Thursday, June 8, 2017

Friday Flash: The Body in the Brambles

Chuck Wendig gave us a challenge this week to write something about something invasive (in celebration of the release of the paperback of his book by that title). I decided to make the invasive Himalayan blackberries that nearly ate my childhood home part of a murder plot. I went just a hair over my usual 1000-word limit.

The Body in the Brambles


“How the hell are we going to get him out of there?” Police sergeant Priddy contemplated the mass of blackberry bushes, scratching his head.

“And how did he get there?” asked Officer O’Smythe. He and Priddy comprised half the police department of Pinehaven.

Detective Inspector Marsha Harrigan grimaced. “I’m more worried about who put him there, and why.”

Her subordinates nodded. “Looks like we’ll have to get him out to find any answers, though,” Priddy pointed out.

“I’ve sent for a chopper. No doubt he got there from the air, too.”

An hour later a bloodied rescue crew deposited the body on the trampled lawn of the Mordred Mansion, behind which the clump of blackberries held sway. The three police officers studied the corpse.

“That’s Dudley,” O’Smythe pronounced.

“And who,” Marsha asked, “is Dudley?”

“He’s the town drunk.”

Naturally. Every town drunk found a way to fall out of an airplane into a blackberry jungle.

“Who would want to kill Mr. Dudley. Or is it Dudley something?”

Sergeant Priddy shrugged. “I’m sure I don’t know. Dudley’s the only name I’ve ever heard used of him.”

“Haven’t you had to book him for D&D occasionally?”

“Well, sure, but we just went with the one name. Everyone knows who he is.”

Marsha sighed. Small towns. “Fine. What about enemies?”

“No one would want to hurt Dudley,” Officer O’Smythe said. Marsha looked pointedly at the body, and O’Smythe blushed. “Well, I wouldn’t have thought so. Maybe it was an accident. He fell out of the airplane because he was drunk. He’s always drunk.”

Marsha Harrigan contemplated that possibility. “And what was he doing in an airplane, and why didn’t anyone report the accident, if it was one?”

The local officers thought it over. 

“Only person I know with a small plane,” Priddy said, “is Archibald Mordred.”

“And his wife,” O’Smythe added. “Mehitabel Mordred got her pilot’s license last February.”

“Maybe you should start by interviewing them. It’s their lawn we’re standing on, is it not?”

“It is.” Sergeant Priddy looked around as though he was just realizing this. “And it does seem a bit odd that they haven’t come out to see what the commotion is.”

“Perhaps they aren’t home.” Accepting the inevitable, Marsha began doing her job. “O’Smythe, please see if anyone is home, and if not, find out where they are. Priddy, you check if the airplane has been taken out recently. I shall interview the neighbors.”

***
“Well, dearie, those people at the Mansion have been that worried about the blackberries. They can’t seem to get them off the lawn. And,” Mrs. Grandleigh leaned closer and confided, “I think they are in a bit of trouble with their money.”

Marsha asked a number of questions, but it was clear that Mrs. Grandleigh was just repeating gossip from the beauty parlor. 

Marsha didn’t fare any better with the neighbor on the other side, Mr. Jones. He just grunted, and said the neighbors weren’t his business. Knowing something of small towns, Marsha didn’t believe him.

The couple across the street were more interesting. They confided that the property behind the Mansion was owned by someone who wanted to build condos on it. The Mordreds, not surprisingly, were opposed to the idea, and they had been lobbying the town council not to issue the permits.

“I guess I’d say it rises to the level of a feud, though I’ve never laid eyes on the developer. I suppose he lives off in some city and doesn’t give a hoot what happens to Pinehaven.” Mrs. Riddle sniffed her opinion of out-of-town developers.

Marsha went away, thinking. She couldn’t see what the feud would have to do with Dudley. Had the man overheard something he shouldn’t? Was the developer trying to frame the Mordreds, or vice-versa? She needed to interview them.

The couple in question were at the police station when Marsha returned. 

“Detective Harrigan, Mr. and Mrs. Mordred,” Priddy offered by way of introduction. “They’ve just returned from visiting their daughter in Spokane.”

“Did you take your plane?” Marsha asked.

“Heavens, no!” Mehitabel Mordred had a soft voice, rather like a timid rabbit. “Our little plane wouldn’t make it over the mountains.”

“Sure it would,” boomed Archibald Mordred. “But the wife doesn’t believe it. Deuced long drive but what can you do?”

Priddy caught her eye, and Marsha excused herself to step into the hall with the Sergeant.

“Their plane was out yesterday for about four hours,” he said. “If they were really in Spokane, who took it up?”

“Good question. Find out.” 

She returned to the interview room, and asked about the battle over the condos. Archibald Mordred was forthcoming.  

“Son-of-a-gun developer doesn’t just want to ruin the neighborhood with his cheap condos. He wants to buy the Mansion and ruin it too.”

“You aren’t selling.”

“No!”

Mrs. Mordred looked scared. “But those blackberries, Archibald. We just don’t seem to be able to keep them from growing on our lawn,” she explained. “I’m starting to have nightmares that they move up and cover the house.”

“Perfectly normal, I’m sure,” Marsha said. Blackberries could do that. 

“I don’t want to use herbicides,” Archibald said. “But it’s starting to look like I’ll need to. It’s either that or give in and let that bastard plough it all up and build. I think he’s fertilizing them. Hopes we’ll run away. Not happening.”

Marsha considered that, then thanked the Mordreds for their time. When they were gone, she turned to Priddy. 

“Bring in that developer. See if he has a pilot’s license, and where he was yesterday. He’s our man.”

Priddy looked at her in confusion. “Why would he kill a harmless drunk?”

“He chose Dudley because he was available. It’s what Mordred said about feeding the blackberries, Priddy. I think he might be right.”

Priddy paled. “There have been a lot of pets gone missing lately. And now they got human blood.”

“Tell Mordred to get out the Round-Up. We’ll get to the bottom of this.”


Three days later, confronted with the skeletons of five dogs and three cats, as well as his prints all over the Mordred’s plane, Mr. Jones, the anonymous developer, confessed. Something about the briars’ insidious invasion had brought him to something like worship. He was screaming about a blood sacrifice as they led him away.

***

©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2017
As always, please ask permission to use any photos or text. Link-backs appreciated!

4 comments:

  1. LOL!! I got confused about your story posts on Chuck's site, and thought when I got your email update it was the 2012 one. Then I saw your update and realised. Glad I came back :)

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    1. I was rather confusing. And there is a certain relationship between the two, because having looked back at the 2012 story (which I actually wrote much earlier than that--it was one of my first short stories) I couldn't get the blackberries out of my mind.

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  2. This was great! Funny and spooky all at once. And good on ya for tackling one of Chuck's challenges. He's a wonderful friend and I adore him, but I haven't gotten around to participating yet. I really should.

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    1. Thanks! I like doing Chuck's challenges. They give me a little nudge to write the flash each week, and since he's pretty far out of my usual genres and styles, it pushes me to try new things.

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