It is sometimes said that crime novels are heading towards a state in which they contain no crime. That state has already been reached by my new crime novel called,
Bernard McKinley enjoyed cycling in the countryside, but always preferred to go alone. He could never see the joy of pedalling along with a companion whose conversation you could hardly hear and whose presence made you twice the target for a mad motorist. And so it was that on this bright May day he was out in the lanes of Gloucestershire, pedalling merrily by himself, when suddenly his chain broke.
There is nothing more annoying to a bicyclist than having your chain break, except perhaps having a lorry run over you, but Bernard McKinley was a dentist by profession, and knew the importance of good equipment, and sure enough he had brought with him a spare chain, and all the requisite tools.
Even better, he had a supply of thin latex medical gloves, which in dentistry are very useful for not picking up AIDS from patients, or giving it to them, but are also very good for keeping oil off your hands. So it was that Mr McKinley drew on his thin surgical gloves as he bent over his bicycle, for all the world like a surgeon about to conduct a fatal operation at Bristol Royal Infirmary, and so it was later that he drew them off distastefully and discarded them (and the old chain ) in the undergrowth, before proceeding on his merry way, swerving to avoid a small child as he went.
‘In what sense is she missing?’ said the Inspector.
‘In the sense that she cannot be found,’ said the Sergeant. ‘She is six years old, she is called Emily, she wandered off from her home early this morning and she has not been seen since.’
‘Oh well,’ said the Inspector, ‘I suppose we’d better get all available manpower and do a search, then hold a press conference to admit total failure. “Baffled Police Appeal To Public For Clues to Little Emily’s Whereabouts”. Little brat...’
After a day spent sweeping the Gloucestershire countryside, the police themselves had found no clues except a pair of surgical gloves abandoned near Emily’s home.
‘These could be the ones, sir!’ said the Sergeant excitedly. ’The ones used by the murderer to avoid leaving prints!’
‘Sergeant, Sergeant, Sergeant,’ said the Inspector mournfully. ‘This might all be useful if we had a murder. But all we have got is a missing little girl. And we haven’t even got her.’
‘The search continues for the missing Gloucestershire girl, Emily Painter,’ said the radio before Jack Tyler switched it off. Jack Tyler was one of the most famous rugby players in England. His tackling and running were legendary. What was less well-known was his drinking problem, which had become so severe in recent months that he had agreed to sequester himself in the English countryside for a month to start the rehabilitation process, which was why he was now holed up in this god-forsaken thatched cottage in the middle of Gloucestershire.
‘You’re doing well,’ said Dr Cavendish, after doing the usual tests. ‘And not a drop to drink in two months!’
‘No,’ said Jack, thinking God, I could murder a half bottle of whisky right now, which was progress because two months ago it would have been a whole bottle.
‘Well, I’ll just pop out and do the shopping for us,’ said Dr Cavendish. ‘I’ll be back in 20 or 30 minutes to carry on the vigil.’
‘OK,’ said Jack. ‘I’ll just watch TV.’
But he was lying. As Dr Cavendish drove down to the main road, braking sharply to avoid a small girl, Jack was already changing into a tracksuit. He knew that if he left the house by the back door, ran down the lane to the Fox and Goose, and bought a bottle of Scotch, he could be home a good five minutes before the doctor. He slipped open the back door, ran down the garden and sped off down the lane, swerving only to avoid knocking over a little girl. Having lost his balance because of her, he then tripped over something, fell full length and hit his head hard on a concrete post.
‘The body of the former England rugby captain, Jack Tyler, has been found by the missing Gloucestershire girl, Emily Painter’ said the radio, before Bernard McKinley switched it off. He had been very glad to hear that little Emily had been found, because now she wouldn’t clutter up the news, but he was even less interested in rugby than he was in little Emily. Not all dentists are hearties. So he never discovered that the object, which had fatally tripped Jack Tyler, was a discarded bicycle chain, carelessly left lying in the undergrowth by persons unknown.
The Independent Thursday Oct 28 1998