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The Nutcombe Tales


Habeas Corpus

The day was no ordinary day for Amos Lovejoy, undertaker. It was the day of the Undertakers Quinqennial Convention, when each master-undertaker throughout the county exhibited his finest casket in a bid to have it adjudged supreme. The winner was awarded the Medallion d'Honneur which only he could portray on his letterheads and correspondence.

The casket that Lovejoy was exhibiting was the Mk IV version of the 'Peace-of-Mind'® casket which had been born out of the funeral of the late Albert Gold. It now lay in the Chapel of Rest in his funeral parlour awaiting conveyance to the Imperial Hotel in Nutchester where, in the ante-room of the ballroom, the exhibits would be judged. It had been Lovejoy's intention to transport the casket himself, but he and Mrs Lovejoy, together with the other undertakers and wives, had been invited to attend a reception to be given by the Mayor and Mayoress prior to the Convention's formal commencement. He had therefore deputed his assistants, Eric Wrigley and Samuel Hedges to convey the exhibition casket to the venue. Now he and his wife set off for the reception.

*****

Transferring a coffin into the hearse was an operation which Eric and Sam had performed so often that they could do it, Eric averred, with their eyes shut. This may account for the fact that when they set off for the Imperial Hotel they were carrying a coffin containing the mortal remains of Billy Watkins aged 92, instead of the empty exhibition casket.

They drove to the trade entrance of the hotel where half a dozen hotel porters were assigned to assist the undertakers to offload their caskets. With the help of two porters, Eric and Sam carried their casket into the ante-room and laid it upon the stand designated for the Lovejoy exhibit. Eric went to the door of the ballroom, caught Lovejoy's eye, and gave him a 'thumbs up' sign. He and Sam then drove back to the funeral parlour.

As soon as he could politely escape from the cocktail chatter, Lovejoy slipped away to check his exhibit. He was aghast at seeing Billy Watkins' coffin. Failing to show the correct casket was bad enough, but exhibiting one containing a corpse was enough to get him drummed out of the guild. Within seconds he was on the phone to Eric with urgent instructions and dire threats.

*****

At the funeral parlour Eric put down the phone and turned to Sam. We've dropped a flaming clanger, Sam, he cried. We've only been 'n gone 'n taken the wrong coffin to the hotel! Old Lovejoy will have our guts for garters if we don't get the right one there in time. He says we've got an hour, at most.

We'll never do it, said Sam. Nutchester's ten miles away, and our hearse wasn't built for speed.

We've got to, insisted Eric. You go and get the hearse round to the side while I get on to the police station!

He phoned the station and spoke to the sergeant. We must have a police escort in order for us to get to Nutchester as quickly as we can. It's really important, sergeant, he pleaded. The Mayor and all the bigwigs will be there, and if Lovejoy's casket is not there in time, the name of Nutcombe will be dragged through the mud. It's likely to have a serious effect on the whole village, including your own standing, your promotion and your pension.

Well, lad, said the sergeant. If it's that important I must do all I can. PC Banks is in the station. I'll get him to go round to you with the old Wolseley.

With the correct coffin in the hearse and with the police car leading, the group set off at speed for the hotel, headlights flashing and bell ringing. Onlookers were astonished to see the hearse travelling at 60 mph, and rounding corners on two wheels. If the bloke's already dead, quipped one, Surely he won't mind waiting a few minutes for his burial! He might want to be both the quick and the dead, responded his friend.

The convoy made the journey to the side entrance of the hotel in twelve minutes, a record unlikely to be bettered. The porters had by now returned to the front of the hotel, assuming that no more coffins were due. Eric and Sam, unaided, carried the exhibition casket, with difficulty, along the corridor into the ante-room, and stood it on end against the wall adjacent to Lovejoy's stand. The next step was to take the coffin containing Billy Watkins to the awaiting hearse. Eric grasped one end while Sam grasped the other. They managed to lift it barely an inch from the stand before letting it fall back with a bang. It was far too heavy for the two of them to lift, let alone carry. They looked at each other in dismay.

We're not going to do it, moaned Sam. Let's get those hotel blokes back to help us.

We can't let them see the corpse!

Perhaps we should ask old Lovejoy to come and help us then.

Don't be daft! said Eric. We can't go into the reception dressed like this; and if we go up to Lovejoy and call him away, that will raise all sorts of questions. I think it would be better if we did this in two stages. Let's take Billy out of the coffin, set him down somewhere and come back for him after we've loaded his empty coffin on to the hearse.

Sam nodded his reluctant assent and they lifted Billy up and out. They each placed one of his arms over their shoulders and slowly made their way, dragging the toes of Billy's shoes along the carpeted corridor, looking for a quiet and secluded resting place for the body. Passing the Daffodil Room they looked inside. It was empty. They saw a comfy armchair close to a potted palm, and there they deposited him, placing his hands in his lap and crossing one leg over the other to give the scene the casual appearance of a sleeping man. They hastened back to the ante-room, lifted Billy's coffin from the stand and put the exhibition casket in its place. They carried Billy's empty coffin to the hearse and deposited it on the rollers inside. As they sat on the tail-board exhausted by their efforts, I'm knackered, complained Sam. Can't we have a breather? Eric looked at his watch. Yeah, I reckon we've made good time. Let's stop for a smoke.

*****

When Mr and Mrs Harold Fraser received a letter from their Uncle Harry, they were imbued with what Charles Dickens might have described as great expectations. As a boy, Harold had been told that his Uncle Harry emigrated to Australia at the turn of the century. No word had been received from him for the last thirty years, during which time both of Harold's parents had died. A few months before receiving Harry's letter, the Frasers had been visited by a local solicitor, engaged by a legal firm in Australia to locate Harry's long lost brother or his offspring. Harold had shown the solicitor his father's death certificate and his own birth certificate, and the solicitor had left, apparently satisfied that he had successfully traced the family. Since then the Frasers had wondered what had been behind those enquiries, and now they knew. Uncle Harry's letter said that he was a wealthy man, and had returned to England to spend his remaining years. He wrote that he wanted to do right by his only remaining kin, and asked them to meet him at the Imperial Hotel, Nutchester. They set out for this appointment buoyed by hopes of being the sole beneficiaries of the old man's will, reinforced by the expectation that they would not have long to wait for their inheritance, reckoning that Uncle Harry must by now be at least eighty years old.

*****

Harry Fraser came down from his room at the Imperial and went to the reception desk. He told the clerk that he was expecting visitors, and asked if there was a quiet room where he could receive them and talk undisturbed. The hotel was unusually busy that evening, as the Undertakers Quinqennial Convention was taking place there, but the clerk suggested that the Daffodil Room would be suitable. It was on a side corridor which led only to a goods entrance. He gave Harry directions, and assured him that the room was usually very quiet, and might well be unoccupied. Harry set off for the Daffodil Room, but on the way he was intrigued by the activity in the public rooms where the Convention had gathered, and lingered there to observe the undertakers' celebrations.

The reception clerk had been correct in his assumption that the Daffodil Room would be quiet, but it was not unoccupied. Propped up in a lifelike posture in one of the armchairs was the corpse of Billy Watkins.

*****

Mr and Mrs Harold Fraser arrived at the hotel, and asked at the reception desk for Mr Fraser. The clerk directed them to the Daffodil Room. Seeing only one occupant in the room, Harold advanced on Billy with his hand outstretched. Uncle Harry! How lovely to see you! Receiving no acknowledgement, he whispered to his wife, I think the old boy's asleep. He laid his hand gently on Billy's shoulder. Uncle Harry! Uncle Harry! It's me, your nephew!

I don't think he looks at all well, dear, Mrs Fraser observed. He's awfully pale. I think we should get a doctor to him.

Harold returned to reception and told the clerk that his uncle looked very ill and needed a doctor. The receptionist accompanied him back to the Daffodil Room and saw at once that the man in the armchair was either dead or close to it. His reaction was swift and decisive. He knew that the death of a guest was bad news for any hotel, and should be dealt with as quickly and quietly as possible. He instructed a page boy to rope off the corridor and keep everyone away from the Daffodil Room. He ordered another to ring for an ambulance, and to tell them only that a guest was very ill and that they should come to the side entrance. He himself rang the manager's office and explained the situation. The manager came post haste. Well done, Smithers. I'll take over now.

The ambulance drew up by the side door of the hotel. Senior Ambulanceman Tom Rogers had been in the business for many years, and had recognised the tell-tale signs in the hotel's report. He had briefed his assistant while they were en route. Listen, George, ten to one he's already dead. Hotels and such like don't like a death on the premises, so just play along and get him out of there as quick as we can, right?

The manager met them at the side door, in his hand a hotel brochure from which the edges of two bank notes were peeping discreetly. As he led them to the Daffodil Room he handed the brochure to Tom. In case you ever want to stay. I can fix you a very special rate, he murmured, as Tom tucked the brochure into his tunic pocket. At the sight of Billy, Tom caught George's eye and lifted his chin, as if to say, What did I tell you? Watched by the manager and the Frasers, they unrolled the stretcher, lifted Billy's body onto it, and carried it out to the ambulance. In the corridor they passed Sam and Eric, who had come to collect the corpse, and were horrified to see it being carried away. Citizens in the streets of Nutchester that evening were treated to the sight of an ambulance proceeding from the Imperial Hotel to the hospital at full speed and with bell clanging, hotly pursued by a hearse. One passer-by was heard to remark that he thought only solicitors chased ambulances, and that the funeral trade must have fallen onto hard times to have to resort to such tactics.

Once the corpse was off the premises, the hotel manager allowed himself to relax. Right, he said to his staff, back to normal. Clear those barriers away and make everything shipshape. By the time that Uncle Harry had wearied of the antics of the funeral trade and had retired to the Daffodil Room to await his nephew, it was once again quiet, and this time it was empty. He sat in the armchair not long since occupied by the late Billy Watkins, and closed his eyes.

*****

In the back of the ambulance, George and the Frasers sat along one side, opposite the stretcher in which Billy was strapped. George took a clipboard down from a hook, and started to fill in a form.

Name of patient?

Harold Fraser, Harold replied.

Age?

At least eighty.

I'll put 'approx eighty-three.' General condition? I'll put 'Unconscious'.

George continued filling in the form: External injuries: None visible. Pulse rate: Very slow. Pulse strength: Very weak. Respiration rate: Very slow. Respiration strength: Very shallow. Then he said, Accompanied by? The Frasers stared at the inert form on the stretcher, and hoped that Uncle Harry would not be so inconsiderate as to pass away without having made his will first.

Accompanied by? George repeated more loudly.

Eh? What was that? Harold asked.

Accompanied by? George repeated impatiently. He's accompanied by you. Who are you?

I'm his nephew, Harold replied.

George sighed heavily. Name. What is your name?

Oh. Harold Fraser, Harold replied.

Not the patient's name - your name.

My name is Harold Fraser.

You told me that was the patient's name.

It is. We're both named Harold Fraser. My father named me after him.

After who?

After Uncle Harry. Uncle Harry was my father's brother.

And I'll be a monkey's uncle, George muttered. Aloud he said, I'll put 'Patient's name: Harold Fraser Senior. Accompanied by: Harold Fraser Junior'. He sighed again, suggesting the intolerable burdens placed upon him by inconsiderate members of the public. He looked at Mrs Fraser. And the lady is?

This is my wife.

George corrected him. You mean Mrs Harold Fraser Junior. He continued, Relationship of above to patient?

What?

Relationship of above to patient?

Above to patient? That doesn't make sense, Harold protested.

You are the above, George explained heavily. What is your relationship to the patient?

I've just told you. He's my uncle.

That is his relationship to you. What is your relationship to him?

I'm his nephew, of course. I told you that.

George spoke as he wrote on the form. Nephew, then added with heavy sarcasm, Thank you.

He hung the clipboard back on its hook, proud at having done a good job. He had put a member of the public firmly in his place, as was his duty. Why else would they have given him a blue uniform and a peaked cap?

*****

When the ambulance arrived at the hospital, it stopped outside the Casualty Department. George let the Frasers out and said, Wait in there, gesturing to the main entrance. He climbed into the front with Tom and the ambulance drove off around the corner of the building. Harold and his wife walked through the doors and found themselves in a waiting room filled with people bearing injuries of various sorts. At one side was a counter with a nurse behind it. Harold approached her and said, Excuse me, we were . . .

The nurse cut him short. Name? she asked curtly, pulling a pad of forms towards her.

Harold Fraser, Harold answered. The nurse wrote the name down. Harold added, as a precaution, Junior.

The nurse glanced at him sharply. There's no need to be funny. What's wrong with you?

There's nothing wrong with me. We . . .

Nothing wrong with you? What are you doing here, then?

The ambulanceman told me to wait here.

Ambulanceman? You came in an ambulance and there's nothing wrong with you? Don't you realise that there are people waiting for ambulances who actually need one?

Yes, I do. My uncle needed one, and my wife and I came in with him. The ambulanceman told us to wait here.

You mean you're not the patient?

That's right.

Well, why didn't you say so in the first place? Do I need to make out an admission form?

I've really no idea.

I can tell that. Did the ambulanceman make out an admission form?

Yes, I think he did.

Then I don't need to write one, do I? Honestly, you people! Wait over there until your name is called.

The nurse tore the form off the pad, screwed it up, and threw it angrily towards a waste paper basket. She could not imagine why she was expected to cope with people who did not have the slightest idea of the hospital's internal administrative procedures.

*****

The Frasers found two adjacent empty seats and sat down, watched by Sam and Eric who had followed them into the casualty department and positioned themselves among the walking wounded, pretending to read newspapers, but actually keeping covert watch on the pair who had kidnapped Billy's corpse. After some minutes a young doctor in a white coat appeared behind the counter and called, Mr Harold Fraser? The Frasers rose and moved across to him. Sam and Eric followed casually, taking care to remain within earshot.

I'm sorry to have to tell you, but your uncle has passed away. We did what we could, but it was too late. If we had been called earlier . . . His voice trailed away, suggesting negligence on the part of the deceased's relatives, possibly criminal. The Frasers took the news badly, although it was the thought of losing the will that grieved them rather than the demise of an uncle.

Can we have his clothes? Mrs Fraser asked. The doctor was taken aback.

He's still wearing them, Mrs Fraser. There was no time to change him into a hospital gown.

Well, where is he? asked Harold. We need to go through his pockets.

The doctor was shocked. His body is in the hospital morgue, Mr Fraser, and we cannot possibly allow it to be rifled.

Then release the body to us, Harold demanded. We're entitled to have it. We're his only living relatives.

When the necessary formalities have been completed, rest assured that the body will be released. But you will just have to wait. It should only be a day or two.

*****

The Frasers left in high dudgeon. They were no longer followed by Sam and Eric, who had slipped away down a corridor as soon as they heard the doctor say that the body was in the morgue. As undertaker's assistants, they were familiar with that part of the hospital, and were on their way to retrieve Billy's corpse. In the morgue they found that Billy's body had been transferred to a wheeled trolley. As they pushed the trolley swiftly through the morgue's external door they were spotted by a hospital porter, who called on them to stop. They broke into a run and headed towards the car park where the hearse stood. Eric went to open the tailgate. We haven't got time! cried Sam. He'll have to sit inside up front with us. They lifted him in and sped away at speed, tyres screeching and making smoke, leaving the empty trolley where it stood.

When the porter telephoned casualty reception to tell them that the corpse they had just deposited in the morgue had been stolen by two unidentified people, the nurse leapt to the obvious conclusion. It must have been those Frasers! They were determined to get their hands on it! she declared, and immediately telephoned to the Nutchester police to report the body snatch. All police stations in the county were soon alerted to be on the lookout for two body snatchers and a corpse.

*****

As they left the hospital, Mrs Fraser said to her husband, Don't give up, dear. The will may be in his luggage. Let's go back to the hotel and see if we can get it.

That's a good idea, Harold agreed. How do we get there?

Let's take a taxi, his wife suggested daringly.

A taxi? Harold baulked at such extravagance.

Look upon it as an investment, dear.

They hailed a taxi and returned to the Imperial Hotel. Harold approached the desk and asked, Can you please tell me the room number of Mr Harold Fraser?

*****

Uncle Harry woke from his nap in the Daffodil Room and looked at his watch. He decided to wait no longer for his nephew, and made his way to the desk to let them know that he was returning to his room. He was just in time to hear Harold asking for his room number. He came silently up behind him and clapped a hand on his shoulder. Harold, my dear boy. It's your Uncle Harry up from down under. I bet you thought you'd never see me again. Harold gasped, clutched at his chest, and fell to the floor unconscious.

*****

Summoned to the Imperial Hotel for the second time, the two ambulancemen discussed the possibility of finding another gonner, as George put it. Tom thought it unlikely, as they had been asked to attend at the front door. He proved to be right. Harold was still breathing strongly, albeit spasmodically, as they stretchered him into the ambulance and took him off to hospital.

In the back of the ambulance, George sat with Uncle Harry and Mrs Fraser along one side, opposite the stretcher on which Harold lay. Mrs Fraser appeared to be in shock, and shrank fearfully away from Uncle Harry as he attempted to console her. George wearily took his clipboard down from its hook, and started to fill in a form.

Name of patient?

Harold Fraser, Uncle Harry replied.

George froze momentarily, then turned and looked hard at Uncle Harry. And your name is? he asked.

My name is Harold Fraser too.

Harold Fraser Two? Not Harold Fraser Junior?

Uncle Harry laughed. Hardly. Harold Fraser Senior, perhaps.

Perhaps? You're not certain? And this lady is?

This is Mrs Harold Fraser.

George moved to the front of the vehicle and opened the hatch to the driving compartment. Tom, he said in a hoarse whisper, radio ahead to the hospital. Tell them that we're bringing the Frasers back in.

*****

When the ambulance arrived at the hospital, the stretcher was collected by two porters and taken into the admissions ward. Two policemen were waiting to escort Mrs Fraser and Uncle Harry into an office, where the hospital administrator, a police inspector, and a nurse were waiting for them. Mrs Fraser recognised the nurse as being from the casualty department reception desk.

So then, sir, the inspector asked the administrator, You say that Mr and Mrs Harold Fraser stole a dead body from your morgue and have now brought it back. Are these the persons concerned?

The administrator looked at the nurse. Is this them, nurse?

The nurse looked at them in confusion. That's her, but he's not the man.

Aha! declared the inspector. Now we're getting somewhere! Not Mr Harold Fraser, eh? An impostor! Come on, me lad, own up. Who are you?

I'm Harold Fraser.

The inspector turned to Mrs Fraser. Can you confirm that, madam? Is this Mr Fraser?

I don't know. I've never seen him before today.

I am Harold Fraser, I tell you. Look, here's my passport.

The inspector examined Uncle Harry's passport. Thank you, sir. That seems to be in order. Now we're getting somewhere. You are Mr Harold Fraser. What about the lady, sir? Is she Mrs Harold Fraser?

She's not my wife, if that's what you mean.

Who is she then, sir?

I don't know. I've never seen her before today.

Now we're getting somewhere! Not Mrs Harold Fraser, eh? An impostor! Come on, my girl, own up. Who are you?

I am Mrs Harold Fraser.

Can you prove that? Let me see your passport.

I haven't got a passport.

Aha!

But I have got my Identity Card with me. Mrs Fraser produced her Identity Card and showed it to the Inspector.

Well, well, you are Mrs Harold Fraser. This is all very confusing.

The administrator intervened. If I may, Inspector, there are two Harold Frasers, Harold Fraser Junior and Harold Fraser Senior.

I see, sir. Now we're getting somewhere. And which one of them is the dead body?

The administrator consulted a file. Harold Fraser Senior.

The Inspector addressed Uncle Harry. So you must be Harold Fraser Junior. He turned to Mrs Fraser. And you are Mrs Harold Fraser Senior.

No, my husband is Harold Fraser Junior.

But he just said you weren't married to him.

I'm not. I'm married to the man we just brought in.

Oh, the dead one?

He wasn't dead when we brought him in! Mrs Fraser wailed.

The hospital administrator had been getting increasingly perplexed, and telephoned for the doctor who had attended both admissions to come and hopefully elucidate matters. When he arrived he asked him, You had a patient admitted earlier whom you certified as being dead. What was his name?

He was admitted under the name of Harold Fraser Senior.

I see. And you have just had another patient admitted. What is his name?

He was admitted under the name of Harold Fraser Junior.

And is he dead?

Good Lord, no. Just a mild heart attack, that's all. With the proper rest and medication, he'll be up and about in no time.

Wait a minute, the Inspector objected. He pointed to Uncle Harry. Is this the Harold Fraser you certified dead?

Don't be daft. Of course not.

Then there must be three Harold Frasers! the Inspector declared triumphantly. Harold Fraser Junior, Harold Fraser Senior, and Harold Fraser . . .What comes after Senior?

Deceased, the doctor suggested. He was not long out of medical school, and still retained an irreverent sense of humour.

The Inspector was prepared to accept this designation. Right! Harold Fraser Deceased! Where is he? Where's the dead one?

Mrs Fraser cowered behind the inspector, and pointed to Uncle Harry. It's him! He's both of them! He's Harold Fraser Senior and Harold Fraser Deceased. He's a zombie!

*****

After Mrs Fraser had been removed to the psychiatric ward for observation, the nurse returned to her duties in casualty, and Uncle Harry departed muttering imprecations against damn fool Poms. The hospital administrator, the doctor, and the police inspector remained, discussing how the matter was to be described in their respective reports.

It all depends, the inspector suggested, on how many Harold Frasers were involved. It seems obvious to me that there were only two. When the ambulance came in the first time, it contained two Harold Frasers and the woman. One of the men walked out the door with the woman, and the other man was removed from the mortuary soon after. When the ambulance came back the second time, it again contained two Harold Frasers and the woman. It flies in the face of common sense to suppose that they weren't the same men.

But the second time they were both alive, the doctor pointed out, and the first time one of them was dead.

So you say, the inspector replied, but in that case we either have to believe that the corpse came alive again, or else that there's a body floating around loose out there, and if there is, where is it, eh?

I'm not going to have it suggested that I issued a death certificate for a living person, the doctor protested angrily.

Be reasonable, doctor, the administrator pleaded. You are a scientist. You are aware of the principle of Occam's Razor, that a simple solution is to be preferred to a complex one. And besides, have you asked yourself why Mr and Mrs Fraser wanted the body so badly? Might it not have been because they knew it wasn't dead?

But I'm telling you that I know that it was, and I'm not having it on my record that I made a mistake.

The administrator and the police inspector looked mutely at each other, pondering how to resolve the matter. Suddenly a look of enlightenment came to the administrator's face.

Tell me, doctor, he asked, have your case notes for today gone to central filing yet?

No, they're still on my desk. I file them all together at the end of my shift.

Then the matter is easily dealt with. Of course you didn't make a diagnostic error. How could anybody ever suggest such a thing? But you did make a slip of the pen. When you wrote 'Patient dead - Remitted to mortuary,' you actually intended to write 'Patient fully recovered - discharged'.

He opened a drawer of his desk and took out a small bottle. I have a friend in America, he said, who has sent me a sample of a fluid invented by a typist he knows. When you make a mistake, you just paint over it with this white stuff. He gave the bottle to the doctor. She calls it 'Mistake Out.' She should market it - it would make a fortune.

*****

Once clear of Nutchester, and no longer in fear of pursuit, Sam and Eric took it easy on the way back to Nutcombe. Billy Watkins' body, at present propped up between them in the front of the hearse, would soon be reunited with its coffin, at present reposing in the back, and returned to the funeral parlour ready for interment tomorrow. They felt that their efforts had earned a reward, and stopped at the Red Lion for refreshment. When their thirsts had been adequately slaked, they resumed their journey and drove the remaining half mile or so to their destination. As they pulled up outside Lovejoy's funeral parlour, PC John Banks stepped from the shadows.

Banks had received the county wide call from police headquarters in Nutchester to be on the lookout for two body snatchers and a corpse. He had earlier been called upon by Sam to escort the hearse on an urgent dash to Nutchester. It had occurred to him that these funebral events might not be unconnected, and he had therefore stationed himself outside the undertaker's to await the return of the hearse. His suspicions received further support when he observed that there was a third party in the front seat. Sam lowered the driver's door window.

Evening, constable. Is anything the matter?

Good evening, sir. Will you please step out of the vehicle?

Sam reluctantly alighted from the hearse, attempting to nudge Billy towards Eric as he did so. This was a mistake. Exertion and ale had combined to render Eric drowsy, and his chin was dropping onto his chest when he felt a push against his side. Instinctively he pushed back, and Billy's lifeless body fell across the seat.

*****

Banks prepared to telephone headquarters with pleasurable anticipation. He had locked Sam and Eric in a cell, arrested on suspicion of body snatching. He had locked the body in the hearse, and pocketed the keys, thus securing the essential evidence. He, Police Constable John Banks, of the Nutcombe station, had single-handedly succeeded in bringing a county wide hunt to a triumphant conclusion. It should be worth at least a commendation, if not a promotion. With some difficulty, he eventually got connected to the Inspector in charge of the case.

About the search for the body snatchers, sir, . . .

Oh, you can stand down from that, Banks. The search is off.

But I've got them, sir.

Got them? Got who?

The body snatchers, sir. I've arrested them here in Nutcombe.

Don't be a fool, Banks. The parties concerned were detained here in Nutchester and interrogated by me.

You mean you have them under arrest there, sir?

No, they were released. My enquiries showed that no crime had been committed.

No crime, sir?

That's right. Turned out there wasn't any body after all. It was all a mistake.

A mistake, sir? Then what should I do with my suspects?

Release them, of course, and hope that they don't sue you for wrongful arrest.

But the body, sir. What should I do with the body?

Body? What are you babbling about, Banks? I just told you, there wasn't any body.

But there is, sir. The hearse had a body in it, sir. I saw it with my own eyes, sir.

In a hearse? Well, of course a hearse is likely to contain a body, you fool. That's what they're used for. Have you been drinking, Banks?

But, sir, Banks wailed.

Listen, Banks. This body of yours. Was it the corpse of Harold Fraser Junior, Harold Fraser Senior, or Harold Fraser Deceased?

No, sir. It was Billy Watkins. I recognised him. He's due to be buried tomorrow.

Banks, listen to me carefully. Go home, drinks two cups of black coffee, and go to bed. AND REPORT TO ME IN MY OFFICE TOMORROW AT 10 AM!

*****


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