Dear reader, I’m away on the beach for the next two weeks – sea, sun, and ice-creams! Rest assured writing will be taking place, but the internet may be in short supply.
I hope – and plan – to keep to my schedule of a new chapter every Friday, but please be patient if I miss a week or two – Foxy and Tim shall return!
Until then – enjoy!
Chapter 39 – Off Limits
Tim sat against the parapet wall and watched his chickens. One sat down, fluffed its feathers and began a dust bath. The second stood and watched, black eyes bright. The third continued raking through the litter with one foot, head tilted as it studied the disturbed ground with one eye.
Slowly he became convinced the birds’ behaviour in his presence contained an element of self-consciousness.
Could I do it? he wondered. Could I actually take one out, get a knife and–
The images of blood, flying feathers and frantic struggling were very vivid. There were also the insides to consider.
No matter how soft and feathery chickens were on the outside, they had slippery, and no doubt smelly insides. Tim considered the practical realities of divining with entrails. If he was going to use the chickens for the reason he’d bought them, he would of necessity become familiar with those insides while they were still warm and steaming.
He would have to rummage.
Tim looked into nowhere, lost in an avian Heart of Darkness. Blithely, the birds continued to bathe, peck or simply stare. In the back of his mind he grew aware of light footsteps clanging on metal steps.
A shadow moved across the sun.
‘What are their names?’ Foxy said.
‘Foxy?’ Tim jumped to his feet. ‘Where did you come from?’
‘Up the fire escape.’
Tim regarded her habitual tight knee-length skirt and narrow heels and tried to imagine her climbing the perforated metal steps. ‘But– how?’
Foxy beamed. ‘Impressed, huh? I rang the bell and when you didn’t come I counted the front doors, walked round the back and counted the ladders. Simple detective work. Even a man could do it.’
Foxy registered Tim’s hurt look. ‘I meant a man back from where I come from. Not you, obviously, because you are an actual real detective. One of those useless short-armed, oily–’ She unclenched her fists. ‘Anyway, you live here so you don’t need to calculate which is your back door. Also, a detective, which you are, would instinctively know – I’m babbling aren’t I? Hi there. Good morning.’
Tim wondered how he would manage on the fire-escape in high-heeled sandals, his knees constrained by a narrow, knee-hugging skirt. The image froze, panned back and rotated through 180 degrees. He forced it from his mind and looked again at Foxy, her carefree smile, freckled nose and startling green eyes. Today her golden hair was again in a long plait, draped over one shoulder of a cream cable-knit sweater that made him think of salt wind, seaweed, outboard engines and choppy water breaking over half-submerged rocks.
Foxy noticed him staring at her sweater. ‘Do you like it? I love this wool stuff, it’s so soft. It comes from sheep, did you know that? They’ve got four legs and eat grass.’
The sweater clung in a distracting way, enhancing the gentle roundness of her tummy. It was actually quite sexy.
‘It’s good to see you, Foxy,’ Tim said.
Tongue-tied, Tim felt his face freeze into a half-smile. Say something, he thought, but repartee had deserted him in his hour of need.
Foxy pointed to the bowl at Tim’s feet. ‘What’s that?’
‘Aren’t you meant to put milk in it?’
‘It’s for the chickens.’
‘What are they called?’ Foxy said.
‘I don’t know. Nothing. I haven’t given them names.’
‘What about their own names?’
Tim laughed. ‘They haven’t told me.’
Foxy crouched down and regarded the three birds. The one bathing paused, tipped its head on one side, wriggled and fanned its wings in the dirt.
‘This one’s called Dusty,’ Foxy said.
‘It’s having a dust bath.’
‘Of course, they want us to know their names so they’re giving us clues. What about the one with white feathers on its breast?’
‘Patch?’ Tim hazarded.
‘Correct! And the last one?’
The third bird had retreated to the far corner of the coop where it watched them, head jerking to its own internal rhythms.
‘I think it’s shy,’ Tim said.
‘Then that’s its name, Shy. There, that was easy, now you know their names you can start to build a relationship.’
Tim looked at the birds. All three watched him with one bright black eye. Shy took a step forwards, then another. ‘Let’s go downstairs,’ Tim said.
‘I had this crazy idea,’ he said when they reached his office. ‘I heard a joke and it made me think. Foxy, have you heard about voodoo acupuncture?’
‘You don’t have to go.’
Foxy looked at him.
‘That’s the joke,’ Tim said.
‘The joke’s not important. It was a difficult time, I’d just left the police. I was unhappy and wondering what to do with myself. It was the idea in the joke that was important, that I could do things in a new way.’
He took a deep breath. ‘I always wanted to be a policeman, Foxy. It just turned out I wasn’t a very good one. Jarglebaum was right, our clean-up rate was the worst in the service, the worst on record. I wanted to solve crimes and help people but I wanted to do it my way. I wanted to use intuition, connectedness, and the things the police service call “alternative methods”.
‘All the evidence is out there, everything you need to solve a crime is just lying around waiting to be discovered. What if you could just go straight there? What if you tried something new, like voodoo, like divining, and use it to catch wicked people doing naughty things?’
‘Is that why they sacked you?’
That hurt. Tim winced as he recalled his final assessment, the suggestion that he should reconsider his future. Consider it very carefully and then leave, preferably today. He could even take all his holiday. They were very polite, sympathetic even. Budgets were being cut, redundancies were coming and retention of the staff was very important. The right staff. So please would he take the redundancy, fuck off and leave policing to the professionals. Thank you for listening.
He hung his head. ‘They were right. In the end I didn’t want to be a police detective enough to give up my ideas and do things their way. I’d end up like Troy Jarglebaum. That joke was just a joke but it gave me a direction, it opened my eyes. The chickens were part of it.’
Tim told her.
‘Warm blood,’ Foxy murmured dreamily. She blinked and looked at Tim. ‘So, you really do believe in magic?’
‘I believe there’s more than just what’s in front of our eyes. That pen stuck in the map and led us to the car but it didn’t happen the way I thought it would. Somehow Jarglebaum messed it up and made it work at the same time.’
‘I can’t believe that’s all it was.’
‘Perhaps the situation needed a catalyst.’
‘Last night something else happened too.’
Foxy leaned closer. ‘What?’
Explanation would take forever, Tim kept it brief. ‘I dreamed I took him home.’
‘Have you seen him since?’
‘No. Foxy, it could have just been a dream, but it felt–’
Foxy took it all in her stride. ‘You know, I don’t think those chickens can help you. You should let them go.’
‘I don’t think they’d do very well on their own.’
‘They’re birds, they can fly.’
‘I don’t know much about chickens but I do know flying is not one of their strong points.’
‘You should give them the option. Anything with real power would want a lot more than half a pint of bird blood.’
A good point.
‘I don’t think I could do it anyway.’
‘And I don’t think it would work. That sort of ritual needs an anchor to the world, a myth-bond, a weave of belonging in time and place.’
The drone of a hoover came up through the floor. Dust drifted in the window light. Nothing had changed, yet something was different. A stillness came into the air as if something had entered the room and listened.
‘You sound like you know.’
Foxy hesitated. ‘Just things my mother used to say.’ She opened her bag and extracted some papers. ‘Anyway, I brought you these.’
They were the sheets from the box in the boot of the car, glossy promotional flyers with a picture of rolling farmland, fields full of a tall, white flowered crop under a clear blue sky.
‘Growth, yield, profit,’ Tim read. ‘A new variety of long-flowering Canola (oil-seed rape). Increased yield with reduced fertiliser, an engineered cross with leguminous species.’
He dropped the sheet on his desk. ‘A sales brochure for some new crop variety. If I was an arable farmer I might care. I might even like that it’s got white petals instead of yellow, but what’s this got to do with anything?’
‘What’s the name of the company?’
Tim read the banner. ‘Kylma Kala. I’ll see what I can find out.’
‘I’ll make some more tea.’
Foxy returned to find Tim in front of his computer. He tilted the screen towards Foxy. ‘Kylma Kala: a privately-owned engineering, bio-tech and exploration company with registered offices in Finland. UK headquarters are 10–18 Kemp Street, Brighton. They’re into everything: ship building, deep-sea mineral extraction, agriculture, crop breeding, environmental systems, it goes on.’
‘Wow. Good work, Tim.’
‘That’s not all. Kemp Street backs on to Trafalgar Lane. The Chrysler was in the Kylma Kala car park.’
‘Wow even more.’
‘I’m not finished. In fact, I’m not sure I’m even started.’ Tim pulled the handkerchief Imelda had given him from his pocket and spread it on the table. ‘The people who hired me to find the car gave me this.’ Tim tapped the embroidered MK monogram with his finger. ‘Guess who the owner of Kylma Kala is? A man with a personal fortune of over four billion pounds. Markus Koponen.’
Foxy seemed lost for words.
‘Wow?’ Tim suggested.
‘Why would someone hire me to find a car that was in his own car park?’
‘How do you know it was him?’
Tim flourished the handkerchief. ‘This.’
‘They could have stolen it.’
‘I have the feeling they knew exactly where it was.’ A wave of gratitude washed through Tim. ‘Thanks for helping me, Foxy. I couldn’t have done any of this without you.’
Foxy’s self-possession faltered for a moment.
Tim screwed up his nerve. ‘Let me have your phone number.’
‘Yes, of course.’ Foxy wrote on his desk pad.
With the blinds down the room was cool and shadowy. So close to Foxy Tim could smell her crisp, clean ozone perfume. Despite her city shoes and smart tailored clothes, she was an outdoors girl. And something else too, glimpsed for the first time just a few minutes ago, a cooler, more considered personality under the surface. A clue to her past.
Foxy straightened up, her hip bumped his and there they were, face to face. It seemed natural for Tim’s arm to go around her waist. After all, she’d just done the same with him.
‘What about the sack in the boot?’ Foxy said softly.
‘Maybe–’ Tim cleared his throat. ‘Ah, maybe it’s fertilizer.’
Foxy moved a little closer. ‘How will you find out?’
‘I can ask around.’
A faint scratching came from the top of the stairs leading to the roof. Tim decided to ignore it.
Foxy shifted her leg. ‘Are you comfortable?’
They shuffled a bit, came together, hip against hip. Up on the stairs the scratching escalated to scrabbling.
‘That’s better.’ Foxy’s hand lay his shoulder, lighter than a gull on a wave.
There were gold flecks in the green of Foxy’s eyes. Tim saw her lashes were so pale they were white. He breathed in. Foxy did too. Tim felt her chest push against his. Tim pulled Foxy close. Foxy’s lips parted, she closed her eyes. Her rounded belly pressed against his stomach. It was bigger than a few days ago, he was certain. He stepped back from their embrace.
‘Foxy. Are you–? I mean, do you have a–’ Tim didn’t know how to ask such a delicate, such a personal question. ‘What I mean is, are you–?’
Wings clattering, trailing a plume of dust like a bomber with a wing on fire, Dusty the chicken burst into the room. She swerved around the ceiling light and ricocheted off the wall in a cloud of feathers. In desperation she attempted an emergency landing on the desk. Paper flew in all directions as she flew of the end and into the blinds.
Several minutes later Dusty was safely back inside the cage no worse for wear.
Tim snapped the lock on the chicken run closed and rubbed the scratches on his hands.
‘Well, you’re safe,’ he told the chickens. ‘I don’t know what I’m going to do with you, but it’s not going to be anything bad.’
Foxy was right, his half-baked ideas about voodoo acupuncture were just that. If he was serious about being some kind of new-age detective solving crimes the way he wanted to, then he needed to be serious about what he believed in and what he wanted to achieve.
Foxy left, promising to call. Tim heard her clatter down the stairs to the front door as he took Dusty back to the roof. The doorbell rang a series of short bursts – Foxy saying goodbye.
The rings made Tim smile but it was bitter-sweet. Foxy was the most adjectival woman he had ever met: beautiful, intriguing, funny, wise, intelligent, and mysterious, but she was also off limits. She’d have to stay that way until he knew more. Foxy wasn’t putting on weight, she was pregnant, and that changed everything.
To be continued…