The Case Of The Caretaker Detectives
June 8, 2012
— Detective Mystery Story, Dream Team, euro 2012, Fantasy Euros, Fantasy Football Obsession, Football Fan, Funny Football, Hoarders, Paper Hoarding, short story
by Jude Ellery
Constable Howells tentatively nudged at the wooden door. It moved barely an inch before striking something solid, and, despite another prod, would move no further. His less tentative colleague stepped forward.
Or, more accurately, he charged. The door flew off its hinges and suddenly everything went white. For a moment it was like New Year’s Eve or a pillow fight gone mad, but when everything settled the two men realised that the flurry had been small scraps of paper, thousands of them, of assorted sizes and shades. Some were ripped from newspapers, others looked to have been taken from hotel notepads. The seemingly random pencil markings were faded and illegible.
“Well done, Gerrard,” said Howells sarcastically, eyebrows raised and voice filled with his customary air of superiority. “Supposed to leave everything just how we found it. Shall I continue while you pile this lot back into place?”
“Oh shut it, Howells,” the blushing policeman retorted, as he bent to neaten up the mess. Always beating down on him, was the older man. That the two of them had joined up in the same year seemed to be lost on his partner.
As Gerrard nudged aside the last shred of paper with his steel-toed boot, he noticed this one had firmer pencil markings. He picked it up and flicked the switch on the wall, to see if he could shed some light on the situation, both figuratively and literally. Unsurprisingly, the light failed to appear. Still, he could just about decipher a couple of sentences, written in scrawled capital letters:
CAN KARIM CUT IT?
ENGLAND’S EMBARRASSMENT = OUT WITH THE YOUNG
As well, there was a series of smudged numbers. They made no sense — yet.
Howells had already forged ahead, and was now calling from deep within the lair. Gerrard scurried in to meet his colleague, dodging mound upon mound of paper scraps, all similar to the one he’d now pocketed. The apartment was literally filled from floor to ceiling: not a single inch of floor space remained. Half-full cups of black tea stood upon some of these man-made mountains, balancing precariously like drunken watchmen. When he got into the kitchen, Gerrard almost wretched. The sight of rotting food was bad enough, but the putrid smell was even worse. Filthy pots and pans seemed to be breeding from the sink, oozing out onto the surfaces and jutting out from cupboard doors and drawers. What was worse, the occupant had obviously been separating his normal rubbish from his vegetable waste — in a primitive sense, anyway. At one end of the room was a pile of tin cans and see-through plastic wrappers. At the other end stood what could only be described as a compost heap.
Even Howells, smug, sensible Howells, was clutching his nose and turning more than a little green. His cry had evidently been one of disgust, not discovery.
Like the rest of the building, the kitchen was also stacked to the brim with these pieces of paper, but the pair tacitly agreed their investigation would proceed more productively elsewhere. Through the open doorway opposite they found a study of sorts.
Here, a plug-in lamp provided little illumination. Some sunlight might have helped, but the windows were completely obscured by yet more paper mountains. Howells found a laptop computer atop one of the more solid structures — he guessed it to be a desk, though it was impossible to discern where paper ended and wood began. He jabbed at the device’s power button about as enthusiastically as he’d prodded at the front door. No reply.
Gerrard, meanwhile, had found another scrap with the same writings as before. This one clearly had numbers aligned next to the words: “Karim” was 5.9, “Young” 4.2. What did it all mean?
Suddenly, Howells emitted another yelp, even louder this time. He’d spotted something. Or someone. From beneath a fallen pile of papers reached a solitary grey hand. Howells nodded for Gerrard to go forward. With a sigh, Gerrard complied. He’d be having a word with the Superintendent when they got back. Right now, he’d better check if this hand was still alive.
Heaving most of the fallen papers aside, careful not to strain his back, Gerrard uncovered the still body of a twenty-something year-old man, unkempt, unshaven, and unwashed in a good few weeks, it appeared. He held his breath as he checked for a pulse. Nothing. In one hand the man held a laptop power lead. The other hand was clenched tightly, hiding some secret from the world. Gerrard prized away the laptop lead and went about switching on the device. As he’d suspected, the battery was dead, but the computer wasn’t. It pinged into life.
Meanwhile, Howells wrestled with the dead fist. He pried the fingers this way, then that, but try as he might, he couldn’t budge the fingers one bit. Rigor mortis would win this battle.
Gerrard was getting on much better. When the laptop awoke from its hibernation, he was greeted by a screen which explained all. Smugly, he turned to Howells, and, perfectly mimicking the man’s superior air, went about revealing his conclusion.
“It’s really quite simple, Howells. How long ago were the Euro 2012 squads announced?” Gerrard knew his partner wasn’t a big football fan. After Howells’ shrug, he continued. “May the twenty-ninth. That’s exactly eight days ago. Plenty of time to build up this paper landscape — not to mention the monstrosity in the kitchen — wouldn’t you agree?”
“Well, yes, if the bugger did nothing but build the things, day and night, and didn’t leave the house once, he might–”
“Oh, but that’s exactly what I suspect! Don’t you see?” Gerrard was growing quite animated. “The Euro squads were announced, and this industrious fellow set about scribbling his little notes, note upon note upon note, like a squirrel with his nuts, or a badger building a dam, or…”
“A lunatic building paper mountains?”
“Precisely. See, we got the call about the funny smell last night, didn’t we? Now, the neighbours said they hadn’t seen him in a while and thought it might be the body, but I suspect what they could detect was that pile of decaying banana skins and whatnot in the kitchen. It could easily smell like that after only a few days, especially as the heating’s probably been on twenty-four seven to ward off the recent cold weather. In fact, I’d go as far as saying this poor fellow’s only been dead for two or three days.”
“But that’s impossible! Look at the state of him! And he’s stiff as a plank–”
“Yes, but is he really? See, my good man, rigor mortis lasts only between forty-eight and sixty hours. I’d hazard a bet that…”
Gerrard strutted over to the dead body and casually peeled open the now relaxed first. It revealed yet another slip of paper, identical to the rest but for slightly more legible writing.
“… the condition would be wearing off about now.”
Gerrard unravelled the piece of paper, and as he did so, let out an involuntary gasp.
“Why, it’s… perfect. It’s flawless, it’s absolutely flawless. Take a look at this, Howells.”
Howells peered at the slip of paper. Eleven names were listed, with corresponding nationalities and prices. It didn’t mean a thing to him.
Gerrard continued. “Don’t you see? This man was a genius, not a hoarder! He’s been in this lair for over a week, concocting the perfect Fantasy Football team. And, I suspect…”
Gerrard returned his attention to the computer screen. That was the website, alright.
“… that he was entering this team in the fabled FANTASY EURO NO TRANSFER competition. The poor fellow must’ve been suffocated by his own workings when the pile crushed him, and died just days before the submission deadline. But we’re in luck, Howells. Or at least, I am. See there?” He pointed at the time on the screen. “I’ve got ten minutes to submit this beauty and make myself a mint.”
Howells’ interest in football suddenly peaked. He leaned over his companion to see the team sheet again.
“Well? Who’s in the team then?”
Gerrard winked as he folded the paper away into his pocket. “Now that would be telling, wouldn’t it?”
Howells’ indignation was fully evident, eyes and mouth opened into three large circles and nostrils flaring to form two more. “Here, now!” he sputtered. “Let’s have none of that. Twas me that discovered the papers, the desk, the computer and the body. If anyone’s deserving of that money, it’s me. If you show some proper decency and hand that chit over now, I might — might, mind — consider cutting you in.”
“Cutting me in? Bollocks!” Gerrard sneered back. “If I hadn’t busted through that door, you’d have found nothing, and if you did, wouldn’t have known what you had. Besides,” he went on, reproducing the ticket and waving it in Howells’ face, “you’re a police officer. You ought to know that possession is nine-tenths of the law.”
Howells’ rage at the taunt left him unable to form coherent words. Instead, he merely roared and lunged. Gerrard wasn’t quite quick enough to escape his grasp and the two men spun about the room, their hands clasped around each other’s and the ticket, each trying to gain full possession of the prize. The pair lurched back and forth with abandon, forgetting their surroundings until a roar of another sort caught their attention. Still vying for the slip of paper, the pair looked up and to one side as a shadow suddenly loomed over them. Inadvertently, they had disturbed one of the mountainous piles, in fact, the Everest of the lot. As they stared, the paper began to slide towards them. Terror took them, but neither let go of the precious lineup, and thus neither could move. The slide gathered momentum until it was a full-on avalanche. Their screams were washed away as a tonne of paper smothered them.
A moment later, the room was silent again, except for a single beep from the unattended laptop. A numeric display on the screen informed the user that he had five minutes remaining to submit his entry.
The Case Of The Caretaker Detectives by Jude Ellery is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License