It was a disappointingly cold shower that Detective Rex Murdoch endured in the two-and-a-half star bed and breakfast that he’d been put up in. After a long night of driving past irresponsible idiots on various motorways and country lanes, the last thing he needed to wake to from his uncomfortable slumber on a lumpy bed was a covering of lukewarm water. It had constantly promised to warm up, but he had remained in a cool fashion for the entirety of the four-minute wash he’d taken.
Things could only get better from that point on, really.
He’d trudged back into the room, which had a delightfully mismatched duvet and pillow set on the bed, a wonky chair that didn’t fit under the desk and a television that, he’d discovered at gone midnight the morning before, could only receive two channels - one that broadcast entirely in French and one that appeared to be stuck showing gameshows from the 1970s. He’d not watched much; the thrill of finding out if Jean and Alan won the £280 jackpot just didn’t do it for him. He’d never know if they were able to answer enough questions to change their lives or even if the host was wearing a toupee.
It was only then that he realised his entirely naked form was being observed from outside. It may have been lashing down with rain, but that didn’t stop the Redfern Lodge’s window-cleaning team from doing their best to fight off the elements to keep the glass sparkling clean. The man didn’t seem at all embarrassed by the nude police officer standing before him and indeed just continued to scrub.
Rex dived to cover his modesty with a towel.
After darting back into the bathroom and putting on the dressing gown he’d brought with him, the policeman stepped back to see the window cleaner still not having flinched. Closer inspection revealed he didn’t seem at all bothered by the monsoon-style storm that was battering the small coastal town. In fact, he just continued to squeegee the glass, doing his best to dry it - though as soon as he’d wiped, the clouds above soaked it once more.
That didn’t deter him, though, as he squeegeed again.
Rex walked over to the window and tried to make eye contact with the man through the glass. No matter what gestures he made, though, he just couldn’t get the window cleaner’s attention. He was seriously concentrating on getting that glass in tiptop condition. It was only after Rex pressed his nose up against it that the man outside seemed to register that he was there, jumping out of his skin and nearly tumbling down from his ladder.
“What are you doing?” Rex shouted, gesticulating wildly so the man could understand what he was saying in case the sound didn’t carry through the double-glazing.
“Cleaning the windows,” came the reply, before the man continued to squeegee the exact same patch of glass.
Rex wasn’t sure if the man had understood him: “I mean, they’re not getting any cleaner or drier,” he shouted back, still swinging him arms all over the place. “Haven’t you seen the bloody rain?”
The man simply continued, before giving a glance over his shoulder. “Oh, it’s raining?” he asked, seemingly with a straight face, but Rex couldn’t put his finger on whether it was sarcasm or not. He must have clocked the torrential downpour that was going on around him, as his hair dripped onto his face and a small puddle formed in the hood of his pullover.
The detective decided he didn’t have the time to be messed around. He wanted some breakfast before he reported to the local police station and they’d stop serving in ten minutes or so.
He swung the curtains shut and got dressed, with the sound of the squeegee scraping across the outside of the glass.
It was with confusion that Rex observed a woman trying to carry her luggage into the bed and breakfast. Despite having two suitcases, both with extendable handles and wheels, the new arrival was down on her haunches trying to drag both of the clearly weighty bags down the hallway, handles remaining in their original holding place, retracted.
He chuckled as he rounded the bottom of the staircase and turned into the bar for breakfast. He took a seat at the nearest table, as the hotel’s owner stepped towards him.
“I’m not too late for breakfast, am I?” he asked the lady, who smiled and looked at her watch. Rex waited for the response, looking up at her from his seated position, but she just continued to stare at the clock face for an uncomfortably long amount of time. If he hadn’t missed breakfast by the time he sat down, he might have done by the time she’d stopped being captivated by her wristwatch. “Is it too late?”
“Hmm?” the owner fired back with lightning-quick timing.
He wasn’t sure how he’d managed to get the question wrong, but Rex assumed he must have done give the lack of understanding that was present. Whether the deadline for ordering the first meal of the day had passed shouldn’t need to be asked three times in any situation. Maybe she was going deaf, though that wouldn’t explain why she’d looked at the watch.
“Is it too late for me to order breakfast?” he tried once more.
The lady looked at her watch again, falling into the spell of being mesmerised by the moving hands. Rex sighed and just decided to go for it and try and get his food. Life was too short to sit and watch people tell the time.
“Can I order breakfast?” he asked. This question sparked her into life.
“Of course!” she almost shouted back with delight. “What can I get for you? We’ve got full English and continental options, or you could have some cereal, fruit or bread from the breakfast bar.”
Rex thought for a moment, before deciding. “I’ll have the full English,” he replied. “But can I have it without mushrooms please?”
The bed and breakfast owner pulled the small notepad out of her pocket and tried to take down the order. It was all going so well until she followed it up by grabbing her unclicked pen and trying to write with it. As no ink landed on the paper from the nib - which was tucked safely inside the plastic shell - she pressed harder and harder in an attempt to make it work. Credit where it was due, she could tell something was wrong. Not that she could tell what it was, as the end of the pen burst through the paper.
Rex sighed and clicked the pen for her, seconds after she’d announced to him: “Oh, it must be broken.” She wrote down the order and took it to the kitchen, leaving Rex to wait at his table and look around the rest of the room. It was then that the man on the next table caught his attention.
He prodded him tentatively. “Excuse me, you do realise that you’re buttering a coaster?”
He’d watched in amazement as the man, suited and booted businessman-like, took upwards of two minutes to open a packet of butter. Despite the instructions to ‘peel here’, he had tried both flicking the top off the lid and unscrewing it. He’d bashed it onto the table to loosen it, too. In the end, he settled for piercing the top with his knife.
Not the sharp end, mind - it had taken quite some time for the handle of the knife to break the plastic sheet.
After removing the knife handle, complete with a thin coating of butter, he began spreading it over his coaster, which was sitting comfortably next to his two fried eggs, his two rashers of bacon and, for some reason, his wallet, all neatly on his plate.
He looked over towards Rex with a completely vacant expression. “I am?”
“Yes,” the detective replied. “You’ve also put your pineapple juice on top of your toast.”
“Oh,” he said, as he turned back and continued buttering his coaster.
Rex watched as he replaced the knife on the tablecloth, picked up the coaster and tried to take a bite. The wooden drink mat didn’t budge with every attempt he made at scything through it with his incisors. Only on the fifth pass was he able to break anything off.
He eventually turned back to the detective. “Yes?” The man asked, seemingly unaware of the sheer stupidity of the act he was performing.
“You’re eating a coaster.”
There was a long pause as he crunched his way through the wood. It took several minutes before it was a size that he was able to swallow, but when the time came, he did it without a wince. Rex couldn’t take his eyes off the man beside him.
The man turned back, clearly annoyed. “If you don’t mind,” he said, gently, “I’m trying to eat my breakfast.”
Rex’s breakfast of mushrooms in a bowl of stone cold porridge arrived a few moments later. He decided it was probably best not to question the delivery, following the exchanges he’d had already that morning, and instead he stood up. There wasn’t a chance in hell he was going to try eating that splodge, that would look more at home as loft insulation than it did in a bowl on the breakfast table.
He grabbed his coat and made for the front door.
Having arrived at the Oldmoor Police station and had a twenty-minute argument with a desk sergeant who’d thought he was self-admitting himself into custody, Rex had found the case that he’d been assigned on his first day of his new role. If he’d been told that the entire town had the IQ of a lemon meringue pie, he’d probably not have taken the transfer. That was a thought crossing his mind when he found himself handcuffed and in one of the prison holding cells, despite Desk Sergeant Moron not being able to find even a hint of his name on any of his arrest lists.
He was down as one of the new staff members to expect that day, but he was too wily to be caught out by that age-old trick - whatever that age-old trick was.
Fortunately for Rex, the police officer hadn’t locked the cell door, so when he pulled it towards him and it opened without a hint of trouble he was pleasantly surprised. He was even more surprised to find the cop who’d just locked him up had accidentally handcuffed his left leg to his right arm and was curled up in a ball behind the desk.
Rex picked the keys up off the paper-covered desk and uncuffed himself, before throwing them down to the incapacitated police officer on the floor, who was still insisting that he had “everything under control.” Rex wondered if he’d still be locked up when he’d finished his first shift. Maybe he’d accidentally swallow the keys or maybe he’d try to file the handcuffs off his wrists using the ridged edge.
His first case looked like a simple one: a house fire with one victim, body found burnt to a crisp in the kitchen and the whole building as black as the night through fire damage. On arriving at the scene, he’d discovered that the house might not have looked that bad if the fire brigade hadn’t gone the long way around to the wrong address first.
As Rex stepped under the police tape (which had cordoned off the wrong road), he spoke first to the chief fire officer, who confirmed that there had been a blaze. Although that was the best he could offer at this time and he wasn’t willing to commit to how the inferno began. If pushed, however, he’d have guessed it started in the kitchen, since the cooker was a melted slab of metal and the twisted corpse of a 34-year-old man was found on the floor beside it.
On top of that there was a (very well done) sirloin steak in a pan atop it, too.
Across the far side of the road, another police officer was comforting a woman who was sobbing uncontrollably. Rex knew it was dangerous to put two and two together, especially with the day he’d been having so far, but he did anyway and he struck four. It was the widow of the deceased. He didn’t want to, but he knew he had to talk to her to find out what happened.
It was no quick process. It took him almost an hour to introduce himself and to show and explain his ID to the officer who was comforting her. By the time he’d managed to convince her that the likeness in the photograph was indeed himself rather than any family member or twin brother or complete stranger who’d had plastic surgery in order to look exactly like him, the woman she was offering support to had got hungry and had left to grab a bite to eat. Rex finally caught up with her buying a sandwich in a cafe up the street.
“Explain to me what happened,” he said to her, as they walked back down towards the remains of her house. “Take your time.”
“My sister called,” she said, seemingly more alert than anybody else that he’d dealt with to this point in the day. Though there was still time for things to go south. “I was in the middle of cooking for me and my husband when she rang to say that her daughter had been taken ill and she needed to go to the hospital. She doesn’t drive and her good-for-nothing husband was too busy getting drunk to care.
“I went to put my jacket on to leave and I came back to see my Pete unable to turn the television on.”
She took a moment to regain her composure as she could feel the tears beginning to roll down her cheeks. Rex had encouraged her to go at her own pace again and she took a few deep breaths in order to be able to explain the next bit of her story.
“My very last words to him,” she said, before pausing once more. She couldn’t quite say it again, but she knew she wanted to. She took a deep breath. “My very last words to him were, ‘watch that steak, I’ll be back later - I don’t know what time.’ And then I never saw him again.”
She began to sob. “They say he didn’t take his eyes off the steak once as it burnt to a crisp, caught fire, melted the oven and torched the house.”
They had arrived back at the house by the time the woman had explained all about how standing completely still while being burnt to a crisp was completely out of character for her husband and about how much her sister had married an arsehole. Rex had drifted in and out of the conversation, offering nothing more than a “yeah” with a knowing nod, and a “how awful” with a sincere smile.
“I do have one final question,” he said, as they looked at the fire officers loading up the engine, having at last decided the what-had-once-been-smouldering remains of the building didn’t need any more water, given the swimming pool they had just created in the street. “Why are you the brightest person I’ve spoken to since I arrived in town?”
The woman waited for a moment before answering. “I’m not sure,” she said, crinkling her nose. “Maybe I just am, detective.”
Her voice trailed off, as the fire engine in front of them began to drive off. Rex wasn’t particularly paying attention to it, but if he had then he might have been able to avert the next disaster that was to strike. As his eyes scanned the destroyed house, the driver of the fire engine accidentally slipped the vehicle into reverse and accelerated far too quickly, hitting almost motorway cruising speed in a matter of seconds.
The rear of the truck slammed into the woman Rex had been talking to, knocking her to the ground and snapping the vast majority of bones in her legs like twigs. As she screamed in a combination of agony and terror, the driver realised his mistake and whacked the engine into first, before speedily slamming on the gas once again and disappearing into the distance.
Rex stayed with the woman after calling an ambulance to the scene, keeping her talking and conscious, if not even vaguely comfortable, as her legs lay shredded on the tarmac.
Roughly forty minutes later, that whole exercise in keeping the patient calm and composed was thrown out of the window and he became acutely aware that the practise of calling for an ambulance to attend a road accident was now a mission in suicide. After calling at the wrong address five times - on three occasions, the paramedics drove away from one house, took an obtuse route around the town and still arrived back at the same location - they eventually arrived to finish off the poor woman without a solid bone in her lower half.
The vehicle careered around the corner at something approaching the speed of sound, giving Rex very little time to react. He tried to flag it down to stop, but gave up halfway through even thinking about raising his arms and he dived out of its path and onto the pavement.
The paramedic behind the wheel did his best to stop, jamming both feet onto the brake pedal, but it was far too little and far too late to help the woman on the road. She became a human speed hump, as all four wheels of the ambulance crushed her body into the road.
When the vehicle came to a stop, the driver kicked the door open and jumped down onto the street. “Right, what do we have?” he shouted enthusiastically, as if he’d not felt the bump he’d just caused or as if he’d not seen the blood spatter around the scene where the widow’s insides had burst out from their usual hiding spot in order to decorate the road.
“A fatal collision,” Rex said to the man, before identifying himself. As the paramedic struggled to understand the concept of an ID card, Rex decided it was better to give up, sigh and wander off back to the station - leaving one of the medical team having a conversation with himself in the middle of the road and the other struggling to unlock an ambulance door.
Despite his ongoing problems with finding intelligent conversation and any level of common sense, Rex continued to show up to work for the next four days in his new police force. Through that time, he’d been tasked with solving a robbery from a small shop that had been conducted by the shop owner himself, forgetting that he’d moved stock out of the stockroom and onto the shelves. He’d solved the mystery of the missing person, who was indeed asleep in the next room to the lady that had made the report. He’d cracked the case of the man who had apparently been sending harassing text messages to his ex-girlfriend - she’d in fact been reading the same messages over and over again, from back when they were together.
However, it was on his sixth day in his new job that things began to take a turn for the bizarre. He’d again been partnered with Detective Sara Sparrow, who he’d discovered was not the perfect foil to bounce ideas off. Instead, just like the rest of the world around him, she had the mental capacity of a roast chicken. So far, she hadn’t helped him one iota in solving any of the more minor offences - and that made Rex nervous when he got the call that, at the first floor flat of 243b Brisbane Street, a dead body had been found.
On arriving at the scene, Rex had the ordeal of once again trying to convince the uniformed officer standing guard that he was indeed a fellow member of the police and that he wasn’t an alien from outer space or a dog in a man costume. It took an extraordinary amount of time for all of the possible scenarios the officer could dream up to be eliminated, but he was eventually allowed in to assess the scene.
The body was sat upright in an armchair in the lounge. The whole room resembled something out of a horror movie, as blood splatters covered all four walls and the vast majority of the carpet had been soaked with the victim’s bodily fluids. The body itself belonged to a man, aged somewhere in his late twenties or early thirties, and who had mid-length blond-brown hair. He’d been stabbed several times, with the final wound being made straight between the eyes - with the breadknife still protruding from the man’s forehead.
Other than that, the room seemed relatively normal. The television was still on opposite where the body was eerily staring, with the BBC Four test card still displayed from the channel he was last watching. By his feet in the armchair were a number of books, with some notable inclusions - War and Peace and The Great Gatsby were the two standouts.
Rex pulled out a pair of latex gloves to begin taking a look at some more of the room in closer detail. Though he wondered if he should be too bothered about contaminating the crime scene, since he’d had to take a moment out of his search to tell his colleague not to try yanking the murder weapon from the victim’s skull and to get her hands out of his thoracic cavity.
He picked up a wallet that was lying on the coffee table and thumbed through it. There was still cash inside, along with a few credit cards in the name of Aaron Banks, and a membership to a nearby casino. In the back compartment of the wallet was a bundle of receipts, the most recent dated two days earlier - for a book of piano sheet music. A quick look in the back room showed that purchase was propped up on a piano he had set up.
“Sparrow,” Rex called, as he made his way back into the lounge to find his colleague once again eying up the knife sticking out of poor Aaron Banks’s face. She jumped at the sound of her name and stood bolt upright, facing him. “Do you notice anything about this room that’s a bit unusual?”
Rex immediately regretted the question, when she focused on the deceased male slumped in his armchair, rather than the nuances that made this case a little more interesting than the ones they’d dealt with in the previous days.
“Think about it,” he continued. “What is there in this room that tells you something is different? I know you can do it. Somewhere in that head there’s a competent detective trying to escape. We’ve seen plenty of crimes in the last few days that have been open and shut cases. How do we know this is murder and that our friend Aaron Banks here didn’t accidentally stab himself a hundred times in the chest and then once in the face while trying to cut his hair with a breadknife?”
Rex watched as Sara tried to work out the answer. He appreciated the effort she was putting in, even though he knew there was little hope of her stumbling across the correct answer. She was thinking so hard that she almost burst a blood vessel in her head. After a moment, she reacted like the answer had been staring her in the face all this time: “He was left handed!”
Confused, Rex blinked for a moment and asked her to take him through her thinking. It was impeccable.
“Look,” she replied, hurriedly stepping towards the dead body. “The coffee table is on the left side of where he’s facing, with his coffee mug handle pointing towards him. He picked it up in his left hand.”
Sara jumped across to the phone on the wall by the counter that separated the lounge area from the kitchen. “Here,” she continued, “the pen and paper he used to make notes is on the left side of the phone, meaning he answered it with his right.”
She moved gracefully back towards the body and lifted up the right arm. It wasn’t an easy task as, in the act of being killed, the victim had gripped his hands into the side of the chair and once rigor mortis had set in the force needed to rip his nails from the upholstery took two hands from the detective.
“Here,” she continued. “On his right arm is his wristwatch, meaning he put it on with his left hand.” Sara then pointed towards the desk in the corner of the room, beside which stood a guitar. “Those scissors on the top over there are left handed, all of the documents that have been written have awkwardly shaped writing on them which has been smudged - and I would wager that that guitar is tuned upside down.
“And from all of that I deduce,” she stated like she was playing the part of a detective in a film that she stood a good chance of picking up an academy award for, “that this man Andy Banks did not kill himself. Judging by the angle of the knife in the forehead, if this wound was self-inflicted then the handle would be ever so slightly pointing to the left, rather than the right as it is. Curious why a left-handed man would deal his own fatal blow with his right hand, eh?”
With that, she yanked the knife out of the man’s forehead and planted it down on the coffee table, spraying the room with a touch more blood from the still fairly fresh wound.
A smile began to appear on Rex’s face, as he processed what his colleague had just told him. He’d not spotted any of what she’d announced, but he nodded as if he had - it did all stack up, after all. “Very good, Sparrow,” he replied, still amazed at what his partner had achieved. “Although, you have just further contaminated the crime scene and the victim’s name is Aaron and not Andy Banks.
“But other than that, it was absolutely flawless.”