Saturday, 3 December 2011


Leslie daFox was thinking about ziggurats as he climbed the steps of the Stalinist Camberwick Community Centre.  There was something about the sheer mass of the Community Centre that made him think of an ancient step pyramid whose top was reserved for human sacrifice.  He could, if he tried, imagine a woman with coffee-coloured skin wearing a feathered and beaded headdress holding a bronze dagger aloft, poised above the virgin's navel, ready to descend and elevate the pure young man below to the heavens, to join the gods and bless his former people.
"Bronze is a silly choice for the dagger," he said, mostly to himself.  "It would blunt in no time, probably while you're still trying to get through the rib-cage to reach the heart.  Flint now, that would do the trick.  Or possibly that black glass stuff, that might be available in the South Americas at that time."
"What's that sir?" said Policeman number one, who was huffing and puffing on Leslie's left side.
"He was saying that glass is better than bronze," said Policeman number two helpfully.  He was having no trouble with the steps at all and was actually taking them two at a time.  Both policemen were still dogging Leslie's every move while the death of two students in his class was investigated.  He'd even had to let them bring their sleeping bags into his conservatory so that they could guard him from inside the house, which was tantamount to admitting that they suspected him.  Though their pouncing on him last time he'd made a slightly off-colour remark was better evidence.
"Why... why is glass better than bronze?" gasped Policeman number one.  They reached the top of the steps and he leaned his hands on his knees, bending forward and going puce.
"You can use it to make windows," said Leslie.  "The trouble with bronze for windows is that it's too noisy; every time the wind blows it vibrates and either clatters or gongs, depending on how thin you made the sheets."
"Right," said Policeman number one, his chest heaving like a hyperactive blacksmith's bellows.  "That... that makes... sense!"
No, it doesn't thought Leslie, leading the way to the main doors.  Windows are made of glass because it's transparent, you nitwit.  Bronze would never work for windows.
"Good morning, sir!" said one of the security guards at the towering portals that allowed entrance into the Community Centre.  Leslie smiled, full of false bonhomie, and greeted the guard back.  They were the most frightening clever and well educated body of men he'd ever met, and he was worried that they might actually be cleverer than him.  He was also puzzled that they were exclusively male.
He led the way across the main hallway, initially heading for the lift.  Then, feeling mean, he paused and turned left at a small door and took the spiral staircase up the three floors to the lecture hall he was using.  Policeman number two took the front position, and Policeman number one gave up after about six steps and sat down.  At the top Policeman number two looked puzzled.
"Where's Joe?" he said.
"He sat down," said Leslie.  "He'll catch us up when he's caught his breath."
"There's got to be two of us guarding you at all times!  You're a menace to society!"
"Thanks.  For my script-writing?  My short-story collections?  Some of my novels?"
"For murdering two of your students in broad daylight, actually, sir.  We know you did it, we just have to find the evidence."
"When I wrote police procedurals," said Leslie carefully, "I was told that it was the other way around.  First you find the evidence, and then you hound the culprit.  Not pick a culprit and hound him until he provides you with some evidence."
"You've never watched Columbo, have you sir?" said the Policeman sounding sympathetic.
"Actually I have," said Leslie.  "And I turned down the opportunity to write for it too; I felt that any script with words longer than two syllables would be too far above the target demographic."
"Oh I see!  You had your targets picked out even back then, did you sir?"  The policeman produced a notebook from a pocket and started scribbling in it with a little black pencil.  Leslie sighed and tried to go the lecture hall.
"No, wait there, please sir."  Policeman number two extended a muscular arm and held Leslie in place.  "There have to be two of us guarding you at all times."
"I'll be late for the class," said Leslie.  "What if someone's been murdered by the time we get there?"
"That would be very clever of you, sir," said Policeman number two.  "Murdering someone when I'm here watching you the whole time."
"Yes, wouldn't it?" said Leslie.  He was starting to wish he'd never given up smoking, even though it was nine and a half years ago now.  There was a wheezing noise from below, suggesting that Policeman number one was finally making the ascent.  When he staggered the last couple of steps two minutes later Policeman number two finally let go of Leslie and he could lead them into the lecture hall.
In the middle of the floor, surrounding by aghast and appalled students, was a dead body and a lake of blood.

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