Miles Kington: Spotting a murderer before the serial

'He couldn't help feeling glad when, two weeks later, another little old gypsy lady was found murdered'
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Every day this week I am bringing you a complete holiday novel for those moments on the beach when you don't want a blockbuster, just an 800-word novel to fill in three minutes. Today we have a complete thriller called: 'Cross Your Palm And Hope To Die'

"Anything new?" said Inspector Jarrow, tossing his hat across the room to the hat stand and missing for the 365th time. "Or is this the long-awaited but so far unknown crime-free day on which nobody commits any crime and we all twiddle our thumbs and go home early?"

"Fraid not, sir," said Sergeant Drury. "There's been a murder."

"Ho ho," said Inspector Jarrow. "Has there indeed? And what kind of murder is it? The intellectual kind, as seen on TV? Or the real kind, as practised in London?"

"Neither, sir," said Sergeant Drury. "Looks like a serial murder to me. The victim was an old gypsy lady who was known around North London for selling white heather. She'd been dragged down an alley and bashed over the head."

"Robbery a motive?"

"Don't think so. She still had most of her white heather and a couple of tenners on her."

"Well, that rules out one theory straightaway."

"Does it , sir?"

"Yes. The theory that white heather brings you luck. Didn't work for her. Right – let's go and take a look ..."

In the car the Inspector nailed down the thought that had been worrying him.

"Sergeant, you said back at the station you thought it might be the work of a serial murderer. How do you mean? There haven't been any other murders. Certainly not of little gypsy ladies."

"Not yet, sir," said the Sergeant. "But I have often thought it remiss of the police never to spot a serial murderer until after he's done five or six jobs. If only we spotted him after the first murder, we could save a lot of lives."

"And how do you suggest we do that? Keep all gypsy ladies under observation? Or under lock and key? And if we kept them away from the murderer, so that he couldn't lay his hands on them, how would we ever know if this single murder had been the first in a projected series? Don't be bloody stupid, Sergeant."

The Sergeant said nothing, but his hatred for the Inspector grew. And although he didn't generally approve of murder, he couldn't help feeling glad when, two weeks later, another little old gypsy lady was found murdered. And another, two weeks after that.

"Sergeant ..."

"Yes, sir?"

"Looks like there was some juice in your serial murder theory after all."

"Yes, sir."

"Do you have an alibi for both nights?"

"I beg your pardon, sir?"

"Look, sergeant, I'm not a fool. The only person with a motive for murdering a string of gypsy ladies is you. It's in your interest to make it look like a series of murders, so your theory stands up."

"Look, sir, I'm not a fool either. If I were the murderer of these women, then I'd make sure I had an alibi wouldn't I? Which, as it so happens, I have."

"But," said the Inspector, "do you have an alibi for the first murder? The one which you opined right at the start might be the work of a serial murder?"

"No, as a matter of fact, I don't," said the Sergeant. "But I don't need to. I didn't kill her, did I?"

"Suggesting," said the Inspector very softly, "that you did kill the other two?"

Inspector Jarrow was found murdered shortly after that, before he could pass on his suspicions about Sergeant Drury to anyone else, and the Sergeant felt that, on the whole, this was a good thing. But the police hate it when one of their number is murdered, and a very good man from the Yard, Inspector Cuffing, was sent in to sort it out.

"You worked with Jarrow a lot, didn't you?" said Cuffing to Drury.

"I did, sir. And I couldn't have had a better boss to work for."

More's the pity, thought Drury.

"Got any theories about the killing, Drury?" said Inspector Cuffing.

"Looks like the work of a serial killer to me, sir," said the Sergeant.

"That might be so, if we had had a series of dead inspectors," said Cuffing. "But we haven't, so talk sense and don't be so bloody stupid!"

No, we haven't, thought Drury. Not just yet.


MORAL: Look out! Who's that behind you!?