It’s a question I’m often asked – why do you keep working? And indeed sometimes it’s a question I ask myself.
And then there’s the people at work who come up and say to you ‘I have a great idea for a story’ and inevitably it never is.
But sometimes somebody does come up with a little gem. I know a forensic archaeologist and you would think they would be a ripe furrow to plough but the basic thing about her job, as any job, is that 99% of it is totally mundane. I suppose that in itself is an interesting point for a novel.
She did tell me of an interesting one many years ago and now in the public domain of what she called the Magic Eye picture scenario. So to set the scene. Think of a inner city, a famous market with another ‘market’ nearby – more infamous for a weird kind of second hand ( usually stolen), all sorts of dealing going on underneath the arches of an old railway line.
I’m sure every inner city on the face of the planet has an area like “Paddy’s Market”. On the far side of Paddy’s market in those days and area of land was hoarded up ready for a development that was never going to happen. And while that was an attempt to keep undesirables out it also gave shelter to those exact same undesirables who used it shoot up, lie down and fall about.
One day two assessors from a building company undid the padlocks and went in. The area would be the third of the size of a soccer pitch, it had a few trees, oil drums, wheelie bins, ASDA trolleys – typical exotica of urban decay that tend to pose questions of how that stuff got over the 8 foot hoarding. The grass is waist high with areas flattened, various outcrops of concrete but everywhere covered in litter, syringes, mattresses, bin bags etc.
And in this case, a head.
Or to be more correct, a skull.
So the authorities were called in, the pathologist looked at it and was a little confused – and I’m glad to say so was I when I heard the story - as that skull was stripped clean but showed no rodent teeth marks, or canine marks. So standing there, the pathologist called the archaeologist (as they work in the same University and it’s less than a 10 minute drive ), and they were probably sitting in a meeting about budgets and would much rather be knee deep in rats and mattresses looking at a skull.
But it wasn’t an old skull. The skull had good teeth and good quality filings. So by now there’s a few fair people standing in the middle of the proposed building site, the skull hasn’t been moved. It’s still lying on the ground. The pathologist believes that the victim might have been hung and therefore they were looking for a body.
So the story goes 5 or 6 of them stood in the middle of the area in a circle looking outward scanning the area with their eyes trying to see the body in amongst the mosaic of urban detritus. It was a mosaic of colour with a distinct lack of definition. It was very difficult to see anything with any clarity among the kaleidoscope of shapes. But the best way to work out what had happened would be to get a visual on the body in relation to what was known as ‘the runaway skull’. It was a quarter of an hour of pointing and asking ‘is that it? No, it’s a bin bag!’ before the picture became clear. Obviously the first place to look was under the trees – nothing. But one of the oil drums looked as though it might have rolled from place A to place B. And under the oil drum, looking like neatly folded up clothes, they could just make out that it might be a folded up body, like a sandwich and barely discernable. But there he was, a young man who had climbed behind the hoarding and strung himself up on a tree using the upright oil drum as a platform to stand on. The body hung there for a very long time, long enough for the noose to separate the head from the body.
Nope, I don't see it!
What happened then is conjecture but it would appear that the body must have hit the ground and knocked over the oil drum which then rolled and the body, in some way, ended up folded up underneath it, headless and lay there for many months. The head rolled some distance and what happened then? Did a toothless fox lick it clean? It is very unusual that a bone like that would have no trace of tooth marks, but stripped clean nonetheless. And what happened to the noose? Why did nobody else notice? Most important of all - who was he? How long had he been there for? Is he still sitting on a missing persons list somewhere, maybe not even in this country?
Still can't see it...But I know that if that every appeared in a crime novel somebody would say ‘that would never happen’
Caro 19 08 2016