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Something for the weekend ? Bit of leisure reading, perhaps? A complete crime story, even?

No sooner said than done! Here is another enthralling yarn about Inspector Keith Braid, the “Sixty Second Sleuth”, who can solve any given crime in a minute or, as we writers say, in about seven hundred words. This little tale is entitled “The Sirens of the Lambs”.

* * *

“A butcher has reported a suspicious leg of lamb?” said Inspector Keith Braid.

“Yes, sir,” said Sergeant Comfort.

“With a tattoo on it?” said Braid.

“Yes, a tattoo, sir.”

“Of a fire engine?” said Braid.

“Looks like a fire engine, sir. The butcher had never seen anything tattooed on a leg of lamb before. Except a sign saying ‘New Zealand’. Thought we might be interested.”

“Let’s go and talk to him,” said Braid. “The wife has asked me to buy some chops, anyway.”

Mr Porbright was not a regular London butcher, but one of those country butchers who come up to London twice a month and take a stall at a “Farmer’s Market”. Braid approved of Farmer’s Markets. They were better and cheaper than supermarkets. And he liked the idea that everything sold on a farmer’s stall had been produced on his farm. Though, if that were so, he could never understand why there was always a stall selling olives, sun-dried tomatoes and tapenade. Was there a big olive-growing region of England he didn’t know about . . . ?

“Leg of lamb,” said Braid to the butcher.

“Nice leg of lamb, sir, yes, of course . . .”

“With a tattoo on it.”

The butcher, a Mr Porbright, looked at him closely.

“Police?”

“Yes.”

Braid showed him his badge.

“I’m glad you came. I’ve got the leg here, Inspector. And I’ve discovered something else. Look at the other side.”

He showed them the fire engine on the leg, if it was a fire engine, and then turned it over. On the other side there was tattooed an angel. Not a good angel. Her wings were lopsided. But an angel.

“You’ve seen lots of lamb,” said Braid. “Ever seen a tattooed lamb before?”

“Never,” said Porbright. “Nothing odd about sheep in my experience. Straight as a die.”

“Think you have to be gay to have a tattoo, do you?” said Comfort, whose daughter had recently had a small butterfly tattooed on her waistline.

“No, no!” said Porbright. “I just mean that if this lamb was someone’s sweetheart, well, maybe it’s true what they say about . . .”

Hill farmers? Patagonians? We shall never know what he was going to say next, because Braid said: “You must know where the lamb came from. One of yours, I take it?”

“No,” said Porbright. “Came from a neighbour’s farm. I sell a few lambs for him in the season. Name of Chinnor.”

“Has a family, does he, this Chinnor?”

“Children? Just the one son. Piers.”

“Does he farm too?”

“No, he’s gone off to London to be artistic. Some sort of studio he’s got somewhere.”

“Well, I think we all know what kind of studio that is,” said Braid.

“Do we, sir?” said Comfort.

“Do we?” said Porbright the butcher.

“He’s a tattooist,” said Braid. “Or at least he’s training to be. Stands to reason. I was talking to a tattooist the other day, and he was telling me that the big stumbling block when you’re starting out is finding someone to practise on. Nobody wants a badly drawn mermaid on their chest. So young Piers Chinnor thinks to himself – Ah ha! Dad’s lambs! Just right for trying tattoos on! All he has to do is shave the wool off, and start practising.”

“Why a fire engine?” said Comfort.

“Probably because they’re easier to draw. Why a mermaid? Why an angel? At least fire engines exist, which is more than you can say for angels and mermaids. . . ”

“Anything else I can do for you gents?” said Porbright, sensing that the investigation was losing steam.

“Yes,” said Braid. “I need four chump chops. And no need to have them illustrated.”

The Sixty Second Sleuth will be back soon.

 

Independent Friday Feb 11 06