We knocked and entered. It was dark inside after the bright exterior, and we blinked for few moments as we accustomed ourselves to the gloom. On the wall to our right was a notice board liberally covered with wanted posterspertaining not only to Nebraska but also to the BookWorld in general; a yellowed example offered three hundred dollars for information leading to the whereabouts of Big Martin. Below this was a chipped enameled coffeepot sitting atop a cast-iron stove, and next to the wall to the left were a gun cabinet and a tabby cat sprawled upon a large bureau. The far wall was the barred frontage to the cells, one of which held a drunk fast asleep and snoring loudly on a bunk bed. In the middle of the room was a large desk that was stacked high with paperwork circulars from the Nebraska State Legislature, a few Council of Genres Narrative Law amendments, a Campanology Society newsletter and a Sears, Roebuck catalog open to the "fancy goods" section. Also on the desk were a pair of worn leather boots, and inside these were a pair of feet, attached in turn to the sheriff. His clothes were predominantly black and could have done with a good wash. A tin star was pinned to his vest, and all we could see of his face were the ends of a large gray mustache that poked out from beneath his downturned Stetson. He, too, was fast asleep, and balanced precariously on the rear two legs of a chair that creaked as he snored.
He awoke with a start, began to get up, overbalanced and tipped over backwards. He crashed heavily on the floor and knocked against the bureau, which just happened to have a jug of water resting upon it. The jug overbalanced as well, and its contents drenched the sheriff, who roared with shock. The noise up- set the cat, who awoke with a cry and leapt up the curtains, which collapsed with a crash on the cast-iron stove, spilling the coffee and setting fire to the tinder-dry linen drapes. I ran to put it out and knocked against the desk, dislodging the lawman's loaded revolver, which fell to the floor, discharging a single shot, which cut the cord of a stuffed moose's head, which fell upon Bradshaw. So there were the three of us: me trying to put out the fire, the sheriff covered in water and Bradshaw walking into furniture as he tried to get the moose's head off him. It was precisely what we were looking for: an outbreak of unconstrained and wholly inappropriate slapstick.
"Sheriff, I'm so sorry about this," I muttered apologetically, having doused the fire, demoosed Bradshaw and helped a very damp lawman to his feet. He was over six foot tall, and had a weather-beaten face and deep blue eyes. I produced my badge. "Thursday Next, head of Jurisfiction. This is my partner, Commander Bradshaw." The sheriff relaxed and even managed a thin smile.
"Thought you was more of them Baxters," he said, brushing himself down and drying his hair with a "Cathouses of Dawson City" tea cloth. "I'll be mighty glad you're not. Jurisfiction, hey? Ain't seen none of youse around these parts for longer then I care to rememberquit it, Howell."
The drunk, Howell, had awoken and was demanding a tipple "to set him straight."
"We're looking for the Minotaur," I explained, showing the sheriff the photograph.
He rubbed his stubble thoughtfully and shook his head. "Don't recall ever seeing this critter, missy Next."
"We have reason to believe he passed through your office not long agohe's been marked with slapstick."
"Ah!" said the sheriff. "I was a-wonderin' 'bout all that. Me and Howell here have been trippin' and a- stumblin' for a while nowain't we, Howell?"
"You're darn tootin'," said the drunk.
"He could be in disguise and operating under an alias," I ventured. "Does the name Norman Johnson mean anything to you?"
Excerpted from Something Rotten by Jasper Fforde. Copyright Jasper Fforde 2004. All rights reserved
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