Justice Delayed Is Justice Denied
Dennis heard Rosaleen talking in the kitchen and a man's voice answering. It wasn't heated but rapid, one starting before the other had finished. He wasn't taking in what was being said just following the cadences of her voice and his, back and forth.
'Lord, he thought, don't they ever breathe.'
But then a word caught his ear. Carcass. Something about a carcass in a freezer. He leant over, closer to the door and listened. Cats, he supposed. It was always about cats with Rosaleen; she must've revived yesterday's gossip about several cat carcasses found in the deep freeze at a local takeaway. Nonsense he thought - it was one of those urban myths that become incontrovertible truths in a village setting. Someone saw a routine inspection and decided to add some colourful details for their own amusement.
'...buried in a shallow grave' said the postman.
Dennis's musings stopped as he focussed on listening.
'Never! A shallow grave?' said Rosaleen
'That's right. Near the edge of the field at the new development. They dug him up early this morning. The police have taped off the whole site and now it's crawling with men in those white suits.'
'Have they said who it might be yet?' Rosaleen asked.
'Not yet. Mrs Pegotty was the first to hear about it when some of the builders went in for breakfast. A skeleton it was, must've been there a while. She says the police are going to look back through their unsolved cases.'
Dennis felt his bowels cramp. The new development was right on top of "that place" but he'd kept on fooling himself into believing the past would remain interred and once the new houses were up there was no chance of history coming to light. He'd always thought he could keep it buried by a sheer act of will - if he didn't let the memory surface, the body would remain entombed in the earth too. None of them ever mentioned it; whenever they met the subject was studiously avoided and this seemed to have worked - for over twenty-five years. He wanted to call Ron, see what he'd heard but he new he had to sit tight and wait. He didn't want to do anything hasty that might arouse suspicion or make him look weak and worried.
Straight after lunch Dennis stood up and walked out the room mumbling about something he needed in the village. He'd had no appetite before lunch and Rosaleen's excited chatter about the grim discovery that morning hadn't helped. Unable to hold out any longer he'd resolved to visit Ron; sitting around waiting for half a morning had proven long enough for Dennis. There was nothing else for it, those involved were going to have to face it so a plan of action could be devised and stories straightened out.
It was while driving to Ron's that he received an even bigger shock that almost caused him to crash the car. He didn't recognise him immediately - well it had been over twenty-five years since he'd last seen him - but there was no doubt: it was him, sitting outside the pub watching village life go by and meaning to see and be seen. He felt a hot pricking sensation down his neck as his eyes darted between the road and the rear view mirror until he rounded a bend. The events of that night more than two decades ago played over in his mind and the feeling that this was all more than a coincidence hung heavily over him like the clouds of a summer thunderstorm.
As he pulled up in front of Ron's, Dennis saw him coming out of the house. Not returning Ron's greeting he said 'I need to speak to you. In private'
'Ok. Walk with me to the barn'
'Have you heard the latest news from the village this morning?'
'No I've been busy here all morning. What's "the latest"?'
'They dug up human remains at the new development.'
'Maybe it's an old battlefield - they might find a sword or some coins.'
'Don't be obtuse. Besides that's not the only thing to resurface today.'
'You mean your prodigal cat has returned to the fold?'
'I mean Carter is back in the village, enjoying a pint outside the Duck & Whistle bold as brass.'
'Are you sure it was him, did you speak to him?'
'No I thought we should agree our position first before we ask him what his intentions are.'
'What do you think his intentions are?'
'I don't know Ron but when did you last meet someone with good intentions somewhere they're not supposed to be?'
'He's as much a part of it as the rest of us. He can't incriminate us without landing himself in it too. I think we sit tight and wait for him to make the first move.'
'He's already made the first move coming back here and sitting outside the pub for all to see.'
'Sitting outside a pub isn't a crime.'
'No. But what if someone sees him, recognises him? It might jog a few memories; and when the police start their enquiries, asking questions... That's why we need to speak to him - all of us, well those of us remaining; present a united front. His word against ours so to speak.'
'Except his word is backed up by a body of evidence... and we don't even know that he's going to say anything. He might've thought it was safe to come back after so long.'
'We drove him out the village once we can do it again. I can't relax until he's gone and it's up to us to make sure he goes. We need to meet with Will and Henry and get this dealt with!'
'All right. We'll deal with it tonight. Be back here for eight, I'll call Will and Henry.'
As Dennis drove away he considered what he would tell Rosaleen about his impromptu night out. He'd met and married her after all this business with Burke's farm and he rarely went out of an evening. He knew what Rosaleen was like: always asking questions when she wasn't harping on about her latest bit of news. He told her Ron had asked for his help with a poacher problem and wasn't sure what time he'd be back.
It was a golden summer evening as Dennis drove back through the village and he didn't spot Carter amongst the crowd outside the pub. He was bound to be somewhere close by and it unnerved Dennis that he was in the village but not visible. They would need to know where to find him once they'd decided on their course of action.
Pulling in to Ron's he looked towards the house and saw him talking with Will. Henry arrived as Dennis got out of his car and as they approached Will and Ron, Dennis saw the fishing tackle and cooler. 'I told Rosaleen I was helping you with poachers.'
'And I told the old girl we were going fishing' replied Ron.
'What if she talks to Rosaleen?'
'I'll tell her tomorrow about poachers and say I didn't want to worry her.'
'Well it's not a great start if we can't even get this story straight, said Dennis. Shall we..?'
They set off round the house headed towards the back field that led to the river talking about their farms and other village business. When they arrived at the chosen spot each one busied himself with setting up and settling down. More head in the sand nonsense thought Dennis. How could they be so cool about it - Dennis's stomach had been doing acrobatics all day and he was keen to get things rolling. 'So, we all know he's back then?'
'Who's back?' asked Will and Henry together.
'Carter, he replied. I saw him sat outside the pub at lunchtime.'
'Are you sure it was him? He's been gone a while' said Will.
'Oh it was him alright without a doubt.'
'Maybe he was having a trip down Memory Lane' said Henry.
'We're not talking about a few fond reminiscences. First thing this morning I hear about a body being dug up then I see him enjoying a pint outside The Duck.'
'Look, he can't have known they were going to dig up a body today - we don't even know for sure whose body it is yet. And there's every chance he'll disappear again when he gets wind of what's happened. Right now your nerves are a bigger threat to us' said Ron.
'We can't leave anything to chance, we have to get our stories straight: us against him.'
'He did disappear said Will, that's got to make him look more guilty.'
'On it's own it's not enough' said Dennis.
'But if we tell the police Carter was having affair with Burke's missus and they both disappeared about the same time that should be enough to damn him.'
'That's a pretty good idea, Henry - we claim to know little about it except for what we heard as village gossip; jealous rivals, they both vanished overnight and when Amanda sold the farm and left the village the gossip eventually died down' said Ron.
'That's the other thing, what about Burke's farm?' asked Dennis.
'As we agreed at the time, we all bought equal shares so it looks like a genuine consortium, legit like. We all acted together to help Amanda out in her time of need.'
'So, we tried to bully him into selling his farm and his missus was having an affair, maybe his ghost has come back for justice' joked Will.
'Well I'm not being brought to justice by no ghost said Henry. I'm only too happy to point the finger at Carter if it gets me off the hook.'
'Justice! Bah - that's just another word for punishment, a way of making revenge sound noble' said Dennis.