Friday

Countdown Conundrum by @UncleSpong (478 words)


The toxicology results were already lying on his desk when DI Jepson entered his windowless office. As the energy saving bulb laboured towards full brightness he held the one page printout closer to his eyes, squinting to see the eight point font.

"Need a sodding microscope to read these reports," he muttered to himself.

Name: Michael John Leader
Cause of death: multiple organ failure.
Toxins: Tetramethylene disulfotetramine (Tetramine)

"Tetramine? Is this 1973? Who uses rat poison to bump someone off these days?" Jepson rose from his chair, simultaneously pushing it backwards with his thighs until it thumped against the radiator behind him. He needed to consult Borowicz, his number two. Borowicz had conducted the interview with Whiteley, their prime suspect. She'd already coughed for the crime and given a hint about the bizarre motivation. But it was only now that they were discovering how she'd carried it out.

"Go through it again please," asked Jepson, his hand searching in his pocket for a Smint.

"Sir, she claims she tired of his jokes and the constant jibes from her colleagues," Borowicz began. He gave a précis of Whiteley's statement:

She'd started at Bentley's butchers around six months ago. Leader was the first customer she'd served. He'd seen her name badge – Carol – and had queried what her surname was.

"Let me guess," Leader had joked, putting his fingers to his temples and closing his eyes as if to summon an unworldly source, "Your surname is Vorderman?"

She'd heard it countless times before. Same joke, different face, same reaction. She'd rolled her eyes, feigned a smile and responded: "No, it's Whiteley."

"Get away," Leader had spluttered, unable to conceal his excitement. "Really? Oh my…"

Leader always turned up on Thursdays and her heart would sink. His five-day chin stubble, grey trousers stained from rubbing chip fat off his hands while watching television, a plum jumper with cigarette burns concealing a white shirt which he'd done up by misaligning the buttons and button holes. She'd wait for the joke. A play on words about his conundrum; something about gluten playing havoc with his vowels; a mumbled anecdote about a consonant threat to his reputation. He thought he was hilarious. But she'd found it tiresome. It became the 'in' joke among the staff, and they'd all run for cover when they saw his profile shuffle past the shop window, hiding behind the multi-coloured fly-screen door, stifling giggles. When he'd gone, the lewd suggestions were bandied about. That's when she'd begun to plot.

On his final visit he'd joked: "I'll have two large ones and four from anywhere else." Six sausages, one of them laced with tetramine. Russian roulette in a sausage.

"Don't you see, Sir? That's the link," whispered Borowicz, embarrassed for his DI that he'd still not joined the dots. "Tetramine. That's it. Nine letters. Anagram of terminate. The joke's on Leader."

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