From the outside, Cribble-Sodding’s tiny police station looked like a sweet shop. There was even a tinkling of bells when the door opened.
The Constable sitting behind the desk engrossed in his Sunday newspaper was plump and well-scrubbed, with thick, silver hair and eyebrows that lifted in surprise when he looked up at Alec and Tommy, who were sodden and sopping, waterlogged and bedraggled and dripping rain into a puddle on the floor.
“Someone stole my car.”
He indicated the chair in front of the desk. Tommy sat down on it with a little splash. The room was as hot as a greenhouse, and steam was starting to come off Alec. He edged over to the notice-board and, as nonchalantly as a drowned man could, studied it.
There was a snapshot of a missing budgie called Charlie, and another of an elegant-looking cat, both reported missing, but no request for information about a missing person last seen wearing a black knit cap.
“Where was your vehicle stolen, sir?”
“We went out to see the Barrow Mound. I left my car at the end of the track. When we came back, it was gone.”
“Did you leave it unlocked?”
“With the key in the ignition?”
“Well, there you are then. You might as well have left a big sign on the windscreen saying, ‘Please steal me.’ It was probably young lay-abouts. We’re plagued with them every weekend in the off-season. They steal cars for joyriding up and down the coast roads and race them on the beach at night and let off fireworks. They’re a menace.”
He took a form out of a desk drawer.
“What’s the make of the vehicle, sir?”
“It’s a Rover.”
“I don’t remember, but very old.”
“A dirty green.”
“I don’t remember that, either.”
“It doesn’t have a name. I just use it to get me to work and back.”
“Still living in hope.”
“Tell me a joke.”
“Customer in a restaurant calls the waiter over. What’s this? Bean soup, sir. I don’t care what it was, I want to know what it is now.”
“That’s older than me.”
“Why do a lot of Irish dogs have flat foreheads?”
“I’ve never thought about it.”
“From chasing parked cars. What has twelve legs, six ears, a bad smell and one eye?”
“Oh my goodness. I give up.”
“Three blind mice and half a rotten herring. Did you hear about the man who crossed a budgie with a crocodile? It ripped off his arm and said, who’s a pretty boy, then?”
“You’re fast, aren’t you?”
“Got to be in my trade.”