by Steve Aylett
Inside every fat man is a thin man trying to get out -
inside that thin man is an even thinner man, and so on. The final stage is like a fibre
strand from a dead branch. Knowing this, Chief Henry Blince never started down that road.
His belly was the near side of an unexplored gas planet. He was gargling with potato salad
when Benny the Trooper radioed in, calling him to warm his hands at a crime scene on Galas
'Whatta we got Benny?' he rumbled, entering the
'One cord wonder, Chief.'
'And then some.'
'Cocktail homicide?' Blince asked, lumbering down the
hallway after Benny. 'What else?'
'Shot in the temple eh.'
'Kitchen, Chief. Poison in his pump too, say
forensics. Aint been dead long - body's still smoking.'
The pulse loser hung by the neck from a light fitting,
riddled with 9mm calibre airholes. 'What kinda gun was used? Like it matters.'
'Steyr sub pistol, Chief'
'That's a tantrum gun. When you say "sub"
you've said it all, eh? Ballistics took it?'
'No Chief, it's here.' Benny gestured to a gun on a
tripod, a length of string tied to the trigger, five feet from the body. Another shorter
piece of string hung from the victim's ear. 'Seven rounds left in a fifteen mag. Eye-bolt
high on the wall there - reckon he pulleyed the string so the flaw went off when he
dropped - string broke but by then he'd got half a set.'
'Now hold your horses, Benny,' said the Chief,
lighting a Hindenberg. 'Don't you recognise this meat puppet? This here's Fraph Cargill.
Fraph had many faults but being dead was never one of 'em.'
'Sure, you liked him for that candy factory break-in
and he mouthed all off.' A conspiracy nut famous for triangulating sacred angles off the
roof of Snoopy's kennel, Fraph had blamed Blince for the break-in, whining of persecution.
Witnesses claimed to have seen Blince at the scene but the figure had been officially
declared a weather balloon. 'Still, the boys in forensics see this here baby as open and
'The boys in forensics are faggots. Remember the
Hurley Murder? We walk onto the crime scene to find 'em lyin' down makin' gore angels? I
suspect for a fact that this is homicide. Now let's take a wry look at the evidence the
forensics boys saw fit to ignore. The raisin on the counter, for light starters.'
'Cut it out, Chief - you're killin' me.'
Blince gave Benny a level, slack-faced gaze. 'Well,
looky here. The trooper boy doubts my sincerity. Well let's put it to the test, shall we.
You recall that auto-erotic hangin' a couple years back? Best orange I ever tasted. Well
the coroner said the stiff had taken minutes to die - maybe Fraph here tried leavin' a
clue to the killer's identity.'
'Chief, I -'
'Don't be interruptin' me, Benny, or I'll bust your
ass. And that means you won t be able to . . .? Won't be able to
'On the goddamn money. Now put this raisin in water so
it turns back into a grape - there may be a message scrawled on it.'
In a while Benny pitched up with a glass of water in
which a dark grape was rolling. 'Nothing Chief.'
'Am I nuts or is the water discoloured Benny?'
'So the message could have been washed away by you
droppin it in your water - nice move, trooper boy.'
'You crack me up Chief, you really do.'
'Eh?' Blince paused to eat the grape and wash it down
with the water. 'This guy scrawls the killer's name on the nearest and dearest surface and
you wipe it clean like a guilty slate. All we know now is it's a real short name.'
'I been tryin' to tell ya, Chief, he left a ditch note
on the table here, under a waffle iron.'
Benny handed him a sheet of paper on which were penned
the words 'Blince rejects reason, torments hounds and ducks blame. Will my end help?'
'Waffle iron eh? This one here?'
'Handwriting checks out, Chief.'
'I don't doubt it, Benny. Smart. Real smart.'
'What yuh gettin' at?'
'Cargill was a conspiracy nut, right? The type to find
messages in the Bill o' Rights? There's twelve words in this so-called ditch note, Benny.
Same number as the holes in the grid o' this waffle iron. Arrange the words in the same
pattern as that grid - four rows o' three words. He left a message alright.'
'I don't get it, Chief.'
'Well, Benny - if that is your real name - take a
swatch at the body here.' He gestured over his shoulder with the cigar. 'Eight - count
them - eight bullets, all told. Told if you've ears to hear. This man used his own death
wounds as a cipher, trooper boy.'
'That takes tough chewing, Chief,' said Benny with a
furrowed brow and a bright smirk.
'Does it? Picture the scene, Benny. A man
forced at gunpoint to write his own suicide note and to assign some spurious guilt to me.
He pitches the argument that if he's set to die for it, it might as well be done right, in
his own style so as not to arouse suspicion. The killer falls for it. And so Mr
Personality chooses this form of words, placing the waffle iron on it supposedly as a
paperweight. Then the killer strings him up, poisons him, and shoots him with the TMP. I
know what you re gonna say, Benny - why'd he keep on firing the gun, waitin' to hear if
it'd play a different note? No. Fraph taunted him, calling him all
the names he could pronounce, baiting him into emptying half a clip and leaving the body
as we view it today, lame red herrings and all.'
'You can't know that, Chief.'
'I can know whatever I like, trooper boy.' Blince
gestured at the victim's purple face. 'Cargill understood it. And speakin' o' red
herrings, Benny, do fish got eyelids? I mean you'd figure with the driftin' detritus and
all, they'd wanna blink maybe eighty times a minute. Or sleep, for god's sake.'
'I heard sharks fall to the seafloor if they stop
movin', Chief Heart stops on a dime. No independent cardiac action. No swim bladder.'
'And no eyelids. Well I guess you oughta count your
blessings, trooper boy.'
Blince sat down at the small table, flipped the ditch
note and took up a pencil, writing it out in a three-by-four grid pattern. 'Pull up a
chair, Benny - we got a puzzle to solve. What was Fraph Cargill really tryin' to tell the
'You just slay me, Chief,' chuckled Benny, shaking his
head as he honked a chair across and sat down.
'Eight rounds fired, seven unfired, eight divided by
seven and rounded down a little is one. Word one, word seven, word eight. "Blince
ducks blame." That's lust a trial run, let's get into this for real now. That was
three numbers. Eight rounds -eight divided into three numbers, well how about one, five,
two. "Blince hounds relects." No, no. Eight and seven times three, minus eight
and divide into three's maybe twelve, ten, seven, eight, one - "Help my ducks - blame
Blince." Just warmin' up here, Benny. Eight plus seven is fifteen which is three
numbers there, so minus three's twelve - one, four and seven is "Blince torments
ducks." God almighty - throw me a bone here, trooper boy.'
'My ducks blame Blince.'
'Help end my torments. Blame Blince.'
'Blince will end reason.'
'Blince will blame my ducks.'
'Blince torments my hounds.'
'Will Blince help rejects?'
'Will Blince duck blame?'
'Blince hounds ducks.'
'Will my torments end? Help! Blame Blince!'
'My end. Reason? Blince.'
'End my Blince torments.'
'Blame Blince and my ducks will help.'
'This guy's sure got a thing about his ducks, Chief'
'It's becoming clear to me Fraph got in way over his
head with this secret message gambit. Seen the kinda thing before -a man tries goin' too
smart and overflows the system. Ironic as a silenced Jericho aint it? Remember when old
Leon Wardial was placid and content to break and enter dressed as a nun and so forth? Then
he catches ideas, launches that balloon, says he's happier than he's ever been. Like he's
too good for the street.' Leon Wardial's armed airship the Hollow Oak circled the
globe just slower than the planetary spin so that it appeared to be flying backward
through the sky. On its stern, first to emerge over the horizon, was an immense gaseous
arse. One day a pig went berserk in the engine room, damaging equipment and reducing
propulsion by five percent. As a result onlookers around the world saw a single bob and
descent of the gargantuan butt at the vanishing point. 'Never a dull moment though, I'll
give him that.'
'So whatta we do with the message, Chief?'
'Well, Benny, the first steadying influence
Fraph'll have in his life is when we cut him down - he's bitten off way more'n he can chew
here. He wanted martyrdom he'll get it anyhow. Every victim is loved after some initial
time, they'll even laminate your ass. We need to start out by deciding what it was he
meant to say. Then you know how Wardial says he built that balloon by reverse-engineerin'
an alien gag that crashed and burned on open mike night in the Reaction Bar? We gotta use
the same kinda modus operandi. God forbid that a person starts resistin' change.
Especially in death, eh Benny? Now let's take a look here. "My will: help Blince end
reason. Torments? Rejects? Blame hounds and ducks." There. That'll
do. Twelve words, minus the two of us is ten. Minus Fraph is nine. Twelve words is twelve.
One victim is one. One off twelve takes care of eleven. The three of us is three. See how
this is workin', Benny? Eight rounds fired divided by us is four. The two of us is two.
Eight rounds is eight. Us plus him plus us is five. Plus him is six. Seven rounds unfired
is seven. We've cracked it.'
'I guess. But I still reckon
homicide'll be tough to swallow, Chief.'
'What a man can t swallow defines him, trooper boy.
Make me believe my duty's superfluous and that's homicide. The law starts in brass
and lives in my ass like a load. What is it with you? Shut the truth in with a goat and
block your ears - you know the drill.'
'Hey wait a minute, Chief - I just realised I got it
ass backward. It was seven rounds fired and eight left, not the other way.'
'Just like that eh. Well aint that dandy. Thanks,
trooper boy - thanks for the help. What, I gotta do everythin' myself? Lemme see, here.'
Blince stood and lumbered to the Steyr. Ignoring the meaning of his act, he shunted the
safety to the right for single shot. Then he lined up on the body, cornerbiting his cigar.
'This is the last favour I do for you, Cargill.'
A fresh shot set the corpse spinning.