It hadn't gone very well at all, but she didn't think she'd say so.
"We had a fairly good clear-up rate, sir."
"I've no doubt you did. But more important, anything published?"
It was a question that was asked more and more in front of promotion boards and transfer interviews and listed in performance reports. It wasn't enough to be a conscientious and invaluable assistant to one's allotted inspectoryou had to be able to write up a readable account for the magazines that the public loved to read. Preferably Amazing Crime Stories, but, failing that, Sleuth Illustrated.
"Only one story in print, sir. But I was the youngest officer at Basingstoke to make detective sergeant and have two commendations for brav"
"The thing is," interrupted Briggs, "is that the Oxford & Berkshire Police prides itself on producing some of the most readable detectives in the country." He walked over to the window and looked out at the rain striking the glass. "Modern policing isn't just about catching criminals, Mary. It's about good copy and ensuring that cases can be made into top-notch documentaries on the telly. Public approval is the all-important currency these days, and police budgets ebb and flow on the back of circulation and viewing figures."
"DS Flotsam's work penning Friedland Chymes's adventures is the benchmark by which you should try to aspire, Mary. Selling the movie rights to Friedland Chymesthe Smell of Fear was a glory moment for everyone at Reading Central, and rightly so. Just one published work, you say? With Flowwe?"
"Yes, sir. A two-parter in Amazing Crime Jan-Feb 1999 and adapted for TV."
He nodded his approval.
"Well, that's impressive. Prime-time dramatization?"
"No, sir. Documentary on MoleCable-62."
His face fell. Clearly, at Reading they expected better things. Briggs sat down and looked at her record again.
"Now, it says here one reprimand: You struck Detective Inspector Flowwe with an onyx ashtray. Why was that?"
"The table lamp was too heavy," she replied, truthfully enough, "and if I'd used a chair, it might have killed him."
"Which is illegal, of course" added Briggs, glad for an opportunity to show off his legal knowledge. "What happened? Personal entanglements?"
"Equal blame on both sides, sir," she replied, thinking it would be better to be impartial over the whole affair. "I was foolish. He was emotionally... dishonest."
Briggs closed the file.
"Well, I don't blame you. Hebden was always a bit of a bounder. He pinged my partner's bra strap at an office party once, you know. She wasn't wearing it at the time," he added after a moment's reflection, "but the intention was clear."
"That sounds like DI Flowwe," replied Mary.
Briggs drummed his fingers on the desk for a moment.
"Do you want to hear me play the trombone?"
"Might it be prejudicial to my career if I were to refuse?"
"It's a distinct possibility."
"Then I'd be delighted."
So Briggs walked over to the chaise longue, picked up the trombone, worked the slide a couple of times and blew a few notes, much to the annoyance of whoever had the office next door, who started to thump angrily on the wall.
"Drug squad," explained Briggs unhappily, putting the instrument down, "complete heathens. Never appreciate a good tune."
"I was wondering," said Mary before he had a chance to start playing again. "This detective sergeant's job I'm applying for. Who is it with?"
From The Big Over Easy by Jasper Fforde. Copyright Jasper Fforde 2005. All rights reserved. No part of this book maybe reproduced without written permission from the publisher, Viking Publishing.
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