When they found him, all pale and dead and murdered, they thought he was a schoolboy. A man of twenty-five soaked in rainwater and mistaken for a thirteen year-old.
And then someone said: “That’s the farmer’s son. He can sell anything.”
The identification was verified: “Yes, he sold me a pen once when all I wanted was a packet of butter.”
And again: “He sold me a canoe during that drought we had.”
The Chief of Investigations and I tramped through the rain to the farmhouse where we passed on the news to his milky-skinned mother.
Who said: “He always had so much going on.” Not any more.
We began our investigations by driving to the local garage. The Chief stayed in the car whilst I scurried out to get snacks, returning to the car with my arms full. Like a damp squirrel.
We rode around some more, looking at things through the windows of the car, trying to investigate whilst keeping dry.
The Chief would say: “Is that a clue?” Pointing at something in a field somewhere.
To which I would reply: “I’m not sure, I can’t quite see from here.”
“One of us is going to have to get out.”
“Well I’m not.”
“Well… oh, it’s probably nothing.”
We decided to base our investigation at the farmhouse instead. In front of a roaring fire we sat and asked endless questions of the family, the witnesses we had found and anyone else we could interrogate until the rain stopped.
Over that week the Chief and I became quite close to the farmer’s wife and her family as murder investigations and funeral arrangements blended into one. And so on the morning of the funeral we found ourselves in the farmhouse kitchen, putting our butchery skills to good use in preparing the mourners’ dinner. With that done we changed into our funeral clothes, which were quite black but not as black as some.
The service was short and ended with the words: “There are lots of things, and nothing lasts forever.”
It was still raining when we stepped back out into the elements.
The Chief turned to me and said: “Right, let’s get on with this investigation. Whodunnit, eh?”
“I don’t know. I think I’ve lost my appetite.”
The Chief scowled and said: “Well, I’d rather have a bite to eat first but if we must then I suppose we could skip the dinner and get straight back on the trail of this darned murderer.”
I looked around at the rain and told him: “No, I mean all this… this whodunnit stuff. I’m not sure that I care anymore.”
“But we’ve got to find out whodunnit.” And then he shouted, the word coming right out of the bottom of his belly: “WHODUNNIT!”
“I don’t know if I want to know.” I mumbled along. “It’s always something grisly and wrong… something that I don’t want to know about.”
The mourners were filing past us, out into the pale and wet whodunnit day.
I said: “I’m sorry.”
I formally resigned from the whodunnit the next day, took all of my savings out of the bank and used them to buy my own private island somewhere out in the middle of the North Sea where I set up a coffee house called: ‘There Are Lots Of Things, And Nothing Lasts Forever.’
The trawlermen who stopped off on their way past were sceptical about cappuccino at first but after a short while they were happily knocking back espressos and macchiatos without a cynical sardine swipe in sight, and I was happy in my- What’s that? The phone?
I got up to answer the coffee house phone. It was the first time it had ever rung.
On the other end of the line: “It’s me.” The Chief.
He said: “I found out whodunnit.” It sounded like he was standing out in the hammering rain back home.
I laughed: “Yeah. Well done.” And then, sober: “I mean it, well done.”
“Thanks.” A pause. “Don’t you want to know who it was? Who it was what dunnit.”
I thought about it, thought my way through the coffee fug and across the stormy North Sea and back in time to the pale and dead farmer’s son and the Chief and I stood over the body in the rain.
And then said: “To be honest, I don’t remember much about the case – the clues, the suspects, I don’t even remember the method of murder. The answer wouldn’t mean a whole lot to me. Is that alright?”
From the other end of that bleak and stormy North Sea phone line: “I suppose.”
“I mean, if you want to tell me, you can.”
“Well, pop in for a coffee sometime. On the house.”
The phone line crackled, just for something to do. Otherwise it would just have been silent.
We stayed like that for a while, the North Sea between us.
Oh go on then: “Chief?”
I could hear the fuzzy static of his smile all those miles away.