To say ‘I told you so’ is to acknowledge the worst has already occurred
On one particular crisp and bright October morning, Mr Cavendish could be seen walking down Ideal Village high street with a deep scowl on his face (not that anyone did see him). So far that day, he had seen fit to hand deliver three letters: one to the police station, another to the village pub, and the third and last was not so much a letter but more a note, which Mr Cavendish pinned to the door of the Parish Hall, ‘For the attention of the Parish Council’. It was not a long note, and simply read: “I told you so.”
This obscure reference alluded to the sad and terrible news that had spread throughout Ideal Village on that very morning. Sally Salinger (who lived alone, and had a penchant for collecting teddy bears and anything to do with the colour pink) had been found dead in her home, murdered most gruesomely, her blood spattered across her collection of pink teddy bears. The villagers were in shock, quite at a loss for what to do next. It angered Mr Cavendish to think that this dreadful occurrence could have been entirely avoided.
“I don’t like change,” declared Mr Pankhurst, later that day, at the village’s first ever emergency meeting. “And an axe murderer changes lots of things.”
Mr Pankhurst was the village Mayor and Chairman of the Parish Council. His proclamation had been the only thing said at the meeting so far, and the Parish Hall, though filled with just about every villager, was eerily silent. Each of the villagers knew the full details of Sally Salinger’s murder (thanks to the hard work of Becky Smalls, who had settled in Ideal Village especially to fulfil a desire to be a local gossip), and this included the grim fact that Ms Salinger had indeed been murdered by axe.
someone In a state of utter inaction, the entire Parish Council faced their parishioners from their chairs up on the stage. Mrs Knight and Mr Cobbler both sat to Mr Pankhurst’s left. On the right was an empty chair. It was as though the Parish Councillors knew that should be sitting in this chair, but could not quite remember who.
Silent and ignored, Mr Cavendish sat at the back of the hall, his scowl as deep as it had been that morning. His feelings were divided when he considered Mr Pankhurst. On the one hand, Mr Cavendish pitied the Chairman of the Parish Council, for he had not looked this ashen and lost since his wife Sandra died several years earlier. On the other hand, Mr Cavendish felt imperially disappointed by the village mayor’s hopelessness in the face of this emergency. The same went for his fellow councillors.
With silence ever growing in the hall, a tall and thin man stood up among the villagers. Chief Constable Harold Smith – or ‘Lanky’ as he was affectionately known – held in his hand a folded letter, several sheets thick. The villagers stared at Lanky as if he was their only hope. Even the three councillors sat forward in their chairs, eager for guidance.
“With permission, I’d like to speak,” Lanky said, and Mr Pankhurst bade him continue. “Sally Salinger’s death is a shocking tragedy. In any village, town, or city, a killer on the loose, would be a frightening prospect; but you do not need me to tell you that we, the people of Ideal Village, have extra cause to worry.”
This statement induced murmurs of concern from the gathering (perhaps most of all from Berty Oaks, whose need to dispel a fear of being murdered had brought him to Ideal village in the first place).
“Do not look for rhyme or reason in an axe-murderer’s motives,” Lanky continued, “for you will find none. Anyone of us could be up next for the chop. Though this fiend must be found and apprehended, the immediate welfare of the villagers must take priority.”
The murmurs of concern became murmurs of agreement.
Lanky lifted up the letter for all to see. “I hold in my hand details of an emergency procedure. It was delivered to the police station this very morning. It is the Plan, and it might just save us all. If the council agrees to the Plan’s implementation – and I beg that it does – lives will be spared, and the axe-murderer will be exposed.”
The villagers sighed a chorus of relief, and, led by the Parish Council, they begged Lanky to reveal more about the Plan.
That was when Mr Cavendish rose from his seat, left the Parish Hall, and headed for the village pub.
To respect your neighbours is to know their strengths
The dense forest that encircled Ideal Village was aptly named Ring Wood. Not only did Ring Wood hide the village from prying eyes, it was also home to many things that some might believe in, others not so much. Ring Wood was an ideal terrain for adventuring, and among the villagers were three Adventurers: Dennis Trueshot, Margaret Sharpspear and Roger Honourbound. These three also happened to be the landlords and landlady of the Woodpecker Pub.
By the time Lanky had left the Parish Hall and arrived at the Woodpecker, Mr Cavendish was already waiting, quiet and unseen, sitting at a corner table. All three Adventurers stood behind the bar wearing expectant expressions.
“Awful business about that Salinger girl,” said Margaret Sharpspear, as Lanky approached the bar.
“It’s enough to turn the blood cold,” added Roger Honourbound, as Lanky lowered himself onto a bar stool.
“Fancy a pint, Lanky?” asked Dennis Trueshot, as Lanky’s eyes moved to the tap for his favourite Best Bitter.
“No, thank you,” Lanky replied. “I’ve never been more on duty than I am right now. And I fear there’ll be more bloodshed before things are set straight.”
The three Adventurers exchanged glances.
Ironically, Police Constable Harold ‘Lanky’ Smith had come to Ideal Village because he wished to administer the law within a civil and peaceful society; a society quite different from the terrible people in the city that lay beyond the woodlands around Ideal Village, where he had first been a policeman. Lanky, above all others, understood what perils they now faced, and the way he was taking charge of the situation left Mr Cavendish feeling most satisfied.
Roger Honourbound raised an eyebrow. “Now,” he said, and he waved a piece of folded paper in the air. “We got this letter this morning. It asked us not to attend the emergency meeting, so we didn’t. It told us to stay here and wait for you, so we did. But you don’t suspect the three of us of Ms Salinger’s murder, do you, Lanky?”
Lanky shook his head, and Dennis Trueshot added, “But you do need our help?”
Lanky nodded, and Margaret Sharpspear said, “The kind of help that only Adventurers can give you.”
“All true,” Lanky said, and he sighed deeply. “The people of this village consider themselves lucky, and rightly so. Each of us found this place when others couldn’t. Each of us were allowed in because we knew in our hearts what we wanted most from life. And what we want most, Ideal Village provides. That’s always been the way of it, and life has been good for us all. But now …”
“An axe-murderer in our midst don’t even bear thinking on,” said Dennis Trueshot.
“An axe-murderer in Ideal Village would achieve everything his or her heart desired most,” added Roger Honourbound.
“And, given enough time, an axe-murderer could kill each and every one of us,” concluded Margaret Sharpspear.
Lanky’s expression grew determined. “At least there’s hope on the horizon,” he said, and he patted the breast pocket of his police coat. “But before I reveal more, let me ask you a question: during your adventuring in Ring Wood, have any of you seen or heard of anything that might throw a light on Sally Salinger’s killer?”
The Adventurers were quiet for a moment, each reviewing his and her experiences in Ring Wood. Margaret Sharpspear was the first to answer:
“I did rid the Centaurs of a plague of Goblins a few weeks ago, but … no, nothing concerning an axe-murderer.”
Dennis Trueshot spoke next. “Had some trouble with the Spider Queen and her Spider Horde a while back. But we’re all friends now, and there was no axe-murderer to be seen.”
“Same here,” Roger Honourbound said. “Though I did draw the Sword from the Stone and rule the Faerie Folk for a short time. We keep in touch.”
“That’s much as I suspected,” Lanky said.
“But we’ll do what we can to protect this village,” Roger Honourbound was quick to promise.
“Each and every one of us,” Dennis Trueshot affirmed.
Margaret Sharpspear smiled. “We’re here to serve.”
“Relieved to hear it,” Lanky said, gratefully, and he pulled the Plan from his breast pocket. “So here’s what you can do for the village …”
As Lanky began reading from the Plan, Mr Cavendish left the Woodpecker Pub and headed home.
To know the virtue of patience is to recognise the perfect time
Alone in his house, Mr Cavendish sat in his lounge in his favourite armchair reading a book. He had hoped to while away the afternoon by getting lost in a story, but try as he might, he couldn’t focus properly, and time and time again his thoughts dwelt upon the not too distant
Mr Cavendish had found Ideal Village many years ago, arriving with a burning desire to do something important. He was not sure what it would be, or when it would occur, he just knew that one day he would do ‘something’ that was ‘important’. Way back then, Mr Cavendish had become a respected member of the Parish Council. He remembered one particular parish meeting during which he had pointed out to his fellow councillors that there was, perhaps, a flaw in the design of the village
The word ‘ideal’ suggested a positive wholesomeness. This, of course, was not a problem for a society where all upheld wholesome values. But Ideal Village catered for the individual first; and since no hard rule officially stated that anyone’s ultimate desires must not be anti-social, it was inevitable there could one day be problems. Mr Cavendish had called for a motion that would change the name of the parish to ‘Good Village’. It was sound advice, he put to them, that would safeguard the villagers against the horrible things they had all heard about (that is to say, the horrible things that were supposed to happen to other people in other places). Of course, the motion had been mooted, dismissed, and it was never mentioned
Closing the book and throwing it on the coffee table, Mr Cavendish headed into the kitchen. He made himself a sandwich and a pot of tea, and then, taking his lunch, read the local newspaper. The front page held a photograph of Mr Pankhurst shaking hands with his son, Charlie. The headline read: Mayor’s Policeman Son Receives Commendation. Mr Cavendish folded the newspaper, placed it to one side, and then sat motionless while contemplating the limp cucumber sandwich in his hand.
Sadly, it had been a long time since Mr Cavendish had been on the Parish Council. Over the years, as he had grown older, his voice had got smaller and smaller until the day came when no one could hear him at all. With no one able to hear him, Mr Cavendish stopped talking altogether. The inhabitants of Ideal Village had entirely forgotten that he existed, including Mr Pankhurst and the other members of the Parish Council.
And it was Mr Pankhurst who had been responsible for Mr Cavendish’s suggestion of a change to the village name being rejected all those years ago. The Mayor and Chairman of the Parish Council had come to Ideal Village because he wanted, above all things, to live a life that was devoid of change. Ergo, the name of the village remained Ideal, a decision that had now come back to bite them all like a wolf on a bloody bone.Mr Cavendish took no pleasure in being proved right; he was sickened to the core by recent events. But if the Plan was going to save Ideal Village, then a stout heart was called for, especially as he was now playing the Waiting Game where the gut was filled with so much anxiety. So, with the tea grown cold in the pot, not one cup drunk, the sandwiches grown stale on the plate, unblemished by a single bite, Mr Cavendish paced his house, waiting for nightfall when the next phase of the Plan could begin.
To expose a criminal’s identity is to accept the inevitable sacrifice
The next phase of the Plan called for a curfew. Beginning when darkness came (for it was widely believed that axe-murderers did not work during the hours of daylight), no villager would be allowed outside their home. During the night, the police would be divided into groups to patrol the streets and lanes, ensuring no villager (or axe-murderer) was breaking curfew. The nocturnal movements of the police were carefully organised by Mr Pankhurst and the Parish Council, with the help of Lanky.
In the meantime, no villager was to leave his or her neighbour unaccompanied during the night: safety in numbers, first and foremost, but the Plan’s clever, second reason was this: Ideal Village had not welcomed a new villager for several years now, which meant the axe-murderer must be a well-established parishioner pretending to be something he or she was not. With nobody able to move unaccompanied, the Plan ensured that everybody was watching everybody.
During the hours of curfew, help was never more than a phone call away, for two policemen remained at the police station to man an emergency hotline; and it was these two men Mr Cavendish was now watching.
The first was Mickey Rope. He had come to Ideal Village because he wished to be the type of constable that was so often seen on television programs depicting rural, country life: the kind of amenable officer perhaps not best suited to police business but popular in the community because of it.
The second was none other than Charlie Pankhurst, the son of the village Mayor and Chairman of the Parish Council, Mr Pankhurst.
Charlie’s shiny commendation medal was pinned to his chest as he and Mickey sat in the Incident Room, manning the emergency hotline. A sheen of sweat coated Charlie’s face, and his arms were wrapped around his stomach as he rocked back and forth in his chair.
Mickey looked up from the comic he was reading, and frowned at his fellow constable. “Are you nervous, Charlie?” he asked.
Charlie shook his head.
Mickey sniffed, pulled a disgusted face, and waved a hand as if to clear the air. “Are you sure? You smell like you are.”
“I’m sorry,” Charlie said. “It’s my guts. I had a curry for tea, and it’s not agreeing with me.”
“Can’t you use a cork or something?”
“I’d better call my dad and warn him. He ate the same as me tonight.”
But when Charlie leant forward to grab the telephone on his desk, his stomach gave a loud, agitated gurgle. Charlie froze, then shot a glance at Mickey.
“Gotta go!” Charlie announced, and he rushed upstairs to the toilet.
Suspicious, Mr Cavendish left Mickey Rope to man the hotline alone, and followed Mr Pankhurst’s son to the upper floor of the police station.
Charlie was a likeable boy, but something of rarity, too; born while his parents already lived in Ideal Village, he had yet to decide what it was he wanted above all other things. He had joined the police force at the suggestion of his father, who thought it would make an excellent stopgap, especially as being a police constable followed in the footsteps of his dear departed mother. Could it be that Charlie Pankhurst had finally decided what he wanted to be? Was his deepest wish to become an axe-murderer? Was his upset stomach a good excuse to go and fetch his weapon of choice to use on poor Mickey’s neck?
These questions were answered as Mr Cavendish stood outside the toilet cubicle, listening to the ugly and unpleasant sounds emanating from within Charlie. No, the lad was not an axe-murderer, and his ailment was undoubtedly genuine.
As he left Charlie to it, Mr Cavendish suddenly heard a sound of voices from downstairs. Though too low and muffled to understand or recognise, the tones were calm and the conversation seemed peaceable. Mr Cavendish guessed a street patrol was checking in with the hotline. But then came a very different sound – a dull sound, like a wet thud, or the noise a spade makes when it slices into damp earth. It came again, and again. It almost sounded like …
Mr Cavendish ran down the stairs.
Mickey Rope still sat in his chair, comic in hand. But his head hung back, unnaturally so, only connected to his neck by the few tendons which remained un-severed. His blood decorated the wall behind him in streaks and blotches like a piece of abstract art.
Mr Cavendish left the Incident Room and entered reception, where he found the front door to the police station ajar. He looked outside onto the moon-bathed high street just in time to see a figure wearing a hooded cloak making his or her escape. As the figure ducked into a side alley, Mr Cavendish caught the glint of moonlight reflected from the head of an axe, and then whoever it was had disappeared.
A moment later, a police patrol emerged from a lane on the opposite side of the road, and began walking along the high street, away from the police station. Mr Cavendish shouted to them; but no matter how loud he tried to make his voice, the constables did not hear him – they could not hear him – and they continued their patrol as if nothing was amiss.
Mr Cavendish heard groaning coming from within the police station. He rushed back to the Incident Room where he found Charlie Pankhurst returned from his emergency trip upstairs. Charlie was staring at Mickey Rope’s corpse, his eyes wide and his mouth hanging open. He groaned as if he was somehow registering every chop of the weapon that had ended the life of his fellow constable. Then Charlie retched and ran back to the toilet.
Mr Cavendish did the only thing left to do. He activated the police station’s emergency alarm, and the bells clanged throughout Ideal Village.
To focus on one single fact is to obscure a cunning plan
The following morning, at the village’s next emergency meeting, everyone knew that Mickey Rope had become the axe-murderer’s second victim. The villagers were also in the knowledge that Mickey had not been alone at the police station the previous night. The silence that hung in the parish hall was heavy with accusation. As Charlie Pankhurst was thought to have been the only person with Mickey when he died, surely the axe-murderer’s identity was revealed. The fact that Charlie was also absent from the meeting only served to confirm his guilt in the eyes of his neighbours.
Mr Cavendish was reassured that Lanky’s first act that morning was to calm the community before it turned into a lynch mob.
“Let me make this quite clear,” Lanky said, in a strong and resolute voice. “Charlie Pankhurst is innocent!”
The villagers erupted into jeers of outrage. Were their convictions not well justified? Did the evidence not speak for itself? Tall and proud, Lanky faced their displeasure as a sturdy oak braves a storm.
Up on the stage alongside the chief constable, Mrs Knight and Mr Cobbler seemed more lost than ever. This was partly due to fear, but mostly because their chairman Mr Pankhurst was also missing from the meeting. This was hardly surprising as not only was his son implicated in gruesome crimes, but Charlie was also severely ill with food poisoning. Without their leader, the two remaining councillors had unofficially renounced their council powers to Lanky, which pleased Mr Cavendish.
Lanky’s voice cut through the crowd’s loud protesting. “There are none here more sickened than I that P.C. Rope – dear Mickey – was so brutally killed last night.”
Slowly, the voices hushed.
“But his death does not mean the Plan has failed.”
The congregation were not much convinced by this statement either, and many of them were quick to air their disagreement once again.
“How can you say that?” called Maurice Riterong, the village questioner.
“If the Plan had worked then you wouldn’t be hogging my stage!” This last came from Christian Hornblower, the village playwright.
But Lanky remained resolute. “Be assured,” he said, with authority. “We are that much closer to revealing the axe-murderer’s identity, and it is most certainly not Charlie Pankhurst.”
Many villagers demanded to know by what proof the Chief Constable could say this.
Lanky gave them an assured smile, and said, “There is much evidence that proves Charlie’s innocence, perhaps most of all the fact that he is right-handed!”
This statement brought about a sudden pause, as though the parish hall was some kind of vehicle that had performed an emergency stop. Many frowns were aimed at Lanky, many confused blinks, and many mouths opened and closed wordlessly. This remained the state of things, until Maurice Riterong said loudly, “What?”
“Do not be confused,” Lanky assured all present. “The details are best left explained by our good village doctor.” Lanky nodded to a member of the gathering. “Doctor Keen, if you please …”
Dr Keen rose from his seat and joined Lanky on stage. In his hand was a medical report, which he held high for all to see, and then he cleared his throat.
“I have studied the remains of poor Sally Salinger and tragic Mickey Rope,” he said. “From examining their wounds, I have deduced the direction from which the chops of the axe fell. Without any shadow of doubt, I must conclude that the axe-murderer is left-handed.”
This revelation elicited collective gasps from the villagers, followed by a sudden and heavy silence. No doubt those who were right-handed were wondering how many within the community sided to the left; and those who were left-handed fidgeted in their seats.
Dr Keen returned to his seat, and Lanky took charge of proceedings once again.
“I have a list,” he announced, “of all left-handed villagers. Each of these people will be escorted to the police station where they will be helping me in my inquiries.”
Even as Lanky said this, the rest of the Ideal Village’s policemen and women moved through the crowd, removing certain villagers, and, indeed, escorting them to the police station.
“Everybody here is innocent until proven guilty,” Lanky was quick to point out, “Let no man or woman point the finger of accusation. The rest of you will go about your business as usual. Treat the day as any other – until three o’clock, that is. At that time, the village will reconvene is this hall to hear the results of my investigations.”
The villagers seemed at first unsure how to go about their day in a normal fashion; but then, slowly, one by one, they began heading for the door, whispering among themselves.
Mr Cavendish waited until only Lanky, Mrs Knight and Mr Cobbler were left in the parish hall.
“Right,” said Lanky, “is everyone ready?”
Mrs Knight and Mr Cobbler nodded their agreement, and the three of them left together, closely followed by Mr Cavendish.
To relinquish power is to concede that it is already lost
The bureaucracy of Ideal Village’s Parish Council was, on most occasions, a petty hindrance that could complicate even the simplest of matters. Mrs Knight was the council’s minute-taker, and a stringent one at that; she also had a penchant for expressing counter arguments to the opinions of others. As for Mr Cobbler, his phobia of confrontation had turned him into what was now known in the village as The Agreer. No matter what options and choices were laid before him, Mr Cobbler would agree with each and every one them. This made it almost impossible for the Parish Council to reach a decision on any issue; and the result of much village business remained inconclusive – which had always rather suited Mr Pankhurst’s wish to avoid change.
For the Plan to succeed, for the Ideal Village Police Force to do their job properly, Mr Pankhurst had to officially defer his powers of office to Chief Constable Harold ‘Lanky’ Smith; and this did not sit well with Mrs Knight.
“It isn’t right,” she said to Lanky and Mr Cobbler as the group made its way to Mr Pankhurst’s house. “Taking away his position is just cruel.”
“Quite agree,” said Mr Cobbler.
“Don’t worry,” Lanky assured the councillors. “I’m only taking over the position while this peril hangs over us. The villagers will be safer under police protection.”
“A good point well made,” Mr Cobbler said.
“But think of what that poor man is going through,” Mrs Knight argued. “Charlie is all he has left. And to think his only son came so close to being the victim of a madman’s axe!” She shivered. “We can’t do this to him, too!”
“Hear, hear,” added Mr Cobbler.
Lanky said, “Please understand, Mrs Knight. Charlie is alive, if not well, and he needs looking after. Mr Pankhurst has enough to worry about without trying to lead the community too.”
Which Mr Cobbler thought was, “Absolutely spot on!”
When the group reached Mr Pankhurst’s house, the village Mayor and Chairman of the Parish Council was sitting in an armchair in his lounge. He was a sorry sight to behold: his eyes were red-ringed, and his face was drawn and ashen. It looked to Mr Cavendish as though Mr Pankhurst had been sitting in the armchair all night, without a wink of sleep, still wearing the same clothes as yesterday. Thankfully, he showed no signs of the food poisoning that had afflicted his son.
Mr Pankhurst did not seem very aware of the people in the room with him, and he started when Lanky spoke.
“How’s Charlie?” Lanky asked, softly.
When Mr Pankhurst answered, his voice sounded weak and tired. “His stomach has settled down. He’s upstairs asleep now.”
“And how are you?” Lanky said.
Mr Pankhurst did not answer, his eyes just staring into some unknown distance. “After Charlie’s mother died,” he said, eventually, “it was so hard bringing up a child on my own.”
He paused, and the only sound to be heard was the scratching of Mrs Knight’s pencil, hastily scribbling down his words for the council records.
“But I only ever wanted the best for Charlie,” Mr Pankhurst continued. “I so dearly hoped he would have discovered what he wanted from life by now. It was my fault he became a policeman. My fault he was at the police station last night. It could’ve been him—”
At that moment, a blood-curdling scream erupted from upstairs, a sound that chilled the whole house. Mrs Knight broke the nib of her pencil. Mr Cobbler covered his ears. Lanky’s expression seemed calculating, and Mr Cavendish wondered for a moment if the axe-murderer had struck again.
Quite calmly, Mr Pankhurst gazed up at the ceiling. “Nightmares,” he explained. “Charlie won’t forget what he saw last night. Not ever.”
A moment of silent understanding passed, as respect was paid to poor Mickey Rope, and the torment now suffered by Charlie Pankhurst.
A suspicious expression came to Mr Pankhurst’s face, and he narrowed his eyes at Lanky. “He’s innocent, you know,” he said. “If you’re here to arrest my Charlie, you’ve got the wrong man.”
“I know Charlie’s not the axe-murderer,” Lanky assured the village mayor. “I’m not here to arrest anyone.”
Mr Pankhurst’s suspicious gaze turned to his fellow councillors. After a moment, his shoulders slumped and he seemed to sink deeper into the armchair. “I know what you want,” he said, miserably. “You want me to defer my Chair to Lanky.”
“Yes, that’s right,” Mr Cobbler said.
“But you don’t have to,” Mrs Knight said.
To which Mr Cobbler added, “No, you don’t.”
Lanky rolled his eyes and said, “It’s only for a short time, Mr Pankhurst. Just until this mess is sorted out.”
“I don’t like change,” Mr Pankhurst growled.
Mrs Knight began sharpening her pencil, and Mr Cobbler nodded.
“The Plan calls for it,” Lanky said.
Mr Pankhurst looked to the floor. “I suppose you’ve brought the official papers with you?” he said in a more resigned voice.
Mr Cobbler nodded and produced from the folder he carried the documents that would grant Lanky temporary powers of office. Mr Pankhurst took the documents and stared at them as though they were poisonous.
“We brought triplicates,” Mrs Knight said, interrupting her minute-taking. “One for the council records, one for the police, and one for you – out of respect, you understand.”
“Absolutely,” Mr Cobbler added.
“Respect?” whispered Mr Pankhurst. “Does respect kick a man when he’s down? I’m not useless, you know. The village needs me.”
Mr Cobbler and Mrs Knight were about to agree and disagree simultaneously, but Lanky interrupted them.
“Charlie needs you, more than the village,” he said, and he offered Mr Pankhurst his police pen. “Sign the papers, Mr Pankhurst, before the axe-murderer strikes again; before more villagers end up like Mickey Rope and Sally Salinger.”
Mr Pankhurst stared at the pen for a long moment before saying, “I still want to know what’s going on. Chairman of the Parish Council or not, I want to be kept in the loop. I don’t want anything else to change.”
“Wouldn’t have it any other way,” Mr Cobbler promised.
Lanky said, “I’ll make sure copies of all Mrs Knight’s minutes are sent to you as soon as she’s written them.”
To which not even Mrs Knight disagreed.
More than a little reluctantly, Mr Pankhurst took the pen and signed all three documents. When Lanky had done the same, he and the two councillors prepared to leave.
“Don’t forget to send me the police reports too, Lanky,” Mr Pankhurst said.
“Naturally,” said Lanky, with a sad smile. “The Plan demands it. You take good care of Charlie now.”
Mr Cavendish was the first out of the door, and he headed off in the direction of the police station.
To know a suspect too well is to complicate the art of deduction
There were ten villagers who were left-handed, and Lanky’s first interviewee was Dr Keen. The village Medical Chief, despite the gravity of the situation, spoke and acted like a man free of guilt, and one confident of swift elimination from these investigations. Which indeed he was; after all, Dr Keen was the only villager skilled in all schools of medicine, including forensic pathology. Given this, Lanky reasoned that it made little sense for Dr Keen to reveal the left-sided bias of the axe-murderer if, in fact, that axe-murderer was him.
Robert Pringle was cleared equally quickly, his alibi being cast iron (he’d spent curfew with the Robinsons, a family of eight, and keen gardeners all). However, the interview was complicated by the fact that, quite coincidentally, and most unfortunately, Robert Pringle had originally been drawn to Ideal Village to appease a phobia that he would one day be blamed for a crime he had not committed. Lanky tried his hardest to assure Robert to rest easy as he was no longer suspected, but Robert was not to be comforted, wailing, “Guilt by association doesn’t go away, Lanky. Guilt by association sticks! The mark of the axe-murderer will forever be upon me in the eyes of the villagers!”
Robert Pringle was taken from the interview room, sobbing.
Next came Alice and Jessica Simpson (spinster twin sisters, both left-handed, and the village’s longest established residents). The Simpson twins had come to Ideal Village, very many years ago, to live a life where they did something different together every day. They were very happy to help with police enquiries, even to be suspects, as it was a new experience for them. And they told Lanky as much. The trouble here for Lanky was that the Simpson twins lived together, and were therefore each other’s alibi for the previous night’s curfew. Given that, and the fact that one sister never did anything without the other, Lanky was forced to point out that neither Alice nor Jessica could prove that they did not commit the murders as a team.
On hearing this, Miss and Miss Simpson roared with laughter, with Alice starting, “We can barely lift a teapot between us,” and Jessica finishing, “Let alone an axe, you big dope!”
The next two suspects were dealt with quickly. First was Mrs Claremont (an avid diarist) who provided Lanky with some impressive proof of innocence: a journal, updated every fifteen minutes throughout the previous night (which included a game of Trivial Pursuit played with her husband and daughter, and the records of every question asked and answer given). Second was Max Framley (an expert carpenter), who had spent curfew at the house of Gill Croup (a master engraver). Max was quite happy to admit that he had spent most of the night unobserved, as Gill had fallen asleep in his armchair around eight o’clock, and he was quick to add, “but I can tell you that Gill snores like a bloody radial arm saw!”
Small and gentle Willy Wyrd was already a big bundle of nerves when he entered the interview room; and, under no pressure from Lanky, broke down and confessed that he had spent the entirety of curfew alone. (Willy was a studier of nocturnal wildlife, and had been unwilling to spend a night away from the observation nest in the tree in his back garden.) “I thought it didn’t matter,” he said, “Everybody knows I’m no axe-murderer.”
Willy’s hands shook as Lanky said that this deliberate and total disregard for the Plan raised a very serious eyebrow over his innocence.
Lady Kimble-Blanc was far less remorseful, however, when Lanky told her that, though he was pleased her life was so luxurious she could employ Mr Rochester as her full-time butler, having her butler as her only alibi did not prove her innocence. (Everybody knew that Mr Rochester was utterly devoted to his employer, and there was nothing he would not do or say if she asked.) Lady Kimble-Blanc snorted at Lanky, and said, rather haughtily, “My Dear Chief Constable, if I really wanted villagers murdered by axe, I would simply have my butler do it. And, as you no doubt know, Mr Rochester is right-handed.”
And with Lady Kimble-Blanc’s departure from the interview room, Lanky concluded his questioning. All suspects were detained. Police constables were sent to check alibis. Every statement was discussed and debated. Finally, Lanky had reports sent to the three members of the Parish Council, and Mr Cavendish made his way to the Parish Hall.
To possess all evidence is to control the information given
At three o’clock, the village reconvened at the Parish Hall.
A strange atmosphere hung thick over every man, woman and child. Mr Cavendish noted that the usual niceties of village life had yielded to a dark mood that hung over the congregation like a cloud. Lanky had let it be known that all suspects had been detained, and no left-handed villager had been allowed to return to his or her home. This news proved popular. But less so was his statement that although he was now quite certain of the axe-murderer’s identity, he flatly refused at this time to reveal who it was. All the villages seemed ready, willing and eager, to unify with burning torch and pitchfork, to lynch the axe-murderer – if Lanky would but give them that name.
But this was not to be the way of things, and only Mr Cavendish appreciated that this was just another phase of the Plan.
“Listen to me!” Lanky called from the stage. Behind him, Mrs Knight hastily scribbled down minutes, and Mr Cobbler nodded. “I might know in my heart who the axe-murderer is, but my heart cannot provide hard evidence.”
The villagers seemed to draw a breath as one, ready to attack Lanky with a barrage of angry shouts, but Lanky cut them short with a shout of his own.
“Quiet! I will not let your fear and anger judge a man or woman on my hearsay. You are better than a mob. You are the people of Ideal Village.”
Mr Cavendish smiled as Lanky’s words seemed to give each villager a moment of reflection.
“I am a policeman, and I will gather evidence as a policeman should. Many of you have no doubt noticed the Woodpecker pub is currently closed for business, and that our intrepid Adventurers have not been present at these meetings.”
Some villagers were indeed aware of this; others simply frowned thoughtfully, and then said, “Oh yeah.”
Lanky continued. “Margaret Sharpspear, Dennis Trueshot, and Roger Honourbound have been aiding my investigations. They are gathering information, hard facts, even as we speak. And at midnight tonight, I will meet them in Ring Wood, where I believe they will hand over the irrefutable evidence that I will not make an arrest without.
“Be assured, the Plan proceeds as planned. Return to your homes, each and every one of you, and observe the rules of curfew more stringently than ever. Go – now! – watch everybody. Keep each other safe. And I promise you, come the morning, the threat of the axe-murderer will be gone for good.”
Before any more objections could be raised, and with the prompting of the police officers sitting amongst them, the villagers were encouraged out of the Parish Hall to return home and observe curfew.
Mr Cavendish checked his watch. He was in no rush to leave this time, or to be anywhere in particular. After all, the next phase of the Plan could not happen until the dead of night.
To use the proper bait is to ensure the trap is sprung
Shortly before midnight, Lanky left the police station and set off down the village high street. Walking briskly, he passed closed shops and cafes, nodded to a police patrol enforcing curfew, and then he took a left turn into a cobbled alley where the village smithy and the cobbler’s were situated. At the end of this alley, Lanky turned right and followed a path that skirted a residential area, cut past the Woodpecker Pub, headed out of the main village, and finally weaved between two freshly furrowed fields all the way to the edge of Ring Wood.
Unbeknownst to the Chief Constable, he was being followed by a hooded and cloaked figure. This figure did not follow too closely, and stuck well to the shadows. But not so well as to escape the attention of Mr Cavendish, who, unbeknownst to the hooded and cloaked figure and the Chief Constable, followed them both.
Lanky paused at the edge of Ring Wood, and took a last look back at the village. He then disappeared into the tree line.
Not far inside Ring Wood there was a small clearing (which was easy to find even in darkness due to the phosphorescent leaves that grew on the trees lining the trail that led to it). At the clearing, there were other, narrower paths that ran into the deeper and darker regions of Ring Wood, where only a select few villagers were cunning and brave enough to travel. And it was these select few villagers that Lanky was due to meet at midnight. However, when he reached the clearing, Dennis Trueshot, Margaret Sharpspear and Roger Honourbound were nowhere to be seen.
Unless you were an Adventurer, Ring Wood was a strange and unsettling place to find yourself alone in, even if you were the most hardened of Chief Constables. Caught in a moment of uncertainty, Lanky wore a deep frown. Midnight had arrived, yet not one sound came from the undergrowth; no breeze rustled the leaves. All was dead. With only bough and moonlight as witness, Lanky made a tempting target for an axe-murderer.
“Have your friends abandoned you, Chief Constable?” said a voice from the darkness – a man’s voice. “Don’t think too badly of them.”
“Show yourself,” Lanky demanded.
But the owner of the voice remained concealed, choosing to speak once again from the darkness.
“I sent a letter to the Woodpecker this afternoon, a letter I sighed in your name, of course. I told the Adventurers of how you needed to change the Plan, how you needed them to come here much later than midnight. And that they are to arrive one at a time, not together.”
The hooded and cloaked figure chose that moment to step into the clearing. He swept aside his cloak exposing a woodcutter’s axe, which he cradled to his chest almost lovingly.
Even though the axe-murderer did not remove his hood and reveal his face, it did not stop Lanky saying, quite calmly, “I know who you are.”
“I’m sure you do,” the axe-murderer chuckled. “Now, tell me, what evidence are the Adventurers bringing you?”
When Lanky didn’t reply, the axe-murderer ran a thumb down the blade of his weapon as if to test its sharpness. “I’ll allow you one more chance to answer, Chief Constable.”
Lanky lowered his voice to a growl. “And I’ll allow you one chance to give yourself up, and one chance only.”
The axe-murderer sighed. “I don’t suppose it really matters. Once my axe takes your head, I’ll wait for Trueshot, Sharpspear and Honourbound to arrive, and I’ll chop them down too, one at a time. No one will ever suspect me, no one will ever hear your evidence, and I’ll be free to fulfil my heart’s desire and ruin Ideal Village for good. No one can escape my axe. That’s the way of things. That’s how it works. It’s what I want.”
“Give yourself up,” Lanky said, pleadingly. “You have my word you’ll be given a fair trial.”
The cloaked and hooded figure laughed like he was barking. He raised aloft his axe and the moonlight glinted off the sharp, silver head. Then he ran at Lanky, eager to deliver the fatal chop.
Lanky held his ground, and before the axe-murderer had made it halfway across the clearing, an arrow had thunked into his axe arm. Dennis Trueshot emerged from the tree line, bow in hand. The axe-murderer screamed in rage and pain, and dropped to his knees; but as he did so, he hurled the axe and sent it spinning end over end towards Lanky.
Just as it seemed the axe would embed itself into Lanky’s chest, Roger Honourbound dived into the clearing and deftly plucked the weapon from the air. He landed with a smooth roll, and came to his feet, axe in hand.
Lastly, Margaret Sharpspear sprang from the tree line and held the point of her spear to the axe-murderer’s throat.
“Should have listened to the Chief Constable,” Roger Honourbound said.
“We could’ve settled this peaceably,” added Margaret Sharpspear.
“But you just had to go for one more kill,” said Dennis Trueshot. He moved up beside the axe-murderer, and grabbed his hood. “And did you honestly think that letter of yours could really fool us Adventurers? We’ve been onto you since last night … Mister Pankhurst …”
Trueshot pulled the axe-murderer’s hood back to indeed reveal the Mayor of Ideal Village and Chairman of the Parish Council, Mr Pankhurst.
“No!” Mr Pankhurst sobbed. He clutched his injured arm. “I covered my tracks.”
“Not so well as to foil the Plan,” said Lanky.
Mr Pankhurst looked for a moment as though he would try and run for it. But the keen and cold metal of Margaret Sharpspear’s spearhead kept him in place.
“There are only ten left-handed people in Ideal Village,” Lanky said, “nine of whom I was quite convinced were innocent. Only one remained, one I deliberately did not question, whom I allowed to believe had slipped my net, and whom I knew had spent the first night of curfew alone, while his son manned the emergency hotline at the police station.”
“Nice touch, by the way,” said Margaret Sharpspear, “poisoning your own son like that.”
“Yeah,” Dennis Trueshot agreed. “With guts as bad as you gave him, Charlie was safely out the way while you chopped up poor Mickey Rope.”
“And let’s not forget Sally Salinger,” added Roger Honourbound. “Alone in her house, sleeping and dreaming of all things pink – she must have made an easy target for your axe. Pankhurst, you’re as cowardly as you are evil.”
Lanky said, “You followed me here believing I was collecting the hard evidence I needed to incriminate you. But there never was any hard evidence.”
“A trap,” Mr Pankhurst realised, a little breathlessly. “You tricked me here …”
Lanky sighed. “Even though you weren’t present at the Parish meetings, you read Mr Knight’s reports on what had been decided. The Plan depended upon it. I needed you to know when and where I could be found alone, so you would reveal yourself.”
Dennis Trueshot snorted. “You know, Pankhurst, for someone who doesn’t like change, you’ve certainly changed a lot in this village.”
“Change?” Mr Pankhurst spat. “Don’t talk to me about change! I came to this village to live a life without it, but look what change did to my Sandra.”
“Your wife died, true,” said Roger Honourbound. “But as tragic as that might be, it’s no excuse to go about murdering an entire village of good and honest folk.”
“No?” Mr Pankhurst’s face was creased by fury now. “You don’t know what it’s like – going to bed every night lonely, waking up every morning to face yet another day without her, without my wife. This place did that to me.”
“No,” Lanky said, his voice soft and sympathetic. “Even Ideal Village can’t prevent death.”
“Can’t it?” Mr Pankhurst spat, bitterly. “Call me what you like, but I say it’s this village that’s evil, mouldy to the roots. Every day I’ve watched the people of this place, wondering why they should be happy, why they get to live an idyllic life with their loved ones, and all the while my Sandra lies in a box, dead!”
Margaret Sharpspear tapped Mr Pankhurst’s chin with her spear. “So you boiled and stewed over the years until you finally snapped. And by the use of your left hand, you decided to share your misery with the rest of us.”
“Ideal Village is evil!” Mr Pankhurst shouted.
“Only because you made it that way,” Lanky replied. “But not anymore.”
“So do your worst.” Venom seemed to drip from Mr Pankhurst’s words now. “End my life, if think it so miserable.”
“No,” said Lanky. “No one will be ending your life, Mr Pankhurst.”
“Then throw me in a cell to rot for the rest of my days, if that’s your decision.”
“We’re not like you, Pankhurst,” said Roger Honourbound. “No villager would sleep soundly at night knowing an axe-murderer was still around, even if he was locked away in the deepest, darkest dungeon.”
“And spare a thought for poor Charlie,” Margaret Sharpspear said. “How can you look your son in the eye now?”
“Yeah,” agreed Dennis Trueshot. “First he loses his ma to sickness, and then he loses his pa to madness. Charlie will never mend his broken life with you still around.”
At the mention of Charlie, Mr Pankhurst’s shoulders slumped, and a look of deep sadness came to his face. “I only ever wanted Charlie to discover what his heart wished for most.”
“If he ever does,” said Lanky, “you’ll not be around to witness it. There’s no place for you here, Mr Pankhurst. You may call Ideal Village home no longer.”
“What?” Mr Pankhurst stiffened, and his sad expression was replaced in no small degree by suspicious surprise. “You’re letting me live?” he said. “You’re letting me go?”
“On one condition,” Dennis Trueshot said. “There’s an oath you have to swear, Pankhurst.”
“You will leave this place,” said Roger Honourbound. He then gestured to the dark and deep woodland that stretched away from the village, saying, “The city is your destination, at the other side of Ring Wood, where one of your leaning will no doubt fit in better. But never – never! – will you mention the name Ideal Village again, be it to friend or foe or victim.”
“And be warned,” said Margaret Sharpspear. “If you swear this oath then swear it to your heart. For if you break it, if your evil ways ever seek to return here, then your end will be swift.”
“Well, Pankhurst?” said Dennis Trueshot “Do you swear to leave these lands, to never remember them, to never return?”
“I … I do,” said Mr Pankhurst, who was now blinking rapidly.
And on hearing this, Margaret Sharpspear removed the point of her spear from Mr Pankhurst’s throat, and the three Adventurers stepped back from him. Mr Pankhurst licked his lips. He was unsure, suspicious that the promise of freedom might be a lie.
“We won’t stop you,” Lanky said. “Now go!”
With Dennis Trueshot’s arrow still lodged in his arm, Mr Pankhurst bolted from the clearing, disappeared into the tree line, and ran down a path that would lead him through Ring Wood and eventually out into the city. However, he had not got far when his voice drifted back to the clearing, to the ears of Lanky and the Adventurers.
“You think you’ve won?” he shouted. “You think I won’t return? Fools! Ideal Village can’t hide from me. I’ll be back to take each of your heads with my axe, and I won’t be alone. I’ll bring half of the city with me, and then you’ll learn what people truly want—”
Mr Pankhurst screamed.
Ring Wood was suddenly alive with the moving shadows of many things. Huge eight-legged things, small flying things, glowing things, things with pointed ears, and things shaped like man and horse combined: the dwellers of the deeper, darker regions of Ring Wood rushed to converge on Mr Pankhurst and the sworn oath he never intended to uphold; and they did not stop rushing until the axe-murderer’s screams were silenced for good.
“As we knew it would be,” said Roger Honourbound, and threw Mr Pankhurst’s axe to the ground.
“Rotten to the core, that one,” said Dennis Trueshot.
Margaret Sharpspear turned to the Chief Constable. “Well done, Lanky; an ugly business, but the Plan worked a wonder. What next?”
Lanky sighed. “High time this village got back to normal,” he said. “But first, a stiff drink at the Woodpecker.”
Which Mr Cavendish thought was an excellent idea.
To use the word ‘Ideal’ is to acknowledge a difference of opinion
As October changed to November, it snowed early, as if the weather had decided a good covering of pure white was just what the villagers needed.
On the village green, Max Framley the carpenter, and Gill Croup the engraver, worked in the cold. They had disassembled the old village sign, and were now erecting the new one, which had been kindly donated by Lady Kimble-Blanc. Unseen and silent, Mr Cavendish watched Max and Gill work, as did two others: Lanky, who stood alongside the new Mayor and Chairman of the Parish Council, Charlie Pankhurst.
“Time to set things right,” said Charlie. “I want nothing more than to wash away my father’s madness for good.”
“And there’s no better man for the job, Charlie,” Lanky replied, and he smiled somewhat wistfully. “You were a good bobby, though, and we’ll miss you at the station.”
“Nothing bad will ever come to this community again,” Charlie promised, and so saying, he looked down at the old village sign: Welcome to Ideal Village. He looked up at the new sign, and read it aloud:
“This is Good Village.”
“The final phase of the Plan,” said Lanky.
Having finished erecting the sign, Max and Gill stepped back alongside Lanky and Charlie to admire their handiwork.
“Not bad at all,” Gill said.
“And it makes sense,” said Max.
“It certainly does,” Charlie agreed.
“You know,” said Lanky. “I’ll never understand why someone didn’t suggest changing the name of the village years ago.”
Behind him, Mr Cavendish gave a wry smile. There was nothing left for him to do, and so, pulling his coat tighter about him, he set off through the snow, and headed home.