The Long Good Hike

Hike had hit the streets. Hike made heroin feel like cheap aspirin. Hike made people walk. Made people walk without care. Legs became uninhibited. Wives walked out on husbands, husbands out on mistresses. Somewhere, somebody was walking out on someone. Companies had no staff, schools no teachers, patients died with no doctors in hospitals to treat them. Slowly, society was walking away from itself.

‘Alright. What we got?’ Jenkins looks through sore eyes. Pinches sinuses against the cold October night. Looks down. Seen her kind before. Middle-class. Bored housewife from the suburbs. Tries Hike. Hike makes her walk. Ends up in the wrong place at the wrong time. Ends up as another case.

‘Must have walked out in the middle of the night by the looks of it sir. Definitely no I.D. on this one.’ Clarke fumbles into cheap suit. Takes out notebook and writes.

Jenkins crouches for a better look. Knitted tie lands in a puddle. Suede shoes court dog shit. She could’ve died under a working streetlamp he thought. She could’ve died in a better part of town. Kids shout and drink around cheap cars. Not his problem. Let the bobbies handle them. The xenon lights and thumping music whack like steel chains. For the past week Jenkins had been waking up and going to bed with the same migraine. And being in Highgate on a Friday night didn’t help.

Mid-forties he guesses. Pretty with the kind of face money maintains. Brown, curly hair done up. Recently dyed to hide the grey. Make up on. Red, silky nightgown. One pink boudoir wedge on. The other abandoned a few yards away. Was probably waiting for somebody in bed when she decides to up and walk. But her smile bothered him most.

‘SOCO been called yet?’ he says. Closes eyes. Hands grip temples to hold migraine in.

‘Yeah they should be on the way soon sir.’

***

Cause of death was inconclusive. Toxicology showed large amounts of Hike as expected. But no sign of sexual assault. No sign of any violence. This one was different. This one bothered him. Jenkins tries to cure the migraine with a second double expresso and a pencil eraser against the temples. Handles the photos again. Must be some powerful shit, he thought, to make someone smile all the way out in Highgate. The others had kept walking until something bad found them. Usually murderers, rapists, or the wheels of an HGV.

Clarke comes in. ‘We got a positive I.D. on the body sir.’

Jenkins takes the folder.  Squints. Fluorescent light melts everything into nausea. Thumbs pages with someone else’s hand.

A name. Mrs. Ellen Bradford from Highbury Heights.

‘Alright Clarke, you’re driving.’

They pass one boarded-up, abandoned pub after another. Obscene, one-eyed murals stare back. Fly tipped dirty mattresses slump on corners. The piss-stained estates of Highgate was no sight for a sore head. Even the rain got dirty washing its streets. Highgate was where junkies and drunks who couldn’t find a place in Newtown came to hide. Next to it, like a Bentley Continental parked up against a rusted, souped-up Corsa, stood millionaire’s playground Highbury Heights.

‘She didn’t walk far then sir,’ said Clarke as they parked up in leafy Jerome Avenue. Jenkins thought of her. Dead. Smiling on Curzon street. Nightgown and one designer mule. Leered at by obscene, one-eyed murals. Waking up in Highgate was bad enough. He couldn’t think of a worse place to die.

Big Victorian house. Three stories. At least three million. Stone lions guard wrought iron gates. Jenkins buzzes. Nothing. Buzzes again. The migraine doesn’t like it.

‘Hello? Can I help you?’

‘This is DCI Jenkins. I’m looking for Mr. Bradford.’

‘This is he. How may I help you?’

‘I would like to speak to you about your wife Mr. Bradford.’

Gate buzzes open. The crack of gravel under feet messes with his head. Sun reflecting off leaves hurt.

Bradford’s cleanly shaven in a navy three-piece suit. Hair immaculately cut and combed. ‘I knew she was taking something. But she said they were for migraines,’ he says.

‘Where were you at the time Mr. Bradford?’ says Jenkins, pushing out words through nausea.

‘I was out of town on business.’ A shake of the head and a sigh.

‘Got anybody to corroborate that?’

‘Yes. My colleagues.’ Another shake, another sigh. ‘What the hell was she doing over in Highgate anyway?’

‘We’re still trying to determine that Mr. Bradford,’ says Jenkins. A dog barks somewhere out back, scrapes his ears. Light from the sash windows claws at his eyes. Migraine becomes viscous.

Jenkins excuses himself. Goes to bathroom and takes a leak. Stares into some stranger’s face. Rubs his temples with someone else’s hand. Clicks opens the mirrored cabinet. Sees painkillers. Takes a couple from an aspirin bottle. A couple more for good measure. Splashes cold water on face.

‘We’ll need you to officially identify the body sir,’ says Jenkins.

‘Of course,’ says Bradford.

‘Here’s my card. Give me a call when you’re ready.’ His head was easing. The pounding stopped. Clean spring rain cooled his brain. Eyes welcomed sunlight.

‘Sir, the car’s here,’ says Clarke.

‘You carry on Rob.’ Jenkins smiles.

‘But sir, where’re you going?’

‘I dunno. I just fancy a walk. I’ll see you back at the station.’

© 2016 Occasional Dreams
In response to daily prompt: Hike
Image: “Woodberry Down Estate” by Nico Hogg / CC BY

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