I was first introduced to the celebrated detective Hungerford Bales at a dinner party being hosted by Lady Prudence Billingford, a good friend of my aunt. The other guests were, Colonel William Graves, the right honourable Tarquin Herring and Lucy Peeves, daughter of the local vicar. Dinner had barely begun when the table’s attention turned to the celebrated detective.
“So, Mister Bales, what do you love most about your profession?” asked Lady Billingham.
“Nothing. Everyone I touch dies. I can’t go anywhere without there being a murder. I go to a dinner party? Bang! The host is lying face down in the soup. I go to a wedding? Bam! The best man collapses in the middle of his speech. I was even there for a murder on a train, for god’s sake. A bloody train!”
“But surely it’s very exciting?”
“That’s the worst thing, it’s got so predictable now! Why, if someone were to die right this very night, it wouldn’t take me a day to work out who did it.”
“A bold claim,” the Colonel snorted.
“Well, I doubt anyone will be murdered tonight, Mister Bales,” added Lucy Peeves. Bales sighed.
That night I slept like a baby, intermittently waking up screaming for food and soiling myself. It was just at the crack of dawn when I heard something which was unmistakably, assuming I wasn’t mistaken, a gunshot coming from Lady Billingham’s room.
I raced down the corridor and you can imagine my horror when I flung the door open and found her dead! If you can’t imagine it, it was a bit like this “Oh, I wonder what that noise was..doot doot doo…OH MY GOOD GOD LADY BILLINGHAM HAS BEEN MURDERED! THIS IS NOT WHAT I EXPECTED!”
My shock was interrupted by the arrival of Bales. The renowned detective took one look at the scene and said “Oh, bloody hell, not another one.”
“Who do you suppose did it, Hungerford?” I asked, my eyes wide with anticipation.
Bales fixed me with one of the penetrating looks that in our short acquaintance I’d learnt to know so well.
“You really are a complete moron, aren’t you, Steepleton? Look, why don’t you piss off for a minute and call the police while I sort this out.”
Less than an hour later, the whole household, minus the servantry who were, for some reason, all above suspicion, assembled in the dining room. Bales, unshaven and clothed in nothing but a tattered dressing gown, addressed us.
“Right, let’s get this over with. Oh whoever could be responsible for this heinous crime? Was it you, Colonel what’s his name? You had an affair with the deceased and probably wanted her jewellery or something. Or could it be you, the other guy. I mean, you haven’t done much, and you seem fairly superfluous, but I’m willing to bet you keep your insane wife in a closet or something equally weird. But no! Careful investigation and, blah blah blah, it’s the girl.”
Bales waved the piece of toast he was eating to indicate Lucy Peeves, who in this short time I had fallen passionately in love with. Lucy leapt to her own defence.
“Who, me? You can’t possibly prove it!”
“Oh, for Christ’s sake. You were standing in the room with the gun in your hand when we got there! Now please just confess so we can all move on.”
Of course! It all came flooding back to me. Standing outside the bedroom, looking at the body of Lady Bellingford, barely noticing the woman sheepishly holding the smoking gun in her hand. Confronted with the truth of what she’d done, Lucy’s manner changed and she defiantly drew herself to her full height.
“Could you blame me? After what she did? Why she-”
“Yes, yes, terribly sad, I’m sure.” Bales yawned.
In a matter of minutes, a young constable had taken Miss Peeves by the shoulders and gently pushed her out of the room. When her outraged shouts had faded, Bales turned to me.
“Well, now that’s sorted, perhaps I can go back to having a nice holiday.”
“Of course, Huggy. But there’s one last thing I don’t understand.”
“Really Steepleton? You don’t surprise me. You have the mental capacity of a goldfish in a bowl of cheap vodka. What’s this one last thing then?”
“Well, if Miss Peeves killed Lady Billingham, then who just killed Tarquin Herring?”
Behind me, the still warm body of Tarquin was slumped over the dinner table, a ceremonial Turkish dagger sticking out of his back.
“Oh, for fucks sake,” said the famous detective.