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‘Romans,’ Kirby muttered, getting out of his car. Well, as a copper, you learnt to expect the unexpected and his last case had supplied it in bucket loads. He trotted up the three steps and in through the station door. It felt as if he’d never been away. The smell of disinfectant with a hint of polish and the odour of meaty coppers was all the catalyst his mind needed to be back on duty.
Somehow, whenever you had a holiday, you expected things to have changed when you got back. Of course they never did. Why should they? After all, it was only you who had done something different. Everyone else had been carrying on as normal, or at least what passed for normal in the Northumbria police force. He’d been away three weeks and with Connie’s help he was on the path to resolving many of his issues and hang-ups. He’d come to terms with Jeanie’s death more in that time than he had in the past three or four years. With some gentle nudging, he’d given himself permission to move on with his life. Jeanie would have been proud, while at the same time chastising him for having not done it sooner.
Looking at the old dog-eared posters on the wall, along with the odd, brash new one, he smiled. “KEEP YOUR DOORS AND WINDOWS LOCKED” screamed out of the pin-board collage. He would, he promised.
It was good to be back though, sort of. The Desk Sergeant’s conversation with an irate elderly lady had a welcome familiarity. Kirby paused, taking in a little of the performance.
‘It might have helped Madam if you’d mentioned half an hour ago that Arthur was a cat and not your husband,’ the Sergeant said, tearing up, with resigned deliberation, the form he’d been filling in.
The woman hitched up the shoulders of her grey cardigan and stood on her toes to get her face as close to the Sergeant’s as possible. ‘Don’t be ridiculous, young man. My husband’s been gone these past ten years now.’ She tapped on the desk with a forceful finger. ‘I told him the fags would kill him and they did,’ she said with the self-satisfied grin of having been right.
‘Yes, well, forgive me Madam, however, I’m not familiar with either you, your husband or your cat.’
The elderly lady squinted at the Sergeant. ‘What? I was in here only three years ago when Arthur went missing the last time. And what did you lot do then, huh?’
‘I don’t know Madam, although I’m sure you’ll enlighten me.’
‘Yes. I’ll tell you what you did, nothing. That’s it, nothing. So, what are you going to do about it now is what I want to know? I didn’t pay all them taxes for you lot to do nothing.’
The Sergeant put down his pen. ‘I’m sorry, Madam. We don’t have a form for missing cats.’ He paused and glanced across at Kirby, raising an eyebrow before turning back to the lady with that well practised, Desk Sergeant, half smile which was placating without being encouraging. ‘Er, you did say last time? I take it he returned?’
Kirby decided to leave them to it when he heard the predictable lines of, ‘No thanks to you lot’ and, ‘Let me tell you, young man.’ He smiled. No, nothing much changes. He took the stairs two at a time and hopped onto the first-floor landing, where he almost collided with Constable Shirley Barker.
‘Whoa there, Sir,’ Shirley said, swinging a mug of coffee out of danger, only slopping a few drops on the floor. ‘That’s a bit enthusiastic, isn’t it?’ She smiled at him. ‘Good to have you back, Sir. And looking rather trim, if I might say so.’
Kirby returned the smile and patted his slightly reduced waistline. ‘Fresh air and long walks in the countryside. You should try it, Constable. Does you the world of good.’
Shirley frowned. ‘Yes, well, Barry had this idea in his head that…’ she glanced at Kirby. ‘Sorry, Sir.’
‘Another time perhaps, Constable. Now about these Romans?’
Shirley’s eyes flicked from side to side and her mouth twitched a couple of times before settling on a half apologetic smile. ‘Ha, ha, yes, Sir. Bit of a to-do, with it being the Chief’s mother’s dog and all.’
‘So you said on the phone.’
‘And everyone’s avoiding it like Doreen’s fruit cake at the Christmas bash.’
‘Waiting for me.’
‘Exactly, Sir. Just like the fruitcake.’
Kirby winced at the memory of trying to smile, mumble ‘wonderful’ and ‘interesting flavour’ while holding back the urge to gag.
‘Oh and, Sir. Sorry to drop this on you straight away, but the Chief said he wanted to see you as soon as you got in.’
‘Ah. About the dog?’
Shirley nodded and handed him her mug of coffee. ‘I’ll get another one.’
‘Thank you, Shirley,’ Kirby said, taking a sip and turning away from the direction of his own desk. He’d taken two steps…
‘Oh and Sir,’
Kirby looked back.
‘Just to warn you, he’s been on another course.’
Jane, the Chief’s secretary, smiled up at him. ‘Ah, Inspector, he’s expecting you.’
Kirby lent over the desk. ‘I hear he’s been on a course?’ he whispered.
Kirby raised an eyebrow. ‘Well?’
Jane met his raised eyebrow with one of her own. ‘Well, what?’
Kirby was beginning to feel Jane had been around coppers for far too long. ‘You wouldn’t like to give me a little hint would you?’
Jane’s other eyebrow joined the first. ‘Oh, I’d hate to spoil the surprise.’
‘Would you indeed,’ Kirby said as he straightened up.
Jane’s smile turned into a grin
Kirby knocked on the door. Opening it he uttered, in time-honoured fashion, the question to which they both already knew the answer. ‘You wanted to see me, Sir?’
‘Ah, yes, Jonah, so good to see you back and looking full of vim and vigour as well.’
Vim and vigour? It was then Kirby noticed a few things had changed. The Chief’s desk was now to one side under the window, which meant on entering the office the Chief, rather than peering over an expanse of scratched and coffee stained mahogany, had swivelled his chair sideways. What’s more, there was nothing between them, dispelling the rumour among some of the junior officers that the Chief sat at his desk wearing, from the waist down, only a pair of paisley patterned boxers. Although, Kirby had always thought of the Chief as more of a Y fronts man.
‘Er… Ah,’ Kirby said. It was a bit like seeing someone who, you’d supposed, been happily bald for twenty years sporting a ginger toupee.
The Chief smiled and spread his arms. ‘What d’you think?’
‘Er, very nice, Sir.’ Having been taken aback by the office, Kirby had failed to notice until now the Chief wasn’t wearing a jacket or a tie and his top button was undone. And if he was not mistaken, on his feet were a pair of loafers. Kirby felt a little overdressed.
‘Sit, Jonah, sit,’ the Chief said, pointing to a chair at the corner of his desk. Kirby sat resisting the urge to lean backwards, feeling that, as his boss crossed his legs, he was too close to the Chief for his own comfort. He presumed it was an action the Chief must have taken countless times before, just he’d never witnessed it and it all seemed so… so casual. ‘Yes, I’ve been on a course.’
‘Really, Sir?’ Kirby said, placing his mug on an old beer mat.
‘Oh, yes.’ The Chief beamed a smile. ‘I’d recommend it. Throw out that old stuffiness. It’s all part of a new spirit of openness in the force. No secrets and all that.’
‘Of course not, Sir,’ Kirby said. Only the things we don’t want others to know, he didn’t say.
‘So about The Wall, Sir?’
The Chief nodded while glancing at the desk as if a part of him still wished he was behind it. ‘Ah, yes, indeed. I’m sure you’ll get to the bottom of it, Jonah. Mother is missing her dog dreadfully.’
‘And taken by Romans I understand, Sir.’
Leaning forward the Chief gripped the arms of his chair. Kirby resisted the urge to push himself back. He raised a hand, ‘Dressed as Romans, Jonah, please. Ha, ha. We all know those ghost stories are figments of over-active imaginations, don’t we?’ The Chief grinned to indicate it was what he’d decided to believe.
‘Of course, Sir.’
The Chief sat back in his chair, much to Kirby’s relief. ‘And not an isolated incident either I’m told. Others have filmed these, so called, Roman soldiers around the Wall as well.’
‘So I hear.’
‘Good, excellent. Well, I gave Constable Barker all the details.’
‘And the video?’
‘Oh, yes. The course is quite explicit.’ The Chief made to cross his arms, then thinking better of it, placed his hands on his knees instead.
Well done, Kirby thought.
‘Openness, no hiding things hoping they’ll simply go away, ha, ha.’
‘Yes, ha, ha,’ Kirby joined in. ‘And you want me to keep you informed of everything?’
This time Kirby noted a crack in the facade with his boss hesitating and his right hand reaching up to straighten the tie that wasn’t there. The Chief cleared his throat, took a deep breath and peered out of the window.
‘Mindfulness, Jonah. I can recommend it. Coping strategies, something else they give you. I focus on that tree and it absorbs all my negative vibes.’
‘Vibes, of course.’ Kirby felt a little sorry for the tree. ‘So, everything, Sir?’
The Chief slapped both hands on his knees and smiled. ‘Of course. Yes, no secrets, eh?’
‘No, Sir. Perish the thought. Is that all?’
‘Yes, yes, splendid.’
Kirby peeled the beer mat off the bottom of his mug and rose from his seat, glad to have at least avoided being told he must go on the course. Touching the door handle he heard the Chief’s, “one more thing” cough.
Kirby turned. ‘Sir?’
‘Let’s try to avoid any sensationalism, Jonah.’ The Chief’s fingers hovered for a second over a line of three pens. To his credit, he resisted fiddling with them. Instead, he took another deep breath. ‘The Super, you know, hasn’t been on the course yet.’
‘Sir,’ Kirby said and smiled. Not everything had changed.
In the corridor Kirby ran into Shirley again. He suspected it wasn’t a coincidence.
He handed her his half-full mug of now cold coffee and took the steaming, full one from her she was holding in her other hand. ‘Illuminating.’
‘So will you be following the Chief’s example, Sir?’ Shirley said, glancing down at Kirby’s brogues.
‘Perhaps not yet. After all, I haven’t been on the course.’
‘Planning to, Sir?’
Kirby raised an eyebrow. ‘What d’you think?’
‘So Constable, would you like to show me what you’ve come up with so far?’
‘I’ll get myself a coffee if that’s OK.’
‘Of course, Constable, just don’t take too long.’ Kirby said taking a sip from his, which until a minute ago had been hers.
Kirby watched the videos. The first being the one taken by the Chief’s daughter on their family outing at Housesteads. All very normal except for seeing the Chief in a pair of jeans and a trendy padded jacket. It felt a bit like when you were a kid seeing your teacher shopping in HMV, holding hands with boyfriend/girlfriend/partner, on a Saturday morning, not quite right somehow. Then out of a patch of mist strolled, yes, what he had to admit, looked like Roman soldiers. The dog, who was on one of those extending long leads had stopped, tail wagging, to sniff one of the soldier’s feet when it was grabbed by the scruff. Another soldier cut the lead with a sword before disappearing back into the mist accompanied by a brief yelp from the dog and a cry of “Angus! No!” from the Chief’s mother.
‘Hmm,’ Kirby said.
‘Mist, Sir,’ Shirley said, biting her lip. ‘Not unlike like last time.’
‘So I see.’
Shirley showed him a selection of other videos posted on YouTube, all showing Roman soldiers, although this time none of them were snatching dogs. ‘I’ve done some digging and there’s been various claims over the years of people seeing ghosts of Roman soldiers along the wall. The Double Barrel pub near Bardon Mill is quite famous for them. I’m guessing it’s something they play on to pull in the punters.’
‘Yes, it’s near that gap bit, Sycamore Gap they call it, with the tree where Robin Hood in the Costner film jumps on the Wall. Which is a bit daft really, cos he’s supposed to have just got off a boat on the south coast. If you ask me…’
Kirby coughed in a meaningful way.
‘Sorry, Sir. Anyway, the pictures before the recent ones were only vague shapes. Like where some guy was out taking pictures of the Northern Lights photographed one, although when you look at it, it could have been almost anything.’
‘So nothing as substantial as these guys?’ Kirby said, pointing to Shirley’s phone.
‘No, Sir. I mean, I would like to say I don’t believe in ghosts and I don’t. After last time, though, what with the castle, Vikings and Roberto. Actually, especially Roberto…’ Shirley shrugged.
Kirby frowned. ‘I know what you mean.’
‘So what now, Sir?’
‘Well, I suggest we start with what we do know. The Chief’s mother’s dog was taken at…’
‘The dog, Sir. He’s called Angus.’
‘Right. Anyway, Angus then was taken near Housesteads Roman Fort. So I suggest first-off we pay them a little visit.’
‘You do have a coat with you, Constable?’
‘Oh, yes. You’re the one who’s always telling us we should take a leaf out of the Boy Scouts’ handbook and be prepared.’
Kirby raised an eyebrow at Shirley’s enthusiasm. ‘And you listen?’
Shirley beamed. ‘Always, Sir. Every word.’
‘Yes, well, don’t get too carried away. I’ll meet you at the car.’
As Shirley wandered off Kirby downed the last of his coffee, then stood grabbing his mac from the stand. Thinking about where they were going, he sat back down and opened the bottom drawer of his desk. Rootling around under the papers he wanted to forget but daren’t throw away, in case someone asked about them, he dragged out the scarf his mum had given him last Christmas, which had been there since January.
Shirley was waiting next to his car. At least he presumed it was Shirley. It was hard to tell. All he could see was a pair of feet poking out from under what looked like a self-supporting, upright, bright green duvet. ‘Are you in there somewhere, Constable?’
Shirley did a twirl and then held the hood back. ‘Great, isn’t it?’
‘For an arctic explorer, maybe. I’m not sure it gives off the quite the right vibe for a copper.’ It was then Kirby noticed a plastic bag in Shirley’s hand. ‘And what’s in there?’
Shirley grinned, opening the bag for him to see.
Shirley’s grin didn’t diminish. ‘Well, it is the beginning of November and,’ she glanced down at Kirby’s mac and brogues, ‘we are going out into the wilds.’
‘Along the A69. It’s hardly the arctic tundra.’
‘Anyway, Sir. You always say we should…’
‘Be prepared, I know,’ Kirby said, opening the car door. Sometimes he wished he kept his words of wisdom to himself.
Driving out along the West Road it felt to Kirby as if he was with some strange inflated version of Shirley. The face was Shirley, however the rest he wasn’t so sure of as she sat straight with her arms out to the side as if struggling to bend them. ‘You alright, Constable?’ he asked, noticing her cheeks were rather pink.
‘Sorry, Sir, can we stop?’
Kirby tutted. ‘Not that prepared, were we? You should’ve gone before…’
‘No, Sir. I’m rather hot. I need to take this off before I boil.’
‘Well, I think we can risk a few seconds without your seat belt while I drive.’
‘Er, sorry, Sir.’ Shirley said, flapping her straight arms like a large green penguin. ‘It’s not that simple.’
A few miles down the road, Kirby pulled into a lay-by. By which time Shirley’s complexion had changed from pink to puce. Also, steam was drifting up from the coat’s neckline, which was now just below her nose.
‘Would you mind, Sir,’ Shirley said, glancing down towards her right hand where only her twitching fingers were visible.
‘Undoing my seatbelt.’
Kirby shook his head and obliged. ‘And the door?’
‘I think I can…’ Shirley screwed her eyes up in concentration. There was a click. The door flew open as if under pressure and Shirley rolled out of the car. Several minutes later, the back door opened and Kirby watched Shirley fighting with her coat before finally getting the better of it and forcing it onto the back seat where it loomed large and menacing in his rear-view mirror.
Shirley got back into the passenger seat, breathing hard. ‘Phew, that’s better.’
Kirby shook his head and glanced in the mirror again before pulling away. ‘What does it eat?’
‘Never mind. Where the hell did you get it, Explorers Are Us?’
‘Ah, no. Yes, well, you see Sir, Barry decided we needed to get out more. You know, see a bit of nature, go for long walks in the countryside and all that.’
A now normal sized Shirley shrank a little in her seat. ‘I know. Last time Barry got a nature kick it meant sitting in front of the TV with a mug of tea watching old David Attenborough programmes. Anyway, this time he bought maps, a bird book, a pair of binoculars and everything. So, I thought you know make an effort, take an interest, keep the romance going and all that. First time out he dragged me up this hill and I nearly froze my ars… well, it was cold. So, he decided I needed kitting out.’
‘Uh, huh and you don’t think something the right size might have been a good idea?’
‘Well.’ Shirley hesitated and her chin dropped, as did her voice. ‘The man in the shop said it’d give me room to layer up.’
Kirby was about to say, ‘they must have seen you coming’ when he glanced across at Shirley whose face was pink again, this time though it was nothing to do with being warm. He relented. ‘Of course, why didn’t I think of that?’ He glanced in the mirror. He was sure he’d heard the coat snigger.
Shirley stared out of her side window. ‘Last time I go along with one of his daft ideas.’
‘Oh,’ Kirby said, sensing there was more to come.
‘As usual, he gets these brain waves,’ Shirley crossed her arms with feeling, ‘then goes off and buys all the gear. Two weeks later it’s stuffed in a cupboard and he’s back to his main hobby of lying on the sofa drinking beer and watching the telly.’
‘Oh,’ Kirby said again, now with an inkling of where this might be going.
Shirley let her arms fall to her lap and jutted out her chin while continuing to stare through the side window. ‘Yeah, well, at least he won’t be doing it again. Not on that sofa anyway.’
‘I take it that doesn’t mean you’ve got rid of the sofa.’
‘No. Got rid of Barry.’ She sniffed. ‘I’ve got more use for a sofa.’
‘Ah, I’m sorry, Shirley.’
Shirley glanced across at him before staring down at her feet. ‘Thanks, Sir. Should’ve seen it coming really. What with him whingeing I was never there and he had to get his own supper most of the time. Not that he did of course, he just went round his Mam’s. Right poisonous little wi… warty nosed person with a pointy hat, that one.’
Kirby suppressed a smile. ‘Didn’t get on with her then?’
Shirley put on a whining voice. ‘Ooh, my Barry was round here again last night for ‘is tea. He needs looking after you know. Sensitive to these things is my Barry. Men are like motor cars, they needs fuel and looking after if you’re to get the best out of them.’ Her voice returned to normal. ‘My Barry this and my Barry that. Told her I’d come across more sensitive turnips and that since he was her Barry, she was welcome to him back. And as for all that car thing, I said I’d test driven him for a while, found him lacking in performance, with a dodgy exhaust, and was going to trade him in for a better model.’ Shirley blushed. ‘Sorry, Sir.’
‘That’s alright,’ Kirby said, this time trying not to smile and failing. ‘Being a copper isn’t the best job in the world for holding down a relationship.’
‘You managed it though, Sir. Barry didn’t even want me to talk about it when I got home. If I tried, he held up a hand in my face.’ Shirley laughed. ‘A couple of weeks ago, he held it too close and I bit it. I think that might have been the beginning of the end.’
Kirby laughed with her.
Shirley threw her hands in the air. ‘I mean, how can you do a job like this and not talk about it? Did your wife mind when you talked about the job, Sir?’
Kirby shook his head and smiled, remembering.
‘Sorry. Didn’t mean to…’
Kirby glanced at Shirley. ‘No, that’s alright. I was just thinking that’s all. To be fair, Jeanie encouraged it. I think she enjoyed trying to puzzle it out. She always added a different perspective. Then again, as she kept pointing out, she was much more intelligent than me, that most women were more intelligent than men.’
Shirley laughed again. ‘I go along with her, except for Barry’s Mam of course.’
‘You’ll be fine, Constable. Plenty more fish in the sea as they say.’
Shirley nodded. ‘Hmm, the trouble is you’re never sure of exactly what you’ve caught until you’ve reeled it in and taken it home. Anyway, thanks for listening, Sir.’
Kirby smiled. ‘It’s what coppers do.’
Shirley returned the smile. ‘And if you know of any intelligent, half decent looking, non-emotionally retarded, single blokes out there, preferably with money, although I’d settle for one with what me Mam would call prospects, let me know.’
Kirby frowned. ‘You forget, Constable, I spend most of my time with other coppers.’
Shirley puffed out her cheeks. ‘Point taken, Sir.’ She glanced to the back seat. ‘Well, at least I might get some wear out of the coat.’
Turning into the Housesteads Roman Fort car park Kirby ignored all the empty spaces, pulling up as close to the visitor centre as he could get.
Shirley pointed to a sign in front of them. ‘Er, it does say reserved, Sir.’
Kirby smiled. ‘Excellent, they must have known we were coming.’
At the reception desk Kirby showed his warrant card. ‘I believe Dr Carter is expecting us.’
Thirty seconds later a man in a tweed jacket and stout brogues strode through the visitor centre towards them. Kirby smiled. ‘Dr Carter’s clearly a man of style,’ he whispered to Shirley who tutted.
Kirby showed his card as did Shirley. ‘And this is Constable Barker. Thanks for seeing us.’
‘Not at all, not at all.’ Dr Carter smiled and held out an arm. ‘Please,’ he said. ‘My office is this way.’
Kirby and Shirley fell in beside Dr Carter as they were walking between the display cases and past the few hardy tourists who’d ventured out at this time of year.
Dr Carter turned to Kirby. ‘Been here before?’
‘Not for a while,’ Kirby said looking around. ‘It’s changed a bit.’
‘Oh, yes. Everything the discerning visitor could want these days. Interactive displays, re-enactments, pencils, fridge magnets and even a decent coffee shop. Speaking of which,’ Dr Carter pointed towards the café, ‘would you like one?’
Kirby smiled. ‘Splendid idea.’
‘Three filters please Maureen,’ Dr Carter said arriving at the counter. ‘Or would you prefer a cappuccino or latte? It’ll just take a minute or so.’
‘Ooh, well…’ Shirley started.
‘Filter’s fine,’ Kirby said. ‘Isn’t it, Constable?’
‘And what about you, Constable,’ Dr Carter said while Maureen poured. ‘Been here before?’
‘Went to school in Gosforth, so…’
Dr Carter laughed. ‘Ah, yes, the ubiquitous school trip. Third year?’
Dr Carter laughed again. ‘Well, never mind,’ he said, leading the way to his office. ‘Life can’t be all fun and games.’
The office wasn’t the biggest Kirby had ever been in. There was just room for a desk with a well-worn upholstered chair behind it, complete with coffee stains and a shine that came from the rubbing of sturdy trousers. In front of it were two hard chairs with metal frames, both of which were piled high with dog-eared paper. ‘Sorry about this,’ Dr Carter said, grabbing the first pile and looking around at the other piles on the floor before picking the least unstable one to deposit them on. When he’d cleared the other chair, he squeezed himself behind the desk. ‘Ah, yes,’ he said, smiling as Kirby and Shirley sat on the other side, at an angle, taking care not to touch knees. ‘The glamorous life of an academic.’
Kirby tried crossing his legs, then gave up when Shirley frowned, having kicked her shin. ‘I take it you’re attached to the University, Newcastle that is?’
‘Correct, archaeology department.’
‘In the Armfield?’
‘You’re familiar with it?’
Kirby glanced across at Shirley. ‘Er, let’s say we’ve had reason to visit it recently. Susie Summer must be a student of yours?’
Dr Carter raised a questioning eyebrow. ‘Yes, bright girl. Should do well. You know her?’
Kirby nodded. ‘Anyway, back to why we’re here,’ he said, taking out his phone and poking at the screen. He cursed under his breath.
Shirley smiled, leaning across to see what he was doing. ‘Can I help, Sir?’
‘No, you cannot,’ Kirby said, poking some more. ‘Ah, here it is.’ He held the phone out towards Dr Carter.
‘Ah, sorry, never had the problem myself. I suggest you try a garden centre.’
Kirby frowned and turned the phone around to see a picture of the molehills in his garden.
Shirley glanced at the phone. ‘My Granddad always reckoned…’
‘Yes, thank you, Constable,’ Kirby said, prodding again with added vigour. This time he started the video before turning the screen around. ‘Just wondered what you make of this?’
Dr Carter watched. ‘Look like a nice family. However…’ he started. His mouth formed a round ‘O’ shape a second before he spoke. ‘I see what you mean.’ ‘Ah, yes,’ he added, tapping his fingers on the desk when the clip ended.
Kirby played his waiting game and Shirley, knowing the rules, joined in. You act casual and look at the person, letting the silence develop until they feel obliged to fill it. They then start giving you answers to questions you hadn’t even thought of.
Dr Carter fidgeted with some of his papers in a way that suggested he’d been presented with the very thing he hoped he wouldn’t be asked about. ‘Ha, ha, yes, interesting. I see… Well…’
Kirby and Shirley waited some more. It wasn’t their turn yet.
‘There have been other reports of the same sort of thing. I mean… er. However, this is the first time, well, an animal. It’s… just well…’ He coughed. ‘Then there’s complaints of bicycles going…’ Dr Carter hesitated, as if thinking he might be saying too much. He shrugged.
Kirby and Shirley smiled encouragement.
‘And… er, other things… well, nothing really, er just…’
Kirby raised a hand, deciding, as with any game, a little nudge in the right direction was needed if they were to make progress. ‘As it happens, this was the Chief Inspector’s mother’s dog…’
‘Angus,’ Shirley chipped in.
‘Yes, thank you, Constable. Angus is indeed the dog’s name. Anyway, as you can imagine, the Chief takes a rather dim view of people parading around in Roman uniforms snatching other people’s dogs. Especially when they belong to his mother.’ He paused, giving the now pale Dr Carter time to digest what he was saying. ‘Also, from what the Constable here tells me, being young and therefore more familiar with social media, there are other clips of so called Romans being seen at various places along the Wall. Isn’t that right, Constable?’
‘Oh, yes, Sir. Some of my mates have been following it, an…’
‘Exactly,’ Kirby said, interrupting. Shirley took the hint. ‘However, Doctor, you and your department have been rather silent on the matter.’ Kirby raised his eyebrows and smiled, indicating it was now Dr Carter’s turn again.
Dr Carter arranged a few pens on his desk, a gesture Kirby knew well from his little chats with the Chief. It normally meant the Chief having to talk about something he wished he didn’t know. At least it had before he’d been on his latest training course. Carter’s shoulders sagged. ‘You see, there’s always been reports of people seeing so called ghosts of Roman soldiers at sites along the Wall.’
‘So we understand. Not quite like these though? And not videoed then posted on YouTube.’
‘Er, no. It was about a month or so ago the reports increased.’ He gestured towards Kirby’s phone. ‘And of course these days anyone can film them. In the past, the most you saw was some vague image which could have been almost anything.’
‘Whereas, these are quite distinct, identifiable,’ Kirby added for him.
Carter fiddled some more. ‘Er, yes.’
‘And from what you’ve hinted at, things such as bicycles have been going missing? Or as we like to call it in the police force, stolen.’
Carter tried a smile which failed to get beyond a twitch. ‘Well, I’m not sure I’d go that far. I mean, it’s only a few…’
Kirby turned to Shirley. ‘What would you call it, Constable, when things are taken without their owner’s permission, bikes for instance?’
Shirley smiled. ‘I think it would be termed stealing, Sir.’
‘Well done, Constable.’ Kirby turned back to Carter. ‘Good to know those days in college at the taxpayer’s expense aren’t being wasted. Now, Doctor, let’s get back to these thefts and why you haven’t reported anything.’
‘Ah, well, you see. We didn’t think they were that important.’
‘And you feel qualified to make such a judgement?’
Carter was now turning a similar colour to Shirley before she’d taken her coat off in the car. ‘Erm, well, we didn’t want to waste your time.’
‘That’s the second time you’ve said, we. Which we would that be?’
‘Yes.’ Carter gave a nervous smile, as if he’d spotted a potential way out of Kirby’s verbal spotlight. ‘Professor Peters suggested it might not be a good idea to have a load of big booted coppers plodging around, disturbing everything.’ He tried a smile again. ‘Sorry, his words you understand, not mine.’
Kirby glanced across at Shirley. ‘Do you “plodge”, Constable.’
Shirley tapped a finger on her lips. ‘Don’t think so, Sir. Not something we’re taught at college.’
Kirby turned back to Carter. ‘So, no worries there then.’ He smiled as his copper’s antennae twitched. ‘And tell me, exactly what d’you mean by disturbing everything? What is there to disturb?’
‘Ah ha, yes, well.’ Carter stared down at his desk as if looking for the answer among the piles of journals and papers. Kirby went back to waiting. Carter arranged two pens at right angles to his blotter. ‘I’m sure it’s only coincidence.’
‘What is?’ asked Kirby, who didn’t believe in coincidence. It usually being used as an excuse for things that were anything but coincidence.
‘About the time the ghosts,’ Carter cleared his throat, ‘or rather so-called ghosts, showed up, we opened a new dig. A site we hadn’t realised was there before.’ Carter glanced at them, giving them a half smile. Kirby and Shirley returned to waiting mode. ‘Nothing major, you understand. Ha ha, no big fort or villa.’ They waited some more. ‘No, no, nothing like that. It’s just it’s, er, thrown up rather a lot of finds if you get what I mean.’
Kirby smiled encouragement. ‘I understand, I’ve watched Time Team.’
‘Ha, ha, yes of course, excellent. The thing is, they’re rather good ones, exceptional even.’
There we are, Kirby thought, the real reason at last. ‘Interesting,’ he said. ‘What d’you think, Constable?’
‘Very interesting, Sir.’
‘Yes, I think I might go that far as well.’ He put his hands on the desk and rose from his seat. ‘Perhaps we should take a look?’ He smiled down at Carter. ‘And I promise not to plodge.’
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