Inspector Dick frowned as he stared around the crowded sitting room. A ripple of nausea washed through his ample belly. He belched and tried to turn it into a cough. It wasn’t so much the colours; well, yes, it was the colours – vibrant pink and boudoir purple did not go well with a hearty cooked breakfast – but the furnishings too, the floral drapes and the mass of garish, plumped cushions strewn over every surface.
He had been sent to interview Professor Farquharson – or ‘that randy old git’, as Merrywick had called him – in relation to the unfortunate farmyard incident, the thought of which also contributed to Dick’s nausea.
‘Hello, my dear chap. So good of you to come.’
Dick twisted around to find a small, grizzled old man staring up at him. Wisps of white hair stuck out at odd angles from a shining dome of a head. It could only be Farquharson. He took, and held very briefly, the warm and oily hand that was thrust towards him.
He cleared his throat. ‘Inspector Dick … thank you for your time.’
The bald head bobbed in acknowledgement. ‘Quentin Farquharson, at your service, sir.’
The professor turned to the two armchairs on either side of the onyx fireplace, and threw half a dozen cushions into a corner of the room. ‘My wife, I fear, has a cushion fetish. Please be seated, Chief Inspector.’
Dick cautiously lowered his bulky behind into one of the enveloping chairs. ‘Actually, it’s Inspector,’ he muttered.
‘What?’ Farquharson cupped his hand over his ear.
‘I said, it’s Inspector, not Chief Inspector.’
Farquharson waved a hand. ‘Oh, mere protocol, just a matter of time, I should think.’
Dick breathed heavily. A matter of time, yes, once he had thought so, but now? Perhaps retirement was the better option, if only his wife could be persuaded that his pension was adequate, about as likely as her surrendering her store cards. ‘Well, possibly, Professor, we shall see. Now I need …’
‘There will be somebody upstairs,’ said Farquharson.
‘I … what?’
‘There will be somebody upstairs, blocking your promotion. It’s always the way.’
‘Some senior figure, someone you have crossed, probably someone you have bettered, but there they are, promoted beyond their competence, while you languish below in their ordure.’
The professor’s words were so true, thought Dick. Detective Chief Inspector Merrywick – it was spot on. He nodded.
‘I knew it. It’s an old, old story. I myself have been there and bought the lightweight upper body garment, as they say these days.’
‘Quite. Now, Professor, there are just a few questions and …’
‘Action, that’s what is needed. Fight back. That’s what I had to do. Take the bullock by the horns, ready the charge, valley of death and so forth.’ Farquharson’s eyes glittered. ‘I’m sure that appeals to you, my dear chap.’
Oh how it appealed. If he could get one over that supercilious, skinny-arsed piece of …
‘Yes it appeals. You have great insight, Professor.’
‘Oh, call me Quentin, please, now that we know each other a little better. You will have a drink, won’t you?’ Farquharson sprang from his seat and crossed to a row of bottles on a sideboard.
‘Ah, well no, really no, not when I’m on duty.’ He stared at the tumbler of golden liquid that had been pressed into his hand. Oh well, a sip would do no harm, even if he was on duty, just to put Quentin at his ease. He wouldn’t finish it. He tipped the glass towards his lips. Duty … ah.
‘Now, Prof … now, Quentin …’ He pulled a notebook from his pocket. ‘As you know, I’ve been asked to call round to discuss your recent behaviour at Pendle Farm. I’m sure you are aware that the farmer has agreed not to press charges. I understand you and he came to an accommodation, however you were seen by several members of the public who have expressed outrage at such …’
‘Smethurst, that was his name. A most disagreeable piece of faecal material if ever there was one.’
Dick paused and thumbed through his notebook. ‘No, I don’t think so, the name I have here …’
‘He just sat there like some great fat toad, eating all the flies that came his way, like myself and all the other junior staff within his reach. He’d had the professorship for as long as anyone could remember.’
‘Ah, I see,’ said Dick, realising that the professor was fixated on a single topic. ‘Look, we …’
‘It was grossly unfair on us all. No prospect of promotion. His name went on all our papers, although the man was an idiot. What could we do?’
There was a long pause before Dick finally said, ‘Well, what could we do?’
‘Action, my dear chap, direct action.’ Farquharson tapped the side of his nose with his index finger. ‘Sometimes one just has to … you know …’
‘Take the bull by the horns?’
‘Absolutely, my dear chap. You have it. You have summed up the situation exactly. And that’s what we did. Those horns were well and truly seized and twisted until they squeaked.’
Dick leant forward, ‘So, what …?’
Farquharson lowered his voice. ‘This is just between us, two old friends. You must leave your uniform at the door.’
‘Oh absolutely, yes.’
‘We castrated him.’
‘What? Oh my God,’ Dick drew back.
‘We took them, tied them in a box, and buried them deep.’
Dick swallowed. ‘I … I …’
‘Yes, we took direct action and made sure that man’s powers were permanently disabled.’
‘Oh, so you were speaking metaphorically, you don’t mean that you really …’ Dick’s heart rate started to return to normal.
Farquharson continued, apparently oblivious to the effect his words had had. ‘You see, the principal at the time, Professor Hinkelsternum, was very hot on morality and so forth. Made life difficult for some of us … yes …’ He paused and took a drink from the glass in front of him. ‘Yes … but a fair man nonetheless, unlike Smethurst. So all that was necessary was for it to be made known that Smethurst had been seen with a lady of the evening, and that was that. I was able to, that is a friend of mine had a contact with such a young lady. We knew that Smethurst required a secretary, and it was easy to persuade him to interview her. She seduced him in his office and my colleague made a photographic record of the event. A stinging operation, I believe.’
‘That was the end of Smethurst?’
‘Yes, I stepped straight into his shoes.’
Dick nodded. ‘That must have been very satisfying for you.’
‘Indeed. He left them under his desk. They were on the large side for me and not very stylish.’
‘Would you like to see the photographs?’
‘Good God, no. I mean, no thank you, all the same.’ Dick had no difficulty deciding that ‘prof porn’ was not for him.
‘So you see it was our … my own efforts that got it done. Carpe diem, that must be our motto.’
‘Seize the moment, remember your Latin, inspector. But goodness me, your glass is empty, allow me.’
Dick inhaled the aroma of expensive malt, as the level in his glass rose towards the top. The professor was such a hospitable gentleman. And such good advice. Any countryside problems must surely have been a momentary aberration. He would still raise the matter of course, briefly … in a little while.
Inspector Dick weaved his way back to the station, having wisely decided to abandon his car at the university and collect it tomorrow. He thought over the professor’s words: crappy dime, he’d said, or something close to it. It sounded American but he had claimed it was Latin. No matter, it made sense. Seize the moment … yes, but when was the moment? For Merrywick, he felt, it couldn’t come too soon.