A shop floor mannequin washed ashore on the East Beach at Dunbar on December 5th 2014 at some point in the early morning. It was found at 6.15am by a woman, Margo Langdon, who was walking her dog. She saw it first as a protrusion jutting out of the sand. The curve of its silhouette gave rise to the assumption it was a corpse. She clasped a hand over her mouth and tried to suppress a scream. The dog’s leash slipped through her fingers and she gave chase as the dog bounded towards the mannequin. She threw herself onto her knees by its head.
It was lying face down. She placed a hand underneath its shoulder, clenched a fistful of fabric, and turned the body up and over. It was at this stage she realised it was not human. She knelt over it, confused, for a few minutes. Next, she phoned the local police station, not 999, unsure of what else to do.
Had a crime been committed?
A police officer, PC Andrea Brown, arrived. She interviewed Margo and examined the mannequin. Regardless of whether any wrongdoing had been committed, she concluded it was a disturbing image and there would be more trouble if it was left on the beach. The mannequin was thrown in the backseat of her car and taken to the station to be processed.
-The mannequin was clothed in a knee-length green dress.
-No name-tag on the collar.
An officer, Detective Constable Jacob Radley, was assigned to cross-reference the item of clothing against records of those missing or assumed dead, and against items reported lost or stolen. After three days of searching through files and records and printouts, DC Radley found the missing person’s report for Katie Gilchrist, who would have been 25. The report was filed on December 5th 2011. After drinks with a friend, she left the Canon’s Gait pub at 12.45am, walked down New Street and vanished. Exactly three years prior to the mannequin washing ashore. The report indicated she was wearing this exact dress.
PC Radley, not convinced this constituted enough information to contact the family, filed a request for the lab to run tests on the mannequin and the dress. Forensics’ workload in the festive period was high. A link to the report, written by Dr Owen Bank, appeared in his inbox three days later.
The report suggested the dress belonged to Katie Gilchrist. Fingerprints matching Katie’s were found on the mannequin’s neck and ankles. As if she had thrown it. A second set of prints, unidentified, were also found on the mannequin. Two mirrored thumb prints pressed against its eyelids.
Bank also found fingerprints carved with exacting precision into the mannequin’s left hand. A detail perhaps missed or overlooked at the scene by Margo Langdon and PC Brown. These were scanned and processed onto the database and a match was found. The prints belonged to Diego Garcia, a Spanish national who disappeared on March 1st 2010. He was last seen in Glasgow walking home after a night out.
Another mystery was added by the faint six digit number rubberstamped onto the sole of the mannequin’s left foot. Through guesswork and intuition Dr Bank was able to match this code with that of a mannequin sold to a branch of Next.
A phone call with the store manager, David Halverson, confirmed that a mannequin had been reported stolen on August 2nd. It was assumed to have been taken by an employee. The store manager, David Halverson, told Dr Bank he wouldn’t normally have remembered such a thing but for it coinciding with the disappearance of the suspected employee. Sooty Terns completed her shift on August 2nd and was never heard from again. Bank confirmed that a missing persons report for Sooty Terns was filed on August 3rd 2013.
The last paragraph of the report was dedicated to the most intriguing discovery.
In the process of carrying it back to the evidence storage room, the mannequin slipped from under Dr Bank’s arm and was dashed against the floor, sundering the left foot clean from the ankle. Bending over to pick up the pieces he saw a flashing red light within the heel. Using a handsaw he was able to cut the rest of the mannequin’s flesh away and wrench out an electronic device. He sent it to Computer Forensics immediately and, at the time of filing his report, was awaiting their response on its function and origins. Preliminary examination suggested it was probably a GPS tracker. Radley would be informed directly.
Two days passed before Radley received the call from Computer Forensics. The woman on the other end, Benares Shoales, confirmed the device was a GPS tracker and that she had mapped out where it had been. She emailed Radley the details – the path it had taken along with times, dates and coordinates.
-The device was activated at 3.23am, December 4th. Roughly 27 hours prior to its discovery.
-It had been activated in the middle of the North Sea (coordinates attached), approximately 110 miles east of Aberdeen.
-Eight hours later it began to move. It journeyed south-southwest at a constant speed – around forty miles an hour – for four hours until it was within sixteen point two miles of the coast.
-The mannequin spent the next twelve hours being scooped back and forth by the sea until it was washed ashore on the East Beach at Dunbar at 3.45am.
-The tracking device was not new. It had been overwritten at least a dozen times prior to its most recent activation.
-They did not have the resources to retrieve the underlying data as this would take weeks, perhaps months.
During a conversation with his colleague DC Peros Banhos, an engineer at the Grangemouth Refinery in a previous life, Radley was informed that the starting coordinates were on the edge of the Forties Oil Field. A phone call to the Geographic Planning department of Apache, who owned the Forties Oil Field, acknowledged the existence of an abandoned rig at the coordinates he provided. They agreed to give police access if required.
Radley filed a report to his senior officer detailing all of the above and was quickly granted permission to investigate the three cases further. He made his way north, to Aberdeen, where he was met by Captain Audubon Shearwaters, a veteran of the merchant navy. Sceptical but compliant, he agreed to take Radley out to the platform, codenamed Forties Foxtrot.
They arrived under inexhaustible rain to find that the platform was deserted. He walked the perimeter. The rig exuded emptiness and menace. Shearwaters told him the rig had been abandoned in the ‘80s. Not enough oil below their feet to maintain operations. If there had been anyone still on-board, Apache would have known. They would have told him.
The rig was devoid of life. It was also devoid of any signs that the rig had been recently abandoned. There were no indications that this state had been falsely cultivated either. The corners of the rooms were coated in sticky clumps of dust and smatterings of chipped paint. The rig hummed and creaked, transmitted its secrets through the language of rust. I dunno what you were looking for, Shearwaters said with finality, but it ain’t here now.
Radley returned to Edinburgh.
-Later, whilst looking for the phone numbers of their families, he noticed the digital records and missing person reports for Katie Gilchrist, Diego Garcia and Sooty Terns had been deleted.
-Later, he was unable to find the mannequin or the tracking device in the evidence storage locker.
-Later, Peros Banhos acknowledged their previous conversation but knew nothing else of his investigation.
-Later, he traced the document ID for Dr Bank’s report. The document was now marked as classified and Bank refused to answer his calls.
-Later, Radley spoke to the internal operator, asked to be put through to Benares Shoales. Benares Shoales in Computer Forensics. But no one of that name worked there.
Engulfed in perpetual flame, Ross McCleary lives and writes in Edinburgh. His debut Fringe Show “Knife Whimsy,” co-written and performed with Andrew Blair, was given a PBH Spoken Word Award for Best Double Act. Fictional pieces and poems have appeared in: Dactyl, Valve, Spontaneity and Northern Renewal. He also has a blog dedicated to Real Life magazines at: reallyreallife.tumblr.com.