The July prompt for my writers’ group was a first line prompt. There was a selection of ten first lines to choose from and the one I selected ‘He didn’t want to go out on such a night but…’
I decided to carry on writing about Crispin and some of the same Garden characters I’ve used for the two previous months. If you want to read the earlier stories, you can find ‘The Sweet Smell of Success’ here and ‘A Visit from Peggy the Pram’ here.
He didn’t want to go out on such a night but since Bartrum had appointed him Law Officer, Crispin had no choice – well not until the fuss died down anyway.
The ridiculous sheriff’s badge Bartrum had pinned to Crispin’s chest and insisted was always worn, gleamed dully as he stepped out of the toadstool onto the damp grass.
He turned up his collar against the drizzle.
“Where’re we patrolling tonight, Guv?” said a voice from behind an upturned pot.
“Don’t call me that. And we are not patrolling anywhere. I am going for a walk,” Crispin said, crossing his fingers. He didn’t like lying but Bartrum expected results and saddled with his two deputies, Crispin was doomed to failure. There was no doubt, deputising Sylvester and the wooden robin had been an act of sheer folly.
“Well, I’ll walk with you,” said Sylvester, emerging from behind the pot. He’d obviously been polishing his deputy’s badge because it gleamed brightly on his puffed out chest. “Us law men’ve got to stick together in our never-ending fight against the criminal underworld.”
“All right, all right!” snapped Crispin, who knew there was no way he was going to shake off Sylvester. “Just keep your voice down or the wooden robin’ll hear.”
“Hear what?” asked the wooden robin, hopping out from behind the pot. His deputy’s badge shone brightly at the top but the bottom was splattered with mud. Pinned to his green bib, it was so large in comparison to his tiny body, it looked like a knight’s shield. Every so often, the bottom point caught in his sock and sent him sprawling. Crispin had suggested – ordered – and then begged the robin to remove it for the sake of his neck and for the sake of Crispin’s sanity but there was no way the robin was going to take it off.
“It’s my body armour,” he’d trilled proudly.
“But you can barely walk.”
“Yes, but when the shooting starts, I’ll be safe.”
“There’s not going to be any shooting. This isn’t Garden CSI.”
“Well, you never know,” trilled the robin happily.
“C’mon,” said Sylvester excitedly, “while you two are chatting, all sorts of crimes are being committed.”
“They’re not,” said Crispin wearily, “Okay, follow me. But keep quiet!”
Sylvester was remarkably good at creeping along silently, although he needn’t have bothered because the robin’s cries of “Wait for me!” echoed round the entire Garden. There could be no covert surveillance while the robin kept tripping over his badge or stopping to pull up his socks.
At least it had stopped raining.
Despite the threat of being put on cess pit duty if he resigned, he was seriously considering the possibility. If he couldn’t solve the case of the nightly disturbances, he’d probably end up on cess pit duty for the rest of his life, anyway. He’d planned to hide somewhere near the Shed of No Return, although not too close because you just never knew if the odd person might find their way back. It was in the more disreputable part of the Garden although that was a rather unfair description. The only thing that was shady about this part of the Garden was that under the oaks, it was rather shady. The presence of the Shed of No Return probably didn’t help either. It was said the cries of those who’d entered could be heard at the dead of night but as no one ventured near after dark, it was hard to substantiate. The Garden Ornament who claimed to live closest, was Frank who’d never complained of noises but as he was a snail with a bad memory and he carried his home on his back he could actually have spent the night anywhere. He was also stone deaf.
The Ornament who lived the next closest and who’d made the complaint about nightly disturbances was Nina, a large lady gnome, popularly known as Nina the Ninja. Larger than life and twice as colourful, Nina looked nothing like a Ninja but she’d earned the moniker because of her unerring ability, of mysteriously appearing, anywhere she wasn’t wanted.
She was now waiting in her doorway, hands like sausage packs, resting on ample hips.
“About time!” she said with a sniff.
“What seems to be the problem, Madam?” Crispin asked politely.
“Where do I start?” she started, “This part of the Garden is a den of iniquity, with robbers, muggers, smugglers, footpads, brigands, ne’er-do-wells…” she paused for breath, “and probably murderers.”
Sylvester and the robin took one large step backwards.
“I see,” said Crispin, “have you personally been attacked?”
“No fear, I don’t go out at night.”
“Well, you’ve been robbed then?”
“Oh yes,” Nina nodded her head vigorously. “They’ve been robbing me of my sleep since last Tuesday.”
“As annoying as that may be, it’s not actually against the law,” Crispin pointed out, “Have there been any crimes committed?”
“Oh yes,” she said, nodding vigorously again, “Robbing, mugging, smuggling, footpadding, briganding…”
“And I suppose, ne’er-do-welling?” said Crispin
Nina nodded again. “Exactly! And probably murdering.”
Sylvester and the robin took another large step backwards.
“And,” added Nina, looking left and right as if fearing someone might hear her booming voice, “there’s been hauntings as well.”
Suddenly Crispin craved alcohol. Lots of alcohol.
“H…h…hauntings?” stuttered the robin, “I didn’t realise there’d be ghosts involved.”
“Perhaps we should come back tomorrow morning, Guv. We wouldn’t want to keep the lovely lady on her doorstep after dark.”
“You won’t find ghosts tomorrow morning! They don’t come ahauntin’ during the day!” scoffed Nina.
“Although,” said Crispin, spotting a chance to rid himself of his deputies, “this could be a long job and I think it would be best if we worked in shifts. I’ll take the first one and you both come back in the morning.” He turned to see whether they’d agree but Sylvester and the robin had already gone.
“Huh!” snorted Nina, “The first sign of trouble and I’m on my own. Typical!” she said and with that, she turned and slammed the door.
Crispin wasn’t too upset, he didn’t think he could take more of Nina and her colourful and archaic list of felons and felonies. He crouched down behind a fern, thankful the rain had finally stopped and waited.
He checked his watch.
A whole ten minutes had passed.
It’s amazing how ten minutes on your own in the dark can erode long-held beliefs about there being no such things as ghosts, Crispin decided.
“Where’s mine?” Crispin asked Sylvester, the following morning.
“You don’t like doughnuts and coffee,” said Sylvester, licking jam from his fingers.
“It didn’t occur to you to bring tea and toast?” asked Crispin incredulously.
“Real law men don’t eat tea and toast,” said the robin licking the jam off his badge.
Crispin couldn’t be bothered to reply, he was too tired…and achey…and hungry…and grumpy.
“I’m going to bed,” he growled.
“Don’t worry, Guv, you leave it all to us. We’ll have the case cracked in no time,” Sylvester said.
“It’s okay…” began Crispin.
Sylvester held his hand up, “We have it under control, Guv, you go off to bed.”
“But…” said Crispin.
“No buts, leave it to us, eh robin?” said Sylvester.
“Sure thing, Batman!” said the robin.
The deputies fell about laughing.
Crispin walked off. He was too tired, achey, hungry and grumpy for stupid jokes.
“Fine,” he muttered.
Well, he’d tried to tell them he’d already solved the case.
It was noon by the time Crispin woke up.
Sylvester and the robin were sitting outside the toadstool in the sun.
“Hey,Guv, we’ve solved the crime!” said Sylvester.
“There hasn’t been a crime!”
“I wouldn’t be too sure about that. Look, we’ve got evidence,” said Sylvester, pulling a sock out of his pocket, “See, here’s the murder weapon.”
“Death by sock!” trilled the robin happily.
“That sock belongs to Wilmslow. Go and give it back please,” said Crispin.
“Wilmslow, the son of Bartrum?”
“That’s the one.”
“Well, how did it get down by the ditch?”
“Never mind,” said Crispin. “It’s lost property. Go and return it!”
“But we still haven’t sorted out the haunting. And we’d better do that, or Nina won’t be happy,” said Sylvester,
“You’re absolutely right!” said Nina suddenly materialising behind them.
Sylvester clutched his heart theatrically.
“Typical!” said Nina, “Don’t mind me and my problem, you’re conveying socks about the Garden under armed guard…”
“Not at all, Madam,” said Crispin politely. “I’m pleased to report there won’t be any further night disturbances. Although the haunting might prove slightly more tricky to stop…”
“You saw the ghost?” squeaked the robin.
“It wasn’t a ghost at all,” said Crispin.
“‘Ere, you calling me a liar?” said Nina, “I saw him, robes and everything.”
“Yes, he has robes but he’s no ghost. He’s very much alive.”
“Who is it, Guv?”
“The hermit, who lives behind the rockery”
“What, that unfriendly bloke who never talks to anyone?”
“He’s a hermit. He’s not supposed to talk to anyone,” said Crispin.
“Well, he does a lot of moaning and the like, while he’s out haunting,” said Nina.
“Apparently, he sleep walks,” explained Crispin, “I’ve been to see him and he’s very embarrassed, so with any luck, he’ll keep his door locked in the future.”
“Well, I hope you’re right,” said Nina tartly, “or I shall be lodging a complaint against you all.” And with that, she was gone.
“You know, Guv, I don’t think I’m cut out to be a Law Man. Any chance I can resign?”
“Me too,” said the robin.
“Leave it to me,” said Crispin.
“And?” demanded Bartrum.
“The nightly disturbances won’t happen again and I’ve solved the case of the haunting,” said Crispin.
“That’s wonderful news! I must say, you’ve definitely exceeded my expectations.”
Crispin unpinned his badge.
“Not so fast,” said Bartrum, “you’ve done such a good job, I’m going to make your post permanent.”
“Well, in that case, I need to make a full report…”
“There’s no need,” said Bartrum.
“Yes,” insisted Crispin, “there is. I discovered the nightly disturbances were being caused by a group of young gnomes meeting by the ditch at the end of the garden. There were alcopops involved and gambling.”
“Preposterous! I hope you dealt most harshly with the delinquents! We want none of their sort in our Garden…”
“Indeed. Here’s the list of miscreants, just so you’re aware who’s involved…” Crispin took a folded sheet of paper from his pocket, laid it on Bartrum’s desk and smoothed it out.
Bartrum was about to brush it aside, when his eyes caught the name at the top of the list.
“Wilmslow?” he gasped and sagged into his chair, “Who else knows this?” he whispered.
“The deputies and me.”
“I see. Well, I think it might be timely to remind you of the need for confidentiality. We have a duty of care to each of those young gnomes and we wouldn’t want to stigmatise them, would we? Young people need to push the boundaries occasionally. No harm done. There wasn’t much money involved, was there?” he asked fearfully.
“There, you see. No harm done. An innocent game of gin rummy, I expect.”
“No,” said Crispin “it was poker.”
“But no money was involved?”
Crispin shook his head.
“Were they playing for matchsticks?”
“No – clothes.”
“Clothes? They paid with clothes?”
“Well, I wouldn’t say ‘pay’, more ‘remove’.”
Bartrum sank further into his chair and held his head in his hands. “Strip poker! Oh the shame…Crispin, it just occurred to me that perhaps you and the deputies would like to retire from Law Enforcement. You’ve done an excellent job and no one can keep up the pace indefinitely…”
Crispin unclipped his badge and taking the deputies’ badges from his pocket, he placed them on top of the list. “Yes, we’d love to retire,” he said.
As he left, Bartrum swept the list and badges into the desk drawer and turned the key.
If you enjoyed ‘Nightly Disturbances’ and the other Garden Paraphernalia stories and you haven’t yet bought your copy of the ebook ‘Daffodil and the Thin Place’, why not go to the Muse It Up Publishing site here and purchase your copy? All proceeds from the book go towards St. Nicholas Church, Laindon with Dunton, Essex, to renovate and keep up the ancient 12th century building. #MuseItUp #DaffodilAndTheThinPlace