by Hugh Taylor
It was early on Saturday morning. Harry Cowan was guddling for trout in Dalwhat Water, near the bridge on the road to Bardennoch.
Harry knew he shouldn’t be there. His mother had warned him before not to do it and he had also been told that he needed a permit to fish there anyway. Not that Harry cared. Like most boys of his age there was a certain excitement, an air of adventure, about doing the things that grown ups told you not to do. And guddling for trout was Harry’s most favourite adventure at the moment. Not that he’d actually managed to see one, far less catch one. No it was the very act of guddling that Harry liked. He liked lying on the river bank and plunging his hands into the icy, tumbling water and feeling about round the edges, under the bank for that elusive fish.
He was working down river towards the bridge when he saw it. At first he thought it was a bundle of clothes that someone had thrown over the bridge. But when he got closer, he noticed a hand sticking out of the bundle. He started feeling apprehensive. Yet curiosity drew him closer until he could see the white, upturned face of a man, his eyes open and staring.
Harry’s first instinct was to leg it but, being an adventurous and curious boy, he took a closer look.
Oh no! he thought, It’s a dead man. It immediately dawned on him that he was in serious trouble. He’d have to tell somebody. And they would have to call the police. And the police would have to come to his house to ask him questions. And his mum would find out where he’d been. And she’d ask him what he was doing there. And he would have to tell her the truth.
“I can’t believe this is happening to me”, he wailed, out loud, to nobody in particular. “I’ll get grounded for months.”
The police were called and a detective questioned Harry for what seemed like hours. They told his mum that they had found no identification on the dead man and no one in the village knew who he was or where he came from. He’d been killed, they said, by a single blow from behind with something heavy like a large stone. But nothing had been found near the corpse. They had taken fingerprints and had sent them away for matching and hoped that that might tell them who he was.
He had been in the Craigdarroch and eaten lunch on the Friday but spoken to no one. Later in the day he had appeared in the George, where he’d ordered a whisky and started talking about comics and the Moniaive Comic Festival. He’d asked Lesley about, “that chap Grant. You know the one that writes about Batman and Superman. He lives near here doesn’t he?” According to Senga he had spoken with a Welsh accent and seemed particularly interested in the Comic Festival. He wanted to know what writers and artists had attended. Senga and Lesley had told him he should talk to Alan Grant.
“I got the impression that this guy knew him.” Senga said.
“Never seen him before.” Alan told the Detective after being taken to the mortuary and asked to identify the body.
“You sure about that, Sir?” asked the Detective.
“Absolutely,” Alan replied. “Furthermore I’ve never seen him at any of the Comic Conventions I’ve attended so he’s probably not a fan.” But the Detective was not going to be put off.
“How do you account for him asking all those questions in the Bar?” he asked an increasingly irate Alan.
“How do you expect me to know? I’m a writer. I create characters. You’re a detective, you’re supposed to solve crimes like this one. Now take me home.”
“Very well, Sir,” was the Detective’s icy response, “But don’t leave the village without letting us know.”
Speculation in the village was rife as the rumour mill got up a good head of steam. Some of the more far fetched theories had Alan already convicted as a murderer. The man in the river, they said, was a writer who had come to complain that Alan Grant had stolen his stories. There had been an argument, a scuffle, and the guy had fallen and bashed his head on a stone. Alan had panicked and dumped the body in the river before running away.
The trouble was that the police were also convinced that he had something to do with it but had come up with no evidence to prove it. Indeed they had found nothing whatsoever and had still to identify the body.
In the end it was young Harry Cowan who solved the mystery and got Alan Grant off the hook. He and his pals, Wullie Welsh and Stanley Plant, had gone into the woods at Bardennoch looking for pine cones. They decided to go up the hill a wee bit to the old ruined cottage. But as they drew closer, they could see faint wisps of smoke rising from behind the building and they could hear someone crying. They crept nearer to investigate and saw a scruffy looking man, with long unkempt hair and a matted beard sitting by a small fire and rocking back and forward. He was crying softly and his arms were wrapped tightly round what looked like a bundle of comics.
Something about him scared the lads and they crept back down the hill and then ran as fast as they could to tell Harry’s mum. Janice phoned the police and a short while later they surrounded the cottage and came back downhill with the scruffy man handcuffed to two constables.
Inside the cottage they’d found the murdered man’s wallet and identification.
It turned out he was a private detective from Birmingham who’d been hired by a wealthy industrialist to find his son. The boy suffered from schizophrenia and required constant supervision. But he’d managed to slip away from the house one day, when his minder had gone to the toilet, and simply disappeared. The only thing the detective had to go on was the fact that the young man’s only interest was comics and a search of his computer hard disc revealed that he had spent a lot of time looking at the Comic Festival page on the Moniaive web site. He thought it was a long shot that the lad had gone to Moniave but with no other leads he’d agreed to the father’s request to start looking there, with fatal results.
The detective told Janice that the young man was so far gone that they’d probably never know what really happened but finding the private detective’s possessions on him they were pretty sure that he had killed him. There would be forensic evidence from the spots of blood and traces of fibre on his clothes, which would confirm it.
So Alan Grant was off the hook and went back to his writing while Harry, Wullie and Stanley got a special award from the police for solving the case. Harry didn’t get grounded but got a severe ticking off from his mother and guddling somehow just lost its appeal.