First Monday Free Fiction: A Grave Case

A Grave Case by Cora BuhlertWelcome to the November 2021 edition of First Monday Free Fiction, which goes out on a Tuesday, because I was really busy yesterday and just forgot to post this.

To recap, inspired by Kristine Kathryn Rusch who posts a free short story every week on her blog, I’ll post a free story on the first Monday of every month. At the end of the month, I’ll take the story down and post another.

November 1 is All Hallows’ Day and November 2 All Souls’ Day, which are traditional days to honour and remember the dead, so what could be a more perfect story for this day than A Grave Case, a murder mystery set at a cemetery.

So accompany Detective Inspector Helen Shepherd and her team, as they investigate…

A Grave Case

Detective Inspector Helen Shepherd parked her battered Vauxhall on the parking lot just off Harrow Road and walked up to the main gate of Kensal Green cemetery.

As she passed through the gate with its faux Grecian columns, she suppressed an involuntary shudder. She’d never liked cemeteries, not even during her misspent punk youth. You’d think that an aversion to cemeteries would be a hindrance for an officer of the Homicide and Serious Crimes Command. You’d be wrong, though, because normally Helen and her colleagues solved the murder long before the funeral, so there was no need to visit a cemetery.

Unless the cemetery was the crime scene, that was.

And the murderer couldn’t even find themselves a nice small graveyard to commit the dastardly deed — no, they had to pick one of London’s biggest cemeteries. For Kensal Green was huge. Huge and full of famous corpses. Freddy Mercury was buried here, Charles Babbage, Ingrid Bergman, Alan Rickman, Christine Keeler, Anthony Trollope, Wilkie Collins, William Makepeace Thackeray, Harold Pinter, Sax Rohmer, a famed highwire artist who crossed Niagara Falls, a nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte, an Indian maharani and several lesser members of the royal family. As well as thousands of unknown folks, including Helen’s Aunt Mabel and Uncle Horace.

Helen suspected that she could still find her way to Aunt Mabel and Uncle Horace’s grave, though she hadn’t been there in ages. But unfortunately, that did not help her find the crime scene.

“Near the Anglican chapel,” the dispatcher had said. So Helen glanced at the signpost and directed her steps that way. She strutted briskly along the path, gravel crunching under her heels.

She did not have long to search. The chapel with its neo-classical columns was looming in the distance when Helen spotted two uniforms loitering among the trees and gothic gravestones.

The uniforms nodded to her, as they lifted the police tape to let Helen through.

“Good morning, Inspector. It’s a bit further down. Turn right at the ivy covered mausoleum, then pass between the weeping angel and the gothic stele and you should find it.”

So Helen picked her way across the uneven ground (“Do not think about why it is so uneven!”). She spotted the mausoleum up ahead, turned to the right, found the weeping angel (“Wasn’t there a Doctor Who episodes about such statues coming alive and killing people?”) and what she assumed was a gothic stele. It did look gothic, at any rate.

Among the graves, she spotted Detective Constable Kevin Walker and Police Constable Martin Jackson. They were both sipping coffee from paper cups, while chatting with a woman Helen did not know.

Helen sighed. She should have gotten herself a coffee. Especially since she’d passed a few coffee shops and bakeries on the way here, including one that was almost directly opposite the cemetery gates.

By now, DC Walker had spotted Helen and waved. So Helen made her way over, wondering whether PC Jackson or one of the other uniforms might be persuaded to head to one of the coffee shops on Harrow Road and fetch her a coffee.

Still, first things first. She nodded at Walker and Jackson. “Good morning, Constables.”

“Hello, Inspector,” DC Walker said. A bit of milk foam clung to his upper lip, obscuring the freckles that dotted his pallid skin.

“Good morning.” PC Jackson raised his cup and grinned, his teeth stark white in his dark face.

“This is Detective Constable Laila Kermani of Harlesden Police Station,” DC Walker introduced the woman next to him. She was about thirty, with brown skin, dark eyes and long black hair she wore tied into a braid at the nape of her neck.

DC Kermani held out her hand. “I’m so glad you’re here, Inspector,” she said, “Maybe now someone will finally take this case seriously. Though it’s a shame that this poor woman had to die first.”

Helen had no idea what DC Kermani was talking about.

“Maybe you could start by telling me what exactly we’re dealing with here,” Helen said.

DC Walker shifted the coffee cup to his other hand and consulted his trusty notebook. “Maureen Pettigrew, aged seventy-eight,” he rattled off, “Found dead on the grave of her late husband Ronald Edward Pettigrew.”

“I assume she did not die of a broken heart.”

“No, boss, she had her skull bashed in,” DC Walker announced with inordinate cheerfulness.

“The victim’s handbag and jewellery are missing,” PC Jackson added.

“Looks like a robbery gone wrong then,” Helen said.

“It was a robbery,” DC Kermani announced, “And it’s not the first time something like this has happened, though it’s the first time someone died.”

***

This story was available for free on this blog for one month only, but you can still read it in A Grave Case. And if you click on the First Monday Free Fiction tag, you can read this month’s free story.

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