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Mystery

Mr Herbert Billingsley, the curator of the griffinology department at the Central Museum, was murdered in his office at seventeen minutes past two by creature or creatures unknown. Detectives Blitz and Blunt, who were only slightly less dumb than they looked, had no trouble establishing this once they arrived on the scene.

They were met by a crowd of excited curators, historians and archaeologists, who filled the corridor outside the office.

“We heard shouting,” someone said when the detectives approached.

“And crashes!”

“And then a scream, a thud and silence!”

Detective Blitz took out a notebook and licked his pencil. “And what time was this, sir?”

“Seventeen minutes past two.”

This was how the detectives established fact number one.

Detective Blunt tried the door but found that it was locked. He knocked, got no reply and then broke the door down with a well-aimed kick of his hobnailed boots. The frame splintered and he stumbled inside. Detective Blitz followed, notebook in hand, while the crowd gathered in the doorway. There was a collective gasp of horror.

Mr Billingsley was lying on the floor in a pool of blood. His head had been bashed in, but his hands were empty, so it couldn’t be suicide, and he was lying too far from the sharp corner of the desk for this to have been a tragic accident. The detectives conferred briefly and decided that it was murder. Fact number two.

Fact number three was also conveniently easy to establish. Detective Blunt’s brilliant reasoning was as follows:

1. Billingsley had been murdered so there must be a murderer.

2. They did not know who or what the murderer was.

3. Ipso facto, Billingsley had been murdered by creature or creatures unknown.

This was excellent progress, but in and of itself not enough to close the case. Detectives Blitz and Blunt knew from experience that the Inspector was not going to approve their report if the conclusion still contained the word “unknown”. They therefore spent a few minutes peering into cupboards and under the desk to see if they could establish any facts about the murderer. There were no convenient footprints or monogrammed cufflinks that could lead them to the killer. The door and window had both been locked from the inside. More importantly, there had been people outside since the shouting started, and they hadn’t seen anyone leave. And as far as the detectives could tell, the murderer was not in the room. There was no one under the desk, behind the door, inside the cupboard or behind the ugly statue in the corner. That meant the murderer was either invisible, very small, able to walk through walls or fiendishly clever. They briefly debated the merits of an alternative hypothesis in which no trace of a murderer meant there had been no murder, in which case Billingsley was still alive. But he looked so dead that they decided not to put it in the report. The Inspector would just shout at them if they did.

Faced with a distinct lack of useful clues to make clever deductions from, the detectives marched out of the office and scanned the faces of the crowd outside for whoever looked most like their idea of a murderer. They settled on Vicky Travers, a student and part-time researcher. It came as no surprise to her. Being a gnome made her an easy target for this sort of thing. Trolls and sphinxes never had this problem. Vicky was short even for a gnome and probably at least a little bit fiendish, which was good enough for the detectives. She was promptly arrested and dragged down to the station, where she spent the next six hours in a room lit by a single dingy lightbulb, trying to explain to the detectives that she had at least two dozen witnesses who had seen her outside Billingsley’s office while he was being murdered inside. Meanwhile, the detectives attempted a good cop, bad cop routine which was severely hampered by their sheer incompetence.

“I didn’t do it,” Vicky said for the seventy-fourth time.

“We think you’re lying,” Detective Blunt said.

“Yeah,” said Detective Blitz. “We do. ‘Cause we didn’t find any murderer inside the room, so stands to reason it was you.”

Vicky resisted the urge to slam her face against the desk.

“I’m innocent,” she said.

“You’re a gnome!”

“That is not a crime.”

Detective Blunt looked like he wanted it to be. Detective Blitz looked like he thought it was.

“Murder is a crime,” said Detective Blunt eventually.

“You have absolutely no evidence that I did it,” Vicky said.

“We do.”

“Oh really? Where is it?”

“We’re asking the questions here!” Detective Blunt growled.

“Yeah, shut up, gnome,” Detective Blitz said.

So Vicky shut up, and they tossed her into a cell. Her cellmate was a goblin named Alfie. He wore a fancy white suit and his black hair had been brylcreemed within an inch of its life.

“What are you here for?” Vicky asked when the door clanged shut behind her.

“Identity theft.” Alfie struck a pose and did something weird with his hips. “What about you?”

“Stupidity.”

“Is that a crime?”

“Not my stupidity. Theirs.”

“Ah.”

“Yeah.”

Vicky sat down on the bare floor and hugged her knees while Alfie prattled on about his most recent concert, the tension between griffins and manticores, the gargoyles smuggling historical artifacts, the sphinx who’d been arrested for money laundering, …

Something clicked in Vicky’s brain. “What did you just say?”

“Oh, it was an easy mistake to make,” Alfie said. “He misunderstood the phrase, you see, and when the laundromat was raided they found all the money inside the washing machines, on the permanent press cycle.”

“No, before that. Something about gargoyles.”

“The gargoyle smuggling ring? It’s a very lucrative business, that’s what I heard. They’re mostly into griffin artifacts. They fetch huge prices on the black market but it’s hard to get them into the country. Customs regulations, you see.”

“The curator of the griffinology department might manage it,” Vicky said.

“I suppose.”

“Are they violent, these gargoyles?”

Alfie shrugged. “I wouldn’t want to double-cross them. Why?”

“I think Billingsley might have done just that. And there was a gargoyle in his office, but we ignored it because it stood so still!”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Alfie said.

Vicky sprang up and banged her fist on the cell door. “Hey! Let me out! I need to speak to someone!”

The little hatch on the door opened and the guard peered through. “Yeah?”

“Yeah! To those detectives, Blunt and Blitz!”

“What do you want to speak to them for? Is this some kind of ploy to make us think you’re mad? It won’t help, you know. We can still arrest you if you’re mad.”

“I really need to speak with them. I know who killed Billingsley!”

The guard glanced down at his clipboard. “Says here you did.”

“I didn’t! A gargoyle did. It’s related to the smuggling ring. Tell the detectives, they could solve two crimes in one go!”

Eventually, the guard was persuaded to go off in search of the detectives. Vicky sat down again, biting her fingernails while she waited. Alfie hummed a few surprisingly catchy tunes which helped pass the time. Echoing footsteps announced the arrival of detectives Blunt and Blitz. It took longer to persuade them than the guard, but after several hours of pleading and explaining Vicky finally convinced them that the ugly statue in Billingsley’s office was in fact a gargoyle standing still.

“But why did the gargoyle kill Billingsley?” Detective Blunt asked.

“Yeah,” said Detective Blitz. “It makes no sense if he was the one smuggling historical, er, are-the-facts into the country for them.”

“Artifacts,” Vicky said automatically. “Maybe he didn’t want to work for them anymore. Or maybe he threatened to turn them over to the police.”

The frown on Detective Blunt’s face disappeared slowly as his brain considered this. “I suppose. So the statue is the murderer?”

Vicky nodded.

“And we just have to arrest the statue?” Detective Blitz said. “And then the Inspector will approve our report?”

Vicky nodded again.

“Okay. Let’s go,” Detective Blunt said. And they did, dragging Vicky along.

Of course, when they arrived at Billingsley’s office, they found it completely devoid of gargoyles.

Detective Blunt groaned. “Now what do we do?”

“Track him down,” Vicky said. “And then arrest him. Well, if that’s all, I’ll just be on my way …”

Two pairs of hands grabbed her by the shoulders.

“Not so fast,” Detective Blitz said. “You’re not going anywhere until we’ve found him.”

“Why?”

“Because if we can’t find him, then we’ll just arrest you again. We have to arrest someone for the Inspector to approve our report.”

“But I didn’t do it! You saw the gargoyle yourself earlier. He was the only one inside the room with Billingsley at the time of the murder.”

“Maybe he was an innocent bystander,” Detective Blunt said, with a frown on his face that suggested he only just now remembered the phrase from a police handbook.

“Then why did he scarper? Innocent people don’t run.”

“That’s a good one,” Detective Blitz said. He wrote it down in his notebook. “So are you going to help us catch him, or shall we just arrest you again? We’ll say you ran.”

“Fine.” Vicky stifled a groan. “You two got a better look at him than I did. What did he look like?”

“Ugly,” Detective Blunt said.

“Really ugly,” Detective Blitz added.

“That’ll help track him down,” Vicky muttered under her breath.

The detectives looked pleased with themselves. She ignored them and crouched down to examine the place where the gargoyle had stood. There were scuff marks on the floor and tiny blood splatters on the skirting board. The gargoyle must have used one of his massive limbs to hit Billingsley. Between two floorboards, Vicky found a tiny fragment of stone.

“Is that a clue?” Detective Blunt said, as she got to her feet with the fragment in the palm of her hand. “It is, isn’t it?”

“Yep,” she said. She went over to the window and watched as the light reflected of the tiny crystals embedded in the stone. Then she touched the tip of her tongue to it. “It’s granite. With crystals of hornblende, mica and quartz. A very distinct flavour. Unique, even.”

She turned to the two detectives. “Gentlemen, our murderer is a gargoyle from the Royal Library.”

Her statement was not met with the joy she expected.

“That’s on the other side of the city,” Detective Blunt said.

“Yeah, and there’s like a billion gargoyles at that place,” Detective Blitz said.

“Wait!” Vicky held up the little stone fragment. “I can get more information! There’s very little soot and a distinct aftertaste of acid rain. That means he’s high up on the roof. And there’s less weathering than expected. He’s probably been restored recently. That means he’s on the northern wing. That narrows it down, doesn’t it?”

“A bit, yeah,” Detective Blunt admitted. “If we round them all up, will you be able to tell which one it was?”

“Yes.”

“All right, then.”

Detective Blitz was already sending a message down to the station. An hour later, all twenty-seven gargoyles from the roof of the northern wing of the Royal Library had been taken down to the station. Each of them was given a number, and then Vicky was shown into the room and ordered to identify the culprit. The gargoyles towered over her. They stood grey and motionless, but she knew they could leap into action at any moment and crush her like an egg. She worked as quickly as she could.

“Well?” Detective Blunt said, once she had licked all twenty-seven gargoyles on the shin, that being the highest part she could reach.

“Which one is it?” Detective Blitz said.

“Tell us!” said the Inspector, who had come down from his lofty office to watch the identity parade. It was the most exciting thing that had happened all week.

“I know who the culprit is,” Vicky said. “But I want something from you first.”

“And what’s that?” the Inspector said.

“A job.”

“Fair enough.” He turned to an underling and a moment later Vicky was handed a whistle, a badge and a helmet that was several sizes too large.

“It’s number twelve,” she said.

And so Detective Vicky Travers, first gnome to join the police, solved the murder of Mr Billingsley and rolled up a gargoyle smuggling ring within a minute of starting her job.

January 17, 2020 13:33

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