They parted on the corner.
Police Constable Watkins ambled down Cedar Close.
PC Collins took Oakview Road. Knowing that it wasn’t on anyone’s beat made it an unexplored island, full of possibilities. In the fading sunshine, he proceeded with a cowboy swagger.
At number two, where there was no evidence of gardening activity, a white van stood in the drive. A scruffy man in his thirties opened the door.
“Good evening sir, I’m Constable Collins. We’re making a few enquiries about the recent spate of robberies.”
“Oh yeah, saw that in the local paper. Fence panels, gas cylinders—not exactly the big leagues.”
“Well, you say that, but someone’s stolen steel barriers for the carnival from the High Street. The Mayor’s furious.”
“I’m not surprised. Hope that doesn’t mean another five quid on our council tax?”
“That’s a matter for the Council, sir, I can’t comment. But we’re asking people if they’ve noticed any strange activity.”
“No, can’t say I have. I left the city to get away from all that.”
“So, nothing to report?”
“There is this one chap, a customer of mine.”
“Oh yes?” asked Collins, flipping open his notepad.
“I don’t know if I should say…it’s probably nothing.”
“Anything you can tell us could be very helpful.”
“Okay, he lives nearby—thin guy with a beard. I installed his new gas cooker. He had a spare stability chain, so I asked him if he wanted me to take it away. He said no, it would come in handy for Halloween. At the time I laughed, but now I come to think of it, the way he said it, I’m not sure he was joking.”
“I see, that is odd.”
“Yes, and his kitchen was the dirtiest I’ve ever seen. He must have cleared stuff out in a hurry. The floor was as black as a witch’s wardrobe.”
“Do you remember his name?” Collins asked, his eyes wide.
“Wait up.” The man retreated to his hallway and returned with a handful of worksheets. “Mr. Cruickshank. Five, Makepeace Road. The tall fence at the end of our road marks the bottom of his garden.”
“I see, thank you sir, you’ve been very helpful.”
Collins rang the bell at number four, but no one answered.
Number six boasted an immaculate garden, adorned with a wishing well ringed by daffodils. A miniature Venus de Milo guarded the front door. An elderly, well-dressed couple answered.
“Good evening, I’m Constable Collins. We’re making a few enquiries about the recent spate of robberies.”
“Oh, that’s good, we fret over unsolved crimes, don’t we dear?” said the wife to her husband, who nodded.
“Have either of you seen anything suspicious in the past few weeks?”
“Not around town, have we dear?” asked the wife. Her husband grunted.
“Ever heard of trouble in Makepeace Road?”
“No, it’s quiet, except at Halloween.”
“And why’s that?”
“Mr. Cruickshank puts on a costume and hands out sweets to the kids. There’s always a stream of trick-or-treaters. He keeps to himself the rest of the year, but the kids love his house, and since they’re accompanied by adults, it’s quite safe. Anyway, forget him, you want to investigate the old abandoned farm, isn’t that right, Bob?” Her husband nodded.
“Why’s that, madam?”
“Don’t you know? A group of travellers arrived there on Monday. Maybe they haven’t appeared in town yet, but they will, come the weekend.”
“You do right to inform me, madam.”
“We drove past the site again yesterday. They’ve created a huge mound of rubbish. Disgusting. I don’t know how they do it so quickly.”
“Thank you, madam, I’ll look into that, but now I must be going.”
The woman shouted after him. “It’s a health risk! The smell! The rats!”
Collins paused at the end of Oakview Road. Should he phone the station? No, better to do it from the site, and be first on the scene when everything kicked off. Travellers sent the media into meltdown. With luck, a local TV crew would arrive. Not prepared to wait for Watkins, he took a shortcut across a nearby graveyard, breaking into a jog.
A few minutes later, Constable Watkins arrived after a fruitless foray in the Close. Preoccupied about a crucial darts match at The Rose and Crown that evening, he headed for the end of the road to check if his colleague had moved on to the next street. Collins was so damn keen it made him spit.
Rushing made Watkins breathe heavily. He paused by the fence, finishing a half-eaten ham sandwich. A rhythmic thud was coming from the other side, which he judged to be unusual for the area and time of day. The fence had several knot holes, the lower ones stuffed with sweet wrappers and crisp packets.
He cleared the larger holes. Standing against the fences on either side of the garden were long wooden planks. Mounds of soil dotted the ground. Near the house, the sun glinted off metal items lying too flat to identify.
He realised his fingertips were detecting a vibration in the fence. He shook his hand and tried again, but the sensation was unmistakable.
The sound of a van parking, followed by heavy footsteps, made him turn around.
The driver appeared.
“Evening sir, funny time for deliveries,” remarked Watkins.
“It’s my last call, officer.” The driver opened the back of his van. As he jumped in and moved inside, he staggered and fell.
The road under the rear of the van had subsided. As the back wheels slipped, the driver clung to a roll of carpet tethered to the floor. The van was at a forty-five-degree angle. The driver stared out in bewilderment.
A little stunned himself, Watkins edged forward.
Two more deep cracks opened across the road, disappearing under the opposite curb. With a rumble, there was a further collapse. Dust from below spread into a thin, low cloud. The van was now half submerged, level with the driver’s door.
Watkins peered into the chasm. His thoughts swirled with the implications for crime, safety, and traffic control, as the chance of an evening of darts and real ale receded. He took a deep breath.
A groan from the driver prompted him to run to the nearest tree and break off a branch. He offered it to the driver, who grabbed it and scrambled onto the pavement.
Watkins briefed the desk sergeant at the Station by radio. Free to set off for Makepeace Road, he first scanned through the messages on his own phone.
A deep hum emanating from the Cruickshank house filled the air. The screen on his phone went blank. The police radio attached to his shoulder crackled with static.
Watkins stopped in his tracks. As the hum subsided, an idea surfaced in his mind. He’d seen this phenomenon before. Maybe in an action movie. If he was right, he could dine out on this for months…