It was a blustery April evening when I joined my friend and fellow investigator, Mr. Dalton Coates MP, in his new rural lodgings. As I poured a glass of brandy from the tantalus and sank back down into the easy chair by the fire, I congratulated him once again on his by-election victory. After he had led the investigation into that business with the previous incumbent, the chief constable had practically insisted that he stand for election.
Whilst I would love to regale you of our exemplary detection in that case, it is an even more delicate matter than the Mystery of the Speckled Cats and it is perhaps best left unspoken in these journals.
‘Oh, forget the election, Larry.’ He muttered in sombre tones as he sipped his brandy. ‘My mind is weighed down with much heavier matters.’
‘The tabloids? Was there another flattering editorial? I hear that they’re even bringing out a special edition of the Daily —- about your career.’
‘No, although their insufferable praise bothers me quite considerably, this matter is much more serious. I find myself in the midst of a mystery once again.’
I gasped and almost spilt my brandy. Coates remained silent. Despite the gravity of the situation, I couldn’t help but feel a slight thrill. Ever since The Adventure of of the Siberian Pencil, life had, quite frankly, become fairly dull. Concealing my excitement behind a stern frown, I leant forward and said: ‘It must be quite the mystery.’
Coates threw his hands into the air and let out a long sigh: “Indeed it is! Indeed it is! You see, a signifcant quantity of funds has gone missing from the constituency budget.’
‘But surely you voted in favour of that? I mean, you even gave that ripping speech in the house of….’
‘No, Larry. It is quite unconnected to my recent speech. I am at quite a loss to explain it. The money just went missing overnight, the police are at a quite loss to explain it too. I fear that there may be villainy afoot!’
I let out a gasp. Never since the Case of The Sandown Gamblers had we uncovered such audacious criminality. If we did not resolve this matter soon, then editorials of a different kind would be appearing in the tabloids. I immediately suggested to Coates that we make a thorough examination of the relavent accounts, but he merely shook his head: “It is of no use, Larry! I have been over each ledger more than ten times and have not spotted any irregularities.’
‘Ledger? But I thought that these days it was all done with computers.’
‘Damnable machines! You cannot beat the solid reliablilty of good old pen and paper. Although, alas, my secretary does not agree.’
I nodded in agreement and a heavy pall of silence fell over the room. If Coates’s sharp mathematical mind had found no irregularity in the ledgers, then it pointed to nothing other than theft. Finally, I asked the only question I could. ‘How much was it?’
‘Ten pounds Larry, ten whole pounds!’ He let out a sigh of deep anguish.
‘Surely you mean ten thousand? A mere ten pounds is nothing for a constituency of this size and vintage. It barely even covers a glass of decent wine.’
‘No, but it is the principle of it that matters.’
‘Yes, I had that money earmarked for new biscuits for the constituency office. It looks like we’ll be stuck with nothing but bland own-brand digestives if that money isn’t recovered. It is hardly befitting for a man of my rank. ‘ He sighed once more and slumped into his chair. It was easy to see why such a thing could drive a man to the depths of despair.
But, for once, I had the beginnings of an idea in my mind. ‘Your secretary. Does he, perchance, eat biscuits?’
Coates leapt to his feet. In an instant, he looked once again like the master investigator who had been at my side during the Mystery of the Crushed Can. Without a word, he reached for his greatcoat and gestured for me to do the same. By the time I had seized my coat from its hook, Coates was already at the door and beckoning for me to follow.
We stepped out fearlessly onto the rain-lashed streets, the smell of manure hanging heavily in the air. Coates strode ahead of me as we neared the village centre. To our shock and horror, the lights were still on in his office. Whoever had purloined his funds had made the predictable error of returning to the scene of the crime to gloat about their misdeeds.
As we neared the office windows, we kept low and Coates beckoned for me to be silent. We would require every ounce of stealth and cunning in order to crack this case. I stayed back as Coates crept up to the bright window and pressed himself against the wall. Gingerly, he looked over his shoulder into the room before turning to me and nodding.
With a sudden motion, Coates rapped loudly upon the window-pane as I dashed towards the door to catch the startled miscreant. Even after six years, our techniques still worked perfectly and it wasn’t long before I found myself wrestling with Coates’s secretary. He was quite the strong fellow and I had to use all of my training in the martial arts in order to even stay on my feet.
Finally, after we had exhausted ourselves, Coates turned towards his secretary and shouted: “Confess! I know that you are behind the missing money! What was it? Gambling debts? A mistress? Opera tickets?”
Confronted with his crime, he turned pale and said: ‘Biscuits! It was those confounded digestives! They will be the ruin of me! When I heard rumours that you were planning to replace them with custard creams, I could stand it no longer! I had to take action!’
Coates let out a loud laugh ‘No, my dear fellow. I had planned to replace them with macaroons or possibly Viennese swirls.’
‘You monster! You fiend!’ He bellowed as he lunged at Coates.
I could only stand there frozen in horror as they began to fight. But Coates soon had the upper hand and whistled loudly for a passing constable. Fortunately, it was the chief constable himself, wandering home after a few pints of ale at the local inn. Despite his drunken state, he quickly found reinforcements and the thief was soon led away by a group of burly constables.
Later that night as we sat once again in Coates’s lodgings, he congratulated me on my deduction and poured me a glass of claret. As he sat back in his chair and glanced towards the roaring fire in the corner of the room, I noticed the beginnings of a smile creep across his face.
‘Larry, I am in need of a new secretary! Would you be so kind as to do me the honour…’
‘Of course’. I could feel a warm glow of glee in my heart. The prospect of working alongside Coates again was too astounding to decline, even if it was on mundane matters of state.
‘…of passing me the phone directory. I need to call the secretarial agency and ask for a refund. I am most definately not a satisfied customer!’