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When supermarket employee Nelson Grant is found bludgeoned to death next to a half empty crate of bananas, the case seems a complete mystery. For Nelson Grant was well liked by his colleagues, so who could possibly want him dead? But then Detective Inspector Helen Shepherd and her team discover that the crate contained more than just bananas and the case suddenly acquires a whole new dimension. This is a mystery novelette of 12300 words or approximately 45 print pages.
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by Cora Buhlert
Copyright © 2018 by Cora Buhlert
All rights reserved.
Cover image by Unknown
Cover design by Cora Buhlert
Pegasus Pulp Publications
Arriving at a crime scene was not supposed to remind her that she still needed to do some grocery shopping, Detective Inspector Helen Shepherd thought, as she gazed up at the logo of Montrose’s supermarket with its understated, moss green Gill Sans lettering. Not that Helen normally shopped at Montrose’s. Way too pricey, even at a detective inspector’s salary.
She nodded to Police Constable Martin Jackson, who lifted the yellow crime scene tape for her as she approached.
“Good morning, Constable. So what do we have here? Has someone finally realised that the prices Montrose’s charges are criminal?”
PC Jackson flashed her a quick smile. “Never been inside one of those stores myself, ma’am. Are the prices really that high?”
“Believe me, they are. Montrose’s does carry a nice range of cheese and wine, though.”
“Talking of which, the manager wants to know when they can reopen the store,” PC Jackson said.
“Once the scene of the crime officers have finished their work,” Helen said, repeating the standard line she’d given dozens of times to disgruntled managers. She shook her head. “Honestly, does that twat of a manager really think anybody will want to shop in a store, when there’s still blood on the floor from someone getting murdered?”
“Ahem, the crime didn’t happen inside the store,” PC Jackson pointed out.
Helen blinked. “It didn’t?”
PC Jackson shook his head. “No, it happened at the loading dock round the back. DC Walker is already there, with Dr. Rajiv and the forensics team.”
The loading dock at the back of the building looked dingy, compared to the bland upscale classiness of the front. The walls were bare concrete, studded with loading bays and marred by the occasional graffiti. One of the shutters was open, offering a glimpse at some crates and officers in forensic coveralls milling about in the warehouse beyond.
Detective Constable Kevin Walker leant to the frame of the open cargo bay, a paper cup embossed with the Montrose’s logo in each hand. So he’d managed to procure some of Montrose’s doubtlessly overpriced coffee. Good.
“Morning, boss,” DC Walker said, when he spotted Helen. Quite disconcertingly, he was hovering approximately one metre twenty above ground, at lorry loading height.
At the far side of the building, there was a staircase that led up to the loading level. Nothing fancy, just a few steps of bare concrete and a rusty handrail coated in flaking alarm yellow paint.
Helen paused on the middle step, when she noticed a spot on the handrail that was neither rust nor paint. She bent closer to examine the stain. It was dark red and badly smudged. Might be something perfectly harmless, like barbecue sauce or strawberry jam. Or it might be blood.
She signalled DC Walker, who promptly trotted over, coffee in hand. Helen pointed at the dark red smudge. “Have someone from forensics check this out. Might be blood, either the killer’s or the victim’s.”
“Good eye, boss.” DC Walker handed Helen one of the paper cups, before bending down to mark the location of the smudge with a yellow evidence number.
Helen took a sip of her coffee, savouring the taste. All right, so she had to admit it was good. Probably not good enough to justify the price, but definitely good.
“All right, so how many of your hard-earned quids did that coffee cost you?” she wanted to know.
DC Walker grinned. “Would you believe it was free, boss? The manager said he’s eager to cooperate with the investigation and that we could have as much coffee as we want. I guess it’s just because he hopes we’ll let him reopen the store soon, but the entire team is taking advantage of his most generous offer.”
“Well, whatever the reason, that is nice of him.” Helen nodded appreciatively. “And while the manager is being so generous, make sure someone takes a cup to Jackson and whoever else is guarding the perimeter.”
DC Walker gave her a mock salute. “Will do, boss.”
By now, they’d reached the loading bay with the open shutter and stepped inside.
The warehouse part of the building stood in stark contrast to the minimalist elegance of the storefront. The walls and the floor were bare concrete. Crates and boxes lined the far wall, some of them already stacked on carts, others sitting on the floor. A forklift stood abandoned in a corner.
Near the gate stood three crates, obviously recently unloaded. All three of them had been pried open, offering a glimpse of bananas packed inside. On the floor next to the crates, there was a pile of discarded shrink wrap and packing paper.
In front of the crate, the body of a man clad in a dark green Montrose’s smock lay face down on the concrete floor. His skin was brown, his curly hair close-cropped and greying, matted with dried blood. In one hand, the dead man still held a bunch of bananas. Next to him on the floor lay a crowbar, blood drying on its business end.
“All right, so what do we have here?”
“Nelson Grant, aged forty-three,” DC Walker rattled off, “Has been working at Montrose’s as a stacker for five years now. A diligent and quiet employee according to the manager, never late, never missed a day of work, everybody liked him.”
“Well, someone obviously didn’t,” Helen remarked dryly.
She turned to Dr. Rajiv, the forensic medical examiner, who was kneeling on the floor next to the body. “I suspect neither the cause of death nor the murder weapon are much of a mystery in this case.”
Dr. Rajiv looked up, dark eyes glinting behind gold-rimmed glasses. “Well, I still have to conduct a formal post mortem, of course, but my preliminary examination strongly suggests that the cause of death was blunt force trauma to the back of the head.”
“Executed with, if I may hazard a guess, the bloody crowbar conveniently lying right next to the body.”
“Well, again I have to wait for the post mortem to be one hundred percent sure, but yes, I think it’s reasonable to assume that the crowbar indeed was the murder weapon.”
“It’s probably too much to hope that there are fingerprints.”
“Oh, there are fingerprints on the crowbar,” scene of the crime officer Charlotte Wong piped in. She was kneeling on the floor, busily dusting the crowbar with fingerprint powder.
“This crowbar is full of fingerprints, lots of them on top of each other, many of them smudged. The problem will be to determine which of them, if any belong to our killer. Though I can confidently say that these prints…” She pointed at a set of fairly clear fingerprints on the grip of the crowbar. “…do not belong to the killer, since they’re the victim’s.”
“So the victim touched the crowbar?”
“Plenty of people touched this crowbar,” Charlotte Wong corrected, “The victim was just one of them.”
Helen examined the banana crates and found crowbar marks, where the lid had been pried open.
“So the victim used the crowbar to pry open the crates,” she mused.
“I found a shelf with a selection of tools back there,” DC Walker said, “Apparently, everybody working here just grabbed whatever was at hand.”
“So we’ll probably find the fingerprints of every employee of this branch of Montrose’s on that crowbar,” Helen said, “We’ll have to take everybody’s prints, of course, for comparison purposes.”
“Already on it, boss,” Charlotte Wong said, “We’re feeding them the usual line about needing their fingerprints and DNA in order to exclude them, of course.” She shook her head. “I can’t believe that suspects still fall for that one.”
“Lucky for us that they do,” Helen said.
She looked around the warehouse, taking in the crates, the pile of discarded shrink wrap and packing paper, the open loading bay, the body and the crowbar on the floor.
“So what happened here?” she mused, “Nelson Grant opened the crates with a crowbar and put it down. Then someone else grabs the crowbar and brains him with it.”
“It’s a convenient weapon,” DC Walker said, “Heavy, easy to use, accessible. It probably wasn’t even premeditated. An argument gets out of control and the crowbar is just there. Grab the crowbar and slam.” DC Walker slapped his right fist into his left palm.
“So you think the killer is one of the employees?” Charlotte Wong wanted to know.
“Not necessarily. Could have been someone sneaking in from outside.” Helen regarded the open loading bay shutter, leading out onto a quiet backyard. “Was that thing open, when you got here?”
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