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A Murder On Snuffworld

01/06/2012. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts

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Short fiction by GF Willmetts. Baratty Rabatty looked at the corpse before giving it a gentle kick with one of his hooves to make sure it was actually dead. It wasn’t a normal death authorised by the state. Someone had committed a murder. Normal police policy was to round up all the suspects and have them killed to ensure that the murderer didn’t escape.

It helped with the population control and ensured that it didn’t happen again. Well, at least from the same murderer. After all, you couldn’t have everyone committing murder or there wouldn’t be any population to control. A single mass murderer would deprive others of committing the same act and there just wasn’t enough time to solve all murders. Killing all those involved when no one was sure who did it ensured the murderer was killed. A side-effect of this was few would kill unless they’re intention was to kill off anyone associated with them. Killers who wanted to kill their own families or friends tended to kill them before the police arrived and tended to be the last one standing and an easy target anyway.

This corpse was different. It belonged to Hashagar Habdash. The celebrity chef. His reputation was for killing people who copied his meals. It wasn’t exactly murder because it was a personal choice as to where you made the dishes he prepared on television or not. Whoever killed him would have to be amongst those who watched his show. Rabatty slid his compuator out of it sheath and gathered the calculation against the population. Ninety per cent of the population would watch his programme. The ten per cent missing was probably because of the poor perception at the equator and those who had little time for cookery shows. The price of popularity. The computator’s numbers started to rise as Rabatty started the cross-check of anyone vital who would die.

He wasn’t surprised to see his name on the list. No one lived forever. Borro, the Grand Emperor. That was different. Granola needed its leader and he couldn’t just sign his death warrant without some investigation, even if he was head of state. Yet to let one Granolan off meant to let everyone off.

Rabatty sighed. There would be no choice. He would have to do some serious detective work and narrow down the number of suspects and witnesses. Just so the evidence wouldn’t go missing, especially with all the assorted bodies around, he placed the body in the boot of his car. Better to keep it safe for the moment.

Now he would have to decide where to start his investigation. Even to his limited detecting skills, it made more sense to ignore the Granolan in the street who probably wasn’t there and concentrate on the people in the studio at the time of the recording first. At least no one had sorted out remote murder yet. Even so, no one had stopped anyone leaving or coming and that would still leave anyone in the city which would have been an immediate declaration of guilt. That would be at least several million suspects in this city alone. He flicked a button on his compuator with a request that none of them should be killed for any other offence until statements and forensics were taken at least from the workers here in case it pointed out anyone in particular. This would undoubtedly cause some friction with his colleagues, especially those who liked an old-fashioned shoot-out, so he added all past contestants who survived to ensure everyone was really pissed and assigned them that work to keep them busy. As potential witnesses, they were already facing death. It was a tough job but someone had to do it. In this case it was Detective Inspector Baratty Rabatty and he had a crime to solve. Where was the theme tune and opening credits when you needed it?

The Earth broadcasts over the years had shown a variety of ways to determine who a murderer was. A favourite was to bring all the suspects into a single room, declare someone was a murderer and look for the one who sighs with relief that they weren’t suspected and grab him or her. The Poirot Method as it was called. If he was lucky to have chosen the right person, they could be killed as they fled displaying their guilt and then spray ammunition in the room itself. Some would use a bomb but it was so messy. Looking at the list on his compuator, this seemed a bit impractical as the numbers indicated that they would fill more than several sports stadium, just from immediate associates. Acquiring one of those at short notice, let alone several during a sports week would also prove problematic. So, too, would be interrogating everyone separately outside of the studio. Torture took such a long time to prove everyone was telling the truth. Worse, they’d admit murder just because they could to get it over with. No, that wouldn’t be the answer today.

Rabatty completed his recording of the evidence and then secured the body in his car boot so it wouldn’t mess up the suspension. Unlike the human broadcasts, there was no morgue to house the body, just cremation. With this murder, there would always be some need to check off some evidence to ensure the guilty party or parties could not back away from irrefutable proof and that meant the path lab. The means would only be part of the evidence but that could be gotten later. The one thing that wasn’t happening was still anyone running from the crime scene or any onlooker watching him tinkering around.

Why was Hashagar Habdash allowed to commit murder by food for so long? Well, that was easy. State approved. Most Granolans shared the human preference to watch food preparation than to copy it in their homes. Watching the contestants sample each other’s food and some dying was just pot luck or poisoned pot. They signed disclaimers for that. It would only be a few who would be stupid enough to copy the recipes and not anticipate that they might die. If they were that idiotic, he doubted if any relatives would want to seek revenge as a means for murder and it would take the stupid out of the gene pool. Why admit to having a stupid relative? Even so, they would all have to be added to the witness list for possible execution. No wonder the compuator had indicated so many people.

There would have to be a deeper motive than that. Killing for the sake of it when there was other motives would preclude that. Find the motive. Find the murderer. Who would have the most to gain? Habdash had no family. Signing the witness list and ninety-eight per cent of the population would be removed. That would be motive enough. Someone out to commit genocide or someone wanting to watch a genocide?

Maybe that would be it.

Then again, would it be a means for suicidal behaviour. The Ten Little Digits scenario would never work because all witnesses would be cremated. You could hardly hide among them even if it took a while to cremate them all. There was never any last minute reprieves when the order was signed. When was there any Granolan incapable of putting themselves in a situation where they couldn’t be killed for any misdemeanour?

If it would be impossible to check through ninety per cent of the population, why not look at the ten per cent who would survive. If a Granolan had a greater desire for self-survival but with homicidal potent than a lower population number would make sense. It would either be that or a mass murderer rejoicing in killing the most Granolans ever. The problem would be getting so many million people into a room and check their motives. So much for the Poirot Method.

Rabatty wished he could smoke like the Bogart Method, look broody and dodge the bullets while giving the occasional wise-crack. But then, he wasn’t a private dick, didn’t have a trench-coat or hat and no one was shooting at him. If he could prove the murderer was amongst the ten per cent and not the ninety per cent then they could be removed as potential witnesses. To prove that might even remove the murderer as well. Except he wasn’t entirely sure. For his own satisfaction and for Saint Columbo, there was still a need for proof, especially when this ten per cent also included his own name in both lists. He hated chef shows.

He obviously didn’t do it, nor the butler if he had one. That was one less suspect. That was odd. Wait a second, he was on both lists. Rabatty keyed in to his compuator for comparisons as to who would be on both lists and a note of several hours to complete the search. Still he was a clue that couldn’t be dismissed. A fifty-fifty chance for the murderer to survive. Maybe this was the category that the humans called ‘Don’t know’. If there was time for an appeal, it would be the one category that would escape the extermination. What was it from the Holmes Method? Remove the suspects whom it couldn’t be and no matter how improbable the answer, there was the place to look…or something like that. Oh for the price of a deerstalker and a magnifying glass although what would those do to solve the case? Maybe the Batman Method would work and beat the crap out of the suspects instead. Even so, there was a lot of suspects. Some might fight back.

Maybe the next clue would come from the corpse and how Hashagar Habdash had died. With that, Rabatty got into his car and drove to the path lab. What rank he had would draw an immediate autopsy. He keyed in the phone and sent in the automatic request to ensure a pathologist was waiting when he arrived.

i

Rabatty hauled Habdash’s corpse onto a gurney and into the autopsy room. It was invariably pot luck as to who saw any body he brought in. He always had a wish list. A supervisor pathologist could pull rank and get deeply involved and want to follow the case through to the end. A junior rank pathologist would do the job and get out of his way. Either way, he would have to check his compuator to see what level of suspect they were.

As it turned out, it was Jumpee Morbrondo. Not senior but high enough. A bit older than himself and a bit long in the hoof but an excellent pathologist. She played with her methods, too. Which would it be? The Quincy Method with no blood or The Silent Witness Method and real blood and guts. She thought the new show CSI too confusing and too many episodes to watch when she could be working.

As she examined the corpse, Jumpee called out, ‘What did he die of?’

‘I was hoping you could tell me. No knife or bullet wounds. Could it have been something he ate?’

‘Why?’

‘Do you know who he is?’

‘No. You really should label the victims, Lieutenant. Just because we don’t have toes, doesn’t mean you can’t tie a label to a hoof.’

‘Inspector, Jumpee. I got a promotion. It might have a bearing on who the killer is, Jumpee, there are a lot of suspects.’

‘How many?’

‘Depending on how it works out, at least ninety per cent of the population. Maybe more.’

‘Genocide? Want me to call in a higher supervisor. A superior rank?’

‘The fact that you don’t know him puts you into the other ten per cent and unbias. That’s good enough for me. Don’t you watch television anymore?’

‘Some. Not all. Is he a celebrity?’

‘Do the autopsy and then I’ll fill you in.’

‘OK, but call me Doctor. Respect, OK?

‘Sure, Doc.’

‘You are a pain, Rabatty.’

‘Include toxicology, Jumpee.’

‘Of course. Sit back and watch. Why toxicology?’

‘Poetic justice. It has something to do with his own MO.’

‘No matter. Fewer details, less chance of drawing conclusions.’

‘That was never on television.’

‘Our physiology isn’t human. Had to make my own in-roads.’

‘No wonder your colleagues think you’re crazy.’

‘But not too crazy for you using my for help.’

‘No preconceived bias helps my case.’

Jumpee continued to dig away at the corpse, expertly slicing open the stomach and emptying the contents into a dish. She then continued with an examination of the other organs.

‘One of the reasons I stopped watching so many of the forensic shows is that we don’t have comparable human physiology so I had to make my own in-roads.’

‘You said that. I’m not deaf. You’re a radical.’

‘Hey! I’m making conversation. You accepted me. If you want orthodoxy go and see one of the others.’

‘I didn’t say that wasn’t a good idea. Whatcha got?’

‘Not a lot. Go and get some kip. I gotta run some tox tests.’

‘How long will that take?’

‘A couple hours. Even modern devices take time.’

‘Can I use your couch?’

‘Make yourself at home. Don’t piss on the furniture.’

i did

Rabatty woke up with a start and remembering what Jumpee said and pissed into the waste bucket instead. Sunlight was beaming through the window which meant he had slept most of the night. He expected Jumpee to have kicked him awake but she was sound asleep across her desk. There were several datasheets on the table. There were several lines highlighted but the names were nonsense. He dialled out for breakfast. Jumpee would be more amiable if she had something to eat when she woke up.

That proved true. Jumpee drank a couple cups of granulated whatever it was on her menu list before she was even prepared to talk. He just chewed on some raw meat. Better than that cooked stuff the humans eat.

‘I see you got some results. Anything interesting?’

‘Yep! Whoever did it didn’t like your victim. He was dosed with several poisons to ensure he died.’

‘He worked with poisons all his life so would have some immunity to them.’

‘What was he? Some sort of famous cook?’

‘The most famous.’

‘Hashagar Habdash.’

‘That was Hashagar Habdash?’

‘He was killed. At least sixty per cent of the population are witnesses as he died on television, let alone the repeats. Add at least another thirty per cent who would like to see him dead…’

‘…and a mass genocide. You’re no humanitarian, Rabatty. Just obey the rules. Kill all witnesses ensures you get the murderer.’

Rabatty scratched his head. ‘I think I’d be doing what the murderer intended. Let him…or her bloody their own hands than let me do the job. Find a better way to die than use a police officer. According to the compuator, the witnesses would also include Grand Emperor Borro.’

‘Emperorcide or whatever it’s called.’

‘He would have had a great reign.’

‘He might still have one if I can reduce the number of witnesses. Better him in charge than one of his young sons, assuming one of them survives this list. Can you determine which poison killed him and how long ago?’

Jumpee finished her drink, picked up some raw meat and began chewing. ‘I work better on a full stomach.’

i didn’t

‘The real problem isn’t the size of the dosage but which poison. Was he allergic to anything?’

Rabatty consulted his compuator. ‘Nothing shown.’

Jumpee examined a blood sample under a microscope. ‘Hmmm…not poison. E. coli. I recognise the rod shapes.’

‘Granolans aren’t affected by human germs.’

‘The humans use E. coli to link in various gene therapies. I’ll run a diagnostics to see if it’s carrying anything.’

‘How long will that take?’

‘A couple of hours. Used to be weeks. Got this tester by mail order. Star By Star.’

‘That a fact?’

‘Hey, I’m not some cheap pathologist.’

Rabatty sighed. ‘You keep your nose in the books than the television.’

‘You’re the detective. Look, Rabatty, you smell like a donkey’s asshole, go and get a fresh suit, this is a breakthrough.’

‘I like wrinkled. Didn’t hurt the one-eyed cop.’

‘St. Columbo? Well, it might help the investigation if you find out who was importing E. coli.’

‘We import this? Not black market?’

‘Maybe not this one. You need to find someone receiving medical supplies.’

‘It could be a long list.’

‘It’s got to be smaller than the witness list. It might move things along faster.’

‘I’ll use your office. Need to connect my compuator to the central computer. It’s not standard data.’

‘Knock yourself out. Not too literally.’

i didn’t do

Rabatty returned. ‘Got the list. What you got?’

‘Insulin.’

‘What’s that?’

‘A human hormone to digest sugar.’

‘Is it a poison?’

‘In small doses, not to some humans. I’ve never done a toxicity on us before with it though.’

‘Perfect opportunity. Are you sure he wasn’t experimenting?’

‘A Granolan who eats sugary food might look at this as a means to increase his capacity to absorb sweet things but his stomach contents were mostly savoury.’

‘And then it wouldn’t be murder.’

Rabatty paused. ‘That would be one solution but…’

Jumpee smiled, ‘What revelation have I missed? Was he was doing an Elvis? Toilet dead.’

‘He was about to eat in front of the camera and keeled over.’

‘That would be normal for him. He’s a TV chef after all. Food tasting is part of the method.’

‘Except he hadn’t taken a mouthful. He keeled before he swallowed. That’s why I was called in. It looked suspicious.’

‘Well if it was insulin it wouldn’t have needed to have been administered in the studio. Anything up to twenty minutes to an hour earlier. It was still in its raw state so it could have been even earlier.’

‘Jumpee, all you’ve done is widen the number of suspects again.’

‘At least it’s down to one city and it’s personal. So if he just dropped down dead, why did they think it was murder? Just declare it a heart attack and trot on. You can chase the murderer if he or she does a repeat.’

‘I need a coroner report for that and what you say won’t pass that.’

‘And as a celebrity he would have had an AOK medical check and the studio won’t get any insurance without full disclosure.’

‘At least the mayor or even the Grand Emperor isn’t down my throat.’

‘The wonders of modern detecting. Besides anything else, it looks like murder.’

‘The Rabatty gut instinct?’

‘Why call in a homicide detective without a murder?’

‘Can you give me a time for when he was poisoned? It might point out where he was? People like him have a full diary of activities.’

‘Give me an hour. I’ll have to check his body for needle marks. It isn’t the kind of thing he would swallow.’

‘Why?’

‘I read up on it. Humans have to inject into their blood stream because it would be digested in the stomach. The same would apply to us.’

‘Forensics is never this slow on television.’

‘That’s why you came to me. No glib guesses.’

It took less than ten minutes for Jumpee to find the mark and a further twenty minutes to analysis the blood at the point of entry.

‘I was lucky,’ Jumpee admitted to Rabatty. ‘It could have so easily been where I’d sliced him open.’

‘So what can you tell me?’

‘Quite a substantial dose. It has to beat our own of digesting carbohydrates to become an overdose. There were also traces of a barbiturate. Probably given at a drugs party so he wouldn’t have minded the needle.’

‘All well and good, Jumpee. Now, a time frame?’

Two or three hours tops. Getting him to die in the studio than out in the street would have taken some planning. That is if you want him to die in front of people with a spice of irony.’

Rabatty consulted his compuator. ‘Habdash attended two events in that time. One to receive an infamy medal, the other was making a meal for the government cabinet. He spent the longer time there.’

‘That brings the numbers down.’

‘Except now it’s within my power to kill the cabinet and bring down the government. It would have been easier to kill the rest of the population. The Grand Emperor wouldn’t mind. He didn’t become Grand Emperor without being able to carry out the right decisions.’

‘It does provide a motivation. Who would be served best by getting rid of the cabinet?’

‘That would be treason for anyone but him. Oh, the Grand Emperor was on the list for receiving a batch of E.coli insulin.’

‘Then we have to provide…what do the humans call it…a scapegoat. At least he’ll have four legs.’

‘Don’t we all. It would be better to call it a frame. Let’s keep it within police words.’

‘We ought to have a quiet word with him. I can’t see this having a happy ending without it.’

i didn’t do it

‘Thank you sparing us some time in your schedule, Grand Emperor.’

Borro shrugged. ‘I have been waiting for you to complete the Hashagar Habdash case. Why are you delaying killing all the witnesses?’

‘It would mean at least ninety-eight per cent of the population.’

‘So kill them. It would sort out the economy within a week.’

‘That number would also contain Grand Emperor Borro.’

There was a hush in the chamber. Borro gestured and his courtiers left, leaving the Emperor, Rabatty and Jumpee alone.

‘Rabatty my man, your loyalty overwhelms me. You have no desire for high office?’

‘I might also be among the ninety-eight per cent, Grand Emperor. Indeed, the figures might be larger than the compuator’s first calculation. We may well be talking complete genocide.’

‘We were interested in how Habdash upset the Grand Emperor,’ Jumpee spoke up. ‘Was it something you ate?’

Borro gave a rosaceous laugh. ‘Habdash was an excellent cook. He just wasn’t killing enough people with his show. This way his death would appease the greater good and get better ratings in the re-runs when more people died from his meals.’

‘Unfortunately, Grand Emperor, our people reflect the Earth people,’ Jumpee continued. ‘They would rather watch than copy. They don’t think of themselves as sufficiently good cooks to make such feasts. Those that did, died, so they couldn’t inspire or teach others to cook. You will be killing off more than a decent cuisine.’

‘I make an empirical decision. I make the next TV chef cook more simple things. Everyone can join in.’

‘That’s all very well, Grand Emperor, but there is a matter of the law.’

‘No problem. The American Earthmen stop investigations when their key police officer is killed. You will be dead within the hour, Rabatty.’

‘As you wish, Grand Emperor, but that doesn’t apply to pathologists.’

‘No problem. I change rules. Applies to pathologists as well or I can marry you...’

Jumpee suppressed a shudder, thinking of the harem and their continual television viewing of cyclic soaps, ‘We did consider an alternative, Grand Emperor. We think you could have been framed.’

‘A frame? Like in the games of pool or snooker? I often wonder why they play them without a net…’

‘No, Grand Emperor,’ Rabatty interrupted. ‘Like in accusing you of the crime as a means to depose you. It’s called treason.’

‘That is more serious than a game of snooker?’

‘Fatally, sir. I doubt if you would be allowed to live after such a crime.’

‘That would be sad,’ Borro said gravely, ‘but it would be a grand funeral.’

‘Except you wouldn’t see it, Grand Emperor.’

‘But I like the idea of a funeral. Those black suits and dark glasses can look pretty cool. Who do you have in mind to have done this frame deed?’

‘It would have to be someone close to you. Someone who would see themselves as your replacement and who were there when the poison was administered.’

‘None of your off-spring are old enough yet,’ Jumpee butted in. ‘The murderer might just want to be a regent and be the power behind the throne. That way he wouldn’t be accused of emperorcide.’

‘A cunning plan, Mistress Morbrondo. He would also be guilty of self-preservation. That would not be of sound mind. An insane personality. Worthy of being executed. Who do you have in mind?’

‘At your emperor’s discretion, sir, it could be anyone you choose. We would not be worthy of making such a decision, especially as I would be the one making the arrest.’

‘We can limit your choice to when Habdash was making a meal for the government cabinet,’ Jumpee added. ‘The drug was administered there.’

‘I was late attending that banquet.’

‘Perfect. In that case I would recommend you ensure the person who administered the drug be included in the suspects. No one related to this crime should be left to accuse you.’

‘I like this frame, Rabatty. It brings further excitement into my day. It is obviously a conspiracy by all the cabinet. That will include suspects and witnesses at the banquet.’

‘Naturally, Grand Emperor. We will be needed alive to complete the investigation.’

‘Of course. This is great fun. My own cabinet. Who would have thought of it?’

Rabatty and Jumpee curtly bowed but received no acknowledgment for their plan.

‘We are here to serve.’

‘A superb piece of detective work, Rabatty. A wonderful autopsy, Mistress Morbrondo.’

‘We always get our Granolan, Grand Emperor.’

‘And I get to form a new cabinet. The joy of the matter and gets rid of that silly voting that the humans use.’

End

© GF Willmetts 2012
All rights reserved.
Ask before borrowing.


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