It was three days before they found the body and two more until they called the police. It had all been so damn ... embarrassing. The young family had discovered it while hiking, their young children’s screams echoing around the clearing where she lay. They weren’t pleased with how their day out had played out.
They say that there are two types of killer; the organised, who will fastidiously plan and diligently commit the act, and the disorganised, who strike erratically and spontaneously. Mrs Eversley Cross’ killer was neither. Mrs Cross’ murderer would best described as ‘bizarre’. When they found her body, it had multiple puncture wounds. (So far, so normal. Well, perhaps not normal, but normal for a killing.) What was strange was that positioned around her corpse were a series of concentric circles of My Little Ponies™ and jars of Marmite© . A sort of confused parody of Stone Henge. Her corpse had been arranged, with a degree of irony, in the recovery position - with an unplugged four-slice family toaster as a pillow. She was fully clothed, but dressed as Paddington Bear, red wellies stained brown with blood, paper label pinned to the coat reading “"Please look after this bear. Thank you."
The police agreed that it was rather unlikely turn of events, and so chose not to chide the family for failing to report the body sooner. There are some things in life which sound so improbable one defers explanation – see, for example, derivative trading, the concept of carpets, or Eurovision.
Inspector Drayton Basset was given the case. He was the village’s finest police officer, and had served for twenty consecutive years. He was the sort of man you’d have to pay for in instalments; his booming tenor issued at a number of decibels Brian Blessed would envy, while his mouth was framed by a luxiuriant beard, and shrouded by a prominent moustache. Declared deputy for the case was Officer Tockenham Wick. By contrast, he looked like the sort of man you’d get free with a box of cereal; his features weren’t quite in alignment with the contours of his face, and his brightly-coloured clothing served to distract from the fact that he wasn’t wearing any shoes; his feet were just painted brown.
He’d been quite proud of that idea when, in the morning, he had been unable to find his brogues. But then Tockenham Wick was proud of most of his ideas. They didn’t come often; he had very little imagination.
When the call came about the murder, Inspector Basset struggled not to sound excited. He had spent the morning searching for leads. And he had found it, in a matter of minutes, near Bradford. He was relieved to have something to do – tedium was something that Basset hated with a passion. Tedium, and the little fragments of crisps that you find hiding in the corners of almost-finished crisp packets that you feel obliged to eat, but don’t actually leave you feeling satisfied, and leave your fingers coated in a shallow slick of grease.
“A murder, you say?” Bassett asked. Bassett’s telephone manner was notoriously poor. His combined habits of using rhetorical questions and leaving dramatic pauses meant that the respondent either spoke prematurely, or the conversation sounded like it had been scripted by Harold Pinter.
“Yes, a murder” said the hiker, electing for the first scenario. “I think it’s Mrs Cross”
“Mrs Cross, you say?” Bassett was surprised by this piece of news. For Mrs Cross is – or had been, he corrected himself - a pillar, girder, and supporting wall of the community. Not in the conventional sense; Eversley detested volunteer work, and denounced charity as a tax on empathy, but rather, and in a far fuller extension of the metaphor, that she spent a lot of time with members of the community on top of her. Not that Mr Cross had ever noticed – for Mister Cross was one of that most curious species of men. Not even an ornithologist – ornithology is excusable. No, Mister Cross was a train spotter spotter. When Derek, Clive, and Maurice gathered in their macs to check the 4.15 from Paddington off their lists, Mr Cross was there to strike Derek, Clive, and Maurice off his.
Bassett decided that an interview with Mr Cross was in order. He rang the pathology labs to conduct a post mortem, then gathered Wick and left for the Cross residence. The path report didn’t reveal much. It just as perplexing as the condition of the corpse; traces of liquid on the body proved to be a combination of lucozade, iron filings, light crude oil, and balsamic vinegar, while the ‘dirt’ under the corpse’s fingernails had a high content of cumin.