Roxie and Mika working hard on the case
SHERLOCK JONES AND THE HOUNDS, AND THE BICYCLE
It all started on a Friday evening about two months ago. It was dusk, and although the Sun had nearly dipped below the horizon, there was still sufficient light filtering through the branches into the woods to make the use of a torch unnecessary. Both myself and the dogs know our way around; there is not a path there that we have not walked along.
This particular evening, bicycle tracks and a trail of empty wrappers led us along a seldom used track that we knew to be a dead end.
Hidden in the small clearing at the end of the track was a bicycle half in and half out of the bushes. This was no ordinary bike. The wheel rims were lime green, the frame black, and the pedals were finished with a golden sheen. If you wanted a bike that was both functionally sound and looked good to pose with, then this was the one for you. And like all of the debris that had lured us here, it was obviously stolen.
I took a mental note of the make of the bike, Mika looked disappointed that it was nothing edible, and Roxie looked about hopefully for any sign of rabbits. On the way home, I sketched out a plan of action in my head.
To begin with, I fired up my laptop and googled stolen bicycles of the appropriate make that had gone missing in the area. Most of the sites that came up had nothing to do with bikes that had been stolen, but were more concerned with marking and registering them before they had been stolen. Even the few that did list stolen bikes were of limited help, the majority having gone missing months or years before.
After drawing a blank with google, I moved on to ArseFace. My own account would be of little use to me in this investigation. I only really use it to funnel people towards these essays and stories - as many of you will be well aware if you arrived here via that route - so its reach is somewhat limited. My first ArseFace account - which I ignored upwards of ninety-nine percent of the time - had hundreds of 'friends' on it. Rachel set it up for me and dumped just about everybody from her own account onto it and I didn't have a scooby who on Earth the vast majority of them were.
But this was exactly the sort of reach I required. So, I got Rachel to put a notice on her own ArseFace account so that the more recently expanded list of her 'friends' could check their sheds for errant bicycles and respond with a description of any absconding pedal driven transportation. As with google, I drew another blank.
And so, the next move was back to my own computer to try the police website. I would have called the local police, but since they no longer exist this was not possible. Rationalisation of the police force means that it all comes under the banner of Kent Police, and it was to their website that I now turned. They had reports of stolen motorbikes and motor scooters, but no recently missing bicycles in the appropriate area.
Undeterred I sent them a message describing my findings and asking them for their advice.
The following day the bicycle was still there. I considered moving it, but the logistics of controlling the bike and two large dogs was daunting. Previously, I have voiced a wish to train the dogs to pull a shopping trolley as a means of post public house session transport. ¹ But, when it came down to it, I bottled it, and the bicycle stayed where it was.
I wish that I had moved it though, because the following day it was gone. That same day I received a computer-generated reply from the police informing me that my message had been received and had been redirected to the appropriate police department, and somebody would contact me in a few days. They were already a day too late. I have never seen the bicycle again and the police have never bothered to contact me - at least not in connection with the bicycle.
All of my dealings with the police since my teens have been less than satisfactory. One of my earliest run-ins back then occurred whilst walking home early in the morning after a long night out. A van pulled over, and a woman police officer got out and asked where I was going. At first, I thought that she was on her own - not that skinny little teenage me would have been much of a threat to her - but then I realised that she was accompanied by a fuck-off great big police dog in the back of the van, the rear doors of which she stood close to. Big dogs have never intimidated me: my attitude has always been that if you are friendly to them, then they will be friendly to you. So, I looked around the WPC and smiled at the dog, and the dog looked inquisitively back at me.
WPC Dog-Handler would have been unaware that I had been stopped by one of her male colleagues the month before - also with dog (maybe even the same one for all I know). I was on the same road travelling back from a night's music and drinking around a friend’s house whose parents were away. Parents understandably wish to go away without their kids, and the kids in turn wanted them to go and leave them with a house to play with: this is a scenario as popular with parents and offspring now as it was then. The policeman - investigating burglaries in the area - disappeared rapidly when asked if he was up for giving me a lift home. As taxi services go, the police are pretty shit.
This time, with WPC Dog-Handler, things were a little more complicated. I was returning from a romantic liaison early in the morning so as to avoid a potential parental encounter which neither I nor the young lady whom I had just left thought advisable.
I gave Dog-Handler a rough idea of my destination, but this was not enough to satisfy her and she wished to know where I was coming from. I gave her another vague answer omitting not only house number, but road name too.
She wanted to know what I was doing there, and I gave Dog-Handler a sanitised version. She said that there had been a burglary in the area (obviously an in-vogue excuse for stopping me on my way home; Dog-Handler had seemingly read the same stop and search training manual as her male colleague). She said that she would need the full address of my night-time liaison to confirm my story.
I told her that it would not be very diplomatic of me to part with that information. I did not want to be responsible for the police arriving at the address, especially with the imminent arrival of girl's parents. Doubtless, that scenario would have put paid to any future repeat liaisons.
Dog-Handler insisted, and I continued to resist. I asked if she thought that I had really burgled someone’s house and then proceeded to walk the three miles home empty handed? If there was nothing else, would it be alright if I continued on my way?
To my surprise, Dog-Handler let me go, got back in her van with her canine partner, and watched me walk on up the road whilst she talked on her radio. She never even followed me.
A year later there was another incident with some startling similarities. I do not wish to give the impression that I was busy trying to work my way through as much of the female population as I could. Although, as a rampant teenager I would have given it a go, the truth was that I was not as irresistible to women as I might have wished, and was probably a bit of a twat as well. Of course, persistence does tend to pay off, and I did have my moments. But it does make you wonder why, limited as it was, the police wished to interfere so often in my love life.
And so it was, that about a year after being questioned on the street as a leading suspect in a probably fictitious burglary, I was in a park with a young lady in the pitch black at about ten or eleven in the evening. Things were just getting interesting when a torch suddenly illuminated our nocturnal fumbling’s. The torch was attached to a policeman, complete with silly hat.
As we were quickly trying to replace our clothes, not being one to shy away from stereotypical behaviour, the policeman asked, ''And what is going on here then?''
''Well what does it look like. What do you think is going on here then?'' I replied, his stupidity negating any embarrassment that I should have been experiencing.
Ridiculously, he told me, ''There has been a lot of vandalism in this park.'' Vandalism probably being the convenient park equivalent of a fictitious burglary.
''Does this look like vandalism?'' I snapped at him.
We were escorted from the park, after which the policeman returned to his spying. Our route to the train station took us past the small local police station (they don't have them anymore) where my girlfriend wrote on the police car parked out of the front. Time has dimmed the memory, but it was either 'pigs' or 'bastards' that she wrote. Two can play the stereotypical game. I missed my last train home.
Two months later, with the same young lady, I felt the long arm of the law upon my shoulder as we were looking in a shop window. I bore a close enough resemblance to a suspect that they had in custody that they wondered if I could spare the time to take place in an identity parade.
Reluctantly I agreed, and spent half of the afternoon in the police station instead of searching out a secluded location as had originally been intended. It was, as they say, with a certain sense of irony that I learnt that the accused had been arrested on suspicion of flashing women in a local park. Later, I told my girlfriend. Oh, how we fucking laughed.
The police force which I seem to encounter seems to have more in common with a Carry On film than a front-line organisation in the fight against crime. So, you will understand that when the stolen bicycle in the woods was replaced with a motor scooter a week later - complete with broken ignition and leads hanging out where it had been hotwired - the dogs and myself decided not to waste our time bothering the police.
Things had started to add up though. Last year, a motorbike had been burnt out nearby and it is still possible to see the blackened vegetation. It doesn't take a genius - so even the police might be able to manage it - to work out the connection.
Over the next two weeks, the procession of purloined two-wheeled vehicles ceased. But I had noticed a lot of makeup - eye liner, lipstick etc - and paper lying around, but it failed to really grab my attention. Pretty stupid on my part.
By now the evenings had drawn in considerably and our excursions into the woods were now conducted largely in the dark. I do have a light, but don't always switch it on if the ambient light is enough. Thus it was, that I was drawn towards a fluorescent glow in the low branches of a small tree.
At first, I thought that it was a luminescent grub or insect and made the dogs wait whilst I investigated (''Just stand fucking still, will you?''). It turned out to be a bunch of keys. There was a luminous phial on the key ring to help the owner locate them if they were dropped in the dark. Instead, it was me who found them, which would not have happened if I had had my headlamp switched on.
That they had been thrown into a tree immediately told me that they had been stolen, and I quickly made the connection with the makeup that I had seen strewn about. A careful search of the area unearthed more items.
Back home, I looked at the sum of the items that I had recovered. Not a lot, but it was still property that had been stolen from someone, and I wanted to return it.
I had a dental card, a Nectar card and a QVC membership card, all of which had a name on. I also had a small mirror which slid inside a small faux leather case with a dog motif on the front. The make-up I had left behind as unsalvageable. And then there were the keys.
Attached to the key ring, in addition to the keys and the luminous phial, were two objects of interest. Firstly, there was a small key fob modelled on a New York street sign with the name Jane on it, which tied in with the name on the cards.
The second item was a Tesco Club Card membership fob with a barcode on the reverse. Also, on the reverse were words to the effect of 'If you find this item we will do our best to return it to the owner'. So, all I had to do was go to Tesco, ask for a manager, and he would be able to return Jane's keys to her. Which is what I did. Or what I tried to do.
I asked at the till for the manager, or for whoever was in charge. It turned out to be the young-looking man in front of me, who proceeded to keep me waiting whilst he fucked about with the till achieving, as far as I could tell, the square root of.
Eventually, ''Yes. How can I help you?''
I explained about the key fob membership, and how I would like his help to return the keys to their owner.
''Oh, no... I don't think that we can trace anyone from that... Oi, Vince, can we trace anyone from a Club Card?''
''Nah, can't do that.''
''Nah, sorry, we can't do that.''
And that was that. But a bright future awaits the Tesco manager in the police force if he is interested.
Tesco was a bust, so the next day I phoned the dental practice indicated on the card. Because of the wording, I had concluded that there was a possibility that Jane worked there, although I had been unable to confirm this when I googled the practice.
I tried my theory out on the receptionist who answered my call. Not being a Tesco manager, or a member of the police force, she was very helpful. Jane did not work there, but the receptionist checked her files, and it turned out that she was one of their customers. The receptionist agreed to phone Jane for me, and give her my phone number so that I could arrange for her property to be returned to her.
A week passed and the case had stalled: I had heard nothing. On the following Monday I had three missed calls on my phone from 'unknown'. I do not usually answer the phone to 'unknown'; I do not like him, and if he does not wish to supply his number, then he does not really wish to speak to me. On the following day, for some reason, I relented and the second time 'unknown' called, I answered.
'Unknown' turned out to be the police. It is no wonder that they are so woefully inefficient if they are unable to supply a phone number so that you can ring them back. Also, they have still to master the art of leaving a message, or sending a text.
But they had been doing some work, because they had my name (my real one, not the one that I use for writing) and I had never given it to the dental practice. Mr Detective does not beat around the bush - although if he had beat around the bush that I had found the bicycle in, then things might have progressed a bit faster. He tells me who he is, and then comes out straight out on the offensive: -
''I understand that you have some property belonging to a young lady,'' and there is no mistaking the fact that he thinks that I stole it in the first place.
Although I never had any intention of handing the keys directly to Jane, I can understand her thinking that I may be connected to the original theft; I have her house keys and may be fishing for her address. But the police should really know better. I would hardly have given out my phone number so freely if I had been involved: I would have taken a leaf out of their book and been 'unknown', a criminal that I suspect is paradoxically well known to them.
So, when I tell Mr Defective that I have the swag (not in those exact words), and that I have it right next to me, I can tell he is disappointed. He really thought that he was going to catch chummy and nail the bastard.
I tell Mr Defective how much help his mates have been over the bicycle, and explain why I decided to trace the owner of the keys myself instead of relying upon their public funded incompetence. (Again, not in those exact words: I am, in reality, a little bit more polite than that, but I do manage to make my point, and Mr Defective does sound a little chastened, although I suspect that he has heard it all before.)
The story is that Jane had been stopped by some youngsters on a bike (maybe even the hot-wired scooter that I had found. Who knows?) who grabbed her handbag and drove off. If the police had completed their homework properly they would have realised that I was in the wrong age demographic to have been involved.
Of course, I know where the little shits went afterwards. Mr Defective takes a description of where I have been finding all the swag. It is arranged that I will drop off what I have at a police help desk. Even though it is not much, I am glad that Jane will get some of her property back.
The thing that really niggles me, and leaves me frustrated and annoyed, is that if the police had responded when I initially contacted them about the bicycle, there is a possibility that much of what followed may have been averted. Somebody may have been in the right place at the right time, or the arsewipes may have been scared off days before.
Jane is the only person who has really suffered through all this. I am of the opinion that her assault by a couple of scumbags might not have happened if we had a more visible police presence as a deterrent, and a police station for the public to interact with. The police may have turned up at inconvenient moments in my youth, but at least they were there.
At lunchtime, after I have spoken to Mr Defective, I drive to the Civic Centre. Inside there is a police help desk, manned by a single WPC, where I am to hand over Jane's property. I have a larger bench at work. This is the extent of the local police presence in the town.
Michael J Jones
- See 'Trains, Planes, Automobiles, and Dogs.'
All names have been changed. Unless, of course, there really is a WPC called Dog-Handler.