Authors: Colin Thompson
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The Floods 5: Prime Suspect
ePub ISBN 9781864715699
Kindle ISBN 9781864717020
This work is fictitious. Any resemblance to anyone living or dead is purely coincidental.
Random House Australia Pty Ltd
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First published by Random House Australia 2007
Copyright Â© Colin Thompson
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the publisher.
National Library of Australia
Thompson, Colin (Colin Edward).
ISBN 978 1 74166 135 4 (pbk.).
1. Witches â Juvenile fiction. 2. Wizards â Juvenile fiction. I. Title. (Series: Thompson, Colin (Colin Edward). Floods; 5).
Illustrations by Colin Thompson
It was a dark and moonless night and in the blackness something stirred.
It was Mordonna Flood adding sugar to her coffee â which has nothing to do with the following story except that it
a dark and moonless night and things
The five Flood children who went to school at Quicklime College â Satanella, Merlinmary, Winchflat and the twins, Morbid and Silent â should have all been at home in Acacia Avenue, either asleep in bed or doing the sort of unmentionable things wizards and witches do at two o'clock in the
morning, but they weren't. They had all slipped off the school bus before it had left the valley and were now gathered in a secret place behind the school where the grounds gave way to the dark, menacing Patagonian forest that lined the valley.
They were digging a deep hole.
To avoid detection, they were digging the hole with special silent shovels, but even so, there were eyes watching them.
Now read on
It looked as if the body had been dead for a while. Grass had started growing out of its nose and a family of Patagonian Pocket Mice had built a nest in one of the jacket sleeves. However, as Forensic Special Investigator Grusom knew, appearances could be deceptive. On closer examination the grass turned out to be plastic, and had obviously been placed there to hide the true time of death. It had fooled the mice, but Forensic Special Investigator Grusom was not a mouse.
He took out his blue torch and shone it in the corpse's face. The body was out in broad daylight
so the torchlight was barely visible, but the blue torch was always the first thing investigators used at a crime scene and rules were rules, especially in forensic science.
Putting on a pair of rubber gloves, Grusom began to go through the victim's pockets.
âInteresting,' he said, holding up a small brown object and handing it to his assistant. âBag this, Oily.'
Oily put the object in his mouth and sucked it. He rolled it around with his tongue, frowned, sucked it some more then swallowed it.
âI said, bag it, not eat it!' said Grusom. âI wanted it analysed back in the lab.'
âNo need, boss,' said Oily. âI can tell you all you need to know. Treacle toffee from a small town in Belgium. Unlike normal Belgian treacle toffee, which is made with one hundred per cent local produce, this one has been tampered with. It contained treacle from Transylvania Waters.'
âHow can you be so sure?' Grusom asked.
âBecause only Transylvania Waters treacle
contains lethal amounts of arsenic,' said Oily and dropped down dead.
âFair enough,' said Grusom.
The Forensic Special Investigators Department, or FSI, always kept at least ten Oily clones on hand to cover sudden Assistant-Becoming-Dead situations, which occurred about four times a week. Grusom spoke into his phone and a couple of minutes later an identical assistant arrived.
âYour first observation?' said Grusom.
âOur killer was a very considerate person,' said the new Oily.
âWell, look where we are, chief,' Oily replied. âRight outside a graveyard. I mean, we've got less than ten metres to go to bury the body.'
âThat's another thing,' said Grusom. âDon't you think it's strange for a school to have a graveyard?'
The two investigators and the dead body were standing at the entrance to the graveyard at Quicklime College, the famous, yet very secretive, school located in an almost inaccessible Patagonian
valley. At Quicklime's, all the students were witches and wizards apart from a few ghosts and ogres.
This was the school where five of the Flood children went every day.
Because of the altitude and strange composition of the air, the body had not begun to decay as it would normally. The dead body was not lying down like dead people are supposed to, either.
It was leaning against the left stone gatepost with an absent-minded expression on its face, as if it was waiting for a bus. What made the
scene even more mysterious was that although the victim was dead in deepest South America, he had a return ticket clutched in his left hand for the journey from Bruges Town Hall to the city morgue, which was many thousands of kilometres away in Europe.
âSo, do you think the victim was Belgian, chief?' said Oily.
âPossibly,' said Grusom. âThough of course, he could have been a bus ticket collector.'
This turned out to be the case, because a search of all the victim's pockets turned up bus tickets from eighteen other countries, including Tristan da Cunha, which doesn't have a bus service, any buses or even a road.
âPossibly a forgery, chief,' Oily suggested.
âYes, and of course that could blow the case wide open,' said Grusom.
âHow so, chief?'
âHow so what?'
âHow would it blow the case wide open?'
âI haven't the faintest idea,' said Grusom. âBlow the case wide open is just a phrase us forensic investigators use from time to time when we can't think of anything else to say.'
âSo whenever you say, “This could blow the case wide open,” am I supposed to ignore it?' Oily asked.
âCorrect. Unless, of course, we are in a situation where something does actually blow the case wide open. Which was exactly what happened in the Suitcase-Full-Of-Dynamite-That-Got-Thrown-Onto-A-Bonfire Case,' Grusom explained. âAnd there's another thing.'
âThe last Oily called me boss, not chief. I like that better.'
âFair enough, chief,' said Oily. âErr, boss.'
âThere's something caught in the vic's throat,' said Grusom.
âAnd what is the rule when it comes to objects in throats?'
âLoosen tight clothing,' said Oily, undoing his tie, âand remove all foreign objects from throat.'
He bent down to peer into the victim's mouth. The foreign object was a key ring. There was one key on the ring, along with a red ribbon with the words âNot Foreign' written in white laundry marker pen.
âWell, that settles that, then,' said Oily. âIt's not a foreign object so we can leave it where it is.'
âIt could be a red herring,' said Grusom.
âNo, boss. It's red ribbon,' said Oily. âI don't think you could fit a herring into someone's throat â not all in one piece, anyway.'
Grusom sighed. âIt's an expression â'
âNo, no, it's definitely a ribbon,' Oily interrupted.
âOK, OK! Let's move on,' said Grusom. He reached down and pulled a small card from the victim's trousers. âIt appears that our victim is a forty-seven-year-old male called Professor Randolf Open-Graves,' said Grusom. âAnd this bus pass entitles him to travel anywhere in the city of Ghent from last Tuesday until the end of March.'
âUnless Professor Open-Graves is the murderer and he accidentally â or even deliberately â left his bus pass down the victim's trousers to throw us off the scent.'
âScent, scent?' said Grusom. âWhat scent? No one told me about any scent.'
âI don't mean an actual scent,' said Oily.
âSo someone's stolen the scent?'
Oily looked confused, stupid, confused again and slightly Belgian with a touch of Tasmanian and just a hint of Italian all at the same time.
âNo. I mean, yes. Err, no,' he said. âWhat I meant was that maybe the bus pass belongs to the murderer and the victim is not a professor at all.'
âUnlikely, considering he has “If found please
return the professor to the University of Ghent” tattooed on his left wrist,' said Grusom. âBut if I have learned one thing as a forensic investigator, it is that one must always keep an open mind.'
âRight, boss,' said Oily. âSo do you think the fact that it's tattooed in italics has any significance?'
âMaybe,' said Grusom, just in case Oily proved to be right.
âOh, and spare batteries,' said Oily.
âYes, boss,' Oily explained. âAs well as an open mind you have to keep spare batteries for your blue torch.'
âWell, yes, you're right,' Grusom conceded, wondering how easy it would be to get his new assistant into a Becoming-Dead situation, because, although Oily was a clone of a clone of a clone, it was obvious that clones were not all created equal.
âSo you've learned two things then, boss,' Oily said.
âYou've learned two things. One, you have to
keep an open mind and two, you must always carry a spare set of blue torch batteries,' said Oily.
âIt's an expression. It's an expression!' said Grusom, gritting his teeth. âI have actually learned millions of things.'
âOh, I see,' said Oily. âIt's like blowing the case wide open.'
âUmm, I, err â¦'
âSee that really thick and terribly threadbare electric cable tied to that very rusty metal girder sitting in that bucket of water over there?' said Grusom.
âYes, boss,' said Oily.
âWell, take this big shiny screwdriver and poke it into that bit of the wire that seems to be crackling and making those huge sparks and see if it is live,' said Grusom.
The next Oily clone was definitely a big improvement. For a start, she was not a man and not called Oily. In fact, she wasn't an Oily clone
at all, but a very attractive young lady with soft blonde hair and big dark eyes that Grusom had to force himself not to shine his blue torch into.
âHi, boss. I'm Avid,' she said. âThe Oily clones have developed a terminal Lack-Of-Intelligence fault so they've sent me instead.'
Looking across at the shrivelled-up black Oily crisp that was still smouldering on the end of Grusom's big screwdriver, she added, âMay I say, boss, that I am very impressed with the excellent way you solved your defective Oily problem.'
I like this girl,
She will go far
. Though without an atlas on hand, he wasn't prepared to guess just how far, or where, for that matter.
âFirst impressions?' he said.
âLate forties, dashingly handsome, a legend in the field of forensic science, palms sweating slightly, which is probably due to my arrival.'
âWell, err, yes,' said Grusom, blushing. âI meant the victim.'
âI would say male, about forty-seven give or
take five hours, possibly a professor, possibly an obsessive collector of small pieces of paper â stamps or maybe bus tickets,' said Avid.
âExcellent,' said Grusom, wondering why he'd put up with Oily clones for so long. âAny thoughts on time of death?'
âAround nine thirty-two and thirty seconds, on a Tuesday, in a month with an “e” in it and about five seconds after he stopped breathing,' said Avid.
âCause of death?'
âCessation of life.'
âMy thoughts exactly,' said Grusom. âTime for afternoon tea, I think.'
âBrilliant, boss,' said Avid. âIf we take the thirty-seven-minute tea break and the five-minute toilet break, it will be dark enough for us to go to work with our blue torches.'