Not a Yuletide Carol
December 22, 2011
MORSE was dead: to begin with. Forget that “dead as a door-nail” bit; that’s not the first line of the story, and besides, Morse had little use for knockers, much less the attached hardware.
All the same, despite the dead part, it was hard to keep Morse’s ghost out of Oxfordshire CID. Even though they’d gone as far as changing the name of the bailiwick after his death, it still seemed that way to everyone: every case solved, even worse every case not solved, still fell within the shadows cast by the methods and the madness of the late, great Chief Inspector. At least, so it seemed to his successor, former partner and friend, Detective Inspector Robbie Lewis.
Even his own second, Detective Sergeant James Hathaway seemed to know Morse- not just of Morse, even though Hathaway had never even met the man. Rarely did they puzzle over a clue, or stop in a pub, without someone- usually the younger man- making some reference to what He would have done.
The Inspector looked up from his solitary dinner, in his flat empty save for himself, and found himself again haunted by that voice of past connections, found ever so present in modern-day police procedurals.
“I see where this is going, and I’m not going to allow it. You are NOT going to turn a crime story into some lame ‘Very Very Special Christmas Programme’ based on Dickens. It’s overdone, never works, and I will not be a party to it.”
“But it’s three nights before Christmas, we’ve got a murder to solve and you’re still a major source of my inspiration! I can’t just write you out of my investigation!”
“Fine. I’ll suffer your imaginary-friend need if you think it will help. But if I hear a rattling chain or see you anywhere near a graveyard or a Christmas turkey emporium, I am right off!”
“Excuse me, Sir? I call you that. And, on this occasion, I also called you.”
Lewis returned to the present from his repast with the Chief Inspector. Hathaway’s voice was on the other end of his mobile.
“Right. Sorry. Long day after a longer night. So what have you got?”
“Looks like another victim of the Garden, Sir. Fourteen, state school in West Oxfordshire. Parents found him. Done by his own hand, no doubt about that, but they found pages and pages of social network sites on his tablet, showing an endless and needless pattern of bullying. His last words on the most recent of them were about meeting up with his dead grandmother and a lyric quote: 'Don't forget me when I come crying to heaven's door.'”
“These bullying posts- can they be traced to the members of the Garden?”
“I’ve got our computer experts trying to trace the sources, but the language- if it’s not them, it’s a very knowing copycat.”
“Have the parents been fully interviewed?”
“Yes, Sir, and they’re fully cooperative. They want to find the soulless creatures behind this act and have promised full access to everything Roddy- sorry, Sir, Roddy James was the boy’s name- that Roddy left behind.”
“Prepare a briefing for the morning, Hathaway. I have GOT to get some rest.”
“Stop it! Morse said no ghosts!”
“Excuse me, dear boy, but I’m not a ghost. Not yet, anyway. I’m Colin Dexter, and this is my cameo. Always get one or two in, you know.”
“Well, I suppose if I’m to have a hallucination, it had best be with the man who created me.”
“Inspector and Sergeant, I created you. Not man and woman, not man and man. It’s the intellect that’s important, not the gender, or the orientation.”
“So why does this madness continue, Sir? May I call you that?”
“Call me whatever works. I believe it’s a failing of faith- people who don’t hear the message, so they just read the words in the dusty old books. They pick the ones they like and ignore the rest, or, worse, subvert them.”
“Is that what draws these supposedly pious people to such acts of hatred?”
“Bits of it, that’s all it takes. Put a drib here in one sick mind, a drab there in another, and before you know it you’ve got an angry mob, every one of whom can claim, in the dock if they have to, ‘I meant him no harm.’ But no one of them harmed that boy. It was the ‘them’ of them.”
“I don’t think this is the kind of crime we can ‘solve’ in the way I- Morse- all of us here always have.”
“It isn’t, Lewis. That’s why you need to be flexible with your methods- and with your definition of a successful ‘solution.’”
Hathaway entered the interview room holding two devices- a tablet computer on top, and a rather larger laptop underneath it.
“One on top was Roddy’s, Sir. Parents also gave us his flash and external drives to confirm some of the entry times. Second’s from one of his classmates. Got a warrant issued to the social media site and confirmed the time and place of the last message to Roddy before he, well, couldn’t take anymore. Her parents, and their solicitor, are inside.”
“Takes all kinds to make a world, Sir. Classmate of his since they were six. Turns out she’s the younger sister of one of the Garden members we tracked. Apples don’t fall far, it seems.”
“Except in the original Garden- then the fall is far and fatal.”
Lewis entered to the solicitor’s protests. “You have no basis for holding any of my clients for anything, much less a crime, least of all for complicity in a homicide!”
“You may well be right about that, but you can’t be sure, now, can you? The young lady is old enough to be charged and tried as an adult, and she will be. Fingerprinted, perp-walked, shamed and named. Forever part of her past- in a present she will have that Roddy never will.”
Lewis continued. “Your client needs to feel some of the same things she made her victim feel. We may not bring these charges. We may drop these charges. But if she doesn’t feel a kinship to Roddy James in the pain she caused him, even for the next hour, we will not have done justice here. Now do you want to talk in legalities or do you want justice to be done?”
The lawyer squirmed. “Can we have a few moments?”
“Well done, Lewis. Closed the book, righted the wrong, and no ghosts of Christmas anything.”
“Community service and a year’s suspension from that school won’t bring the boy back.”
“No, but it might make the next yob think twice before causing that kind of emotional damage to somebody else who’s gay, or fat, or just ‘different.’”
“Or has a strange obsession for classical music played loud inside a Jag?”
“Stop it, Lewis. I rather miss that where I am now.”
Lewis thought. “You could say, Sir, that if anyone is going to be haunted by the outcome of this case, it will be the bullies who haven’t done the deed yet- who WILL think twice.”
Morse smiled. “Now THAT kind of haunting, you can bring on all that you like!”