Sir F. Chook, Inventor of Leopard Oil

Likeness captured upon a daguerrotype machine in Japan, July 1891

Lettres

Wherein the Author reflects upon certain topical & personal issues of the Day.

The Infelicitous Incident of the Cretinous Corpse

Penned upon the 22nd of November, 2011

The scene of the crime. A suburban drawing-room. The victim sprawled against a low coffee-table. Blood soaking into the too-bold carpet. Two police officers standing vigil; the one in sergeant’s stripes had sternly charged the shocked family to remain in the rear parlour until called upon. A knock at the open door, and the constable on guard admitted a stout figure in an overcoat and a broad felt hat.

“Superintendent Dribble, Scotland Yard. All right – who’s the victim?”

The sergeant cleared his throat. “A Mr Sumper, sir. Something to do with finance. Relations coming over for tea found him like this about six o’clock.”

Dribble squatted down and inspected the body with an experienced eye. “He was bleeding heavily… looks like cranial haemorrhage. No obvious wound, though. Seen anything that he might been struck with, Coombes?”

“Er, nothing stands out, sir.” The young constable stared at his notes, as if willing the answer to appear there. “He might have fallen, and hit hi’sself on that table, but it were clean when we got here. Nothing’s been touched since.”

“Hm.” Dribble straightened up with a grunt. “Well, the doctor’ll be able to tell us more. Go and help him inside with his kit, Constable.”

The police surgeon – an elderly, untidy man – set to his examination with nimble hands. Shortly, he developed a worried frown and glanced up. “Odd thing, Superintendent. There’s no sign of external injury. To be frank – it looks as though this man’s brain killed itself.”

“Mental suicide?” Dribble spat derisively. “What a wash-out. Well, perhaps we can make something of it. Can you give us any indication of the time of death?”

“His intellectual rigor is already disappearing. Allowing for the warmth of the room and the tastelessness of the furnishings, I’d say the last of his ideas died no more than four hours ago.”

Three o’clock. He’d have been quite alone in the house, with all the doors locked. Dribble resigned himself to an awkward discussion with the grievers and an evening of dull paperwork, until-

“Sarge! I think I found the murder weapon!” The constable held up a dense paperback, the author’s name standing out in huge silver letters beneath a chiaroscuro image of a woman’s smile.

“Good work, Coombes! That’s just the thing. Someone slips that into his bookcase, he picks it up for his afternoon read… Lord help him; his mind’s done for, locked door or no locked door.”

“What on Earth is it?” asked the doctor, peering over his half-moons.

“One of those novels they sell in stacks, like remaindered tinned venison hearts, to people’s maiden aunts. It’s about a retired secret agent working as a Professor of Derivative Narrative who falls in love with a placement student with skin like icecream. They realise that they’re the reincarnations of the King and Queen of Elfland, and together unravel the hidden clues to an ancient conspiracy of Jesuits working to conceal the true identity of the descendant of Thor, son of Odin, now living in Adelaide as a cryptographer-assassin…”

The sergeant’s brain gave a hiccuping burp and he collapsed on the sideboard. Dribble reeled around in horror. “Hell and damnation, the thing’s still loaded! Coombes, run to the call box and get Unexploded Literature in here, P.D.Q.! Constable Marigolds, help me get him out to the street. Doc, start summarising the works of Dickens, starting with Pickwick Papers and continuing to your best guess at the resolution of Edwin Drood! Lord,” the superintendent hoisted the sergeant’s feet onto his shoulders and mopped at his brow, “it’s enough to make you lose your mind, this job.”


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