It was the first of November. A constant flutter of leaves spiralled down from the trees as Inspector Braid and Sergeant Comfort walked along the high street of the little village of Courtenay Pine.
"He kept himself very much to himself," said Comfort.
"Who did?" said Braid, who had been enjoying the crisp autumn air and had not really been listening.
"Charlie Spond. The dead man. Found this morning just inside his kitchen door with a bullet through his head, and no sign of a weapon."
"Who found him?"
"Cleaning lady arrived at nine o'clock and found him sprawled all over the kitchen floor in a pool of blood. Most unlike him, she said. He was normally so tidy and careful. Didn't smoke, didn't drink. He hardly needed a cleaning lady, he was that tidy."
"I sometimes think the main function of a cleaning lady in these little villages is to find the corpse and report it to the police," mused Braid. "What do we know about Spond?"
"Well, sir," said Comfort, "everyone but you knows that till he retired he was the most popular gardening expert on TV. We've been keeping an eye on him."
"Why?" said Braid. "It's not illegal to be a gardening expert, surely?"
"No, but we strongly believe that he was mixed up in a multi-million pound illegal peat extraction racket. He had made a lot of enemies. That's why he kept himself to himself. Maybe they have caught up with him."
"You think Greenpeace gunned him down?"
"This is the house here, sir."
It was a Cotswold cottage facing across a small garden on to the street. There were two doors, a posh door and a kitchen door. According to Mrs Thribbs, who lived across the road, he never used the posh door. He hardly had any visitors, either. She couldn't remember having seen any last night at all. Apart from the kids, of course.
"It was Hallowe'en last night. We had a bunch of kids down the street tricking or treating. I gave them some marshmallows. They went over to Mr Spond's after that."
"Would you recognise any of them again?" said Braid.
"Hardly," said Mrs Thribbs. "They all wore masks. And cloaks. It was Hallowe'en."
Braid had a look round the scene of the murder, then asked Comfort a curious question.
"Comfort, you must have seen Charlie Spond's show?"
"Were there by chance any very small people on it?"
"Matter of fact, there were, sir. He used to have a small gang of garden gnomes. Midgets, they clearly were, but all dressed up as gnomes. He pretended to ask them gardening questions, but really he took the piss out of them, repeatedly. Not a very pleasant man. Why, sir?"
"Because there are a couple of fag ends on the ground outside the kitchen door. Who left them? There were no visitors, except the kids. Spond didn't smoke. Children don't smoke. But midgets often do. Why should they worry if it stunts their growth?"
"You think it was a gang of midgets trick-or-treating, sir?"
"Spot on, Comfort. The only convincing disguise for a gang of midgets would be as children. Spond would be likely to open his door to children. There's only one night of the year when it's normal for children to go around in gangs and be rowdy. It all fits. I don't know how long the gnomes had been waiting for their revenge, but they certainly achieved it."
"Shall I round up the gnomes then, sir?"
"Good idea, Comfort."
Miles Kington's book 'Someone Like Me; Tales From a Borrowed Childhood', is published by Headline at £16.99. To order a copy at the special price of £15.50 (free p&p), call Independent Books Direct on 08700 798 897, or order online at www.independentbooksdirect.co.ukReuse content