DARK HUMOUR by Suzanne Thorpe

SERIAL TILLERS
Search for the bodies …


The news that the police forensic team were to dig up the gardens came as a shock to Lydia and Alice. They had just planted candytuft whilst the white radishes were at a crucial stage in their germination, so what right did these flat feet have to trounce over their land?
It seemed, after numerous phone calls to the local council, that they had every right. The crop of local disappearances, five in all, had been attributed to a former delivery van driver, who according to the Evening Bugle had confessed, with pride, to no less than five murders. Yet why attack their garden and the two adjoining it? Well this glory-seeker lived on Warren Road and again, according to the Evening Bugle, would not tell the police where he had disposed of the bodies. So the garden to his terrace house, a small scrubby affair, with a part gravel front which sprouted dandelion and nettle, was invaded by a police forensic team with a small excavator. Lydia and Alice had to admit that it looked a lot better for it though. The gravel and weed had been usurped and the overturned earth became good clay top soil so it looked a lot better and at least some good had come of the disturbance. No bodies were found though which was to turn out to be a bad thing for them, and their marigolds and flowering current shrub. For the search was to continue across the road and what better soft target than the three gardens opposite the flats? Yet it was no time to go unearthing bodies for May was the time for planting sweet peas, 
and stocks. 
‘Some people,’ complained Alice, ‘have no consideration for others at all!’
The garden was a lifeline for the two sisters, now living in adjacent maisonettes in Warren Road. In the mid sixties fate had led them on similar paths, parallel ones, which both reached dead ends. Both had lived in town houses, in the same neighbourhood, and had married poor samples of manhood. Lydia’s had died suddenly in his fifties of a massive heart attack which she felt was largely self induced as a punishment for her as he hadn’t taken life insurance. Alice’s specimen had been more hardy and died of a mysterious lingering blight yet with meagre life insurance. Both had been childless although Lydia had owned a dog, a Pug named Harvey, who had, as dogs tend to do, died. Alice had owned a more hardy black cat named Jerome, a satanic type who tended to hog the sofa and who, despite being neutered by a courageous vet, had eventually slunk off and left her for a more prestigious address in the new housing estate.
They had moved to the flats and the wasteland of pension-hood and widow’s weeds spread before them like a gravel, gorse ridden track. Until one evening Alice tuned onto Alan Titchmarsh. After months of shared watching, and separate fantasies about this green fingered toy-boy, they saw the board across the road.
ALLOTMENTS FOR RENT
They had never looked back, from this sign. It led the way to fertility, fecund days even in winter and most of all, it led to hope, the hardiest of perennials.
Miles Hind though was glad of the breather that the police forensic team would give the BUG project. The Build Urban Gardens charity had been founded to help those, of any age, yet particularly teenagers, find an interest in gardening. The aim to take them off the street and into the garden, or at least a communal allotment. The scheme had been working quite well in other areas of the town, yet he was to oversee the Warren Road project. Eight keen (some not so keen) teenagers and one widower in his sixties who had up to then been confined to window-boxes, had dug over the BUG allotment and vegetables had been planted, namely runner beans with a waiting cane wig-wam, carrots, potatoes and leeks. When ready they were to be sold at the local market, the proceeds to be divided between other charities in the area, designated by the BUG trustees. 
At first Miles thought this would give him time to catch up on the only crop the allotment had so far produced. This was a mixed variety comprising, costings, reports for the trustees and for various community minded citizens who had donated to the BUG fund, Gift Aid claims and reports for the charity commission, whilst funds only visited briefly, no sooner in then out again on gardening equipment and seeds. It was only then, as he saw the mini excavator being driven down Warren Road before he left for his day job as bank teller at Barclays, did the blow hit with all the force of a snapped branch. If they were foraging around for bodies they would dig up the seeds already planted. More would have to be bought so how would there be a profit? Would the authorities pay compensation and if so how long would it take and how many claim forms in triplicate? No, it didn’t look good at all. The whole business was one of destruction and waste. He unlocked his bicycle with a heavy heart for the crop of reports and costings had just doubled in size. 
Meanwhile Charles Finnisham, the third allotment owner, had been a key figure in railroading the local council over the closure of Green Pastures Cemetery.
‘You will make it extinct!’ he had protested to a pasty faced clerk. Overcome by images of crumbling headstones and creeping moss. Stoneacre, the pasty face pen pusher had been ruthless though, from his planning department desk.
‘Extinct? Surely the occupants are already extinct, which is the purpose of such an …establishment?’
Charles Finnisham had closed his eyes at the image of his mother sleeping in Green Pastures, under the auspices of a stone angel with discreetly eyeless sockets. He felt too close to melt down to question Stoneacre’s term of extinct for that surely depended which side of the divinity fence one perched.
‘We have to close it - it’s full!’ Stoneacre had told; him, resisting the urge to add to overflowing, not out of empathy but because he had just eaten lunch, a somewhat sweaty cheese sandwich which threatened to backfire on him.
‘Unless you can suggest we organize a bunk-up system perhaps? Or a two for one offer?
Charles had left, pale faced himself now, silent, yet as resolute as rigor mortis. Within one month he had formed CORPSE, The Citizens’ Organization for Restoration and Preservation of Social Environments. 
The cemetery was still under threat of closure and visions of distraught relatives scaling iron railings with wilting flowers, haunted his nightly campaign for sleep. Now the light nights were here though he could at least find peace himself, on his allotment. Yet his peace there too was rudely shattered by a red eyed, red nosed, Lydia and Alice with the news of the murder investigation.
‘Why did he do it?’ Alice begged him. ‘Cause so much heartache by burying his victims here! The Canterbury bells will never survive a replanting!’
‘There’s to be no compensation either,’ reminded Lydia, staring at the mini digger being craned down onto the allotments. Yet Charles hid a smile for he would have compensation. It would come in the form of bodies which would force Stoneacre’s cold hand! Would prove how vital the cemetery was and how useful and accommodating! So he reached for his spade to remove his dahlias, a whistle on his lips. It was refreshing to know the local community could be involved in a murder enquiry. 
June appeared and hope sprang like bindweed anew. Lydia and Alice pulled on their floral wellies and their gardening gloves, as sunlight drooled down onto the allotments. The search for bodies was off, in fact a lot of things were off, according to the Evening Bugle
‘A fifty-two year old man, ‘helping’ police with their enquiries into five missing women in the Warren Road area has now been eliminated from their enquiries after also confessing that he helped Lord Lucan disappear, faked the moon landings and held the crown jewels in his sitting room bureau. The crown jewels, readers will be reassured to know, are still safely ensconced in the Tower of London, along with their raven and beefeater guardians. It has also been reported that two of the missing women are safe, claiming they never went out much or answered the phone, a third, visiting her sister in Scotland had decided to stay on an extra month, a fourth had eloped with a neighbours husband and only the fifth was allegedly officially missing … for the present.’
Miles Hind was dismayed at the news that the allotment was back in operation as he still had the costings to balance and heaven knew how much re-planting had to be done. Charles Finnisham however, was delighted with the news for it boded well for CORPSE. True, if bodies had been found, it would have proved his point about the necessity of Green Pastures, about its importance and need for extension of this social environment and not closure. Yet for communal land such as the allotments to just be involved in a crime investigation, even a fruitless one, was encouraging, just a pity it didn’t get on the local evening news as he had bought a new shirt and had a hair cut, just in case. The radishes may have perished in their seedling state, yet principles were flourishing! 
Lydia and Alice however were outraged, as much as varicose veins and lumbago allowed. For wallflowers had been scooped up by the digger, their roots visible from upturned earth like spindly old ladies’ legs.
‘All this devastation and there weren’t even any bodies at the end of it - disgraceful’ Lydia had ranted. Alice agreed. Yet as they each gazed down at the garden from their adjacent sitting room windows, they both knew they wouldn’t give up. Their very glances at framed photos of Alan Titchmarsh were enough to send them right down there in their slippers! They would start all over again with sweet williams, more stocks and even larkspur! Meanwhile the plastic police cordon still fluttered in a light south-westerly breeze, like yellow ribbons, welcoming back the gardeners. End
 

In