Death Under Surveillance

This is an excerpt from an earlier spoof about a pair of epidemiological detectives. My friend M (a far better writer than me) and I took it in turns to write chapters (this is obviously one of mine). Unfortunately, the story ended up like a car with two drivers and veered off into chaos about 8 chapters in. Well how do you follow a scene in which armies of undead commuters besiege the Tube? It was loads of fun while it lasted though.

By the way, the Welsh references were partly aimed at a colleague of ours (who gave as good as she got!) and partly at ourselves: we’re both part-Welsh. “Mortimerelli” is also a skit on a colleague.

Chapter 4: Down The Spec

“The thing is,” mused Elvis the bartender down at the Spec,”She wasn’t really called Llanwigan, she wasn’t even Welsh.”

“How can you be so sure?” Boo frowned, playing with the glass of wine in her hand . “Llanwigan sounds like a Welsh enough name to me.”

“The man said she looked like a sheep, he said she had a leek in her pocket, he said she refused to speak English… I know, I know,” said Elvis frustatedly,”But doesn’t that ring warning bells? Isn’t that just a bit TOO Welsh?”

There was a heady silence. Elvis was onto something, that was for sure.

“You think she was an imposter,” said Fordowski slowly, ”You think the whole Welsh thing was just to throw people off the scent.

“Eh, yeah, J.K.,” Boo rolled her orange eyes as she spoke. ”I think that is what Elvis has being trying to tell you.”

Fordowski nodded. Boo looked at him; he’d fallen asleep.

“Elvis…” She turned to the jumpsuit-clad barman,”I think you should keep this to yourself. Me ’n’ J.K. need to look into it and it’s better if no-one else knows. And after all, I mean, you don’t want reporters or police round here, do you? You don’t wanna go back to that big lonely house in Memphis, do you Elvis?”

Elvis shook his head and turned back to polishing glasses. Boo noticed he was trembling.

Suddenly J.K. woke and leapt up. “It was a hoax!” He shouted. “The whole scene by the canal with that Jones guy… just a ploy to lure our agents into the open. Twenty f*cking swans, my God…” he started to cry. “Dead… all of them.”

Boo shrugged. “I told you swans were a bad idea. We shoulda stuck to pigeons. They attract less attention. Swans hanging round a train station? Sauntering nonchalantly outside an NHS building? I mean, c’mon, J.K. Someone was bound to put two and two together.”

It made J.K. nervous when Boo talked about ‘putting two and two together’… ‘three and three’ was even worse. ‘Four and four’ – don’t think about it, he said to himself taking a slug of his diet coke. Those dark days of maths lessons. Never mind. He had a calculator on his mobile, they couldn’t hurt him now.

Boo was on a roll. She must have ranted for twenty minutes about the agents they’d lost in operations. Whose idea had it been to use white mice in that undercover job at the labs? Which idiot had thought a giraffe would be ‘perfect’ as a lookout at the Jubilee mob meeting when they tried to snare the big boss Queenie? He could hear a voice saying “He’s got this long neck, he’ll be able to see for miles.” Sounded like his voice. He wondered gloomily which zoo the giraffe had been carted off to.

Queenie had got away of course. They all seemed to get away these days. No matter how carefully an operation was planned, somehow the criminals got wind of it and escaped. If he didn’t watch his back he’d be pushing up weeds in somebody’s back yard soon. Mortimerelli wasn’t famous for her gardening for nothing… come to think of it, she wasn’t famous for her gardening at all.

His mind wandered on and on. What about the four kids? What had really happened to them? They’d gone out to play on the railway line as usual one night and never come back. In his more paranoid moments he wondered if someone was out to get him: the brake going on his car, the tv blowing up as he switched it on, the cobra in his bed, that weird assassin guy who’d been waiting for him in the bathroom with a knife… were they really just freak accidents or was there a pattern he wasn’t seeing?

But at that point his friend and comrade broke into his revelrie. She was standing at the door, with her false moustache already in place. “We gotta go, dream boy. Mortimerelli’s waiting for us back at the Centre. Don’t need no more problems than we’ve got already.”

J.K. picked up his deerstalker hat and followed her out, trying desperately to remember what Elvis had been telling him about before he’d fallen asleep.

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Inspector McHugh

Three excerpts from my spoof crime novel about an artistic serial killer with a grudge against old Music Hall entertainers. I never finished it but it kept me sane-ish for a while.

Excerpt 1:

The body sat propped up on a chair. Its arms had been arranged around an old banjo-ukelele. The dead man’s mouth was open and behind his rictus grin McHugh could see that the teeth had been struck from the inside, so that they protruded outwards. “Odd,” he said quietly.

“Of course it’s bl**dy odd!”

Ah, the pathologist has arrived thought McHugh to himself. Red-haired and rather red-faced, she had obviously not appreciated being called half way through her gym workout. Dr Wiggins was a fierce, argumentative woman. Some of her police colleagues muttered that the reason she’d gone into pathology was because the dead were the only ones who didn’t annoy her.

“Can’t you see, isn’t it bl**dy obvious”, she stopped and looked at them all in disbelief, “He’s been arranged to look like George bl**dy Formby!”

Except 2:

Just as McHugh was wondering if Wiggins would ever finish ranting the surly expression vanished abruptly from her face. God, not the Super, he groaned inwardly. Separately they were “challenging” – to use a term much beloved by the Superintendent. Together they were McHugh’s personal nightmare. Golfing partners, members of the same Rotary Club and, so it was rumoured, of another rather more interesting club too, they were like two peas in the pod.

“Good morning, Stella.” No-one but Hunter ever addressed the Professor by her forename, at least not at work.

“David, lovely to see you,” she smiled back. “I was just explaining my ideas about this case to your colleague, DI McHugh.”

“We’re always pleased to hear your ideas, Stella. Isn’t that right, DI McHugh?”

McHugh smiled politely. It was as much as he could manage in the circumstances. It seemed to satisfy Superintendent Hunter, if not Professor Wiggins herself. She gave McHugh a look which said that she knew full well he was not at all pleased to hear her ideas. McHugh met her gaze blankly. He waited for the conversation to turn as it always did to golf and then made his excuses.

He had a murderer to catch and he needed to do it soon.

It wouldn’t be long before Evans stuck again.

Excerpt 3:

“Good morning, DI McHugh!” Professor Wiggins’ voice sang out across the morgue. She advanced towards him, sporting a dazzling smile.

And I do mean ‘dazzling’ thought McHugh to himself as one of her assistants tripped over a gurney, apparently ‘blinded by the light’. “A good morning to you too, Professor,” he answered. “Am I right in thinking you’ve been to see the dentist recently?”

“I can see why you ended up a detective.” She never passed up an opportunity to be sarcastic. “They’re rather good, aren’t they, the crowns I mean. Top of the range.” Would they be anything else? “I did consider the stainless steel option – more hygienic for the work I do – but I thought the result might be a little off-putting. For colleagues”, she added as though there was a chance he might think she meant her ‘clientele’.

At that moment Hunter arrived. “Good Lord, Stella!” he exclaimed. “As if you weren’t beautiful enough already.” He was so enraptured it took him a while to notice McHugh was standing next to her. The atmosphere immediately became awkward, which wasn’t surprising given the events of the evening before. It was McHugh who eventually broke the silence.

“How is the wife, sir? She seemed a bit unwell at the Chief Constable’s party.”

Hunter flushed slightly.

“Dolores has always been rather delicate. I’m afraid she was rather under the weather.”

Which is why she ended up under the table. McHugh smiled. “Still, she has a grand voice, sir. I think the Chief Constable himself remarked upon it.”

The flush deepened.

Professor Wiggins had begun to grow restless next to them. Her smile and with it her new crowns had disappeared as soon as the Superintendent’s wife was mentioned. “Shall we get down to some work,” she said petulantly. “I really don’t have all day you know.”

Dedicated to my dear friends D, M and “Evans” who inspired three of the characters. Although let me assure you: D’s real life wife is no lush and there is nothing wrong with M’s teeth.

And, as far as I know, “Evans” isn’t a serial killer.

Aethelred the Misled & Misleading

On this day in 1002 the English king Aethelred the Unready decreed that all Danish colonists in England should be put to death. I have this on the authority of Wikipedia.

The information has come as rather a shock to me, I have to admit. Like many people (those who’ve actually heard of him) I’ve always imagined King Aethelred as a sweetly ineffectual figure, the Prince Charles of his day. How could he be otherwise with an epithet like “the Unready”?

Alas, it turns out that “Unready” is a mistranslation of the Anglo-Saxon “Unræd”, which actually means something like “no counsel”. It refers to the notoriously poor quality of the advice (“ræd”) that Aethelred received from his Council, known as the Witan. This advice, it seems, was the root of his political problems, rather than any “unreadiness”; indeed he seems to have been all too ready to act if the decree mentioned above is any guide. The King’s name translates as “noble counsel” (“æþel”= noble) so the epithet was a pun: “noble counsel, no counsel”. Get it? Ah, those Anglo-Saxon jokes, they do it for me every time.

Why on earth was Aethelred trying to “ethnically cleanse” his realm of Danes of all people though? After all, nowadays we think of Scandinavia* as a beacon of progressive ideals, cheap furniture and (excellent) crime fiction; the least likely military aggressors in Europe? Yet then it seems it was a different story. The last two and a half centuries of Anglo-Saxon England were a constant (and bloody) struggle against Danish Viking encroachment.

Again, for many years, in my mind, the Vikings were Norwegian. Why? Well, they were also known as “Norsemen”, weren’t they? “Norse” and “Norwegian”: that the former was just an alternative (archaic) term for the latter seemed obvious. Another example of the way words mislead us.

* I have to admit, I have no associations specific to modern day Danes except maybe a vague image of farmers (bacon? blue cheese?). Apologies in advance to any Danish person who reads this!