Amanda Birchill

Disclaimers: Characters owned by Mark 1 Productions (CI5) and Hit Entertainment PLC (Bob the Builder). I’ve no idea where Bob the Builder lives so I made that up.
THIS IS NOT A CHILDRENS STORY. (Just in case a ‘Bob’ fan has stumbled onto this.) And I couldn't with any degree of dignity hand this over for beta'ing (no, seriously, Carol) so apologies in advance for the mistakes…

For Andi, who wanted a story about obsession, but this probably wasn’t what she had in mind.

The Real Reason why Mavis from the Post Office couldn’t go to the line-dancing competition with Bob.

Agents 4.5 and 3.7 waited in their Controller’s office. Bodie, sleek and dark in a well-tailored suit, stood at ease while Doyle, casual bordering on disreputable in jeans and shirt, lounged against a tall filing cabinet. George Cowley powered into his office, barely giving his agents a glance.
       “A young woman, Mavis Fullerton, a postal worker, has been murdered in Pennymarkham.”
      His two finest looked at him blankly.
       “She was Justice Lord Fullerton’s daughter.”
      Twinned raised eyebrows greeted that piece of information. Doyle frowned.
       “What was the daughter of a Lord doing working in a post-office in the middle of nowhere?”
      Cowley spoke softly. “Apparently she wanted to strike out on her own, away from the influence of her family – and, she liked stamps.” He smiled bleakly. “Anyway, it’s now a CI5 matter. I want to find out who murdered the girl, and why.”
       “Revenge for one of the Justice’s decisions?” Bodie mused.
      “The thought had occurred, 3.7, that’s why I’ve requested the files for all of the Justice’s cases for the past five years.”
      Doyle whistled. “That’s a lot of paperwork.” Bodie clapped his hands together, rubbing them briskly. “Well, we’ll be on our way to Pennymarkham, then, sir,” he said, all eager enthusiasm.
       “Very good.” Cowley didn’t let his amusement show, he knew exactly how much Bodie enjoyed searching through old files.

Pennymarkham was a picturesque little place, bigger than a village though smaller than a town. Despite being set in a rural area, its jammed-together buildings reminded the London based agents more of an industrial estate. It was a little odd but at least the air was fresh.
      Bodie and Doyle interviewed a still distraught Bob Builder in the cosy lounge-room adjacent to his office. His soft, round face was pale and his small, brown eyes were red-rimmed. Wendy, his pretty, blonde secretary-cum-work partner hovered anxiously.
      “I’ll just make us some tea, alright, Bob?” she said softly.
       “Righto then, Wendy.” Bob said distractedly before turning his soulful gaze back on the two CI5 agents.
       “I still can’t believe Mavis is dead, let alone – murdered.” That last word was whispered hoarsely.
      “Yes, I’m sorry,” Doyle said gently, “however, you and Miss – er – Wendy were the last ones to talk to her. When was that, exactly?”
      Bob thought for a moment, “I’d finished most of the setting up for the Line-Dancing Competition, and I came home early so I could get some last minute practise in.”
      Bob gave Doyle a tremulous smile. “Yes, Mavis and I had entered the line-dancing competition. We'd been practising ever so hard for it; I was really disappointed when she said she couldn't go.”
       “What time did she ring?”
       “Well, Wendy was still here to answer the phone so it must’ve been about 4 – 4.30?”
      Bodie and Doyle glanced at each other quickly before Doyle turned back to Bob.
       “What did she say?” Doyle continued the questioning.
      Bob sniffed wetly and a blue, striped cat, meowwring concernedly, leapt up into his lap, dropping a hanky near his hand.
       “Thank you, Pilchard.” Bob smiled weakly at the cat then blew his nose loudly, startling the cat; he stroked it, soothing it absently as he spoke.
       “Mavis said she couldn’t go to the competition with me because she’d hurt her ankle on the jogging machine.” Another significant look passed between the partners.
      “How did she sound?” Bodie asked.
       “Whatchyer mean?” Bob was puzzled.
       “I mean, did she sound upset, or angry? Anything out of the ordinary?”
       “Come to think of it, she sounded a bit – squeaky.”
       “Yes, odd isn’t it? I thought it was just because she’d hurt herself.”
      Wendy emerged from the kitchen, carrying a tray of tea things.
       “Would you like some tea, gentlemen?” she asked brightly. Doyle stood up quickly, Bodie following suit a heartbeat later.
       “I’m afraid not,” Doyle said sounding genuinely regretful, “we have to go. Thank you for your help, Mr. Builder.”
      “’Bob’, call me ‘Bob’,” he said absent-mindedly accepting a cup of steaming tea from his secretary. Wendy sat close to him, her concern for her boss written large on her soft, round face.

In the car on the way to the murder scene, Bodie and Doyle discussed what they’d heard.
      “4 – 4.30,” Doyle said, “that can’t be right. The pathologist reckons the time of death was at least an hour earlier.”
      “Bob could’ve got the time wrong,” Bodie countered, not taking his eyes off the narrow, twisted road he was piloting the Capri along, “in all the excitement leading up Pennymarkham's social event of the year.” Doyle smirked at his partner’s sarcasm then tried to get the conversation back on topic.
      “And ‘hurting her ankle’?” Doyle flipped through the few pages of the forensic report, “no mention of it here.” Bodie looked at him seriously, “I don’t think it was Mavis that made that phone call, do you?”

Mavis Fullerton had been a bit of a pack-rat, albeit a neatish one. Her tiny cottage was full of shelves and cupboards of knick-knacks, books and souvenirs, all displayed to advantage with hardly a speck of dust to be seen. Her house seemed cosy and welcoming, from the door mat festooned with huge sunflowers, to the cupboard-sized spare room where the bed was made up invitingly as if she was expecting someone to drop in at any moment. The only less-than-friendly spot in the house was the kitchen, where she’d been killed. ‘Garroted by baling wire’ was the official finding. Given that the wire had still been embedded half way through her neck when she was found, it wasn’t a difficult verdict to reach. She’d struggled some, before she died. The well-scrubbed kitchen table had been kicked out of place, and one of the cane-backed kitchen chairs had been overturned. As for her blood liberally coating that corner of the kitchen…
      “No sign of forced entry, she probably knew the killer.” Bodie said peering closely at the simple lock on the cottage’s front door.
      “In a town this size, it’d be surprising if she didn’t.” Doyle grinned.
      “Providing it was someone from around here,” Bodie had to point out smoothly. Doyle conceded the point with a nod. “What was she doing home?”
      Bodie glanced at him and smiled smugly, happy to be one up on his ex-police partner for a change, “Didn’t you read the report?" he said airily, "she had a day off so she could be ready in plenty of time for the competition.” Doyle quirked an eyebrow at his friend, and remembered Mavis's ‘cowgirl’ costume still laid out ready on the bed.
      Bodie’s voice came quietly but urgently from the hallway. Doyle came silently to stand next to his partner; Bodie was squatting down looking at something on the floor near the phone.
       “What is it?”
      Bodie wordlessly pointed to a nearly invisible bit of something up against the skirting board; Doyle leaned in for a closer look. It was a piece of straw, only half an inch or so long, and it was partially covered in blood.
       “Straw?” There was something tugging at the back of Doyle’s mind; abruptly an image of a furtive figure lurking about outside Bob Builder’s yard sprang clearly into his consciousness.
       “The scarecrow.”
      Bodie grinned wolfishly, “Let’s go have a chat to the man of straw.”

They found out from Mrs. Potts, one of Mavis’ neighbours, a woman with red hair and a soft, round face, that the scarecrow was named ‘Spud’ and he worked, not very effectively, for Farmer Pickles. Mrs. Potts was also happy to tell them that Spud was a bit of a mischief-maker, and a practical joker. ‘If anything annoying had happened,’ she’d stated firmly, ‘you could be sure that scarecrow was behind it.’

Farmer Pickles was having lunch when the CI5 agents knocked on his door asking about his scarecrow. Farmer Pickles gave them directions to Spud’s shack, out in the west field, and whereabouts the two men might be likely to find the lazy creature if he was sleeping on the job, again.
      Bodie mused aloud to Doyle, as they trudged across the field, about the probability of overly close family ties in the small community. As evidence, Bodie pointed out that everyone they’d met seemed to have the same soft, round faces and little piggy – no, not ‘piggy’ exactly, more like ‘guinea-piggy’ – eyes. Doyle chuckled.
      "Why is it a bad thing when the bride's a virgin?"
      "Well, if she's not good enough for her own family…"
      Their combined laughter startled a small flock of sheep.

Spud’s shack was small and dusty, there wasn’t much in it other than a pile of old potato sacks he probably used for a bed. A small amount of sunlight filtered in through some faded, and partially opened curtains, another set of curtains on the opposite side of the room were firmly closed.
      “Hang about,” Doyle said, “I don’t remember there being windows on this side." He stepped up and pulled the curtains open. A riot of what looked like pictures and clippings from the local paper greeted them.
      ‘Local Builder a Hero.’ - ‘Environmental Groups Praise Local Builder’s Ideas to save Hedgehogs.’ - ‘Bob and Wendy – Line-Dancing Champions!’
      Bodie was grinning maniacally, “I don’t believe it; the scarecrow's queer for Bob!”
       “Mustn’t jump to conclusions, Bodie,” Doyle tried to say primly, a difficult thing to do while also trying not to laugh, “it could be perfectly innocent.”
      Bodie gave him an unmistakable ‘yeah-right’ look then they left the meagre building in search of what was looking like the prime murder suspect.

They found Spud dozing behind some bushes. He laughed, a nervous, nasally sound as they took him back to the local nick for questioning. They had a result sooner than they anticipated. Spud confessed to Mavis’s murder before Bodie had even got to warm up his ‘mad-merc’ act; in fact, the scarecrow spilled his guts so fast the agents were sneezing from all the straw dust in the air only seconds after closing the interview room door.
      “I did it! I killed Mavis!” Spud sobbed, his hessian sack face crumpling.
      Doyle had to ask the questions, Bodie was too busy blowing his nose.
       “Why’d you do it, Spud? Was it because you were jealous of Mavis and her relationship with Bob?”
      “What?” Spud whispered in alarm.
      “We know all about it, Spud,” Doyle whipped out one of the newspaper clippings they'd taken from Spud’s shack; it was a photo of Bob, with a heart tellingly drawn around his soft, round face. Spud looked wildly from one agent to the other.
      “I didn’t do it by myself!” he whined, “it was Wendy’s idea. She told me what to do.”
      “Why Wendy?” Bodie said sharply; Spud cowered away from him, the scarecrow didn’t seem to think that the dark-haired man’s red and streaming nose made him any less of a menace.
      “Because she loved him too, she thought with Mavis out of the way…”
      “She’d ‘ave a chance with her boss,” Doyle finished in disgust, “but what about you? How’d she convince you to get involved?” Spud drooped dejectedly, “She – she said that once she and Bob were settled she’d, you know, talk to him – about me…” he trailed off miserably.
      “And you believed her?” Doyle didn’t bother to hide his disbelief.
      “Oh, I know, I’m such a silly Spud!”
      Spud flung himself, weeping, over the table, raising another cloud of dust and setting Bodie to sneezing again.
      They left the pathetic pile of clothes and straw in the capable hands of the local police while they went to find Wendy.

She didn’t look surprised when they turned up at Bob’s office, merely resigned.
      “What are you doing?” Bob asked in consternation when Bodie hand-cuffed a silent Wendy.
      “She’s implicated in Mavis’s murder.” Bodie said shortly.
      “Wendy?” Bob asked his secretary.
      “Oh, Bob,” Wendy sighed, breaking her silence in the face of Bob’s bewilderment, “In all our time working together, you never saw me as anything more than a friend, a colleague. When you asked Mavis to be your partner at the line-dancing competition the jealousy just cut me up inside. I love you so much and you never even noticed, what was I supposed to do?” she looked at him sadly, “I’m so sorry, Bob.”
      The agents led her away, leaving Bob confused, and alone, except for his blue cat and his machinery.

They contacted Base as soon as Wendy was safely charged and locked up. They’d flipped a coin and Bodie’d lost the toss, he got to give Cowley the verbal report.
      “All wrapped up, sir.”
      “What was it all about, 3.7? Not merely some sordid love triangle I hope.”
      Bodie cleared his throat, “Sort of, sir. Bob Builder asked Mavis Fullerton to be his partner at a line-dancing competition. Wendy, Bob’s secretary, was in love with him and she was jealous of Mavis. Wendy conned – convinced – someone else, Spud, who was also in love with Bob, to do the dirty work for her. Where the plan fell down was Spud pretending to be Mavis and ringing Bob to cancel their date. He didn’t have the brains to realise the delay between Mavis’s death and ‘her’ phone call, could be detected.”
      Cowley sighed heavily, “It all seems pretty clear cut. Tie up any details and return as soon as you can.”
       “Yes, sir.”
      Bodie put the phone down and turned to see Doyle grinning again.
       “The scarecrow ‘didn’t have the brains’?” Bodie looked blank then laughed.
       “Pity it wasn’t the cowardly lion; he might not have had the guts to go through with it.”

© 2001 (January) Amanda Birchill

© 2000-2003 WordWrights.

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