My writing Group, the Whittlesey Wordsmiths, continue to meet monthly, courtesy of Zoom and are now working on a collection of stories with each member writing a chapter, then handing over to someone else to write the next chapter. This has led to some interesting twists as everyone takes up the story and adds their own contribution. The stories include Ghosts, Sewers, reinvented Nursery Rhymes and many other fascinating themes. August should see the completion of this project.
AND EVEN MORE EXCITING… group member PHILIP CUMBERLAND has used lockdown time productively, completing his first book, ‘Killing Time in Cambridge’. This is an epic novel set in Cambridge so I’m sure the background will be familiar to most of you.
Luckily Philip had done most of his research, involving many trips to Cambridge, before travel became restricted. We are now waiting for him to do the final editing before we can announce a publication date. Hold your breath. I will keep you updated. Here is a short taster.
Whilst eating his breakfast, Arnold thought back to an incident that occurred earlier that year, during the dark winter months.
After a few minutes thought, he had it firmly in his mind: recalling events as if it were a video playing out before him – not just as an observer, but as an actor in the scene.
It had been dark when he’d slid out of bed. Whether he was woken by the urge to empty his bladder, habit, or an inbuilt alarm he was never sure, but he had always been an early riser.
He had pulled the dressing gown around his naked torso and tied the belt. It was tighter now than when his wife had first given it to him, a forgotten number of years ago. It had probably shrunk in the wash. She had been dead now five – or was it six years? He needed a new one, certainly a larger one, but keeping it was keeping something of her, no matter how illogical or tenuous the connection.
Returning from the bathroom, he had pulled the edge of the bedroom curtain aside and looked out of the window of his flat onto a frosty King Street below, recalling frosted windows of his childhood with thick ice on the inside and cold lino under bare feet.
A cuppa is required, he’d thought, making his way to the small kitchen. Returning a few minutes later with a mug of hot strong tea, he looked again through the window. A few people were making an unenthusiastic journey to work on foot muffled against the cold in thick coats, hats, gloves and scarves. A solitary student cycled gingerly down the icy road, a college scarf flapping about him.
After returning to the kitchen for a session with the toaster, he had returned to the window, the curtains now pulled further open, a plate of hot buttered toast in one hand. He had demolished half a slice when movement in the street below caught his attention; two young men were attacking a third. He grabbed his trousers. Stepping clumsily into them, he fastened them at his waist then carefully, despite his haste, zipped them up. Zipping the fly when not wearing underpants can be a painful experience for the unwary. He’d stepped into his shoes, shuffling further into them as he ran. Bugger it was cold.
He stumbled down the stairs, ran into the street and reached the fracas.
One man was holding the victim whilst the other thumped him in the face and stomach, so engrossed in their assault that they didn’t see Arnold approach. He grabbed the thumper by the ear and twisted it viciously then, as the man turned, he hit him square on the jaw, knocking him out cold.
The other assailant released the victim, undecided whether to run or fight. Too late, he aimed a punch at Arnold who retaliated with a swift kick in the groin that doubled him up and stopped all thought.
Arnold had turned to the victim. “Are you okay?”
“I think so.”
“Have you got a mobile phone?”
“Right, dial this number.” Arnold dictated a number.
He turned to the two on the floor, one in the foetal position, the other showing signs of regaining consciousness.
“You are both under arrest for assault. You do not have to say anything…”
Their victim handed Arnold the phone. “It’s ringing,” he said weakly, then sat down on the frosty path.
The desk sergeant had answered the call.
“Chief inspector Lane here. Can you send a car to Kings Street and an ambulance? There has been an assault and I have arrested two assailants. For Christ’s sake hurry; I am bloody freezing.”
The car had turned up about ten seconds after the ambulance. The victim was taken in the ambulance, the two villains in the car. Arnold told the two constables he would sort out the paperwork when he reported for duty.
He was about to return to his flat when he saw something in the gutter on its edge against the kerb: a tiny plastic box. It turned out to contain an SD card – familiar now, but unknown to him at the time. He had picked up the box and slid it into the pocket of his dressing-gown to be inspected later.
Breaking from his reverie, Arnold wondered what on earth he had done with it.
He remembered he had gone into Marks and Spencer that same day and treated himself to a new, thicker dressing gown. He had nearly bought himself a pair of slippers too but resisted that temptation. He hadn’t thrown away his old dressing gown: the attachment to his late wife stopped him from doing so.
Presumably, the plastic box and its contents were still in the pocket of his old dressing gown. He wondered how he could have forgotten the box and then remembered the armed bank robbery.
The news had come in as he returned to Parkside later that day, after his lunch and shopping expedition. He had very nearly lost his new dressing gown in the confused response.
Commandeering a pillion seat on a motorcycle – the police driver nearly threw a fit at Arnold’s lack of crash helmet – they had made their way to the bank.
It worked; they reached Cherry Hinton before the squad cars. The getaway driver, seeing the police motorcycle, bravely drove off, abandoning his colleagues to their fate. Arnold sent the motorcycle driver after the getaway car and looked around for something to use as a weapon.
There is never any shortage of bicycles in Cambridge. Arnold found one leaning against the wall of the bank although chained, the padlocked chain immobilised the back wheel against the frame, without securing it to the building. He had stood close to the doorway, gripping the bicycle by the back wheel. As the first man came through the door, holding a shotgun, Arnold swung the bike, knocking the shotgun barrel into the man’s face causing him to pull the trigger. The gun discharged into the air, the second man tripped over the first and both fell into a heap at the bottom of the stone steps. Arnold threw the bike down on top of them, picked up the shotgun and covered the two men with it.
“You two you are nicked. Do not move.”
At that moment two squad cars skidded to a halt outside the bank, sirens blaring and blue lights flashing. A number of visibly shaken bank staff and customers appeared at the Bank’s door. Assured that there were no other robbers on the premises, Arnold asked them to remain inside. Adrenaline had kept the cold at bay on the back of the motorcycle and during the action but, as the robbers were led away, Arnold became aware of the chill of the day.
It was dark and frosty again when he returned to Parkside. He’d decided to call it a day and remembered his new dressing gown, eventually tracking it down in lost property. He slithered home on the icy paths. Once there, he had folded up the old dressing gown and placed it in the bottom of his wardrobe, without giving any further thought to the small plastic box.
He wondered if it was still there.
It was amazing how much clutter you collect, he mused as he removed books, DVDs and a couple of new unopened shirts before finding his old dressing gown. The small plastic box was in the left-hand pocket. Arnold held up the dressing gown. Definitely past its best he thought, viewing the threadbare collar and frayed cuffs, but he refolded it and returned it to the wardrobe. He still could not bear to part with it.
After replacing the other items in the wardrobe, he turned his attention to the plastic box and its contents.
He turned the SD card over in his fingers. It had a maker’s name and 64 GB on it. There was no other marking on card or box. It could be a new card, he thought.
His tea was now cold. He made a fresh cup and sat down to drink it whilst thinking. Abruptly he rose again, carrying his tea to the bathroom.
Eight o’clock saw him at his desk, Marvin open in front of him open and switched on; a cup of coffee to one side. The screen lit up with a message.
“Good morning Inspector Lane, you have an SD card you want me to look at; place it in the slot.”
Arnold did as instructed and waited.
“Not something I can make sense of I am afraid; the code is unknown to me.”
As text filled the screen, Arnold thought back to his meeting with Sylvia Miller the previous day, and her description of the time machine.
Marvin typed, “Could be, we really need those passwords.”
Arnold thought some more. Might it have some connection with the time machine?
The words appeared on the screen.
“I don’t know; I only store and process data. I receive some of that data by way of thoughts; otherwise it comes to me electronically through computer networks and the internet. If I don’t have access to that information, I can’t process it. There is information on the card which can only be accessed with the right passwords; until we have them, I can’t unlock it.”
Trying a different tack, Arnold thought about the disappearance of William Miller. He ran the information through his mind, hoping that Marvin could offer some insight.
Marvin responded. “It could involve a time machine, yes. I understand your thinking, but we need more information. Here is Sergeant Drew with your coffee, Good morning Sergeant Drew.”
Roger put the coffee on the corner of Arnold’s desk next to the earlier mug, now empty. He glanced at the screen and stood sipping his tea.
Arnold looked up at him.
“Thanks, Roger. Do you remember the armed bank robbery in Cherry Hinton earlier this year?”
“The one with the weaponised bicycle?”
“That’s the one. Earlier that day I arrested two lads who were beating the living daylights out of another in Kings Street. Could you find out who the victim was? How he was connected to the two who were beating him up?”
Roger picked up his tea and walked to his desk. Arnold turned back to his notebook looking for another line of enquiry. Drawing a blank on that front, he checked through messages on post-it notes stuck to his office computer screen, none particularly urgent.
Just as Arnold reached reluctantly for the expenses sheets that had magically multiplied since he last looked, Roger returned.
“My word, Roger, that was quick.”
“The two yobbos are known to us with plenty of previous; the victim though may be of interest.”
“One Justin Black, employed at Plantagenet Software.”
“Is there any connection to these two villains? It was early in the day for those types to be about.”
“They were on the way home from a night out apparently, both the worse for drink. Just an opportune mugging, it seems – something they both have form for.”
“Was Mr Black okay?”
“He seems to be; we heard nothing more from him. The two you sorted out pleaded guilty at the magistrate’s court and got three months apiece.”
“Do we have an address for Mr Black?”
“There is nothing with his details.”
“What about a phone number? I know he had a mobile.”
“No, nothing listed.”
“I will have someone’s guts for garters. Okay, I will phone Plantagenet and have a chat with Mr Black to see if he lost anything at the time.”
Roger returned to his desk Arnold picked up his phone and punched in the now familiar numbers for Plantagenet Software. Once connected he asked the receptionist if he could speak to Justin Black.
Justin Black had left earlier that year, about a month after he was attacked.