M L Duffy's News, Blogs, Articles and Short Stories

The Cotton Lee Dairies Mystery

6th January 2020
(Short Story)

An aura of mystery surrounded my friend, Ashton Sherlock Holmes. With that name, instead of plain John Ellis, I’d have been barking up my family tree like a West Highland terrier pursuing a squirrel. As far as he was concerned, however, it was a taboo subject.

I ran with him as he chased suspects and criminals, the enigma of his middle name trailing after him like a string of tin cans tied to a dog’s tail.

“Missing teenager?” I suggested after scanning the newspapers on the pine table in the communal kitchen of his shared house in London’s Half Moon Court alley.

“With her secret boyfriend,” Holmes replied, pouring tinned milk in the coffee mugs. “I put the police right on that one.”

“Ok,” I replied over the rap on the front door and the trombone noise of it opening. An arson attack on Holmes’ flat had killed the doorbell and denuded the house of occupants bar him. The building, reeking like a smoked kipper factory, with top notes of boiled cabbage, after the fire brigade had poured about a million gallons of water through it, was scheduled for total refurbishment. The arsonist was scheduled for trial.

“Come in, Inspector Highstreet,” said Holmes.

Detective Inspector Amily Highstreet peered in, her black hair swirled into a bun at the back of her head. “Busy? I’ve got a special one for you. Hello, John. Happy New Year.”

“Morning, Amily. Happy Hogmanay.” I smiled as she checked the nearest dining chair for greasy soot and, finding it clean, parked herself on it.

“Now we’ve established it’s before noon.” Holmes smirked. “Coffee?”

“I’ll pass, thanks,” Highstreet replied. “You going to carry on living here?”

“Why not?”

Highstreet blinked my way before refocusing on Holmes. “Well. Anyway, Charles Goodyear, the uncle of Fairy Light, better known as Fay Light, is missing. Nobody’s seen him since he was at work on Christmas Eve. He hasn’t answered his phone either.”

Holmes brought the coffee. “CCTV?”

“He got in his car and hasn’t been seen since. The vehicle’s still missing.”

“Where does he work?”

“Cotton Lee Dairies, Widdly Sheep Lane, Grantabridge.”

“Right up your street,” Holmes said to me. “And mine.”

I rented a rabbit-hutch size house in one of the Fenland county’s expanding villages. Barely known as a private detective in our mundane world, Holmes’ star was ascending in the Fae world for fast results and discretion. Although you could never tell when magic-wielding beings were involved, this case didn’t sound like a dangerous proposition.

“Thanks. I’ll call the branch manager, Fairy Nuff, and tell her to expect you.”

About two hours later our train pulled into the busy little station at Carlston. A diminutive grizzled fellow waited at the Fae exit carrying a placard bearing our names. As usual non-Fae passengers streamed through the mundane exit unable to see the Fae exit. He stumped over the sparkly concrete vehicle park to a black horse-drawn carriage and hopped up on the driving seat. Holmes dipped his mop of unruly dark hair, folded his six-feet and an inch frame and jumped in. The dark blue interior smelled of leather polish and dangly pine tree air-freshener.

“I heard a rumour,” Holmes confided, as we trundled through the flat Fenland countryside, “Cotton Lee Dairies is the sister company to the Fairydecs4U decorations manufacturer. Look to the right, you’ll see it in a few minutes.”

Hard to miss. The site glittered with a huge display of lights, red-nosed reindeer and carrot-nosed snowmen. I craned my neck at the workers erecting glowing Valentine’s Day Hearts until the carriage took a sharp left through tall wrought iron gates.

Cotton Lee Dairies resembled a grim brewery from a Dickens story with a dozen brick-built buildings around a clean austere yard.

We headed inside. The interior bore all the hallmarks of modern office space: bland, functional, warm.

“You must be the private detective and his partner,” said a friendly female voice belonging to a dainty blonde sweeping out from an open office door. “I’m Fairy Nuff, Isobel Nuff, branch manager.” She extended a tiny, pale hand.

“Colleague,” I said, shaking her hand, careful to hold it lightly. And winced. She had a grip like a bulldog’s jaws around stolen sausages. Holmes smiled through his clenched  teeth as she pumped his hand.

“This way, gentlemen.” She ushered us into her office. “Fairy Light is on a photo shoot; she’ll be with us shortly.” Holmes and I took brown fabric office chairs around a fluted mirror-surface coffee table. “Milkshake, tea, something else?”

We declined the offer.

“I have the CCTV footage ready for you. If there’s anything else you need please ask.” She fluttered her hand over the coffee table. It shimmered to life showing Holmes bare-chested, in his striped pyjama bottoms performing a handstand against the wall of my living room. The image lacked sound, but it was evident that my landlady was ticking him off by the sour look on her face and her busy jaws.

“What’s that?” I asked, turning to Holmes.

“Ah. John, I didn’t want to mention that little contretemps to you. Your landlady lets herself into your house unannounced. She thinks you’re into BDSM and predicament bondage.”

“What? You were doing Yoga. Oh, that explains why she had a go at me about you being there.”

“And why I returned to my flat. It’s none of her business why there were handcuffs on the table.”

Fairy Nuff coughed. “Head Office instructed me to vet you before inviting you in to investigate Mr Goodyear’s disappearance. I assure you I’m on your side. I didn’t mention this to Head Office.”

“There’s nothing to mention,” I replied, stung at the use of a scrying glass to invade my privacy.

A tap on the door distracted from continuing the conversation. I recognised the lady in a sleek red and black lace dress as Fay Light from the advertisements for Cotton Lee Dairies cheese, her likeness synonymous with their slightly cheesy slogan ‘So light you can enjoy it.’ Her voluptuous ruby lips curled into a shy smile as she stepped in, closing the door quietly and introduced herself.

Her modesty took me by surprise.

Fairy Nuff’s hand passed over the table, the image of a stand-up crabby- landlady-versus-Holmes domestic dispute vanished. A still picture of a burly besuited gentleman crossing a car park appeared.

“This is Mr Charles Goodyear leaving here on Christmas Eve at one-o-clock,” explained Fairy Nuff, clicking her fingers. The CCTV footage played.

Goodyear walked unhurriedly, swinging an umbrella like a walking stick, to a dark blue BMW. He produced his key fob, pointing it ahead. The lights flashed. He got in, paused and drove sedately out of shot.

 “Nothing to write home about there,” Holmes murmured. “Is the man with you a bodyguard, Miss Light?” He tilted his head to the man standing outside the half-glazed door.

“My driver. I had a car accident last year in the snow on my way here to do a photo-shoot for the Mini-cheese snacks campaign. I’m nervous about ending up in a ditch again. I had a black eye. Make-up covered it, fortunately.”

“We have a lot of ditches,” I said.

The entire Fenland depended on them for drainage.

“We do.”

Holmes launched into a barrage of questions ending with what Goodyear did in the Dairies and asked to speak to his colleagues. Fairy Nuff phoned ahead to announce our imminent arrival. Holmes asked Miss Light to accompany us. Her driver trotted along behind us as Fairy Nuff escorted us to the marketing department and left us there after introducing us to the visiting Head Office manager, Fairy Callia Bellweather.

Bellweather, a smartly-suited woman, with a nose that gave her a substantial platform for her black spectacles, began introducing us to the chestnut-haired, round-faced girl at the only occupied desk “This is Fairy…” Bellweather started, and then paused, her long nose wrinkling, her eyes drawn to a sandwich box on the cluttered desk.

“Ellie,” said the desk’s occupant. “Ellie Blossom. I’m Mr Goodyear’s secretary.” Her eyes moved from the sandwiches to a very tall young woman in a floral print dress pattering up the aisle between five unattended desks. The clerk juggled a teetering armful of manila files.

“Who brought this in?” Bellweather asked, pointing at the sandwiches while glowering at the minions.

“I... I did,” stammered the file carrier, quickening her steps.

“Fairy Snow, it is contrary to company policy to bring food or drink into the offices. There is a staff restaurant provided for breaks.”

“Sorry,” said Snow, halting too smartly for her burden of slithering files. She promptly lost the lot on the carpet tiles. I bent and began gathering up the mess with her. Ellie knelt on the floor and collected loose sheets.

Holmes took the Head Office manager and Fay Light into Goodyear’s office.

Ellie threw a baleful glance at her superior as the office door closed. “Don’t worry, Mary. The miserable old cow won’t be here long. Isn’t that right, Mr Ellis? You and Mr Holmes will find Mr Goodyear, won’t you?”

“John, please,” I said. “Has anything been worrying Mr Goodyear recently? Has he been his usual self?”

“He’s been his normal cheerful self. He’s great to work for, unlike her. Sorry, Mary I should’ve put the sandwiches in the drawer. I forgot.”

“That’s all right.” Mary replied, crawling under the desk for a precocious green folder.

“Was he under stress? You seem short-handed,” I said.

“People are on holiday.”

“Has she tried the canteen?” Mary said, reversing out from under the desk. “I mean I love cheese but not every day.”

“I can’t get enough of Mary’s cooking,” Ellie giggled. “The bacon and chicken wraps are deelish-eous. Mr Goodyear’s favourite.”

Mary blushed fetchingly. She took half the files to a cabinet and began filing them away.

“The old cow’s been on Mary’s back for being too slow, and for running,” Ellie stage-whispered.

Bellweather emerged from the office, scowled at Mary and stalked off, I presumed, to find something else contrary to company policy. Fay Light came out and picked up her driver, heading for the door we’d entered by.

“Tokens for the staff restaurant,” Holmes said gazing after Fay and the muscular driver. “And ID.” He held out a Visitor Pass on a blue lanyon.

“The Nuggets are nice, if you like cheese,” Ellie suggested with a wink.

“How do we get to Goods Outward?” Holmes asked.

“Mary, love, have you a copy of the site map?”

“Yes. Just a moment. I filed them.” Mary opened the filing cabinet drawer, fished out a photocopied map and darted on her flat-soled shoes to Ellie’s desk.

“Goods Outward’s there,” Mary said pointing a neatly painted fingernail at the spot.

Goods Outward Bay offered a wide view of the works exit road.

We left the girls to work without interruption.

“Making friends?” Holmes nudged my elbow as we traversed the main corridor decorated with framed photographs of staff being handed ‘Employee of the Month certificates.

“Quizzing Ellie and Mary. Goodyear was acting normally. He’s popular. Unlike Bellweather.”

I told him why.

He grinned. “I wonder if they employ her to sour the milk.”

“That wouldn’t surprise me. Mary’s a bag of nerves with her around.”

“New employee, trying too hard to fit in. What did you think of the CCTV film?”

“He looked relaxed. In no hurry.”

“The missing car?”

“An ordinary car doesn’t just vanish. You can’t drive down a mundane road in a car cloaked by magic. It’s too risky. Too much traffic, especially on Christmas Eve with people leaving work at lunchtime. There’d be a crash. If he’d been abducted from it it’d have been abandoned and burnt out. The police would have found it.”

“There are other places to hide a car en-route. I need to see more. Something is going on here, but I haven’t put my finger on it yet.”

At Goods Outward, beyond slatted plastic flaps, the chilly wind blew in through large open double doors. Neither the fork-lift drivers, who wouldn’t have been out of place in the company of Snow White, the pallet-loaders with strangely long arms or the hirsute stock controller, Tobias Gerning, had anything new to add about Mr Goodyear. I recognised one of the fork-lift operators we hadn’t interviewed as our carriage driver clomping our way.

“You wanna talk to Flyer,” he informed us, tapping his bulbous nose. “He knows stuff.”

“Mr Holmes!” Mary shouted skidding around a fork-lift, earning Tobias Gerning’s wrath for running in front of the truck.

“Away and boil your heid,” Mary snapped, her voice low in pitch. “John, Mr Holmes. It’s Fairy Bellweather. She’s…. It’s serious.” She dived for the plastic screen.

“What’s happened?” I asked, following her.

Holmes hesitated a moment then dashed after us. Mary ploughed through the building.

We thudded into the staff canteen.

Callie Bellweather was beyond complaining about anyone’s shortcomings.

She was dead. Her spectacles askew on her unfortunate nose, she was laid on her side close to an overturned chair. Blue smoke issued from her lips like writhing octopus tentacles, thick as they emerged, evaporating as they mingled with the air.

“Bloody hell!” I exclaimed, staring at the already grey corpse. Since my one medical qualification was First Aid for humans, I’d been swatting up on the known methods of killing magical beings in preparation for such a case. The greying, waxy appearance of the skin apparently appeared rapidly, but it took me by surprise to see it, as it were, in the flesh. “What happened?”

A small, stout woman in an apron sobbed into a paper napkin. “I starts to make her a milkshake and I turned away for two minutes pouring the milk. She was staggering and clutching her throat, choking.” She blew her nose. “She keeled over.”

“Oh, no,” said Fairy Nuff, hovering at the doorway, clutching the frame.

“Did you see anyone else or hear anything? I asked.

All heads turned to each other. We had obvious suspects and Mary understood that. She crossed her arms over her chest. “I didn’t do it. I didn’t like her but I wouldn’t harm her and Ellie wouldn’t.”

Holmes approached the body with caution. “Fairy Nuff, does your scrying glass record images in here automatically?”

“Of course not. We don’t need to. Everyone is vetted and interviewed before being employed here. I check references myself. This is terrible.” Fairy Nuff weaved to a seat and collapsed into it.

“Fairy Nuff, you had most to gain,” Holmes pointed out. “You were set to move to Head Office as Fairy Bellweather’s assistant at the end of the month. You went there weekly. You would be her natural successor with her removed.”

“I was in Reception. You can ask Billy; he was with me going over the photographs for the new advertisements.”

“I shall. Fairy Snow?”

“I came to use the toilet and… I saw Fairy Bellweather eating something on her way in here. She’s a hypocrite. Was. I heard a noise, it must have been the chair going over and Gladys, Fairy Ring, screamed. That’s when I came in and saw her on the floor.”

Fairy Ring, the aproned lady, wailed afresh. I pulled out a chair for her. She thumped into the seat.

“Ash, it looks like poison,” I suggested.

Holmes’ eyes flitted around the floor. He produced gossamer-fine surgical gloves from his coat pocket. “John.”

I understood his intention, helped him roll Bellweather on her back. He gave her a thorough visual examination, sniffed the air then patted her trouser suit pockets with the lightest touch of his long fingers. The slight bulge in one pocket proved to be nothing but car keys on a miniature cheese fob. I took an evidence bag from my friend’s coat pocket and held it open. He dropped the bunch in. I sealed the bag, found my pen, wrote the details on the opaque section.

“The other pocket, she was left-handed,” Mary suggested before slapping her hand over her mouth.

Ellie barged in. “Mary, how long do need to pee for? I’m suffocating under the weight of the… files. Is she dead?”

Mary nodded. “I found her. It must have been very quick.”

Holmes felt the left-hand pocket gingerly, slipped his hand inside and gave me a glance. He’d found something. A small packet of breath mints in a paper bag emerged in his fingers. I bagged and tagged them.

“There’s something else,” he said. “Smell her breath.”

I took his place at Bellweather’s head. The lingering wisp of smoke or vapour whiffed like it had emanated from the bowels of hell.

“No mint. It wasn’t the breath-fresheners.”

“Precisely.”

I readied another bag in the hushed, oppressive atmosphere, conscious of eyes upon us. He pulled out a small paper twist. A half-eaten chocolate lump fell out as he removed the paper cone. Holmes extended his legs and laid flat, face down, on the polished floor. He flipped the offending article over. “Poisoned choccy Santa Clauses.”

The fairies gasped.

Fairy Nuff rose and walked over on shaky legs. “Those are chocolate Santas from our sister company, Fairydecs4U, across the road. They give the misshapes and damaged rejects away to staff.”

“How do you know that?” asked Fairy Ring. “None of us are allowed to go over there.” She pointed at Bellweather’s body. “Why should there be a set of rules for us and not her? Why can she go over there, not us?”

“It’s time the truth came out,” said Holmes, his angular features stern. “A fairy is missing. Now this fairy, no matter how much you disliked her, is dead. Who wants to start?”

None of the glum onlookers volunteered to go first.

“What was the point in asking me to investigate if you lacked confidence in my abilities? The game is up. I suggest you all sit down.”

Nuff, drained of colour, plonked into the nearest chair and motioned the staff to comply.

Holmes waited for the screech of chair legs to cease. “The poisoned chocolate Santa speaks volumes, and the scrying table added its own narrative. Firstly, John and I were vetted in advance of Mr Goodyear’s disappearance. Fairy Nuff, you knew the company would be investigated. Perhaps you hoped that bringing me in, a human outsider, I wouldn’t ask the right questions, that John and I would feel intimidated in the world of the Fair Folk, clueless, out of our depth. In fact, you went out of your way to show us an image that was divisive.”

Holmes glanced my way as I thought back to the row between Holmes and my landlady. How I’d felt about Holmes not mentioning it to me and his discomfort on it being revealed to me second-hand. I nodded.

He continued. “Our driver knew who we were when he picked us up at the station. We could have taken a mundane taxi but a Fae driver was sent to impress us.”

“Giving the impression,” I said, “that you were fully invested in co-operating. A grumpy fellow though. Didn’t say a word to us. He came to us in the Goods Outward Bay after a change of heart or prick of conscience and told us to speak to Flyer.” The silence sat heavily in the air for a long moment. “Who is Flyer?”

“Flyer is a reindeer shape-shifter who works for Fairydecs4U,” said Fairy Nuff. She pulled a face. “Yes, I do go over there, contrary to company policy.”

“Continue, John,” Holmes commanded. “You’re a good student but too hesitant about carrying your deductions to the end.”

My cheeks felt heated and I felt like throttling my friend for putting me on the spot. I’d look a clod if I were wrong.

“Flyer should speak up,” I said, directly to Fairy Mary Snow. Mary’s sideways glance at Ellie and her discomfiture gave her away. “You have very long legs to gallop up corridors. I noticed your voice and accent slipped when you told Mr Gerning off for shouting at you. You’re new here, I’m guessing you aren’t a filing clerk at the sister company.”

Snow’s hands spread in capitulation. “My name’s Francis Flyer, I’m not a fairy. But I’m fully Fae. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you, Ellie. I’m in F and HR, Fae and Human Resources department there. I’ve been here on a fact-finding mission. You’ve been treated abysmally by your Head Office with their stupid rules while we enjoy better conditions and fair treatment. I couldn’t stand seeing how you were treated here. It was wrong. Unfair.”

“Wow. No, I get why.” Ellie said, patting her friend’s arm. “I don’t care you aren’t a fairy. It’s just silly snobbery.”

“Mr Goodyear was approached by Fairydecs4U,” Francis Flyer elaborated. “We reported Fairy Bellweather for blocking the employment of beings who aren’t fully Fae. Mr Cotton asked him to gather evidence of the alleged racial discrimination and bullying.”

Holmes nodded, not a trace of surprise on his face. “How did you obtain a job here?”

Fairy Ring interjected. “I think we all need a drink, Mr Holmes?”

“Coffee would go down a treat, two sugar for me, John takes one, lots of milk in his.”

“Stuff the company token system, as well,” she said, bustling round to her side of the counter. “You can dock my wages, Fairy Nuff.”

“I wouldn’t dream of it,” Nuff replied. “It’s true. I expected to be promoted to Head Office and oust Fairy Bellweather. Fairly. I have evidence against her. The scrying table stores data if you know how to save it. Then, as Head Office manager, I’d have made policy changes for the better.” She turned to Holmes. “I didn’t kill her because I didn’t need to.”

“Do you know where Mr Goodyear is?”

Nuff nodded. “He took the scrying table copies to Mr Cotton in Norwich. They’ve probably gone to show them to Mr Lee.”

“He took them out on a flash drive in the handle of his umbrella,” said Holmes.

“How did you guess?”

“I didn’t guess. There was no rain around Christmas Eve. He used his brolly like a walking stick and was smiling all the way to his car. He placed it carefully in the footwell and looked at it for a moment before slowly driving away. It’s all countryside around here for miles. He knew he’d vanish off CCTV and wouldn’t be picked up by a speed camera if he kept under the speed limits. That and his car hasn’t been found so it must be parked up somewhere attracting no attention. He continued his journey in a hired car. The police are thorough when a famous young woman’s relative goes missing.”

“It proves bad publicity for them if they aren’t seen to be throwing every resource at it,” I said.

The hissing and gurgling of the coffee machine rose to a deafening crescendo. Flyer jumped up to help Fairy Ring carry the mugs over.

“Thank you, deary,” said Fairy Ring. “Fairy Nuff, Fairy Bellweather’s been coming in asking me if I allow people to bring their own food in. Me tokens are down, she says. Wanting to know who doesn’t come in. Telling me I’m not doing me job reporting them. Threatening to have me sacked and get someone in who enforces the rules. Ah niver wanted one of yon certificates, anyways.”

The gathering broke out in spontaneous applause.

Fairy Ring waved the accolade away and fixed her jade-green eyes on me. “I wanna thank ye, Mr Holmes and you. It’s good to know nothing bad’s ‘appened to Mr Goodyear. He’s allus been a proper gent and remembered my name. Allus a ‘Good morning Gladys, how’s your son, Tom?’ from him.”

“Glad to help, Gladys,” I said.

Holmes wore a satisfied smile. “If we could use your office, Fairy Nuff. I have DI Highstreet’s phone number for cases involving the Fae community.”

“Yes, of course. Perhaps we could all try to get on with our work, after you’ve finished your break.”

“The canteen’s a crime scene. It needs to be sealed off,” I prompted.

“Quite right, um, take your drinks back to your work-stations.”

We stayed, finishing the excellent coffee, while Gladys closed the restaurant. Fairy Nuff cast a spell to seal the door to prevent anyone entering and contaminating the area. We followed her back to Reception not speaking until we were in her office.

 “I hoped we could avoid a horrid scandal,” she said. “It’d hurt the company if it gets out about the draconian employment conditions. We want to avoid any job losses. What’ll happen now?”

“It might be possible to keep this out of the news,” Holmes replied, waiting for Amily Highstreet to pick up his call. “Have you contact numbers for Mr Cotton and Mr Lee, the police will want to check Mr Goodyear is safe and well.”

“Certainly.” Fairy Nuff removed the sealing spell from her filing cabinet and rifled through a middle drawer. She produced a slim leather case bound with ornate brass fasteners. “Mr Lee lives on Eilean Lochdubh, an island off the coast of Scotland. There’s no phone there but the Dunmarkie Police will have a Fae contact to get a message to him.”

Holmes passed the information on, informing DI Highstreet of the progress we had made and of the murder. He sat with the phone off his ear. “Getting her notepad and organising a SOCO team.”

“You took some risks, Fairy Nuff,” I said. “Falsifying records to get Mr Flyer in here as Fairy Mary Snow. It’d be a shame if you paid an unfair price for exposing Head Office’s bullying tactics.”

Fairy Nuff sighed. “I knew the risks. I’m just glad it’s over. This really blew up. I didn’t think Charles would be out of touch for a whole week. I expected Mr Cotton would deal with it himself.”

Holmes said, “Yes.” into the phone before putting it down and looked outside as if bored by my conversation with Isobel Nuff. “I suppose buying decorations from Fairydecs4U is also against Cotton Lee Dairies company rules. What do you decorate the offices with? I noticed some pine needles.”

“Pine trees, yes. The needles get everywhere despite using growing trees. The secret is to keep them watered but not soggy.”

“No tinsel? Foil wrapped Santas?

“Er, no. Strictly organically produced plants, at that. The cheeses are all organic.” Tears welled in her eyes.

“What’s Fairy Light’s driver’s name?”

“Dell, Fairy Mark Dell, why?”

Holmes checked his watch. “Come on, John, we’re done here.”

He shot out of the door and marched me up to Fairydecs4U in brisk fashion. Dusk had fallen and the temperature had plummeted with it. The outdoor display lights switched off as we trotted up the path to wide red automatic doors. Dell was leaning over a glass cabinet of exquisite coloured glass baubles chatting to a girl. He recognised us too. A cloud passed over his chiselled features before he turned back to her.

“Mark Dell,” Holmes said. “Now would be an expedient time to confess to murdering Fairy Bellweather.”

“You’ve taken leave of your senses, matey,” Dell said, dismissing the accusation.

“I believe you did. I’d like to know why.”

“Claptrap. You’re that feller with the silly name. Fancy yourself as Sherlock Holmes, do you? Did you just add it to big yourself up?”

That was possibly the worst thing Dell could have said. Holmes treated him to a glare fit to freeze the nuts off brass monkeys.

“The melted chocolate under your fingernail and the tinsel strands sticking out of your back pocket. If you intend to inject chocolate with Seringal toadstool juice best scrub your nails and not put the packet in your back pocket.”

The girl backed away; her eyes enlarged with horror. “You had them in my microwave. You barstard,” she yelled in a privately educated accent.

“No,” cried Dell. “Ok, so I eat the misshapes. Lots of people do.”

“I said nothing about misshapes. John?”

“Yeah.” I was already blocking the door.

Dell tore off and swung through a staff door. Holmes and I darted after him. The miscreant pelted down a corridor and flung his arms out at a fire exit. The door, banging on the wall and juddering with a hollow twang, opened out onto the back of the display area. Holmes growled and threw himself at the fleeing figure. Dell swerved towards a parked cherry-picker crane and a truck. The man vanished into the darkness between the machinery.

I dropped to the stiff frozen grass searching under the vehicles for legs.

Holmes had vanished in the gloom.

Suddenly, the area lit up with glowing Valentines hearts, pulsing heartbeats and fairy lights. Dell scuttled away. I lost sight of him until he briefly showed in police car lights a few hundred yards ahead.

“Enough, Del boy.” I shouted, taking pleasure in insulting the fairy for his pop at my friend’s name.

I heard the splash of water ahead and Holmes joined me at a run.

Dell had fallen down a ditch. He groaned, clutching his ankle as we peered down the trench, and looked up with loathing and pain written on his wet, muddied face.

“Del boy,” said Holmes, catching my reference to an old television show. “Why did you kill her?” He stayed my hand from pulling Dell out.

The fairy smashed his hands at the water. “Why? That poison dwarf wrecked it for me with my girlfriend, that’s why. Convinced my girl she’d be happier marrying one of her own kind,” at this his face contorted into a parody of advice-dispensing. “Me and my Dinah were getting engaged until that fascist crow stuck her oar in.”

I pulled Dell out. “She told Dinah I wasn’t human. Dinah freaked out. Blocked my number, deleted me off her social media. She moved house!”

He sat and dripped, shivering violently as the police arrived on foot. “I was going to tell Dinah. At the right time.”

DI Highstreet’s eyebrow arched at Holmes.

“This is your murderer, Mark Dell. The young lady who switched the lights on from the foyer has information to incriminate him,” Holmes said.

DI Highstreet wasted no time in reading the sodden fairy his rights.

 

The sordid affair of discrimination at Cotton Lee Dairies never made the human world’s newspapers, although Dell’s conviction for murder did feature in the Fae press. Holmes and I received an invitation to the engagement party of Mr Francis Flyer and Ellie Blossom on 14th February. Holmes declined. “Not really my thing,” he said as he palmed me a fifty-pound note to buy the happy couple a present from both of us.

 


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M L Duffy
(United Kingdom)

Married writer of crime fiction, often murder mystery stories featuring private detectives including 21st century Sherlock Holmes. LGBTQ and diversity friendly.


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