elephant guns it

The King's Bed in the Old Palace.

StoryKettle » ODD » elephant guns it

Copyright © 2011, Michael M Wayman

The man was lying dead on a bed covered in blood. A simple murder, so why am I here? The man is the Prime Minister and the bed is the King's Bed in the Old Palace, that's why I'm here.

“Mr Fant, my name's Middleby. We were first on the scene, Sir. We've closed the palace, no one can come or go. No one is allowed to talk to the media. The entire palace is being searched.”

“The Curator and his staff are in the tea room and are being questioned. The Curator is a bit of a problem, he wanted to push the body, I mean the Prime Minister, into a garbage bag and start restoring the bed.”

“We don't have to worry about motive though, everybody wants to kill the PM.”

“The Prime Minister's bodyguards are in the theatre. The usual crew are here collecting evidence. Nothing so far, just one very dead and very bloody body. I assume, Sir, that you have informed the King and the Deputy Prime Minister. We will have to make an announcement to the media very soon. Any special orders, Sir?”

“No, Middleby. You seem to have everything under control, keep going. I will make an announcement to the media after I have talked to the Curator. The body has been identified, hasn't it.”

“Yes and no, Sir. The body is a mess, but it's wearing the PM's clothes and body armour, who else could it be?”

“OK, Middleby, I'm going to the tea room.”

The memories of a childhood visit came back to me. Every schoolchild in this country has to visit the Old Palace in the capital – it's part of our history. I can remember being bored and drinking the worse tea of my life in the tea room. Yes, tea is disgusting, at least the tea that is made in this country. I gave up tea soon after my childhood visit to this place.

“It is disgraceful. We don't allow any eating or drinking in the palace, except in the tea room of course. No ice creams! Look, there is the sign! And that man, he may be the Prime Minister, but pouring blood onto the King's Bed is unforgivable. And he did not finish his tour of the palace either. I mean...”

“Stop, stop! You are responsible for what is here from the past and to keep it for the future. I'm here in the present, the now, and what I say goes. That means you do what I tell you. Do you understand?”

“I must make arrangements about the bed, it's important...”

“No! You are going to answer my questions”

“I shall complain to the King.”

“You can do that later. By the way, he sent me here. So tell me what happened.”

“Oh, very well! We are closed to the public on Mondays, every Monday, but we often have special tours for important people. Important means that they give money to the palace – we always need more money for restoration and...”

“Keep to the point!”

“Well, sometimes politicians visit and today we had the Prime Minister.”

“Just the Prime Minister?”

“Just the Prime Minister and of course all his bodyguards. They poked their fingers into everything. Badly behaved, just like the Prime Minister...”

“If you talk to the media like that you won't be the Curator much longer.”

“Is that a threat?”

“Yes! If not a promise. Behave yourself, man! The Prime Minister has been murdered and all that you can think about is a dusty old bed.”

“I did the usual tour. I am the Curator and show all the important people round the palace. We were in the antechamber, that's the small room before the King's Bedroom. Everyone was looking at the Chinese vases. Well, everyone but the Prime Minister. He walked into the King's Bedroom, there was a big bang, and there he was dead on the bed. I didn't know that a prime minister had so much blood in...”

“Did anyone see the Prime Minister go to the bed or on the bed?”

“No, you can't see the bed from the antechamber. When we heard the bang, we all rushed in and saw the mess on the bed. One of the bodyguards said that the Prime Minister was dead. Another bodyguard pushed me out of the King's Bedroom and took me to the tea room where you found me.”

A very odd sound, like laughter echoing in a long metal pipe.

“What's that?”

“Oh, just the east wind in the palace chimney pots.”

A young policewoman took the Curator back to the tea room and I was alone in the Curator's office. It was full of odd things. The Curator was certainly crazy, but if what he said was true, he was not the murderer.

I phoned my office in the New Palace and dictated an announcement for the media to my assistant. There had been an incident, a shot fired, at the Old Palace. The police were investigating. No mention of the Prime Minister.

Well, I said to myself, heavy stuff, Prime Minister murdered, doesn't happen every day, heavy stuff. That's why you're here. The media call me the Elefant because I do the heavy stuff.

“Oh, hello, Middleby. Any news?”

“Not much, Sir. The body has been taken to the path lab. They have promised the result of the first examination in two hours – that's the quickest they can do.”

“First examination?”

“Oh, yes, Sir. Every important pathologist in the country will do an examination. It is the Prime Minister.”

“Sir, the crew have found nothing much, just lots of blood. What we don't understand is all the blood, the mess. There was only one shot, if that is what it was. The Prime Minister was wearing a bullet proof vest. It's rather odd.”

“The search team found nothing, no other persons, no weapons, other than the antiques locked in their showcases.”

“Have all the staff and the bodyguards been questioned?”

“Yes, Sir. The staff said that they were in the tea room when they heard the bang. The bodyguards and the Curator all tell the same story. The tour was going smoothly, they reached the room before the King's Bedroom, the Prime Minister wandered off into the King's bedroom and there was a bang, a big bang. The bodyguards, all of them, said that it sounded like a rifle shot, from a big rifle too.”

“They said that the Prime Minister was gone for only five or six seconds, maximum ten seconds. They didn't see or hear anything before the shot. You can't see the bed from the antechamber, I checked that. They all rushed into the bedroom, but it was too late. The Prime Minister lay on the bed.”

“Not much to go on, Middleby. Let's go back to the King's bedroom and think a bit. My childhood memories are slowly coming back to me. How about you? When I was here as a kid I never got close to the bed.”

“That's right. There's normally a rope stretched across the room, but they take that away for important visitors.”

“Tell me about the staff!”

“Funny lot, Sir! Four uniformed guards for the rooms, two guides, the tea room lady, two to sell tickets and souvenirs and two more. I don't know exactly what they do, I think that they are friends or relations of the Curator. And they all live in the palace, in the rooms where the servants used to live.”

“Aha! That explains why they are here on Monday, their day off. Though why were they all here?”

“There is only one door, one way in or out?”

“No, Sir. Only one official door, but four other hidden entrances for the servants. Here, let me show you. They are all very small.”

“So, someone is waiting in the room when the prime minister enters. He pushes him onto the bed, shoots him, and then runs out through one of these very small servant's entrances carrying a large rifle.”

“And all in ten seconds. Didn't the bodyguards know about these four entrances?”

“Oh, yes, Sir. They checked them before the Prime minister arrived. They are very upset, almost in tears.”

“The bodyguards in tears? Those big guys in tears?”

“They failed in their job, Sir. They should have followed the PM. They are not happy.”

A very odd sound, like laughter echoing in a long metal pipe.

“What's that?”

“It's supposed to be the east wind in the palace chimney pots, but I don't believe it.”

“I'm going to visit the guards...”

“They are still in the palace theatre, Sir.”

“No, Middleby, the guards outside, the ones with the funny hats and fake rifles.”

There were two of them, facing each other. They looked so pretty. The tourists loved them, they photographed them, they wanted to cuddle them. I went into the little guardhouse.

“Good day, Mr Fant. You want to speak to the Captain. In here, Sir.”

“Good day, Mr Fant. You want to ask about the rifle shot at 11 this morning, I suppose.”

“Yes, Captain. What can you tell me?”

“Sorry, Sir. Nothing more than that. A single rifle shot at 11 o'clock and since then lots of police and lots more tourists. However, the two soldiers on duty outside might know more.”

“We guard the main door and that's a joke. The main palace door has not been open for over one hundred years. However we, that is one of the soldiers on guard, do look directly at the other entrance, the only other door to the palace. But we don't guard that. Can't do anyway, the rifles don't work, and we're not allowed to bayonet the tourists any more.”

“Captain, there is not enough humour in your life.”

“Too right, Sir. I shall do an unplanned small changing of the guard, the tourists will love it, and bring those two inside for you to question.” He shouted at the two soldiers inside the guardhouse, the three put dead animals on their heads, marched outside, performed ballet for three minutes, three marched inside, and removed their helmets.

“Soldier, you have been outside for how long?”

“Sir, since an hour before the rifle shot.”

“Rifle shot, how do you know it was a rifle? And what have you seen today?”

“Sir, I am a soldier, I know a rifle shot when I hear one. I've seen nothing much before the shot. It's Monday, the palace is closed to normal visitors. About ten big guys came first, I suppose bodyguards, then the PM and more bodyguards. Then came the shot and soon after lots of police and later yourself, Sir.”

“No one else went in, or came out? What about the palace staff?”

The soldier laughed. “The staff, they are mad, they never leave, I don't know what they look like and I've been here for two years. Ask the Captain, Sir.”

“I'll ask you again, did no one else go in, or come out? What about the other entrances? Someone could have got in, surely?”

“Sorry, Sir. Nobody else, definitely not. There is no other door, it's a real fire trap. Look at it, Sir. I mean the palace, it's built on a huge rock, you need to be a mountaineer or have a helicopter to get in any other way.”

“And the tourists would have seen that. Thank you, soldier.”

I walked back into the palace, phoned the King and gave him the latest information.

“So what do you suggest, Mr Fant?”

“It's early days, Sir. That means we haven't got a clue. We need time. I will release an announcement to the media this evening, after the main TV news, that the PM is dead.”

“Mr Fant, please do what ever is needed, fix it like you always do.”

Middleby had some news. “The body has been identified. We didn't let the family see it. I assumed you would agree to that, Sir.”

“Good idea, Middleby.”

“Please sit down, Sir! I've got the first results from the path lab. You are not going to like it. I'll start. Cause of death: multiple internal bleeding from a single bullet shot.”

“Hey, that can't be right. He was wearing a bullet proof vest.”

“I'll continue. Point of entry: anus. The bullet or rather lead ball was found in the skull.”

“You mean he was shot in the arse and the bullet went through the whole of his body?”

“Yes, Sir. That's right. A very quick death, but it gets worse. The bullet weighs 150 grammes, that's about six ounces, and was probably fired from a very large rifle with a smooth bore, a so-called elephant gun. The ballistics department are looking at the bullet now.”

“OK, Middleby, you can laugh about it, I can take it. What are the other details?”

“Time of death eleven o'clock plus or minus 30 minutes, but we know that already. The shot was fired at very close range, probably from near the Prime Minister's ankles, but more tests are needed. Position of the Prime Minister at time of death cannot be determined – the body is a real mess. No poisons were found in the body, no drugs. No signs of other violence to the body, but again the body is a real mess.”

“Elephant gun, elephant gun? Don't I remember? Don't you remember, Middleby, a very large gun in a big glass case, I mean as a kid I remember that. Get that idiot of a Curator here.”

“Oh, yes, Mr Fant. It's a very important part of the collection, that gun, very well...”

“OK, where is it?”

“Oh, it's always in the first room, the hunting room, it makes a very good impression...”

“But it's not there now. I haven't seen it today.”

“Not there? Er, oh, yes. It's not there today.”

“And where the eff is it, then, may I ask?”

“Oh, it's being restored, by the makers, a very old company, they have been making guns for the royal family for hundreds of years. It's a very important part of the collection, that gun, very well...”

“Middleby, tie the Curator to his desk and rip this place apart. Find something, please! I going visiting.”

It was not easy to find, the entrance to Harp and Harpe, makers of gunnery to the royal family since 1616.

“Good afternoon, Mr Fant. You managed to find us. Good. How can I help you? The 1888 great single-barrelled big game gun at the Old Palace.”

“Yes, we made two of those, well, my great-grandfather did. Pretty useless guns actually, just made for show, not to shoot with. Though I'm sure my great-grandfather tested them. The one in the Old Palace, you say, I clean it once every ten years.”

“Can I see it, Mr Harp?”

“Yes, of course, it's in the Old Palace as usual.”

“Not here for cleaning?”

“No, it does not need much cleaning, about five minutes, not more, no one shoots with it. Wait a minute, there was a story on the radio about a shot at the Old Palace this morning. Let me think. The gun is not here. I was with the King this morning at eleven.” He picked up the phone and asked for Mr Jones.

“The 1888 great single-barrelled big game gun at the Old Palace, a very pretty piece, but I wouldn't take it hunting, too heavy, and you want two barrels when facing a charging elephant. Here are the drawings, but you won't want them, Mr Fant, there is a very good photo in the Old Palace Guidebook, don't cost much.”

“Here for restoration, no, Mr Fant. No, Mr Harp goes every few years to the Old Palace and cleans it himself, very proud of it he is, we all are. However, funny thing that, we did get an order from the Old Palace for some balls and some black powder. The lead balls I can understand, for display perhaps, but black powder is gunpowder, you know.”

Back at the Old Palace Middleby had some news. “No gun yet, Sir, but we have found one of 'em heavy bullets, in the centre of the ceiling in the King's Bedroom. Why would anyone stand in the bedroom and fire at the ceiling?”

“What is below the King's Bedroom, Middleby?”

“Oh, solid rock, everyone knows that the King's Bedroom stands on the highest point of the Palace Rock.”

“Everyone knows that, but what do we know? We are going down to the floor below, bring that apology for a curator too.”

There was a large room on the floor below, empty except for a large wooden box. It was the same size and shape as the King's Bedroom above. We walked around it twice.

“I suppose you want to tell me that it is full of rock. Where's the Curator?”

Young police woman, “Sorry, Sir, the Curator is stuck in his office.”

“I want him here, like now.”

“The Curator's head is stuck to his office wall with a crossbow bolt...”

A very odd sound, like laughter echoing in a long metal pipe.

“He's done something right for a change, but we don't need him now, here's a door.”

“I've ordered a locksmith, Sir.”

“Very good, Middleby, and here he is.”

The locksmith arrived very quickly. “Oh, a nice young man brought me in a car with a pretty flashing...”

A very odd sound, like laughter echoing in a long metal pipe.

“Stop, stop! I've heard that one before. Just open the effing door!” I noticed that I was losing my temper.

“This is difficult, I've never seen a lock like this one before.”

“Middleby, get that door open. With explosives if necessary.”

A loud voice, “You can't open that door.”

“Why not? And who are you?”

“The Curator of the New Palace...”

That was it. “I DON'T NEED A CURATOR OR EVEN TWO CURATORS TELLING ME WHAT TO DO – I JUST WANT THAT DOOR OPEN:”

“Mr Fant, the King sent me. You cannot open that door, because it is not a door. It is a fake to waste your time. It will not open. The real door is somewhere else.”

The Curator banged on the wooden panels, one by one. “Here it is. I will open it for you.”

The door opened, light and laughter came out.

Middleby pulled out a handgun and entered through the door.

The staff of the Old Palace were sitting around a table laughing.

Above them was the elephant gun stuck vertically into the ceiling.



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