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Endeavour: Reaper (2/?)

Title: Reaper (2/?)
Series: Endeavour/Bleach (Endeavour-centric)
Rating: PG
Pairing: None

Summary: It was Morse. Detective Constable Morse, here at the crime scene at nine o’clock at night wearing a goddamn sword. Morse, who even in the bright splash of sunlight, had no shadow.


Jakes came into the station the next morning to find Morse already installed in his place as Thursday’s door warden, wearing the same ill-fitting navy suit as yesterday. There was no sword at his side; his shadow was pooling on the desk beneath him. As though he’d never been near the crime scene last night, never sent that ghost to God only knew where. Never stepped rudely into the part of Jakes’ life that he considered secret and trampled about in it as though he owned it.

“Morning,” said Morse, looking up from an open folder on his desk. The arson file, Jakes saw. “I was going to close this file – if you agree,” he added. “We could send a patrol round for the next few nights and see if we can catch anyone in the house, but even if we did we couldn’t prove they started the fire. And as you said, it was likely an accident.”

Jakes couldn’t help but wonder if Morse’s sudden about-face on closing the file was due to the words of the ghost last night about the men who came and started fires. But either way, Morse was right; they would never be able to pin a charge on any individual. And dealing with a brood of rough sleepers would be a nightmare. “Close the file,” ordered Jakes, waving his hand. “We’ve done enough.”

Morse nodded, picking up a pen and making a note. Jakes brushed past him and took a seat at his own desk, ready to face the day. Out of the corner of his eye, he watched the DC lower his head to re-focus on his file. To all appearances, a perfectly normal officer.

Jakes wanted answers. But he would have to be strategic about seeking them out.

***

County was flooded with blue-collar criminals, men and women who lived a hard scrabble and occasionally tried to take more than they had earned, be it through theft or violence. Jakes had expected Oxford to be home to a more high-class kind of criminal, a more refined kind of crime. But as it turned out, things were much the same here. Theft with violence, domestics, pimps, drunk and disorderlies. Much of it didn’t come to the CID of course; they skimmed the more serious crimes off the top, those requiring investigation from trained detectives.

As it was, though, his docket at OCP looked much like it did at County. It was a little disappointing: high-profile criminals meant high-profile crimes, which meant recognition and promotion. He was called in briefly on a missing boy, but the child was found almost immediately with an aunt from out of town.

The day grated past, his plate full of paperwork passed down from Thursday for completion and up from Morse for approval. Police work was often nothing but a slow grind; today was one of those days.

He finished up at 5, Morse still toiling away at his typewriter.

A couple of the other blokes had asked him out to the pub; he had understood without an explicit conversation that Morse wasn’t invited. That suited him fine.

***

“Keeps himself to himself. Hoity-toity, and not behind in showing it. DS Lott – your predecessor – said he was a college boy. Fancies himself superior to the likes of you and I because he had a bit of education,” said DS Sunder, taking a deep gulp at his pint of bitter. The DS was a middle-aged man with a corpulent face that grew redder as he drank; he had an alcoholic’s ruddy nose and unsteady hands. His summary of Morse stank of prejudice, but Jakes didn’t mind that. He already had the sense that Morse had a unique ability to engender strong reactions. Like a naked bulb, he cast everything around him into either light or shadow – there was no in between.

“Is he bright?” asked Jakes, taking a sip of his lager.

“It’s all book learning,” pitched in DC Mulroney dismissively, leaning forward on Jakes’ left. “He’s no idea of police work. He’s only been in the Force two years, and spent them out at Carshall – God knows what he picked up there, but it wasn’t anything useful. But then maybe it wasn’t their fault; he’s always got his head in the clouds.”

“But he’s DI Thursday’s bagman,” said Jakes slowly, like a man trailing a lure. Sunder snapped it up immediately.

“The old man’s taken a shine to him. He was saddled with that bastard Lott so long, you can’t blame him. Any bright young lad to come along must have seemed a better bet. And Morse does have a strange way of stumbling into solutions. Devil’s luck.”

Or perhaps, thought Jakes, an inside line to those who know. It was how he had made his own name, after all. Solving murders was simple when the victim was there to show you where to look. Although Morse hadn’t seemed to have solving the arson case in mind when he showed up swinging his sword, dressed like a Victorian relic.

“I wouldn’t trust him as far as I could throw him. He doesn’t rub along – doesn’t want to rub along. You can’t trust coppers who don’t trust each other,” said Mulroney.

Jakes nodded, finishing off his pint. “Another?” he asked; the answer was a resounding yes, and as the new man he rose to fetch it.

***

It being a weeknight Jakes drew the limit at four pints and, after a pie and chips, headed home leaving Sunder still at the table drinking away his evening. Mulroney walked him out, the two of them parting ways at the bus stop. “Glad to have you with us, Sarge,” said Mulroney, waving as Jakes trod down the street towards his flat.

Sarge. Jakes had never been sure what he wanted in life other than something else. In the bad years at Blenheim Vale all he had hoped for was a way out of that hell; after that had come schooling and the Police Collee, both of which had been nothing more than a stepping stone. As, in their way, had his positions as police constable and then detective constable. Now that he was a sergeant, he wondered if he ought to feel a made man.

He didn’t.

And really, he thought as he walked down the pavement with the sun setting in the west painting the sky above Cowley’s terraced houses in deep hues of orange and red, that was the fault of the apparitions that had ironically also landed him his promotion. What was the point of slaving away in this life if the reward in the next was simply more of the same?

Morse had answers. More than that, he somehow had a power Jakes had never dreamed of – the ability not only to see ghosts but to send them wherever it was they belonged. Heaven? He wasn’t sure he believed in it. Hell seemed a good deal more likely.

Sunder and Mulroney hadn’t had much of use to say about Morse – certainly nothing hinting at suspicions that he was as strange as Jakes believed him to be. An unsociable loner, certainly. But not, as they would doubtless have perceived, a looney.

Jakes wasn’t sure yet how to get the answers he needed; Morse certainly wouldn’t surrender them in a casual conversation. But he wasn’t one to give up in the face of a challenge – he had dragged himself up by the fingernails to make it this far. He would find a way.

***

Jakes came in the next day with a slight headache, the weather hot and muggy and threatening thunder. His temples ached with his heartbeat as he climbed the stairs in Cowley station; he pinched the bridge of his nose tiredly.

“Doing alright Sarge?” asked Mulroney, passing him on the staircase. Jakes dropped his hand and smiled.

“Right as rain.”

Inside the CID Morse was sitting at his desk as though he had been there all night, although today his suit was grey rather than yesterday’s navy. His suit jacket was hung on the hat stand behind him, his sea-blue tie bright against his unironed shirt. He looked up as Jakes came over.

“We’ve a suspicious death come in,” he said, closing the file he was reading and handing it to Jakes. He had never once addressed Jakes as sergeant, Jakes realised. “Inspector Thursday wants to take a look.”

Jakes opened the file. It was too early for photographs, but he read the curt description from the attending officer: Woman in her late 60s found dead in her home, sign of a struggle, bruises on her skin. “Break in?” he asked, looking up.

“Apparently there was no sign of tampering with the doors or windows.”

“Someone with a key then.”

“She has no relatives in town; her husband died three months ago.”

Jakes sighed, head throbbing. “Alright. We’ll go take a look.” He dropped the file on his desk and turned, waiting for Morse to follow. The DC was still sitting, looking thoughtful. “Well come on then – get a move on,” snapped Jakes. Morse startled and stood, picking up his suit jacket. Then he leant back and rapped on the glass of Thursday’s window to summon the DI.

***

Jakes sat in the back on the drive over like a piece of forgotten luggage. Thursday received his information from Morse, and while Jakes threw in a point or two, it was to his bagman that he turned with questions.

To be fair, Morse had the file memorized. The deceased was Ann Bouchard, a retired school-teacher whose husband – a retired don – had passed away three months ago leaving her alone in their large north Oxford home. A friend had called the police after being unable to raise Mrs Bouchard on the phone or at the house. A PC had spotted the disturbed scene through the front window and broken the door down to find the body in the back study.

Arriving at the scene of crime, they were treated to the same first impression that the PC had received. The front room looked like a tornado had blown through it; two end tables were over-turned and the sofa’s chintz cover had been shredded apparently by a knife. Porcelain and glass trinkets had been knocked off the mantelpiece and lay smashed on the oak floorboards below. The room was busy with forensic officers taking photographs and fingerprints.

“What was the cause of death?” asked Jakes as they passed through to the study, following the trail of destruction.

“I would say that was up to me to determine.” A short man in hornrims and a bow tie straightened from his position over the corpse; he was wearing gloves and carried a small notebook. At his foot stood a black box. He had a prim look to him, a tidy dresser accustomed to paying attention to details. Pathologist, assessed Jakes.

The body itself was lying flat on the floor, face up. Ann Bouchard had been an attractive woman, her face only lightly wrinkled and her hair bleached blonde to hide the grey. She was wearing a floral dress with a full skirt and a light cardigan; slightly dowdy but still fashionable. Someone had peeled back the cardigan from her upper arms to show a pair of matching bruises that spanned her entire upper arms from shoulder to elbow. There was another similarly large bruise on her lower left leg. Her shoes had been kicked across the room and lay abandoned beside an empty desk.

Her face was a mask of terror. Jakes stared, having seldom seen such fear in a body. On the living, it was far more familiar to him.

“This is DS Jakes, our new man,” introduced Thursday. “Dr DeBryn, the Home Office pathologist.”

“Pleasure,” said DeBryn, cursorily, turning back to the corpse.

Jakes tore his stare away from the corpse and took a moment to assess the room: it was a large airy study with two immense windows in the two corner walls looking out onto a green garden. But while it was comfortably furnished with a cherrywood desk, expensive leather armchair and two tall matching bookshelves, the room was empty. No books on the shelves, no papers or pens or even a blotter on the desk. Everything was sparkling clean, the Oriental rug recently hovered. It was just completely empty – save for its mistress’ body.

Jakes turned his attention to Morse and Thursday. Thursday was watching the pathologist; Morse appeared to be actively avoiding examining the corpse, his eyes darting around the room, his body half-turned from the deceased. His face, even in the soft indirect light filtering in through the windows, was starkly pale. Weak-stomached, thought Jakes with a snort.

“Anything for us, doctor?” asked Thursday.

“Temperature and lividity suggest a death roughly two days ago. You can see the bruises on her arms and leg for yourselves; they’re of interest. Roughly twice the size of a man’s hand, and wrapped all the way around the limbs as a handprint would be. I haven’t encountered such markings before; they don’t tally with a wound left by a blow or impact. Perhaps some kind of binding with a thick scarf or similar object could have produced them.”

“And cause of death?” pressed the DI.

“For now, inconclusive. Possibly heart failure brought on by extreme stress. I’ll get you further details once I’ve had a closer look.”

“What did her husband die of?” asked Morse, suddenly. Jakes shot him an unimpressed look, which he ignored. “Was it your case?”

“As a matter of fact, it was. Ronald Bouchard, aged 75 or 76 I believe. He died in this house – ischemic stroke. Just collapsed dead at the breakfast table. They had been married some forty years; I met her briefly. She was distraught by his death.”

“And now she’s dead,” said Morse, slowly.

“Surely you’re not suggesting there’s a connection,” replied Jakes. Morse glanced at him, one hand raised to brush a stray lock of ginger hair behind his freckled ear.

“No,” he said slowly, glancing at Thursday and then back at Jakes. “It just may be of interest.”

Jakes gave him a sardonic look. “Hard to see how.”

“Anything else we should know?” broke in Thursday, addressing the pathologist.

“Not as yet. I’ll have a look at the medicine cabinet and contact her GP in case there was an underlying condition. Otherwise, it will need the autopsy to shed more light.”

Thursday nodded. Morse was padding around the room, poking into drawers and examining the cream-coloured walls which showed signs of having had photos or paintings removed recently.

“I’ll have a quick gander upstairs,” said Jakes, striding out of the study. If there was a ghost to speak to, she wasn’t here.

Not all bodies were accompanied by their spirit. When he was younger, Jakes had wondered if they just blew away on the wind like dandelion fluff, not anchored tightly enough to their corpse. Later, he wondered if not all people had personalities strong enough to last beyond the trauma of death.

Since seeing Morse at the arson site, he had begun to wonder if someone – or some thing – was sending them somewhere.

He had a quick look through the house in case Mrs Bouchard was still lingering somewhere in her home, a ready-made witness. He didn’t find her, which wasn’t in itself conclusive. Ghosts weren’t perpetually present; sometimes they drifted off somewhere or simply switched off like a lightbulb only to return later. He made a note to come back and have another look around later on.

There wasn’t any trace of disturbance upstairs. Whatever had happened here was confined to the downstairs rooms. He did find an undisturbed jewellery box and a wad of bills in her knickers drawer. This was no theft gone wrong, unless the thief panicked after having killed.

Taking the cash to be logged as evidence, he sauntered back downstairs. Morse and Thursday were caucusing in the front hall; they looked up as he descended the stairs. “Found a fistful of quid and her jewellery upstairs. Doesn’t look like theft, unless he scarpered after having killed her,” said Jakes, holding up the bill fold.

Thursday nodded. “I’ve asked Morse to check with the neighbours about any suspicious activity in the past couple of days. Why don’t you get onto her friends and see what you can dig up.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Good. Then keep me informed.”

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