(28 October 1998) It is sometimes said that crime novels are heading towards a state in which they contain no crime. That state has already been reached by my new crime novel, Chain Reaction, which is not only crime-free and solution- free, but is less than 1,000 words long, and therefore can be brought to you in its entirety today.
Bernard McKinley enjoyed cycling in the countryside, but always preferred to go alone. He could never see the joy of pedalling along with a companion whose conversation you could hardly hear and whose presence made you twice the target for a mad motorist.
And so it was that on this bright May day he was out in the lanes of Gloucestershire, pedalling merrily by himself, when suddenly his chain broke. There is nothing more annoying to a bicyclist than having your chain break, except perhaps having a lorry run over you, but Bernard McKinley was a dentist by profession, and knew the importance of good equipment, and sure enough he had brought a spare chain, and the requisite tools.
Even better, he had a supply of latex gloves – very good for keeping oil off your hands. So it was that Mr McKinley drew on his gloves as he bent over his bicycle, like a surgeon about to conduct a fatal operation at Bristol Royal Infirmary, and later drew them off and discarded them (and the old chain) in the undergrowth, before proceeding on his merry way, swerving to avoid a small child as he went.
"In what sense is she missing?" said the Inspector.
"In the sense that she cannot be found," said the Sergeant. "She is six years old, she is called Emily, she wandered off from her home early this morning and she has not been seen since."
"Oh well," said the Inspector, "I suppose we'd better get all available manpower for a search, then hold a press conference to admit total failure. 'Baffled Police Appeal For Clues ...' Little brat!"
After a day spent sweeping the countryside, the police had no clues except a pair of surgical gloves found near Emily's home.
"These could be the ones, sir!" said the Sergeant excitedly. "The ones used by the murderer to avoid leaving prints!"
"Sergeant, Sergeant, Sergeant," said the Inspector mournfully. "This might be useful if we had a murder. But all we have is a missing little girl. And we haven't even got her."
"The search continues for the missing Gloucestershire girl, Emily Painter," said the radio before Jack Tyler switched it off.
Jack Tyler was one of the most famous rugby players in England. His tackling and running were legendary. What was less well-known was his drinking problem, which had become so severe that he had agreed to sequester himself in a God-forsaken thatched cottage in the middle of Gloucestershire for a month, to start the rehabilitation process.
"You're doing well," said Dr Cavendish, after doing the usual tests. "And not a drop to drink in two months!"
"No," said Jack, thinking, God, I could murder a half-bottle of whisky, which was progress because two months ago it would have been a whole bottle.
"Well, I'll just pop out and do the shopping," said Dr Cavendish. "I'll be back in 20 or 30 minutes."
"OK," said Jack. "I'll just watch TV." But he was lying. As Dr Cavendish drove down to the main road, braking sharply to avoid a small girl, Jack was already changing into a track suit. He knew that if he left the house by the back door and ran down the lane to the Fox and Goose for a bottle of scotch, he could be home a good five minutes before the doctor. So he sped off down the lane, swerving only to avoid knocking over a little girl ... Having lost his balance because of her, he then tripped over something, fell full length and hit his head hard on a concrete post.
"The body of the former England rugby captain, Jack Tyler, has been found by the missing Gloucestershire girl, Emily Painter," said the radio, before Bernard McKinley switched it off. He was glad little Emily had been found, because now she wouldn't clutter up the news, but he was even less interested in rugby than in little Emily. (Not all dentists are hearties.) So he never discovered that the object which had tripped Jack Tyler was a bicycle chain, discarded in the undergrowth by persons unknown.
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