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Missing Chapter 1

by Gary 

Posted: 27 April 2003
Word Count: 3681

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Chapter 1

The following day Mac drove up Westerly Height road to the top of the bank at Mount

Pleasant, removed his sunglasses and held his breath in anticipation. He wasn’t

disappointed, the waves were three to four feet high. Mac travelled the three hundred

yards or so to the bottom, pulled up outside the golf club and removed his long board

from the passenger seat of the Chevette. The place was deserted. He gathered his surf bag

together with the board and walked over the first tee to tackle the steep sand dunes. The

sun was trying to escape from behind the clouds but it was still overcast and there was a

chill in the air.

Mac had been to some great surf spots home and abroad but nothing compared to

Elsmere beach. It was twenty minutes drive from his house and he loved it. The sand was

dark yellow with bands of shale and litter was a rarity. Mac had surfed the beach in

December when there was frost on the ground and enjoyed every second of it. It would

be fare to say he was a die-hard surfer.

He sat down on his board, pulled his cigarettes from the front zip pocket, lit up and

studied the waves. That was another thing he liked about Elsmere beach the wave breaks

changed all the time. There was a rip in the centre of the bay and the waves to the south

below the castle ruins broke off some rocks, which increased their quality. To the north

end they varied.

For ten minutes Mac watched and smoked two cigarettes. Once he decided the

time was right to go in, the trick was to get into his wet suit as quickly as possible.

Pulling his gloves and blue woollen hat off he stripped down to his boxers and struggled

into his Body Glove wet suit, which was tighter than last year.

The sun broke through the clouds and sent a beam of light onto the sea. He fastened his

board to his ankle, above his new quicksilver boots and ran to the water’s edge. He

walked in as far as he could before the first real obstacle of a wave came. The water was

ice cold on his face as he dipped under the next wave but it crashed onto his head; his

whole system went into shock and he had what is known as an ice-cream headache,

where the pain shoots through your head, then disappears as quickly as it arrived. Mac

knew he couldn’t afford too many of those so early on in the day.

He got beyond the last wave and lay in wait. The cloud was fast disappearing into the

sea to be replaced by clear blue sky. The next wave to come he let pass, the one after

reared up into a mass wall of dark green and black bursting with power. He spun around,

paddled like hell with his arms, felt the suction under his body and dropped into the space

below feeling the rush that kept him coming back for more. Riding something

unpredictable, with so much force and speed gave him an enormous buzz.

They say that in golf one good shot brings you back the next day; one good wave could

satisfy Mac’s hunger for months. He paddled back and took time out to wait for his next

fix, comparing the last one with his one visit to Hawaii and the North Shore.

After about an hour in the water cramp kicked into Mac’s left foot and then the right so

he decided to take the next wave, no matter how small, into shore and have a breather.

The ride back in was slow and he was happy to wade the last twenty yards. He undid

his foot strap as he left the water dragging his board behind him. As he loosened the top

of his wetsuit and sat on his board, he pulled out a pre-rolled joint, lit up and exhaled to

the heavens.

Rummaging around in his bag he took out his flask and poured a black coffee. The

swell looked to be getting livelier; another ten minutes and after the joint had worn of he

would go back in. Mac felt like his face would explode at any minute with all the heat

being trapped inside his wet suit. The mixture of salt water and sun had burnt his cheeks.

Something caught his eye as he was staring out to sea, lost in a world of smoke and

aimless thoughts. It was down next to the rocks. He wasn’t sure if it was the joint

affecting his eyesight more than usual but he thought that he could see an arm sticking

out from beneath what looked like an old sack. He slowly stood up and headed over. The

sack was washed up next to the green covered rock pool.

As he got closer his jaw dropped opened. ‘Jesus!’ He held his mouth, the black holes

for eyes stared straight through him, the face was so white with blue veins. It was the first

time Mac had seen a dead body. He staggered back and fell, scrambled to his feet and ran

as fast as he could. His head was thumping. The wind whistled past his face as his body

weight took him down the other side of the dunes. Mac was finding it difficult to keep

running in his wet suit but he had to.

He reached the clubhouse with a red face and wild hair, everything was a blur. Hitting

the solid wood door with both hands he burst in and reached for the phone and dialed


Mac jogged back over the dunes to get his things. His head was working over time in

the paranoia section. When had he first seen it? Had it been there before he went in and

he hadn’t noticed it? Was he a suspect? He often got bouts of paranoia after smoking pot,

but only when he had to face up to something, like his parents coming home or a knock at

the door. Mac didn’t have to face his parents, just an army of policemen, due any second.

His heart beat increased and he felt the need to rip his wetsuit off to get some air.

A few people were ahead of him after hearing the news in the clubhouse and a

gathering had formed twenty yards or so away from the body. Mac approached slowly

trying to gather his thoughts.

The police arrived before he had even finished packing his things away. There were five

uniformed officers in front that ushered everyone away from the body. Mac was like a

robot, he couldn’t think. He heard his name being shouted and headed back towards the

rock pool, which was now cordoned off with blue and white police tape. The noise of the

crowd was muffled by the sound of the crashing waves as Mac approached the officer.

‘I’m Ray McCloud,’ he said and raised his hand like he was at college. ‘I found…’

The officer let a tall plain clothed man under the tape before answering. ‘Yes we know,

stay around a while a senior officer will need to talk to you.’ He pointed to the right and

Mac stood to the side and waited.

There was now a policeman posted on top of the dunes to stop any other people coming

down onto the beach and those already there were being questioned and then told to

leave. Mac’s heart was racing, he didn’t know why but he felt as guilty as hell. He wished

the dope would wear off, it all seemed so unreal, like a dream. He looked to his left and

got a good view of the stiff body being lifted onto a blue plastic sheet. The dead man

wore a brown suit jacket and looked to be between fifty and sixty.

An inspector Simpson was the senior officer and briefly spoke to Mac before passing

him onto a uniformed officer, telling him he would be interviewed in detail later.

Mac told him what he had seen, hoping he hadn’t missed anything out and gave his

address, before quickly departing back towards the car. The crowd at the clubhouse

nearly filled the car park and Mac saw a couple of people point at him. He kept his head

down and marched past the flashing blue lights of the ambulance and bundled his board

and bag into the car before driving home; a little less stoned, still in shock and still in his


Half an hour later Mac arrived back home. The journey usually took twenty minutes, but

the paranoia was in full swing. He had imagined that he was being followed home so he

checked the rear view mirror every minute and stayed well below the speed limit, which

in hindsight he thought made him look even more suspicious. He felt guilty and under

scrutiny even though he hadn’t done anything wrong.

Mac lived just outside Heddon by the Sea at Allenhead a small village. He got out of

the car, took his surfboard from the folded down passenger seat and headed out back to

clean it down. Getting out of the wet suit was a mighty relief he could almost feel the

pressure being released from his armpits, which were now red with the constant rubbing,

when he had ran to the clubhouse. Hanging it over the washing line he hosed it down and

tried to take in what he had seen down at the beach, but was having difficulty.

He went into the house, fixed himself a drink of orange juice with plenty of ice and

sprawled across the sofa. Bonny, the family sheep dog, was outside pissing on his dad’s

cabbages. Mac contemplated telling his father what had happened but knew he would go

on and on about how dangerous surfing was, even though the incident had nothing to do

with it. All his father wanted was for him to work the fruit shop like him and every other

generation of his family, the names of which he could scarcely remember. A Saturday

spent surfing was wasted according to his father when he could be weighing plums or

familiarising himself with the suppliers at the market.

They were at the non-speaking stage on this subject unless his father had dared to leave

the house for a couple of pints at the pit club in the village. On his return the beer

loosened his tongue and he would take a few shots at Mac about life and his bleak future

if he didn’t wise up and get into the fruit game. He had another drink of juice, lay back

and fell into a deep sleep.

Mac awoke to the sound of his father shouting at Bonny for over fertilising his

precious cabbage plot at the bottom of the garden. His mouth was so dry but at least the

effect of the joint had worn off and he began to understand what he had witnessed. A

dead tramp washed up, must have had one too many and slipped into the sea without

knowing it. That’s what the officer had said, happens all the time down south he said.

Yeah, that should be a good enough explanation for his parents not to cause him any

grief. And certainly nothing to do with surfing, he thought. In the cold light of day, after a

good sleep, he decided telling them couldn’t do any harm. There were big waves forecast

all weekend and he didn’t want to miss them; dead body or no dead body, a decent swell

had to be surfed.


‘Peter Simpson,’ I put one finger in my ear so I could hear what the muffled voice was

trying to say. ‘Yes I will, just leave it on my desk.’

I knew I wasn’t going to be the chief officer on this case, even though they thought it

was only a missing person who had died an accidental death. I had been in CID for three

months and my detective work had consisted solely of one operation, trying to stop the

importation of contraband cigarettes from Scotland. I still hadn’t managed to do that, but

this was an exciting change.

My colleague assumed accidental death, of a man who looked to be a tramp, homeless,

penniless and probably not going to be missed by anyone. I was unconvinced and knew

that my superiors would say that it was my first case involving a death and I was trying to

make more of it than I should.

The scratch marks on the back of the man’s hands, and his missing left index

finger nail stuck out in my mind. He wasn’t wearing any socks with his boots, which if he

were out walking would have been very uncomfortable. He also had an empty wallet.

Motive could have been robbery. I would await the pathologist’s report before making

any further assumptions.

I headed home at five fifteen, which was early for me. This case was praying on my

mind. Being in the force for twelve years had taught me to switch off before I got home. I

loved the job but my family was my number one priority.

When I was first involved in an incident at work that bothered me it took its toll on

Paula and me after only a week. The case wasn’t big or demanding and I was still a

constable, but the thugs involved were into organised football violence, and the ring

leader didn’t live too far from our house, so the threats were on a personal level. In the

end it turned out to be only threats and plenty more followed from other cases.

As time passed we dealt with problems and managed to train our minds to be as free as

possible when we were together. We weren’t any different from other married couples,

and often needed to talk about work but it didn’t take over our lives. This weekend was

special; it was our anniversary. Paula had arranged for our sons, Mark, Phillip and Josh to

spend the weekend at her parents so we could be alone. It would be the first time in seven

years we had had the house to ourselves.

We lived in Perrington, which was inland from the coast and about ten miles south. Not

far to drive, but to live there you might as well be in another world. I parked my new

Vauxwagon Bora on the drive, and entered our bungalow.

‘Paula, I’m home babe.’

Checking through the morning post, I walked into the kitchen. The open plan layout of

our house was magnificent, complimented by my talented wife whose eye for a good

colour scheme had to be applauded. She had opted for cream bench tops and doors with

light grey slate on the floor for the kitchen and matching cream on the living room walls

with a contrast of rustic red curtains and Indian style rug to the timber floor. Anyone who

came here whether it was the first time or hundredth always commented on the unusual


‘You’re early, anybody would think we had the house to ourselves,’ replied Paula from

the corner of the kitchen. She wrapped her leg round the doorframe seductively and

rolled her eyes at me.

‘Wait ‘til you see what I’ve made for tea. Now sit down and relax, the evening paper

has just arrived.’

‘You know me too well,’ I planted a kiss on her cheek and walked into the lounge.

Sinking into the tan leather sofa I patted Alfy our two- year old boxer dog, who

demanded more attention than the woman of the house. I flicked to the back pages to

check out the sport. On a Friday you could always expect a lot of talk of transfer

activities at our local club and the big fight was on cable this weekend.

No matter how hard I tried I couldn’t get my head around it. The tramp on the beach

seemed to be imprinted on my brain. I don’t know exactly what struck me as being odd

about this old guy lying dead. I think it was because I knew his death could be washed to

one side as easily as he came ashore, and dismissed as a missing person, when the true

cause of death could well be different.

Another factor niggling away at me was that my father had passed away at the end of

last year. He was of a similar age but died of natural causes and had a good funeral. He

had enjoyed his life and was loved by us all. The guy on the beach could be just like my

father for all I knew and deserved to be given a chance, a fair trial if you like and not just

forgotten. I suspected that it wouldn’t be my call anyway, but I was going to do what I

could to investigate the circumstances the way I saw fit.

‘He was dressed too much like a tramp.’

That was it. The dead man was dressed the way people who do not see many homeless

people would imagine a homeless person to look like. Unkempt hair and beard, old

evening jacket, boots with no socks thrown in for good measure.

‘Paula, I’m just popping out for half an hour.’ Grabbing my jacket and camera I

headed for the door.

The sun was setting and was well below the horizon when I arrived. I stood back and

looked at the empty beach. To the south was Elsmere Castle set on a two hundred feet

high hill, half in ruins. To the North there were six log holiday homes, abandoned and

due for removal soon, according to the sales girl at the filling station. The shoreline

headed east into the sea as it went north. Exactly what was at the next bay I didn’t know.

I was guilty of ignorance when it came to the East Coast of Northern England.

I removed the map from my pocket and marked my position. I couldn’t visit the exact

spot where the old man had lay as the tide was in, but just being at the beach did a lot to

get my thoughts going and unanswered questions flowed through my mind. Where could

he have fallen in? What were the tidal times and the conditions over the past few days?

My initial job was to gather as much information about Elsmere beach and the

surrounding area as possible. I removed my camera and took a few shots for reference

when I got home, something that could put me back in this very spot when I needed to be

here. Nothing else seemed to matter. I felt focused and determined, it was a new

challenge. I scribbled a small note in my handbook to remind myself to check the missing

persons file first thing Monday morning.

The ice-cold wind was getting stronger and cutting into my face as I fastened the

remaining two buttons on my suede jacket. I needed the pathologist’s report. That would

save me a lot of time trying to piece together times, cause of death and possible method. I

was keeping an open mind unlike my colleagues. I flipped open my mobile and checked

through the directory of police departments, hoping that there were some equally keen

people working overtime, and not being paid for it.

‘Jim?’ I asked.


‘Peter Simpson. How are you?’ I held one finger in my ear to silence the crashing

waves and walked back towards the dunes.

‘Hi Peter. What can I do for you?’ His tone was pleasant but sharp. He obviously didn’t

like being contacted out of hours.

‘I understand you’re doing the report for the mystery body washed up on Elsmere


‘That’s right. Not usually your area- you must be stepping up in the world. You require

some early information I assume?’

‘If you don’t mind, it’s fallen under my wing, and I could…’

He cut me short, which saved some extra grovelling. ‘No need to explain old chap CID

are all the same. Don’t hold me to any of this as I have yet to confirm my report through

the official channels you understand?’

‘Of course, I understand fully,’ I lied. Apart from in a book I hadn’t even seen a

pathologist’s report.

‘Your mystery man died twenty-four to thirty-six hours ago. I would estimate. Had

been in the water for a while. A head injury and consequent internal haemorrhaging

caused his death. That’s about all for now.’

I paced around staring down at the whirling sand and went down onto my honkers to

get a better reception. ‘Do you think a fall of some description could have caused the

head injury?’

‘Possible. It would be the easiest explanation, but not necessary the only one.’

‘Thanks a lot Jim, I appreciate it.’

I clicked my mobile shut and walked over the dunes to my car. He could have slipped

and fallen knocking himself unconscious, but he could also have been knocked

unconscious by someone else. Either way it wasn’t a drowning as first expected.

My nose was running and eyes watering as I slammed the car door shut, switched off

my mobile and thought of Paula. I tried to shake of my concerns of the case as I drove to

Wine Buster’s just outside our village and picked up a bottle of white called Kuala Creek.

It tasted nasty and cheap to most people, but to Paula and me it brought back the

memories of our youth together. One way or another I was in for a sentimental weekend.

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Comments by other Members

Simon Trewin at 09:48 on 13 June 2003  Report this post
I think this could be a lot better than it is at the moment - just in the first paragraph for instance replacing 'Mac' with he would give it more clarity and momentum to it.

dareoshinuga at 01:47 on 23 September 2004  Report this post
nice.Bring it on Gary.You've got it.

BARRIEBC at 20:30 on 03 July 2005  Report this post
Perhaps you might want to take a more descriptive approach - I'm not saying that the following re-write is any kind of template, but it might show how you could create a more flowing prose. At times it seems that you are in a hurry to move on and are reluctant to give shape and detail to description. The preliminary/linking sections in a narrative are usually the most difficult to write. A reader will quickly detect an author's unwillingness to hammer out an interesting prologue to the exciting parts simply because the author wants to get on with the bit they find easy to write.

'The following day Mac drove up Westerly Height to the top of the bank at Mount Pleasant. Removing his sunglasses he held his breath in anticipation. As expected, he wasn’t disappointed, the waves were three to four feet high, rolling in with a white frothy crest as they pounded the seashore. Travelling the three hundred yards or so to the bottom, he pulled up outside the golf club and removed his long board from the passenger seat of the Chevette.
The place was deserted.
He gathered his surf bag together with the board and walked over the first tee to tackle the steep sand dunes. The sun was trying to escape from behind the odd chink in the clouds but the sky remained a sullen, overcast sheet of unmoving grey and there was a distinct chill in the air.'

Dee at 21:41 on 03 July 2005  Report this post
I can’t believe I’m critiquing a critique. However, as Gary doesn’t appear to have been active on the site for eighteen months, I think it’s OK for me to do this.

Barrie, there is a fine dividing line between suggesting a slight alteration to the construction of a paragraph, and trying to mould someone else’s writing to your own style. For instance, many writers believe that sentences like, for instance, Removing his sunglasses he held his breath in anticipation. are poorly-constructed. At the very least there should be a comma after ‘sunglasses’ although, personally I would go for a version that links the two actions more closely: As he removed his sunglasses he held his breath in anticipation perhaps.

Maybe all Gary wanted to say about the sky was that it was overcast. Not everyone is fond of multiple adjectives, or heavily detailed descriptions.

And ‘distinct chill’, in my view, is a cliché.

It’s not easy, this critiquing business, is it?


BARRIEBC at 11:52 on 04 July 2005  Report this post
True - funny how one person's eloquence is anothers purple prose. I thought the original text was simply too simple - too staccato and halting. My attempt to improve the flow and fluency and add a touch of imagery obviously failed. Had I felt an entirely free reign I would have restructered it completely. What I tried to do was improve it with the minimum amount of involvement. Nevertheless, it just goes to prove that there is seldom agreement between two authors as to the best way to describe or convey a scene. Perhaps it's the reason we find our work so easily criticised - in an ideal world we would all have a consistent and uniform style that authors and readers could agree on. It would certainly make submissions to publishers a lot easier.


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