The False Knight
by Peter Turnbull
Art by Allen Davis
That particular week the Vale of York baked under a relentless sun. It was, in fact, warmer in the Vale than it was along the sultry south coast of England. That week the builders toiled clothed only in shorts and boots, cars that could be were driven open-topped, tourists flocked to the ancient city of York where the pavements baked, children splashed in paddling pools, and dogs with dark fur suffered. Over the landscape the sky was wide and blue.
Donovan Inch drove the 138A Rider York service on a route he found short and dull, but he was a new driver and that was the rule. Everybody wants long routes that get them out of the city, it was explained, so the new drivers get the unpopular routes. Stay with us long enough and you’ll get a medium-distance route eventually, and a long-distance route, say to the coast and back, after that. But right now, for you, it’s city centre, suburb, and back, from six a.m. until nine p.m., with two one-hour breaks to make it all legal, three days on, a half-day, then three and a half days off. Oh, and you’ll always be tired when driving the bus—is what was said to him. He hadn’t liked the sound of it, but he was a young man with a wife and young son and another on the way. So he began to drive for Rider York, long chunks of time on duty, long chunks of time off duty, but the money paid the bills and there was the promise of longer, more interesting routes if he stuck at the job.
Donovan Inch first noticed the body, for that is what it subsequently transpired to be, when the rush hour had died away and the roads became clearer and the folk riding his bus became fewer. It was, he saw, the body of a female, a young female who was clearly enjoying the day, reclining faceup, one leg bent at the knee, arms to one side, head inclined away from the road. She was lying on an area of grass which led to the river, and about one hundred yards from the road. Donovan Inch glanced at her and returned his attention to the road. One hour later he drove past the reclining woman again and registered that she was still there. Nothing curious about it, he reasoned, a day like this, she was not doing what many young people, particularly young women with time on their hands, were also not doing. He did, though, notice that she hadn’t appeared to have moved during the intervening sixty minutes, leg bent at the knee, arms by her side, head on one side. Or perhaps she had, he thought, and she had moved back into the position she had been in when he had first seen her. Sixty minutes after that he drove past the place where the woman lay for the third time and noticed that she was still in the same relaxed-looking position. That was the point at which Donovan Inch began to feel unease. It was at that point that a certain dread rose in him, but he had a bus to drive, people to ferry into the ancient city. He did however note the nearest phone box that he passed after driving on, leaving the girl, who had not moved for at least three hours, to continue sunning herself. It was on the fourth sighting of the girl, one hour after the third sighting, that Donovan Inch knew something was amiss, because she still hadn’t moved . . . lying faceup, knee bent, arms to one side, head still rolled over to the right. He drove on . . . until he came to the phone box, left the bus, and dialled three nines. “Don’t know whether this is an emergency,” he panted apologetically, “but we are always told to report anything suspicious . . . but anyway, there’s this lassie . . .”
Tango Delta Foxtrot was ordered to respond to Donovan Inch’s call. P.C.s Murphy and Hastings, having left the vehicle at the roadside, walked cautiously to where the girl lay, being exactly where and looking exactly like Donovan Inch had reported.
“Hello, miss,” David Hastings called as he drew closer to the young woman.
“I think she’s gone to a better place.” P.C. Murphy was older than Hastings, more bitten, and he’d seen more dead bodies than his young, eager colleague. “See the flies?”
“Yes.” Hastings approached anyway and felt for a pulse on the young woman’s neck. “No pulse,” he said, “and the skin feels clammy.”
“Dead.” Murphy reached for the radio which was attached to the collar of his starched white shirt. “Tango Delta Foxtrot—Control.”
“Control.” The response was immediate, loud, crackly.
“Responded to the three nine call at the edge of Askham Bogs . . . confirm one deceased of the female sex . . . bruising to the throat and so we must assume it’s a suspicious death. Police surgeon, S.O.C.O., and C.I.D. requested.”
“Understood, Tango Delta Foxtrot. . . . Please remain at the scene.”
“Will do.” Murphy released the Send button and asked Hastings to remain by the body while he fetched a plastic sheet from the car. “The cavalry’s on its way,” he said with a wry smile.
“So young,” Hastings said, “so attractive . . . everything to live for.”
“Well, try not to let it reach you, every death before its time has a sadness about it. Don’t let it affect you.” Murphy brushed a persistent fly away from the girl’s eyes. “And don’t stand too near the body . . . you might be contaminating a crime scene.”
Hastings dutifully stepped farther back from the corpse. Murphy turned and collected a heavy-duty plastic sheet from the car, which he carried to the body and, with a care and a sensitivity which surprised and impressed Hastings, for he had not thought the cynical Murphy to be capable of such gentleness, he laid it over the body, leaving the head exposed.
Detective Sergeant Yellich arrived at the scene, followed closely by the van containing the scene-of-crime officers and that in turn was followed by the turban-headed Dr. Mann, the police surgeon. Yellich approached the body, which was by then but a mound on the grass, covered with a heavy-duty plastic sheet. He nodded to Murphy and Hastings and then stepped back as Dr. Mann also approached. Dr. Mann knelt down and lifted the plastic sheet and further exposed the head and neck of the still only apparently deceased young female. He felt for a pulse and, finding none, he stood and turned to D.S. Yellich. “Yes,” he said, “she is deceased. I pronounce death at . . .” he glanced at his watch, “at twelve forty-three hours this day.”
“Twelve forty-three, agreed.” Yellich checked the time with his own watch and recorded the time in his notebook. He then turned to P.C. Murphy and asked him to remove the sheet completely from the body. When that had been done, and the S.O.C.O. had photographed the deceased from every angle in colour and black and white, the sheet was replaced over the corpse, this time, death having been pronounced, completely.
“One for the forensic pathologist.” Dr. Mann, short and rotund, stood in front of Yellich. He put his hands up to his neck. “Bruising, just here . . .”
“It looks like that to me. It’s quite extensive; it’s certainly consistent with any and every case of strangulation that I have seen. But that’s really one for the pathologist.” Dr. Mann smiled. “Well, my job’s done . . . a small part of the whole of my job, but the whole of my job in respect to this job. Easier than taking blood samples from drunken motorists.”
“But more distasteful, sir, I imagine. I mean, at least said drunken motorists are alive.”
“Indeed. Well, I have to crack on. . . . I am needed elsewhere in the famous and fair. Good day.” Dr. Mann turned and walked back to his car.
Yellich turned to Hastings. “Get on your radio, please,” he said. “Ask Control to contact York District Hospital. . . . Forensic pathologist required at this location.”
“Very good, sir.” Hastings gripped his radio and pressed the Send button.
Yellich glanced about him. The foliage was lush and green; it was high summer, the sun high and hot, too hot for his liking. Beyond where the deceased lay was Askham Bogs. They would be quite dry in this weather, Yellich thought. To the left was the golf course and on the far side of the main road down which Donovan Inch had driven his bus four times before he reported the body—fairly so, Yellich believed, for he could be forgiven for thinking that what he saw was a young woman sunbathing—was an area of prestigious private housing, many by then with windows open so as to allow the air to circulate and the heat to escape. To his right was the city of York, with the medieval centre clustered round the magnificent Minster. And here on the grass, under a plastic sheet, was the body of a woman who had been robbed of life cruelly early.
Presently a red-and-white Riley RMA circa 1947 drew up at the curb behind the police vehicles, and Yellich watched as Dr. D’Acre opened the driver’s door of the car and pivoted in the seat, putting both legs out together with practised ladylike ease. She was dressed in green disposable coveralls and a white disposable hat and carried a polished black leather Gladstone bag. She walked confidently as she approached Yellich, who nodded deferentially as he neared her.
“Mr. Yellich,” Dr. D’Acre said. “What have we?”
“Deceased of the female sex, ma’am. Dr. Mann pronounced death at twelve forty-three this day.”
“Twelve forty-three,” Dr. D’Acre echoed as she knelt beside the plastic sheet. “Very precise of him.”
“Adds a touch of credibility, I suppose.” She peeled the sheet back. “Twelve-thirty would sound sloppy. . . . Oh my, so young, so attractive . . .” She opened her bag and fumbled inside for a handheld digital recorder and after recording the date and time and sex and approximate age of the deceased said, “Large-scale bruising about the neck is obvious.” She lifted one of the eyebrows, which resisted the strength in her fingers but “gave” eventually. “Rigor is establishing,” she added for the benefit of the microphone. “Petechial haemorrhages in the eyes are noted, which further indicates suspicious death.” Dr. D’Acre, watched intently by Yellich and the two officers, removed the lower garments of the deceased and took a rectal temperature. She turned to Yellich. “This will help ascertain what you want and what we shouldn’t give.”
“Time of death?”
“Correct, Mr. Yellich,” she smiled. “Over the years we have been bullied and coerced into pinning down the time of death, not helped by film and television, which have encouraged that role for us to play . . . and now the police want that information from us. In reality, it’s a case of life imitating art.” She extracted the thermometer and noted the reading. “In actual fact, our job is confined to establishing the how or the why, not the when.” She replaced the rectal thermometer in its case and extracted another thermometer which she used to take a recording of the ground temperature. “But we wish to help and so we do, but frankly the time window that the pathologist gives is so wide as to be of little use.”
“Frankly common sense is a better indicator . . . when she was last seen alive before her body is found is as accurate a time of death as you can get, so many variables. A corpse actually increases in temperature for the first few hours after death in the tropics. . . .”
“Didn’t know that.”
“It’s true. . . . Well, I can do no more here. . . . I’ll have the body conveyed to York District Hospital. Do you know who she is?”
“We don’t, ma’am.”
“All right . . . well, she is neat, clean, casually but smartly dressed. . . . She is somebody’s daughter. . . . She will be noticed to be missing by now. Soon somebody will be weeping. I’ll wait until she has been identified before I conduct the postmortem.”
“Very good, ma’am.”
“I don’t think she will be long in being identified.”
“I don’t think so either, ma’am.”
The discovery of the body on the grassed area by Askham Bogs and the golf course was reported on the three-p.m. news bulletin. At three-forty p.m. an agitated man and a trembling woman stood at the enquiry desk at Micklegate Bar Police Station and said, “The young woman . . . reported on the news . . . We think it’s our daughter.” Two hours later, when Mrs. Cheeseman was by then only gently weeping, Mr. Cheeseman said, “It’s not like you see it in the films. I had expected a body to be pulled out in a drawer.”
“No . . . not anymore.” Yellich spoke softly.
“Behind a pane of glass, so neatly tucked up . . . just her . . . like she was floating in space . . . and at peace, it’s a better last sight of her.”
“Yes,” Yellich nodded. “It’s very sensitive, very clever. Are you able to help us?” Having returned from York District Hospital, D.S. Yellich and Mr. and Mrs. Cheeseman sat in a spartan interview room, cream-colour walls, a desk, four chairs, a window of opaque glass set high in the wall.
“I’ll answer for both of us, Mr. Yellich.” Mr. Cheeseman held his wife’s hand. “My wife . . .”
“Of course.” Yellich opened his notepad. “So, your daughter’s name is . . . was . . .”
“Was . . .” Cheeseman echoed. “That’s going to take a lot of getting used to.”
“I’m sorry. . . . I wish there was some way to make this easier.”
“Well, there isn’t, young man, so just ask away.” Donald Cheeseman was a man in his fifties, white hair, neatly trimmed, clean-shaven save for a pencil-line moustache, neatly turned out, highly polished shoes, not a thread of clothing out of place. To Yellich he reeked of being ex-military, but of the ranks, not a commissioned man. “Her name was Jennifer Cheeseman, she was twenty-three years old.”
“In a bank.”
“I see.” Yellich wrote on his pad. “We’ll have to do a postmortem.”
“You’ll have to cut her open?”
“I’m afraid so, Mr. Cheeseman.”
Mrs. Cheeseman began to wail, “No . . . no . . . no . . .”
“We have to find out what killed her.”
“She was murdered. That killed her.”
“Yes, but how? Then we have to look at who. Do you know of anyone who might want to harm your daughter?”
“That man . . .” Dorothy Cheeseman whimpered.
“What man?” Donald turned to Dorothy. “What man? What man? I never heard about a man.”
“We didn’t want to alarm you. . . . Your heart . . .”
Donald Cheeseman let go of his wife’s hand. He stood. “If I find you’ve kept something from me that could have saved Jennifer’s life, I’ll never forgive you.”
Dorothy Cheeseman held up a hand, grasping for her husband. “I’m sorry. . . . I’m sorry. . . .” But Donald Cheeseman was adamant. He stood ramrod stiff, glaring at his wife.
“Sorry . . . sorry . . .” But her words were of no use.
“I have no information for you.” Donald Cheeseman turned to Yellich. “I know nothing. . . . My wife clearly does. . . . You’d better get it from her.” He walked out of the office, leaving the door open and ignoring Yellich’s request to remain. Yellich patiently waited until Dorothy Cheeseman, a small, timid-seeming woman, but equally well dressed as her husband, spoke.
“He was a man who seemed to be totally taken by Jennifer.”
“Do you know his name?”
“Just a nickname. ‘Rigger’—he liked being called ‘Rigger.’”
“Rigger.” Yellich wrote in his notebook as Dorothy Cheeseman snivelled into her saturated handkerchief. “Do you know where he lives?”
She shook her head.
She shook her head. “Didn’t want to tell Donald. He’s had three heart attacks . . . a fourth could kill him. He’d fret about Jennifer and she’s our only one. He just wanted to live to see her settled.”
“So, tell me about ‘Rigger.’”
“Kept phoning the house—that’s when she lived with us—always in the evening, when Donald was at the British Legion. He always seemed to know when Donald was out, as though he was watching the house, or watching the Legion and saw Donald arrive . . . nearly every night. Jennifer met him at a party and he seemed to take to her. . . . But she didn’t take a shine to him at all . . . not at all,” she sniffed. “But he just wouldn’t take no for an answer.”
“You could have changed the telephone number.”
“Not without telling Donald. . . . And his heart—we decided the best thing for Jennifer to do was to move out, get a flat of her own. Donald didn’t like it but he saw that Jennifer was a woman and had a life of her own to lead . . . so he gave his approval, but insisted on decorating it for her . . . and that seemed to do the trick because as soon as Jennifer moved out, the phone calls stopped. He must have been watching our house.” She took a series of deep breaths. She was calming, but Yellich knew the grieving would take years. “Then one day he came to our house . . . when Donald was away . . .”
“You saw him?”
“Oh yes . . . Donald was away in France with the Legion . . . the anniversary of the Normandy landings. He didn’t take part, too young, he was a peacetime soldier in the nineteen sixties . . . but he went to help the veterans . . . a lot of whom are frail elderly now.”
“Well, this man ‘Rigger,’ he came to my house . . . demanding to know where Jennifer lived.”
“So you got a good look at him?”
“When was this?”
“So recent too.”
“Yes . . . he won’t have changed much.”
“All right, if you could take your time . . . and in your own words . . . describe him.”
“Well . . . a false knight . . .”
“You know the legend of the false knight? It’s a folk-tale version of the Biblical warning that the devil can assume a pleasing form.”
“Oh yes . . . that rings Sunday-school bells.”
Dorothy Cheeseman forced a smile. Yellich thought that to do that was both difficult and brave. “Well, he was the false knight if ever I saw him. . . . Good-looking, tall, well dressed . . . charming at first . . . but when I refused to tell him where Jennifer lived, he pushed into the house . . . shouting . . . throwing things about. . . . He even tore down the curtains in the living room.”
“Blimey! You didn’t phone the police?”
“I did then . . . three nines . . . I was in fear of my life; only when he knew the police were coming did he leave. . . . The police scared him. He told me he’d be back and when he came back he’d want Jennifer’s address. Then he ran and I went to the front of the house and saw him jump into a little red sports car and drive away.”
“Do you know if the police apprehended him?”
“No . . . that is to say, I don’t know. I just tidied up before Donald got home. I never told anyone . . . not even Jennifer.”
“How old would you say ‘Rigger’ was?”
“Not old. . . . Eighteen.”
“About that . . . too young for Jennifer, much too young.”
“She was strangled.” Louise D’Acre held the phone to her ear by trapping it between the side of her head and her shoulder whilst using her hands to read the notes she had dictated during the postmortem of Jennifer Cheeseman and which by three p.m. that day had been typed. “No other injuries. Her attacker was very strong. The bruising is extensive, as you saw this morning. . . . But in addition, her thorax was crushed.”
“Wow!” Yellich scribbled on his notepad. “As you say, someone with strength.”
“She left a present for you,” Dr. D’Acre continued, “quite a generous one. She put up one hell of a fight. . . . Her attacker’s face must be deeply gouged . . . no problem in obtaining a DNA profile from all the blood she had under her fingernails.”
“That’s excellent news . . . well, for us it is.” Yellich still felt for the youth of the victim.
“I’ll fax this to you and get the blood samples off for DNA profiling and for your records, but as you’ll read, D.C.I. Hennessey attended the P.M. for the police.”
“He did?” Yellich couldn’t contain a note of surprise. “I was wondering where he was.”
“He was attending the hospital on another matter. He volunteered to attend the P.M. to save you a trip, I shouldn’t wonder. Well, bye.”
“Thanks, and bye.” Yellich replaced the receiver gently. “So that’s where he was,” he said aloud. He was unused to doing things on his own initiative; he found the experience challenging and exhilarating. He was, he thought, perhaps, just perhaps, ready for another step up the ladder. He added the results of the postmortem to the Jennifer Cheeseman file and then walked along the C.I.D. corridor to see if perchance Detective Chief Inspector Hennessey had returned from the York District Hospital.
Perchance he had.
Yellich knocked on the front of Hennessey’s office doorway. “Got a minute, boss?”
“Yes,” Hennessey smiled. He was silver-haired, had lines on his face and liver spots on his hands. “I think I know what you want to talk about. . . . Have a pew.”
“I understand you were at the postmortem, boss?” Yellich sat in front of Hennessey’s desk.
“Yes. I happened to be in the hospital talking to Dr. D’Acre about another matter. The body had just been identified and she mumbled something about having to wait for your return before she could do the P.M. ‘Why?’ said I, the procedures dictate the P.M. must be observed by the police but not necessarily by the interested officer, and I received one of her rare but beautiful smiles.”
“I bet you did, sir. She seemed anxious to crack on.”
“So she was strangled but clawed away at her attacker. Lots of blood under her fingernails. So where now, Yellich?”
“I was thinking of her home, sir. . . . She has a flat of her own. Her mother provided me with the address.”
“Okay. How do we get in?”
“With the key.” Yellich held up a rabbit’s-foot key ring. “I drove her mother home after the interview. She gave it to me then.”
“How’s she taking it?”
“As you’d expect. . . . The bottom has fallen out of her world. Gave us a prime suspect . . . one ‘Rigger.’” Yellich told Hennessey about ‘Rigger.’
“Do we know him?”
“Ah . . .”
“Well, check, will you? I am sure you were going to . . . but do so before we leave to visit her flat.”
Jennifer Cheeseman’s flat was located above a shop in the village of Stapleton next the Wold, to the north of York, in secluded countryside. The village had a wide green with a pair of decaying stocks, a stone on which its war dead were remembered, a silent reminder of the testimony that “every village raised one,” two pubs, the Farrier’s Arms and the Jolly Ploughman, their names attesting to the rural setting of the village, a post office, and an array of small shops. Children played with a ball on the green; ducks swam on the pond at the edge of the green. A motor vehicle made a slow progress on the narrow road at the far end of the village from Hennessey and Yellich’s vantage point. Yellich thought it an odd place for a twenty-three-year-old city girl to make her home. He said so.
“Not if you are escaping unwelcome attention,” Hennessey replied. “It’s easy to tell if you are being followed on the drive here.”
“I suppose that has to be the explanation, sir . . . and in fairness it’s not a long drive into the city and the clubs and pubs. . . . Actually, I could enjoy living here.”
“You’d never get full acceptance . . . if that’s what you want. I doubt that young Jennifer Cheeseman was bothered about that . . . just nestling in here until ‘Rigger’ turns his attention towards some other luckless female . . . that would be her attitude, I would think. All right, let’s see what we see.”
Jennifer Cheeseman’s flat was neatly kept but cramped. There was a bathroom, a small kitchen, and a sitting room with a single bed in the corner. There was a phone on a small table beside the settee. The answerphone light was flashing. Hennessey picked up the receiver. He dialled 1471, listened, and heard “phoned today at fifteen-thirty hours.” Hennessey then pressed the answer button on the machine and both officers listened to a trembling voice: “Jennifer . . . it’s Valerie. . . . I’m so sorry . . . I did something stupid . . .”
# # #
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"The False Knight" by Peter Turnbull, Copyright © 2015 with permission of the author.
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