He was shot in a supermarket. CCTV showed only 1 possible suspect, Bashmachkin. But he had both hands on his trolley, no gun in sight.
“The clue is in the name,” said DCI Stafford. “I’m surprised you didn’t get it, Ringer. You, a university man. A graduate.” He gave the last word a sneering emphasis.
“It’s a Russian name,” said the detective sergeant sullenly. “I read philosophy. Not Russian.”
“That’s the problem with further education in this country. Too narrow. And the further you progress, the narrower it gets. Whereas, in the University of Life -”
“I don’t believe it! You actually used that expression! You actually said University of Life!”
“You’re not the only one who can be ironic, you know.” He looked down disconsolately at the plastic body parts on Bashmachkin’s bed. “Have you never heard of Gogol?”
“You mean Google.”
“No, Gogol. But if you like you can look him up on Google. Bashmachkin, I mean. I expect you can do it on your iPhone.”
The young DS was happy to comply.
“How is it you get an iPhone and I have to make do with this Blackberry?” grumbled Stafford, while he watched his subordinate stroke and tap the glossy surface of the gadget with the tip of his forefinger.
“One of the perks of being a Federation rep.”
“So – what does it tell you?”
“Bashmachkin. Protagonist in Gogol’s short story, The Overcoat.”
“And our Bashmachkin was wearing an overcoat, was he not? A very large overcoat, for such a skinny man.”
“Yes, I thought that.”
“You thought that, did you? Hmmm.” DCI Stafford nodded sceptically. “And yet, you didn’t say anything. It was a hot day as well, wasn’t it?”
“It was air-conditioned in there. Perhaps he was cold.”
“So what do you make of all this?” Stafford nodded down at the disassembled manikin.
“No. Not kinky. Not in this case. Can you put it together? Krypton Factor style?”
Ringer pocketed his iPhone and took up the challenge. In less than ten minutes he had the thing assembled. Almost. “There’s an arm missing.”
“Not the nose?”
Ringer fished out his iPhone again. “The Nose. Another Gogol story. About a nose. That took on a life of its own.”
“A bit like the arm missing from this manikin. Which turned out to be anything but ‘armless.”
Ringer rolled his eyes at his boss’s pun.
“So you see how it was done?” said Stafford. “Or do you need to google that as well?”
“Yeah, I get it. It’s obvious.”
Stafford called his bluff. “So?”
“So he fed the false arm through the sleeve of his overcoat and made it look like he had both hands on his trolley. But all the time, inside his capacious overcoat, his real right hand was holding a gun.”
“Yeah, that’s right,” said Stafford. Unusually for him, his voice betrayed his surprise. “You worked that out?” A flash of understanding was followed by a cunning frown. He snatched the iPhone from Ringer’s hands. “I see.’ He nodded, his suspicion vindicated. “Bashmachkin’s facebook page. Last status update – planning the perfect murder with a false arm stuffed inside the sleeve of a baggy overcoat! LOL!.”