The Thousand Words

Inspector Dogsen surveyed the room. There were no clues, absolutely nothing to go on. He drew out his pipe and frowned. “A thousand words, you say?”

Wentworth shrugged. “A little less now,” he pointed out, looking accusingly at the pipe.

A thousand words was not much to solve a crime of this sort, Dogsen thought. The two policemen lapsed into silence, directing their attention to the room once more. There was the typical body-lying-sprawled-on-the-carpet that English country manors of this sort always seemed to attract.

“Do you want me to call in the boys from the lab to dust for fingerprints?” Wentworth asked.

Wentworth, as with all assistants, was new, fresh out of college, bubbling with the latest in police technology, yet unable to smoke a pipe introspectively. Such skills only came with experience, Dogsen supposed.

All the weekend guests had been in this room. The ‘boys from the lab’ would find nothing useful, Dogsen mused, they never did. “This case will be harder to crack than the genetic code,” he grumbled, little suspecting that at Cambridge at that very moment, two young pups in lab coats were doing just that.

Wentworth was fidgety. The little device he was using to keep count of the words clicked away ominously in his hand like a Geiger counter.

Dogsen considered the case. There would be the nephew of course—slick, effete, university lad with expensive tastes beyond his means—probably be called Freddy or Jeremy, perhaps even Cyril if he turned out to be the murderer. Then there would be the brother, a drinker, heavily in debt to some unsavoury characters. He would be holding something back when Dogsen interrogated him. An American would be strutting about with no proper reason for being at the manor that weekend other than to display trans-Atlantic brashness in a genteel setting. Add in a distraught Conservative Party M.P. with a hyphenated name, fretting about a whiff of scandal and then . . .  Lord Bracebridge’s wife, Priscilla, whose many affairs were . . .

“No wife,” Wentworth corrected, not noticing that Dogsen hadn’t spoken the thought. “He was a widower.”

Dogsen frowned. Of course. Lady Bracebridge, he remembered, was from Dogsen’s fifth novel, “Mayhem at Montrose Manor”. “So Lord . . .”

“Amesbury,” Wentworth put in helpfully.

“. . .had no young wife,” Dogsen commented, the news making him downcast. The Inspector had envisioned the widowed Lady so clearly, in a diaphanous nightgown perhaps, visiting him in his room after he had retired for the night, intent on divulging
. . . something. He sighed. There was no Lady Amesbury whose temptations he would need to resist.

Resisting temptation. The Inspector shook his head. Yes, that was his lot in life. A James Bond could make love all the way to Hong Kong and back, but not the good Inspectors of the Yard. No, at most, he could look forward to a stout wife who served him tea by the open fire when he would return home weary from a long investigation. Dogsen frowned. He had applied to join MI5 before the war but the Moscow
spies who ran the British intelligence agency had told him he was a security risk. A security risk!

“We don’t have time for all these reminiscences,” Wentworth prodded. “This isn’t a novel. We’ve got to get a move on.”

“To business then,” Inspector Dogsen muttered, annoyed. It would be twelve more novels before the colourless Wentworth would be replaced by feisty red-haired Colleen McLaughlin, junior detective. But, by then, Inspector Dogsen would be old. The high-spirited Colleen would come to admire him—even love him—but as a father figure. Dogsen would still have to return to his wife, his fireplace and those damned cups of tea.

“Inspector . . .” Wentworth whined.

Dogsen surveyed the room again. Lord Amesbury lay dead on the carpet. Poisoned obviously. The tuna salad at dinner it seemed. Bardsley, the cook’s assistant, had told him there had been something “unappealing” about the tuna and Dogsen had noted how Worthington-Fraser, the M.P. had blanched at the boy’s comment. The Inspector shook his head, wondering where all this tuna, caviar, pork roasts and whatnot came from. It was 1953. Food rationing was still in effect in England. Or was it?  Perhaps just petrol was rationed by then. Dogsen snorted. It was precisely the sort of detail a slipshod, royalty-hungry author never bothered to check out.

Dogsen felt disgusted. Half of London still lay in ruins from the blitz. There were a million unemployed trudging about the country. The Soviets had built themselves their own atomic bombs. What was the point of it all?

“Where are you going?” asked Wentworth in alarm.

“Stuff the whole lot of them,” Dogsen grumbled. “This country has real problems and real crimes that need solving. I’m fed up playing contrived mind games with useless aristocratic farts who have nothing better to do than murder their own dinner guests.”

“You can’t walk out!” Wentworth squeaked. “There’s been a murder.”

“I’m taking myself off the case,” Dogsen announced, lifting a line usually reserved for his chief superintendent.

Wentworth went pale. “I’m green, fresh out of police college!” he protested. “You can’t leave me in charge.”

“Just watch me,” Dogsen chuckled, leaving only a cloud of pipe smoke behind as he disappeared out the door.

Wentworth staggered back into a chair, clutching a handkerchief to his brow. “Are you alright?” asked Jenkins the handy man.

“Yes,” the junior policeman murmured faintly. He turned to face the murder suspects, sitting so casually around the room. “I brought you all together,” he swallowed. Time was running out. There were only a few words left. “I know this is highly unusual,” Wentworth blurted, “but do you think, just this once, we might have a confession instead of the usual rigmarole?”

The suspects blinked in surprise. They had expected a denouement. Everyone seemed to look at the floor. “I’m afraid Constable…” Freddy began, but the sentence tailed off awkwardly. Wentworth knew, without even looking at the little clicker in his hands, that the thousand words were up.