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A Shot In The Dark [6]

Hyle Troy's picture
Submission type:


Henning prised the wood panel out of it’s frame and set it to one side. He licked his dry lips as he reached into the now revealed recess. His hand closed around the bottle. Well one of them, there were six in the void behind the wall.


He had not had to use the hiding holes since Hanne had left to go back to work at The Company but before that, the secret cache’s of vodka hidden in several places around the farm had helped Henning create the lie that he was now dry, off the sauce. Teetotal.


Anyway, when he was told Silja was to return, part of his housecleaning was hiding the bottles again. But Silja was not coming. Worse, Hanne was in hospital, someone had shot her. It was a bad day. Henning’s wiry fingers twisted the cap off the bottle and the clear liquid splashed into the glass, filling the tumbler to within a centimetre off the top. He licked his lips. Bad day, he needed this. Just a drop, then he must head to Hope Springs to see how his daughter was recovering.


Henning sank himself into his big old armchair. Poor Hanne, she was a good girl, clever. Imagine, a daughter of his building up her own company! Henning sipped the home made vodka.

Always serious though, as a child. Never seemed to bring any friends around for tea. A loner. Come to think of it, she didn’t seem overly upset when her mother died. Mind you, he couldn’t remember much about that day either. They had been out for a walk, a few bars, a few drinks. Hanne was at school. One moment they were walking along the harbour in Halifax. Nova Scotia. next, Ursula was gone. Missed her footing and fell. Henning had walked a good hundred metres before he realised, by then it was too late.

Henning sighed and took another sip. Refilling the glass, henning smiled. Ursula had been fun to be with. OK, not anywhere as good looking as Silja’s mother but much much more fun.

Henning sighed. Why couldn’t his two daughters get along. It would be so nice, all three of them under one roof, on the farm. Little Silja, all grown up now. Henning took another long sip of vodka before refilling the glass. Silja had always reminded him so much of his first wife, more so now she was…. Sixteen?...Nineteen? Hennings fuzzy mind dwelt for a moment. Bjork had been that age when he first met her….

Henning paused, he was having trouble with his internal timeline. Silja was his first, right? But, Hanne looked much older? Strange. But, best get going, Hanne was in hospital. He drained his glass in one.


Arthur Crabbe had his squad lined up. He was berating them. The girl had been free now for 12 hours.

Twelve hours and not a scrap of information?” Crabbe yelled and scanned the three constables. “Dybbøl?”

Mr Spivey took the girl to his home and sat with her for two hours, then I was relieved.” Dybbøl’s report was succinct.

Køjarsky.” Crabbe’s angry eyes dropped onto the next man, who shuffled his feet uncomfortably.

Four hours, plain clothes, Bunker Bar. Gathering.. umm... intel.. umm. No one would talk to me.”


Stood in rain getting soaked waiting return of one Dwight Frye. Sir!” Kopkage barked back. “He was out of town all day.”

Breathing heavily through his nose, Crabbe paced up and down behind the line of coppers.

Right! Today will be much better. Won’t it!”


Dybbøl, keep watch on the girl. Soon as she steps out of line, jaywalks, drops a ciggy butt. She’s back here. Got it?”


Kopkage. Keep a tab on Spivey.”

Kopkage raised an eyebrow involuntarily, which dropped as soon as Crabbe glared at him. Kop kept his peace but still wondered why The Boss was seemingly about to bite the hand that fed him.

And Køjarsky...” Crabbe paused. Køjarsky was a liability on a good day. “Køjarsky, just.. keep out of my way!. Dismissed!”

The line of officers files out of the squad room. Crabbe stayed one of them.


Yes Boss.!”

Keep your head down and eyes open, ‘kay?”

Kop nodded.


The ancient timbers of Kaibab reach many metres up into the forest canopy. Mighty branches reach out from sturdy trunks, which are in turn anchored deep into the soil by extensive root systems. Kaibab’s trees are solid, implacable, unmoving. Even from the impact of a fast moving car.

And the fauna. Opportunistic bears eager to steal a meal, even from inside a twisted metal box. By quiet roads the cycle of life, feeding and death turns and turns as it has forever. Twisted cars rust anonymously by the roadside, their occupants long gone.



They used to say if a tree falls in the forest and no one is around, no one will ever know. So it was that Henning Mortensson ended his days.

And no one ever knew.


Joe Spivey's picture

Joe turned the car around and headed slowly north… and then eventually turned east and Finny found herself back in the familiar tiny streets where every window had eyes and you didn’t walk close to walls where a hand could suddenly appear and pull you into the shadows. These were the streets Finny grew up in before a Union raid had deposited her in the orphanage. Her heart began to beat faster in her chest. She hadn’t been back this way in a long time.

The slums of New Flagstaff had their own society. They had their own way of policing, because it was a brave NFPD officer who set foot in these streets, even in daylight. The Union only ever came in mob handed to break skulls when crime became endemic in the rest of the city. Instead, breaking the rules in these streets was met with swift and violent retribution. The slums had their own banking system too. You could borrow money or pawn goods just like in the rest of the city, it was just that late payments here were dealt with by big fists and no mercy. There were shops too. Grocer’s, bakers, butchers. All kinds of shops as long as you didn’t look too closely at what was on offer. It was outside one of these establishments where Joe stopped the car.

With her recently developed reading skills Finny was well able to read the name chalked on the wall next to the stout door of the half derelict tenement house. It read: ‘FINGAL AGIN: TAILOR’

Cars in this part of town were not common. But Joe’s battered van was known to all. Shops needed supplies, and Joe was a supplier. Consequently his car would not be touched… Unless he left it overnight of course.

Joe and Finny got out of the car and approached the door indicated by the chalk epitaph. Even as they waited for Joe’s knock to be answered, both of them knew that news of their arrival would now be spreading throughout the borough. Eventually the door juddered open and an old, very thin woman beckoned them into the gloom and the smells of cooking meat. Joe seemed to know the way and Finny followed closely behind, so close in fact that Joe’s footfalls didn’t have time to cool before Finny’s boots stepped onto them. Joe turned right.

The walls and ceiling of the room were perfectly black with age and dirt. There was a deal table before the fire: upon which were a candle, stuck in a ginger-beer bottle, two or three pewter pots, a loaf and butter, and a plate. In a frying-pan, which was on the fire, and which was secured to the mantel-shelf by a string, some sausages were cooking; and standing over them, with a toasting-fork in his hand, was a very old shriveled man, whose villainous-looking and repulsive face was obscured by a quantity of matted red hair. He was dressed in a greasy flannel dressing gown, with his throat bare; and seemed to be dividing his attention between the frying-pan and a clothes-horse, over which a great number of strange garments were hanging.

 Joe stopped in the doorway. Finny resisted the temptation to seek out his hand. Instead she made do with gripping the hem of his duster and hoping he wouldn’t notice.

Eventually the old man seemed to realise that he had a visitor.

“Joseph, my dear. How are you? So long since you came to see me.”

Joe nodded once in greeting.

“Fingal. Still on the sausage diet I see.” He paused and looked into the rheumy eyes of the old tailor. “I need a suit for a, er, bit of nocturnal pannie work.”

Fingal leaned sideways to try and see who it was hiding behind his supplier of both materials for his work and sausages for his belly.

“Not for you though I’m guessing?”

Joe reached behind him and dragged a reluctant Finny into view. Finny stood definitely glaring up at the repulsive geriatric in the dressing gown with her arms folded and her bottom lip set. Inside, though, fear and anger elbowed each other to be noticed.

Fingal smiled down at the child’s petulant face. He bowed with an exaggerated flourish of his arm.

“So glad to make your acquaintance, my dear. Fingal Agin at your most humble service.”

The man’s actions and most of all his lisping, cloying words made Finny’s skin crawl. It was all she could do not to step backwards away from the creepiness of his presence. She felt Joe’s hand on her shoulder and took strength from the reassuring squeeze of his fingers. Then Finny noticed a sudden change in the old man’s whole demeanour. The disturbing smile slid from his face like sick down a wall and his withered, dirty skin turned several shades paler. Behind her, Joe’s voice was a lance of deathly calm monotone.

“The only service this girl needs from you is for you to make her a suit by sunset. So forget whatever is crawling through your mind and make the suit.”

The ensuing dangerous silence was broken by a pop and a sizzle from the frying pan.

Finny pointed.

“Your sausages are burning.”

Whatever terrible spell Joe had cast was broken as the tailor turned to rescue his meal. At the same time, and without looking up from the cremation, he called out in a voice that was now surprisingly strong and clear of inflection.

“Get in here you lazy bitches. We have work today.”

The couple of young ladies called in by the old gentlemen appeared in a rush; one of whom was named Bet, and the other Nancy. They wore a good deal of hair, not very neatly turned up behind, and were rather untidy about the shoes and stockings. They were not exactly pretty, perhaps; but they had a great deal of colour in their faces, and looked quite stout and hearty.

The women paused to take in the scene, looking from Joe to Finny but too alarmed from the old man’s tone to ask who was who and what they were about. Fingal waved his sausage fork at Finny.

“A suit for the little cracksman my dears. Measure her up proper now, no waste.”

Suddenly all was flying tape measures and pencils in mouths as the two women set about Finny while the old man went back to rescuing what he could of his sausages.

Joe watched the flurry of activity for a few moments before turning to Fingal.

“Where’s Bill? He’s got a part in this too.”

Bet and Nancy exchanged worried glances at the mention of the name. Fingal paused with his sausages half way to his plate.

“Bill? I’m sure I don’t know my dear. He’s not beholding to tell me his movements.”

This time Finny caught a shadow of the face seen earlier by Fingal. It was enough to jog the tailor’s memory.

“Oh now wait. It’s coming to me. I believe he did say he would be in the Three Cripples until luncheon.”

Joe nodded and turned to leave.


Finny’s anxious face stared up at him as she fought to free herself from the measures and pins that held her.

Joe stopped and crossed over to her.

“You stay here and let them measure you up. I won’t be long, I just need to see a bloke about tonight.”

“But Joe…”

Again the reassuring hand on her shoulder.

“I won’t be long. You’ll be fine. I promise.”

Finny paused for a pair of heartbeats. Then, without taking her eyes off Joe’s face, she lifted her arms again to let the two seamstresses continue their work.

“Just… don’t be long ok?

Joe smiled, and nodded. Then left.

Stick with me kid and you'll be farting through silk.

Hyle Troy's picture

(( What the Dickens is he up to   :P

I would rather die peacefully in my sleep, like Grandad, than screaming, like his passengers

Joe Spivey's picture

((Awwww, poor Henning. *Crosses Henning off the list of suspects.*

Stick with me kid and you'll be farting through silk.

Joe Spivey's picture

The Three Cripples wasn’t your normal kind of bar. Basically it was the ground floor of a house at the end of a row of falling down tenements. The walls had all been knocked through to create, more or less, a single large area of floor space. Supporting walls had not been spared and were now replaced by thick steel or wooden props with concrete pads at the bottom to try and spread the load a bit. They didn’t work very well and the ceilings sagged worryingly low as a result.

The bar room was thick with low hanging smoke. It seemed that everybody who came in smoked. The resulting mix of tobaccos and more exotic leafs made the eyes water until you got used to it, but at least you always left the bar feeling ‘happier’ than when you came in, even if you hadn’t had a drink.

But of course everyone who came into the Three Cripples drank, or you’d soon get ejected. And age seemed to be no barrier. More than one table was occupied by preteens enjoying a beer while they puffed away on pipes or spliffs. There was even the occasional homemade bong to be seen. But Joe’s gaze passed over the heads of the juvenile patrons, seeking one among the half dozen or so adults in the bar. A voice was raised above the low hubbub of misery and general chicanery that passed for conversation in this place.

“Elsie! ’Ow much longer do I ‘ave to wait for me scran?”

The man who growled out these words, was a stoutly-built fellow of about five-and-thirty, in a black velveteen coat, very soiled drab breeches, lace-up half boots, and grey cotton stockings which enclosed a bulky pair of legs, with large swelling calves. He had a brown hat on his head, and a dirty belcher handkerchief round his neck: with the long frayed ends of which he smeared the beer from his face as he spoke. He disclosed, when he had done so, a broad heavy countenance with a beard of three weeks' growth, and two scowling eyes; one of which displayed various parti-coloured symptoms of having been recently damaged by a blow.

“Wind yer neck in Bill.” Came a female voice from the back. “It’ll be ready when it’s bleedin’ ready. ‘Ave another beer luv.”

Bill’s retort was lost in the suds of his beer.

Joe half grinned and made his way across the sawdust and stale vomit decorated floor. He dropped into the seat opposite the speaker, an action which provoked a defensive response from Bill who half rose, his ham-like fist curling around a short but solid looking club.

Joe’s hand dropped below the table top.

“Easy Bill. It’s only me.”

Bill stared until Joe came into focus, then he slumped back down into his seat.

“Dodger said you ‘ad a job for me Joe.”

The two men huddled together in whispers for the next twenty minutes. Finally Joe stood up, spit on his palm and held out his hand. Bill, not quite yet able to stand unaided, reciprocated from where he sat. Deal struck, Joe left Bill to enjoy whatever poor animal had ended up wrapped in pastry and presented as ‘Today’s Special’.

When he got back to the backstreet tailor’s, Finny was already outside, sitting on the step, chin on hands, waiting for him. Joe opened the car door and Finny jumped up and hopped into the waiting passenger seat. Joe drove off.

He turned to Finny.

“Did he say when it would be ready?”

Finny was watching out of the window as the narrow streets and dismal derelict houses slid past.

“He said come back when it’s dark.”

Joe just nodded and said nothing.

Outside, the whole world seemed to grow brighter as the car left The Borough and returned to the safer parts of New Flagstaff. Finny’s nose wrinkled and her freckled brow furrowed.

“So, what’s he making for me? What do I need a suit for?”

Joe swerved around a biker who obviously had no consideration for other road users.

“Twat.” Then he glanced at Finny. “Think of it as the other part of your present. A proper suit to go with the proper tools of the trade.”

The answer didn’t really satisfy her curiosity but Finny knew that if Joe had wanted her to know more then he would have said. Oh well, she would find out tonight.

“Where are we going?”

The car was heading west, away from the orphanage, away from the factory.

“My gaff.”

Finny’s face brightened. She would get to see Silja and Annie.

Stick with me kid and you'll be farting through silk.

Hyle Troy's picture

( funny that, I have never noticed a time-portal anywhere in flagstaff. Must be a Twist of fate, young Oliver.

I would rather die peacefully in my sleep, like Grandad, than screaming, like his passengers

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