The Case of the Headless Corpses, Part 1

Three dead bodies, a locked room and a piece of mouse fluff – all in a day’s work for Dirtection Inc.

In the dealing room of an international bank it is not be unusual to see three men sitting at computer terminals in the early hours of the morning. There was, however, one unusual feature about the three men in the photograph which Sir Eldritch Grubbit, senior partner of Grubbit, Grubbit and Pring, had just handed to me: their heads were missing.

The three headless corpses were discovered at seven minutes past three on Saturday morning by one Albert Smeep. Mr Smeep is the chief night security officer of the aforementioned Grubbit, Grubbit and Pring and this was the second time in five minutes that he had attempted to enter the room occupied by the Far East Corporate Finance Desk. On his first visit, his electronic keycard had failed to let him in since, to his surprise, someone had double-locked the door using a brass security key. Mr Smeep had therefore been obliged to return to his office to retrieve the only other copy of the key from his wall-safe.

Mr Smeep is a man blessed with exceptionally acute powers of observation and when he finally gained entrance it took him only a few seconds to conclude that there was something distinctly fishy about three headless corpses working the late shift. A former army sergeant-major, Mr Smeep reacted to this gruesome sight with admirable calm-ness and self-possession as, screaming only slightly, he ran down the corridor, clutching his top hat in both hands while the tails of his pink riding coat (for Grubbit, Grubbit and Pring is strictly traditional in matters of uniform) flew out behind him. In the Security Officer’s office he found Mr Fred ‘The Hammer’ Harris, a one-time professional wrestler and now the deputy night security officer. Smeep and Harris ran back to Far East Corporate Finance pausing only to collect Mr Samuel P. Lemworthy, the Compliance Officer, from his sumptuously appointed office at the far end of the corridor where he was, at that moment, engrossed in the tricky problem of reconstructing a picture of ‘Twelve Adorable Kittens’ from a jigsaw puzzle comprising 1,255 individual pieces.

Thus it was that Mr Albert Smeep, Mr Fred ‘The Hammer’ Harris and Mr Samuel P. Lemworthy were the first three people to see the grisly remains of their former colleagues: Matt Sneddon, Carl Gruttock and Launcelot Wattle-ford-Smythe, sitting in front of their computer monitors as they so often did, apart from the fact that on previous occasions they had not stopped quite so abruptly at the neck.

“There are,” said Sir Eldritch, as I handed the photographs back to him, “Three curious facts in this affair. Most curious of all, perhaps, is the fact that the security camera system of the entire floor on which the Far Eastern Corporate Finance Desk is located failed about fifteen minutes before Albert Smeep discovered the bodies. Indeed, it was that failure which he had gone to investigate. The second curious fact is that the door to the room had been locked from the inside using a solid brass security key. We have mechanical locks fitted on a small number of rooms as an added security feature but they are seldom used and certainly not at three o’clock in the morning.”

“And who exactly had that key?” I asked.

“It belonged to Launcelot Wattleford-Smythe our head – ahem, or perhaps, given the circumstances, I should say our ‘chief’ of Corporate Finance. The key was in the pocket of his jacket when his body was found.”

“And the third curious fact?” I asked.

Sir Eldritch shifted noisily in his leather chair, “Why, man, the heads! Where are their blasted heads?”

It was, a confessed, a fair question but one to which nobody had a satisfactory answer. Scotland Yard had already been all over the office, examining emails, taking pictures of blood spatter patterns, looking for fingerprints and inter-viewing just about everyone who had been in the building that night: principally Mr Smeep, Mr Harris, Mr Lemwor-thy, half a dozen over-pungent computer programmers and a small army of cleaners. But of the heads they had found not a trace.

When Sir Eldritch took to me the scene of the crime it appeared significantly different from the room in the photograph. Gone was the blood, gone were the corpses. To my great sorrow, even their computers had been whisked away by the chaps from the Yard. By a wonderful oversight, however, a computer mouse remained. Sir Eldritch was unable to say to whose computer this mouse had hitherto been attached but that was a minor irritation. The important thing was that it contained some fluff. In addition to the usual hairs and dust adhering to its underside there was a tiny piece of off-white, gritty, fibrous material stuck between its two buttons. This was what I was after. I felt hopeful that if anything could solve this baffling case, it was this piece of fluff. Moreover, it would be an excellent test of Janet’s deductive powers.

Ah, but I have not yet introduced Janet into my narrative. Let me correct that omission. In brief, Janet is the newest recruit to Dirtection Inc. and she is a woman of unusual talents. I had been looking for a puzzle to test her peculiar area of expertise and now I had found it: there it was, clenched firmly between the tips of my tweezers – a piece of mouse fluff which, I hoped, might hold the secret to three of the most mysterious and grisly murders which I had encountered in my entire career in the fluff business!

Next: A murder suspect is found but the mouse fluff tells a different story!

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