The summer of 1927 was as idyllic as ever remembered in the South of England. Old John Ayres had decided to retire to spend more time with his family in Dorset and so the council of Lower Dunston was forced to choose a new village policeman; by popular opinion, George Mahoney was the first name suggested. Fred Hurst nominated himself, of course, but this was quickly discarded because of the obvious reasons that nobody talked about. George, however, was above reproach in the eyes of the villagers. He was known as an honest man, friendly to everyone and, being an ex-miner, had the kind of physical presence that tended to put people off starting fights. Everyone loved George, he seemed like the ideal candidate and was voted in almost unanimously.
Two days later George’s body was found, stiff and a light blue colour, behind a hedge on the road to Upper Dunston. His bicycle was found later that afternoon in the pond behind the butcher shop.
The town council quickly and efficiently convened and appointed Fred Hurst as the new policeman. Hurst was roundly congratulated and there was much backslapping as he was now, without a doubt, the best person for the job.
Earlier in the year some boffins had managed to make a telephone call from New York City to London, bringing the world closer together. However, there was no telephone in Lower Dunston, so Fred had to cycle to Upper Dunston and use the telephone at the police station there. First, he called the hospital and asked if someone could come to the village and look at the body. He was told that someone would be out on the next day to collect it and bring it back to the hospital for an examination. He told them that it was an emergency, but the response was, basically, that Mr Mahoney would not be any deader tomorrow. His next call was to the offices of Scotland Yard in London, requesting that they send a detective, and maybe some constables, to help with the investigation. The man on the phone didn’t laugh, as such, but advised Fred that there were more pressing matters in the big city, but his request would be logged and to please let them know if he solves the case in the meantime.
By the time he had cycled back home he was both tired and frustrated. When he shuffled into the Grey Sheep Inn he barely noticed the stares from the regulars who now considered him as a sort of doomed celebrity, but the familiar smell of sour beer and tobacco smoke soothed his nerves.
He dropped a sixpence on the bar,
Sean Mason, the barman from Kilkenny, shook his head, ‘Sorry Fred, no can do. Council says no whisky for you while you’re carrying out your duties.’
‘Come on now, ya ungrateful paddy. It’s been a long day, they’ll never know.’
Sean flipped the bar towel over his shoulder and crossed his arms.
There was no use arguing with Sean and Fred was aware of this, he had tried often enough. He pushed the coin across the bar.
Sean nodded and picked up the coin.
‘Have you solved the big murder case yet, Fred?’ a voice shrilled from behind him. The unmistakable voice of Mike Bent who always sounded like he had just been kicked between the legs. Coincidentally, after a few minutes speaking to him, that is exactly what most people wanted to do.
Fred’s first instinct was to tell Mike to shut the hell up but then he realised that every face in the small pub was turned to watch him. He straightened up.
‘I’m just back from speaking to the coroner’s department at the hospital, actually.’
There were a few murmurs of approval.
‘And then I called the detectives at Scotland Yard.’
The murmurs turned to mutters and there was even some nodding of heads.
‘And what did they say, Fred?’ whined Mike.
‘They’ve logged the case, all official like. And have offered to send support. If needed ...’
‘If needed? Of course we need it. Who else’s going to find the murderer? You?’
Fred took the beer from Sean the barman and downed it in a single gulp.
‘Where were you last Tuesday night, Mike?’
‘Me?’ Mike’s voice actually went up an octave, ‘Me? I was at home.’
He laughed nervously and looked around to see if anyone else was laughing. They all stared at him with wide eyes.