Chapter Three – Patagonia Jacks


Constable Turner had been entertained for a number of weeks now. It was, he recognised, his great good fortune that his daily beat took him down the steep incline of Powell Street for, half way along, he would always be intercepted by Mrs Lambrick, leaning against the door frame of her ramshackle house, waiting there, ready to advise him of her most recent dealings with the supernatural. As far as Constable Turner was concerned, it was hard to believe that beings from the unfathomable spirit world would find space within their busy diaries to regularly haunt Powell Street. But apparently, according to Mrs Lambrick, they did and with considerable enthusiasm, too.

At the very moment he arrived, neighbours would suddenly appear from nowhere to lend muscle to her argument. They stood sagely, with their arms crossed aggressively, if such a thing were possible, nodding their support. Turner would then endeavour to look thoughtful and serious, occasionally writing in his notebook at this shocking state of affairs. Something should be done. And it was clear that he was the someone who had been selected to do the something. And so today he had. He had brought his dog, Vasco.

 In those quiet moments as he proceeded with his beat beyond Powell Street and on to Neath Road and all the terraced accommodation in the industrial streets of the Hafod, he always asked himself whatever could have possibly possessed Mrs Lambrick to move into this house, as opposed to one of the many available alternatives, a house in which a young woman had been so recently murdered. He repeated that sentence in his mind quite frequently, for he enjoyed his use of the word ‘possessed,’ which made him smile quietly to himself. Thus, he could understand why Mrs Lambrick would enjoy the soothing comfort of being able to repeat the same conversation almost every day, whilst new, and previously ignored evidence, attached itself to her story like barnacles.

‘I am telling you,’ she would say. ‘That woman keeps coming back. In the nights. I see her. She knocks on windows. She keeps moving the kitchen table, which is very annoying, constable, and I’m not inclined to be putting up with it. And then there is that sobbing. Every night.’

‘You sure it’s not the wind?’ he would reply knowingly, a private joke, always ignored, but that didn’t matter. It was a reply without which his day would not have been complete, without which his young face would never have been creased by a smile. A simple pleasure, and he relished it.

‘I am telling you now, constable,’ Mrs Lambrick would continue, ‘this house is possessed and I know it is her. It can’t be my sister Hazel, because she died of pleurisy. They should never have buried her clothes in the garden, like they did. She keeps coming back for them. Someone,’ she said looking at Turner significantly, ‘should dig ‘em up. We don’t want ‘em here. It was terrible what happened to her, but there’s no call for us to be possessed, is there?’ At this point she always folded her arms beneath her bosom and lifted it up, shaking her head. ‘Lovely funeral, they say. Beautiful wreaths. From the police.’ She nodded for emphasis.

‘You see, Mrs Lambrick, I do have an idea…’

It was a sentence he never completed, for she ploughed on with her monologue relentlessly. Turner realised that it was highly unlikely that Mrs Lambrick would ever be prepared to show confidence in any of his ideas. ‘That man comes, too. Dai Price. Keeps looking through the window of a night, trying to cop a look, I shouldn’t wonder. And I will tell you something else,’ invariably squashing Turner’s attempt to reply, ‘I was pegging my washing out on the line and the dirty bugger laid his dirty, murdering hands all over me. Clammy, they were. I turned to give him a slap and he disappeared into thin air, not a word of a lie. And there is more. He keeps taking my smalls off the line.’

Turner routinely speculated on the remarkable leap of faith required to regard those particular garments as small. ‘Now, what I -’

His contribution was still not required, for it was at this point that Mrs Lambrick moved effortlessly to the conclusion of her complaint. ‘So, I wants something done. I wants them clothes dug up and then I shall be able to go and wave at the prince and not fear that I am going to be interfered with.’

He would nod respectfully, for every woman, great or small, should be allowed their dreams. However, no matter how entertaining this ritual exchange had become, he knew, regrettably, that one day it must end. And that was why today he had brought the dog.

It was, he felt, by far the best way. Bringing the dog made it seem that he was taking her concerns seriously, and bringing a modern, scientific approach to her problem, something thoughtful, rational, reassuring. For how else were you to confront a ghost, or even two? Mrs Lambrick had never been entirely consistent about the number of supernatural beings haunting this small and dismal house, which only remained standing because each property in the terrace was supported by the ones on either side. One good sneeze would bring the whole lot down. But even in polite society, one ghost in a house was regarded as more than enough, so why should it be any different here?

He had learned a great deal during his first year in the force. He was acknowledged as a quick learner and the one who had taught him the most was undoubtedly Inspector Bucke. With such a skilled officer as Bucke to model himself upon, Turner had become adept at avoiding overt confrontation and gently easing those he dealt with into the place he wanted them, before they ever realised it was happening. Turner had realised that he could make his own life so much easier, and hers, if he removed the clothes from the garden. It would cost him nothing. She would relax then, she would no longer feel the need to see ghosts everywhere and Turner would be allowed to find bigger issues with which to fill his days, rather than her gin-soaked imaginings. So, he brought Vasco, so that the dog could find the buried clothes, so that he could dig them up and so that everyone would then be content.

Mrs Lambrick was mightily impressed. This was clearly policework of the highest order and certainly no more than she deserved, when you considered how haunted she had been. When he asked for an onion, she knew that this was the right constable for her.

Turner produced from his pocket an old piece of flannel and, quite unnecessarily, rubbed the onion all over it to add detail to this scientific approach. Very proper, thought Mrs Lambrick. Very clever. The neighbours would be jealous.

Then Constable Turner led the excited dog down the passageway through to the garden, its tail bouncing furiously, ready to play the old game, his favourite game. He sniffed the flannel, ran around the muddy desolate space littered with broken bricks that appeared to erupt from the ground, for the sheer pleasure of doing so and then returned to a patch of ground, down by a grey broken wall, and then sat down and yelped.

‘Duw! Duw! That is a marvel! That dog o’ yours has gone right to the place where them clothes is buried.’ This was possibly one of the most exciting moments of her life. She might appear in the newspaper; people would want to view her garden.

‘You knew where the clothes were buried then, Mrs Lambrick?’ Turner asked.

‘Of course I did,’ she said scornfully. ‘You don’t think I am dull, do you?’

Turner had learned that sometimes it was best to keep your own counsel. At least Vasco had found some enjoyment, even if it hadn’t taken him long.

The ground was soft and easy, having been previously worked when the clothes had been buried, and the trowel Turner had brought with him was sufficient.

Mrs Lambrick offered a detailed commentary to her neighbours, who sat on the low wall and leaned over to watch. ‘See the footprints? That’s where that bloody ghost has been standing, churning up my garden,’ she said.’ Look at the size of them boots.’

Turner hadn’t seen any prints at all, but turned, offered a smile and then removed a bundle of clothes from the ground and knocked off some of the wet earth that clung to them. Their burial, not unexpectedly, had served them badly, for they had been thin and worn and hardly serviceable when they had been used. Now, as the final, lost remnants of an innocent life, cruelly taken far too soon, they appeared forlorn, an inadequate representation of a caring young mother.

‘Here we are, Mrs Lambrick. You will be troubled no longer. I am sure of it.’

‘Sergeant Turner, you are a treasure. I told you, Mrs Hampson, didn’t I?’

‘Constable, Mrs Lambrick,’ said Turner as he broke the thin string that held the parcel in place. ‘I am a constable.’

‘Same difference, my lovely. I shall tell your mam, next time I sees her in the market. Hasn’t been for a while, mind. I notice these things.’

He made a mental note to tell his mother of this; one of the very few benefits of her recently acquired immobility. ‘I will take these with me. I am sure they will throw them in the furnace for me down at the copper, if I ask them. You can rest now. The ghosts won’t come looking for the clothes, not once they know they have been removed and then burnt.’ He shook them out. There wasn’t much in the bundle. Just a black skirt, a blouse that might have been brown and an apron with a large pouch along the front. It was sad, he thought; the insubstantial reminders of a life that had gone, ended in fear and agony. But, as he arranged the garments to carry away with him, he felt something in the apron, lost within the folds of the material. He pushed his hand inside the pouch that ran along the front and felt a piece of paper. This was unexpected and he thought it best so say nothing. It was probably unimportant, but he realised that it would not be wise to set more rumours racing up and down the street.

‘Restless spirit, was Dai. Lots of trouble in his life. Never happy. Still, not an excuse for doing your wife in, is it?’ said Mrs Hampson from the wall. ‘And now what has he left behind him? Two orphans. Breaks your heart, it do.’

Turner smiled at her supportive words. He knew about Dai Price. Everyone did. His was a terrible story that had appeared without warning, horrifying the town with its elemental rage and ferocity. A domestic argument, they said, that had moved first to murder. and then on to suicide. That such a thing could have happened amongst them all was so bewildering for the residents of Powell Street. Such things happened elsewhere, not here.

Turner led Vasco, his tail still wagging with pleasure at a job well done, along the damp passage back to the street. He tipped his hat to his audience and then turned down the hill to the right and under the bridge beneath the main railway line before entering the Strand. He stopped and, with the dog sitting alert and happy at his feet, he examined the contents of the apron’s pouch. He found first a single piece of paper folded tightly. Of course it was damp, but thankfully not wet, and very carefully Turner was able to open it. There was a message written in pencil, still legible, and he read it carefully. Then he scrabbled around in the deep pocket and found a second scrap of paper. This one appeared to have been written in ink, which had spread itself across the wet paper, dissolving much of the message. He looked at it for a while and then returned to the first one and read it again.

He lowered the paper and looked along the Strand. All was quiet at the moment, though that was rather irrelevant. He knew he had to return to the police station immediately. He re-folded the paper carefully along the existing creases and put it in his pocket. He patted the dog’s head and was rewarded with a devotional look, though Turner didn’t really notice, lost as he was in his thoughts. ‘What a thing to find,’ he said softly. ‘Come on, Vasco. Let’s go and find Inspector Bucke.’