The following story was inspired by a cartoon by the very funny Tony Husband. If I show you the cartoon now, it’ll spoil the story, so links to the cartoon and Tony’s website are at the end.
FROM MY VANTAGE-POINT behind the counter in my shop – a kind of general stores emporium – I could see through the window that the young police officer was approaching, so I poured a cup of coffee as he came through the door.
‘Afternoon, constable,’ I called. ‘You’re just in time.’
‘Oh, cheers,’ he said, and sat on one of the stools on the other side of the counter. ‘Any chance of…?’
I put a plate of doughnuts down alongside the cup of coffee.
‘Oh,’ he sighed, taking one. ‘You don’t know how welcome this is.’
‘Hard day?’ I asked, pouring myself a mug of tea.
He nodded as he bit into the doughnut. ‘You could say that.’
‘So what can I do for you?’
He brushed sugar and crumbs from the front of his uniform. ‘I’m afraid I’ve come to ask you some questions.’
‘Fire away, constable; I’ll tell you what I can. I always like to help the police wherever possible. What’s it about?’
He laid down the half-eaten doughnut, pulled out a handkerchief and wiped his hands. He slurped at the coffee, then took his notebook from his top pocket and laid it open on the counter. ‘We’ve got two sailors in custody who were picked up by the navy just off the coast yesterday.’
‘That couple from the round-the-world trip?’
‘Yes, those two.’ He picked up the half-doughnut and waved it at me. ‘They’re saying that you organised the whole thing.’ He took another bite.
‘I did, yes,’ I said.
He stopped chewing. ‘Interesting,’ he mumbled, cheeks full, and scribbled Admits to organising in his notebook.
I smiled and took a doughnut for myself. ‘Is there some sort of problem?’ I asked.
He licked his fingers and wiped them on his handkerchief again. ‘Do you mind clarifying something for me?’ he asked. ‘When you said you’d organised the whole thing, just exactly what was it that you organised?’
I put my doughnut down and sat on the three-legged stool behind the counter. It’s very handy to perch on when you know you’re going to be discussing things with a customer – or a policeman. I cupped my tea mug in both hands. ‘Well…’ I said, ‘they came in here with a list as long as your arm, and I got the stuff for them.’
He wrote down Got the stuff for them. ‘And what kind of stuff was it?’
I let out a long breath. ‘Oh, you know – transport, provisions, maps, currency.’
He diligently wrote down what I’d said, then he looked up at me. ‘Did they tell you why they needed all this – this – stuff?’
I smiled innocently at him. ‘Oh, yes. They said they were running away together.’
‘And you didn’t think to question them further?’
I shook my head. ‘The thought never crossed my mind,’ I said, a little less honestly than was actually the case. ‘If they want to run away together, that’s their business. It’s my job to sell things, constable. It’s your job to question people.’
He took a sip of coffee and paused for a while, as if wondering whether to ask the next question or not. Eventually he took the plunge. ‘What did you think of them?’ he asked.
‘Think of them?’
‘Yes – what were your impressions of them?’
I took a deep breath. ‘I… thought… erm… oh, yes, I thought they seemed happy… from the looks of them I thought he was quite a bit older than her… and I wouldn’t have said that they looked particularly well-matched, but it takes all sorts to make a world, doesn’t it?’
I took a bite of doughnut and waited for his next question.
He looked back over his notes. ‘So you provided them with their means of transport, their provisions, maps for the journey and currency for the destination.’
‘Why? Why did you get all these things for them?’
I smiled. ‘You’re new in town, aren’t you constable? I got all this stuff for them because I’m the only person they could get it from. Nobody else runs an operation like mine.’
He made a note of Nobody else runs an operation like mine. ‘Did you get anything else for them?’
I had another bite of doughnut whilst I thought. After a while, I said, ‘Well, now you come to mention it…’
His face lit up. ‘Yes?’
‘I did get something else for them – a small guitar.’
Judging by the look on his face, this wasn’t the answer he’d been expecting. ‘A small guitar? What – like a ukulele?’
I shook my head. ‘No – a ukulele has four strings, and a guitar – however small – has six. Unless it’s a twelve string, obviously. Or a bass guitar, but you don’t get small bass guitars. Would you like to come through to the music department and I can show you?’
‘Er… not at the moment, thank you.’
I shrugged. ‘As you wish. But it was definitely a small guitar.’
Small guitar went into his notebook, then he dipped into his pocket. ‘Did you get them this?’ he said, brandishing a metal spoon. The bowl had three tines at the end like a fork, and one of them was flattened and slightly sharpened to act as a knife.
‘Oh, yes,’ I said. ‘I got them that as well.’
‘What is it?’ he asked.
I took a sip of tea. ‘There’s loads of different names for it. Some people call it a sporf, some call it a spife and some call it a foon. I call it a—’
‘What’s it for?’ he interrupted.
‘Yes, what’s it for? What would you use it for?’
Dear, oh dear, I thought. What are they teaching these young coppers nowadays?
‘It’s for eating with,’ I said. ‘It’s an item of cutlery.’
He looked unconvinced. ‘Are you sure it’s not drugs paraphernalia?’
I couldn’t have been more surprised if he’d asked me to dinner.
‘Drugs paraphernalia?’ I said. ‘Drugs paraphernalia? It’s a combined knife, fork and spoon for eating with. You’d slice your top lip or stab yourself in the snout if you tried to sniff anything off that. What makes you think it’s drugs paraphernalia?’
He sat up straight and took a deep breath. ‘Because the two suspects were found with their boat stuffed to the gunnels with cocaine that they were trying to smuggle back into the country.’
My jaw dropped open. ‘Cocaine?’
‘Cocaine,’ he confirmed. ‘In a boat supplied by you, with maps supplied by you and with currency supplied by you. And with this – this – what do you call it?’
‘A runcible spoon,’ I said. ‘Its technical name is a runcible spoon.’
He put it back in his pocket.
I sighed. It seemed that my two former customers would be going to jail for quite a while. And they seemed such nice people, Mr Owl and Miss Pussycat.
For the cartoon which inspired this story, click here.
For more cartoons by Tony Husband, please visit his website by clicking here.