The Bestiary of Inspector Blond
Part One: The Case of the Missing Unicorn
On the fifth stroke of five I quit the office and decided to call into the Purple Pussycat on my way home. It was once owned by Pussy Galore but when she ran out of lives quite suddenly under the wheels of a delivery truck last month it passed to her niece, Miss Frou Frou, from the Siamese end of the family. The neon sign outside was unchanged but inside the decorators had been busy. Lots of faux tiger skin, leopard patterns and fake plastic palm trees gave the bar a jungle feel. I climbed on to a stool and was glad to see that Al the barman was still a feature.
'So, an Inspector calls. What'll it be Jimmy?'
'Isn't it a bit early for that?' I asked him.
'5.15 is too early for a drink?'
'No, just too early for stupid questions'.
He poured and let the smile stay a moment before he slid the pint of Stella my way. I was just enjoying the cold feel of the glass in my palm when I detected a movement around my ankles, like a scarf being drawn across my shoes. I looked down and saw the cream coloured cat balance itself for a leap onto the vacant stool next to mine.
She sat upright and wrapped her dark tail around her darker feet, waved a front paw across her snout and purred hello.
'Well, if it isn't Inspector Blond. Do tell, Jimmy, to what do we owe this pleasure, or are you here on business?'
I stroked her under the chin and she relaxed her neck and allowed me to tickle her ears. I signalled for Al to bring over a saucer of milk for Miss Frou Frou and nodded as he suggested an extra shot of cream.
She purred and climbed onto the bar and lapped from the saucer. The milk clung to her whiskers as her tongue flicked at the surface. The blue in her eyes glittered like twin sapphires resting on a velvet pillow.
'Mmmm, my, what a treat. But I guess this means you want something in return?'
I placed some photographs on the counter.
'Any of these ring the bell on your collar Frou Frou'?
She sniffed at them and looked at me like she was trying to calculate her next move. Her paw hovered and then she licked at her claws. I tried a different tack.
'I know you took delivery of a truckload of catnip yesterday afternoon', I ventured. 'It's probably in the cellar now, where you keep the mice'.
I thought I saw the fur on her back straighten just a touch but she was instantly in control and rolled onto her back and yawned. Al began wiping the top needlessly, slowly, edging closer. I looked at him. He shrugged and moved over to the fridges and re-arranged some champagne.
'Oh, Jimmy', she sighed, 'always with the movie lines. Catnip's been decriminalised for a year now and we have a certificate for the mice. But you knew that. So why don't you tell me what you really want, mmmmm?'
Staring a cat in the eye is tricky at the best of times. Try looking at you maiden aunt's calendar next time you visit if you don’t believe me. I blinked first.
'We've got a problem, Frou. And I don't have an answer'.
She could have been carved out of wood. I swirled the glass and emptied it. Al could hear the tell-tale sound of a thirsty customer from the next county and he started pouring.
'So you want me to listen out, sniff around, is that it? And if any of these people ever show up I should call you?' She licked a paw and washed an ear. 'Jimmy, you haven't gotten over that unicorn yet, have you?'
Unicorns were living in protected area just outside Aviemore, breeding successfully, integrating well into society and generally making a solid comeback. They brought in the tourist revenue and after the quarantine period was up they began taking part in races, doing a bit of light delivery work and a couple of rock stars adopted some youngsters as pets on a part-time basis.
Then one day a unicorn was seen bolting from a bank in Pitlochry with uncounted thousands in cash in his saddle bags. I was new to the Aberdeen force at the time and it was my first assignment as detective.
'You know the drill, James', the Chief told me, 'just take a virgin to the last reported sighting and leave her there with a surveillance team in camo gear. Your unicorn will show up in three hours tops. Dart it, bring it in and then smile for the cameras'.
We were lucky with the weather and even luckier with the unicorn. It was about six on a mild May evening and the team was tucked into a small copse of gorse and willow while our virgin lay against a tree reading a magazine. Then after two and a half hours we heard the snorting and whinnying and the beast trotted up onto a small rise in the ground about fifty metres away. Silhouetted against the setting sun the profile was unmistakable. I heard John in the headset tell me he had a clear shot.
'Bring him down, John', I said.
There was breathy escape of air as the rifle pulsed and the unicorn seemed to stiffen and then its head went down and the horn pointed to the ground. Its back legs buckled and it collapsed. Our virgin was up and sprinting to the rise as I ordered the helicopter and we all rushed over to see the unicorn. Only John the shooter had ever seen one before close up and we were all way too excited. The excitement soon changed to disbelief.
Katy, the virgin, was stroking its mane. Its horn had come off and rolled away a few feet. She looked up at me.
'It's a fucking horse, with a plastic horn tied to its head'.
Then the chopper battered the air and the press were all over the scene like a rash and the photos were on the front pages the next day. As a punishment I had the microphones to myself at the press conference. And when they found out that Katy wasn't even technically a virgin, well, the transfer to Lothian and Borders didn't seem quite so bad.
Frou Frou licked the back of my hand. 'Never mind, Jimmy, the animal kingdom isn't all full of crims and bank robbers'.
I stroked her head. No, I thought to myself, there's assassins and hired killers out there too.