An excerpt from The Case of the Cock Robin Killer by C.S. Boag

Chapter 1

Blood on the Laboratory Floor

Queen’s boat bumps alongside the old tub I call home – the Wooden No, as in, What’s she called? Wooden No – disturbing the early morning calm along with my equipoise. He’s called Queen because his name’s Freddie and the outboard powering his clapped-out boat’s a Mercury. ‘Here’s your petit dejeuner, sweetie!’ Something flops at my feet. ‘Bon appetit!’

He’s off before I can thank him which is fine because I don’t intend to. If Queen wants to provide breakfast he’s more than welcome to. I finish the exercise routine, do the ballet warm-ups, prime the pump that keeps the Wooden No afloat, rinse my armpits with bilge water, clean the flounder and weigh myself on the scales – the ones from Vinnies, not the piscatorial kind – before strapping on the shoulder holster while the fish sizzles on the Port-A-Stove, preparatory to keeping my appointment.

*

A dame in her distracted fifties directs me to the basement of the townhouse in Alexandria. The joint’s a mess and the broad behind the professor’s blonde, beautiful and in a state of disarray almost as bad as the laboratory. She adjusts her lab coat as she bends over the cage containing a two-metre diamond python while the professor – a grey-haired joker with blood on his collar – produces a big smile and an even bigger handshake. I accept the smile but not the handshake.

‘I’m Professor Ransom and I called you in because the police – or at least the representative provided – seemed much more interested in my assistant than in the break-in.’

The prof’s assistant is what’s known in the trade as a buxom wench – the body in the coat’s like air trying to escape from a balloon – and she straightens as much as a dame like her is ever going to straighten, smoothing the coat while her lips form the shape of a Petrie dish.

‘I’m Grace Metalious,’ she says, holding out a hand like a wish-fulfilling prophecy; I accept the hand and the wish. ‘As Professor Ransom’s laboratory assistant I attend to all his needs – experimentally speaking. I see you’ve noticed the door off its hinges …’

Yeah, I noticed the door off its hinges. I also noticed the overturned work bench, the smashed rodents’ cages, the overfed snake, the scattered remains of the lab mice, and the blood. Especially the blood.

‘It must have been quite a party,’ I say.

Ransom shakes his head. ‘It was no party. My lab adjoins the marital home and on Thursday night I heard what sounded like a break-in so I hurried down to investigate.’

‘The marital home being that of you and Miss Petrie Dish here?’

Ransom does a nice impression of a laugh. ‘Oh, no, no, no, no and no again! I’m a happily married man while Grace here’s just my laboratory assistant.’ I find myself wondering if Grace here could ever be nothing but anything. ‘Having said that, I must add that she’s very good at what she does.’

‘Which is?’

He’s a grown man but he still colours. ‘I’m a behavioural scientist researching high-rise home units: why people buy them, what people like in them – basically what sells. Like me, Ms Metalious is a Pavlovian – I’m sorry, I should explain: Ivan Pavlov was a scientist who worked out why dogs dribble–’

I’ve strung him along enough. ‘How much time elapsed between the lab being broken into and you investigating?’

‘Well, I’m fit for my age.’ He glances at the dame, presumably for confirmation. ‘So it couldn’t have been more than a minute.’

‘Where was your wife at the time?’

‘Asleep, I presume.’

‘Don’t you know?’

‘We sleep separately. That is, in separate beds, in separate rooms, on separate floors. There was no noise from Mavis so I presume she was asleep.’

I leave his words dangling like a body on a roadside gallows in a high wind …

A Xoum Publication.
    C.S. Boag

    C.S. Boag is a former journalist who has also grown potatoes, driven taxis and bulldozers and worked in a hamburger bar. He has travelled many times throughout Australia and to France, speaking enough French not to die there. He was a Sydney City Councillor for six years and holds degrees from NSW and Sydney universities as well as postgraduate qualifications from Macquarie. Besides publishing short stories he has also worked as a columnist for Woman’s Day and the Bulletin. In 1986 he won the Walter Stone Memorial Prize for Literature. C.S. Boag is the author of the seven short crime novels in the Mister Rainbow series. He lives near Bathurst with his wife, Judith, and has five children.

    www.csboag.com