The Bog

Peat glistened darkly between tufts of grass tainted sepia by the bog. Steve ducked under the yellow tape into the look he was dreading.

“You're late,” his boss said, skewering him over her half-moon glasses. Maggie was ankle-deep in the mire, a brown smear on her forehead. He didn't dare smile.

“Sorry.” He scrambled down into the shallow trench. “Got lost.”

It smelt of rot, earthy and damp. The body was naked, face down, its long hair caked in mud. The skin shone greasily, stained a deep unnatural mahogany. Maggie crouched beside it, gesturing for Steve to join her.

“How long ago?” asked a gravelly voice from above them.

Maggie glanced up at Detective Shaw, who was chain-smoking as usual. “Don't bother the university. She's modern, despite the garotte.”

With a blue gloved finger, she lifted a mangled cord from underneath the matted hair. Ignoring Shaw she explained to Steve, in her teaching voice. “See the skin? The tannins and acids work fast there. Softening the bones, leaching out the calcium, that takes time. Older bodies appear crushed, flattened by the weight of the peat.”

Snapping his gloves on, Steve risked a question. “How quickly does it accumulate?”

“Half a millimetre or so a year.”

He looked at the clean, straight-cut trench wall. “Forty years?”

“Sixty at most.” To the waiting men she called, “Let's get her up, lads.”

Steve stood back, out of the way. The bog released its cold embrace with a wet sucking sound. Before water oozed back into the hole, something glinted in the sun. He tilted his head, frowning at the object as the photographer clicked away.

Maggie saw it too, eased a spade under it and lifted. Brackish water slid off the round-bellied shape. Cut glass, yellow-green clouding to white. Muck clung in the design, darkened the cracks radiating from the rim.

Yes. Steve was sure.

“Pyrex?” Maggie suggested.

“No, I think…” He patted his pockets, sweating inside his gloves. Awkwardly, he fished out his blacklight.

“There won't be any fingerprints, lad,” she warned.

“Not fingerprints,” he said, his heart leaping. He hunched over the spade, shading it from the sun with his coat before he flicked on the torch.

The milk jug glowed a faint, vivid green.

“What the devil is it?” Maggie said.

“Vaseline glass. It fluoresces because of the uranium content. Pearline, I think. Made over in Gateshead, in the 1890s unless –” Seeing her expression, he stopped and rubbed the back of his neck, adding sheepishly, “My auntie collects it.”

She nodded, once. High praise. “Let's bag and tag it as a potential murder weapon.”

Later, in her office, Maggie remarked, “Either that tea tastes like ditch water or something's bothering you. Spit it out, lad.”

“If our murderer went to the trouble of hauling the body up to

the bog, faking that garrotte … Why bury the jug under her?”

“Why indeed.” She waited.

“A red herring?” Steve suggested. “Or a calling card?”

Maggie smiled. “Now you're getting somewhere.”

by J Drew


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