Polly and Robbie - the Redcoat. Part 1 of 3

Part 1

I started screaming as the strong arms held me so I couldn’t move. I kept screaming until my throat was rough and I had tears in my eyes. When I stopped, I was sniffling and hiccupping at the same time and the arms loosened.

“That’s the last time you’re going to get me on one of these things, “It’ll be fun”, you said. I thought I was going to die!”

Bill helped me get out of the Odyssey roller coaster car when it slowed to a stop.

“I’m sorry, darling, but I’ve always had a soft spot for these things. I’ve been on one, in Queensland, where you do a reverse loop the loop and you are literally hanging by the safety strap.”

“Oh yeah! I just don’t want to hear about that, What I need now is a sit down in a chair that’s not trying to throw me off it, with a drink in front of me.”

We were at Fantasy Island, in Ingoldmells, just to the north of Skegness. It was the start of a new summer, and he had expressed a desire to go there. Fantasy Island is a big pleasure park, with rides, stalls, a market, and lots of outlets where you can buy food that’s really not good for you. We found seats at a milk bar, and I sipped on a strawberry milkshake to soothe my jangling nerves. Over the last few months, we had become more than a married couple, we were a team, and it felt good.

Since I had vomited over him, at the end of last summer, we had married and I had spent a lot of the winter with him, bundled up in waterproofs to make sure as many grey seal pups survived as we could. More than once, I had to use my police warrant card to get people to leave the mudflat, Bill said that this was much better than phoning for his strong mates at the office. I had also talked them into getting thermal imaging cameras alongside the normal ones.

Me, and my team at the Annex, had been working hard all winter, researching the records for more police stations than before. Our new WPC, Cherry Stringer, had fitted in quickly. Being just out of her teens, she was well up on computing skills and had been trained in what we did best, finding odd facts from police and public records, usually from many decades before she was born. My own part of the team had become more of a leader and keeper of the books. After being abducted, I was happier taking a back seat.

My abductors hadn’t fared well in prison. Frawley and the headmaster had been transferred to a psychiatric facility, where they spent a lot of time in padded cells, Frawley because of delusions of grandeur, the headmaster having clearly fallen into self-pitying madness. The three policemen had all suffered injuries before also spending a lot of their days in solitary, for their own good. Normal lawbreakers just love to pick on ex-policemen in jail, especially those who had abducted, raped, and killed teenagers. The one that fared the best was the gardener. By telling all he knew about the others, he had received a much shorter sentence, but still had to be protected from the other prisoners who didn’t like snitches.

Angela and Steve, whose wedding Bill and I had been part of, had delivered her own daughter, who had been christened Bernice, after her first husband. We now lived in her old house. Bill and Steve had gone to school together, and we would often meet for a lunch, parking Bill’s Jeep next to Angela’s yellow TR6 in pub carparks. It was now close to two years since I had exposed the killer of her husband, and our friendship had become firm, with Bill and I godparents to little Bernice.

All of this had made it hard to tell everyone my news. I had been told, not asked, to head up a new, national research facility just north of London, in a new building. It was especially constructed to hold electronic data for the force in general, with a wing devoted to the National Police Research Centre, with Acting Superintendent Polly Henderson as its boss. It would be several more months before it was ready to be fitted out, but my days now had a dual aspect. On one hand, I was still in charge of the Annex, and on the other, I was talking to the experts to get the best equipment we could get, including AI search engines.

News of this had been sent to all police stations, with the result that we were getting work, for the Annex, from a lot more places than before. The top brass had decided that it wasn’t worth increasing our size, or moving us, seeing that the new place would be able to take up the load when it was running, so my team was working a bit of overtime. Our special van didn’t get out as much as it used to, and Jessica had removed all of the forensic equipment, handing it back to Colin Thredbolt, at the Skegness station. We kept the forensic room at the Annex, but mainly used it for storage.

Bill had, at first, been upset at leaving the seals, but had sent out letters to animal sanctuaries and zoos north of London. He had been lucky, as he will now be in charge of a new seal and penguin enclosure to be built at a nearby zoo. They had welcomed him with open arms, and he was spending some of his days at the zoo, staying in a pub, and also looking for somewhere for us to live. Our day at the Fantasy Island had been a day off for both of us.

After a ride on the much safer Magical Seaquarium, we walked around the market, buying a few small statues of dolphins to grace our mantlepiece, then went to my car to go home. There, we added our dolphins to the row, along with the picture of us kissing on the mudflats, taken by Jessica from the surveillance camera, and the one with Bill, in Police Coveralls, in the middle of a bunch of smiling, and gun toting, Armed Response guys, taken on the day I had vomited on him.

We hadn’t started packing, just yet, as the building and landscape works at the zoo wasn’t going to start until after the summer season, and my new workplace was still in the slab and steelwork period. Once the walls had been erected, I was sure that we would be into fit-out before Christmas. We had eaten well, so put up our feet and watched some TV, while snuggled on the settee. There was a piece on the local news, of a body being found in a lake at Pontefract Park. It had made the news because the body was wearing the old uniform of a Butlin’s Redcoat.

The following week, we got a visit from one of the equipment suppliers. He had a new computer that he wanted us to trial, fitted with dual processors, dual SSD memory, and an extra chip which carried the new AI that was the real reason for his visit. We had set up my old computer on a fourth workstation at the end of the Annex, with Julia, Jessica, and Cathy on three, with the fourth for me, should I need it. I was now using a laptop for the office work, which left more space on my desk for paperwork.

I told the guy to set up his unit on Cherry’s desk, as she was the youngest and most likely to be able to find her way around it. We grabbed a spare screen and cables from the store, so he was able to get it going, showing her how to access the new systems. After he had left, she coughed, and I looked over at her desk.

“Polly, surely the other girls should be trialling this. I’ve only been here a few months and am just getting to grips with the usual system.”

“WPC Stringer, if I want you to learn something new, then you shall learn something new. I haven’t told the others, yet, but I was given the green light to pick my team when I go to London. You, my girl, are too bright to be here in far-away Skegness, and I know that we will be setting up close to your old home, so you are one who will be coming with me, and I’m too ancient to be learning about AI. Don’t let on to the others, I’ll be making a policy announcement on Friday, the Chief Super is coming and will have a couple of announcements of his own.”

“Thank you, my lips are sealed. I still have an apartment in Watford, that will be near the new building at Potters Bar. My sister is using it but is going to Cambridge at the beginning of next term. That will be good, I was wondering if I would have to sub-let.”

“You’re sharing a flat with Julia, since you came here, aren’t you? How do you get on?”

“It’s good, we are close enough in age to have similar likes, although her music is a bit on the old side.”

“It’s a good job that Bill and I like the same things, it helps keep things on an even keel. He told me that he may have found us a house at North Mymms. We will have to find someone to buy our place before then. I’ll keep my car, but he’s looking around for something easier in traffic than that Jeep.”

We carried on with our work as the week rolled on. Friday, I made sure we had tea and cake in our little lunchroom, and that everyone was nicely dressed for a visit from Chief Superintendent Dawlish, the boss of the Divisional Headquarters. I was surprised to see him arrive, with AC Strachan in back of the car with him. His driver opened the doors and then took up a post at the gate.

I got all of us into some kind of order. I could see Cherry was looking a bit overawed. The others had met the AC before, when he had sat in the seat that Dawlish now occupied. Dawlish gave the AC the floor.

“Ladies, it is a great privilege to be here with you. You have cracked two of the most high-profile cases we have had in recent years. It is because of this that the Central Office has decided to duplicate your set-up, in a much larger office, in the new data storage building in Potters Bar. As you know, Polly has been ordered to accept an Acting Superintendent position in charge of that facility. Because of this, Cathy, you will be elevated to the position of Acting Chief Inspector to run this Annex. We would like to make you permanent but can’t do that until you have had five years as Inspector.”

“Thank you, sir. It will be my greatest pleasure to follow Polly, my mentor and friend. I won’t let you down.”

“Jessica, you will be remaining here, with Cathy, and will go to Acting Inspector, the same reasons with time in the present job are also holding you back. I look forward to giving you your permanent postings when the time comes. Now, before we eat any of that delicious looking cake, I think that Polly wants to say a couple of words.”

“Thank you, sir. I can see Julia looking worried. I know, Julia, that you wanted to make sergeant before your thirtieth birthday. Well, when I go, I’m asking if you and Cherry will join me as training officers in the new building. You will both be Acting Detective Sergeants, to make sure that the trainees listen to you, and I expect that you’ll also get your permanency as soon as it becomes available. Are you with me?’

They both gave me a hug. I knew that Cherry was a long way from DS in her career, but she was too brainy to hold back. When we had sipped our tea and eaten some cake, Dawlish told Cathy that he had some likely candidates for coming into the Annex. With her in my old office, there was room for two new researchers and another WPC, and he wanted her help to go through the lists and any interviews. That threw her into the deep end!

When the bosses had made their exit, we sat for a while longer, talking about the future, until the phone rang to break the moment. Then we were back to our usual work, finding old certificates, birth, marriage and death records and ancient police files for our customers.

The next weekend, Bill and I met up with Steve, Angela and the little bundle that is Bernice. Over lunch, we told them that we were going to move to London, with me taking on a new job and Bill in charge of a zoo exhibit. They, of course, were happy that we were both building on our careers. Angela asked us what we were doing with the house. When I told her that we were thinking of selling it, she looked at Steve, who nodded.

“Steve and I have been happy in his home, but it was only a bachelor pad, at best, and is a bit small for the three of us. If I make an offer on your place, at the same price you paid me, would you think about it?”

“For you, Angela, I don’t even have to think. I’ll be happy to sell to you. I’m sure that enough time has passed to wipe away the memories.”

“I think so. We will, however, give the place an overhaul before we move in. We will put in a new kitchen and bathroom and make the spare bedroom somewhere for Bernice to grow up in. We have enough in the bank to pay you, as soon as you need it, and you can stay on, rent free, until you move for good.”

Bill smiled. “Thank you, Angela. I’ve found somewhere in North Mymms, halfway between our new jobs. Polly hasn’t seen it, yet, and I’ve arranged with the agent for us to go to have a look. I’ve booked us a room tonight; in the pub I’ve been staying at. It’s vacant and I have the key. If we can tell him we want it, then we might be calling on you for some money in a week or so.”

“Not a problem, Bill, the two of you have been good to us, and it’s time to return the favour.”

So, that evening, we drove to the pub he had been staying at, with our overnight bags, and Sunday, he took me to see the house. It was a white-painted, detached house along Mymms Road where most were semi-detached. It was living in the fifties inside, but nothing that a few thousand couldn’t overcome. It had a garage, as well as plenty of parking space in the front, and a big back garden. Best of all, over the back fence there was nothing but trees and open ground, Bill telling me that it was Gobions Wood. I loved it, the moment I walked inside, and gave Bill a kiss, telling him that he was a very clever man.

Bill rang the agent, to tell him that we would take it, and that we would sort out the finances within a couple of weeks. He told Bill to hold on to the key, but not to move anything in until we had signed. Bill locked up, and then took me to the Animal Park where he would be working. It was a family-owned place, and I was welcomed into the fold, Bill having told them about what I did, and, more importantly, that I had been out on the mudflats looking after seals.

On the way home, I called Angela, to tell her that we had agreed to buy, so that she could put all the other finances in train. Everything seemed to be happening quickly, almost too quickly.

On Wednesday, I was in my office, when the phone rang. Cherry took it and then said, “It’s for you, Ma-am,” and put it through to my phone. This was our code to tell me that a higher officer was on the line.

“Good afternoon, Polly Henderson speaking.”

“Good afternoon, Polly. You haven’t met me, but I have heard so much about you, and your team. My name is Rossiter, and I’m in charge at Pontefract. We had a body, found in the lake, a couple of weeks ago. We know who it is, we have a rough idea of how he died, but we have not moved a single inch on the where, or the why. The man was close to eighty, a somewhat batty recluse. There are no enemies, very few friends, an no way he should have ended up in the local lake. Will you take the case on, to see if there’s anything in his past that can give us something to work on?”

“Of course, we can, sir. If you can email us the case file, we can have a look at it to see what comes up. Has his home been cleared, and are there boxes with the evidence?”

“Yes, there are some boxes with his property in, as well as an evidence bag with the clothes he was wearing. He had been living in council-assisted accommodation and his home was checked by our forensic team before it was given back to them. The body has been cremated, but the post-mortem file has all you may need. Get your PA to send me your email address and I’ll get the file sent to you, straight away. Thank you for taking this on, we just don’t have the facilities to do that research, although I have heard that there will be a national centre soon.”

“There will be, sir, probably by next year, they’ve asked me to head it up.”

“Congratulations. If you can crack my little nut, I’ll come to the opening and buy you a drink, bye for now.”

After the call ended, I thought who would be best to check this one.

“Cherry, can you send the boss at Pontefract your email address. He’s going to send over a file, and I want you to look at it to see what we can come up with.”

She got busy and typed a message, sending it off. A half an hour later, she told me that the file had come through and that she would read it through to see what things it contained that we could use as a basis for her search.

An hour later, she looked up and asked if I could take a moment to listen to her. She then asked if the others could come in to hear what she had to say. I told her that it was her ball to play, so she went to the other end of the Annex and came back with the other three girls, who sat in visitors’ chairs. Cherry cleared her throat.

“Today we received a case file from Pontefract, regarding an old man who was found, floating in a lake, and wearing an old Butlin’s Redcoat outfit.”

Cathy said that she had seen the TV report, and the rest of us nodded.

“The man was nearly eighty, an odd recluse, living alone in council accommodation. He had a habit of wearing the Redcoat outfit some of the time, and looking at his work record, I can see why. He had been a Redcoat since the mid-seventies, until he retired at the turn of the century. As you may know, although Butlin’s went through ownership changes, the Redcoats were kept on, with changes of the uniform design, to the present day. Our victim, Robert Everard, had started at Skegness in ‘74, then spending some time at Clacton, and then Filey for a few years, before going back to Clacton before it was closed in ‘83. He was, by that time, a performer in the shows, an illusionist and magician, popular with the children. After Clacton shut down, he went to Ayr for a few years and then Bognor Regis before seeing out a few years at Skegness before he retired due to ill health. He had led a blameless life, had no enemies, no friends that are still alive, and no reason to be tasered, the thing that stopped his heart before he was dumped in a lake in Pontefract.”

Cathy sat up. “From what you’ve said, the only way we could have found out more is if he had something in the old records, did you try them?”

“Yes, I did, and found nothing. I did everything that we usually do and came up with nothing more than what is in the case file. Now, my new computer is similar to what we will be using in the new data centre, it has embedded AI. I was told about it by the guy who set it up.”

“That’s that new stuff that writes essays and can plan your holiday for you, isn’t it?” asked Julia.

“It can do that. What I did, here, was to input all of the camps the guy had worked in, in the order he was there, and asked – I was told that you have to ask – the AI to find anything that matched. It took five minutes and only came up with this result because it can access all the data we can and look at it in millions of different ways.”

She turned her screen so we could all see it. There was a group gasp.

Julia breathed. “What on earth are we looking at, Cherry? That looks like a list of victims.”

“That it is, Julia, well spotted. With better than fifty percent match with the places Robert was working, we have, in reverse order of being found, Edwin Duncan, aged seventy-eight, found in a coal heap at the West Burford Power Station. He was found, in the beginning of 2024 as they were clearing a boiler house bunker, among some of the last coal delivered before the shutdown in 2023. He had been dead, according to the file, about a year. The next is Jeremy Batchelor, aged seventy-six. He was found in the coal stocking area of the Cottam Power Station by workers clearing the last of the coal stocks in 2021. The station was closed in 2019, and the post-mortem puts him as being dead for at least three years before he was found.”

“Then we get some differences. The third one is Walter Watson. He was only sixty-five when he died. He was found in the grating across the outlet to the sea of the River Orby, at Blades Beach. He, like the other two, was naked, and only identified by family, and friends, after a request for help in the papers. He was found in 2005 and had only worked at the last few places Robert had.”

“The last one was found in the grate where the Main Drain outlets to the sea at Ingoldmells. He was found, in 1984, and was just thirty at the time. He had been reported as a missing person by his brother and had worked with Robert at the earlier camps. All four had worked with our latest victim, and all four were career Redcoats, and the only time all four were together was at Clacton, between ’81 and ’83. They worked as children’s and general performers. We could have found none of this without AI. I’m hooked and looking forward to working with it.”

“Can you write a report and print off your findings. You are now going to learn how to talk to higher officers as if they are real people.” I turned to the others.

“If we’ve done here, you can get back to work. If Cherry sends you the files, Julia, can you do the usual search on each case to see if there’s anything else in the data banks that adds to the story. Good work, Cherry, now let’s get back to what we were doing.”

Marianne Gregory © 2023

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