The Frequency Of Murder by John Hogarth
The moment I walked in to Superintendent Jeffries’ office I could feel the awkwardness
creep all over my skin like dried sea salt.
The summer sunshine flooded in through the partially open window, filling the room with
a soft orange radiance while a south-easterly breeze gently rattled the Venetian blinds against
the window-sill. The air was fresh, clean and crisp just how the coast usually is when the wind’s
blowing onshore. I could hear a light hum from the passing traffic and even though the
temperature outside was nearly eighty degrees, I was beginning to wonder if my reception was
going to be as pleasant.
‘D.C.I Cowell, please, sit down,’ said Superintendent Chris Jeffries.
He offered out a guiding hand and a welcoming smile. He was dressed in his standard-
issue black trousers and navy-blue shirt with his rank on top of his shoulder and the Devon and
Cornwall Constabulary emblem on its front.
For a man who is only five-ten and thirty six, Chris Jeffries’ presence is extremely
intimidating, even when he’s sitting down. He has the most piercing green eyes I have ever seen;
I mean that they’re freakishly penetrating, light green with pin-prick black pupils. His furrowed
brow was now showing all the signs of the added responsibility he had taken on since accepting
the position two years ago. I wondered if his laughter lines would ever be as deep his worry
I took in a deep breath as I sat down and prepared myself. Jeffries is a very clever guy. I
knew I had to tread carefully. We had taken different internal paths from our humble
beginnings as good old-fashioned Constables and now our priorities and responsibilities had
changed; his especially. He had all of the pressure and sleepless nights and needed everything
‘I’m glad to see you’re looking rested,’ he said, tidying some interview notes on his desk.
‘Nice to know the smoking hasn’t stunted your growth.’
‘Only a couple a-day, sir,’ I nodded, keeping my fingers interlocked in front of me.
‘Right, well it’s good to have you back.’ He was always one to get straight down to
business. ‘Obviously the disciplinary hearing came out the correct verdict and to be completely
honest, Richard, I’m not surprised. You’re great at your job and I’m just glad that we can put all
that shit behind us, yes?’
‘Are you sure you’re alright?’ asked Chris.
‘Yes, I’m fine. And don’t give me that look either.’
‘I’ve got to, it’s part of my job description. If anything happens again and I’ve signed you
back in, it’s my arse.’
‘You’ve got nothing to worry about.’
‘Are you sure?’
I shrugged it off. ‘Last I heard she’d moved back in with her parents.’
Chris had been there himself a couple of years ago. In my book if you make the decision to
become a policeman while you’re with someone the partner usually goes through the process
with you so they understand the complexity of the change. If however you’re already a Detective
Inspector when you meet a ‘beautiful blonde,’ then it kind of gets in the way. Especially when
they realise that the job involves a smidgen of danger and risk, oh, and the job always comes
first. Well that’s what I was telling myself anyway. It couldn’t possibly be me.
We shared a smile in the sun lit office. Rank dissolved for a brief second and we were both
back in our Exeter training days, wondering what the future held. All bright eyed and bushy
tailed; waiting to set the world to rights.
‘Been drinking?’ Chris asked.
‘A little, not much your honour. Nicely done, by the way.’
Chris smirked and sat up straight. ‘Well, Rich, what can I say, apart from the fact that
according to the conditions of the hearing – which by the way I’m legally bound to abide by – it
seems that you need a chaperone for the next six weeks.’
‘Now, I don’t want any rumours spread around the office about me running your personal
dating service…however, I think I’ve found you someone perfect.’
The sonofabitch is loving this, I thought.
Who’s it gonna be?
I already knew. I wouldn’t be much of a detective if I didn’t.
‘Jan, can you send in Marcia McGregor, please?’ said Chris. He stood up and moved around
to my side of his desk. ‘Lovely day isn’t it? Have you lost weight, you look good.’
An involuntary smile burst across my face as my eyes scanned his office. I couldn’t help
but notice how obsessively clean it was. Chairs were straight, set at perfect right-angles to the
desk. The carpet was clean and hoovered. Cabinets and shelves were dust free and tidy with
photos of his family set at forty-five degrees for maximum viewing effect. His modest oak book
case over in the corner was full, orderly and all books were in alphabetical order.
I flashed back to times we’d shared together during training. All the signs were there, even
then. Chris was the type of guy who, without trying, was always very anal. All his forms and
interview sheets were neatly recorded and handed in punctually. His locker was always tidier
than mine. Hell, he even put paperclips on at perfect right angles too. Perhaps I should have
taken a leaf out of one of his tidy books and organised myself a little better. Maybe then I would
have been the one with the big promotion.
The door creaked open and newly promoted Detective Sergeant Marcia McGregor leant in
from outside. Her chubby, friendly, face was still framed by her soft brown bob only this time
she appeared chirpier than she had a few moments ago in the waiting room.
‘Marcia McGregor, this is Detective Chief Inspector Richard Cowell. You’ll be working very
closely with him over the next six weeks, okay. He’s one of our best, so learn all you can from
I stood, confident and tall, my six-six frame towering above my new apprentice, who must
have been five-seven at best. She joined me in the greeting, but her eyes flickered over to Chris
and back. That’s when it dawned on me that officially Superintendent Jeffries must have
explained a little about my past to her already. No wonder her body language was squeamish
and awkward, like a slippery eel trying to wriggle free through oily fingers.
‘Pleased to meet you, Marcia,’ I said, with a friendly smile. ‘I’m sure by now you’ve already
heard a little bit about me.’
Chris grinned and bobbed on his tip-toes.
‘Only good things so far, Sir, but I’m still looking forward to working with you,’ she joked.
She was smiling to impress Chris but she was lying, I could tell. I could also tell that she hated
calling me, Sir. Most of the officers who work under me do. It’s an age thing. At only twenty-six
I’m younger than most D.C.Is.
‘Right, should we get started then?’ I said, over-enthusiastically, clapping my hands
together. ‘As I’m sure you’re also aware, I’ve been off for a while. Maybe you can bring me up to
speed with what’s been going on?’
‘Certainly, Sir.’ Marcia McGregor nodded her intention to leave and I followed her over to
the door even holding it open for her. I could still clearly hear the traffic humming by on
Belgrave Road below. It seemed a lot more inviting all of a sudden and the tapping of the blinds
had now become strangely irritating.
Reality set in. I’m back at work for five minutes and already I’m pissed off. And to top it all
off I’ve got a bloody babysitter. Just great!
I glanced over my shoulder at Chris; he knew what I was thinking as he smiled back at me.
It kind of made me laugh at how quickly I was back into the mindset of work after a few
weeks off. Sitting around my flat, watching TV wasn’t exactly mentally challenging and my cat
wasn’t the best conversationalist either. However, now that I was back at work it was like I
could actually feel my mind booting up like a computer. Passwords, procedures, investigations
were all flooding back. The sad thing was that it was also firing up the bad habits too. Judging
people and being sarcastic, mainly. Can’t help it, it’s like some built in primal thing that probably
tries to determine whether or not people are a threat. McGregor wasn’t a threat, but I’d already
formed an opinion of her as she thumped along the floor.
We walked from Chris’s office on the first floor, down two flights of stairs and into the
main office area of the Police station. It was a giant, square room with small cubicles dotted
about the place separated by four-foot high walls covered with a mauve-material. Three dozen,
double fluorescent lights lit up the room and were aided by the sunshine streaming in through
two floor-to-ceiling double windows on the east side of the room, opposite the reception and
main entrance. There was a low mumble of chatter, footsteps and uniforms rustling as people
bustled past. Fingers danced on keyboards and there was never a moment that the phones
I followed her over to her desk hearing the room quieten ever-so-slightly, but it was
enough. Then I could feel the eyes upon me. I held my breath and lowered my head. Everyone
was still a little on edge and I couldn’t blame them. I’d already made my peace with what had
happened, but knowing that others would harbour their feelings a little longer made me feel
awkward as I listened to McGregor waffle on for twenty minutes.
Isn’t this peachy, I thought to myself as I shared a biscuit from the half eaten packet of
chocolate Hobnobs that were the centre piece of Sergeant McGregor’s desk. Cheap watery coffee
and a stack of paperwork were the main course though, as Marcia filled me in on the action in
Torquay over the past eight weeks.
‘Sorry I haven’t been able to give you a thorough run down,’ she said, almost embarrassed
about her lack of specific information, ‘but as you can tell, there’s been a lot going on.’
‘Looks pretty hectic.’ I stood up and stretched out the small of my back, scanning the
office. ‘How many guys are working on these?’
‘Umm, six from Torquay and I believe three over in Paignton. They’ve done some good
ground work on the drug hauls and I’m informed that they’re following up on the four other
‘Wow!’ I said, ‘You really managed to keep your eyes on the ball and cram for a promotion.
Good for you.’
‘Thank you, sir. The Super’s been pitching in as well, in fact everybody’s been pulling more
than their weight recently,’ she said, and then added, ‘could’ve done with some more hands to
‘Are you a local lady, McGregor?’ I asked.
‘I moved here from Warminster three years ago. Been based in Exeter for most of the last
two years and we moved to sunny Torquay about five weeks ago.’
‘Well, you should really take a girl out for a meal first, sir.’
‘Sorry,’ she laughed, ‘ignore me, it’s just the way I cope with nerves and pressure.’
‘What do you mean “what pressure” I just had an interview for a promotion. Then it turns
out I have to work with you for six weeks.’
‘And that’s a bad thing?’
‘I don’t know yet. Is it?’
I half-smiled and half-stared at her as she tentatively continued, ‘I’ve read about some of
your case files. Some of it’s very impressive. I hear that they’re using some of your investigations
as part of the national training curriculum. You’re the man who can’t forget things.’
‘Ha,' I sneered, 'is that seriously what they're saying? Some people have too much time on
their hands then don't you think? Even if I was, that wouldn't necessarily be a good thing
now would it?’ I said, glancing about the room then watching her cogs turn.
‘I suppose not.’
‘Let’s go for a drive, Sergeant McGregor.’
I picked up my suit jacket from the back of a chair and swung it around my head. There
was no point checking over my shoulder to see if my babysitter was coming. I could hear her
heels clopping along and picking up pace.
We took a right as we exited the car park and headed east along Belgrave Road. The traffic
was fairly free for late in the afternoon. I cruised the BMW past the endless lines of Bed &
Breakfasts and small convenience shops as we headed for the seafront.
I looked out to sea as we pulled up at a set of traffic lights at the bottom of the street. It
was dark blue in some places and light blue in others, depending on the amount of cloud cover.
To my left I could see the Princess Theatre, the stone wall sea barrier, the suspended footbridge
that reaches over the road and over on my right, far in the distance, I could clearly make out
Brixham’s coastline. There were several sets of traffic lights along the seafront regulating the
flow while a number of medium sized palm trees cast long shadows across the road.
I don’t quite know what it is about living next to the sea that makes me nostalgic but every
time I find myself staring out over the horizon dozens of childhood memories flashback and
comfort me, even the painful ones. Somehow the vivid images of my brother and father make
me feel comforted, even though at the time it was hell on Earth. They were both killed in
collisions years apart yet on the same stretch of road, how bizarre is that? Accidents must run in
the family, I guess. Maybe my time will come one day. I’ve been thinking about that a little too
much recently. I sometimes think about moving away from the area but I’m worried that the few
charming family images I’ve been holding on to for so long may evaporate. They keep fading.
‘So, is there any particular reason we’re going out? You know there’s a ton of paper work
that you’ll need to catch up on,’ said Marcia, boldly. ‘Sir, is there something wrong?’
I wanted to brush it off but the question was too inviting.
‘Did you ever think that I might be feeling a little…uncomfortable at work today, first day
back and all that?’
‘To be honest, I didn’t give it much thought,’ she said. ‘You had a break, you’re back on the
job. The Super told me that it was your choice to return.’
‘Choice? Now there’s an interesting expression,’ I said calmly to the windscreen.
‘Sir, have I said something to upset you?’
I softly shook my head. ‘No. Maybe this whole scenario will just take a little getting use to
on my part.’
‘And what scenario would that be?’ said McGregor, as I took a right, speeding up and
gliding along Torre Gardens.
There was a switch in her tone that was barely noticeable but it was enough for me. I
signalled left and pulled over into a parking space.
I switched off the engine and looked into the face of Sergeant McGregor. She looked like a
woman who wasn’t afraid of anything or anybody. She definitely didn’t seem to have a problem
with saying what was on her mind. She appeared blank, not in a stupid way, but in a controlled
‘Listen,’ I said, after exhaling my deep and dramatic breath. ‘If we’re going to be spending
a lot of time together then that’s just great but I would like us to start off on the right foot.’
‘Sir?’ she said again, shifting in her seat and unbuckling. She twisted her shoulders around
so they were square to me but kept her knees together. It was a slightly defensive for someone
so ‘apparently’ confident.
‘First of all, I’m nothing special, no matter what you’ve heard. Secondly, I’d appreciate it if
you dropped the act too. You don’t need to be superficial around me; I need you to be honest so I
can trust you. Yes I understand you're nervous, and being in a new environment yet again
probably wasn’t part of your career plan. It would be better if you stopped putting yourself
under unnecessary pressure to be good all the time, you have the potential to be great but
you’re holding yourself back because of your home life. Plus I can tell that you resent calling me,
‘Sir’. Why wouldn’t you? I’m nearly ten years younger than you for Christ’s sake.’ I glanced over
and she was glaring at me but I wasn’t bothered in the slightest. ‘So what else did Jeffries tell
I was testing her and she knew it too. Was she going to report everything I did and said to
‘Well, first of all I’m not that old but thanks for the insult,' she said, finally, 'and secondly,
he didn’t tell me that much. He told me that you’re a good D.C.I and that I could learn a lot from
‘Did he tell you that two widows will be picking up their partners police pension
money because of a choice I made?’
Sergeant McGregor’s jaw fell slightly and her eyes flashed a bulge. She didn’t have time to
concoct an answer as I bore into her with my suspicious stare, my eyes never flinching.
‘He told me about what happened, yes. I already knew most of it, though. We’re only a
small station, word gets around.’
‘I bet it does.’
‘The Super didn’t have a bad word to say about you actually. In fact, he was very
‘Was he?’ I shunned her weak attempt to pacify the growing tension as my attention
drifted off out of the windscreen once more.
‘Look. I understand that you’re a smart guy. You know why we’ve been put together. It’s
only six weeks, so why don’t we just keep things low-key and professional. We do our jobs, we
go home and before you know it you can move on with your life, and I…well I can go back to
‘Sergeant McGregor…’ I said, opening the driver’s door and stretching my legs. The sea
breeze made my hair flap across my forehead and I could feel the change in air pressure as cars
whipped past me on the road, ‘…take the car back and I’ll see you tomorrow. Eight o’clock,
I banged the door shut and walked along the seafront for a few minutes, not checking
behind me. The sun warmed my face as I walked toward the bus stop on the left hand side of the
sea front. A seagull swooped low and darted across the road in front of some oncoming traffic
and just managed to avoid killing itself, which distracted me momentarily from the troublesome
images I’d been unable to shake all damn day. McGregor was right about one thing, I can’t forget.
Memory of an elephant and then some.
I have definitely had enough of women for a while, I thought, as I boarded the bus and
headed home. Not the classiest mode of transport I’ll admit, but from the top deck you can really
get a clear view of the coastline and that’s exactly what I needed right now…that, and my buddy
There was a low rumble, like thunder rolling over hills. It lasted for about ten seconds.
Then there was a clat…clat…clatter!
‘Uncle Rich, I got one,’ cheered Sean.
‘You got more than one,’ I enthused, picking up my five-year-old nephew and twirling him
around in the air like an airplane. ‘Look, you got five pins down.’
I pulled him in close and gave him a hug, careful not to squeeze him to bits.
‘I’m getting good,’ he grinned.
‘You’re the best student in the world,’ I said, and I wasn’t lying either. This kid is seriously
switched on. Just like his father, my brother, had been.
‘I want mummy to watch me. She always says that she’ll come down here…so why doesn’t
she?’ Sean looked sadly at the floor.
‘Ah Buddy, she will do one day but you know she has to work.’
‘But I want her to see me bowling.’
‘I’m sure she will, Sean, very soon.’
He nodded then changed subject. ‘Can I have some chips, Uncle Rich, please?’
With a face that handsome, how could I possibly say ‘no’?
The local AMF bowling alley was a giant rectangular room split into different zones. There
were eighteen polished and professional lanes at the far end and along the left wall was a bar
with its own pool table and seating area that I had been frequenting a little too often as of late,
especially on league nights.
We walked over to the cafe near the lanes and I ordered chicken nuggets and chips for
him, then we perched on the bright-red chairs and I made sure he ate all of it without too much
ketchup. He loves ketchup, always has. Over the years he’s gone from smearing it around his
face to just dripping it onto his clothes.
As I looked across the table at Sean I couldn’t help but feel such pride. He’s an absolute
miracle. His hair was blonde and just long enough for curly-curtains. He wore Baby Gap jeans
and a pair of trainers with flashing lights inside the heel that he had thought were so cool only
three months ago when I gave them to him. Watching him chomp away on the chips I could see
he’d recently lost another tooth. The bloody tooth-fairy was costing me a fortune.
He looked up at me and asked, ‘Was my daddy a good bowler?’
‘Oh, yes. When we were kids, our Dad used to bring us here. Not as much as I bring you,
but yeah, we used to come here a lot. Your daddy was a brilliant bowler, one of the best.’
‘Better than you?’ he asked, surprised.
‘Yeah, much better than me.’
Sean smiled happily and shovelled in a chicken nugget. He finished off his meal and we
headed back over to our lane, avoiding the hustle and bustle from the large groups of foreign
students who were hanging around the arcade machines.
‘You bowl,’ he said.
‘Are you sure?’
‘Yeah, I’ll watch.’
‘Well okay, but I must warn you, I need a little practice.’
‘You’ve got to take the bumpers away.’
‘Coz you’re a grown-up, you’re not supposed to have them,’ he pointed out. He was sharp
I kicked over the two bars that ran down the gulley parallel to the lane. ‘Happy now?’
‘Bowl it,’ he giggled.
‘Yes sir,’ I said, giving him an army salute, then picking up my fifteen pound bowling ball.
I stood on my usual mark and took aim. I hadn’t played for a couple of days. This place had
become like a second home to me over the past few weeks. It kept me sane and out of my
Miraculously I scored a Strike! Strike! Strike! Sean cheered and span around. Then again,
Strike! Strike! Strike! Now even I couldn’t believe what I was doing. That was a new record for
me. I’d never knocked down six in a row. I looked about the other lanes as I walked over and
stole a gulp of Sean’s slush.
One more strike would push the final score over 200 easily. I picked up my ball as it
clunked out of the ball return, then faced the lane and tried not to look up at the screen above
my head. I actually had the beginnings of butterflies in my stomach.
‘When is aunty Gemma coming to see me?’ I heard from behind. It was the first time that I
had thought about my ex since I’d picked him up. He didn’t know that we had called things off
and I didn’t know how to break it to him either, especially as I didn’t know the reasons behind it
‘I don’t know buddy,’ I said, ‘she’s been busy, you know?’
My next ball went straight in the gutter.
‘Hello, baby, ‘said Paula, bending down and kissing Sean on the cheek and wrapping him
up in her arms. ‘Did you have a good time with Uncle Rich?’
‘Yeaaah! I let him win,’ he said, flying past his mother and straight into the living room. I
couldn’t help but smile.
‘Thanks, Rich, you’re a life saver. And get this, when I arrived they didn’t even bloody need
me. Susan had already turned up; they just hadn’t noticed her tucked away in her office.’
Paula was only twenty-four. She was one of those frantic types, forever losing her keys.
She flitted from one subject to another barely giving anything enough time to digest before
finding something else to occupy her. The fire brigade had been called to her house several
times because of toaster or iron related fires.
Standing all of five-foot-five she seemed to be getting better looking as she aged. I could
imagine her looking great well into her sixties. Her hair was long, straight and brown and her
complexion was like fine white porcelain. She had beautiful green eyes and the longest lashes I’d
ever seen. She wore a white blouse and black waistcoat, the usual uniform for the TotalCare
Insurance Company where she worked.
This sister-in-law of mine was a great mother and Sean was her entire world. When he
was only fourteen months old, unbeknown to him, he had been the one who had held her
together when her husband, Jason, had died. We could all see it. Both my mother and I were
there too, but throughout her ‘zombie stage’ the only glimmer of a smile was made when she
was holding Sean. It took a good two years before she slowly began to break out of her lonely
She hadn’t been the only one devastated by the motorway accident, not by a long shot. My
mother had cried herself dry for months, until I had taken her to the doctors and loaded her up
with antidepressants. To tell you the truth, I think that if it hadn’t been for the fact that I was
constantly running around after everyone else during that time, I probably would have cracked
I loved my brother. We were close and I’d supported him through all of his decisions. I
was even present when he had told mum about Paula and the pregnancy. He didn’t need my
support, but he figured that mum wouldn’t flip out so much if I was present. He was right. She
was unsettled for a week however when the idea of being a grandparent had settled down she
was fine with it. I look back on my time with my brother with an amazing fondness. Other times
the same memories hurt like hell.
‘Maybe if they were a little more thorough they’d have seen her instead of dragging
me…in. What’s wrong?’ Paula said.
‘Can I have a word?’
‘Of course you can. Don’t just stand there in the doorway, come through.’
She led me into the kitchen. The room was well lit, Cosmo yet homely, bordered with black
marble with bits of lived-in mess about the place. It felt warm inside with the smell of cooking
pizza coming from the oven.
‘What’s going on?’ she said, opening a cupboard and pulling out two mugs.
‘He asked about his dad again tonight. That’s twice now,’ I said.
‘Oh, I know, I’m sorry, Rich. I should have warned you really. He’s been doing it a lot since
he’s moved into year one at school. It’s just a phase he’s going through. You remember the last
one? When he pretended to actually be a Transformer…’
I nodded and smiled.
‘…everywhere he went he used to do that thing with his arms and bend down into a cube?’
Paula was now chuckling too. ‘Don’t let it worry you, love. He’s mixing with a new crowd in
school now. Biscuit? No? I mean, what else do they talk about at five-years-old apart from their
mummies and daddies.’
‘Perhaps he’s feeling left out,’ I said.
‘Well he’s just going to have to find his own little way of dealing with it. I had a chat with
him the other night before he went to bed, just before The One Show. Did you see that by the
way, Adam Sandler’s funny, isn’t he? What was I saying, ah yes, seriously don’t let it stress you,
he’ll be fine. We’ve never hidden anything from him. He knows the truth.’
The irritating butterflies were back. I knew she was right but I couldn’t help but feel for
the kid. Growing up without a father was tough; both Jason and I had known that. History
seemed to be repeating itself in our family, like some sick joke. Our father had died in a similar
incident. It made me think about my job and all the pain and suffering I’d seen over the years.
Accidents, shootings, murders. The one question that I don’t think I’ll ever be able to shake was,
why Jason? Why not me? He was the gifted one in the family.
‘Do you think he remembers him?’ I asked.
‘I don’t know,’ Paula said, offering me my regular tea-with-two.
‘I think that he knows that his dad loves him and is very proud of him, and that he can
watch him from Heaven. They’re learning about that at the moment too. He doesn’t get it
though, he keeps questioning everything. The other day he wanted to know, “If God made
everything, mummy, who made him?”’
‘Yes, he is. He’s lush. But I doubt that he remembers Jason. I think that, as hard as it is for
me to admit, he’s just remembering an image. He’s only got a few old photos to go on.’
‘You think that maybe he’s asking because he’s worried he’ll forget?’
‘I think he already has, Rich. And with the change of classmates…I don’t know.’
‘It's not easy this parenting racket is it?’
‘No, it’s not,’ she sighed, ‘but we muddle through as they say.’
‘Mum, can Uncle Rich read me a story?’ asked Sean, who came into kitchen dressed in his
Power Ranger pyjamas.
‘Only if you brush your teeth properly this time,’ she shouted, to the sound of footsteps
thumping up the stairs. ‘The tooth fairy told me she’s running out of money.’
I cracked another smile. The idea of home was good. It smelled good. Not like my pit.
‘Any word from–?’
‘Nope, nothing,’ I said.
‘Uncle Riiiiiich, I’m ready.’
‘Just in the nick of time,’ I smiled at Paula.