed.

  Later that morning, Neil had been asked to go to the Police Station to help with furthering their enquiries. He agreed without hesitation.

He did protest his innocence and said it could have been anyone dumping and burying bodies on his land as the wood was quite close to the road. The police were now treating him as their main suspect.

  The police detectives were very interested in hearing about his marriage to Emily and where she had gone. Neil didn’t know.

  He repeatedly told them she was making eyes at a travelling salesman called Ken, and he assumed that they had run off together when she didn’t return from a shopping trip to Townsfoot.

  She had gone on the bus as Neil was changing the oil on her car. He couldn’t remember the date but it was sometime in November 1971, eleven years ago. He was building a cowshed that year which helped his memory.

  “The ungrateful cow,” he told them. “I gave her everything she had.”

  The police wanted to know what she had taken with her and listed things to jog his memory – clothes, cheque book, money, jewellery, family photographs.

  Neil could only say she took her handbag, the usual cash for shopping and her shopping bags. He described roughly what she would have worn.

  “Where are her other belongings now?” they asked. Neil had given her belongings back to her parents as he didn’t want to be reminded of her – he was very angry with her for leaving him.

  They quizzed him about her life insurance. “Who was the beneficiary if she died and how much was the policy worth on her death?” they asked.

  Neil confessed he didn’t like paying for insurance apart from what he had to pay on the house and the farm buildings and the farm stock. Neither of them had life insurance.

  He was questioned further about the travelling salesman. They wanted his full name, a description of him, who he worked for. What make and colour of a car he drove and the registration number.

  Neil remembered he was called Ken but couldn’t remember much more, other than he was smart and clean shaven. He sold household products like dish clothes, tea towels and clothes lines. He drove a green Morris Mini van.

  The interview continued and lasted over five hours. He was questioned over and over again to see if his story changed, but Neil remained consistent.

  The day before, the crime scene had been photographed, the items bagged and tagged and taken away for more detailed forensic analysis. Neil’s two rifles were also taken away.

  There was nothing more to do, no more items had been found that day. The flood water had unfortunately destroyed most of the crime scene.

  A search warrant had been served to search Neil’s Farm and the house but nothing was found of interest to add to the case.

  Neil’s partner Janet Bennett had looked on in dismay and was disgusted as the detectives rummaged through every drawer, cupboard and wardrobe, even the attic. She was briefly questioned but had little to say.

  After Neil’s interview he was driven home at 3pm, giving him enough time to feed the heifers and beef cattle. He was tired and looked drained.

  He arrived at the back door of his house, for tea, and went into the vestibule. He removed his overalls, rolling them down around his wellington boots and then slipped his feet out of them.

  In the large farmhouse kitchen, Janet was looking upset – she wasn’t coping very well with all the disruption and intrusion of the police.

  They hugged each other and Neil lightly kissed her on her forehead.

  “Chin up, lass, it will be all over soon and we can get back to normal.” He then told her all about his interview with the police.

  Janet placed a blue beaker of milk on the table for fouryear-old Luke and turned, saying, “My life has been turned upside down. I can’t believe this is happening to us.”

  They sat down at the long wooden table. Neil ruffled Luke’s dark brown hair and smiled at his young son. The grandfather clock in the hallway struck 4 o’clock.

  Neil picked up his pint mug of tea and filled his plate with cheese sandwiches and homemade cherry cake.

  Jenny, aged two years, toddled into the kitchen, with her pink toy rabbit and showed it to her Daddy. Neil sat her on his lap and played with her shiny jet-black curls of hair.

  Janet continued to moan. “They went through everything, even my knicker drawer!” she explained. “There is no privacy, we haven’t done anything wrong, so why should we have to suffer?”

  “Hush now, don’t upset the kids,” Neil said calmingly. “I’ll be late milking tonight; we didn’t get everything done this afternoon with all the carry on.”

  “Oh, by the way, there was a strange phone call this afternoon besides the press. He wanted to speak to you,” Janet remembered. “I said you were not available. He refused to give his name, he said he would ring again. He said something like, we would be crawling with police here.”

  “Perhaps it was just the press,” Neil muttered.

  Janet added, “I see it’s all been on the national news and cars have been stopping and parking up on the top road all day. People getting out with their binoculars, trying to see what’s going on here.”

  She sipped her tea and watched Luke playing with his toy tractor on the table; he was oblivious to the seriousness of the day’s events.

  “Well, that’s me done,” Neil said, rubbing his belly. “Now don’t worry, I’ll see you about seven and later I’ll call in at the pub after supper.”

  He returned to the vestibule dipping his right toe into his wellington boot and then the other. He unrolled his overalls up over his body and slid his arms into the sleeves and left.

  Janet could hear him striding out across the yard. The lights dimmed momentarily in the kitchen as he pressed the button in the cooling house, to start off the milking process. A constant hum could be heard.

  Nigel had already got everything ready for milking and was starting to get the buckets ready for feeding the calves.

  The local pub, The Bull, was packed out that night. Locals desperate to hear about the news. The pub was thick with cigarette smoke and the smell of beer.

  The loud hum of voices saturated the air. It was a quaint little public house, small rooms and low ceilings. The taller men had to duck under the oak beams, adorned with horse brasses.

  The open fire had a small log fire burning and smouldering away, sparks occasionally flying up the blackened chimney. The smell of the burning wood mingled with the aroma of beer, cigarettes and pipe tobacco smoke.

  “I bet Neil murdered them both, they wouldn’t get a chance to run away,” said one gruff voice.

  “He has his rages, that’s for sure,” said another. “I hope they get him, Emily was a sweet lass, he didn’t deserve her,” another voice added.

  The heavy latched door suddenly opened and everyone went silent. There in the doorway was the sixfoot, well-built frame of Neil Dale. His messy black hair partly covered his unshaven face. He glared at everyone. He strode confidently towards the old wooden bar and ordered a beer from the elderly barman.

  Everyone turned away and spoke quietly to each other, changing the subject that had excited them earlier. Many people were afraid of Neil. He had had plenty of battles with his neighbours over the years.

  Neil supped his beer at the bar. A few called out acknowledging his presence. He just grunted back in reply. He didn’t want conversation. He soon left; he was just putting in an appearance to show everyone he was carrying on as normal.

  When Nigel Brown got home the following night, the local newspaper, The Finley Post, was laid out on the kitchen table. The front-page headline ‘Double murder’ screamed out at him.

  He picked it up and began reading the article. His mother came into the room with a basket full of laundry.

  “I don’t think they know any more than we do,” she said, disappointed.

  “Well it wasn’t Neil. He was OK with me yesterday and today. I thought he was going to give me the sack for telling–”

  “You didn’t tell him it was me who rung the police, did you?” she screamed.

  Nigel ran up to his room out of the way. He was fed up of all the gossip that had stirred up this sleepy village. He just wanted to forget about it and get back to a normal life.

  Nigel came downstairs later to watch the television, eating his supper from a tray on his lap. During the break he went to make himself another mug of tea in the kitchen. His mother was busy making an apple pie.

  The Rayburn was radiating a lovely warm feel to the room and the smell of jam tarts in the oven was also inviting.

  “Was the skull intact?” his mother asked curiously.

  “Oh, Mum, forget about it,” Nigel moaned as he filled the kettle with water from the old fashion tap.

  “Just asking,” she said, putting the pie in the oven.

  “If you must know, the skull was smashed at the base and it had no lower jaw, and only one back tooth… I can’t believe he did it… he wouldn’t do such a thing.”

  That night Nigel lay in his bed staring at the vaulted ceiling in his room. He was happy he hadn’t lost his job but very unsettled about the search at the farm he had witnessed.

  A little doubt had entered his mind; perhaps Neil had killed them both – what would happen to the farm if Neil was sent to prison, he thought.

  The police search had been very thorough, even tractor boxes had been searched. He wondered what they were looking for. They had spent a lot of time in Neil’s office going through all his papers, bank statements and the farm’s files.

  They searched the farm’s workshop where they kept all the small tools, ropes, welding machine, grinder, vices and generator. There were other machines like the chain saw and a circular saw.

  Most of it was fairly new, as Neil had got rid of his father’s old tools and machinery last year, at the auction in Townsfoot.

  His car and Land Rover were searched as well. They didn’t find anything. It had been eleven years since Emily had disappeared, so it was unlikely, they would find anything as they were different vehicles anyway, he mused.

  There was a pit where Neil burnt rubbish – that was even searched. He wondered whether they were looking for more bodies; perhaps they thought Neil was a serial killer and had killed more people! All the events of the day whirled around his head until finally he fell asleep with exhaustion.

  Nigel’s mother visited the village post office and store the following day, carrying her shopping basket.

  “Hello,” called a voice from behind the store counter. “Can I help you get anything?”

  Nigel’s mother placed a box of matches and a bottle of washing up liquid on the counter.

  “Well, I think the police have just about finished their house-to-house enquiries,” the shopkeeper informed her.

  She continued chatting. “They were asking me the date when Emily disappeared. Strange as it was on my birthday, 26th November. I couldn’t remember the year, but the police said it was 1971.”

  “That was lucky for them, you having a birthday on that date – how did you remember Emily disappeared then? I hadn’t a clue,” replied Nigel’s mother.

  “Our Jean was on the bus when Emily was on, so she was expecting her to return on the only bus back at 4 o’clock from Townsfoot. She wondered where she was and what Neil would do if she was late back.”

  “Poor girl, I hope it wasn’t her in the wood; she was such a lovely girl. Perhaps she did run off with that salesman after all, Neil did say she had at the time,” pondered Nigel’s mother.

  “The police will probably be trying to track down the travelling salesman, if he exists, that is. I never saw him – did you?” queried the shopkeeper.

  “Well, I’ve had salesmen knocking at our door but I couldn’t say if it was him – 11 years ago is a long time to remember,” came the reply. Nigel’s mother eventually left and returned home.

  The police paid a visit to Emily’s parents, Brian and Margaret Hunt, at their farm, Browtop Farm in Brow. It was about 10 miles from Finley.

  The policeman wanted to know where their daughter now lived to eliminate her from their enquiries.

  They didn’t know. Neil had told them she had run off with a travelling salesman called Ken. They believed him, they considered Neil the son they never had and were very fond of him.

  The policeman asked them why Emily would want to run away, was the marriage in difficulty or was she just unhappy with her life?

  The parents were as surprised as everyone else that she had run off. Neil had given her a good life; she lived in a big house and had her own car; she wanted for nothing.

  The policeman wanted to know if they had any of Emily’s belongings and if she kept a diary. They told him they had been given her belongings just before Janet moved in to the farmhouse in about 1977. Neil had told them; he had sold Emily’s jewellery that he had given her.

  Margaret, her mother, had given Emily’s belongings away to the charity shop in Townsfoot. Her clothes were far too small for Margaret to wear.

  Emily was never interested in writing so it was unlikely she ever kept a diary. Animals and nature were her passions in life, the policeman was told.

  The policeman thought it was odd to choose a life with a travelling salesman and leave the animals and the farm.

  The case was beginning to stall. The police thought Neil was involved but couldn’t link him to the skull or the leg bone at this stage, apart from that they were found on his land.

  He didn’t appear to have a concrete motive either. The police returned his rifles – there was no evidence they were used in any crime.

  The police were finding it difficult, with the sparse information received, to find Ken, the travelling salesman. They needed to eliminate him from their enquiries.

Submitted: November 15, 2020

© Copyright 2021 g-k. All rights reserved.


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