The call came at 1:13 pm, and that, if the police inspector had been the type to allow superstitious notions free reign in the office, could have been taken as a sign. The other thing that might have tipped them off was that the call came in on the non-emergency line, which was odd because everyone in Sandford always rang the emergency line whether the "emergency" in question was that Thomas Baker's house was on fire or that Abby Marshall's sink was clogged. Accordingly, Sergeant Turner was somewhat surprised when the non-emergency line rang and a quiet, hesitant voice alerted him that earlier that day in the neighbouring village of Buford Abbey a murder had been committed.
"In Buford Abbey, you say?" The sergeant scratched his head with the leaf-side edge of his book, keeping his thumb planted firmly inside it marking his page. "And are you aware that this is the number for the Sandford Police Station? Yes, that's right. Would you like me to give you their number? Just a moment, please." He shuffled listlessly through some papers on the desk, then remembered the call sheet the inspector had tacked up next to the window.
"Ah, here it is. 0845 908 0999. Yes, that's Buford. All right then, off you go."
He plopped down the receiver, opened his book in one hand, picked up his pen in the other and returned to his prior activity. After a moment, he started to write a number on the page, but found his pen had run out of ink again. He cursed and looked around without success for a new one; he was so close to completing the middle square. Iain Banks could cover a multitude of sins, but the number of pens Sergeant Turner went through on a daily basis was a dead giveaway of his sudoku addiction.
Exactly one minute later, the phone rang again.
The Buford Abbey tourist kiosk was fundamentally a small shed, but it had a cosy, welcoming look to it, or it had had before red had been splashed liberally across its shingled siding and clean white walls. Now it looked rather like a tiny Satanist chapel or a crime scene, which, incidentally, it was.
"Oh, God," Danny said they climbed out of the cruiser. "Tell me that's not--"
"Paint," Nicholas said, sniffing the air. "Fresh paint." He ducked under the yellow flagging and walked straight over, close to but not touching the wall. "About two hours old, I'd say."
A grizzled officer rounded the corner of the kiosk. "Inspector Angel, good of you to join us," he said, shaking Nicholas' hand briskly. His words seemed genuine, although his general displeasure was obvious. Hardly a surprise, given the situation. Receiving a phone call from the cops next door about a crime taking place in your own town did not usually inspire pleasure (nor much gratitude) in police inspectors. And of course, Sandford had a certain reputation now.
"What's the story?"
"As far as we can tell, the murder report was false. The kiosk was vandalised, your usual juvenile insults. 'Fuck off minging monks' was one of the more... creative ones."
Danny clapped his hands. "Hey, that's good!"
The inspector turned and stared pointedly at him. "And you are?"
Nicholas coughed. "Inspector Tanner, this is Sergeant Butterman. Please excuse him, he's still taking rather a lot of painkillers."
"Am no-- Ow!"
"Right. Well, that's about all we know at the moment. I'll apprise you of any developments."
They took a brief tour of the building and its new graffiti ("Minging monks," Danny snorted quietly) and then Tanner bid them a polite good-bye and went off to attend to other matters. The two Sandford officers lingered, watching the crime techs take pictures and scrapings of paint.
"Uh oh," Danny said suddenly.
Danny pointed out a glistening, red "G" painted on a plastic brochure display.
"You thinking what I'm thinking?"
Nicholas pressed his lips together grimly. "It's paint from a can, not spraypaint. But yes, it bears a certain resemblance."
Danny leaned in close. "Should we tell you-know-who?"
"Not yet," Nicholas said, taking a last look around.
Danny leaned heavily against the squad car, looking a bit grey around the edges.
"Well, that was a waste of an hour," he sighed. "Might as well have sent the Andy's over, they could have pissed off the good Inspector just as well as we did. Better, probably."
"Strong intra-division police relationships are an invaluable resource," Nicholas quoted, though his voice lacked its usual enthusiasm for official guidelines. "Are you all right?"
"Yes, fine. What do we do now?" Danny asked.
"Have a sit down? Danny, you look like you could use one," Nicholas said.
His partner winced. "After that lot? I could use a lager," Danny straightened up. "But I meant on the case."
Nicholas hesitated. "Well, I was going to take a jaunt down the road to the telephone booth that our anonymous caller used. You can stay here, it'll just be a minute..."
"No, I'll come along," Danny pushed off the car, wincing.
"You should take an ibuprofen first, at least."
"Oh, leave off! I'm fine, Nicholas, absolutely fine." Danny started walking away at a fast clip.
"All right, mate," Nicholas conceded, hastening to catch up. "Uh, we're going the other way, actually."
By the time they got back (having found nothing of consequence), Danny had a furtive hand pressed to his ribcage, but the scowl on his face warned Nicholas away from saying anything. Danny tossed him the keys and went around to the passenger side, however, so he had apparently won the point. Once they were on the new by-pass, Nicholas stuck on the lights and siren and hit 60 kilometers per hour, and Danny graced him with a tired grin.
Doris popped her head around the corner, "Inspector Tanner from Buford Abbey on the line for you." She made a face like she had just tasted something disgusting, although the apple pie on the paper plate she was holding looked scrumptious.
"Thank you, Constable. I'll take it in here."
"Angel, glad I reached you. We've just gotten word that Sexwulph has been kidnapped from the priory," Tanner's tinned voice informed him.
"I'm sorry, who?"
"Oh, that's right, you're new around here. It's the Buford Abbey statue. Sexwulph, Archbishop of Lichfield, sculpted in the 16th century as a commemoration of the Synod of 685. It's a notorious target for schoolboy jokes." If Tanner had ever made such remarks as a youth, his voice gave no sign of it.
"I see," Nicholas said, feeling at a loss for words. If it hadn't been for his previous experience with prank calls that turned out not to be pranks at all, he would have wondered if his leg was being pulled. "So," he rallied, "You think this might be connected with the property damage case?"
"Well, the timing is remarkable. And there's the obvious link between the targets."
"Important Buford Abbey landmarks?" Nicholas guessed.
"Exactly. And the reason I'm informing you, Inspector, is that we have reason to think the perpetrators may be Sandford residents."
"Really? Anything solid?"
"Not as such," the inspector admitted. "We did discover a Sandford Savings & Loan pen on the ground, but who knows how long that might have been there. It's being fingerprinted, just in case."
"How heavy was the statue?"
"Over 400 kilos. Unfortunately, it was not secured to the ground. The kidnappers appear to have tipped it into a vehicle and driven off."
"Excuse me, Inspector. But why are you calling them kidnappers?" Nicholas asked.
"Because," Tanner said gruffly. "There's a ransom note."
"Oh, that is too perfect--"
"Them losing the famous statue!"
"Serves them right, the sanctimonious bastards!"
"C'n h'ly bli'dey 'on it, na'ry sit."
"What did he say?" Nicholas asked. There were some days he could almost understand PC Walker, but today was not one of those.
Through bursts of laughter, Danny translated, "He says, heh heh, couldn't hardly believe they won it. It's -- hee hee, it's not right, is it?"
"Why are you people so obsessed with that bloody award?" Nicholas shook his head. "Never mind. This is a crime we're investigating, and I expect a little more professionalism from all of you."
"Oh, put a sock in it, Sherlock," Cartwright said, rolling his eyes.
"You have to admit, it's pretty funny," Danny added.
"Property theft is a serious crime, Sergeant. It can tear apart communities, terrorize citizens, and create an atmosphere of fear and distrust."
"What was his name again?" Doris asked. "Sexwolf?"
"Sex wolf!" Danny shouted and broke out laughing again.
Nicholas allowed a small smile to cross his face.
"All right, five more minutes to get your giggles out, kids. Then we're officially on the case."
The note was faxed over to them, once it had been checked for fingerprints and found clean.
Dear SAGGY AND FLABBY it began, We have your STUPID STATUE. If you want him back, then admit that your village is a giant pile of MANKY HORSESHIT. Or Sexwulph the Third gets it.
It was signed Your Betters.
The reaction of the Sandford Police necessitated a second five minute time-out, and multiple threats to ban dessert foods from the station, before it could be calmed.