Mildly amusing, nearly wet yourself or a bit boring? Let me know.
Late August evening, Christmas Day, Boxing Day morning
A beautiful early evening in late August, the sort of evening that middle-aged people think that every evening in late August was like when they were young, only usually of course they weren’t. Mind you, those same people looking at photos of themselves taken during those misremembered beautiful evenings in late August always seem to remark that somehow or other they miraculously look slimmer, chicer and altogether more attractive than they felt themselves to be when the photos were taken. This only goes to prove that either most middle-aged people need to visit an optician as a matter of some urgency or they missed an awful lot of opportunities when they were younger.
Situated in a picturesque small river valley surrounded by gently rolling heavily-wooded hills and built in the 1950’s complete with thatched roof, authentic oak-type beams and a tourist-tempting history that was total bollocks but nethertheless highly imaginative and vaguely entertaining, the old Cornishire smugglers pub ‘The Cocked Pistol’ boasted a family-friendly garden. A slightly rotund, pixie-like figure five and a half feet tall, un- athletically built with a bald pate and a one inch wide band of curly hair running around his head starting from his ears and meeting at the back, was sitting on a quaint but uncomfortable and guano-encrusted wooden bench. Taking a reflective sip of his pint of the acclaimed local bitter, Fetid Old Socks, Detective Chief Inspector Leon Karno, inevitably ‘Fred’ to his schoolmates and contempories, was looking at just such a photo, taken on just such an evening. ‘Guv’ to those detectives who worked under his somewhat quixotic direction in the Cornishire CID and ‘bastard’ to a fairly impressive number of local and not so local villains in Cornishire, he saw that the photo revealed a much younger but still recognisable version of himself and a friend, William Hiscock, whose cremation he had just attended. He and ‘Wild Bill’ had been quite the local lotharios, able to out drink all of their contempories and still stand up after six (usually claimed to be sixteen) pints of the local cider known as scrumpy. They had the best chat-up lines most of which Karno fondly remembered as starting with a cheerful ‘ello my luvver’. He also remembered that usually the hoped-for romantic encounters ended with the friendly riposte of ‘my friend says why don’t you fuck off and stop bothering her!’ Encouraged by this early success with the opposite sex which he put down to his manly physique and air of latent authority, Karno had got a haircut and graduated from the police training college at Hendon, eventually to become a Detective Constable in the CID. Wild Bill graduated from the local scrumpy and eventually became a fully-fledged alkie and professional ‘gentleman of the road’. They had kept in irregular touch, meeting whenever Karno’s beat took him past whatever hedge Wild Bill was currently residing in. Middle age found the two old pals respectively a DCI and a DOA, Wild Bill having been found genteely decomposing under a chic hedge in a more upmarket part of Cornishire, clutching a half-empty bottle of non-vintage Chateau Methalaite, the preferred tipple of his later years. Karno’s professional suspicions had been mildly raised by this because he thought it unlikely that the Wild Bill he knew would voluntarily leave a half-full bottle. Doc Carver, the duty police surgeon, had said that he didn’t have much choice in the matter due to a massive heart attack. Karno had to concede that that would in all probability prevent Wild Bill from finishing the bottle, and had been the sole attendee at his send off. A sudden, harsh roaring sound from above interrupted his reflections on the strange twists and turns that life could take, and he looked skywards. Drifting over the top of the tree line, a lurid blue hot air balloons’ propane burner had been switched on and the contraption rose rapidly and gracefully into the calm evening air. Karno was just thinking that Wild Bill’s last few seconds of bodily existence must have been accompanied by much the same sound and that it was all right for some, swanning around in balloons on a summers evening, when there was a bright flash, an explosion and a flaming fiery plunge towards the tree-clad sweet-scented hill on the other side of the river. Just before the impact there was a further explosion and the balloon, a now unrecognisable ball of fire, settled onto the sweet-scented, attractively colourful and picturesque hillside and set it alight in a colourful and picturesque way. Pausing only to think ‘fuck me’ and then ‘fuck it’ when he realised that there was no mobile phone signal Karno rushed into the pub to find that young Everard the barman was already calling the fire brigade. Unable to think of anything else that he might usefully do he ambled back out to the garden to find that some bugger had quaintly finished -off his beer.
Earlier that same evening Denzil Kliskey, owner and sole pilot of The Flaming Great Balloon Company, had welcomed his latest punters to the field known locally as Bigton International Airport, adjacent to his rambling manor house. Demelza (nee Mutton) and Julyan Lamb, self-proclaimed local dignitaries and scrap metal merchants, had decided to celebrate ten years of happy marriage in style and so for their thirtieth anniversary succumbed to Denzil’s marketing hype and booked an evenings flight and supper on the St Louis, the large blue balloon currently sitting half-inflated at Bigton International. Denzil’s original marketing ploy had been ‘look down on those you despise and drop chicken bones on them’ but the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA or ‘Campaign Against Aviation’ as it was sometimes referred to) had objected pointing out that it was illegal to drop chicken bones or indeed anything else from a balloon. Having generated a lot of local press comment, not to say several ‘Incensed and Outraged of Bigton’ letters to the Cornishshire Clarion, Denzil now marketed his balloon experience flights with the slogan ‘look down on those beneath you’ and honour was satisfied all-round. Mind you, he hadn’t hit upon this snappy advertising slogan immediately, no siree bob. His first alternative, ‘enjoy a scenic flight and piss on the buggers below’, had also attracted much comment, a reminder from the CAA that this could also be construed as dropping something from a balloon and an unamused letter from the County Council’s environmental health officer. Other options he considered but eventually rejected included “Why not pop round for a balloon flight?’ and somewhat prophetically ‘Wanna burn up in my balloon?’
Provisions on the supper flights consisted of cold roast chicken, potato salad, coleslaw, pâté de fois grás, a brace of baguettes, locally produced blue cheese, biscuits and the obligatory bottle of bubbly. Another advertising slogan that briefly saw the light of day was ‘pop your cork on an evening flight’ but after one particularly memorable occasion, due to a slight misunderstanding as to what the slogan actually referred to Denzil had changed it to save his further blushes. Be that as it may, not realising that this was their usual evening out attire, Denzil was pleased to see that the Lamb’s had apparently entered into the spirit of things, dressing in Edwardian clothing for the flight. He took pleasure in informing them that the odd chicken bone lobbed over the side of the basket would probably go unremarked by those below but was immensely satisfying nethertheless. Once all three were safely ensconced in the wicker basket, Scrotum the faithful old Kliskey family retainer manhandled the groaning picnic hamper up after them, it’s groans only being matched by his own groaning comments about his lumbago. Playfully smacking him around the head to ‘take your mind off your lumbago you malingering old sod’, Denzil told him to follow the flight in the support vehicle and instructed him to keep young Jethro off the scrumpy until after they’d deflated the balloon and put it onto the trailer. With that, he fired the propane burner and inflated the balloon, which obligingly rose to the height of its tethering ropes and bobbed uncertainly in the calm evening air. Judging his moment carefully, he shouted to Scrotum and Jethro to release the tethering ropes, dropped a bag of sand ballast on them which always amused the punters and the St Louis rose majestically into the evening sky to go wherever the wind blew it.
“I’ve got a special surprise for you” he told the entranced couple.
Six months later, Detective Chief Inspector Fred Karno was looking forward to his Christmas lunch with considerably pleasure. Having received a seasons greetings card from his ex-wife expressing the sentiment that she was bloody glad he wasn’t there (a condominium in Florida) and that the kids didn’t miss him much either, he’d decided to cheer himself up and push the boat out for Christmas lunch and the hell with the expense. Weighing-up the exotic and traditional options offered by the local food emporium and jealous of his departmental-wide reputation for culinary expertise, he’d gone the adventurous, non-traditional route and plumped for a curried Cornishire pasty (Madras) served with slightly al dente oven chips and marginally burnt baked beans. To finish he’d decided on a spectacular microwave pudding and proposed to wash it all down with a couple of bottles of vintage scrumpy. Having just finished resetting the house’s electric circuit breakers after spectacularly forgetting to remove the pudding from its foil container, he sat down and was about to open the first bottle of scrumpy when the phone rang.
“That you Karno?” The voice of Assistant Chief Constable (should have been Chief Constable but the force is still sexist and if I’d have been a man the perfectly-understandable shooting of the seven Japanese tourists who had been mistaken for a North Korean terrorist cell hell-bent on photographing to death the local flower show would have overlooked) Miniver Vanne demanded.
Karno carefully considered his options. He could simply deny it claiming a wrong number; he could admit to it on the admittedly unlikely off chance that his boss was ringing to wish him a ‘Happy Christmas’ and claim to be pissed if it turned out that she actually hadn’t rung for that reason or he could remain non-committal until he found out exactly what it was she wanted. He opted for the non-committal approach and decided to use the local patois (not to be confused with the local pâté).
“Err….” He began.
“Right; there’s been a terrorist attack in Letsbe Avenue, get down there before Special Branch grab all the glory.” So much for the non-committal approach then; he looked ruefully at his rapidly cooling gourmet lunch. Well OK, he looked ruefully at the two bottles of vintage scrumpy that were seductively sighing ‘drink me, drink me’ and regarded the pasty with a speculative air. There is an art to eating a pasty generously smothered in mango and lime chutney whilst driving at high speed and Karno had never yet mastered it but always speculated that one day he might. Who was to say, today might be that day?
“What’s the address?”
“Letsbe Avenue. I think you’ll find that it’ll probably be the house with the fire engine outside and the gnomes in the front garden tastefully decorated with various body-bits. You’d better get the rest of your circus on the job as well. I want a preliminary report by tonight.” The phone was forcefully put down, which coincidentally mirrored Karno’s thoughts on what the future ought to hold for Assistant Chief Constable Miniver Vanne.
Muttering irritably to himself, he gathered up the rapidly cooling pasty, wrapped it in a sheet of paper kitchen towel and headed for his front door. During the drive to Letsbe Avenue he proved conclusively to himself that today wasn’t to be the day that he mastered the pasty eating whilst driving at high -speed technique and he pulled up to a screeching, colourfully-stained-trouser halt outside number seventeen. Throwing open the car door he narrowly failed to catch it with his hand on its abrupt return but luckily managed to insert his right knee between the rapidly- returning dented door and the undented car body when it bounced off the unfortunately placed lamppost. He hobbled along the pavement to number twenty-one, where a group of firemen were admiring the interestingly decorated front garden.
“Hello Freddy Boy; dragged you out as well have they?”
“Yeah. Still never mind, I’ve recorded the Queen’s speech so I won’t miss anything important. What happened?”
Divisional Officer Cotton Levi removed his helmet and scratched his close-cropped grey hair with a suspiciously stained fingernail.
“Err, don’t quote me on this but some sort of bomb, I reckon.”
“Err right. Couldn’t have been something they ate, I suppose?”
Levi turned to look at him, glanced at his interestingly stained trousers and speculated on the probability of Karno’s suggestion.
“Err could have been; tricky thing, eating. All sorts of unexpected things can happen when you least expect it, particularly if you’re a bit off with your aim like.”
“But you’d put your money on it being a bomb?”
“Err right; most likely. I might be wrong of course and I wouldn’t want to commit myself at this early stage in the investigation you understand. However, my first impression, taking all things into consideration, is it’s probably a bomb. The fact that the three people in the room were blown to bits and the fact that remains of the dining room wall have been found on the other side of the road, well I just thought it was more suggestive of a bomb than some sort of digestive malfunction.”
“Hmmm; well I can follow your reasoning; still, let’s not jump to conclusions eh? Soco here?”
“Inside, along with Special Branch.”
“Bloody hell, they were a bit quick off the mark weren’t they?”
“Yes and no.”
“Special Branch lives directly opposite and a gnome which had been hit by a bit of blasted masonry got launched through his dining-room window and landed in his soup. Made a right mess of his shirt, maybe you could buy it off of him, it would go lovely with your trousers.”
“Err yeah, well I’ll bear that in mind, thanks Cotton.”
With that, Karno wandered inside through the remains of the wall and sought out Special Branch.
“What the bloody hell do you think you’re doing? Go on, clear off out of it, bloody tourist!” The speaker was a tall man with short brown hair and a colourful shirt that would have invited approving comments at a Caribbean Carnival. Karno turned to face him and was recognised although he didn’t recall having seen the man before.
“Oh sorry, didn’t recognise you from the back. We haven’t met,” he held out his hand,” Trees, Jonathan Trees, Special Branch. Just been transferred down here, thought I’d escaped all this sort of thing.”
Karno took the proffered hand whilst eying up the man’s shirt. “Karno. Pity, wrong size it might have gone quite well.”
“Sorry, just thinking out loud. What have we got here?”
“Looks like a bomb.”
“A bomb? In Paignmouth? Bit of a turn up for the books that. The DO said there were three people in here?”
“Yup. Dad and two kids, Mum was in the kitchen.”
“Ah, that would account for it then.”
“Account for what?”
“The fact that everybody seems to know there were three people in here. You officially investigating?”
“If it is a bomb then I think that falls into SB’s province, don’t you?”
“If it’s a bomb then maybe. On the other hand why don’t we pretend for just a minute that it doesn’t and you tell me, thinking of yourself as an eye witness like, what it was you saw.”
“More of an ear witnesses really Karno. Bloody great bang and then a gnome landed in my soup. I can give you a description if you like?”
“I was thinking more of the gnome, but since you asked carrot and potato.”
“Ah; no doubt tasty as well as very fetching, my compliments to the chef. Who were the deceased?”
“Now there you have me, only moved in two days ago.”
“Right, right. Still, surprised that Special Branch wouldn’t have checked out their new neighbours?”
“The local boys gave me the OK.”
“Of course. Bit causal though; I mean if the bomber had taken the same approach, well he might have blown up the wrong house. Didn’t upset anybody in your last place did you by any chance?”
Trees shook his head. “Barking up the wrong tree.” He said.
“Oh very good; yes I like that, barking up the wrong tree, very droll. Well, if you’re not here officially maybe you’d like to get back to your lunch and I’ll get on here. Don’t let me keep you.” Karno half turned away and caught the eye of a uniformed sergeant.
“Endean, isn’t it?”
“Err yes sir.”
“Well what have we here sergeant?”
“Err parts of the Kory family sir, Henry Icarus Kory, or at least what remains of him, son Damien and daughter Demelza. The missus, Maria, is next door lying down; she was in the kitchen when the explosion occurred. Lucky for her.”
“Convenient at any rate. Right well I’d better let Soco get on with their job and I’ll limp round next door and talk to the widow Kory. If anybody wants me, you know where I am. Which side?”
“Err, number twenty three; the one on the left as you stand on the pavement looking towards the houses.”
“Thank you sergeant; I expect the number on the door would have given me a clue but you’ve help preserve what’s left of my eyesight. Wouldn’t want to go and use it all up before I retire, now would I?” He limped off.
The following morning saw the rest of the circus, displaying various degrees of enthusiasm and alertness, assembled in Karno’s office.
“Right Boys and Girl, what we have here are three dead members of the Kory family. Henry Icarus Kory, a classic car restorer who won’t be celebrating his forty seventh birthday next week, daughter Demelza Imelda Kory aged seventeen and a bit and Damien Oscar Kory aged fourteen and three quarters. Over here, we have Maria Una Kory nee Trebartha. The more astute amongst you may have noticed that her picture is where we usually have pictures of any suspects and may possibly be asking yourselves why that is.”
Detective Constable Gordon Fetcher, newly arrived circus member who had immediately acquired the nickname of ‘Go’ and hadn’t yet worked out why, stirred himself.
“Err yeah, Guv. I was wondering why Ma Kory’s picture was where we usually……..”
“Thank you DC Fetcher. Glad to see that you’re on the ball. She’s a suspect because very conveniently she was in the kitchen getting a corkscrew when whatever it was that blew up the rest of her family went off.”
Detective Inspector Rosetta Stone, the highly computer literate but somewhat anally retentive geek of the circus raised an elegantly manicured finger.
“Convenient Guv? Lucky certainly but convenient?”
“Convenient. See whilst you lot were enjoying your lunch yesterday I spoke to Madame Kory and had a poke around the house. In the kitchen, I found four bottles of Chateau Le Boot in a cardboard case. Two bottles were missing from the case…”
“Six in a case Guv.”
“You astound me Fetcher; I step back in sheer amazement; how did you work that out?”
“Err well see……”
“It was a rhetorical question. What do you think happened to the other two bottles? That’s an actual question by the way.”
“Err; drunk I suppose.”
“Drunk or on the dining-room table ready to be drunk with the Christmas lunch. Yes well done Fetcher. Now I can’t say that Chateau Le Boot is a particular favourite of mine, a bit rubbery on the tongue and the bouquet is always a little overwhelming in my opinion, but the thing is that Madame Kory, according to her, went into the kitchen to get a corkscrew…..”
“Seems a natural sort of thing to do Guv.” Commented Detective Sergeant Henry (Preppie) Pyle.
“Yes indeed, it would be except for one thing. Chateau Le Boot, fine wine that it undoubtably is, comes in convenient, no corkscrew required screw top bottles. Now if this was a new wine to maison Kory then I wouldn’t have thought anything of it, but according to Madame Kory it was a family favourite; one they would always drink and not just on special occasions like a successful business deal, some sporting feat of the boy, listening to a favourite radio program or Christmas lunch.”
“So she would have known that it had a screw top.”
“Indeed she would.”
“Brilliant! Cracked it Guv. What’s the next case?”
“What’s next DC Gundry is we wait for forensics to tell us exactly what it was that went off. In the meantime, the widow Kory is a suspect and we need to find out what she had to gain by murdering her entire family. Rosie, I want you to see if you can turn up any recent insurance policies taken out, or even not so recent come to that. Old hat, bloody obvious I know but nethertheless that’s what I want you to do. Gundry, Fetcher; talk to the neighbours. Any whispers of La Kory, or Herr Kory come to that, playing away from home; any angry words between them, any crying on somebody’s shoulder for sympathy, you know the sort of thing but be discreet though. Pyle, you and I are going to take a gander at Herr Kory’s car restoration business. I can’t imagine why anybody would want to kill a car restorer, but just in case, we’d better take a look at it. Actually, bearing in mind my one foray into the world of restored cars I can imagine why somebody might want to kill a car restorer. Right; back here for tea and crumpets at four and let’s see if we or forensics have come up with anything interesting.”