Miles Kington: A murder that a sleuth would never swallow

It was his last footling challenge to the public. Guess how the murderer hid the key
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The Independent Online

Time we had another crime yarn, I think, and that means another outing for Inspector Kenneth Braid, the Sixty Second Sleuth, so called because it never takes him longer than a minute to solve any particular crime. (The fact that it takes him another three weeks to do the paperwork is not his fault. It's Charles Clarke's.)

So let us follow him and his faithful sidekick, Sergeant Comfort, in a brand-new adventure called "Please Leave Your Key In Reception".

"You often read in crime stories about the murder in the locked room that nobody can solve," said Inspector Braid, "but how often in real life does a police officer encounter one?"

Comfort thought about it for a while, as they drove towards Hammersmith.

"Never," he said eventually.

"Correct," said Braid. "That's because it's the sort of murder dreamt up by a crime writer. In real life, there would be no point in leaving your victim safely dead inside a locked room. That's why the case we're going to now is such a puzzler."

"Murder in a locked room?"

"Precisely. Man named Phil Clancy has been found poisoned in his own bedroom, locked and bolted from the inside. Local police baffled. Sent for me."

"Phil Clancy?" said Comfort. "Any relation to the famous Phil Clancy?"

"What famous Phil Clancy?"

Comfort sighed. Sometimes Braid's almost wilful ignorance of the television and media world depressed Comfort. (What Comfort didn't know was that Braid had selected Comfort as his sidekick precisely because of his mastermind memory for modern trivia.)

"Started life as a street entertainer and became a big TV figure of the 90s, sir. Ran hugely popular programmes like Ever Been Had?, on which the public were given tasks and challenges which always humiliated them."

Braid said nothing. As an officer in a much-criticised police service, he was never sorry to see the public being humiliated.

"But then he faded away. I've often wondered what happened to him."

What had happened to him was that he had ended up in a bedsit in Hammersmith, poisoned. He looked a sad, crumpled figure, slumped in a sofa as old and worn as himself.

"My missus used to think Phil Clancy was God's gift," said the constable in charge.

"And you?" said Braid.

"Not me," said the policeman. "I thought he was a tosser. All those stupid tricks he used to play on people...."

"He's certainly played one on us here," said Comfort. "If he had been murdered, the killer might have locked the door and fled. But he couldn't have bolted it from the inside. If it was suicide, Clancy could have bolted the door. And locked it. But what could he have done with the key? There's no key in the room. And the window is screwed closed, so he couldn't have thrown it out of the window to trick us. If only we knew where the key was...."

"Oh, we know where the key is all right," said Braid. "It's just a question of proving it. Constable, I am going to ask you to do me a favour. I am going to have to borrow this body for a while. I would appreciate it if you didn't mention it to anyone."

"Why are we taking a corpse to Heathrow, sir?" said Comfort, as they turned off the M4. "Are we flying it anywhere?"

"No, Comfort," said Braid. "We are taking it to a friend of mine who runs security in one of the terminals. We are going to ask him to pass the body through one of his X-ray machines to see what we shall see."

And what they saw in Phil Clancy's digestive system was the unmistakable outline of a small key.

"He swallowed it," said Braid. "It was his last footling challenge to the public. Guess how the murderer hid the key. But there was no killer. Only himself. You gave me the clue, Comfort."

"I did, sir?"

"Said he had once been a street entertainer. Street entertainers swallow things."

"Do they, sir?"

Braid smiled to himself. Comfort might know a lot about TV, but not much about art in the real world.