Not for the faint-hearted
A tale in three parts by Keith Errington (AKA THE KEITH OF MYSTERY)
Part two – a statistical anomaly and an investigation
Simon Stewell was a young teenager obsessed with the births and deaths on Hopeless, Maine to a quite irrational extent. He was a quiet boy – but studious and possessed of an unnatural intensity when it came to maths and numbers. And so it was that these two passions came together and triggered something in young Simon. He realised that something odd was going on.
No wait, that’s probably not helpful, something odd was always going on in Hopeless, so I should say he noticed something out of the ordinary extra-ordinariness seemed to be occurring.
As soon as he calculated it, he rushed around town telling people about it. “There’s been a 52% increase in the suicide rate” he would shout at a random stranger, “strange rise in the people killing themselves” he would remark to a passing child, “worrying levels of suicide this month” he would say, loudly, to a cat sleeping in a window. Eventually, it occurred to him that this knowledge should more usefully be passed on to the appropriate person. But who?
— < ooo > —
Clement Forager was, by all accounts, a very handsome man. Given to moody silences and cryptic looks. He was well-built – but lithe with it. Whatever exercise regimen he utilised – it was definitely working. His face was rugged, chiselled and guaranteed to catch the eye of anyone present. An intelligent and well-studied man, he made a modest living finding things for people or helping them with minor disputes. In Los Angeles, he would likely to have been a private eye, in London a plausible detective, but here, he was just Clement who finds things.
Sitting at his desk one afternoon drinking a glass of something to bide the time, he was suddenly interrupted by a young man bursting into his makeshift office.
“You gotta do something mister” an adolescent voice demanded.
“Simon isn’t it?” (You see, Clement knew things, and that’s why he was good at his job).
“Yes sir, you have to do something”
Clement smiled – he liked the earnest tone of voice this young man projected. “Indeed, and what is it that so demands my attention?”
“Death sir. Death.”
Well, that certainly caught his attention and he raised an eyebrow. Without waiting, Simon continued almost breathless, “Yes sir, people are dying, lots of people. More people than before.”
“Sit down, young man – you’d better explain yourself.”
And so Simon did just that. He sat and ran through his findings – the number of suicides you would normally expect and the number that were occurring now.
Whilst Clement agreed it was unusual and Simon’s figures and methods were impressive, he didn’t really see how he fitted in.
“You have to… in-vest-i-gate” Simon had pronounced the individual syllables to give the word the emphasis he thought it deserved.
“Ah, right” replied Clement. He thought for a moment. It was clearly a wild goose chase, but he could see how agitated the boy was, and he seemed a good lad. He wasn’t snowed under with tasks at the moment so it wouldn’t hurt to ask a few questions as he carried out his other work.
He addressed the lad, “Okay – I will ask around and see what I can find out – see if I can find some reason for this…” he hesitated, just what was it exactly?
“Statistical anomaly” filled in Simon helpfully.
“Right. But I am not promising anything mind you. I’ll simply do what I can”.
“Thank you, sir!’ Said Simon. And to Clement, the boy seemed genuinely grateful.
As Simon left Clement, Simon thought to himself, good. That’s dealt with then. I’ve passed the problem on to the relevant person. He nodded and promptly forgot about the entire subject.
And as Simon left Clement, Clement thought to himself, ‘Well, I’m not sure what I’ve taken on here – but asking a couple of questions will keep the boy happy’, and he reached for his amber glass.
— < ooo > —
Over the next few weeks, Clement was kept busy with various small enquiries tracking down items and returning them to rightful owners. And whilst he did so, he asked about the missing people on the list that Simon had supplied. Like with all his work, he was methodical and meticulous, noting down everything and missing nothing. The point came when on another afternoon whiling away the time with a glass when Clement decided to lay out all he had learned about the unusual number of suicides. He was intrigued, that was indisputable – there were elements of each death that were very strange. He noted the facts. All the suicides were male. Which was odd, because although male suicide was more common by a ratio of 2:1, there should still have been some female suicides over that same period of time. Secondly, they were all young males – and seemed to be of a certain type. By the accounts of their acquaintances, work fellows and even friends, they were all bullies or thugs to a greater or lesser extent, nasty towards their fellow man and vindictive towards women in particular.
Several had been in trouble for beating their wives or girlfriends and some had even been accused of murder or manslaughter. Very few seemed to have been on the receiving end of justice though – but that wasn’t unusual for Hopeless, Maine, where the law was notional at best and justice tended to be delivered via firebrands and pitchforks.
They had all died in different ways – one had died from drinking household bleach, one from attacking a glass heron nest (who in their right mind would do that!) and so on. The causes of death seemed to get more and more… inventive?… as time went on, with one man even strangling himself – which seemed impossible, but then when he spoke to Doc Willoughby about it the Doc informed him it was surprisingly common. In fact, the Doc himself had even been personally involved with one or two cases where self-strangulation was pronounced as the cause of death.
Clement prided himself on being open-minded and liked to explore all the possibilities – a trait that had served him well in the past, often people didn’t find things because they simply weren’t prepared to consider the improbable or unlikely. He entertained the idea that these were all the work of a serial killer and, if so, what connected all these young men? Just today he had discovered one rather curious fact, all the men had spoken of visiting Flora the laundry maid or were seen heading off in the direction of her cottage. Perhaps the answer to what Clement now considered as a bona fide mystery lay somewhere in that direction. The killer’s lair must be nearby – or maybe it’s a jealous boyfriend? Although that still didn’t explain the manner of death.
Clement resolved to speak to Flora – maybe she knew something? Maybe these young men never reached her? Or maybe they were attacked on the way back to their homes? He set off with his characteristic purposeful stride to speak with Flora.
Our tale continues in Part three…