The crime scene was remarkably pristine and I saw no signs of forced entry. Smells of aged paper and recently disturbed dust tickled my nostrils and a sneeze echoed loudly.
“Bless you Constable.” Her portly behind bumped me as she waddled past. I thanked her and continued scanning the store premises for clues. Anxiety rose into my chest with the realization that this would be difficult.
The call had come just past nine this morning, at which point Sergeant Jones had given me strict orders to interrogate Mrs. Finch, complete the report and get back to the station. No fussing about, he had sternly warned. I suppose his general dislike of all things involving Mrs. Finch helped me to secure this, my first official duty since joining the force a fortnight ago. And it was a robbery to boot. I swallowed hard.
With a silent prayer, I addressed the bookshop owner. “Were the doors locked when you arrived here Mrs. Finch?”
“Of course, you silly child, I’ve already said that.” I glanced at my notebook, sure that we had not yet discussed that. “I opened promptly at 9:00am and the lock was indeed secure.”
“When did you first notice the merchandise was missing?”
Her fists thumped on wide hips and her eyes glared. “It is certainly not simple merchandise. That awful thief has stolen an important work of British literature and this entire village is the worse for its disappearance. It was displayed in the front window when I locked up last evening and gone when I arrived this morning. I called your sergeant right away; heaven knows what took you so long to get here.”
I murmured something about paperwork and the walking distance. She croaked doubtfully and continued glaring.
My notes cried out for my full attention. She had neglected to mention the title of the stolen treasure and her scornful rage would be legendary should I ask which important work of British literature was gone. Perhaps if I catalogued what was present, the missing piece would be obvious. Armed with a mental list of all the classics in my knowledge, the process of elimination began.
Austen, Jane. All of her many romances-turned-BBC-series were there. The multiple novels of the Bronte sisters were on the shelf. Carroll, Chaucer, check.
It seemed strange that the Sherlock Holmes mysteries were sorted alphabetically under Doyle, just past Defoe and Dickens. Was Conan his middle name then? I shrugged and dismissed that bit of trivia.
Moving on, I observed Hardy, Kipling, Orwell - all there. This quiet village bookstore was surprisingly full of the classics.
The Shakespeare selection was abundant and my list of possibilities dwindled. I groaned inwardly as Virginia Woolf was accounted for. The shop’s remaining inventory consisted of picture books, summer break novels and the latest forensic thrillers. Nothing that would be called important by the likes of Mrs. Finch.
For a moment I considered inventing something for the report, but felt it dreadfully wrong to start my police career in that way. Steeling my nerves, I spoke up.
“Um, Mrs. Finch? What title exactly was stolen?”
Her eyes bulged and her mouth drooped open. “Do you not have eyes, child? Heaven knows what the police force is coming to these days. I don’t have another in the whole store, so I cannot imagine why you wasted time looking for it on the shelf.” My ears burned red.
“That dreadful criminal has taken Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. It was my very last copy and now it has been stolen, ripped from my bosom.” She pulled at her flowered frock dramatically and I averted my eyes to hide the astonishment.
As I turned away, intent on escape, I barely avoided barreling into her daughter, Beverly Finch, carrying two steaming mugs of tea.
Bowing crisply, I attempted to maneuver around when she inquired as to why the police were there. In a voice fit for the London stage her mother bemoaned the great crime.
Just before my desperate exit I heard Beverly’s quiet voice peep. “But mummie, I took that last night, don’t you remember? We lent it to the new postman.”
For a few seconds, all was dead silent.
Then life burst forth. Beverly and I exchanged a sorrowful look as Mrs. Finch screeched with fury. “Heaven knows we are not a library!”
Cowardly, I abandoned the girl to her fate and nearly ran to the station. The Finches could sort this out themselves.
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