Peter thought he had an open and shut case on his hands. But it turned out his prime suspect had the perfect alibi - Peter gave it to him. (This is another hopefully tantalising taste of my growing collection of short stories that bravely explores the "lighter" side of disability. Something only a disabled writer can really get away with. I am on the lookout for a possible publisher but I can't get around much because of my own disability (and consequent thinness of wallet). If you know anyone who might be interested in publishing this type of thing do let me know. Thanks.)
"Ahh! But it's nice to be warm again", sighed Officer Kattrall as he warmed himself next to one of the stations pitifully few radiators. "Especially that end!" With some relief he pulled off his service issue gloves and flexed stiff fingers, savouring for a few moments the freedom of movement. Peter hated the gloves but this time of year officers on the beat were known to have lost fingers to frostbite and in this profession fingers were very important. Having to pull your glove before pulling your revolver was a pain but losing a trigger finger could put you behind a desk quick-smart, and Peter hated desks and paperwork more than he hated gloves.
"Any luck on those smash and grabs today Peter?" "Yes and no," Peter replied cryptically as he turned and gave a wry smile to the Officer-in-Charge who had appeared in the doorway to his right. "Just some local juveniles. We haven't rounded them up yet but we know who they are and where they live. Thought Mick and I might head around there after the parents get home from work. There's some eyewitness statements I'll type up later and we have some store surveillance tapes as well. It's an open and shut case" Peter winced as the phrase left his lips as he recollected the last time he thought he had an "open and shut" case. "Just make sure BEFORE you cuff them this time," the Officer-in-charge admonished good naturedly. Peter winced again, obviously nobody else was going to forget it either. "Hopefully 'Mr Doppleganger' has finally left town and become someone else's headache for a change," thought Peter. "At least if he has moved on the whole thing might just die down and somebody else can become the butt end of the jokes for a change"
'Mr Doppleganger' was a prolific smash and grab thief who had been working the town once or twice a week steadily for nearly six months now. That was until about three weeks ago when a smash and grab raid coincided with a rather large payroll delivery and he managed to make off with a considerable amount of cash. He had not surfaced since. His actual identity still remained a mystery but Peter had dubbed him 'Mr Doppleganger' because of his uncanny resemblance to Richard Hart from the local telephone exchange. In fact poor old Mr Hart was the one and only person ever arrested for the crimes, even if it was only for about 20 minutes or so. In fact that was the very incident that Peter was still trying to live down. It was "Mr Doppleganger's" first raid and as luck would have it it was Peter who took the call. The shopkeeper had just popped out the back for a few moments when he heard the smashing glass but the thief was out of the door by the time the shopkeeper managed to get back to his now decimated front counter. Unfortunately his front window was further along from the doorway and you could not see the steps out the front or the adjacent footpath area so he caught only a glimpse of one trouser leg and a shoe as it disappeared out the door. However the shopkeeper across the road got a good view of the thief emerging from the doorway and swore black and blue it was Mr Hart from the telephone exchange four doors up. So positive was the witness that Peter had immediately visited the exchange and on the similarity of clothing alone arrested Mr Hart on the spot before returning with him to the scene of the crime and handcuffing him to the stair railing outside. Peter then entered the shop to get statements from the shopkeeper and the witness who was by now inside the shop helping the owner to clean up.
Peter was preparing for an "open and shut" case except there was one snag. While taking notes the same smash and grab thief struck again just around the corner. The shopkeeper there also swore it was Mr Hart. Trouble was Mr Hart was still handcuffed to the railing outside when Peter emerged from the first shop. It took quite a few mouthfuls of humble pie on Peter's part to avert a wrongful arrest suite as well as enduring a long and painful lecture from the Officer-in-Charge regarding overhasty actions and reactions.
After that the thief began striking with monotonous regularity once or twice a week and with equally predictable monotony the only clue ever garnered was "I could have sworn it was Mr Hart from the telephone exchange". To his own ears Peter's response now rolled off the tongue like one of those annoying recorded telephone messages. "Mr Hart has already been investigated and cleared of any involvement." But it all stopped about three weeks ago when "Mr Doppleganger's" last raid coincided with a rather large payroll delivery and he managed to make off with a not too small a fortune. "Mr Doppleganger" had not been heard from since. Peter didn't know whether to be annoyed or relieved. It was humiliating to be thwarted week after week but at least every new incident was another opportunity for a breakthrough. One slip, one misjudgment, anything that might lead to an arrest and a conviction. It seemed that regardless of how often a criminal might "get away with it" if the right criminal is eventually convicted, however long it takes, the game goes to the Police. If the criminal stops before he can be convicted the game goes to him - that is the way it is played. Peter wanted to win this one - badly.
Peter couldn't wait and began sipping his tea before he reached the table. Once there however he followed his usual morning (and afternoon) tea ritual. Jacket on the back of the chair, hat and gloves neatly out of the way of the occasional spillage, and tie tucked into left breast pocket for the same reason. As one savouring a great pleasure he eased into the chair and wrapped both hands around the warm steaming mug of tea. On the opposite side of the table Officer Michael Hargreaves looked up from the staffroom newspaper. "You believe in coincidences?" Mick smiled ever so slightly as he raised one eyebrow. "I'm a cop," Peter threw back, sensing one of their frequent 'quipping' matches coming on, "coincidences are right up there with offender's statements and other fairytales". "In that case you might be interested in this little article in today's rag. It seems that your 'Mr Doppleganger' isn't the only one taking a break. It seems your Mr Hart has also opted for early retirement". Taking barely concealed delight at the sudden intense interest that flooded over Peter's face Mick pressed on relentlessly. "It says here that they held a farewell 'do' for him last Friday night at the Telephone Exchange before he flew out to South America on Saturday. Apparently he's buying a luxury villa down there and doesn't plan on returning". Peter was rapidly losing interest in the half-eaten slice of carrot cake in his right hand. Indeed he seem to be having difficulty even swallowing the last mouthful as his highly trained mind began rapidly connecting dots and creating various unpleasant and embarrassing pictures. "Does it say how he is going to do that on what they pay him down there?' Peter forced himself to swallow the carrot cake in his mouth to prevent it spraying the table, and Mick, like so much soggy, brown confetti.
Mick was delighting in stretching out the moment. You don't often get an opportunity to see Peter squirm and such moments were to be enjoyed to their fullest. Besides he knew their long-time friendship both on and off duty could never be harmed this way and in fact thrived on the ability to really rib one another at every opportunity. Today it was Mick's turn. "It doesn't give any details here," Mick continued with deliberate slowness, "but it seems like your Mr Hart came into some sudden wealth recently which prompted him to retire and to 'travel whilst I still have the opportunity'," Mick finished, quoting from the newspaper story. "Don't suppose by chance it mentions anything about him having a twin brother on the quiet?" Peter asked with a certain amount of resignation. "Nnnooo," Mick deliberately drew it out while he fought to stifle the grin steadily enveloping the lower half of his face like a 5 o'clock shadow. "But ... did ... you ... know Mr Hart used to be a pilot ... until he was left partially disabled in a light plane crash about fifteen years ago?" "No," Peter responded automatically. "Yeah, apparently his left hand was totally severed at the wrist." Mick paused to let it sink in a little. He was really enjoying this. "It seems your Mr Hart," Peter quietly wished Mick would stop calling him 'your' Mr Hart, "wears an artificial left hand - a prosthetic - it says here." Mick took his time pronouncing the unfamiliar word. "Apparently it clips in to a socket implanted in the stump."
Peter glanced down at his gloves lying on his hat, like a discarded pair of spare hands. He remembered Mr Hart always wore gloves, even on the day he arrested him. A smile slowly spread across Peter's face. He knew he was going to cop one heck of a ribbing and was going to be the butt of even more jokes but you couldn't help but admire the audacity of the guy and Peter mentally tipped his hat to 'his' Mr Hart after the final dot connected and the picture completed itself in his mind. After all it was the perfect alibi!
Peter hadn't survived on the Police Force for fourteen years without being able to see the funny side of things, it was an essential skill if you wanted to stay sane in this job. He looked over to Mick who was about to explode in anticipation of a reaction. "Mick," it was Peter's turn to be deliberately slow, "if we ever see Mr Hart again remind me to 'cuff anything - other than his left hand!"
D.J. Ludlow Copyright 2002.