Monday, March 6, 2017

Greg Slab

The name on the door said Greg Slab. The occupier wished it said something a little more dramatic, like 'Fontaine Diablo', or 'Harry Magnum'. But it didn't. It said Greg Slab. He was a Detective Sergeant in the NYPD (North Yorkshire Police Department), which was normally an easy gig.

For the past week, however, his sleepy corner of the Shire had become the frenzied centre of attention for the national media. Four deaths, all children, all from the same tiny village, one a week. It was an unprecedented level of morbid fascination for the rural community of Tanthorpe, the region with the second-lowest crime rate in the entire country.

After the first death (a girl called Edie, nine) they had uncovered the 'what', but not the 'how' - PPP, a common enough substance, available in virtually every household's cleaning closet. They couldn't pinpoint how it had got into her system, and it was put down as a tragic accident. She died on a Wednesday.

A week later came the second death - a homeschooler named Nathaniel Wilkins, seven. The same poison again, but this time there was no PPP-containing cleaner in the house. Or at the school, or at his grandparents' house. Forensics had descended on the Wilkins residence and tested everything - food, shampoo, toothpaste, but there was nothing; no explanation as to how the PPP had been introduced into his system. At this point, the local papers had begun to get involved. Front page on the Northern Echo. He too had died on a Wednesday.

Next week, Christopher Hall, twelve. And this time it hit the national headlines. The community was becoming paranoid, and people had come to the police station to complain, loudly. PC Jones had done her best to reassure them, but both she and the complainers knew it was just empty words. They were no further forward.

The police had ransacked the Hall residence, but the Halls were Greenpeace activists in their spare time. They ate organic and waved placards outside the headquarters of big corporations. They wouldn't let a PPP-containing cleaner anywhere near their house.

It was on Thursday that the words 'serial killer' were yelled by a member of the public at the police complaints desk. Friday morning it was mentioned on BBC News.

Then, the following Wednesday, little Libby Nutall had died, and with the fourth tragedy had come a breakthrough; in the house, forensics had found a half-eaten chocolate bar - a ChocNut - with Libby's teeth marks in it. It was laced with PPP. Greg ordered a search of the bins of the previous victims for ChocNut wrappers - and they had found one at both the Wilkins and the Hall residence. Traces of PPP remained in one of the wrappers.

TreCorp PLC (the parent company) were crucified in the papers and halved in value overnight. They recalled every ChocNut bar in the north of England - you couldn't find one for love nor money, and those for sale further afield were avoided like unexploded bombs.

Yet Slab knew that TreCorp were doing everything they could - it was the greatest PR disaster the company had ever known. They had shut down the factory at Leeming Bar at which the ChocNuts had been manufactured, but still hadn't found how the PPP had been introduced, or even how many batches had been affected. Bookies were offering ten-to-one odds on a government inquiry.

Slab sat in his empty office and stared out of the window. A member of the press was outside taking photos of the police station exterior.

Very few people knew there had been a fifth Tanthorpe poisoning this week. Alistair Mitchell, six, PPP. But this one had been different - his mother worked as a doctor at Northallerton Friarage Hospital, and his life had been saved. He was unconscious, but stable. And everyone involved - thank God - had managed to keep the information away from the press. Alistair's stomach had been pumped, and there was no ChocNut inside - it was a poisoned Chuckler he had eaten, manufactured in Sweden, by Sotsaker, a Swedish company with no connection to TreCorp.

Five different children, all in Tanthorpe, all on Wednesdays. The coincidences were no longer coincidences. Up until now, TreCorp had seemed the likely culprits - but what were the odds that Sotsaker, the Swedish company, had also contaminated their stock in time to poison a fifth child, on yet another Wednesday?

Slab shook his head. Impossible. How then?

Next Wednesday, it was Greg Slab's face on the news, the toast of Tanthorpe and pride of the NYPD. A second face appeared alongside, downcast, mad-eyed.

There was a corner shop by the school bus stop at which children disembarked. They would flood inside, pocket money jingling, to load up on sugary treats with the money they had failed to spend on a healthy school dinner. The owners were eagle-eyed when it came to shoplifters - they had a network of CCTV cameras positioned throughout the shop, watching every shelf.

Funny, Slab had thought to himself afterwards. You couldn't steal a penny chew in that shop. But you could put something back onto a shelf, and no-one questioned it. They didn't even notice if the thing you put back hadn't been on the shelf in the first place. 

(Written 06/03/17, remembering a time I shoplifted a chocolate bar in my younger life, and felt so guilty that I went back and paid for one of the same bars and then put it back on the shelf to clear my debt! I was surprised by how easy it was - and also slightly scared by it. I could have done anything to the chocolate bar and put it back to poison some totally innocent shopper, had I been some murderer, and no-one on the shop floor would have acted with any suspicion. And thus the idea for a story was born that it has taken me years to get around to actually writing...) 


  1. Good twist, but I would not have given it credibility until you told me your history. You must have really had the guilts!!

    1. Thanks for reading :)
      Ha yeah I have a sometimes over-active conscience gland!

  2. Now you've made me afraid of chocolate!

    I really like your writing style, James.

    1. Thanks Helen - glad you enjoyed it :)
      Haha! I'm sure Greg Slab would advise you to always take one from the bottom of the pile...

  3. Clever, and love your detective's name!


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