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Emerald Dragon Tales
Home of the String-Along project. Out now: Fatal Flaws. Coming soon: Gun.
Home of the String-Along project. Out now: Fatal Flaws. Coming soon: Gun.


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We're back! And here is what's up.
We're back from the dead with some new stories and announcements to make. Follow the link to learn more.
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[Martin Scorsese: Story vs. Plot]

What do you guys think? Is storytelling more important than plot?
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+Philip Neale is at the end of his rope for the month's featured author. His Serial Bodies of Evidence was the marking of our new creation: ED Serials. Please check out his website and buy some of his books, he really is a great writer. And Circle him, he's loads of fun.
Bodies of Evidence
By Neal James (+Philip Neale)

Serial Part 1
Richard and Grace Thomas had not heard from their son, Miles, for several weeks. Whilst this was not unusual for the majority of young people at university, bearing in mind their busy social lives, for him it was completely out of character. He was one of life’s spendthrifts, and constantly short of money for a variety of reasons. The telephone calls for emergency funds were regular and consistent, and despite their best attempts to rein in his extravagance, Miles invariably took no notice and they always capitulated to his demands. He was their only child and doted upon by his mother, much to the chagrin of Richard Thomas whose reaction, gone unchecked, would have been to cut his son off and make him stand on his own two feet. That he never reached this point was down to the love he bore for his wife, a devotion which found its seed in 1970 and grew with each succeeding year. They had married after a brief engagement, and their son was born eighteen months later. Everything possible had been done to ensure that the boy received the best that they could provide, and he had drifted into further education at Reading University. There he obtained an Upper Second in Chemistry, a postgraduate Masters Degree, and further progress into studying for a PhD.

He was 28 years old and living alone in a privately maintained set of flats near the centre of Reading - of this much his parents were certain. Beyond that, their knowledge was sketchy as Miles had limited contact to the use of his mobile phone, and had always been evasive about the address. All of their proposed visits had been discouraged, and on a couple of occasions actually forbidden. Calls to the university revealed that he had not been seen on the campus for some weeks, but that this was not unusual for PhD students who tended to research and work alone, only making appearances for appointments with their professors as and when they were needed. Nevertheless, Grace Thomas’ concerns were deep enough for her to contact the local police to file a missing persons report, and two uniformed officers were sent to the university to obtain Miles’ address.

Arriving at the location of Miles’ home on Wolseley Street, they were accompanied to Flat 7 by Grant Thornton the house manager. When repeated knocking on the door received no response, master keys were used in an attempt to gain entry. When these failed, and it became clear that the lock had been changed, the house manager authorised the breaking down of the door. What they found inside resulted in the apartment being sealed off and a call put through to CID for a senior officer to attend. Dennis Marks arrived within half an hour to assurances from the two PCs that no-one had entered or left the building since they had gained access to the flat. The scene was one of chaos, with furniture overturned and broken items all over the floor. It was clear that some sort of feverish search had also taken place, and when he noticed the blood stain on the lounge floor, Marks called in the forensics team immediately. A statement had already been taken from Grant Thornton, and Marks went through it with him. The man had heard and seen nothing untoward, but the detective felt that something was being concealed, and he asked Thornton for a list of tenants, telling him not to leave the premises. Peter Spencer, Marks’ DS, arrived shortly afterwards.

“Anything for me, boss?”

“Not really until Groves’ team arrive, but you could keep an eye on Thornton for me. He’s hiding something, I’m certain of it. Get him to write out a list of tenants and we’ll start on a door-to-door. Ask him what he thinks about all of them. You never know, he might let something slip.”

DS Spencer disappeared down the stairway to the Manager’s flat as George Groves was arriving at the entrance to the block. They exchanged greetings, and the pathologist was pointed in the direction of the first floor where Marks was waiting. He smiled as Groves laboured up the final few steps.

“Age catching up on you, old man?”

“Less of that Dennis, I’ll take you on at squash anytime. Pulled a calf muscle yesterday evening and it’s giving me hell.”

“Need to see a doctor then.”

“Very funny. What’s the score with this?” He nodded at the forced entry.

“Missing persons report, and the lock to the apartment had been changed, presumably by the tenant (he consulted his notebook) one Miles Thomas. The inside is a mess and there’s blood on the floor, although no sign of a body. I’m the only one who’s been inside, and before you ask, no, I haven’t touched anything.”

Groves smiled, this was always the first interplay at the start of any case and Marks had learned to get his retaliation in first. He was right though; there was broken furniture, clear signs of a struggle, and blood near the settee, but no sign of forced entry apart from the action taken by the police. He gave instructions to his team of three who had just arrived, and they went over the scene with a fine-toothed comb. Marks hovered in the background, as was his habit, taking care to keep out of the way. He and Groves had been colleagues for some years, but the man could be very testy with anyone hampering progress, and he had witnessed first hand the effect of reprimands meted out to the unlucky ones falling foul of forensics’ routines. Peter Spencer appeared at the door with a sheet of paper in his hand; he gave it to Marks.

“There are nine tenants including the missing guy, but Thornton was very tight lipped about any of them. It’ll be a case of questioning the lot if we’re going to find anything out about Mr Thomas. I see what you mean about him hiding something, though. I get the distinct impression that it’s not all sweetness and light in this place.”

They went back into the flat to find George Groves crouching over the pool of blood, busily cutting that section out of the carpet, whilst the rest of the team were collecting other evidence. He stood up at their approach.

“We’re going to be a few hours yet, and this lot will take some sorting through. I’ll call you when there’s anything definite.”

Marks nodded and they went back out onto the first floor landing, where a uniformed officer was approaching from the access stairway to the roof. Marks looked at Peter Spencer.

“I sent them up there to check the area out. Thomas has to be somewhere and that seemed to be the obvious place. Looks like they may have found something.”

“Sir, you need to come up to the roof – there’s a body up there.”

From the description given by the house manager, this was almost certainly Miles Thomas. Marks sent for George Groves, but from initial observations it looked like the young man had taken a severe beating before being clubbed. Groves confirmed the cause of death and also reported that Thomas had been ‘knee-capped’, probably with the same weapon. This was not just murder – it was an execution, and someone must have heard something. The body was transferred to the mortuary where Groves himself would carry out the post mortem, but the pathologist’s preliminary examination revealed an approximate time of death of between twenty-four and forty-eight hours. It was now crucial that all of the tenants were interviewed without delay – one or more of them could be holding vital information and may even have seen the killer or killers. From the list of tenants, Roger Preston in Flat 8, and Jeremy and Alice Masterson in Flat 6, would be first to be seen – they were Miles Thomas’ immediate neighbours. If anyone witnessed anything it was likely to be them.

At thirty-nine and single, Roger Preston was one of life’s drifters. Having left school without much in the way of qualifications, he had wandered fairly aimlessly through a variety of professions before settling for a number of years into the role of a bouncer for the owner of a chain of nightclubs around the Thames Valley. This line of employment terminated as a result of a late night fracas with some out of town thugs, when he sustained severe head injuries causing unpredictable behaviour patterns. Mr Corrini, the night club owner, not wanting to appear ungrateful for Roger’s years of service, put him on the lighter and less confrontational duties of Security Officer. All parties knew that this was only a glorified Night Watchman role, but it suited everyone to conclude the matter in such a way. On days when Preston was ‘unwell’ due either to his recurring head condition or, as was more likely, an overindulgence in alcohol the night before, no-one questioned his absence from work and his wages were paid as normal. What he had not lost as a result of the injury, was a keen eye for detail and a good memory.

He rented the flat directly across from Miles Thomas, and was one of the first tenants in the building – he was there when the student first arrived, and therefore in a unique position to reveal details of his comings and goings. He was also the possessor of a short, and fierce, temper since his ‘accident’ and Marks knew that he would have to play the man very carefully if he were to obtain anything of value from him. These sketchy details had been elicited from Preston during the first fifteen minutes that the detectives had seen him, but now that his initial, confrontational, demeanour was beginning to ease, they began to push and probe, albeit gently, for more information.

“What was your relationship to Thomas, Mr Preston? I mean, were you on friendly terms with him?” Marks tested the water gingerly.

“Bloody student wasn’t he? They’re all the same; think they can change the world. No time for folks like me. Don’t know they’re born half of them.”

“Yes, but apart from that, did he ever speak to you?”

“Speak? Yeah, from time to time. Always on the go, though. In and out like a fiddler’s elbow. Never stayed in one place for long enough to talk to, though.”

“OK, what about friends? Did you see any strangers coming in and out with him?”

“Sometimes, mostly women, though, and I never saw many of them twice. There was a bloke who came regularly, three or four times a month, but I didn’t get a clear look at him – he always had a hat on.”

“Do you remember hearing a name?”


“Just one last question for now. Were there any regular times when Thomas was in or out of the flat?”

“Yeah, always going out around half past eight. I know that because it’s when I go for my paper and I always see him leaving the front door. Takes me about half an hour by the time I’ve had a cup of tea at the café, and I hear him come back in at around ten.”

Preston screwed up his face as if trying to concentrate, and rested his forehead on his right hand. Marks waited patiently, knowing that there was more to come but reluctant to probe in case the man gave up on it.

“Never saw nor heard anything then until the afternoon, around three, when he’d go out again and that would be until late at night, usually about midnight. Made so much noise coming in that you couldn’t miss it.”

“Alright, Mr Preston, you can go about your business. We’ll come back if we need to see you again. Thanks.”

Outside the flat Peter Spencer, who had remained in the background during the entire interview, looked at the notes which he had made and shook his head. If anything came to court, Preston would not be the most reliable of witnesses despite his remarkable memory – any defence barrister would tear him to shreds in no time. Still, it was a start and gave them the basis for a pattern of behaviour for the dead man. What neither of them had been aware of was the man listening on the other side of the kitchen door. He stepped out as soon as the detectives had departed.

“Very good, Mr Preston.” The accent was not British “Keep that up and do just as I tell you, and we’ll get along just fine.”

Taking forty pounds from the pocket of his black leather coat, he dropped the two notes on to Preston’s table and slipped away as Marks and Spencer entered the flat of Jeremy and Alice Masterson across the landing. The ex-bouncer picked up the money and pushed it into his trouser pocket. He didn’t like lying. His dad had always warned him against it, and he knew that you always got caught out in the end. Still, it was easy cash, and if it weren’t for Mr Corrini paying his rent life could be hard for a man like him. This guy had promised more money for his silence, and that would do very nicely for his evenings down at the Holly Bush, but he couldn’t help wondering what it was exactly that Miles Thomas had been up to.

Roger Preston would insist that he was not an alcoholic but he did like his beer, and it was a well-known fact in the neighbourhood that once he’d had a few his tongue became very loose, and his reputation at the Holly Bush as something of a story teller was well established. Today was no exception, and the locals were so eager for gossip about the police activity that the bank notes given to him earlier that day remained safe and sound in his pocket. Of course, it took more than a couple of pints to loosen Roger’s tongue - he might have had a bash on the head but that didn’t make him stupid. He managed to string the sessions out very well until it looked as though his listeners were losing interest, and then he dropped his bomb shell. He had seen who was responsible for the body found on the roof, but the police wanted him to keep it quiet until they were ready to make an arrest. This earned him not a few extras, and he knew that, with a bit of luck, he could string them along for the rest of the week. What he hadn’t seen, in the thickening mist of inebriation, was the man sitting quietly in the corner of the bar listening intently to every word that he said.

‘Colly’ Underwood was a snout. More specifically Peter Spencer’s snout, and had earned his nickname in a series of illegal bare knuckle fights in the East End of London some years earlier, where it was customary for cauliflower ears to be one of the traits of that ‘trade’. Having seen Roger Preston depart and wobble his way home, he finished off his pint and disappeared to make a call which should earn him enough for a few evenings to come. Spencer was at home with his wife and children when the call to his mobile came through from Underwood. He caught the usual knowing, but well rehearsed, frown from his better half and went into the kitchen to take it.

“You’re certain of this Colly?” he said “Ok, I’ll see you at the usual spot in an hour, and don’t be late. I’m in enough bother with the missus as it is.”

Making the usual excuses to his wife, Jenny, he put on his coat and left to walk the ten minutes to the station where he knew Marks would still be for the next hour or so. After comparing their recollections of the conversation with Preston from earlier that day, Spencer left the building for his meeting with his snout and Marks sat back down at his desk with a frown on his face. It was unusual to catch a break like this so early in a case, and he wondered if this was just Preston attempting to gain some local notoriety at their expense. Time would tell.

Underwood was at the meeting place when Spencer arrived, and briefly went over the events surrounding Preston’s revelations at the Holly Bush. He hadn’t intended being in that hostelry at all that day, but a short burst of heavy rain had forced him off the street and into a pint glass while it passed. From that point of view, Preston’s remarks were ill-advised and unfortunate, and, after the exchange of the usual going rate for information, both men returned whence they had come. Back at the station, Marks decided, after hearing Underwood’s story, that nothing would be served by attempting to see Preston again before the morning – the beer would take care of that. An early call was scheduled for the following day and they left for their respective homes, completely unaware that the likelihood of Roger Preston making that meeting was reducing by the minute. Underwood was not the only person to overhear the conversations at the public house, and by the time the fading daylight gave way to early evening, the ex-bouncer had been lying in a blood-stained heap in the alley at the side of the flats for some hours. It was to have been his last session at the Holly Bush.

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Bodies of Evidence
By Neal James (+Philip Neale)

Serial Part 5: The Conclusion
Giorgio looked from one to the other and back again. He sighed and shook his head – it was now all down to damage limitation. They had him, and knew it. He had only one option and Martins would have to pay the price. He began his story at his first meeting with Miles Thomas, a postgraduate without sufficient funds to continue his academic career. Gasparini saw him as an ideal supply line into the university campus and its student population. Harold Martins had been only too pleased at a new avenue for the sale of the narcotics which he was importing from the Far East, and Giorgio’s regular meetings with him ensured that sufficient quantities were directed towards Miles Thomas to satisfy the constant demand from his customers. The problems started six months ago when Thomas became greedy, demanding a greater payment for his service.

A man like Harold Martins had to be handled carefully. Like a modern day Dick Whittington, Martins had come to Berkshire a penniless youth some thirty-five years ago. By a combination of sheer hard work, and the luck of being in the right place at the right time, he had made his fortune in the import of textile products. His nose for an opportunity and a sound business brain allowed him to carve out a niche as a merchant, and he quickly made his name in a trade full of uncertainty in the mid 1960s. By the time the British textile trade began to crumble in the 1970s, he was well placed to take advantage of the expanding import trade from the Far East. His name became synonymous with honesty and integrity when the more established around him were failing, and his personality and good standing earned him a place on the local council.

Then things started to go wrong, but it was not through the intervention of some unscrupulous competitor that his business began to fail. His increasingly lavish and hedonistic lifestyle placed higher and higher demands upon his skill in the market place. After a succession of inadvisable deals, and a run of pure bad luck, he felt the hot breath of creditors breathing down his neck. That was when he was approached by a nameless man in a bar with a proposition which would restore his flagging finances and return the business to its former glory. It had never been intended as anything more than a temporary fix, but the increasingly lucrative returns pushed the original enterprise into second place. The plan was simple; certain cartons of textile goods would be marked in a special way for Martins to identify. Initially they would be treated in the same way as any other package to avoid attention being drawn to them. Only when his normal daytime staff had gone home would the contents be removed, repackaged, and dispersed.

When Miles Thomas sought to muscle in on him, he did not take too kindly to the small-time dealer making waves in his organisation. He said ‘No’. Thomas started withholding payments, and somehow managed to discover details of the foreign supply chain. Word got back to Martins that attempts were being made to undercut him, but no more information was available as to the identity of the party involved. Gasparini was detailed to watch Thomas and report back on his movements. It didn’t take the Italian long to discover Thomas’ method of approach, and when Martins had been informed, a disciplinary session was organised. This was the incident involving the roof of the flats and the table leg.

“Martins told me to take care of the matter, make sure that Thomas understood who he was dealing with, and how far over the line he had stepped. He reckoned that a spell in hospital would set it all straight, and that it would end there. I didn’t intend to kill him, and I’m sure that I didn’t, but Martins is the man responsible - I’ll swear to that in court.”

Gasparini refused to say any more until a deal had been offered to him, and Marks had him locked up pending further enquiries. He told the duty solicitor that no charges would be raised at this point, but that they would be returning to the matter within the seventy-two hours allowed. Matters now moved on at a faster pace, and the visits to Martins would have to take place before news got to him about Gasparini’s arrest. Two teams of armed police arrived simultaneously at the business and private addresses of the councillor, and removed property and documents from both locations before sealing them off. Martins himself was arrested on narcotics and murder charges and taken away to the central police station for questioning.

Sifting through the mountain of documentation seized from warehouse and home took some considerable time, but a picture was quickly emerging of a failing business which had rapidly turned around due to the injection of significant amounts of cash. Marks knew that they had to work quickly in order to be able to charge Martins, and the following day evidence emerged that narcotics from the Indian sub-continent had been concealed within cones of cotton yarn delivered to the Martins warehouse, where they had been removed prior to the cotton being repackaged for sale. The shipper had taken care to vary the shipping lines used together with agents, ports of loading and destination. Some of the consignments had even been trans-shipped and had lain in bonded storage for weeks prior to being moved on. Funds transferred had been laundered through a variety of innocent parties, but they all ended up in the same place – an offshore account in the name of Amanda Martins, Harold’s wife.

This was enough to tie both the textile merchant and his wife to the Thomas case, and they already had Gasparini’s testimony that Miles’ beating had been ordered by Martins. Along with the drugs trafficking, the man was staring down the barrel of some serious charges. Marks still wanted to make sure that the case was watertight, and in order to do that he would need Carlton-Smythe to confess to the writing of the anonymous letter. Returning to Flat 2 the detectives found no-one at home, but when their visit took them to the apartment of Alice and Jeremy Masterson on the first floor, raised voices were heard coming from inside. They stood silently at the door and listened.

“I told you before, George, we can’t get involved any further. You have nothing to hold over us any more because the police know about the Cannabis and aren’t taking any action. You’re on your own.”

“You bloody fool, man! They’ve already got the Italian for Miles’ death so they’re not looking for anyone else. All you need to do is hold your nerve and we’ll get through this.” Carlton-Smythe was becoming highly agitated.

“What does ‘we’ mean? You’re the one who finished him off, remember? Don’t forget the state you were in when you came down from the roof and cleaned up in our bathroom. Scared to death you were, and if you hadn’t seen Alice smoking that joint we wouldn’t be having this conversation now.”

“He had it coming to him. Trash like that don’t deserve to live amongst decent people. I did what any one of us would have done, and there’s more than me taken issue with him, I can’t be blamed if none of the rest of them had the backbone.”

Marks had heard enough, and a sharp rap at the door brought complete silence from within. A second, louder, knock was answered by Jeremy Masterson in a state of some distress. The Colonel was about to leave when Peter Spencer barred the door and ushered him back inside. It didn’t take long before the truth about the whole matter came spewing out from the Mastersons, leaving Carlton-Smythe high and dry.

Miles Thomas had been the cause of a good deal of bad feeling throughout the apartment block since his arrival, but the situation had worsened over the past twelve months. His dealings in drugs, and the stream of prostitutes in and out of the flats had resulted in a number of complaints to the house manager. Grant Thornton failed to do anything about the situation, presumably because Thomas paid his rent on time. Apart from the brushes with John Fraser and Leroy Randall, Thomas had very little to worry about until he crossed swords with Harold Martins. It was then that Carlton-Smythe saw his chance.

He had seen Gasparini on a few occasions coming in and out of the premises, but had witnessed the encounter on the day of Thomas’ death which resulted in them going up on to the roof. He followed quietly and hid behind one of the ventilator shaft covers, where he witnessed the beating meted out by the Italian. He picked up the discarded table leg, still covered in Miles’ blood and bearing the thumbprint of Gasparini, and finished the job which Martins’ enforcer had left undone. Taking the weapon with him, he returned down the stairs where he met Jeremy Masterson coming home. It had been too late to conceal the facts from him, but when it became apparent that Alice was using Cannabis supplied by Thomas, the Colonel used it as a lever to keep them both quiet. His alibi was thus complete, and the Italian would take the blame for the whole thing. It was only later that he had the idea of dumping the table leg in the alley to make it appear that Giorgio has thrown it there.

“George Carlton-Smythe, I am arresting you for the murder of Miles Thomas. You have the right to remain silent; but it may harm your defence if you do not mention, when questioned, something that you later rely on in Court. Anything you do say may be given in evidence. Do you understand?”

“Yes.” The reply was resigned, and the Colonel could see his entire life evaporating before his eyes as he was escorted to the waiting squad car by the two detectives.

Back at the CID office Dennis Marks was carrying out the final review of the case with Peter Spencer. All of the pieces had slotted into place with exception of the killing of Roger Preston. The DI frowned – damned loose ends, they were his nemesis. Giorgio Gasparini had denied any involvement, and had done so in such a cavalier manner that Marks was certain that he was responsible, but there was no proof. At that precise moment the telephone rang – it was George Groves.

“Dennis, have you charged anyone with Preston’s death yet?”

“No, and I’m up the creek without a paddle on that one.”

“Not any more. We found traces of sweat on the collar of Preston’s shirt, and they weren’t his.”

“Go on, make my day – tell me you can match them up to someone.”

“We took a swab from Gasparini when you brought him in, and his DNA profile is a perfect match to the sweat stains we found on the shirt. He was there at the time of the murder, so you should be able to charge him now.”

He could have kissed the man. It was typical of the pathologist that no stone would be left unturned until all the evidence had been accounted for and cross-checked. It was the end of a perfect day. Peter Spencer noticed the change in his boss’s demeanour.

“That it then?”

“Absolutely. We’ll pass on the information on the drugs trafficking to the boys in narcotics, and let our friends at Customs and Excise deal with Martins’ business side of the affair. He’ll be lucky to have two pennies to rub together by the time he gets out. Come on, I’m hungry let’s go home.”
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Bodies of Evidence
By Neal James (+Philip Neale)

Serial Part 4
Gaining access to Flat 2 was like attempting to break into Fort Knox. The door was different to all of the others, and the original one, together with its frame, had obviously been replaced with something far more robust and businesslike. The initial ringing of the bell had activated a spotlight trained straight downwards from ceiling height which flooded the area outside the doorway with an intense pool of blue/white light. The bulb casing itself was protected by a fully enclosed grille to prevent damage, accidental or otherwise. A voice emanating from a small intercom to the right of the door demanded to know the identity of the caller and his or her business with the occupant of the property. No details of the aforesaid occupant were forthcoming at this time.

“Detective Inspector Dennis Marks and Detective Sergeant Peter Spencer to see George Carlton-Smythe, please.”

“That’s Colonel Carlton-Smythe for your information.”

“My apologies.” said Marks. “Detective Inspector Dennis Marks, and Detective Sergeant Peter Spencer, to see Colonel George Carlton-Smythe…please.”

“Name and rank supplied. Where is your identification? Push your warrant cards through the letter box.”

Marks sighed in frustration, and yet, after all the publicity instructing retired people not to admit strangers to their property without first supplying some means of ID, he couldn’t really complain. Taking out their official wallets, they pushed them through the letter box and waited, and waited, and waited. Eventually, footsteps were heard approaching the door, and a number of security devices were disengaged allowing it to open. Before them, with a chin from which you could have launched a battalion of paratroopers, stood George Carlton-Smythe, sixty years old, and not looking a day over fifty. He was neatly dressed in a grey suit, white shirt, and what was clearly a regimental tie. He wore shoes that you could have used as a shaving mirror and, overall, made both of them look as if they had slept in their clothes for several nights.

Scrutinising both their faces for any hint of hostility, he waved them brusquely inside, and Marks almost expected to be marched into the lounge like some raw recruit on the parade ground. As they took their seats, Carlton-Smythe stood, instead, in front of the fire, hands clasped behind his back, and rocking backwards and forwards gently on the balls of his feet. There was no doubt as to who would be trying to run the conversation, and Marks knew that it would be important not to let him dictate the direction of the questioning. Nevertheless, it was the Colonel who spoke first, in a clipped army style designed to specifically to intimidate.

“Right then, it’ll be about that good-for-nothing on the first floor!” He omitted the customary ‘will it?’

“Could you tell me, please, Mr Carlton-Smythe, how long you having been a tenant in the apartment block?”

Marks completely and deliberately ignored Carlton–Smythe’s opening remark, choosing instead to take a different route with the conversation, and also omitting the courtesy of addressing him as ‘Colonel’. Whilst the man was still visibly irritated by this tactic, Marks pushed home the advantage.

“Sir? I asked you about the length of your tenancy here. Could you tell me when you first took up residence, please?”

The Colonel was so taken aback by this obvious lack of courtesy, that he automatically replied, and surrendered all control to the two detectives.

“Well, now, it must have been five or six years ago. Now look here Inspector...”

“So then, you must have arrived after Miles Thomas, because the university has him moving here in the autumn of 1992 at the start of his second year. Would that be correct?” Marks now had full control.

“Yes, I suppose so. He was no good you know. No respect for others. Stint in the army was what he needed, that would have straightened him out!”

“Straightened him out? From what? Was he involved in criminal activity of some kind? If so, who was he involved with, and could you provide names or descriptions?”

The Colonel conceded defeat at this point, and sat down as the interview proceeded along more traditional police lines, instead of the army court martial style that he had adopted. He had crossed swords with Miles Thomas on a number of occasions mainly, it had to be said, on the subject of his manner and lifestyle, but more recently the issue of Martin Thorpe had come to his attention. He came from a background and time when youngsters were just that, and not some ‘proto-adults’ hanging around street corners waiting for the next bit of trouble to come along. He liked the boy, and was sad to see his degeneration into the mire occupied by the likes of Thomas. There had been occasions when he had tried to intervene, and offered his services to Carol Thorpe as some sort of parental figure. The refusal was not a rebuff, nor was it treated as such, but the Colonel nevertheless felt that the woman and her son were burying their heads in the sand. He decided that direct action was the best course to adopt.

Waiting outside Miles’ flat late one evening, and just out of sight, he stepped into the corridor as he heard the lock to Flat 7 turning. He took Thomas by surprise and pushed him inside, closing the door behind him. Whatever was said between the two men was never witnessed by anyone else, and the police had only Carlton-Smythe’s account of events to go on. Harsh words were spoken and, according to the Colonel, Thomas made an intimidatory lunge towards him. It had been a mistake, as Carlton-Smythe turned the attack to his advantage and quickly had Miles on the floor, face down, with an arm pushed firmly up towards his shoulder blade. Lying prone, he was obliged to listen to the Colonel’s words of advice regarding the Thorpe boy and his mother, which left him in no doubt as to the consequences of his ignoring them. A short left jab to the kidneys provided him with a reminder of what was in store should he choose to ignore it.

“That was all I did, Inspector. I had nothing to do with anything that happened after that; in fact you can ask the Mastersons. We play cards most evenings; Alice doesn’t get out much these days and likes a game of Gin.”

“We may well do that, Colonel, but for now that will be all.”

It had clearly been a bad week for Miles Thomas, as this encounter came on the very same day as his meeting with John Fraser. It must have left him with the feeling that the Thorpes were best left well alone, and there were no more reports of threats made to him by other tenants. That he may or may not have taken the advice offered to him, and thus have suffered the consequences, was a matter of some uncertainty. For Marks, there certainly appeared to be a number of people with a motive for doing the man harm, and any of them would have had the opportunity to vent their displeasure at his activities. The final appointment of the day was with the house manager, Grant Thornton, a man who had appeared evasive when questioned briefly by Peter Spencer some hours earlier. They headed in the direction of Flat 1 to learn that he had, somehow, left the premises during the day. This was the second instance of residents being allowed to slip through the net, and Marks vented his spleen to the uniformed sergeant.

“What the hell’s the matter with you lot?! I gave express instructions that no-one was to leave without my permission. We’ve now lost two potential witnesses for the day and I’m holding you responsible as senior officer! Clear?”

“Sir.” Came the curt reply.

“Peter, get these guys together and spell it out for them in words of one syllable. For God’s sake they’re only being asked to stand guard. It’s not rocket science. I’ll see you back at the station – I’m going to catch up with George Groves”

He stomped away still muttering curses under his breath; Spencer heaved a sigh and turned to the gathering uniformed group.

“Ok, gather round and listen carefully this time. I’m the one who has to work with him all the time – you aren’t.”

It was almost six o’clock when Dennis Marks arrived at the forensic laboratory, and George Groves was writing up his notes following on from the autopsy of Miles Thomas. The young man’s parents had been informed of the situation, and had arranged to travel to Reading the following day to officially identify the body, but neither Marks nor Groves had any doubt as to the identity of the corpse now safely stored in the mortuary. The pathologist looked up from his desk as Marks entered the room and waved him towards the coffee percolator.

“Well, he was killed by a single blow to the back of the head, but it may not have been what the assailant had intended. There were significant other injuries to Thomas’ body which lead me to believe that this was some sort of punishment beating which went wrong.”

“What?” Marks had paused in the midst of pouring out coffee, now looking at Groves in some disbelief.

“Look here.” They went over to a table where a number of photographs had been laid out. “Both kneecaps had been smashed, probably by the wooden weapon I mentioned to you at the flats, but the injury to the head is not consistent with a premeditated blow to that area. It’s almost as if Thomas was turning away when it landed.”

“Would one person have been able to inflict all of the injuries alone?” Marks was struggling to come to grips with the reasoning.

“If that person were intimidating enough to get him up to the roof, then yes, particularly when you bear in mind that the blood we found in the flat belonged to Miles Thomas. The nose itself was broken, hence the bleeding on to the carpet, and the kneecapping would have come as a surprise as Thomas would have been expecting more of the same once they were alone. The angle of attack suggested by the injury leads me to believe that Miles was turning away from whoever hit him as he was crouched on the floor.”

“So this wasn’t an execution as we initially thought.”

“No. I don’t think so, although that’s your department. However, I can tell you that the weapon you’re looking for is neither a cricket nor baseball bat as looked likely at the start. We pieced together all of the broken bits in the flat, and we’re a table leg missing.”

He showed Marks the reassembled furniture broken in what they assumed was a struggle, and sure enough only three of the four legs of a coffee table had been recovered. The missing item was approximately two feet long, slightly oval in shape, and with a taper towards one end. Finding that would go a long way towards tracking down whoever had used it to kill Miles Thomas.

“We’ve compared the injuries to the body with one of the remaining legs, and they appear to match. Find me the weapon and I’ll see what I can get from it.”

As he left the lab, Marks wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry - they had the likely murder weapon. He was going to press for a murder charge despite what George had said, but where on earth was he going to start looking for it? The manpower required for an exhaustive search would be costly, and all senior staff had been apprised of the need for remaining within their budgets. He rang Peter Spencer to make sure that he had not yet gone home and told him to muster enough of the uniformed officers to mount a search of the area immediately surround the flats for the missing table leg. When he arrived at the scene a little later, it was to find an ambulance and George Groves already in attendance.

“What are you doing here, George?”

“Another body, Dennis. What are trying to do to me?”

In their search of the area immediately surrounding the flats, one of the uniformed PCs had come across the body of Roger Preston. He had been clubbed to death and had been there for a while. Groves’ initial estimate was two to three hours, with death caused by a blunt instrument, possibly the same one as was used on Miles Thomas. No sooner had he related this information to Marks, than a call went up from the back of the alley in which Preston had been found. In amongst the rubbish in a skip, and buried just below the surface, was the missing table leg from Flat 7. It bore traces of blood, and in the middle of one of the stains was a clear imprint of a finger or thumb. Groves bagged it immediately before anyone else could get their hands on it. Marks grinned from ear to ear – this was the case-breaker that they had been hoping for and Groves shook his head in dismay, there would be no going home until Dennis had a positive identification from it.

There was no doubt as to the owner of the fingerprint once Groves had finished his examinations. Marks believed that Giorgio Gasparini had killed Robert Preston, presumably as a result of his inadvisable conversations at the Holly Bush which were overheard by Spencer’s snout. How he had come about that information was yet to be discovered, but the priority now was to find the man, and quickly, before he disappeared permanently. Peter Spencer stepped in at this point.

“Boss, it didn’t seem important at the time, but I picked this up from a notepad in Carlton-Smythe’s flat whilst you were questioning him.”

It was a blank piece of paper, but when George Groves examined it closely there were the clear indentations of a message left from the original top sheet. Dusting it at the lab later with a dry ink powder, the text became readable, and it was clear that it was an anonymous message to the police linking Gasparini to Harold Martins, Reading businessman and local councillor. It also gave details of Gasparini’s visit to Thomas, the trip to the roof, and the time he left the premises. The case was now taking an altogether different, and more serious direction - Marks would need to obtain warrants to search both the home and the business premises of this new suspect. For the moment, the area was sealed off and all contact with the press or media forbidden whilst he and Spencer made urgent calls to higher authority.

The timing of the raids on both premises was simultaneous to prevent the loss of any evidence, and Harold Martins was arrested on suspicion of drug dealing and murder. Without Gasparini, however, Marks knew that the murder charge would not stick, and a nationwide alert had been issued with all ports and airports being sealed off. The inspector had received his share of lucky breaks in the past, and another one came along just at the right time. Gasparini had left Berkshire after a meeting with Martins following the disciplining of Miles Thomas, but was picked up by South Yorkshire police whilst speeding past the Woodall services on the M1. One of the motorway officers was quick enough to spot his resemblance to the bulletin issued by the Thames Valley force and, detaining the Italian for questioning, transported him to headquarters in Sheffield from whence a message was relayed to Marks in Reading. He was transferred to the Thames Valley area immediately, and by evening was sitting opposite the DI in Interview Room 3 at the central police station.

With Peter Spencer and the duty solicitor in attendance, Marks came straight to the point. Giorgio Gasparini had been identified as resembling a man leaving the flats on Wolseley Street where the now deceased Miles Thomas lived. Further, they had his prints on a weapon used to kill Thomas. The same weapon had been discovered in a skip at the back of an alley where Roger Preston, another tenant of the same flats, had been found dead. His injuries were consistent with this weapon and he was known to have been talking in a local pub about the identity of Thomas’ killer. Marks told the now pale and nervous enforcer that there was enough evidence before him to ensure a lengthy gaol sentence. However, should Gasparini choose to assist with police enquiries which were taking another direction, it was more than possible that a word in the appropriate quarters could ease the situation for him.

“I didn’t kill Thomas. He was still alive when I left the roof. I’ll admit to hitting him with the table leg but that’s all. You can’t prove that I did anything to this Roger Preston and I don’t know how the leg got into the alley, because I threw it down on the roof when I came down. I’m being set up.”

Gasparini’s denials were nothing more than Marks expected at this stage, but the detective had to admit that, without some corroborating facts, they would have a hard time convicting him for Preston’s killing. If they could persuade Carlton-Smythe to formally identify Giorgio as the man coming down the stairs from the roof, that part of the case would be more or less airtight. He decided to try a bluff, and told the Italian that they had an eye witness placing him at the scene at the time when forensics now say Thomas had died. His denials would be irrelevant in the light of this, and sentencing would be a formality. Gasparini looked at his solicitor for help – the man shook his head. There was only one way out.

“If I tell you who is behind all this, what will it get me?”

This was the case-breaking statement, and Marks nodded to Peter Spencer. The double act was about to kick in again, and keeping Gasparini off balance would be a key tactic in tightening the noose around those ultimately responsible for the deaths of Thomas and Preston.

“Let’s start with what you have to offer, and then we will see what can be done as regards your case. If Thomas really was still alive when you left him, the charge may be reduced to manslaughter”
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What do you guys think? Are we preserving our writing when we put it in digital form, or setting it up for doom?
[ #eBooks vs. #Hardback ]
So, I'm gonna be absurdly old fashioned, I suppose, but I'm going to put forth some thinking here. While I do appreciate that the eBook exists, I can't help but wonder if 100 years from now (or less) we won't regret being so digital. I mean, think about it... in my library I have books (hardback covers) that are over 50 and even 100 years old. Because these books were made in hardcopy, they've been preserved.

In 50 years, how are eBooks from today going to be preserved? Surely technology will have changed, advanced, standards changed. Therefore, you can expect different formats, different ways of viewing eBooks. Will we have to own a device from today to read books from now tomorrow? And if so, do we really think batteries for Kindles, iPads, Nooks and other devices are going to hold up 50 years down the road? Because the batteries will inevitably change as well.

I just can't help but wonder if we're going to destroy the preservation of history and great works, by putting everything in a cloud that some day won't exist--because it will be replaced by something better.

Maybe I've just been writing too much science fiction of late, but it really makes me wonder.

By the way, two of my favorite old books are a second edition of Wuthering Heights and a book on Psychoanalysis from 1929 that is ridiculously creepy to read.
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Bodies of Evidence
By Neal James (+Philip Neale)

Previous Installment:

First installment:

Serial Part 3
On their way back to the stairs leading to the ground floor, Marks and Wallace passed the flat of Miles Thomas to see George Groves and his team leaving the scene. Marks looked at his watch, and only then realised that they had all been at the flats for over four hours.

“Anything to report?” He asked, as the forensic pathologist met him at the door. Groves smiled – this was typical Dennis Marks.

“I’ll know more when we get all this stuff back to the lab.” Came the standard response.

“What about the body?”

“Definitely dead.” The man’s sense of humour was unique.

“Very funny. What about time and cause?”

“Odd that. He’d been beaten and both legs were broken, but I think the beating itself occurred much earlier than the rest of the injuries. Cause of death itself was blunt force trauma with a wooden implement, probably something like a baseball or cricket bat.”

“Anything interesting in the flat?” Marks pushed a little further as Groves started down the stairs.

“Apart from the blood stain, the place was covered in fingerprints, and we’ll need to take samples of them and DNA from all the residents as soon as possible – I’ll leave one of my staff to do that. We’re checking the broken furniture for any missing pieces that could have been used as the murder weapon, but apart from that you’re going to have to wait for my report. I’ll get it to you as soon as I can.”

“OK. There are four or five more people to talk to, so we won’t be finished much before six. I’ll catch up with you later.”

Peter Spencer returned from his attempt at tracing Gasparini, and Marks assigned DC Wallace to assist in the fingerprint and DNA sampling. Giorgio had disappeared, and despite Spencer’s visiting all his known haunts, no-one seemed to know where he could be found - a fact which did not surprise either of the detectives. They made their way downstairs to Flat 4 where, according to Thornton’s list, the tenant was Carol Thorpe who lived there with her eleven year old son, Martin. According to the notes which they had taken in his interview, Leroy Randall had made vague allegations to Marks and Wallace of something untoward concerning the boy. Marks knew that he would have to tread very carefully if he were to find out just what that had involved.

Carol Thorpe was twenty-eight and a single parent who worked full-time for a local firm of chartered accountants. Her son, Martin, had been without a father figure since Peter Thorpe had walked out six years ago when the boy was five. Despite her not coming home each day until around six, this had not been a problem as Martin had been collected from school by Pauline Welch, a friend of Carol with a boy of Martin’s age. However, since they moved away eighteen months ago, Martin and Carol’s domestic routines had been disrupted quite badly. With time on his hands both before and after school, he had fallen in with a bad crowd and had become very disruptive both there and at home. Counselling had not really helped as the boy had simply clammed up and refused to co-operate. It was then that he came into contact with Miles Thomas.

At first, his behaviour seemed to improve as Thomas took an interest in him, but almost overnight there was a dramatic change in his personality, and Carol began to notice items going missing from around the flat. When questioned, Martin denied all knowledge and became very aggressive, but it wasn’t until she found a syringe that she began to realise what was happening.

The detectives were admitted to the flat by Martin who looked at them both with deeply suspicious eyes. He shouted his mother and retreated immediately to what Marks supposed was his room, slamming the door behind him. They waited, front door still open, for Mrs Thorpe to arrive, and when she eventually appeared it was clear that she had been taking a bath when they called. Closing the door, she muttered something incomprehensible concerning her son’s letting them in, apologised for her appearance, and retired to dress. Returning five minutes later, she invited them into the lounge and asked them to take a seat. She was an attractive young woman bearing the signs of ageing at an early stage, no doubt due to the responsibility of raising a child alone. Her smile, though welcoming, made Marks think she was nervous of their presence, possibly due to something relating to Martin.

“What can I do for you, Inspector? Is it something to do with my son? Has he done something wrong?”

This was a very defensive start, and they would have to be careful not to alienate the woman into concealing any information on Miles Thomas.

“No, nothing like that, Mrs Thorpe.” Said Marks “We are making enquiries about Miles Thomas. No doubt you will have heard by now that he had been found dead.”

“Yes, my son said something to me an hour ago. On the roof wasn’t he?”

“That’s true, but I am interested in a statement made to us by one of your neighbours. Leroy Randall told us that there was a connection between Thomas and your son, Martin. Can you tell us what it was?”

Carol Thorpe paled noticeably at this statement and averted her eyes involuntarily, a clear sign that Marks had touched a nerve. She stood up and walked over to the window, staring out into the now cloudy and rain-filled sky. She turned back suddenly to the detectives as if she had steeled herself into action before she lost her nerve. Returning to her seat, she took a deep breath and opened her mouth to speak.

“No, don’t tell them, mum! They’re coppers” It’ll only cause trouble and they’ll split us up – you know what Miles said, don’t you?”

Martin Thorpe had entered the room without anyone noticing, and was now standing at the door with fists clenched and tears streaming down his face. He was shaking uncontrollably and his eyes flitted between the three of them with alarming speed. In the silence caused by his interruption he suddenly turned, ran to the apartment door, and vanished. They heard the front door to the flats slam as he evaded the officers posted there to ensure that no-one left the building. Marks cursed under his breath and made a note to reprimand the PC responsible. Carol Thorpe held her head in her hands, and DC Wallace moved over to her chair to comfort her. From Martin’s demeanour, Marks guessed that the boy’s relationship to Thomas had been more of a commercial nature than anything else. It was anyone’s guess, at present, whether it was restricted to merely supplying the lad, or, more seriously, extended into using him as a conduit for access to schools in the area.

It was a further fifteen minutes before Carol was sufficiently calm for them to continue with their questioning. Miles Thomas had indeed taken an interest in Martin some six months ago, and had supplied him with a range of increasingly powerful and dangerous drugs. The disappearing items from the flat were the boy’s way of financing his habit, and when that ran out he was persuaded into dealing as a means of paying his way. Martin was now addicted to heroin, and despite Carol’s repeated and increasingly vehement protestations to Thomas, the man had just laughed in her face. It had reached such a pitch that during one particularly belligerent encounter, Carol had been heard by other residents threatening to kill him unless he left Martin alone.

“I didn’t kill him, Inspector Marks. I just lost my temper. It was only a threat - I was upset, and when he laughed in my face I just exploded. I’m glad he’s dead though, he was an evil man, but I didn’t do it.”

“Mrs Thorpe, whilst dealing in any prohibited substance is a criminal act, your son’s addiction is not our primary concern here. Whoever killed Miles Thomas may have done so for one or more reasons, and it is our intention to follow that trail wherever it may lead us. We will be taking fingerprint and DNA samples from all of the tenants, and when Martin returns we will need to speak to him. If you could ensure that he is here, I would be grateful.”

Dennis Marks and Peter Spencer left the flat with yet one more trail of enquiry to follow. They needed to find out more about the circumstances of Miles Thomas’ enticement of Martin Thorpe and also the location his supplies. This thing was expanding beyond the confines of the apartment block, they still had two more tenants to see and needed to re-interview the house manager who had proved a little evasive when Peter initially saw him. There was, however, one passing comment which he had made, and this hinted at some sort of relationship between Carol Thorpe and John Fraser the occupant of Flat 3.

At the age of forty, and an ex-boxer, John Fraser was a fine figure of a man who had earned his living in the brutal field of the professional arm of the sport for a period of fifteen years. A heart murmur had forced his retirement just when he appeared to be on the verge of a breakthrough, albeit at the relatively late age of thirty-two, and he had been forced into a career change. He had used his former earnings to finance a legitimate coaching course in the sport, and now ran the largest of the town’s three ‘stables’. In the eight years since retirement he had built up a very successful business, and would have no dealings with the shadier side of the game. To date, there had been no-one either brave or stupid enough to challenge those principals. Marks was intrigued by the allegation of a relationship with the Thorpes, and wondered whether this could have provided him with a motive for dealing with the problem of Miles Thomas.

“Come in, inspector, I’ve been expecting you. No doubt Mr Thornton has pointed you in my direction – a strange man with the irritating habit of minding other peoples’ business, but he’s harmless enough really.”

“Thank you, Mr Fraser, and yes, we have. If we could take a little of your time, there are one or two things we’d like to clear up. I gather you’ve heard by now about Miles Thomas.”

“Yes I have. Not a pretty sight I understand. He was involved in some dirty stuff and the world is better off without him, although I am very sorry for his parents. Please feel free to ask anything you wish, and no, it wasn’t me who beat him up.”

“We already have an admission from Leroy Randall to that, but we’d like to discuss your relationship with Carol Thorpe please.”

Fraser went on, at length, to elaborate upon Carol Thorpe’s account of the break up of her marriage to Peter. The man was a gambler, and although he provided a stable home background for their son, he was the cause of the family’s chronic cash shortage. When he left, fleeing from his creditors, Carol was forced into supporting herself and Martin by going back to work. She had politely refused all Fraser’s offers of financial help, and although a kind of understanding had been building up between them, he hadn’t wanted to move too quickly into asking her to marry him. There was also the added complication of Martin, and the boy had gone off the rails since the departure of his father. When Miles Thomas started to take an interest, Fraser’s first thought was that he was making a move on Carol, but when it became apparent that the boy had started taking an interest in drugs, Thomas’ motives became clear.

Without mentioning anything to Carol, he had lain in wait for Miles the evening before last when the dealer had returned from one of his periodic ‘sales’ meetings. Pulling him into an alleyway, Fraser made his feelings and intentions plain to the man. It was a waste of time as Thomas was obviously high on something at the time, and any physical punishment would have had very little effect. Not to be thwarted, when their paths crossed the following day, a quiet reminder of the previous evening and the consequences of ignoring any advice were laid before Thomas, and this time Fraser ensured that his warnings were not misunderstood. The discovery of the state of the fla,t together with the body on the roof, would have made him a prime suspect. There were no secrets in the apartment building, and he was sure that someone would have mentioned it to the detectives in the course of the day.

“Surprisingly not, Mr Fraser.” said Marks. “But together with Mrs Thorpe’s threats to Thomas, and your involvement with her, it does tend to put you into the spotlight. We do not yet have a definite time of death, but when we do I will be returning to re-interview both of you.”

“I was not responsible for his death, Inspector. I spend virtually all of my day at the gymnasium and have many witnesses to that effect. In the evenings there are intensive coaching sessions for a number of our brighter prospects, and I am always there. Carol has complained about it in the past few weeks when I’ve stood her up.”

“Have there been any unusual visitors to Mr Thomas’ flat in the recent past?”

It was Spencer this time, using a tactic that he and Marks had developed to unsettle a confident suspect. Interruptions have the habit of surprising people into injudicious remarks which they would not ordinarily have made. It was not successful with Fraser, who was clearly not hiding anything.

“A number of women; rarely the same ones twice – he had stamina, I’ll give him that. There was one man though, a six-footer and slim, always wearing sun glasses and a hat. He looked out of place, and I never heard him speak. He looked like he could be trouble.”

“Did you ever go into Thomas’ flat?” It was Marks this time, switching the point of the question.

“No. By the time I got involved with Martin’s problems I think Thomas was wary of being anywhere alone with me. If you’re thinking that there’ll be any trace of me in there, you’re wrong.”

“Well, we will need to take samples of your fingerprints and DNA in order to eliminate you, but it’s just routine at this stage.”

“That’s alright with me; I’ve got nothing to hide. The man’s gone and I’m pleased. Maybe now Carol can get her problems sorted out.”

Marks and Spencer left the flat, and with only one more tenant to see they were no closer to an initial suspect than they had been right at the start. Their next call was at Flat 2, the home of George Carlton-Smythe, a retired colonel in the Green Howards.

Stay tuned for the next installment...
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