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Detective Beelte

by Andrew White 

Posted: 28 September 2006
Word Count: 3192
Summary: A not too serious short story about a police detective who investigates unusual crimes.

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Detective Beetle
By Andrew White

THERE WERE NO WITNESSES, NOT this time, and not at any other time either. It might be important to note, even if there were any witnesses, they would probably have had a hard time trying to describe the events they had seen anyhow.
Detective Jack Beetle thought that witnesses were the most unreliable source of evidence available and he preferred random pieces of information, that seemed to the untrained eye, to be totally unrelated to the crime.
Meanwhile, in a small apartment, on the second floor of a tatty red brick building, a man was slumped face down in front of his computer screen. His head was resting neatly on the keyboard. He looked on the whole as though he had just fallen asleep if it wasn’t for the presence of a Roman gladius that was sticking out of his back. The handle of the weapon was only a few inches above the man’s back indicating that it had penetrated him with a mighty thrust. The man had been dead for several hours, and there were no clear signs of an intruder. The gladius however, was in pristine condition and should probably have resided in a museum, as part of a rare collection, but then things are never usually as they should be.
I received a call on my emergency mobile phone, the red one, at around eleven o’clock in the morning. It was from my partner in crime Detective Carter, Nancy to her friends.
‘Jack,’ she said as I put the phone to my ear. ‘We have a dead guy in an apartment on Park Street, very strange circumstances, where are you.’
I had to admit; I was in the donut shop eating a double cream and jam special, an occasional occurrence that was fast becoming a habit.
‘I’m at the gym,’ I replied, stretching the truth a tad, ‘I’ll see you there in ten, what’s the address?’
Twenty-five minutes later, I arrived at the crime scene, note pad in hand and small traces of white icing on my jacket. Nancy was already there, taking fingerprints, photographs and modelling her new pink sweat pants for the uniformed police officers. They all stood around and watched her as she worked, since there was clearly no point in working when Nancy was in the room. You can see why I hired her. The boys in blue think that I am the luckiest guy in the world, but you just have to know when to play your cards.
‘You’re late,’ she said.
‘So what,’ I said to her in return, ‘you seem to have everything under control, sweats aside.’
‘Come and have a look at this,’ she continued waving me over to the far end of the room.
She was excited about something. I couldn’t resist her when she got excited about work, so I followed her over to the computer table.
‘What do you think?’ she asked, motioning to the guy on the keyboard.
The man was dead, I was sure of that. I had been to detective school. I had been trained to recognise a dead person when I saw one. I had seen many in my time actually, and some had been dead for centuries.
‘He’s dead,’ I said finally, shooting Miss Carter a dumbfounded look, which said what did she expect me to do? Cartwheels?
She shot me a look in return, only hers wasn’t full of blanks like mine. She had a way of seeing through my bullshit, that’s what I liked about her. She was intuitive, resourceful and more attractive than the other people I interviewed for the job.
‘Look here, on the handle,’ She said pointing to a pattern on the handle, ‘it’s no ordinary knife, I think it’s hundreds of years old,’ she continued, looking pleased. She had been to school too you know, that was another reason why I hired her.
‘Ah,’ I said, ‘well, bag it, and while your at it, bag the thing attached as well. Any sign of the perpetrator?’
‘No, that’s even weirder. All the doors and windows were locked from the inside. There was no sign of a struggle and nothing seems to be taken. Whoever did this has to still be in the room.’
The atmosphere in the apartment changed and the uniformed police searched the room nervously. There was no one else in the one bedroom apartment, only the usual lounge, bed, television and a computer screen that was currently flying through space like the star ship enterprise. I could hear a voice in my head saying, “Ooh.”
‘Nancy, don’t be silly,’ I said, breaking the deadly silence that had engulfed the premises. ‘Let’s get him out of here.’
The body was removed with the gladius still attached, and we sealed off the doorway with a special blue and white plastic, so that no one would stand a chance of getting in. I was secretly more concerned about what might get out, and particularly the manor of its departure. I needed desperately to get back to my office, where I was sure I had seen this weapon before, somewhere in my collection of unsolved ancient murders.
We left the apartment at around midday and returned to the police station. On the way back we stopped for I donut. Nancy had a glass of water.
Once we were back at the station, we descended into my office, it was Nancy’s office too, although she doesn’t like to spend very much time there. I have a small cosy office, located under the fire stairs on the basement level. It’s quiet down here, and that’s how I like it, in amongst the archives where a detective can really get his hands dusty.
I pulled out the file on unsolved ancient murders from under my desk, actually a trunk, which had belonged to my great grand father Davis Beetle who was the very first detective of the unusual. Davis had started the file in eighteen seventy-five, when he came across a similar case. Currently the file contains over three hundred unusual cases. Sadly however, none of these have ever been solved and my profession has become somewhat of a joke.
I removed the case in question, number 3, and read it. It described in detail the history of the Ghost called Hubert of Throb, and how he was put to death by the Romans for murdering his brother, and his farther, and some officials, oh and his uncle. He was now at large in the city and was using the telephone system as a convenient source of travel. That’s odd, I thought. Also, his signature weapon was the Roman gladius, the weapon he was holding when they came to arrest him. The file contained a drawing of the weapon. My memory was flooding back now. I knew I had seen that weapon somewhere before. The Roman gladius, signature weapon of Hubert of Throb, it was the same weapon I had seen earlier today in the man’s back. I put two and two together and came up with three. I realised something was missing.
I called Nancy to give her the news.

* * *

WE RETURNED TO THE SCENCE of the crime. The blue and white plastic was still there, where we had left it and neither of us had remembered to bring the special police scissors. We had to fight our way through, arms swinging uncontrollably like we were pushing our way through a giant spiders web.
Inside, we found the apartment exactly as we had left it. Somehow I knew Hubert was still here, call it instinct, call it wishful thinking, I just knew he was still in the room, waiting for something. What was it? Davis had suspected that he used the telephone to escape, travelling around in the wires. Perhaps somebody had to call the apartment first before he could depart, and he was just waiting patiently for the next caller.
‘Where’s the phone?’ I asked Nancy.
Nancy was used to me being weird. It came with the business.
‘Telephone? I don’t think he has one. I tried to get his phone records from the phone company but they told me he has never owned a phone.’
I couldn’t believe this, everyone owns a telephone, I have several in fact and they are all colour coded for their individual purpose.
‘Nonsense,’ I said. ‘Everyone has a phone.’
‘Well not according to the latest statistics,’ said Nancy, ‘it’s the modern world out there, Jack, people use all sorts of things, email, VOIP, video messaging, you know, the Internet.’
As she spoke I realised just how old fashioned I had become, I was living in the dream of my great grand father. Although something Nancy said stuck in my mind. The word Internet rang a few bells.
I rushed over the where the star ship enterprise was seeking out new life and pressed a key. The screen returned to normal. I studied it carefully.
‘That’s it,’ I said, realising how the ghost intended to escape “look! He’s selling himself over the Internet, that’s how he’s been moving around.’
The browser was opened at the popular on line trading site e-Sell and a box of Swiss chocolates was currently being bid on. There was ten minutes left on the auction and it looked like it was going to go to a woman in Sydney, Australia.
‘Stop it, turn it off, quick,’ I shouted.
‘You can’t stop it, we don’t know the password,’ said Nancy.
‘Damn it,’ I said, ‘there must be a way, what about the company, e-Sell, can they stop it.’
‘Come on, they’re down on York Street, we can make it if we hurry,’ she said, pulled me out of the room.
We jogged all the way down Park Street side by side, and we passed the donut shop and the gym along the way. York Street loomed up ahead of us but it was on the other side of the river and we were too late, the bridge had gone up. We could swim across. I suggested this to Nancy and fortunately there was no time to argue, so we dived in. By the time we arrived at front door of e-Sell we were drenched from head to toe and we looked like a pair of pathetic losers.
I presented my soggy police badge to the receptionist who had a hard time believing me, but nevertheless she called the office manager who arrived promptly.
‘It’s police business,’ I explained to him with a flash of my badge, Kojak style.
The man did seem a bit on edge. We were not your usual police officers. He led us up to the third floor and through a very tedious security process.
I looked at my watch and noticed that nine minutes had passed already and that meant we only had one minute left.
‘Hurry up,’ I said to the man and pointed at my watch. He had a confused look on his face. This was the look people like me get all the time, but you get use to it.
We arrived at the desk of the person in charge of the mainframe computer. He had apparently left early to pick up his children.
‘There is no time left, cancel it,’ said Nancy.
The office manager gave us an apologetic glance and popped his head above the cubical. ‘Does anybody know Tom’s screensaver password,’ he called out to the surrounding employees.
Several ‘no’s’ and one ‘try dickhead’ emanated from the office.
I looked at my watch just in time to see the hand tick over and signal that ten minutes was up. The auction finished and the chocolates were sold.
‘Damn it,’ said Nancy.
‘Lets get out of here,’ I said.
‘Sorry to trouble you,’ I said sarcastically to the office manager as we left, leaving a trail of water behind.
‘What now?’ Nancy enquired.
‘Pack your bags, we’re going to Sydney, Australia.’

* * *

WE ARRIVED AT SYDNEY AIRPORT, shortly after dinner the following night. Fourteen hours of torture in third class and I was beginning to feel like a Jack in the box, and I desperately wanted to jump out of the window. The police force apparently have a sense of humour and take pride in looking after the well being of their employees. I was sure I said first class. Next time I will ask for third class, just to see how low they can go, probably the cargo hold, as it seems the only likely alternative.
The hotel room we checked into was only marginally larger than our previous cabin space, but it allowed me the luxury of stretching my legs, after I was first seated on the nearest comfy sofa.
Nancy put on a pair of blue track pants and did some of her daily stretches. This was the third reason why I hired her.
‘How’s it going mate,’ I said, trying to sound Australian. Nancy just glared at me. I could tell she didn’t like childish men.
‘Jack, can you get your mind on the case for once,’ she said between forward bends.
She did have a point. My mind was on a beach somewhere soaking up the sun with a Banana Daiquiri. I had spent many years in the force, perfecting the art of wasting time by pretending to be a goofball. There were the odd crimes where I had to do some real work, a ghost here and a ghost there, interspersed with some weird murders that no one could explain, but other than that I spent eighty percent of my time pretending that I was nine years old, and getting away with it. Then one day I had this bright idea and hired a partner. It seemed like a good idea at the time but now all she does is nag me about doing police work.
‘I’m on it,’ I said, giving her a reassuring nod.
The next day we headed out in search of the mystery woman we had seen on the Internet. We hoped that Hubert of Throb hadn’t got bored and done away with her as well.
The first stop was the Sydney branch of the Internet trading post e-Sell. Surprisingly their office was also located on York Street. I let Nancy go up and do all the talking, she was much better at retrieving information from people than I was. She had a knack, and besides I had been told that the manager was a ladies’ man.
The e-Sell ID matched a woman called Betty Jones who lived in a neighbouring suburb, and the manager’s name was David who turned out to also have a telephone number. I commented to Nancy on her loyalty to the job and she thanked me for my concern. All in a days work for that girl.
On the way to Betty’s house we made a small detour to pick up a box on fresh donuts and a bottle of water.
We rang the doorbell and a woman answered. We were relieved to see that she was still in one piece.
‘Police, can we come in,’ I asked.
‘Sure,’ said Betty, opening the door. ‘Can I get you anything, tea, coffee, hot chocolate,’ she asked.
The last item caught my attention immediately. There was a box of fresh donuts in the car that would be perfect with a hot chocolate.
‘No, thanks,’ said Nancy abruptly, she knew me too well.
‘We were wondering if you bought a box of swiz chocolates yesterday, from e-Sell,’ I asked.
‘Yes, I did,’ said the woman. ‘But when I rang the number to arrange the pick up, I was told that the number was disconnected. I rang e-Sell and they said that they had no record of the transaction. We got into an awful fight until I can to my senses. It was only a box of chocolates you know, are you investigation it?’
‘No, we’re on a different case altogether,’ said Nancy, ‘can we see your computer?’
‘Sorry, I don’t have one,’ replied Betty. ‘I do all of my transaction down at the local internet café.’
Nancy and I looked at each other in surprise.
‘Internet café,’ we said simultaneously.
We made our apologies to the lovely Betty Jones and asked if we could come back later for some hot chocolate.
We followed Betty’s directions to the Internet café but even before we walked into the place, I had a bad feeling we were wasting our time. Internet cafés are full of people transacting all sorts of things. Virus, e-Trading, online games, and dozens of other ways that a ghost could escape without detection.
We walked in and surveyed the room. It was just as we had expected. There were twenty, maybe thirty computer terminals all hooked up to the Internet and a bunch of junky weirdos sitting around just to perfect the ambience.
‘It’s no use,’ I said, at a loss. There was something about the room that told me he was gone. He probably jumped terminals as soon as he got here.
‘We should at least look around,’ said Nancy.
‘No point, lets go home.’
We stopped at Betty’s house for a farewell cup of hot chocolate. Betty told us all that she had sold an old hunting knife, which had belonged to her late husband, to a woman in Botswana. We copied down the phone number since it was the only lead we had to go on. There was a small chance that Hubert of Throb may have used her terminal to get away.
We flew back home in the cargo hold of a 747. My theory was obviously correct. Nancy wasn’t very happy with me and refused to talk or to do any exercises for the duration of the flight. She even put on a pair of jeans. Perhaps she was coming down with something.
We got back to the office around lunchtime and I put my feet up. Nancy was still upset about the whole cargo hold thing, so she went out to the shops to buy a new pair of track pants. She’ll be over it in a few hours I thought.
I picked up the phone and dialled the number of the woman in Botswana, the one who had bought the hunting knife. A man answered and informed me that the woman hadn’t lived there in years, and also that he had never heard of the Internet. I sympathised with him, we all wish we had never heard of the Internet, and I hung up. It was another dead end in a long line of dead ends that stretched back to Davis Beetle.
Then my phone rang, the blue one this time.
‘Jack Beetle,’ said a voice of the other end.
‘Yep,’ I said.
‘We have found a dead Viking warrior on the side of the expressway, and the boys in blue said that it would be right up your ally.’
‘I’ll be right with you,’ I said and hung up the phone.
‘Nancy!’ I called. ‘Now where had she got to?’

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Comments by other Members

Becca at 09:59 on 30 September 2006  Report this post
Hi Andrew,
I think my overall reaction is that there are too many different ideas and too many 'asides' for the reader to get to grips with very easily: hunting knives, internet versus telephones, swiss chocolate, donuts and water... The story would be cleaner and crisper if some of those were edited out. It's always useful to ask yourself, as you go along, how a particular sentence or idea advances the story you are writing, adds to it. But that, I think, gets to a deeper point which is what is the story actually about? - I wasn't sure if it was about the MC and his inner thoughts and feelings or about Hubert the Throb, {great name by the way!} It might be just a matter of doing some acute editing, but in the section in which the MC arrives at the murder scene, the story drifts away from the actual murder into his feelings for Nancy, and references to that go on for quite some time, as if the story was about that, and not the murder. I don't mean to be pedantic,- all the asides could be in the story without destroying the overall balance and shape of things, but they'd need to be less heavy-handed to work well. For example, having said the MC fancied Nancy, you could then make further references to it more obliquely through gestures or glances, or in the dialogue.
I know the story is written in a particular genre style, but I didn't get all the connections very clearly, like the hunting knife at the end, it was as if there were parts of the MC's thinking that wasn't in the story. But the one thing that was clearly stated was that Hubert came from a different time and was up to no good in the city: 'He was now at large in the city nad using the telephone system as a convenient source of travel.' But this was the crux of the matter and I thought it was misplaced as you wrote it in the story because it's a high point, a revelation. I think it would have been better if you'd kept it aside for a more dramatic moment, perhaps in a conversation with Nancy, who isn't developed enough as a central character, by the way. One of the reasons I say that is because she doesn't question anything, she seems to know all about his thoughts automatically.
It'd be good if you could get someone on WW who also writes genre stories to crit this for you.
I found a few typos along the way:
'where are you.' Needs a question mark.
The semi-colon after 'admit' needs to be after 'special', although it's not really necessary there, a comma would do.
'I donut'??? a donut?
'office' is used three times in quick sucession, {not so much a typo, as a stylistic thing}
'spiders' --> spider's
'grand father' --> grandfather
'...the where the starship...' extra 'the'?
'...at front door.. --> 'the' missing here?
'swiz' --> Swiss
'...can to my senses.' --> come
'...investigation it.' --> investigating
'...Betty told us all...' but there were only two of them. Both?

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