He looked at his watch.
"An excellent question. In ten minutes we're holding a press conference. I've a detective in urgent need of a new sergeant, and I think you'll fit the bill perfectly. Shall we?"
The pressroom was five floors below, and an expectant journalistic hubbub greeted their ears while they were still walking down the corridor. They stepped inside and stood as unobtrusively as possible at the back of the large and airy room. Mary could see from the "Oxford & Berkshire Police"bedecked podium and high turnout that press conferences here were taken with a great deal more seriousness than she had known, which probably reflected this city's preeminence over Basingstoke when it came to serious crime. It wasn't that Reading had any more murders than Basingstokeit just had better ones. Reading and the Thames Valley area was more of a "fairy cakes laced with strychnine" or "strangulation with a silk handkerchief" sort of place, where there were always bags of interesting suspects, convoluted motives and seemingly insignificant clues hidden in an inquiry of incalculable complexity yet solved within a week or two. By contrast, murders in Basingstoke were strictly blunt instruments, drunkenly wielded, solved within the houror not at all. Mary had worked on six murder investigations and, to her great disappointment, hadn't once discovered one of those wonderful clues that seem to have little significance but later, in an epiphanic moment, turn the case on its head and throw the guilty light on someone previously eliminated from the inquiries.
She didn't have time how to muse upon the imaginative shortcoming of Basingstoke's criminal fraternity any longer, as there was a sudden hushing of the pressmen, a burst of spontaneous applause, and a handsome man in his mid-fifties strode dramatically from a side door.
"Goodness!" said Mary. "That's"
"Yup," said Briggs, with the pride of a father who has just seen his son win everything at sports day. "Detective Inspector Friedland Chymes."
Friedland Chymes! In person. There was a hush as the famous detective stepped up to the podium. The assembled two dozen newspapermen readied themselves, pens poised, for his statement.
"Thank you for attending," he began, sweeping back his blond hair and gazing around the room with his lively blue eyes, causing flutters when they lingered ever so slightly with the women present in the room, Mary included. She found herself almost automatically attracted to him. He was strong, handsome, intelligent, fearlessthe most alpha of alpha males. Working with him would be an honor.
"It was the small traces of pastry around the gunshot wound on Colonel Peabody's body that turned the case for me," began the great detective, his sonorous tones filling the air like music, "minute quantities of shortcrust whose butter/flour ratio I found to be identical to a medium-size Bowyer's pork pie. The assailant had fired his weapon through the tasty snack to muffle the sound of the shot. The report heard later was a firecracker set off by a time fuse, thus giving an alibi to the assailant, who I can reveal to you now was ...."
The whole room leaned forward in expectation. Chymes, his only apparent vanity a certain showmanship, paused for dramatic effect before announcing the killer.
".... Miss Celia Mangersen, the victim's niece and, unbeknownst to us all, the sole beneficiary of the missing will, which I found hiddenas expectedwithin a hollowed-out statuette of Sir Walter Scott. Yes, Mr. Hatchett, you have a question?"
Josh Hatchett of The Toad newspaper had raised his hand in the front row.
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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