“Who are those police-officers, dear?” Angela Mons-de-Lancefoy’s voice was as clear as the peal of church bells on a sunny Sunday morning, so the entire café stopped eating, drinking and gossiping for a moment and stared in the direction she was pointing. Leslie daFox’s police-guard looked embarrassed, and the fatter of the two tried to conceal his plate of cream-stuffed pastries behind his cup of coffee.
“They’re mine, kind of,” said Leslie. Angela was an old friend and fellow writer, specialising in sub-genres of crime fiction. “They think I murdered two of my students and have been following me around every since. Occasionally they try and pin other murders on me too; a few weeks ago I was in the supermarket and someone a couple of aisles away was murdered. Despite that they were with me the whole time they accused me of doing it!”
“They don’t sound very competent,” said Angela. She sliced into her cake and prodded it with her fork. “Dry and crumbly,” she said. “Which, curiously, isn’t a bad way of describing my latest sub-genre.” She picked up the piece of cake and dunked it in her latte. “Italian-style,” she said, seeing the look on Leslie’s face. “Just the bits of Italy that you never went to.”
Leslie shrugged; he’d spent some time in the eighties visiting bits and pieces of Italy, Spain and Portugal and had rather liked the mediterranean climate. “You were always more bohemian than me,” he said. “Weren’t you shacked up in the commune for six months with whatshisface?”
“Oh yes!” Angela sounded delighted. “He was fun. I turned him into a serial killer in one of my books later on. I don’t think he ever learned to read though, so I doubt he knows.”
“What was that you were saying about dry and crumbly though? How can that be a sub-genre of anything?”
“Oh, it was my agent’s idea. Did you know she’s also the agent for Janet O’Steen, by the way? Anyway, she said that there’s a generation of baby-boomers now who have never looked after themselves and are heading into old age being pretty much decrepit and dependent on their families and the state for handouts. There’s far too many of them, so the handouts are rather small, so they end up being kind of old and crumbly. So I’m writing novels where the detective is one of these people. He’s not that brilliant to begin with, and he’s only on the force still because he can’t afford to retire and the pension isn’t large enough, so he has to keep working. But his very age and overall miserability makes people underestimate him, and he can talk to his own generation in a very sympathetic way, and because they’re all kind of lonely and mean anyway, they’re nosey and eager to talk about what they’ve spied. So he starts being able to solve these difficult cases where the evidence is all there, but it’s really hard to gather. And then the police force start to appreciate him more, so they get special dispensation to extend his working life, and now he can’t retire until he’s 80 anyway, and he starts getting bitter about that. But he’s too ineffectual to do much about it, and he has to make do with pithy asides and cutting sarcasm.”
“People buy books about that?” Leslie looked slightly appalled. “Where’s the feel-good element to it?”
“Oh Leslie,” sighed Angela dunking more cake in her latte. “You always want to make to people laugh! Sometimes they just want to wallow in their own misery and leaven it with self-pity.”
“Maybe I should write about my time under police scrutiny,” said Leslie. “It might appeal to the paranoid masses.”
“You think you’re joking,” said Angela, “but just look at the revelations about the monitoring of communications. People are starting to wonder how much of it is going on and what’s truly private. If you’ve got a story about always being under the watchful eye of the system, then you should tell it!”
“I think the panopticon has already been done,” said Leslie. His eyes twinkled. “But you’re right you know, it’s been too long since I last did something for me. I think the last thing I did was contribute two hundred jokes to one of those topical tv news shows.”
“Top Yourself This Week?”
“Something like that, yes. They used about seventy; they said something about the others having too many long words in them.”
“Hah yes! Lowest common denominator, Leslie. Never forget!”
“Doesn’t anyone get to write high-quality, intellectual books these days?”
“Janet does. And people who don’t want to make a living from writing.”
They fell silent for a moment, drinking their coffees. Then, three tables away, a woman fell forward and landed face-first in a plate of slightly-sloppy Black Forest Gateau. For a moment no-one said anything, and then her companion screamed while almost everyone else in the café produced a mobile phone and started snatching pictures to Instagram and post on Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites.
“Did you do that?” asked Leslie and Angela simultaneously, and burst into mischievous laughter. No-one around them noticed, being pre-occupied with the sudden death. A knife was now clearly visible between the fallen woman’s shoulder-blades. Finally Leslie waved at the police-officers.
“Yes Sir?” asked the thinner of the two.
“Aren’t you going to do anything?” said Angela. “There’s a dead woman there who’s clearly been murdered.”
The policemen exchanged looks. “Did you happen to see Mr. daFox do it?” asked the fatter.