It was a beautiful late summer's afternoon. A balloon drifted serenely high above the Thames Valley countryside. Aboard was Jonathan Creek, looking decidedly ill at ease and Maddy Magellan, who was looking down and around excitedly. The Balloonist wisely busied himself out of their way, coiling rope.
"I was just expecting some nice socks again" said Jonathan, mentally calculating how big a splat they'd make if anything went wrong.
Maddy gave him a glare. "I go to all this expense for your birthday and you just stand there with a face like a moody haddock. I don't understand how you can have a fear of heights. You live in a tall bloody Windmill for flips-sake!"
"A Windmill, you'll note, which is firmly and securely attached to solid ground. I might have known you'd be entirely at home with an enormous bag of hot air". He gestured towards the balloon canopy.
"That's ridiculous. This thing's as safe as houses", replied Maddy, ignoring his jibe, and stamped her foot down on the wooden deck a couple of times to illustrate her point.
Perhaps Jonathan paled at this but it's impossible to tell. Certainly his white knuckled grip on the baskets side tightened. "Would it be too much to ask you to stop doing that? I have a morbid fear of plunging to my death from a glorified picnic basket. Call me Mr Crazy, but I want to die at 95 in a comfy bed, not at 95 miles an hour in someone's flowerbed."
"I thought you liked to live dangerously", said Maddy, in a voice tinted with playful suggestion. It was a distraction technique that often worked for her.
"And if you think you're going to take my mind off of being a thousand feet above the ground with a little light sexual banter you've got another thing coming. If you don't mind I'll just stand here quietly and try to enjoy the novelty of the experience."
Maddy didn't seem overly put out by Jonathan's attitude. She sensed that he'd realised the trip was more for her benefit than for his. Instead of goading him more she produced a relaxing chocolate bar from a pocket and also paused to enjoy the spectacular views of the wooded Chiltern Hills.
Perhaps the Balloonist gave a little sigh of relief.
Our point of view drifts down onto the side of the balloon basket. It's a traditional wicker affair, the strands criss-crossing one another...
...Another basket now, one from which the words "Let me out! Let me out!" could vaguely be heard issuing. Next to this case was Vincent Burton, a sixty-something year old ventriloquist and all-round children's entertainer. He smiled to acknowledge the ripple of applause from the two dozen or so children who were watching his act. He continued with the routine while two of the children's mothers whisper to each other at the rear of the hall.
"I don't know what's happened to him. Vincent Burton used to be so good on the telly, didn't he?"
"Is it drink, do you think? I know a lot of show business types turn to it when they're over the hill. No point in asking for our money back I suppose?"
The first woman nods in agreement. "You missed the Punch and Judy earlier, didn't you? That was painful. And he's going to do Sammy the Smelly Clone next." She took a closer look at the program in her hand. "Smiley Clown I suppose that's meant to be. This photocopying is-"
A small child sitting nearby looked back and gave them a pointed "Husssssh!"
A little later Vincent wandered unhappily back to his dressing room, half-carrying, half dragging the wickerwork case along with him. His head was bowed and he looked very weary. Unlike Adam Klaus who hurried past him on a landing. He was an advert for tanning clinics and smiling as ever, his sequinned shirt a blaze of refracted colour. He hurried down the stairs muttering to himself in what could pass as an American accent, "Come on Jonathan, we need you here".
Meanwhile Jonathan and Maddy were just arriving at the theatre. They marched as purposefully as they could into the lobby and were greeted by a pretty woman. She was in her early 20's and was attending to one of those signs that allow you to move the letters about. The type you get at conference halls. At the moment it spelled out:
"Kids," the woman sighed in explanation. Jonathan paused a moment to watch her work as Maddy continued into the halls reception area.
"Oh I see", he realised, "Robert or House?"
The young woman looked up with a smile. "James. Nineteenth century philanthropist and career benefactor. Are you interested in history, Mr...?"
"Creek. Jonathan. And no, not especially. I work for Adam Klaus. I help with the show."
The woman raised a pretty eyebrow. "He fancies himself as a bit of a ladies man, doesn't he?"
Jonathan rolled his eyes and gave his trademark pained grin. "I'm not all that shocked you've been on the receiving end of his charm. To be honest he has a thing for attractive young blondes."
The girl gave a bigger smile. "Attractive? You think?"
"I-I've got to catch up with my friend," stuttered Jonathan, suddenly shy. He hurried away after Maddy.
In the larger foyer JC found Maddy inspecting the show posters attached to the wall. The first was for Adam Klaus, as tacky as legality would allow, complete with a star shaped sticker that proclaimed for all the world to see: 'Some seats still available'. The second showed Vincent Burton looking as though he learnt to smile by written description. Maddy prodded a finger at him and said, "I'm glad you could make it. Where do I know him from?"
Jonathan came to a halt a few feet away, in front of a poster that had 'Psychic Fair this weekend. Hosted by Madam Q, clairvoyant to the stars' emblazoned across it in suitably clairvoyant lettering. Somewhat detracting from the overall effect were the words 'Cancelled due to unforeseen circumstances' stencilled across it. "Vincent Burton and Monty? Is he still going? He did a lot of TV about ten years ago. He had a Christmas record out too I seem to remember. Something about it being lovely?"
Maddy looks closer at his picture. "I know where I've seen this face before! Imagine", she waved her hands above his head, "the words 'Tax fraudster walks free' just here."
"Nothing was ever proved. It was thrown out before it ever got to court", commented JC with an exasperated look.
"Oh come on! If ever a face had 'I have a mattress stuffed with £50 notes' written all over it, this is it."
Jonathan took a couple of steps closer and saw for the first time the words 'I have a mattress stuffed with £50 notes' written on Vincent's picture in biro. "Kids?" he asked in his slightly nasal voice.
"Anyway", said Maddy, walking smartly away. "What was so fascinating about that girl in the lobby? You'll chat anything up, you will."
Jonathan hurried to catch up. "Err, no. You're wrong there. I definitely wasn't chatting anyone up."
"Why not? Wasn't she you're type?" Maddy looked at Jonathan with a challenging expression.
"In a sense. You see she was-"
Just at that moment Adam Klaus, Jonathan's kind-of boss, crashed through the double doors at the other end of the corridor and hurried excitedly towards them. "Jonathan! It's so good to see you! And Maddy, looking so well!" He threatened to microwave them with the whiteness and size of his smile.
"Hi Adam, I'm sorry we're late but Maddy wanted to really scare me for my birthday and who am I to argue?"
Adam was faux-horrified. "Birthday Jonathan? Don't say I forgot?"
"It's ok Adam", said Jonathan with a forced smile. "Being back on the ground alive is a rare gift in itself."
Adam nodded. "Well Jonathan", he beamed, "consider 'being back on the ground alive' a present from myself".
Jonathan muttered "Thanks Adam" as Klaus swept them through the double doors and into the hall of the theatre.
It was while they were walking towards Adams dressing room on the second floor that they heard the gun shot ring out. It came from the room they were passing. The door held a poorly attached star, proclaiming that this was the dressing room of Vincent Burton.
All three of them shouted and banged on the door, to no avail. Adam recovered his senses and quickly grabbed a fire extinguisher.
"What have you got that for?" screamed Maddy, "It's not on fire!"
Moments later, as Adam used it to smash the door open, she felt a little silly. "Sorry," she added, "I'm a little over excited."
The door flew open and Adam half fell into the room, closely followed by Maddy and Jonathan. Inside all was still, all was silent.
Vincent Burton sat, as if asleep, in an armchair. With rare insight Adam stiffened, quickly said: "I'll find someone to call the police" and hurried out, leaving Maddy and Jonathan alone with the late Mr Burton.
Maddy felt his wrist for a couple of seconds, shaking her head. She said at last, "He's gone."
Jonathan nodded as he inspected the doors lock. The key was on the inside. Distractedly he said, "I thought as much when I saw the bullet hole in his left temple". He continued by feeling the rooms' walls for any clue. There wasn't one.
Maddy lifted Vincent's head to inspect it and dropped it back onto his shoulder with a little cry. "You could have warned me!" she protested to Jonathan as he sniffed the air.
"I thought I did", he replied as he peered out of the window at the ground far below.
Maddy looked about the small room as JC interrogated Vincent's puppet collection. "Poor old bugger killed himself then", she said.
Jonathan stopped at once and looked up from Vincent's stage makeup collection. " What makes you say that?" He asked.
"Well, it's obvious, isn't it? Locked room with us outside, nowhere for anyone to hide in here and no one got out by that window, did they?" She pointed to the rooms' single small window, the type that only has a small opening at the top.
Jonathan looked again at the window. The top pane was only open by a few inches and perhaps two feet across. "I see what you mean. No one could have escaped through there." However, just as he said this he noticed a scrape on the frame, where paint had recently been knocked off.
"So he must of shot himself" said Maddy with a look of satisfaction.
Jonathan wasn't quite so convinced. "Ok. I see your line of reasoning...."
Maddy looked quietly triumphant.
"...But I don't see how he killed himself and then got rid of the gun."
Her smug expression falling, Maddy realised the weapon is nowhere to be seen. She searched the chair carefully and even dropped to her knees to look under it. "It must have fallen underneath," came her muffled voice from beneath the seat. She reappeared. " But it didn't, did it?"
Jonathan was now checking through the dead mans clown equipment. Red noses, bald wigs, buckets of confetti and a box of brightly coloured balloons. "I don't know exactly what's happened here, but a thorough inspection of this room might help piece this thing together."
Lying neatly together on a table against the wall were two wickerwork baskets. JC spotted at once that they were not identical, as one had a small hole next to the catch, which looked as if it may have been used like a carrying handle. This was the only outward difference. He popped the catch open and lifted the lid to reveal a carefully formed piece of foam rubber, cut to hold a ventriloquists dummy. The wooden face of Monty grinned fixedly up at them. It appeared to be a perfectly normal, if somewhat over-sized and sinister looking, dummy. Maddy opened the second case as Jonathan sealed Monty back into his tomb. It contained the same foam rubber cut-out shape but displayed a serious absence of spare dummy. The space stared back at Maddy and Jonathan, accusingly.
"Who would shoot an old ventriloquist dead and steal his spare dummy?" asked Maddy aloud.
"Who indeed?" came a voice from the door. "Could we start with your names?"
Maddy and Jonathan span on the spot to face the substantial policeman who filled the doorway.
We cut to Jonathan, who sat quietly and contemplatively in a tiny police cell. However, Maddy, some rooms away, shouted and screamed blue murder. She tugged at the bars yelling, "Let me out!" repeatedly.
Back at the theatre, Vincent Burton was carefully zipped into his black body bag and carried out. Two policemen, including the one seen earlier, were inspecting the room minutely, dusting for fingerprints while a WPC examined the ground beneath the rooms window and the wall running up to it. A man we'll come to know as Detective Inspector Fortune called down to her from the tiny open window but she just shook her head and called back, "Nothing at all!"
"What do you make of this, sir?" asked a PC from his position in the corner of the room. Fortune joined him and looked with fascination as the officer lifted by tweezers a piece of paper with pictures of dancing men on it from the wickerwork waste paper basket. It was dropped into a plastic bag just as the PC made another discovery. "I think this may be of some interest too, sir," he said as his tweezers hold aloft a bight, shinny, unused bullet.
"Which one of you is Detective Inspector Fortune?" demanded Adam as he barged his way into the room.
"I am", replied the DI, standing up.
"Why have you arrested my friends? I was with them when we heard the gun shot and smashed down the door. They haven't got anything to do with this." He gestured around at the PC's still examining the contents of the room.
DI Fortune gave a polite little cough. "That would make you Mr Adam Klaus? Star of stage and small screen? Master of illusion? No magic needed here sir, so perhaps you could move on? I want to let the S.O.C.O's do whatever they can to rescue this crime scene."
"But we've not been through the fire-cabinet routine yet!" blurted Adam in exasperation, showing his true colours at last.
"I am naturally very upset about that," sarcasmed DI Fortune back. He dismissed Adam with a withering look and went back to inspecting the far more interesting contents of the waste paper basket.
Adam barged back out, bumping into the young woman from the lobby on the stairs.
"Have they finished up there?" she asked.
Klaus changed his mental gear in a moment, slipping seamlessly from angry to smooth. "No, still having fun doing police things. And speaking of fun, how does an evening out on the town with me after the show sound? I've got a Porsche," he added.
The girl smiled back. "It sounds very nice."
DI Fortune walked into the police stations holding cells antechamber carrying a book. He held it up to compare the picture of Maddy and Jonathan on its cover with Maddy's own face as she looked up at him from behind bars.
"Ok, come with me", he barked as he unlocked the door.
Jonathan sat looking bored in the station interrogation room, waiting and listening to the wall clock tick. It was half past six. Maddy stepped quietly into the room, followed closely by DI Fortune. They both sat down, the detective facing JC and Maddy.
"I," the policeman began, "am Detective Inspector Fortune. And this", he indicated the book as if it was week old vomit, "belongs to my daughter." He tapped the books cover. "Apparently she thinks you're something special." He gave Jonathan a look that seemed to expect JC to apologise.
"Why she can't be crazy about someone with sensible hair is beyond me," he continued.
Jonathan just looked embarrassed.The Detective continued. "We found some prints in that room you know"
"Oh?" said Maddy.
The DI pulled a C5 sized brown envelope from his pocket, and slipped a brightly coloured envelope out of it. From that he extracted someone's holiday photographs. He noticed JC and Maddys expression of incredulity. "You were expecting fingerprints perhaps? We found plenty of those in that room as well. Vincent Burton's, and yours, and yours." He stared at Maddy and Jonathan in turn.
"These pictures, however", he continued, "appear to hold no trace of either of you. And that's something I'm quietly happy about." He spread the pictures across the desk. "What do you make of them?"
Jonathan and Maddy both craned forward in their seats to get a good look at the pictures, which showed a young couple having fun on holiday.
After a moment Jonathan spoke. "Well, from where I'm sitting they look like Corfu, but it's what they were found in that's of more interest to me."
"Very good Mr Creek", commented the policeman sourly as he handed over the two envelopes.
The first was the original colourful self-sealing one that they'd been sent to Vincent in. His name and humble sounding address were on a sticker on its reverse. The franked postmark was over a month old. The second envelope had an unused stamp on it and the address of the photographic companies returns department.
JC studied them both for a few seconds. "And these were found in a, um, draw, I suppose?"
"One of the few draws in the room not to have your fingerprints all over it," came the Inspectors reply.
"Would it help if we said we're sorry?" tried Maddy.
"And I don't think you got as far as poking in the bin before our Sergeant Spires stopped you." The DI produced two plastic bags from another pocket. One contained the piece of paper with the pictures of dancing stick men on it, while the other contained five bright unused bullets. "These are the only other things we found without your dabs all over them so if you could leave them in their bags, I'd be grateful."
While JC examined the bullets Maddy looked closely at the scrap of paper. "Do you mind if I copy these down?" she asked and produced a notebook and pen before the detective could respond.
Jonathan handed the bag of bullets back. "Do you know if these are from the same gun as the one which killed him?" he asked.
"There's no way of telling with unfired bullets, but they're certainly of the same calibre. They're revolver bullets, at least 30 years old."
Maddy completed her facsimile of the dancing figures and handed the original to Jonathan. "Kids?" she wondered aloud.
"Only ones who know their Sherlock Holmes, I'm willing to guess." After a very rapid study he handed the bag back to DI Fortune. " I suppose you already know what this says?" he asked.
The Policeman sighed. "Our own well-thumbed reference copy of the Strand Magazine stories has disappeared, so I've sent WPC Izzard to the public library to get us another copy."
"What are you going on about?" Interjected Maddy. "It's just a picture of stick men getting down and boogying, isn't it?"
Jonathan turned to her. "Sir Arthur Conan Doyle? The worlds finest writer of crime mysteries? It cant be too much to ask if you've heard of him?"
"Of course I have. The Hound of the Baskervilles, Moriarty and all that. I'm not completely daft you know." Before Jonathan could say anything she continued. "And don't think I don't know you call me 'Your little Watson' sometimes. I've heard you and Adam talking about me."
DI Fortune quickly stood up, as if suddenly keen to be somewhere else. "Fun though this is, I've got to throw you both out now. Much as I'd like to prosecute you for perverting the course of justice, the scenes of crime boys tell me you didn't manage to destroy any vital evidence, so I can't. We've dropped all charges and I'd be so happy never to see either of you again."
Maddy and Jonathan both stood to leave, their expressions ones of relief. "If anything else occurs to us I'm sure we'll be in touch, Detective Inspector, not that you'll need us I'm sure". Flattered Maddy as she pushed her chair back under the desk.
"The thought fills my heart with joy, Miss Magellan," replied the Detective, as dryly as desert dust. JC and Maddy headed for the door. As Jonathan reached for the handle the DI barked, "One last thing, Mr Creek."
Jonathan paused and turned, clearly expecting to be strip-searched for the missing gun.
Fortune handed Jonathan the copy of the book he'd been holding and a pen. "If you could make it out to Claire with an 'e', with much love from Jonathan, I'd gain some valuable respect points at home."
Maddy and Jonathan left the police station as if propelled by a mysterious force. Jonathan was whinging, "What a birthday this is turning out to be. First I'm scared witless in a balloon, then I get arrested and talked at by the worlds most sarcastic policeman! Bloody typical!" He looked at his watch. "If we hurry we'll just have enough time to go through the fire-cabinet illusion with Adam before tonight's show."
Maddy gave a huff of mild disgust. "Don't lie to me. You just want to see that girl again, don't you?" she snapped. She was good at taking her anger out on people in a random direction and somehow Jonathan was just the right consistency to be an emotional punch-bag.
Creek gave a laugh, tickled by her jealousy. "You didn't notice anything strange about her, did you?"
"Only that she seemed attracted to you for some utterly inexplicable, bizarre reason. That was fairly strange. Still, there's no accounting for taste."
Jonathan just kept smiling, his head down, looking at his feet as they walk at a fast stroll back towards the towns' theatre.
Night had fallen over Jonathan's Windmill home as Maddy and he pulled up in her battered old red Volvo. She parked a little distance away, as Jonathan had asked her to after her last parking 'incident.' The buildings old front door still lay broken against the wall accusingly, like some kind of mill sized campaign medal. After their drive they clambered stiffly out and wandered towards the dark imposing silhouette, talking as they went.
"I'm glad Adams show went so well", said Maddy with a yawn.
Jonathan seemed happy too. "Yes, it was good, wasn't it? I think the fire-cabinet routine might need a few slight revisions though."
"No", said Maddy, genuinely surprised. "That was the best bit! I loved all the guys dressed as firemen dashing on and running around shouting."
"Those weren't men dressed as firemen, Maddy. Those were actual firemen."
Maddy screwed up her nose. "Oh. They were the best bit I thought. No chance of them doing that regularly then?"
"Only if I don't make those slight revisions."
Maddys name could found be in the dictionary under 'jealousy'. That's why she now felt the need to tell Jonathan what she'd seen Adam do just before they left. "Did you see Adam going off with that blonde girl after the show in his Porsche?" she asked as innocently as she could. Her mouth, at that moment, looked as if you could safely keep any dairy produce in it for up to a week.
JC, refusing to be bated, said nothing and just unlocked the front door for them both to enter.
Later, Maddy was reclining on Jonathan's red leather sofa while he sat at his cluttered work desk deep in thought. He scribbled occasional notes while Maddy studied a book called The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.
"I see what you mean", she said. "Each figure just represents a letter. It's not strange hieroglyphics or anything." She seemed disappointed by the relative banality of the puzzle.
"Have you solved it yet?" asked Jonathan, not looking up from his own notes.
"Give me a chance! I've only just found the story! Anyway, how are your cerebral press-ups going?"
Jonathan gave the 'hmmm' of a man who has lots of questions but very few answers. "The problem, as I see it", he began, "is not how was Vincent Burton killed, but why?" I think you'd agree he didn't look like the type of man to have made murderous enemies in life."
"Rival Ventriloquists you mean? It can be a very competitive field of light entertainment, I hear."
Jonathan shook his head. "Vincent wasn't good enough to have posed much of a threat to the likes of Harris or Corbett. I think we can rule out professional jealousy. I know he had is moments- Do you remember when he and Monty, his dummy, used to talk over each other? It was the staple diet of his telly work."
Maddy looked up from her book. "Yes, I remember seeing him on Parkinson doing that. It's not possible though, is it? I assumed he used a tape recording for Monty speaking to get the effect."
Jonathan just gave a 'hmmm' again, suddenly distracted by something in his own notes.
Maddy continued undeterred. "I had a bit of an idea about 'why' anyway. Perhaps it wasn't his mattress that was stuffed with £50 notes, it was all in his spare dummy!"
Creek looked up again. "A robbery gone wrong? I see. Ok. So Vincent walks in on someone absconding with number two dummy, there's a confrontation and Vincent gets shot in the head at close range. It doesn't answer the big problem of the robbers escape."
"That's the clever bit!" Maddy sat up excitedly. "He just walked out the door!" She noticed Jonathan's confused and questioning expression so hastily pressed on. "Before Burton come back from doing his children's show, the thief got into his room and stole the dummy. Now, when Vincent comes back, he locks the room behind him, and before he discovers the theft, he's shot from outside, through the open window! Simple!" She sat back with a grin.
Jonathan's expression told the story of a man who didn't believe a word of it. "Mmm... good. Except how do you account for the smell of gunpowder? It was very strong in the room when we broke into it. I assume it could have only come from the fatal shot. And an old revolver isn't any good for sharp shooting from outside the building. Sorry Mads, Vincent Burton was shot by someone in that room. No two ways about it."
Maddy was surprisingly relaxed about having her pet theory shredded by Jonathan. It was because she had a second line of attack on standby. "Ok, smarty-pants. It was a time-shift murder then. Something dastardly dark and cunning."
Jonathan was tiresomely ahead of her again. "Wasn't he still warm when you felt for his pulse? It's not that I don't appreciate your help..." His voice petered out as he saw Maddys expression, her face darkening like an approaching storm.
"Sod you then!" she huffed. "At least I'm trying to come up with ideas! It's very easy for you to sit there looking smug." She went, pointedly, back to reading her book in what scholars call 'a strop'.
JC rested his fingers together and stared off into space, mimicking a famous Basil Rathbone pose.
Half an hour had passed when Maddy, forgetting that she wasn't talking to Jonathan, gave a cry. "I've got it! The message is: Not Enough Burton!"
Jonathan nodded. "I felt sure it would be a threat of some kind, but why threaten someone in code? And what's not enough? Not enough of what?" He gave a long sigh. "I'm too tired for this. It's all stacking up in my head like Gatwick airport on a bad night. I need to sleep on it, get a fresh angle of attack in the morning."
"Ok", replied Maddy from the sofa, "I'll just stay here and finish this." She jiggled the Sherlock Holmes book at him. Perhaps the air buzzed with unspoken sexual tensions. Maybe a defining moment in their relationship had arrived. Possibly this, finally, was to be the night that things would gel between them. But no, it was not to be. Things between them for the moment, at least, would remain ungelled.
"'Night", yawned Jonathan as he bumbled sleepily down the stairs towards his bedroom.
"'Night", replied Maddy, producing a part eaten bar of chocolate from behind the book and tucking in.
The next morning they were both back outside the room where Vincent was found dead. The police were just finishing with it. One copper was carefully replacing a 'smiling clown helium balloon filler' in the corner as a second greeted them by the door. He inspected them and said. "You must be Mr Creek and Miss Magellan. DI Fortune described you to me. He has a message for you. He asked me to say 'Please feel free to touch and move things because now we've had a chance to examine the room properly, there's no evidence to destroy'."
"Err, thanks", said Maddy and Jonathan as they squeezed into the room past the officer. Both policemen left looking very pleased with themselves. Down the corridor one said to the other, loudly enough for JC and Maddy to overhear, "He's not too fond of enthusiastic amateurs."
Jonathan looked at Maddy. "This is it. It's all in this room."
"You thought of something last night, didn't you? Do you know how this was done?"
Creek smiled and exaggerated. "I'm so close it hurts, but I'm not quite 100% there yet. It all hinges on that coded message. Someone who knew that Vincent would know what it meant must have left it. There's no point in threatening someone in a language they don't understand."
Maddy took the chance to use her spattering of Portuguese. She told Jonathan that unless he got out of her bathroom immediately, she'd kill him with a length of lead piping.
"Exactly", said Jonathan excitedly, "It's not effective unless I understand what you're talking about. So, Vincent and the killer both knew what was written on that piece of paper, and Vincent, unimpressed, threw it in the bin."
"And the bullets were left to drive the point home." said Maddy. "Except why five bullets? One's enough to make the point, surely. One bullet says 'I will kill you'. Five say, ' I will kill you and your family and any pets you may have.' It's overkill. Pardon the pun."
Now sitting in the seat where Vincent was discovered, Jonathan nodded in agreement. "This whole thing is fishier than a salmon farm. Why did Vincent and person or persons unknown bother to learn a secret code?"
"To communicate with each other without anyone knowing what was being written about....." Maddy's voice drifted off as she stared intently at the tiny portion of the window that could be opened. Something in her head clicked. She turned back to Jonathan with a look of gob-smacked amazement. "I've just had one of your Moments of Clarity, Jonathan."
Creek stood up quickly. "That must have been an unrivalled experience for you", he joked.
"That Sherlock Holmes book I was reading last night," continued Maddy without pausing to slap Jonathan, "had a story called the Sign of Four in it. A man had been killed in a locked room, poisoned, and it looks at first as if a child did it. But it wasn't a child, it was a-"
"Pigmy!" Jonathan finished her sentence for her. "I read it when I was little. Why didn't I think of that? The only person who could have left of this room by that window would have to have been tiny. A pigmy, a child-"
"Or a dwarf!" finished Maddy for him, a look of glee on her face.
They both turned to look at the open wickerwork cases, the empty one now looking like the perfect way to transport a tiny business partner. One who pretends to be a ventriloquists dummy!
"It would explain why that case has a hole next to the catch, so he could let himself out if he needed to."
"And the real dummy would be used to maintain the illusion. You'd need something to show to curious fans and the like... It's all falling together!"
They both stood awhile, lost in the concept of a ventriloquist who never needed to worry about his lips moving or how to throw his voice.
Snapping back to reality Maddy remembered the poster downstairs. "That picture of Vincent Burton in the foyer. I think it had the name and 'phone number of his management and promotion companies on it. I'm going to check it out. I'll see you later!" And with that she scurried out of the room like a terrier after a butcher's van.
Jonathan walked to the window again, running a fingertip over the scratch on the frame. He leant as far forward as he could to see the wall besides the window, where a drainpipe ran. "I suppose it's just possible", he thought aloud.
Detective Inspector Fortune was a man of similar insight and imagination. After a minute of attack, the locked but not bolted door of someone's expensive home burst open with the weight of five police shoulders behind it. As they thumped into the entrance hall, a muffled voice from inside the house could be heard shouting "let me out! Let me out!"
DI Fortune took the lead, following the pleading voice to the houses' impressive staircase and a small cupboard beneath. The disembodied voice was shouting louder now. "Who's there? Let me out at once!" As Fortune knelt and reached for the cupboards catch he noticed a key sitting on the floor a foot or so away from the door. In one movement he picked it up and tried to open the door. When it proved to be as locked as he expected, he used the newly discovered key to unlock it. He clicked the catch down and pulled the door open to reveal a very unhappy small face with a day's stubble on it.
"Martin Goodman, a.k.a. Monty", began DI Fortune as the dwarf clambered out of the cupboard," I am arresting you-"
The small man drew close to his face. "I've been in there nearly eighteen hours. Toilet first, speeches later."
Maddy reappeared at the door to Vincent's dressing room, a little out of breath after her run up the theatre's stairs.
Jonathan was role-playing. He was pretending to be Vincent Burton struggling with an attacker half his height. He looked up as Maddy returned. "I'm not sure this really scans", he commented as he released the stranglehold on his imaginary assailant and dropped him the three feet to the floor.
Maddy beamed back. "Martin Goodman, three foot, eight inches. Vincent and he worked together for over twenty years until eight years ago when they had a falling out, which would explain the down turn in Vincent's career at about the same time. 'Monty', apparently, didn't like being the unsung brains behind the partnership."
"I know how that can feel", smiled Jonathan.
Maddy wasn't sure if he was referring to Adam Klaus and himself or the two of them. A rare moment of doubt reached her. Did she exaggerate her input in the amazing cases they'd solved? In her books, did she play down Jonathan's unique gifts? Questions for later, she decided, and she ploughed on. "He's still on their management's books as a 'versatile actor of restricted height'. And", she finished by flourishing her notepad, "I got his address off of them! It sounds like quite a swanky place."
Jonathan nodded, his hair flopping like cuddly rabbit's ears. A sudden twinkle was in his eyes. "I bet it's not far from here either, is it?"
"Only about twenty minutes away by car. Thirty-five by my Volvo. One other thing Jonathan. I may have given them the impression I was from the police, by accident."
Creek rolled his eyes in half-mock surprise. "So? Lets go!"
Maddy finished what she was saying. "So, the girl I was talking to said she'd given all this information to a DI Fortune not an hour ago and didn't the police force ever talk to one another. Well, actually she said police farce, but I think I know what she meant."
Less happily Jonathan tried again. "Lets go back to the Police Station. We should hurry."
On their rush from the theatre they almost collided with Adam in the foyer. He was looking for the blonde girl again, new chat-up lines fresh in his mind.
Maddy couldn't resist an opportunity as good as this. "How did it go last night Adam? I saw you heading off for the hills with the blonde girl who works here." She thought she felt Jonathan's eyes burning into her, but she was wrong.
"Oh fine", said Klaus, cagily. "We went to that Italian place by the Thames. Remember Jonathan, the one by the weir?"
"Yes", said Creek, wearily aware of Maddys amusement. "The romantic one with the candles?"
Adam gave his customary chuckle. "They still have those, yes. It was lovely."
"Good." said Jonathan gruffly.
"Oh don't worry Jonathan", said Adam, remembering Creeks attitude to his womanising. "I was the perfect gentleman all night, I promise."
Jonathan gave a half smile. "And I bet she was too?"
Klaus misunderstood. "Sadly, yes. Still, I'm taking her to my place for a romantic candlelit dinner tonight instead, so wish me luck!"
"Good luck Adam. No, I really mean it. One thing though. Did you happen to notice anything slightly odd about your companion last night?"
"Odd? In what way Jonathan?" asked Klaus, slightly upset and angered by what he thought of as Jonathan's Victorian attitude.
"Did anything strike you about her hands?"
Maddy and Adam both looked at him as if he was on display in a freak show. "What ever do you mean?" demanded Adam.
Creek was warming to his subject. "Perhaps there's a better way to explain. Have you ever seen a film called The Crying Game?" he asked Adam.
"No", he replied, still none the wiser. "What has this got to do with Kay?"
"Oh nothing", lied Jonathan, dragging the open mouthed Maddy away with him. "Forget I ever mentioned it. Just a silly idea."
Klaus was far from impressed. "Well Jonathan, next time you have a silly idea, I'd be grateful if you kept it to yourself!" And with that he stomped off, looking for someone to be nasty to.
Outside the theatre Maddy turned on Jonathan, making him stop. "You can't be serious!" she cried.
Creek shrugged. "I can't believe I was the only person to realise. 'Kay' he said? I wonder what it stands for?"
Maddy was laughing at herself now, at the jealousy she'd felt. "Aren't you going to tell him? Warn him?"
JC shook his head. "What? And spoil the first bit of fun I've had in weeks?"
In the interview room, where JC and Maddy were questioned the previous afternoon, Martin Goodman was loudly protesting his innocence in a voice that carried a persistent sneer. "I've told you time and time again, Detective Inspector. I answered the door yesterday morning to Vincent Burton, who overpowered me and locked me in that cupboard. I don't know why, he hardly said a word to me. The facts won't change, no matter how many times you make me repeat them." He looked the Policeman in the eye. "And I'm getting very tired, Detective Inspector, of repeating them." Martin seethed through gritted teeth.
Fortune gave the dual tape machine one last glance to make sure it was recording and continued with his interview in contrasting gentle tones. "I know that's the story you're sticking to, Mr Goodman. It's my job to get all the facts behind the brutal murder of Vincent Burton, nothing more, nothing less. If the tale you're telling me is the truth, it should be possible to establish your innocence in this matter." His tone changed abruptly. "However, if, as I suspect, you cold bloodedly shot Vincent Burton in the head at close range and escaped his locked dressing room through the window, I shall make it my ambition to see you go to prison for a very long time!"
Martin sat back in his seat. "You haven't got anything on me. You can't have, because I didn't do it. If I did kill him, where's the gun?"
"So you know about the gun, do you, Mr Goodman?" The DI raised his eyebrows in expectation.
"You said he'd been shot in cold blood at close range! How else was he killed? Murdered by elastic band?"
"You threw the gun away, or hid it in your mansion somewhere. Don't worry Mr Goodman, we'll find the evidence."
Martin looked worried and almost spat back, "If your men damage anything in my house, I'll-"
The Policeman produced the piece of paper from his pocket. "Can you read this?" he asked, showing the drawing to Martin as he cut him off. "For the benefit of the tape I'm showing the prisoner exhibit A, a piece of paper with pictures of dancing men on it."
"Yes I can", Martin replied after a moment looking at it.
"And what does it say?"
"It says 'Not enough Burton'."
"Why did you and Burton have a... I'm going to say it, secret code?"
"When we were on tour we needed a way to leave messages for each other that wouldn't give away the trick. It's not good business ethics to let the public at large know it's being conned. Vincent came up with the idea for the dancing men after reading some book. For the sake of our, well, his fame, my existence had to be kept a secret from everyone except our management."
"Why did your management need to know about you?"
Martin laughed the kind of laugh that would be hard to sympathise with. "They wrote the pay cheques. And they represented me while I was doing other work at the same time. Television and movie roles. You may have seen me on Dr Who. That's why I eventually left the act, when my legitimate career took off."
"Do you deny writing this note?"
"Yes I do."
"Do you deny threatening Vincent Burton?"
"Yes I do."
"Do you deny shooting him yesterday afternoon and locking yourself in a cupboard to give yourself an alibi?"
"Yes I do! How could I lock myself in a cupboard and leave the key outside?"
The DI smiled the kind of smile usually found on amphibious reptiles. It wasn't playful. "Ah yes, that was very resourceful of you Mr Goodman, or may I call you Monty?"
"No you may not."
"It's a kind of reverse locked room mystery, isn't it? It gives your story an extra kilo of plausibility. Except why would Mr Burton leave the key behind at all? Why didn't he take it with him and throw it away somewhere?"
"I don't know. I can't explain the actions of a mad man! All I know is yesterday morning was the first time I've seen him in six years, since he helped me move into the manor."
"What would you say, Mr Goodman, if I told you I knew how you murdered him."
"I'd say you were living in cloud-cuckoo-land, and my legal representatives were going to make mincemeat out of you for wrongful arrest. I'll admit to a bit of resentment about being the invisible half of our partnership, and that our friendship had cooled to the point of solidity, but I didn't kill him!"
Fortune leaned closer to Martin Goodmans upturned face. "The sequence of events, as I imagine them, went something like this:"
Detective Inspector Fortune was a far more intelligent man than his interview technique suggested. 'Always let the prisoner think they're smarter than you', advised his training Sergeant, many years before. 'That way they'll drop their guard, get sloppy, make mistakes.' It was a routine Fortune had mastered. He didn't need a fellow officer to join in with 'Good Cop, Bad Cop'. All he needed was to play 'Slow Cop'.
"Sometime ago you started blackmailing Burton. You threatened to expose him as a fraud. He paid you off but you were greedy, so you left this coded note for him some days ago. I think you slid it under his dressing room door with five bullets, to press home the point. Then yesterday afternoon you confronted Vincent. You became enraged when you discovered he wasn't going to be intimidated. With the sixth bullet, you shot Burton dead. Within seconds a passing conjurer's helper began to bang on the door. Since Vincent had locked it, he'd bought you a few brief seconds to escape. You panicked. Your only possible course of action was to exit by the open window. According to our measurements you were just able to squeeze through and cling onto the drainpipe before Mr Creek and his friends smashed their way into the room. While they tried to help the late Mr Burton you climbed down to the ground and made good your escape. But suddenly you remembered the piece of paper and the bullets. They were in the wastepaper basket where you saw Vincent throw them in disgust! You knew the code was going to point to you so you needed an alibi and quick. From what I know of you, it's hard to believe you're a man with many close friends, so there was no point in asking someone to say you were with them that afternoon. Instead, you hit upon the idea of staging an alibi instead. What better than a story about being attacked by a man who was in no condition to deny it? You, Mr Goodman, locked yourself in that cupboard, knowing full well that the police would soon be in attendance to rescue you from it!"
"But the key was on the outside, you fool!" bellowed the little man back, shaking his head in disbelief at the Policeman's stupidity.
"Yes Mr Goodman, it was. Lying on the floor not far from the cupboards door!"
"That's where that bastard Vincent left it!"
Fortune made his voice a hoarse whisper. "On the contrary. I think it was on the floor because that was the only conceivable place it could be."
Goodman looked confused, almost bewildered by the Inspectors verbal attack. "Wha- What do you mean?"
"When you slide the key under the door from inside a locked cupboard, where else could it possibly be found?"
Martin Goodman stared up at DI Fortunes triumphant face, suddenly chillingly aware of the situation he was in.
The DI concluded. "I think this would be an appropriate time for you to telephone that Solicitor you so fiercely 'didn't need' earlier. I am suspending this interview at", he glanced at the wall clock, "Eleven twenty two A.M."
Fortune stopped the tape machine and popped the two cassettes out. He handed one to the shocked Martin Goodman with a flourish and a smile. "This is your copy which I'm legally obliged to give you. I suggest you keep this in a safe place, sir."
Maddys Volvo screeched into the Police Stations car park and slid to a halt. Jonathan unhooked his fingers from the dashboard.
Maddy looked at him from her drivers' seat. "You're strangely quiet this morning."
Jonathan looked back at her like a startled elk. "When you drive like Steve McQueen in Bullet, and I all but soil myself, is it any wonder I don't make light conversation?!"
"If you thought I was driving too fast you should have said."
"I tried but I was too terrified to get the words to form!"
"Oh come on you big girls blouse, I wasn't going that fast. You said you wanted to get here in a hurry."
"I know I did. I just wasn't expecting you to go after Thrust SSC's land speed record!"
Maddy opened her car door and climbed out, shaking her head.
Jonathan joined her moments later when he felt sure his legs could take the strain.
"There's someone here to see you", said WPC Izzard through the tiny barred window in the police cells door.
Martin Goodman looked up from the hard bed where he lay. "I wasn't expecting my Solicitor for another hour." His tone of voice suggested he thought his Solicitor should appear, genie-like, on demand.
"It's Maddy Magellan and Jonathan Creek", called Maddy over the policewoman's shoulder. "We were the ones who discovered Vincent Burton's body."
"Why the hell are you here?" shouted Goodman back at them.
"We're here because we hope to prove you're innocent!" replied Creek from outside the door, as loudly as he could.
There was a moments confused silence from the holding cells antechamber.
Eventually Maddy said, in the voice of a woman barely able to believe what she's hearing, "Are we?"
A few minutes later the two of them were back outside in the car listening to Goodmans recording of the police interview. They listened intently to the Volvos crappy old stereo (make unknown) as DI Fortune wound up his mornings meeting. " ...slide the key under the door from inside a locked cupboard, where else could it possibly be found? I think this would be an appropriate time for you to telephone that Solicitor you so fiercely 'didn't need' earlier. I am suspending this interview at eleven twenty two A.M."
Maddy put down her now empty packet of crisps. "I don't know, Jonathan. The Inspector sounds fairly convincing. It all fits."
Jonathan ejected the tape and pocketed it. "Don't you see? It all fits just a little bit too well. Detective inspector Fortune has fallen into the same exquisitely clever trap as us."
"A trap? What kind of trap? What are you talking about, Jonathan?"
Jonathan smiled his characteristic, enigmatic smile back.
You can e-mail the writer of this mystery, Paul Smith by placing your arrow over his name and clicking.
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