Excerpt of Ten Second Staircase by Christopher Fowler
(Page 3 of 4)
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That was in 1973. I am still here, still awaiting a transfer.
By the time I joined, the Peculiar Crimes Unit had become very peculiar indeed.
It could be likened to a doctors' surgery that had abandoned traditional
pharmaceutical treatments for alternative therapies. Over time, these therapies
have become more extreme; we have reached a point when it seems quite normal for
Mr Bryant to ignore empirical data in favour of hiring a clairvoyant in the
search for a missing person. Mr May is not much better; his investigation into
pagan elementals a few months ago did result in the capture of a wanted
criminal, but he still destroyed a section of the Regent Canal in the process,
and the case appears to have involved a mass breakout of illegal immigrants from
King's Cross, whom both he and his partner aided and abetted.
The bizarre behaviour of these geriatric detectives seems to infect those
working around them, so that I am made to seem the 'odd man out.' I am openly
ridiculed and humiliated. Mr Bryant's experiments, conducted without any safety
precautions, are both questionable and dangerous. My instructions are disobeyed,
my reputation has been irreversibly damaged, and my office wallpaper has been
Both Mr Bryant and Mr May are beyond statutory retirement age and show no
inclination to leave. No-one seems to know quite how old they are, as their
files were apparently lost in the fire that destroyed their old offices, but I
am reliably informed that Mr Bryant is three years older than his counterpart.
Mr May is certainly the more amenable of the pair, possessing a more youthful
outlook. He is at least partially familiar with technological advances in the
field of crime detection, but Mr Bryant is quite impossible to deal with. In the
last eighteen months he has destroyed or lost 17 mobile phones and several
laptop computers. How he managed to reprogram the unit's main police transmitter
frequency so that it could receive only selections from The Pirates of
Penzance is a mystery we have yet to solve.
Speaking frankly, he is offensive, awkward, argumentative, and unhygienic. He
flatly refuses to follow procedural guidelines, and constantly leaves the unit
open to legal prosecution. He insists on employing the services of
nonprofessionals, including disgraced experts, discredited psychics, registered
felons, unstable extremists, tree-huggers, witches, children, itinerants,
actors, practitioners of quasi-religions, and various 'creative' types.
Mr Bryant's informants include those on the wrong side of the law, outpatients,
migrants, fringe dwellers not recognised as reliable witnesses in a British
court of law, and, on at least one occasion, a convicted murderer. He refuses to
document his investigations in accordance with official guidelines; his office
is little more than a rubbish dump; his personal habits are disgusting and, I
suspect, illegal. He smokes and drinks on duty, abuses official property,
requisitions police vehicles for personal use, falsifies reports, and is said to
have on one occasion borrowed clothes awaiting DNA tests from the Evidence Room
in order to attend a fancy dress party. He has an infested Tibetan human skull
on his desk, and has been known to keep animal parts in the unit's refrigerator
Unfortunately, these transgressions cannot be dealt with through the usual
disciplinary channels because, technically speaking, the unit is no longer part
of the Metropolitan Police, and now falls under your jurisdiction. However, I am
informed (by Mr Bryant himself) that you have no power over staff employed
before the revised Official Security Act of 1962.
My work at the unit is personally humiliating. Whenever I attempt to exert some
kind of control over him, Mr Bryant plays practical jokes on me. He once
convinced me that my wife had taken a French lover, an act which had a
disastrous effect on my marriage. Heaven knows, I like a joke as much as the
next man, but in this case the next man happened to be my counterpart at the
Serete, and did not take kindly to being accused of adultery. In short, Mr
Bryant acts as if the serious business of solving crime is some kind of
children's game. Lately I have begun to wonder if he has developed some form of
senility. Mr May frequently takes his partner's side against me. I know they are
laughing behind my back. They practise nepotism, favouritism, and, in Mr
Bryant's case, occasional witchcraft. The mother of their detective sergeant was
formerly in their employ, and now it appears that Mr May's granddaughter, a girl
with a history of psychological problems, is to join the unit. Mr Bryant and Mr
May are not just representatives of the law; they are old people, and it is time
for them to move on.
Excerpted from Ten Second Staircase by
Christopher Fowler Copyright © 2006 by Christopher Fowler. Excerpted by
permission of Bantam, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No
part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in
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