New story – The careless arsonist

DC Cadwalader slammed down her notebook in disgust. The jottings had spun round and round in her head for hours and still they made no sense. Things were getting worse – there had been eight burglaries and eight arson attacks in the past eight days. What connected them was baffling the team. This was the evening of day nine but so far all the screens were blank. The town was quiet. She flicked off the screen switches and shoved the paperwork into a drawer. Let what was going to happen, happen. There was nothing more she could do about it tonight. In just half an hour she could be at home, large G&T in hand, bathwater running and…
As she pondered what she might be able to drag out of the freezer for dinner there was a sharp rap on her office door. She swung her chair round to face it.
“Yes?” she shouted, annoyance audible in her voice.
The door opened slowly.
“What kind of time do you call this …?” The words died on Jill Cadwalader’s lips as smoke curled under the door and an acrid smell leaked into the room with the visitor. Her brain shuffled the pieces into place with an almost-audible clunk, as she realised that the one man she’d trusted on her team, trusted implicitly, knew exactly what had been going on, because he’d masterminded it. And now he’d brought his evil fascination right into her office.
For months fires had been breaking out in offices round town. Always in the evening. And always soon after a robbery. The CID had been following up all the known burglars in town but hadn’t been able to nail it on any of them. Now Jill realised that what the team had singularly failed to do was to think about what happened each time between robbery and arson. No-one had thought to question the person who was in there collecting information about what had been stolen: DC Jim “Sandy” Slattery, Mr Charming of the Llandeilo CID.
Jill was a quick thinker. It was not for nothing that she’d been the first woman ever to be taken on by the CID in this town. Clearly she’d made a mistake in backing Sandy Slattery, but he was not going to win. She walked over to the door and shut it firmly, showing no outward sign of the panic bubbling in her stomach and threatening to rise up. She returned to her chair, wound one elegant leg around the other and raised a quizzical eyebrow at Sandy, smiling with her mouth.
“So?” she enquired, eyes hard. “What exactly is going on here, DC Slattery?”
Sandy gave a yelping falsetto laugh as he pulled a bottle of whisky from his pocket , slamming his lanky frame into the easy chair alongside his boss’s desk as he did so. She could see that he was very far from sober and that fortunately for her, this would slow his reactions considerably.
“I know you’re a smart cookie, my dear Jill. You can see that it’s only a matter of time till the balloon, as it were, goes up. But we have time for one last drink together,” he said, “I think you deserve one. You’ve worked so hard, behind me every step of the way. No-one could have done more.”
Outraged at his patronising tone, Jill hit out at his prominent jaw. Her aim was good and Sandy tumbled to the floor as whisky glugged out of his bottle and trickled towards the door, yellow as the urine in the police station cells on the floor below them.
Crossing her office in three quick steps, Jill opened the window wide with a flick of her wrist, kicking off her shoes as she did so, and jumped into the darkness. The building’s emergency lights came on immediately, lighting her way to safety. The explosion came more quickly than Sandy had bargained for, thanks to his fuelling the flames with the whisky. Out on the road Jill fell to the ground, covering her head with her hands. Then she felt a coat dropped over her shoulders.
Firm hands helped her to her feet as the station sparked and blazed behind the trees.
“Sandy’s in there,” she gasped.
“He got what he deserved,” said the man supporting her, who she now realised was her own boss. “To tell you the truth, I never really trusted him.”


“I wish you’d told me that before, Chief,” Jill said, as they sat together later waiting for their food to arrive in the late-night greasy spoon café . “You were always so keen for Sandy to take on more and responsibility. I thought he was your blue-eyed boy!”
“And I thought it was you who wanted to push him forward, my dear,” he replied with a sly smile.
“Well, we were both wrong, weren’t we? Backing a bent copper. At least that case is cleared up now. Just a mountain of paperwork to process!” Jill laughed, but the laugh died on her face as the café door opened and DC Slattery walked in. She looked from Slattery to her Chief and back again. This was, she immediately knew, the ultimate test.
“Okay Chief, here’s our man,” she said, standing to confront her colleague.
“Sit down Jill, and you too Slattery. Let’s just have a little calm chat. We’re all professionals here.”
Yes, professional crooks in the case of you two, thought Jill.
“Sure, Chief,” said DC Cadwalader. “My conscience is clear.” And with that she gave a right hook to one and then the other, and walked out of the café. Time for a new career, she thought. One far away from Llandeilo.

copyright Cath Barton

About Cath Barton

Cath Barton is an English writer who lives in South Wales. In June 2017 she was awarded the New Welsh Writing AmeriCymru Prize for the Novella, and her novella The Plankton Collector was published by New Welsh Review in September 2018. Her second novella, In the Sweep of the Bay, was published by Louise Walters Books in November 2020. Cath is also active in the on-line community of writers of flash fiction.
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