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A Touch of Magic

Detective Inspector Stan Brookes was woken at just after six in the morning by the phone ringing. He heaved himself out of bed, his toes sinking into the deep pile carpet. Picking up the receiver he said “Yeah.” “Stan, it’s Frank; sorry to wake you but there’s been another escape from Hillsdyke Prison.” “Not again! What are they doing? Giving them the bloody keys?” “I know, these Group Four people are hopeless but the one that escaped last night is listed as violent. I want you to come in and lead the search.” “Yes sir.” Stan put the phone down. The central heating was gurgling into life but the bedroom was cold. He was suddenly overwhelmed by a desire to just get back into bed. “Who was it?” his wife Rowan asked lifting her head an inch off the pillow. “The super,” he replied. “Someone’s escaped from Hillsdyke again.” She grunted in response. He came round the side of the bed and kissed her on the cheek. She opened one eye and smiled at him. “Love you,” she whispered. “Not as much as I love you,” he said back. Then he went to the bathroom. When he got downstairs Rowan was standing by the kettle waiting for it to boil, her pink fluffy dressing gown belted tightly round her slim frame; the light from the window catching her blonde hair like a halo round her head. “Oh love, you didn’t have to get up too. Not on your day off.”

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“I was awake anyway.” “How was last night at the hospital?” “Like any Friday night,” Rowan replied. “Complete chaos. Paper’s on the table.” Stan sat down and flicked through it quickly. The news of the escape obviously hadn’t leaked out yet or it would have been all over the front page. Rowan put his coffee and toast down in front of him. Then she picked up the paper and sat across from him at the Formica kitchen table. Stan sighed. “Go on then,” he said. “Aries; a rather trying day with lots of little problems. Your temper could become frayed at the end of the day but all will be resolved with the help of a touch of magic,” Rowan read. “What a load of bollocks!” Stan snapped. “Oh I don’t know,” Rowan replied. “The temper thing sounds spot on.” “Sorry.” “Should think so too.” “I know your mother swears by all this hocus pocus stuff.” A noise made them both look round. Their son Tristan was standing there in his Thomas the Tank pyjamas rubbing the sleep from his blue eyes. “Tristan, what are you doing up?” Stan asked. “I don’t know Daddy; I just woke up, that’s all. What time is it?” “It’s quarter to seven,” Rowan replied. “Shit!” Stan leapt up from the table. Rowan glared fiercely at him. “Language,” she said. “Sorry. Must dash.”

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Stan grabbed his brown leather briefcase, struggled into his raincoat and launched flying kisses at his wife and son before heading for work. Predictably when he arrived at the police station, workmen were re-surfacing the car park and there was nowhere to park. He had to drive down the street to look for a space. By the time he found somewhere and rushed back to the station he knew he was late. The briefing was already under way when Stan sidled in the door hoping not to be noticed. “Aah Stan, at last,” the Super said, seeing him. “Sir,” Stan replied coming forward and ignoring the tutting and watch tapping of his colleagues. “That’s enough. Settle down,” the Super said. “Now for the benefit of the latecomers… the picture on the whiteboard behind me is of Peter Davies, thirty seven years old, recently of Hillsdyke Prison but now God knows where. He’s a dangerous man with a history of violence, mainly against his ex-wife. He was eventually convicted of attempted murder of said ex-wife when he stabbed her with a bread knife.” “Any news on where he is now?” Stan asked. “We’ve reason to believe that he’s gone to ground in Amersham Woods. “On escaping he phoned his wife…” “Jesus!” “Quite Stan, I agree. She has little love for him anymore for obvious reasons and she called us. We had a couple of uni’s in the flat waiting for him but one of his neighbours on the estate had seen the police car parked round the back and tipped the bastard off. Of course he immediately legged it, one of the officers ran after him while the other went for the car but it was still dark then so…”

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“They lost him.” “Yeah, basically Stan. We don’t know if he’s still in the woods so we need to coordinate a thorough search of that area; which is where you come in. I’ll hold the fort here Stan but I want you leading the troops in the woods. There’s a helicopter on its way and I’ve sent over to Compton for a dog handler. With all our combined efforts we should be able to round this bastard up.” “Yes sir.” “In the meantime, you and I must speak to the media.” Stan groaned. “It can’t be avoided Stan, however much you dislike it. If we don’t warn the public and something happens, we’ll never hear the end of it. Now come on.” Stan trailed the Super out to the front of the station where the usual media scrum was going on. “One at a time,” the Super said, only to be met with a flood of questions. “Is he dangerous?” “How did he escape?” “How long before anyone noticed he was gone?” Stan stood on one side and fidgeted his feet. He would have much preferred to go straight to the woods than have to deal with this. Apart from anything else, he never knew what to do with his face. He’d been told off before for frowning too much but he could hardly grin like an idiot. He tried to keep his expression neutral. The Super took all the questions so in Stan’s opinion, it was pointless for him to even be there but he knew he had to show willing, team effort and all that crap. “And detective inspector Brookes here, will be leading the hunt,” the Super said gesturing in Stan’s direction.

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Stan stood up straight and tried to look imposing. “Do you have any leads,” he was asked. “I can’t possibly comment on an ongoing investigation,” he replied. “Is there a danger to the public?” a woman asked while trying to shove a microphone up his nose. “As Superintendent Marshall has already said, we would advise the public not to approach him directly but to alert us and we’ll deal with him.” “Right, that’s enough,” the Super said and he and Stan battled their way back inside. “Hmmm, that went well enough, but try not to look so bored next time, Stan” the super said. “Keep me informed.” And he strode off. So Stan found himself in a draughty tent in the woods, sat at a wobbly table with a map of the area in front of him and the nearest coffee shop about two miles away. His second in command, Bill Clarkson, was pacing around while talking on his mobile. He looked worried. “Stan, bad news,” he said. “Apparently the helicopter had engine trouble and had to go back to base.” “Christ!” Stan exclaimed. “It’s going to be a nightmare to search these fucking woods without helicopter support. The uni’s will have to go over the ground inch by inch and they could still miss him.” Stan’s mobile rang. “Yes,” he snapped. “Sir, its Constable Ward.” “Ward?” “I’m the dog handler.” “Oh yes, how soon can you get here?”

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“Well that’s the thing. Some idiot’s just driven into the back end of my car so I’m going to be delayed.” “What! Jesus Christ! Can’t you just take his number?” Stan yelled. “Sir, it’s illegal to leave the scene of an accident. I’ll have to at least get his insurance details. I’ll be there as soon as I can.” She hung up. “More bad news?” Bill asked. “Some plonker has back-ended the dog handler’s car and now she’s going to be delayed.” “Christ! What else can go wrong? “Don’t go there.” Stan threatened. And who’d be daft enough to back-end a police car?” Bill said. “Oh they’re about.” Stan replied. “That’s what scares me.” A police woman entered the tent and handed Stan a piece of paper. “Latest tip offs,” Stan said to Bill reading down the page. “Oh go on, I could do with a good laugh,” Bill quipped. “Some old man reckons he saw Davies in Tescos about half an hour ago buying three frozen chickens.” “What on earth would an escaped convict want three frozen chickens for?” “I hate to ask,” Stan said. They both laughed. “Hang on, there’s more. Someone phoned in to say they saw him in Homebase buying a lawnmower.” “What’s he doing? Taking the chickens for a ride?”

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By now both men were clutching their stomachs and laughing hysterically. The policewoman shook her head and left. “Oh dear,” Stan said wiping his eyes. “That’s the trouble with these tip lines,” Bill said. “It’s an idiot’s dream. They’ll be saying they’ve seen him with Lord Lucan riding Shergar down the street next.” “Ah, the great general public, what would we do without them? Anyway Bill, phone back the helicopter support team and find out exactly how long they’re going to be. Stan started sticking coloured pins into the map at spots where the slightly more credible sightings had taken place, then he stepped back to admire his handiwork. “Seeing a pattern?” he asked Bill. “Not really,” Bill replied. They both contemplated the map in silence for a while. “Does Peter Davies know these woods?” Bill asked. “Well according to his file, he and his missus used to live near here. She said they had a dog and it was him that used to walk it; I’ll let you guess where.” “These bloody woods”. Stan nodded. “We’re checking known associates,” Bill said “but so far we’ve drawn a blank. Most of the people he knew lived on the same estate and we gave that a good going over just after he legged it out of there. Trouble is, these woods cover a wide area and there are hundreds of ways of getting in and out of them.” “Don’t remind me. He could be halfway to Glasgow by now. But my gut tells me he’s still here. He’s not smart; the fact that he went straight back to the ex-wife tells

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us that. And he’s never been much of a traveller. He’ll stay here because it’s where he feels safe. Most people are creatures of habit and Davies is no exception.” Bill was back on his phone. “Two hours; you’re sure you can’t make it sooner? No, okay then.” He hung up “That was the helicopter support team. They reckon it will take about two hours to repair the helicopter and get back here.” A uniformed officer came into the tent. “Sir, a woman saw a man answering Davies description while she was out walking her dog.” “Where?” Stan asked. “Here; on the edge of the lake,” the officer said leaning over to point at the map. “Right,” Stan said. “It’s a waste of time the two of us sat here, so you stay here Bill. I’m going down there to take a look.” “Don’t mind me,” Bill replied. “I never do.” Stan strode off towards the lake; glad to be up and doing again after spending so long sat in the tent. The ground was littered with leaves in shades of brown, red and gold. As he approached the lake, the autumn sun shimmered off the water, turning the surface into a thousand spots of glittering light. The uniformed officer, whose name was Kelly, stopped by a grove of trees. He took out his notebook and flicked through its pages. “It was here that the woman saw him,” he said. “She described him as dirty and grubby. She went on to say that when he saw her; he scrambled behind that bank of trees and disappeared from view. She thought he was a vagrant.”

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“Good. Thanks.” Stan knew that Kelly was a bit of a jobs worth but it also meant he was thorough. There were no guarantees that the man the woman had seen was Davies but it was likely; running away as soon as he was seen was suspicious behaviour, Stan thought as he walked along. The area looked familiar to him and he realised it was near to where Rowan’s mother lived. He wondered if he ought to ring her and warn her about strangers. A bad smell came into his nostrils and he looked down but he was too late. He’d trodden in a large wet pile of dog poo. “Shit!” He began wiping his shoe on some of the fallen leaves and grass. He heard some sniggering behind him. “And what is so funny, Kelly?” “Nothing, sir.” “Well stop bloody laughing then!” He’d managed to get most of the poo off but his shoe still stank. Stan’s radio crackled into life. It was Bill. “Stan, the dog handler’s finally arrived. The dog’s picked up the scent and they’re both heading towards you. And the helicopter support team just called back to say the damage was a lot less than they were expecting and they’ve fixed it, so they’re on their way too. “Great! Thanks Bill.” Then Stan’s mobile rang. It was Rowan. “He’s in the woods,” she shouted. “Who’s in the woods? Davies? Yeah I know, I’m…”

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“Not him, Tristan. Nanny has taken him blackberry picking in the woods and they just said on the radio that there’s a dangerous convict is in the woods too.” “Tristan’s in the woods?” “Didn’t I just say that?” Stan heard a screech of tyres. “Rowan, are you driving while talking on your mobile? You know that it’s an offence?” “Oh, don’t be such a fucking jobs worth! This is our son I’m talking about!” She hung up. Shit, Stan thought, never mind Davies, I’ve got to find Tristan. If he and Nanny bump into Davies, they won’t stand a chance. She’s an old lady who walks with a stick and he’s a seven year old boy. Davies is a big guy with a violent past; he’ll make mincemeat of them both. A large fluffy Alsatian shot out of the undergrowth and ran straight past him, stopping only briefly to sniff the ground; a woman police officer came panting up behind him. Stan ignored her and ran after the dog. The dog ran along a footpath and into a hollow known as ‘the Dell’. Stan saw the brambles here were weighed down with blackberries and his heart sank. Oh god, let Tristan be alright, he thought. Running into the Dell his worst fears were confirmed. He saw Nanny and then Tristan but standing behind Tristan with his arm around his throat was Peter Davies. There was something that glinted like metal clutched in his right hand. Stan froze but the dog had no such qualms and raced in biting Peter Davies on the leg. “Aargh! Fuck!” Davies yelled and taking the knife from Tristan’s throat, he swiped at the dog with it. Stan stood open-mouthed as flames shot from Nanny’s fingertips and hit Peter Davies full in the face. He screamed in pain and dropping the knife, fell

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to the ground. The screaming and barking had attracted every police officer for miles around. Constable Ward called off the dog and several other burly officers manhandled Davies into handcuffs and pulled him to his feet. He was screaming “She’s a witch! The old bat blinded me!” as he was led struggling past Stan who noticed there were no burn marks on his face. “We got him,” Bill Clarkson said from behind Stan’s left shoulder. “Isn’t that your son?” he added. “Yes,” said Stan. Tristan was crying but he brightened up as soon as he saw his dad. “Daddy” he cried and flung his arms round his father’s legs. Stan bent down and hugged him. “Are you okay?” he asked. “Yes daddy. I was a bit frightened but nanny saved me. Did you see?” “Umm, yes, well, I think so,” Stan replied looking over at nanny. She was stood leaning on her stick, a pink knitted hat covering most of her white hair. She waved cheerfully at Stan; he waved back. Someone was shouting ‘my son’s down there’ and he looked over to see Rowan struggling to get past a policeman who was trying to hold her back. “It’s alright Briggs,” he called out. “She’s my wife.” Rowan rushed down and nearly hugged Tristan to death. “Oww, mummy. You’re squeezing me.” He complained. “Ooh my baby, are you alright?” “A bad man grabbed me but nanny saved me,” Tristan explained. “Flames came out of her fingers and burned the bad man’s face,” he added. “Nanny can do things like that,” Rowan said.

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Stan felt bewildered. He wanted to say, no she can’t, but he knew she could because he’d seen it himself. “Sir.” Constable Ward was standing behind him. “Did that old woman shoot flames from her fingers or am I seeing things?” she asked. “I don’t know myself,” Stan replied. He shook his head and stepped up to Rowan. “Love, I have to go to the police station and type up reports on all of this.” “Okay then,” she replied. “I’ll take Tristan home. He’s had an eventful day.” “He’s not the only one,” Stan replied. Rowan took Tristan’s hand and Nanny took the other. They started to walk away but Rowan stopped and turned round. “See, I told you,” she called to Stan, “all will be resolved with a touch of magic.”

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A touch of magic