Of Innocence and Guilt (part 13 of 14)
Of Innocence and Guilt (part 13 of 14) postapocalyptic stories
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ferp2
ferp2 Old, well, old-ish.
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Former Enforcer Sergeant, now Constable, Phineas Sweetly has a chat with Arthur.

Of Innocence and Guilt (part 13 of 14)

Constable Phineas Sweetly sat at the duty desk with his feet up and a tin mug of strong black coffee held in one hand while he read.

Constable Sweetly didn't mind holding down the fort while his compatriots attended the funeral of the Magrat girl.

He and his wife were new in town and didn't know many people yet, so there was that.

But mainly he didn't mind because Phineas was a thoughtful man, used to spending long hours alone and very comfortable with his own company.

Since retiring from the Enforcers many years ago, Sweetly had become a guard. Being a guard suited him.

It was rather like still being an Enforcer in many ways, prolonged periods of standing around doing nothing with sudden violent interludes where bullets flew and people died.

He preferred the standing around bit; it let him put the things he saw as he stood guarding whatever it was this time into their place in the world.

But he was always up for the sudden violent interludes when they came, good exercise for the heart as long as a bullet didn't stop it.

And, as long as he was paid, Phineas wasn't too fussed who he did the guarding for, or what he guarded for that matter.

But he made it very clear to his prospective employer that he was a guard, not a henchman, not an assassin, not anything at all other than a guard.

As long as his employer understood that, he would diligently and loyally serve whoever paid his wages. And Phineas Sweetly had certainly worked for some very disreputable people in the past.

Not to mention the odd nut-job. That crazy bitch building the bomb thing in the radio station at Spider Hill being a case in point.

But, creeping old age and a nagging wife, whom he adored and would do anything for, had led him here to Hope Springs.

It wasn't that he couldn't chase down the bad guys anymore, it just took him longer. And, her indoors had heard good things about this town, so here they were.

He soon found out, to his surprise, that there weren't any guarding jobs to be had in Hope but the town's mayor was setting up a constabulary of some kind,

and his best beloved had talked him into applying because, well, he'd be 'guarding' the whole town.

So here he was. Not a guard, but guarding a town. Not a guard, but guarding a prisoner. It worked for him.

Phineas sipped the steaming coffee and turned the page. It was the file of the murder everyone had been pulling long shifts working on. Nobody had specifically said he 'couldn't' read it.

And, he had needed something to stimulate his mind while everyone else was down at the school hall; he was a thoughtful man after all.

Halfway down the page, Phineas pursed his lips and his brow crinkled under the severe and perfectly flat buzzcut that had been his trademark since his Enforcer sergeant days.

He pulled some photographs from their envelope at the back of the file and compared them to the written description. Boots. Phineas was good at boots.

He had worn a lot of different boots over the years.

Taught a lot of recruits how to soften leather, how to polish them so that they could see their scared faces in them, even how to re-sole a favourite pair using old tyre rubber,

the ready-made sole that pretty much most of the population used. Yeah, he was good at boots.

The boots in the photos, however, were special.

Ignoring the fact that he was looking at the boot prints on the dead flesh of a once pretty girl, Phineas immediately identified the distinctive print of a military boot.

A very deep print designed to be long-lasting and to give good grip over all surfaces. A recruit's first pair of boots were well made and therefore expensive.

A soldier had to look after his feet, if you couldn't walk, you couldn't soldier, and it was unfair on your buddies to ask them to carry you because you'd neglected your basic foot hygiene.

So, unless the lad back there in the cells had stolen a pair, these boots weren't his.

The second set of prints, and whoever had been wearing these boots had really been stamping down hard on the dead girl, were totally different. Flat soled, so no tread mark.

A big, chunky heel with a deep instep. Carefully placed nails attaching the heel, and precisely spaced stitches attaching the flat leather sole. Riding boots, and not cheap.

Not that you could buy cheap riding boots anyway, but these were a cut above. Again, unless young whatshisname had stolen these boots, he would be unlikely to have ever been able to buy them.

Phineas got up, wiped the scuff marks that his own boots had made on the duty desk, put the file under his arm and carried his coffee to the back of the building where the cells were.

He wanted to have a little chat with the prisoner about boots.

When Phineas got to the cell, it was to find the prisoner stretched out on the cot with his arms behind his head.

The kid's sunken eyes followed the constable as he approached, and they stared at each other through the bars for a few seconds.

Phineas took a drink of his coffee, savouring the strong beans before swallowing.

"On your feet, boy."

Arthur never moved.

"Fuck you..." The pause was filled with malice. "...CUNTstable."

Phineas snorted softly. He took a step backwards and dragged up an old hardbacked chair.

"Yeah, can't say as I blame you." He positioned the chair just out of arm's reach of the bars and sat down, making the joints of the old chair creak in protest.

"I'd be full of sass and vinegar too in your place." He sat the still steaming tin mug down on the floor next to him and opened the folder.

Arthur watched. He recognised the folder from the interviews with the Chief Constable.

Phineas leafed through the pages, turning photographs as if to get a better look but really only doing so to fix the prisoner's attention and focus his mind. He didn't look up when he spoke.

"Everyone's away at the funeral of that girl you murdered."

It took some seconds before Arthur answered.

"I didn't murder her. It was an accident."

"Uhuh. That's what it says you said in here."

"It's true. I just wanted to talk."

Phineas looked up and smiled.

"Of course, you did."

"I did!"

The constable sniffed loudly.

"Whatever. Doesn't bother me one way or the other, son. I guess they'll figure out the truth of the matter before they hang you."

Arthur sat up on the bed.

"Wh...at?"

"Or not. I don't know how they do it here. Me and the wife haven't been here long enough to know things like that."

Arthur lay down again, his hands going back behind his head.

"They won't hang me. The mayor wouldn't allow that."

To Phineas, it sounded like the kid was trying to convince himself with his own words. But he was likely right.

"Yeah, I get that vibe from her." He went back to looking through the file. Then stopped. "Say, is she related to that kid who works in the sickbay?"

"Doctor Troy? Yes. The mayor is her mom."

"Doctor Troy? That little girl is a goddamn doctor?"

Arthur shrugged.

"She's a clone. They both are."

"Ahhhh. Clones. Right, that explains it. The Chief is too," Phineas lifted his hands into the air and waggled his fingers. "One of the 'woo-woo' kind. Creepy as fuck."

The description of the Chief Constable as 'creepy' actually cracked a smile on Arthur's face as the boy sat up, making the cot creak.

Phineas carefully hid his own smile as the prisoner innocently fell into the conversation.

"Yeah. He does shit with his mind. Makes things float around, sets light to stuff with like..." The seventeen-year-old clicked his fingers. "Poof!"

"Not the kind of man you want angry with you, son. You be careful with him."

Arthur nodded. He had seen the anger in the Chief Constable's eyes more than once.

Phineas lifted out a photograph and looked closely at it.

"Now, it says here that after you killed... sorry. After she died, you just ran back home."

Arthur shrugged.

"That's right."

Phineas turned the photograph around and held it out towards the bars so the teenager could see.

"Then how did these boot marks get all over her? Someone gave that girl a real good kicking."

Arthur stared at the picture of Magrat laying cold and dead on the stainless-steel autopsy table. The bright lights above the body, bringing each knife wound and each bruise into livid clarity.

Long seconds later, he managed to drag his eyes away.

"I didn't do that. Or any of those other knife stabs."

Phineas returned the picture to the folder.

"Yeah, we know that. Soon after you left, someone dragged her body under that old trailer.

Then, a few hours later, probably that same someone came back with a friend and did all that to her before putting her in that dumpster." Phineas watched the boy's face.

"Whoever it was, one of them was wearing military boots, enforcer boots. Probably new boots because the tread in those pictures looks barely worn." Phineas lowered his voice to a soft whisper.

"Son. Do you happen to know anyone who wears boots like that? Who was wearing boots like that, that day?"

The old constable barely breathed as he watched the concentration take over the young prisoner's face.

Then, there it was, a slight catch of the breath and the boy's eyes lifted to look into his own.

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