Miles Kington: Curious tale of the shampoo bombers and the safe house

'These two explosive guys are the only people in the world who know how to make a bomb out of shampoo, so they have to be looked after'
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The Independent Online

Today - another Sixty Second Sleuth story, starring Inspector Kenneth Braid, who clears up every mystery within one minute of arriving on the scene of the crime. Today's yarn is entitled "Take It Away".

"Does the term 'safe house' mean anything to you, Sergeant?" said Inspector Braid, as they drove towards their destination in west London.

"Certainly does, sir," said Comfort. "It means a house where the teenage children have left home and the locks have been changed by the parents."

"Very good, Comfort," said Braid. "I was thinking more of the kind of safe house set up by the police to house valuable witnesses and who we do not want to see rubbed out by the other side. Such as 45 Bloemfontein Avenue, where we are heading."

"Isn't that going to blow its cover if we walk in, sir?" said Comfort. "Aren't the neighbours going to nudge each other and say, 'Look at all the fuzz! Looks like they've got a safe house over there, Doris'?"

"'Doris'?" said Braid.

"Name chosen at random to embellish my narrative, sir."

"My, my, but we are in a skittish mood today, Comfort," said Braid. "Yet you are right. This safe house must not be blown. That is why we are in mufti and that is why we are going to park 10 doors away, and stroll there, all casual like."

"Who exactly is safely housed in the safe house, sir?" said Comfort.

"Couple of explosive experts," said Braid. "You know all this fuss about people not being allowed to take gels and shampoos and liquid on planes, in case they make bombs out of them?"

"Yes," said Comfort. "Load of nonsense, I thought."

"So did I," said Braid. "But apparently these two explosive guys are the only people in the world who know how to make a bomb out of shampoo, so they have to be looked after. In a safe house. Which was burgled last night."

"Ah!" said Comfort. "Did the burglars get anything?"

"No," said Inspector Braid. "One of the explosive experts is a light sleeper. He says he heard intruders downstairs and scared them off."

"One thing puzzles me," said Comfort. "If this is a safe house and its security is so good, how did the burglars get in?"

"That is what we shall find out," said Braid, as they drew up outside 35 Bloemfontein Avenue and walked the last 40 yards. "Though the explanation seems obvious to me already."

Comfort wished Braid wouldn't say things like that. It wasn't obvious to him. Nor, he felt, to the two explosive experts when they met them. One was called Trott. The other was called Pringle. They clearly felt upset by the break-in.

"May I ask you one question, gentlemen?" said Braid, fixing Trott and Pringle with a hard stare. "There's a pile of cigarette stubs outside the front door. Which one of you is the smoker?"

There was a pause, and then Trott lifted his hand.

"Well, yes, I smoke, but ..."

"And last night you slipped outside for a final cigarette?"

"Well, yes, but..."

"I fancy it was then that the burglar slipped in. Almost all burglaries are opportunistic. See an open door - in they go."

"Listen, Inspector," said Pringle. "This is a safe house. Someone tried to get in last night. They were looking for something. They must have been!"

"Absolute balderdash," said Inspector Braid. "Lots of burglars burgle lots of houses. It stands to reason that sooner or later they will burgle a 'safe house'. Everyone in the 'safe house' will think they are being targeted. Absolute codswallop. It's just the law of averages operating."

"You really believe that?" said Trott.

"You really believe that people can make bombs out of hair gel?" said Braid.

"Of course," said Trott.

"If you believe that," said Braid, "then you can believe anything. Including, because I tell you so, that last night's burglary was just a good old-fashioned bungled burglary. Good day, gents."

Another Sixty Second Sleuth mystery coming soon.