Oh yeah, she was at the middle of the last political crisis, the one with the Finance Minister and the submarines.
Yes, it brought the whole government down, the King was not pleased.
The King called me, “Get down to Bigtown pronto and work your magic, Mr Fant.”
The Finance Minister had disappeared, his bodyguards had said so, not just invisible, but also dead. He was in Bigtown on a visit, staying in a big hotel, planning to make a walk-about really early that morning.
“Why so early?”
“To visit the fish and the flower markets, they open at two and close at eight, they are wholesalers. The Finance Minister wanted to meet some ordinary people. Also early means empty streets which is good for a walk-about.”
“So what happened?”
“Nothing, he wasn't there, not in his room, not in the hotel. He had had breakfast and had left the hotel. Nobody saw him leave, but he wasn't in the hotel. He was last seen eating an early breakfast...”
“So we, his bodyguards, went bananas. We'd lost'im. We're pretty much upset about...”
“So what did you do about it?”
“The three of us, who were to have gone with him on the walk-about, went on the walk-about with the hope of catching up with him, perhaps he had gone ahead on his own.”
“We phoned the other guys, got 'em outta bed and told 'em to get mobile and search the town's streets. We phoned the taxi companies, the local police, the hospitals and so on. Public transport was not yet running...”
“But no one knew nothing, he'd disappeared, we found nothing. Only one thing, one of our cars was missing, still is.”
“Did you trace it?”
“It has a GPS tracker in it. We could see it on our mobile telephones. It would drive from one part of Bigtown to another and then disappear. Five minutes later we could see it again somewhere else. It's still in Bigtown somewhere – it's a bit of a mystery...”
“And has the Minister got a tracker stuffed up his...”
“...in his left hand. But it doesn't show up at all. I think that he's been shoved into the big waste incinerator on the north side of town – he's a goner.
“So what do you think, Mr Short? You and your team have interviewed the hotel staff and the bodyguards...”
“Nothing much I'm afraid, Sir. The hotel staff said that had seen the Finance Minister eat breakfast, but no one saw him leave, the cameras didn't see him either – a bit strange. The bodyguards told the same story they'd told you – their mobile phone records also match what they said.”
“They are most upset, they have failed in their job, they actually liked the guy. They didn't like his politics; but they said that he spoke to them, he tried to explain his politics, he went drinking with them at least once a week, he said that they were part of his team.”
“They had no motive to kidnap him or to kill him. However they are convinced that he is dead. One of them suggested that he had been fed to pigs somewhere in the countryside...”
“But you don't believe them, do you Mr Short?”
“No Sir, but you don't either. Their story seems 100% watertight, but what did they really do? They could have done anything. Their DNA is everywhere where the Finance Minister could have been.”
The local police had sent me an investigation team lead by a Detective Sergeant Short – bit odd.
“So tell me, Mr Short, why has a detective sergeant been sent to help me? Why not a detective chief inspector? It is the Finance Minister who has disappeared.”
“Two reasons, Sir. Bigtown has an extremely low crime rate, so we have to lend staff to other police forces. And our Chief Constable doesn't like me. He doesn't like you either, he wants us to screw up.”
“So, are you going to screw up, Mr Short?”
“NO! I will help you as much as I can – the Chief Constable has ordered me to do that. I will tell you everything that the Chief Constable tells me and I will tell the Chief Constable everything that you tell me to tell him.”
“Very good, Mr Short, I like your attitude.
The Finance Minister's trousers arrived together with a demand for money. The DNA traces matched the Finance Minister and the bodyguards. I made a report to the King.
“The disappearance of the Finance Minister is the most exciting crime that has happened here since years, pity that we have hardly any leads.”
“So tell me, Mr Short, why is the crime rate so low here in Bigtown?”
“Anybody who is nasty and evil gets beaten up – first warning.”
“Anybody who is still nasty and evil gets beaten up and put on a long-distance bus – second warning.”
“Anybody who is very nasty and very evil gets beaten up and killed.”
“No, Mr Fant. I'm not going to tell you who is responsible – you won't believe me – I will tell you when it is necessary.”
“I got a call from one of the bodyguards, he was frantic.”
“I shouldn't have opened it, it was addressed to me, it's an inside job, they know my name, it's there on the carpet.”
There was a half-opened letter on the hotel bedroom floor.
“I dropped it, I thought it was a snake. It's his tie, a striped one, I know it, I tied it round his neck most mornings, he was half-blind in one eye, he's dead you know, how do I know, there's no video clip of him with today's newspaper on the internet, he's dead...”
“I had to calm him down, Sir. He was right about the tie though.”
“We've got the car, the bodyguards' car – it was out of fuel. A young guy was delivering pizzas with it. No, no form, he's too dim for that – he knows nothing. There was however half a litre of the Finance Minister's blood in the back of the car.”
“Thanks, Mr Short. There goes our last lead...”
“Not quite, Sir. Apparently the Finance Minister had contact with some shady characters. I was talking to one of the bodyguards, they stay at the hotel until you let them go; he said that the Finance Minister often met and spoke with odd types. The bodyguards were all previously in the police, they are not so dim as they make out to be.”
“The Finance Minister had a meeting arranged today here in Bigtown, however no details, nothing written.”
“What about motives, known enemies...”
“Just the usual idiots, Sir. The Finance Minister had the usual enemies. However when I was phoning around for info, I was told that the Finance Minister had connection with sleazy types; I made a list...”
“Very interesting – one of the names is here in Bigtown.”
The two of us visited the YOU-BOTE sales office in Bigtown. Very jolly people. “We make submarines for almost everybody. Yes, Bigtown is a long way from the sea, but we like it here, so do our customers.” We discovered nothing, but we did smash open a wasps' nest.
The Chief Constable rang me, “YOU-BOTE is off-limits, I'm afraid, Mr Fant.”
The Prime Minister rang me, “Keep off!”
Even the King told me to stay away – influence from the Prime Minister.
Nine days have passed since the Finance Minister went missing, the King is not pleased, the Prime Minister has insisted that the ransom money be paid, the Chief Constable has threatened DS Short, the only lead we have has been denied us, the media have lost interest, and the Finance Minister is still missing.
I'm sitting in the park waiting for DS Short, he's getting a take-away, probably the high point of our day. He brings a carrier bag, sits, peels the cardboard lid off an aluminium container; but no, it is not Chinese.
“They're Betty's Buns, they're very good, created by Betty, vegetarian and vegan. You'll like'em.”
They don't look exciting, but they taste good, especially the mock cheese. A woman stands in front of us and berates us and shouts at us. What does she want? She tells us that we are paedophiles, that we want to do awful stuff to little children, she gets louder and louder. We are sitting on a bench overlooking the kiddies' swings and roundabouts.
DS Short offers her a Betty, she takes one and sits on the bench next to us to eat it. DS Short shows her his warrant card.
“So you are policemen, are you? My Mother died last week.”
We offer our condolences. She tells us about her Mother, who had been bedridden on the second floor, how her Mother had seen four men walking separately along the street outside, the first had looked like the Finance Minister. Alarm bells.
“Suddenly Betty came round the corner, she stopped and stared at him. She jumped up and punched him in the head – he must have been very nasty and very evil. The other three men did nothing. Betty just skipped up the road, probably on her way to dancing classes. A big, black car came, the three men bundled the other one inside and the car left very quickly.”
I learn a lot, very quickly. DS Short fills me in on Betty. “Could I meet Betty? Got any more buns?”
“Yes and no.” DS Short opens another container, “Sweet buns.” The banana and cinnamon is the best.
We drive to a street full of two-up-two-downs near the station. The car is borrowed from DS Short's sister-in-law. It is small and pink – it is full of toys and half-used paper handkerchiefs. We are not being followed.
“Yes, Mr Fant, I've known Betty for years, even danced with her twice. The Chief Constable hates me for it. Us policemen are under orders to keep our distance from Betty.”
Betty is sitting on the counter top in the kitchen peeling potatoes. There is a glass of red wine next to her. She is expecting the visit – she stares at me – she smiles.
“That's good, she likes you. You feel that you are no longer alone in your mind – you are right.”
“Show her the picture of the Finance Minister and ask a very simple yes-no question. Don't use names – they only confuse her.”
“Did you kill this man?”
Betty stares at the picture – Betty knocks over furniture in my mind – Betty nods her head – Betty did it.
I don't ask why – the Finance Minister was obviously very nasty and very evil – I thank her for the Betty's Buns – somehow I trust a small, deaf and speechless dancer over a team of bodyguards.
“Get enough Betty's Buns for six and meet me at the Vertical in the park at ten. And forget about the Chief Constable – I'll sort him out.” The peace memorial is a great place to meet, lots of rifle barrels stuck vertically into the concrete and lots of artillery gun barrels hanging vertically.
Difficult to see, the Vertical is in a hollow, lots of gun barrels. Difficult to hear, the gun barrels with extra holes whistle in the wind. Difficult to phone, all that metal.
“Hello Mr Fant, we meet again.” Four guys from FORMED (FOuR MEDia), an informal group of two TV companies and two national newspapers who do serious investigations. “What have you got for us this time?”
“Hi guys! I'm 99% sure that the Finance Minister was dead before he disappeared, the kidnapping was just a cover up – nothing really new there. But your job is to find out the connection between the Finance Minister and the YOU-BOTE sales office here in Bigtown. One other thing – would you like a Betty's Bun?”
The rest functions like clockwork. Four days later FORMED publishes the truth about YOU-BOTE. The company had sold submarines to enemy countries and had bribed politicians like the Finance Minister.
The next day the entire staff of the DS military intelligence department disappear. The Finance Minister's bodyguards disappear. The Chief Constable of Bigtown takes early retirement. DS Short buys me a lifetime gift supply of Betty's Buns.
The day after, the Prime Ministers takes his own life – he had been blackmailing the Finance Minister. The King calls for a general election. I'm eating Betty's Buns.