Gdansk – 6

In 1956, Nikita Khruschev’s address to the 20th Convention of the USSR’s Communist Party spoke of strengthening socialism’s grip on the East, and of the dangers of individualism. Already simmering with discontent the Polish media helped stir local discord and on June 28th a strike started in the Stalin brick factory (later the ‘Hipolita Cegielskiego Factory’), before spreading to the city’s other major industrial plants. An estimated 100,000 workers descended on the Municipal National Council (now the Zamek building), chanting slogans like ‘Bread and Freedom’ and ‘Out with Bolshevism,’ while demanding lower prices, higher wages and a reduction in work quotas.

Initially peaceful, the protests took a violent turn when it was revealed that the team negotiating on behalf of the strikers in Warsaw had been arrested and detained. The demonstrators stormed Poznań prison, liberating 257 inmates, destroying records and seizing armaments. These insurgents marched back to the city centre to continue their protests. The communist authorities reacted by deploying 10,300 soldiers, 400 tanks and 30 armoured personnel carriers. Street battles followed, but with the city cut off from the outside world, order was quickly restored by 30th June. The clashes officially left 76 civilians and eight soldiers dead, with over 600 strikers injured (though unofficial estimates were vastly higher). The victims included a thirteen year old boy, Romek Strzalkowski, who was shot dead whilst waving a Polish flag. News of the riots helped spark an equally heroic anti-communist uprising in Budapest later in the same year, which was also brutally suppressed.

All this historical information surrounds the living room of a typical flat available to families from the Polish state. These flats were assigned to their owners and wouldn’t have been given to people taking part in events described elsewhere in this section of the museum! The items on show included a soda syphon decorated with a sticker of Goofy, an alarm clock, and a radio. The owners would have been able to listen to Radio Free Europe if the authorities hadn’t jammed the frequency.

Gdansk – 4

I rarely use audio guides, but I must recommend them at the European Solidarity Centre as the information provided was clear, concise, and fitted in almost perfectly with what I saw. This may seem obvious but there is so much information to process that you have to concentrate all the time during the visit.

In 1980, the Lenin Shipyard was the 5th largest ship manufacturer in the world and the largest in the Baltic region. 17,000 people worked there on a site covering 150 hectares with its own hospital and cinema. Electricians such as Lech Walesa would use bicycles to move around. The industrial scale of the museum is emphasized at the start by the presence of hard hats covering an entire ceiling, an attendance control board with hundreds of available slots, and a wall full of individual lockers for workers’ essentials.

In the next room is a large photo of Leonid Brezhnev kissing Edward Gierek, the Polish Communist party first secretary at the time the Gdansk Agreements were signed. In the summer of 1980, price increases on essential foodstuffs set off protests across the country, especially in the Gdańsk and Szczecin shipyards. Unusually, the Communist regime decided not to resort to force to suppress the strikes. In the Gdańsk Agreement and other accords reached with Polish workers, Gierek’s representatives were forced to concede the right to strike, and Solidarity was born. Shortly thereafter, in early September 1980, he was replaced as first secretary, but from the Polish authorities’ perspective the door had been opened and the damage done. Solidarity kept going in an upwards trajectory.

Gdansk – 2

Gdansk airport is named after Lech Walesa and if visitors don’t know much about this man before they arrive then they will know a lot by the time they leave, especially if they visit the European Solidarity Centre, which is about 500 metres from Gdansk Glowny by the entrance to the shipyards.This museum is an absolute joy and educational beyond belief. I left wondering why on earth I hadn’t known some of the information on display in the centre. The museum made me realise my own ignorance of events in the continent of Europe just before my birth and that’s a good thing. It does show we are always living through history and the key is to be finding out the truth at all times.

Gdansk – 1

The trains run from Gdansk airport to the main station, Gdansk Glowny, every 15 –  30 minutes depending on the time of day. Visitors should follow the red arrows from the west end of Terminal T2 via a covered bridge to the platform where the ticket machines are found. The station is called Port Lotniczy and the trains to Gdansk go from the platform closer to the airport buildings and head eastwards. There are a few direct connections to Gdansk Glowny but visitors will more likely need to change trains at Gdańsk Wrzeszcz station. The trains are brand new and all the stops are illustrated on the TV screens inside the spacious, airy carriages. Gdańsk Wrzeszcz is not easy to pronounce and I would suggest pointing at the name rather than attempting to say it, otherwise who knows where you might end up. It is three stops from Gdańsk Wrzeszcz railway station to Gdansk Glowny. The final destination of this train will almost certainly be Gdansk Śródmieście.

The Manton Rempville Mystery – start of Chapter 1

Detective Sergeant Rod Barnes surveyed the remains of Manton Rempville monastery with incredulity. He’d heard that a hundred thousand pounds had been spent on preserving the ruins and he couldn’t understand why anyone would do such a thing. Ruins were ruins for a reason. The natural order of things, in Barnes’ mind at least, was gradual decay – preservation only delayed the inevitable, like applying skin cream to wrinkles or a new coat of paint to a rusting car. Besides, the ruins were open to anyone and there was no entry charge, so they were never going to get their money back.

Barnes stiffened slightly as he saw Detective Inspector Colin Knowles’ Land Rover chug into the car park and lurch to a halt too close to Barnes’ Morgan sports car for his comfort. He glanced down at the body and thought that Knowles, his boss, would find this crime scene interesting indeed. Barnes had heard that Knowles was on a new diet and that his latest culinary delight was vegetable kebabs cooked on his nearly new barbecue even in the depths of autumn.

Taking care not to get his highly polished shoes muddy, Barnes walked across the uneven grass as a low, cold wind whipped across the historical site, slightly disturbing his short, brown hair. He hadn’t seen much of Knowles in the past month as they’d both been away on holiday at separate times since the murders in Goat Parva. As he came towards him, Barnes noticed that even though the Inspector had lost weight, he still wasn’t able to tuck his Marks and Spencer shirt into his trousers.

“Good morning, sir, how are you today?”

“Fair to middling, Barnesy old son, the diet’s working well, nearly fifteen pounds lost.” Knowles gripped his much reduced stomach with some pride.

“How’s the gym going?”

“Gradually doing more on the treadmill, lifting a few weights, and getting some stretching done on those large blue balls they have. That’s not easy – those balls are bouncy as hell – I almost fell off the first few times I tried to lie on the thing. Anyway, not only can I see my toes now, but I can almost touch them too.”

“That’s good to hear, sir. The trick to keeping the weight off is by committing to a lifestyle change rather than thinking you’re on a diet.”

“Good point, Sergeant, lifestyle sounds very magazine-like though, very posh Sunday newspaper, but I know what you mean. Anyway, who do we have over there?” Knowles pointed in the direction of the photographer and Forensics team, who were investigating the crime scene.

The two men started to walk over to the eastern wall of the monastery’s refectory where the body had been found an hour earlier by Bingo the retriever, out on a long walk with his owner Adelaide Hills from Goat Parva. Both dog and owner were well known to the police from a few months before when Bingo had made a habit of finding bodies in the early morning.

“According to his credit cards, his name is Edward Pritchard; we are just running some computer checks to find out where he lives. It’s how he’s been killed that you will find interesting, sir.”

With his hands in his trench coat pockets, Knowles stood on the wall and looked down at the body lying on what would have been the refectory floor. Edward Pritchard had been run through with a sword and the handle was sticking out of his back on the left-hand side. Knowles smiled at Dr. Crabtree, the forensic doctor, who was examining the body.

“Dr. Crabtree, we have a real sword being used as a murder weapon?” Knowles would have rubbed his hands with glee if they hadn’t been warming up in his pockets.

“We do indeed, Colin, a very real sword. This is a heavy cavalry sword with a straight blade with one cutting edge whereas the other side has been thickened for greater strength. The blade is around three feet in length. It directly penetrated his heart and he would have died instantly.”

“Any prints on the handle?” Knowles looked hopeful when he said this.

“We’ll check back at the lab, Colin, can we move him now?”

“Yes, that will be all I think. We’ll be back at the station in an hour or so; could you have something by then in terms of fingerprints, time of death, and any ideas on a profile of who could have done it?”

“We’ll try, Colin – no promises, but we’ll try.”

“I presume the person who murdered Edward wasn’t aware of the type of sword they were using,” said Barnes, “because that’s a sword for slashing people with, not for running them through.”

“So, you would have expected a murderer who knew what he was using to have hit Edward here in the neck with the sharp side,” replied Knowles.

“Yes, sir, that’s correct.”

“So we’re looking for an ignorant murderer then? We show the suspects the sword and ask them how they would kill someone using the sword and those who opt for the neck slash are innocent?”

“They might be bluffing, sir, so we shouldn’t just use that as a method of elimination from our enquiries,” said Barnes, playing along with Knowles’ quite acerbic sense of humour.

“OK, we’ll just confine ourselves to telling the murderer, when we catch him, that he/she murdered Edward here in the wrong way. So where could the sword have come from? It’s not the sort of weapon you can easily conceal.”

“The nearest house is Manton Rempville Hall – you can see it just poking through the trees over there. That might be the best place to start.”

“Agreed – they probably maintain an assortment of weapons to keep the staff subdued and repel invasions by the local peasants in times of crisis. We should go there after visiting our oldest friend in Goat Parva, Mrs. Adelaide Hills, and her bundle of fun, Bingo.”

“It’s just like old times, sir.”

“Indeed it is, Barnesy. I just hope that this is the only body Bingo finds in this murder investigation.”

The Manton Rempville Mystery – Chapter 4

Colin Knowles was lying on a beach in the Caribbean. He was drinking a mojito and soaking up the rays of the sun, while secretly admiring some of the local females. Slowly the eloquent cawing of the parrots in the trees turned into the ringing of his phone and intruded into his dream. Knowles tried to find the device without opening his eyes, but only succeeded in knocking his mint tea on to the floor. Eventually he located the phone and drew it slowly to his left ear.

“’Allo, who is this? It had better be good.”

Sergeant Rod Barnes gave Knowles a very good and brief reason why Knowles should come back from his reveries in the Caribbean to the realities of Manton Rempville Hall.

“When was this reported, Barnesy?” asked Knowles, checking the floor to see whether his tea had stained the carpet.

“Around 7:15a.m. by Fairfax,” replied Barnes.

“And everyone else will know because of the ambulance sirens, I suppose,” said Knowles, soaking up the excess tea with his bedside tissues.

“Yes, it was the first thing that Bunny Johnson mentioned to me – I am not convinced she is completely in touch with reality; sirens only after midday, what a ludicrous idea.”

“What was the weapon that was used by the way; it wasn’t the missing dagger, was it?”

“Kitchen knife, sir, straight out of the drawer.”

“Someone is taking the mickey out of us, Sergeant Barnes, unless this is the thief’s work and not the first murderer’s work.”

“That’s getting very complicated, Inspector, having one killer is bad enough, but the thought there’s competing murderers here is mind-boggling.”

“Indeed it is, Sergeant – I will be over in thirty minutes. Keep everyone happy until I arrive.”

“I will do my best, sir, I will do my best.”

=========

Knowles put two rounds of rye bread in his toaster and took the low-fat cream cheese out of his fridge. Freddie the cat was miaowing his head off and circling around Knowles’ feet like a shark scenting blood. Knowles fed both cats from the can in the fridge door compartment. He ate his toasted bread and watched in amusement as Freddie gulped down his own food and then tried to eat Gemma’s too. Gemma hissed and Freddie retreated under Knowles’ chair, watching carefully until she had finished before daring to see whether there was anything left for him.

“You’re out of luck, Freddie old son, she’s finished everything,” said Knowles as Freddie looked glumly in his direction. Knowles finished his toasted rye and put the plate with the crumbs on down on the floor for Freddie to lick off voraciously.

Knowles brushed his teeth and put on his warm coat before exiting his house. The journey over to Manton Rempville Hall took ten minutes on a Sunday morning and he was soon heading down the drive towards the inexplicable topiary boxes. He saw Barnes standing in the turning circle with his hands on his hips. As Knowles brought his Land Rover to a halt, Barnes headed towards him.

“Now then, Barnesy, how bad is it?”

“Very clinical, sir, not brutal, but would have been instantaneous. The knife was pushed into the throat with force when the victim was asleep.”

“Right, let’s go and have a look.” The officers headed towards the coach house and climbed the stairs. All the other guests were in the Hall and the only people present were from the Forensics team. The ambulance had left once the death had been confirmed.

Knowles greeted Dr. Crabtree.

“Well, Kevin, we should really meet under nicer circumstances occasionally.”

Dr. Crabtree smiled and nodded in agreement.

“Indeed we should – oh, by the way, there was some dirt on the bottom of the handle of the sword, only a few faint specks but we found them…”

Knowles beamed, but indicated Dr. Crabtree should continue.

“…Anyway, the victim is Basil Fawcett and he has been neatly stabbed through the throat with a large kitchen knife, used for carving meat. No fingerprints at all, which suggests the killer cleaned the handle at some point. Basil would not have known a thing. He would not have made a noise. I understand Toby was in the next room and Henrietta was down the hallway. Both are distraught and are receiving counselling. Time of death around seven hours ago, approximately 1:30a.m.”

Knowles looked down at Basil and shook his head.

“Oh, Basil, you didn’t tell us something – what did you do when Toby and Henrietta went for their walk? Who did you see – who was outside the lower study window at 11:30p.m. – did you follow them and didn’t tell us?”

“Does this mean he saw the murderer or Edward Pritchard before he was killed?” asked Barnes.

“Unless this is a random attack then yes, I think it does mean that – I think we can safely say that Edward Pritchard was killed after 11:30p.m. and that his watch was smashed to give the murderer an alibi. Perhaps Pritchard was the figure outside the lower study that Basil saw.”

“Why can’t people just be totally open with us, sir?” asked Barnes almost beseechingly.

“Maybe Basil here was trying a little blackmail with the murderer?”

“But he had no guile, did he? Just think about how he hung around outside the interview room door and you saw his reflection in the window. He was genuinely surprised you’d seen him. Very naive.”

“Is there anything in his pockets or on his phone that we could use, such as a text or a phone number?”

“His phone has a passcode, which isn’t immediately obvious and his pockets revealed nothing.”

“Not immediately obvious, what does that mean?”

“Well, it’s not B-A-S-I-L, 12345, or 54321, for example.”

“Does his sister know his passcode?”

“She might, but she’s too upset right now, not surprisingly.”

Knowles nodded thoughtfully. He hoped that the phone would reveal some significant communication between Basil and the person who had murdered him.

“So, Barnesy, why did Fairfax find the body and not Henrietta or Toby?”

“He was rousing people for a planned trip to the golf course, which Basil had expressed an interest in. 8:30a.m. tee off time, apparently.”

“And Henrietta and Toby weren’t going?”

“Apparently not, sir.”

“I wonder if we shouldn’t go and look at Pritchard’s place and then come back here when everyone’s had a chance to eat breakfast and to absorb the news. I doubt that Henrietta would be in any fit state to answer our questions now, anyway.”

“That sounds like a plan, sir, and I would agree with you regarding Henrietta.”

“Thought you might, Barnesy.”

“Shall we go then? I will go and tell Sir Michael that we will be back in a couple of hours.”

“Sounds good, Sergeant, I will see you by the vehicles in a couple of minutes.”

Barnes smiled and left the room.

Knowles turned to Dr. Crabtree.

“Was there any sign of a struggle, at all?”

“None whatsoever, Colin, he was taken completely by surprise by the looks of it.”

“Nothing under the nails?”

“Nothing at all.”

“Right, well would you say the person who did this committed the first murder too?”

“It’s likely; don’t forget this killing was more surgical than the first and the knife was inserted from above into the throat really quickly.”

“And the place it was inserted suggests prior knowledge of how to kill people quickly?”

“No, not really, I couldn’t say that – the throat is the most vulnerable part of the anatomy if you’re in bed and your attacker has a knife. And that might be a clue because a strong man would have smothered Basil with a pillow.”

“There’d be noise though, Kevin, with a pillow and a struggle too, both of which might have woken up the neighbours.”

“I suppose so, Colin. Anyway, can we take the body away now?”

“Please do, Kevin.”

Dr. Crabtree’s assistant, who’d been hovering in the background, came forward and helped the doctor move the body on to the stretcher. The photographer took some pictures of the now empty bedclothes as Basil Fawcett began his last but one journey to the morgue at Scoresby police station.