"I see," said Mary, sounding a great deal colder than she had intended. "And who's he?"
Briggs patted her arm in a fatherly manner. He could sense her disappointment, but it wasn't up to him. Chymes picked his own people.
"That's DI Jack Spratt, of the Nursery Crime Division. The NCD. You'll be on his team. Or at least you and a few others will be the team. It's one of our smallest departments." He thought for a moment and then added, "Actually, it is our smallest departmentif you don't count the night shift in the canteen."
"And his Amazing Crime Stories rating? What about that?"
"He's not rated," replied Briggs, trying to make it sound all matter-of-fact and not the embarrassment that it was. "In fact, I don't think he's even in the Guild."
Mary stared at the shabby figure and felt her heart fall. All of a sudden DI Flowwe didn't seem quite so bad after all.
Jack Spratt looked around the room. Most of the newsmen had by now left, and aside from Briggs and a woman Spratt didn't recognize at the door, there were only two journalists still in the room. The first was a large man named Archibald Fatquack, who was the editor of the Reading weekly gossip sheet The Gadfly. The second was a junior newshound from the Reading Daily Eyestrain, who appeared to be asleep, drunk, dead or a mixture of all three.
"Thank you all for attending this press conference," announced Jack in a somber tone to the as good-as-empty room, "I'll try not to keep you any longer than is necessary. This afternoon the Reading Central Criminal Court found the three pigs not guilty of all charges relating to the first-degree murder of Mr. Wolff."
He sighed. If he was intending it to be a dramatic statement, it wasn't, and it didn't help that no one significant was there to witness it. He could still hear the excited yet increasingly distant chatter of the newsmen as they filed down the corridor, but it was soon drowned out by Friedland's 1932 Delage D8 Super-Sport, which started up with a throaty roar in the car park. Jack waited until he had gone, then continued on gamely, the extreme lack of interest not outwardly affecting his demeanor. After nearly twenty years, he was kind of used to it.
"Since the death by scalding of Mr. Wolff following his ill-fated climb down Little Pig C's chimney, we at the Nursery Crime Division have been following inquiries that this was not an act of self-defense but a violent and premeditated murder by three individuals who, far from being the innocent victims of wolf-porcine crime, actually sought confrontation and then acted quite beyond what might be described as reasonable self-defense."
Jack paused for breath. If he had hoped his misgivings over the outcome of the trial would be splashed all over the paper, he was mistaken. Page sixteen of The Gadfly was about the sum total of this particular story, sandwiched ignominiously between a three-for-two Hemorrelief advert and the Very Reverend Conrad Poo's weekly dental-hygiene column.
"Mr. Spratt," began Archibald, slowly bringing himself up to speed like a chilled gecko. "Is it true that Mr. Wolff once belonged to the Lupine Brotherhood, a secret society dedicated to traditional wolfish pursuits such as the outlawed Midnight Howling?"
"Yes, I understand that to be the case," replied Jack, "but that was over fifteen years ago. We do not deny that he has been investigated over various charges of criminal damage arising from the destruction of two dwellings built by the younger pigs, nor that Mr. Wolff threatened "to eat them all up." But we saw this as an empty threatwe produced witnesses who swore that Mr. Wolff was a vegetarian of many years' standing."
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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