A teardrop is all it takes. And everything turns to dust.
It was a quiet day in the office, as Detective Sergeant Robert Marchent sat with his feet on his desk, much to the disgust of his colleagues. There had been no cases all week and his in-tray looked decidedly shallow. There was only the closing paper work for the murder of a farmer that turned out to be the usual I-can’t-stand-my-life-anymore suicide, and the missing persons inquiry pressed upon him by Mrs Jenkins to find her cat. Robert didn’t have the heart to remind her that her cat had passed away three years ago.
Robert glanced at his watch. Ten to eleven. He needed something. Something to sufficiently occupy his mind. He’d had enough of petty village crimes and more paperwork than his job was worth. He needed something to lose sleep over at night. Something big.
His eyes danced around the room in a frenzy, trying to invent an entertaining murder to investigate; the case of the pencil that was mauled to within an inch from death by the stapler. Or was it the sharpener? That would make sense. Either way the crippled implement was now only big enough to be used by a gnome.
His gaze finally came to rest on a packet of shortbreads, lying tantalisingly within reach. He formed his hand into a creature. It stalked across the table, hurdled the keyboard and was about to enter the cavernous depths of the biscuit cave of doom when someone coughed meaningfully. Robert froze. He wore the face of a guilty child and raised his head to the well suited figure stood in front of his desk. A newspaper was slapped on his table, and a stubby finger pointed at the front page.
“You need to take a look at the headline, Marchent.” Robert read the main heading on the High Times: ‘Mystery Magical Murderer Magician Mortifies Mother.’
“That’s atrocious!” he said. “When will they learn that impact can still be achieved without copious amounts of alliteration. And the use of ‘Magical’ and ‘Magician’ in the same sentence is completely unnecessary. It’s not like we’re dunces.”
“On this occasion, Detective Seargent, I think you are.”
Robert frowned and scanned the article. Words leaped off the page like ‘murder’, ‘crime’, ‘major offence’, ‘detective inquiries’. This was his world. He had a case! He jumped up and punched the air, kissed the paper and whoop whooped with joy. The seriousness of the matter hit him too late and three pairs of eyes from around the office watched him in stunned silence.
“Marchent! This is a working environment. You will do well to remember it.” Robert sank slowly back into his chair. His eyes wondered around the room surreptitiously checking the extent of the impact on the rest of the staff. Alfie hurriedly pushed his glasses further up his nose and bent back over his calculator, and Claire resumed chewing her gum and applying mascara, of which she had so much on, one could not be blamed for asking how she kept her eyes open.
The chief superintendant continued scorning Robert: “It’s about time you pulled your weight around here. I’m giving you this case, but if I don’t see results on my desk by Friday, you’ll wish you were never born. And if I see any more of this,” gesturing at the media coverage, “you’ll be out of here and licking the mud off my boots by sunrise. I suggest you make haste, Sergeant.”
Robert already had his coat on and held the door open with his foot as he took grabbed his hat. He looked back just in time to reply heartily with a “Yes Ma’am!”
The dull grey air clung to Robert as he strode away from the station. He planned to tip up at his favourite thinking spot to contemplate the case there. Ideas were already spinning around his head but he forced himself to ignore them. He wanted to study the article and trace some interview leads.
He stopped off for a coffee and took it to a bench by the river which he had considered his own for many months now, only to find that it was already being occupied. A small man with a large bald patch was feeding the pigeons from a tiny brown paper bag. Flustered that his routine had been scuppered, and being a typical Englishman, Robert did not wish to share the bench with a stranger, and turned to lean on a tree, cupping his coffee in his hand in a bid to fight the cold while the pigeons were fattened.
He waited for an unbearable amount of time – he drank his coffee, went away again, bought an iced bun, after which the man was still rooted in the same position. Robert sucked his fingers thoughtfully as an element of the scene before him was not right. “Still feeding the birds are we, old man?” he said to himself. “Then where are the birds?”
It had begun to drizzle and all self-respecting creatures of the feathered kind had long since scattered to complain about the effects of global warming. Robert was also amazed that such a small bag of bread could have lasted so long.
Before Robert had a chance to initiate a confrontation, the man placed the bag, which remarkably still contained contents, next to him on the bench. He swivelled around, legs dangling, to face Robert directly. His unblinking stare unnerved Robert and he nearly leapt out of his skin when the man called, “Are yer sittin’ down or what?!” He had a high pitched voice and a heavy Celtic lilt. His dark eyes bore so deep into Robert’s head he thought he may collapse under the weight of the stare.
Without uttering a single syllable, Robert walked steadily to the bench and perched next to the stranger. He distracted himself by concentrating his full attention on a duck preening her feathers on the bank.
“Now just you heed ma words, young Jimmy- “
“It’s Robert actually.”
“Of course I know it’s Robert or I wouldnae be here, would I? A bit like you won’t be here in the near future if ye doon’t start acting ship-shape, sonny.” Robert listened to the man carefully, as he was the kind of man you would find hosting a large detention class at school. “Ye willnae act upon this ‘ere story,” he said, tapping the newspaper Robert was clutching. “Ye willnae follo’ yer inquiries, and yer willnae talk aboot our littl’ meetin’ ‘ere.”
“You are being watched, Marchent.” This was a different voice, a deep echoing grumble, cutting through on the wind. Robert twisted round but there was no one else in sight.