Judging A Book
by Marian Allen
District Criminal Investigator Pel Darzin had brought the bad news himself. He and Head Librarian Holly Jahangiri had been on the same side of puzzles and crimes before, so this was bound to be difficult for both of them.
Parlourmaid Tambar Miznalia could see from his face that something was very wrong and only said, “You know the way,” omitting her usual disdainful sniff.
Holly had just come in from searching for a missing book, and still had her trademark purple feather boa draped around her neck.
“Come in, District Criminal Investigator Pel Darzin,” she said. “I’m afraid I don’t have time for a long chat today.”
“You’re looking for a book,” said the Investigator.
“Why, yes! I don’t know how you know, but The Major Works of Alfred, Lord Tennyson didn’t come home from his day out yesterday. I tried his favorite pub, but nobody saw him crossing the bar.”
“I know where he is.”
“Oh, how wonderful!”
“He’s in custody.”
“Ours, I’m afraid.”
“What for? Tell me he didn’t get a snootful and charge half a league down the middle of the road!”
“A bit more serious than that, I’m afraid. He’s been taken for questioning regarding the death of Arthur.”
“Mort D. Arthur, the cutlery king.”
“He never would! He didn’t even know him!”
Sadly, Darzin said, “You have my deepest sympathy, but we have witnesses who say your book was always talking about the death of Arthur.”
“That’s one of his poems! In fact, two of his poems are about the deaths of two different Arthurs.”
“Ah. There’s the motive, then. He had a fixation. The trial’s this afternoon.”
Holly had just opened her mouth to say something rude – which she would certainly have regretted – when a raised voice distracted her.
It was the voice of Parlourmaid Tambar Miznalia. It was not, of course, unusual to hear the library’s parlourmaid’s voice, nor (sad to say) to hear it raised in outrage, but the content of her discourse was extremely interesting to both listeners.
“Get up those stairs! Go on – march! You’ve got your nerve, letting an innocent book take the fall for you. The very idea! Aren’t you ashamed of yourself? Now, knock. Go on. Go on!”
Holly thought it best to allow Tambar Miznalia’s order to be obeyed before she flung wide the door.
A large woman in a chef’s tunic stood weeping before her. The woman gasped and lunged, as a strong prod from the parlourmaid propelled her into the room.
“Confess,” the parlourmaid commanded.
Head hanging low, the cook wiped her eyes on her apron and said, “It was an accident. Poor Mr. Arthur! He was watching me chop shallots and my hand slipped. I panicked and ran away. I never thought anybody else would be accused of it, I swear I didn’t! All I could think of was abandoning my former life and becoming a living book. Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management. But, when I told my backstory to my best friend, Parlourmaid Tambar Miznalia, she brought me to you.”
“I stick my neck out for nobody,” said Parlourmaid Tambar Miznalia and, Holly and Darzin reflected, anyone who knew her was a bit of a fool not to have expected as much.
“In that case,” said Darzin, “I very much regret to have to inform you that you are under arrest for the accidental killing of Cutlery King Mort D. Arthur (deceased). Come along with me. The trial’s already scheduled for this afternoon, so you won’t have long to wait.”
“Oh, good,” said the ex-cook faintly, as Darzin led her out.
Holly rearranged her purple feather boa and followed so she could escort Tennyson back to the library. Goodness only knew what larks he would kick up to celebrate, if he didn’t have oversight. Besides, he knew all the best pubs.
“Well done,” she forced herself to say as she passed the parlourmaid. “Thank you.”
“Don’t mention it,” said Tambar Miznalia. “Payday is tomorrow.”
The two sentences, Holly knew, and Miznalia knew she knew, were not unrelated.
A WRITING PROMPT FOR YOU: What would your main character do if a close friend made a dreadful confession?