Amidst the disquiet the village slept. The pregnant silence belied the undercurrent that had impaired the community over the past month. Pancho showed no qualms about his nocturnal mission as he jostled his wiry frame through the thicket that bordered Crawhill Cemetery. He brushed the thorns from his trousers with bare hands then sauntered towards his goal that lay straight ahead. An eerie feeling engulfed him as a huge rodent scampered across his path.
Blow wow! What the hell?” Pancho hissed as he slid then propelled on to the moist grass before regaining his composure. He hastened towards the object of his intent while wallowing in the splendid delight of the grey tombstones drenched in the golden moonlight before him. His stomach rumbled in excitement as he contemplated the mammoth cache of goodies that awaited him in the god forsaken hell hole sepulchers. Pancho swerved towards a freshly occupied pair of tombs and disappeared into the bowel of the graveyard to claim the object of his midnight rendezvous. If he worked fast enough he should be able to raid the work-site where the new bridge was being erected before the moon waned.
Back in Crawhill, dreams evolved into nightmares especially in the Colan household. The tragedy of the double drowning was still raw and has left the family members alternating between bouts of fitful slumber and deep sorrowful thoughts. More agonizing to their emotional turmoil was the rumour making the round that the Colan twins did not actually drown in the community tank as was recorded by the Coroner; but rather they had been murdered. Beka, the twins’ eldest sister and guardian, opened her eyes for the umpteenth time that night and shivered as a familiar chill ran down her spine. Her face too felt stiff and cold but she soon drifted off into another half stupor.
Bang! ploi! bloi! Frightened by the explosions, Beka shot up from the wooden bed; her cold feet hitting the concrete floor like a sledge-hammer! This was no nightmare, she thought to herself.
“What in the name of …?” Beka froze with wide-eyed questioning as more shots rang out seemingly from the four corners of the Colan’s homestead. In seconds her cold face transformed into a sweaty mess as she crouched on all fours under the comfort of her bed. In unison with her consternation, the rest of the household and village sprang to life in response to the midnight racket.
“Wai!” little Markie, Beka’s two year old squealed at the top of his lungs not knowing what to make of the chaos outside his window. As the turmoil died, Beka dragged herself from under the iron bed and tiptoed into Markie’s room. Arms outstretched, Markie turned flushed face towards Beka’s eyes in relief and plunged into her arms as she reached down to scoop him to her bosom. Time stood still as sporadic explosions gradually retreated into the distance to reveal stifled whimpering of canine and people alike. Moments later, there was deathly silence. No one dared to peek outside or breathe as the village watchmen disappeared among the shadows of the trees that cloaked the Colan’s residence and the outskirt of the community.
Meanwhile, as Pancho retraced his steps homeward through the familiar thicket that skirted the Crawhill cemetery, the smell of death consumed his senses and a sudden grip of fear permeated his very soul. He paused long enough to sniff the musky night air then listened for the familiar rant of the night creatures that entertained him earlier on. Every sound was muted! His matted hair seemed to be standing on end as he struggled under the weight of his precious cargo. It was this fearful instinct that propelled him into the shadows of the huge guango tree just in the nick of time before a seemingly frenzied creäture dashed past leaving many startled night insects in its wake. What or who it was, Pancho could not decide as the sudden disruption to the tranquil night petered out in the far distance heading towards the dry riverbed on the other side of Crawhill. Remnants of a pungent acrid smell of smoke or sulphur left Pancho nonplussed as to his close calamity. Pancho wasted little time as he limped back on to the beaten trail that led to his house in the distance. By then, the moon had died to a pale light and the shadows of the overhanging trees played havoc with Pancho’s heart and head.
As he sauntered towards the back of his house, his neighbour’s dog initiated a gut wrenching howl that reverberated around the village where other animals and cracked windows accompanied the village mongrels in their spontaneous ensemble. Lights now burned brightly in each window creating a surreal Christmas effect amidst the chaos. Luckily for Pancho, the canopy of trees in his yard provided enough cover for him to conceal his loot before retreating to the safety of his beaten down back door that invited him into the darkness of his bedroom.
The Colan’s house next door was in darkness but Pancho could hear muffled sounds floating through a window upstairs. He pulled the curtain shut while trying to shake the eerie feeling that he was being watched from outside.
“Who is there? a shaky voice croaked from across the concrete fence. “Misa Pancho, yuh a rait? The concerned voice queried.
‘Why should I not be okay?’ Pancho mused to himself. He tiptoed to his single bed and sank into its soft comfort with a sigh of relief. Pancho had become accustomed to the unusual hours of the Colan family since the tragedy but the lights in the other houses in the dead of night seemed rather unusual. Unaware of the earlier events, Pancho fell into a deep sleep even as his head hit the make shift pillow. The sound of the siren and flashing lights next door or the voices of the brave at heart who ventured out to investigate the night’s proceeding did not awaken him. This decision not to respond to Beka’s query would later lead to Pancho’s demise. The moon died completely as Rebecca Colan’s motherly figure retreated from the upstairs window while quietly mulling over the reason for Pancho’s uncharacteristic behaviour.
Beka listened as Sergeant Brown explained what she had already suspected; Roshane and Oshane were both murdered then dumped into the village tank. The explosions and the fear that had disturbed the community earlier were totally forgotten amidst the dismal news that the Sergeant brought to Beka. A new symphony began as the villagers and bloodhounds alike mixed howling and wailing which travelled across the river to the other side of Crawhill. Ron Pinkett stirred in his sleep for a few minutes to listen to the mournful chorus ricocheted across the valley to grace his hearing in his luxurious mansion across Craw River. Had he known the source responsible for this invasion of his privacy, he would have probably aborted his night’s sleep. As the caretaker of Crawhill, Ron Pinkett had many civic and humanitarian roles to play in his community. However, tonight, he was not ready to forfeit his sleep to score points with the community members. Being the owner of Pinkett Constructions and a co-owner of Pinkett &Pinkett Jewelers left little time for his custodial duties, however, he tried to carry them out as best was humanly possible. As a member of the school board of Crawhill High, he was the first person to show up at the school once the news of the drowned boys became known to the community. Moreover, he had given personal support to the family in both deeds and kind. Oshane and Roshane were well-loved in the community so his gift of two gold pins displaying their names noticeably stood out on the breast pocket of the white shirt that adorned each corpse at the viewing during the funeral ceremony. What more could the community ask of their benevolent caretaker?
The clouds hung oppressively low over the mountains surrounding Crawhill, however, the Sunday morning rays rose confidently to meet the new day and wilted the animal carcasses that strewn the pathway leading to Beka’s small farm on the plot of land at the far corner of the family property. Mixed with the stench of the dead animals was the lingering scent of the sulphur from the fire crackers that the village boys had tossed at the prowler or prowlers that night. As the evidence became clearer, groups of community members met to discuss the racket of the night before. Praedial larceny has become common-place in the community of Crawhill. The older boys in the community had met in their youth clubs and decided to do something about it. Mr. Pinkett’s suggestion of a neighbourhood watch has evolved into a vigilante type response to any action against the ordinary folks of Crawhill. The use of the fire cracker was secretly planned by these boys and executed with the desired effect of instilling fear in would be thieves.
The tale of the slaughtered animals became stale news within an hour and the news of murder became the topic of choice for the people of Crawhill. After much speculation, the community settled into their Sunday routine with a heavy heart. Pancho pushed his wooden door and gingerly made his way towards the shack in his yard where he had locked away his treasures the night before. He greeted Miss Beka in his usual chirpy Sunday morning voice on his way back but she merely reciprocated with a furtive look and a grunt in response to his trouble. The pungent smell of the fire cracker emanating from Miss Beka’s yard had Pancho’s senses tingling. The smell rekindled the anxiety he felt during his unexplained encounter the night before. He soon noticed the remnants from the fire cracker strewn about his neighbour’s yard and wondered about their origin. His gut instinct hinted at imminent trouble and so he thought it best not to comment about the smell less he had to explain his lack of knowledge of whatever had upset Miss Beka or accounted for the display of ammunition in her yard.
Covert and overt glances and whispers followed Pancho as he made his way to Miss Laylor’s shop nearby. Pancho’s mind was in turmoil that escalated after he greeted a group of men playing dominoes outside the entrance to Miss Laylor’s shop and on cue, the men all left without responding. As he pushed his gate, he was greeted by a group of dogs having banter over the carcass of a furry white goat that resembled that of Miss Beka’s prized ram. Pancho knocked on the gate to Miss Beka’s home to raise an alarm but turned just in time to see an angry mob with seemingly ill intent marching towards him with sticks and cutlasses ready for battle. Pancho summed up the situation in mid-air as he scaled the fence and headed along the familiar path that he traveled hours earlier. In a jiffy, he entered the confines of the cemetery where he knew not many would dare to venture. He found refuge between two of the bodies he had desecrated the night before. In the silence of the twinned sepulchre, Pancho assessed his dilemma. The familiar smell of embalmed flesh did not deter his thoughts as he listened for any intrusion from the exterior of his new abode.
“Man a fi iit a bred an piipl niid wuk,” Pancho consoled himself, his knitted eyebrows forming deep furrows across the ridge of his face. He burrowed himself between the two caskets and fell asleep. His dreams took him to the last encounter he had with the twins who had frequented the construction site near the water tank on many occasions prior to their untimely passing.
The global recession has seen many informal economic activities burgeoning in rural communities such as Crawhill. The ‘cash for gold’ and the ‘scrap metal’ industries have both taken root across the country and have become the lifeline for many including Pancho. In addition, an increase in incidents of praedial larceny also became common practice. Many metal frames from bridges, manhole covers and even relics from four generations earlier have been dismantled and sold as scrap metals all over this pristine Caribbean country.
It was being rumoured that the ready markets for both merchandise was headed by the upstanding Mr. Pinkett who was accessible to all thus providing a ready outlet for the fencing of anything metallic that could be carted away. So it was a month ago when Pancho had overheard the alert twins reporting to Mr. Pinkett, in his capacity as the caretaker of the community, that they had stumbled upon a stock pile of metal frames that were seemingly taken from the work-site of the new bridge. The pile was hidden near the village water tank, they had told him. Pancho watch as the newly appointed foreman, Simon, who was busily sorting some rods in a shed outside paused long enough to listen to the shatter inside before making his way behind the shed towards the village.
“Thanks for the vigilance boys, I will take care of the matter,” Ron Pinkett had offered in consolation to the upset twins. That was the last Oshane and Roshane were seen alive.
When the bodies turned up in the murky waters of the village tank a few days later, Pancho felt an unease that he could not explain. He had shaken the thought that kept circling in his head since he has known Mr. Pinkett to be a model family man and community leader despite rumours of him dabbling in the thriving cash for gold and scrap metal trade enterprises. As far as Pancho knew, these were legitimate deals with little questions being asked when the goods were received by the contacts on the ground. Pancho did not tell anyone of the twin’s encounter with Mr. Pinkett at the site two days before they were reported missing as he did not want to cause any unfounded trouble or suspicion towards the caretaker and his family. Pancho is well aware of how rumours and mischief can easily spread in this mostly closely knitted community.
The sound of barking dogs in the distance soon brought Pancho back to the land of the living. Now that Pancho was on the run, he considered making his way to Mr. Pinkett for protection but felt the familiar knot in his stomach in response to the thought. Pancho stretched and scratched his head trying to figure out why the villagers had set upon him that morning. He was almost certain no one had seen him the night before. Little did Pancho know that he was the only neighbour who was not seen outside after the commotion that fateful night and to the self-styled village watchmen that made him a prime suspect for the slaughter of the animals and probably murder!
The news of the near lynching reached the village lawmen an hour later. Sergeant Brown was not amused. Vigilante style justice will not be tolerated under his watch. Moreover, he had his reservation about Pancho’s guilt for both alleged crimes as was reported to him by a foreman from Pinkett’s Construction site. A routine check of Pancho’s house revealed nothing of interest.
“Brr! Brring! The ringtone on Sergeant Brown’s Smartphone continued to voicemail as he came to a halt at the half opened door to the outhouse in Pancho’s yard. “Mama mia! what have we got here?” the lawman queried while staring at what awaited behind the half opened door of the outhouse. Metals of varying lengths and sizes were stacked against the inner walls while familiar sacks with Pinkett Construction insignia added to the interesting find. The whereabouts of the metal brackets removed from the incomplete new bridge in the neighbouring community had been a major puzzle for the lawman and his team for the past month. He was more taken aback by the find in the pocket of an old denim jacket thrown over an empty sack on the floor. The names on the two golden pins that were among the jewelery items made the sergeant even more shocked at the discovery. “Is someone trying to mask a setup?” Sergeant Brown asked himself. He placed a call to his superior in the neighbouring town and sought personnel to crack the case and capture Pancho before the inevitable village onslaught.
Meanwhile, Pancho resolved to his fate, made his way into the open to view the source of the barking hounds that seemed to be getting closer by the minute. He was relieved upon seeing Sergeant Brown with two other officers bringing up the rear along with Mr. Pinkett and his plant foreman both tightly tethered to the chains of two deadly looking Doberman bloodhounds. As they crossed the open field, Pancho shook uncontrollably staring down the barrels of the M16 the approaching officers were pointing at him. He was not sure what to make of the presence of Mr, Pinkett and his foreman and was consciously relieved when he noticed a group of boys in the distance observing these proceedings.
Sergeant Brown beamed “You are charged with the murder…,” Pancho was deaf to everything else that was said as the arresting officer shut the handcuff around his wrists and propelled him forward with a push. He sighed deeply and pondered the new hell hole that awaited him in the cell in the neighbouring town. Suddenly his thoughts were shattered and fear gripped Pancho as a Doberman lounged towards him. He shrieked like a dying hog and grabbed the starched shirt of the officer who had restrained him earlier. Sergeant Brown’s spontaneous instinct to protect Pancho resulted in a solid bullet being placed in the skull of the vicious attacker. Pancho experienced a similar fear to that which he had felt when the unknown creäture had rushed past him on the path from his escapade the night before. The distinct smell of sulphur and smoke coming from the animals coat was even more disturbing.
The arresting officer stared at the owner of the ill-fated dog with a puzzled look. Mr. Pinkett, clearly shaken stared back wordlessly. Simon, the foreman he had appointed a month and a half earlier seemed discomfited by the Officer’s curious stare, turned to seek Pinkett’s eyes. Today will be another eventful day Sergeant Brown thought as he assessed the scene amidst an awkward moment of silence. He marshaled Pancho before him with his fellow lawmen following pensively behind. He turned back to see Mr. Pinkett and his foreman engrossed in what seemed to be a heated argument.
The community of Crawhill lay ahead as the small army marched forward and exited the cemetery. A small crowd cheered them on. Beka, an astute woman stared at the scene before her eyes but relief was soon replaced by sadness when the frightened Pancho turned to gaze at her with the Sergeant gripping the waist of his trousers while eyeballing the tense crowd. The uncanny resemblance of captor and captive set Beka’s mind racing but the sadness in the eyes of both men especially Pancho touched her even more deeply. Like a lamb to the slaughter, Pancho entered the car and held down his head without a backward glance.
As the car sped into the sunset Sergeant Brown turned up the radio to listen to the local news and ponder the day’s event. The monotony of the broadcaster’s voice intruded his thoughts, “The Minister of Industry has told Parliament that a halt will be put on the unregulated export of scrap metal until further notice.” He turned the knob of the radio and sighed as the soothing voice of Whitney Houston permeated his whole being. The blast of a truck horn to his right could not break his concentration. He glanced at his prisoner once more to convince himself that his intuition about the extent of Pancho’s innocence was indeed to be trusted. As they stared at each other, he could sense an unexplained connection between them that made him feel uneasy. It never rains but pours in Crawhill,” he mused then shook his head to regain his composure. Tonight will be a long night for everyone.
As a young rookie, Paul Brown was assigned to the Crawhill Police Station ten
years ago. Prior to that he lived in a farming community west of Crawhill. He had
one serious relationship as a young man in his village but Nora had left the
community unexpectedly and without further contact leaving Paul heart-broken.
His way out of his misery was to join the force and migrate to Kingston for training. He met his wife, Paula, at the Carib Theatre a month before his graduation as a fully trained officer of the law. Paula was in her final year of training at the Mico Teachers’ College nearby. They have been blessed with an adoring son after years of trying to start a family. Samuel and Paula are his lifeline.
“Hi! Dad” Samuel shouted from where he was perched under the tree in the centre of the station yard; PSP game was put on hold as he gazed at the familiar looking face of the man in his father’s grip. Sergeant Brown glanced at the car to his left in which his wife sat reading a book. As he mounted the step, prisoner in toe, his heart leaped to his throat at the sight before him. The arresting officers who had accompanied him to the cemetery had taken the short cut across the river and seemed to have struck gold. Sitting before him, handcuffed to a wrought iron bar was Simon the foreman of Pinkett and Pinkett. In the far corner was Mr. Pinkett staring with obvious shock and disappointment at his ex-employee; now prisoner. He looked up as the pair entered the outer room then shifted his gaze to the floor once more.
“I am certainly glad to see you both,” offered Mr. Pinkett apologetically while scratching his head. Pancho gazed at Simon, not knowing whether to feel ecstatic or apprehensive.
Pancho was escorted to a desk across the room and was being interrogated by the officer on duty. “Your name?” the officer inquired barely looking at the figure seated before him.
“Mi niem Pancho!” he whispered before clearing his throat.
“Mi miin yuh ful niem, bwai! Yah iidiat?” the officer could not control his mirth as he stared at the discomfited man staring back at him in dismay.
“But a Pancho mi niem. Afisa, but mi rait niem a Paal Brown.”
Though enraptured with the story being related to him by Mr. Pinkett and the arresting officers, Sergeant Brown couldn’t resist listening in on the discourse between Pancho and the young officer on the other side of the room. Hearing his given name coming from Pancho’s mouth in his Creole accent prompted his undivided attention.
“Weh yu mada niem?” the officer prodded settling down to write once more only after Sergeant Brown gave him a cold stare from across the room.
“Mi Mada niem, Nora sah! Pancho responded.
“Norah What?” the officer inquired looking at Pancho’s eyes quizzically.
“Mi no nuo har ada niem sah, a mi grani mi gruo wid!” Pancho almost whispered. By this time, Sergeant Brown excused himself and instructed the officers to take full statements from the prisoner after reminding him of his rights to procure a lawyer. The Sergeant, without a credible explanation decided to take over the interrogation of Pancho in a back room of the station. The young officer felt usurped by this action and was unsure of what to make of this untypical behaviour by his superior.
After a long discussion with Pancho, Sergeant Brown learned that his mother had died eight days after giving birth to him in Kingston and he was sent by his aunt, in whose care he was left by his mother, to live with Grandma in the little village from which the Sergeant himself grew up. It took Sergeant Brown a good half an hour to relish the meaning of what he just heard. He shifted between an expression of relief in knowing and sadness in knowing that the man Pancho has become was thwarted by his ignorance to his existence before this conversation. It will take awhile to sink in, he thought to himself. He was not sure how he, his family and Pancho will resolve this matter but thought he needed to sleep on the matter after such an eventful day. The Sergeant scolded Pancho severely about his escapade and released him with a note to be given to Miss Beka explaining the turn of events in the capture of Simon the goat and scrap metal thief, vandal and murderer.
Pancho stared at Sarge with relief then thanked him for not sending him to prison. He agreed to have the Sergeant spirit away the stolen goods from his property without anyone knowing about his wrong doing and promised to be a model citizen going forward.
As Pancho rose from the chair, he rubbed his bruised wrist and said, “Mi wish mi di hav wan fada laik yu wen mi dida gruo, mi uda tun out beta.”
Sarge winced then slapped Pancho on his back and replied, “ You never too old to have a father, from now onward, you can come down and talk to me at any time, okay!”
Paul Brown beckoned the young officer at the front desk and advised him to take Pancho back to Crawhill and to make it known that the criminal who raided and plundered the community was taken into custody.