Melrose Mountjoy and the Case of the Floating Penguins
The Case of the Floating Penguins … the first of the Melrose Mountjoy private detective series.
A body that’s been floating in the river for a couple of days is no pretty sight and all the indications were that this body hadn’t even been pretty to start with. Don’t believe dear reader that Melrose Mountjoy was a frivolous man easily influenced by beauty or outward appearances. Au contraire. Quite the opposite. He was the kind of man who looked into the heart, past the perfectly sculpted skin and fashionable clothes. This corpse had probably had a heart of gold too but six times out of ten that’s usually what got people murdered in the first place. Heart of gold but just plain stupid to believe in the greed and treachery of human beings.
‘Theories on Possible Candidates for Murder’ had not actually been a subject when Melrose was training at the Academy but he always thought it should have been, something definitely lacking in the system. There had been too much emphasis he felt on ‘Weighing up the Evidence’ and ‘Filling in the Forms’ for his liking. Policing he often reasoned was above all an intellectual pursuit, well that’s what had led Melrose to it in the first place, even though, as he now reflected wryly, it was something far more physical that had driven him out of the force in the end.
Two young policemen dressed in aqualungs and rubber face-thingies, looking for all the world as if they were about to head off to an S&M fancy dress party, flippered their way out of the river carrying the aforementioned corpse. There was something about the shape of the head that had first alerted Mountjoy; something androgynous or even bollard-like that indicated that he had not been a winner in any beauty contest. A light drizzle hid a pale yellow sun turning the river into something Turneresque but that was for another time and another reflection and so Melrose dismissed its artistic possibilities. There was never time any more to follow up these artistic urges that crept up on him unawares from time to time.
By rights Melrose would have been ensconced in his warm office on such a morning, toasting his feet on the gas fire and eating toast and peanut butter if his old mate ‘Marky’ (or Detective Sergeant Ma ke Hai ke to be precise) hadn’t phoned him earlier.’ C’mon Rosy, you’ve always got a nose for these floating body thingos and he’s probably one of your mob anyway, given where he was found. I’m short on men as usual, two more down with the Lurgi this morning and it’ll all be off the record as far as you’re concerned… you there Rosy? Just get some evidence for me will you, feed me a few facts and it’ll be sweet. I’ll take over then.’
Whenever Marky called him like this it was always ‘just this once’ and ‘off the record’ but hell they’d been mates in the Academy and it did make a break from ‘missing persons’ who usually turned up the next day and ‘spying on the husband to see why he’s spending so much time at work or down the pub or whatever.’ Melrose definitely needed a case with some intellectual stimulation lately and this could be it. Body snagged on some old rubbish and standing vertically with just the head protruding out of the water, looking like just another of those fashionable bollards springing up all around the city until a couple of rowers out for an early morning row had decided to take a closer look. Not a pretty sight confirmed the rowing man encased in blue and yellow lyrcra (Melrose wasn’t certain that he meant the body or himself Mr Lycra in the silly lycra suit bulging unnecessarily in all the wrong places.) Perhaps aforesaid witness had been heading off to one of those early morning lycra parties which Melrose understood were rather popular in this city now. The witness was shivering now on the river bank, either from the cold or the surprise of ‘not another bloody bollard’, a reaction common these days amongst the citizens of this city by the Bay.
Marky and Melrose had been unlikely companions (despite sharing the same letter for a first name), one short and lanky ( a bit like a bollard come to think of it) and the other taller, stocky, solid, all muscle and you will have to keep reading before you learn which was which. The tall one was very useful for climbing onto the shoulders of and gaining access back into Academy windows late at night and being muscly too, well that’s an added bonus on most occasions for lifting heavy objects and at pub brawls (neither of which of course was official police business).
By now the ‘rubber boys’ (as these water police were affectionately called) had laid the body out on a yellow plastic sheet on the river bank (why were these sheets always such bright colours?) and Melrose moved closer to take a look. He needed to have a preliminary examination before the forensic mob got their hands on the body and went all scientific on him. You could discover a lot just by observation in the first few minutes. It was a pretty normal looking corpse as far as corpses go but being dressed in a penguin suit would probably narrow down the possibilities for identification later on. Another fancy dress party? The whole world seemed to be choosing fancy dress these days. Something perhaps about escaping the Bitter Reality of the Everyday? Now even Melrose thoughts were starting to resemble those headings for Study Guides in Policing 3B. Steady on he reminded himself, back to the task at hand.
The two ‘rubbery boys’ looked up as Melrose approached. ‘Hi Rosy, I guess Mussel Man sent you again. Can’t handle his own corpses hey. Ha ha.’ ‘Just a few preliminaries, boys, what do you reckon? Out for a night of fancy dress?’
‘Well maybe but the wide-blade kitchen knife sticking out of his chest doesn’t fit with any fancy-dress character I know’ said the shorter of the two rubber boys. ‘And someone must have seen him wandering around in his penguin outfit. It’s not exactly what you wear for a trip to Safeways.’
To be continued…
(c) John Bartlett