The Case of the Headless Corpses, Part 2

In which a crime is solved – and then unsolved again thanks to a piece of mouse fluff.

The discovery of three headless corpses in the dealing room (locked from the inside) of an inter-national merchant bank is the kind of thing that is guaranteed to put a skip in the step and a smile on the face of even the most dour of keyboard fluff-cleaning operatives. So you may im-agine my disappointment when Sir Eldritch Grubbit, senior partner of Grubbit, Grubbit and Pring, telephoned me the following day and bellowed in a voice capable of removing leg-hairs at a hundred paces: “They’ve found the killer. Chaps from Scotland Yard turned up this morning and arrested the blighter. Open and shut case, apparently.”

“Oh yes?” I said, “So who was it?”

“Albert Smeep! The Security Officer! Quite funny in a grisly sort of way, I suppose.”

“But Sir Eldritch,” I spluttered, “Are you quite sure?”

“Oh certainly. Think about it, man. Smeep is an ex-soldier, trained in the arts of mortal combat, he had access to the electronic security system which went on the blink moments before the dastardly deed was done, he also had the security key to the room in which the bodies were found. It all fits!”

“But the room was locked from the inside,” I protested.

“Ha! That was the cleverest part! Whose word have we that it was locked? Smeep’s! He was the chap who found the headless corpses! But in reality he concocted the entire story. He dis-abled the security cameras, entered the room using his key, decapitated the blighters and left, falsely claiming that the room had been locked when he’d arrived. Damned cunning, what!”

“But the heads!” I said, “If Smeep was the murderer what did he do with the heads?”

“A minor detail,” Sir Eldritch mumbled, “With Scotland Yard on the case, they’ll soon find them, you mark my words.”

“Not to mention the motive,” I protested, “Why would Smeep want to do away with three deriva-tives traders?” – but my question went unheard; Sir Eldritch had already put the phone down.

“Bad news?” a sultry female voice asked.

I jumped. In the offices of Dirtection Inc., sultry female voices are an entirely new and discon-certing phenomenon. The distinctly unsultry, not to say raspingly male voice of my colleague Jenkin is what I normally expect. However, during my recent protracted absence (working on the bizarre case of the hallucinogenic horseflies, of which I have previously written) Jenkin took it upon himself to recruit a new member of staff. This was not entirely a surprise to me. I have been saying for ages that we need a secretary. So when I set eyes upon Janet, a statuesque brunette with all the appropriate upholstery – I felt she would do nicely. Alas, I was mistaken. Janet, it turns out, is not of a secretarial bent. Answering phones and bringing the boss refreshing cups of tea are not her forte. On the contrary, she is what is know in the trade as a freelance physicist.

“What on earth,” I asked Jenkin, “Is Dirtection Inc. going to do with a physicist?”

“I’m sure we’ll think of something,” was his unsatisfactory answer.

The first something that I could think of was the case of the headless corpses. Unlike Sir Eldritch, I was far from convinced of Albert Smeep’s guilt. There remained one important piece of evidence that had yet to be considered – the piece of mouse fluff!

I was, at that precise moment, preoccupied with the tricky task of removing a squashed hamster from the cooling unit of a top secret Military Of Defence supercomputer (more of which I cannot say for reasons of National Security). My colleague, Jenkin, was sorting out the company’s tax returns (a process which involves rummaging around for scraps of crumpled paper in drawers and wastepaper bins while shouting obscenities of a most inventive and anatomically improbably nature). Which just left Janet.

I handed her the fluff wedged still, as originally discovered, between the two buttons of a computer mouse, and asked her to see what she could deduce from it. Frankly, I had little hope she would find anything of interest. For whereas I have devoted a lifetime to the study of filth in all its forms, Janet has spent her life thinking deep thoughts and writing equations. When I suggested a few choice reagents, molecular isotope separators and the possibility of spectral analysis she merely harrumphed in that sultry feminine way of hers, tweaked the fluff out of the mouse with a pair of tweezers, smelled it, licked it and said “Takifugu!”.

I need hardly tell you that the blood drained from my face and was now sloshing about somewhere in the region of my toes. Not only was her pronouncement gibberish but, what is worse, she had committed the gravest crime a forensic fluff pathologist can commit. She had licked the evidence!

“My dear young woman,” I wanted to say, “You are speaking in riddles. Pray clarify.” But such was my astonishment that the best I could manage was “Eeeek!”

“They have the wrong man,” said Janet, calmly handing back the newly licked fluff, “Mr Smeep is not the killer!”

“No?” I mumbled, still trembling from shock, “So who is?”

“I cannot tell you his name,” she said, “Merely that he appears to be a gourmet of Asian cuisine, wears a blond wig, has visited the Far East Corporate Finance Desk more than once, enjoys jigsaw puzzles, reads detective stories and is a master of the Japanese martial art of Tame-shi-giri.”

Not that I have anything against freelance physicists in general, you understand, but I must confess that that Janet was starting to get on my nerves... !

Next: A blonde wig, a fish and more than one red herring.

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