Here’s something I wrote a year ago in a period of writing each day. This story stands up well enough that I haven’t changed any of the words. Perhaps one day it’ll get a little tidy and an edit. The plan today was to work with the draft of a poem I wrote last year about disability benefits. But illness has laid me low so you’re getting an old story. A year ago I was managing a writing post every day, including stories of this length and longer. The time for daily posts is returning … perhaps thirty poems for April. Perhaps not.
For any who don’t know, Blyth is a town on the east coast of Northumberland. It’s only in this story for dull alliteration reasons. The Ashington Hydrangea Thief wouldn’t have worked so well as a title. I should also point out that the burglars themselves are not born and bred in Blyth. Locals will spot that from their distinctly un-northumbrian way of speaking.
The Case of the Blyth Buddleia Burglar
The name looked good on the door. It had taken me years to get to this point and I wasn’t going to waste it. I had the champagne ready. After years of studying the intricacies and depravities of the human race I gained enough understanding to be able to see past the apparent quandaries a case would present me with. After another three years of working as apprentice to the greatest detective of them all, Lord Comfort, I’d felt ready to move on. Strike out on my own. Be my own man. I’d saved up enough money to hire an office for a year. It was make or break. If I could solve enough high profile cases I’d be set for life. If not, I’d have to give up my dream and become a journalist for a local newspaper.
Or possibly I could write a book about all the unsavoury things I got up to when studying the depravities of the human race. I didn’t think you can solve crimes without truly understanding criminals. Couldn’t discover the truth about adultery without being an adulterer. And you wouldn’t be able to sniff out a drug baron unless you’ve first sniffed out a wide selection of drugs. Lord Comfort had laughed when I told him all this in my interview. He told me that he had never committed a crime, never taken an illegal drug. He admired my zealousness but not my methodology. If it wasn’t for that great man I would never have progressed as I did in the fine art of detection.
I’d even solved the case of the Blyth buddleia burglar. All by myself. I’d taken it upon myself to investigate all on my own when reports came in of someone stealing entire buddleias from gardens in Blyth. I drove to the town and immediately set to work, like all good detectives should. I didn’t even take a detour to a restaurant. I didn’t spend some hours resting on the beach. And I most definitely didn’t get lost on the way there and end up in Blackpool. Definitely not, although Lord Comfort did question me later on why it took me two days to get to my first interview in Blyth and why my driving expenses claim was for three-hundred miles rather than thirty. I explained that it had been a very complicated case and there had been unforeseen clues that needed following up.
The interviews didn’t bear much fruit. Each householder told me the same thing. They had gone to bed one night knowing there were buddleias in the garden. The next morning their plants had vanished. Gone. Taken. By person or persons unknown. That person hadn’t been seen or heard and hadn’t left as much as a fingerprint covered spade or shovel, just a card left at every crime scene in place of the plants. It bore the inscription “Buddleias are us. Get your finest buddleias here.” There was an address and phone number too but I knew from my year spent living with a criminal gang that criminals are dishonest. Those cards could have been left by anyone. Even if they were left by the thieves I knew the information could be forged. Lord Comfort once told me, “If something is too obvious it may be wrong too.” And his teaching had served me well.
As far as clues went, these poor unfortunate souls were perfectly useless. One of them was lying too. I’m almost sure of it, since she lived in a fifth floor flat with no garden. However, since I am a private detective, rather than a policeman, I wasn’t able to arrest her for wasting my very precious time, all the more precious since I’d got stuck in a five mile tailback on my way back from not getting lost in Blackpool. She protested that her buddleia had been in a plant pot outside her front door but there wasn’t a hint of a sign that a pot had ever been there and she didn’t have a receipt from the garden centre.
After the interviews I was left without a lead. Missing buddleias. What was a trainee detective to do? What would Lord Comfort do? I needed time to think and had passed a very nice looking restaurant on my way back from the beach I didn’t go to. I would think there. And put the meal on expenses. It was a very fine meal indeed. Four courses because after the first three I still hadn’t solved the case. After the fourth I had inspiration. Contact the local drug baron. He would know. And I knew him from my past scholarly examinations of depravity. If anyone was dealing in buddleias on the Blyth black market he would tell me, with proper encouragement. I headed off, without support, independent because I trust my abilities, to see the criminal kingpin.
It was the right choice. I solved the case. Purely as a result of my finely honed instincts. I didn’t even reach the baron. Which is quite a relief because he’s a scary man and while I would have done anything to solve the case I didn’t want to get injured or be forced to claim the purchase of a quantity of drugs on expenses. Lord Comfort might not have been impressed.
Three streets away from the baron’s home I saw two people and in an instant, a brilliant instant of unrivalled detection, I knew I had found my quarry. Not just one thief as the police had assumed. But two. They were unloading a selection of very beautiful buddleia plants from the back of an open truck. The truck door was painted with “Buddleias Are Us” and I cleverly spotted that the phone number was the same as that on those cunningly planted cards. I checked the address too. I used Google maps, an A to Z street map and asked some people in nearby houses as well. I even checked the sign at the end of the street and the number of the thieves front door. Everything matched. Everything. Perfectly. Not even one digit or letter out. Perhaps those cards had been tiny clues after all. Perhaps if I’d gone down that unlikely route and investigated them with due diligence I wouldn’t have been able to enjoy a four course meal.
I opened the case I kept in the back of the car and put on one of my best detective disguises. Sometimes it’s better not to walk up to potential culprits saying, “Hello, I’m a detective come to make a citizen’s arrest.” I thought it better to be in disguise. So I pulled out some glasses, a fake stick-on moustache and a cigar. Groucho Marx makes a particularly cunning disguise. Nobody sees through my Marx, whether Groucho, Karl, or and Spencer.
I walked up to the thieves. At a normal pace. Without trying to hide my presence behind the neighbours bush to observe them for an hour and gather evidence or courage. I didn’t do that. Mrs. Mayberry lied at the trial. She did. I wasn’t hiding. I walked up to the despicable plant thieves and said, “Excuse me, I couldn’t help noticing your beautiful buddleia plants. I’m a great lover of buddleias myself …” I admit I’d had to find out what a buddleia looked like before my journey to Blyth. “… and I was hoping to be able to fill my garden with them. These are wonderful. I’d love to have them or even come to work for you in the buddleia business. It would be my dream job. Where ever did you get such amazing examples of this horticultural ambience? …” I hoped they wouldn’t see through me when I accidentally used an out of place word like ambience. “I don’t want to pry into your business secrets and don’t want to take over and undercut your prices or anything like that. No, no, not me. I’m just an innocent buddleia lover who bears an uncanny resemblance to Groucho Marx. Where did you get them?”
One of the thieves stared at me. He looked mean. He looked also like he hadn’t understood what I’d been saying. Maybe my use of the word ambience had completely stumped him.
The other spoke. He said, “We nicked ’em, didn’t we. Went round the town, couple of nights ago and nicked ’em out of people’s gardens. Seemed like the best way to start a new business. Ain’t our stock the best? People will come miles for all our buddleias. Miles. And loads of people in Blyth are wanting to get new plants so I’ve heard to replace the ones some gadger nicked.” He laughed.
I said, “Thank you most kindly sir. I would like to buy your plants. Give me an hour while I go to the bank and I’ll come back and pay you a fair price.”
But I didn’t go to the bank did I? Oh no, not me. I’m far too clever for that. I’d taped the conversation too. I went to the police instead. Told them of my discovery. They were ever so impressed and went off to arrest the thieves straight away. I was a hero in the town. I drove back to Lord Comfort that night knowing I had done very well to solve my first solo case and I only got delayed for two nights in a five star hotel in Scarborough. For the second time in a week I didn’t get lost. It was intentional. I promise. Anyway, I needed some pampering after all my mental and physical exertion. Detective work is difficult you know. The hotel would be on expenses so it was okay.
When I returned to his office Lord Comfort didn’t seem impressed with my work. I stressed how amazing I had been but he queried every little insignificant detail. The three days I didn’t spend in Blyth. The hundreds of miles driven. The restaurant bill. He even seemed worried about the hotel bill and the hundred and twenty pounds extra I’d spent on room service and emptying part of the mini-bar in my room.
The next day Comfort congratulated me on solving my first case. He said I was a fully fledged detective now and said I should be starting my own company. He said I was ready and that it would make him very happy to see me working somewhere else. He said he couldn’t bear to think of me still working for him after everything I’d done. I agreed. It was obvious. I’m a genius in the art of detection and it’s only one step from buddleias to murder, kidnapping and plots to take over the world.
So, just a month later, there I was. Back at the very beginning of my story. Those bright red letters had just been painted on the door of my new office. I was a happy man and they looked so good.
I shook up my champagne bottle and pushed off the cork so it could spray everywhere. Like at a Grand Prix except my office is far more important than a silly driving race in which it’s impossible to get lost or take a wrong turn. I sprayed that champagne joyfully. It went all over me. All over the painter. All over the corridor floor. I could put the cleaning bill on expenses. And all over my new door too.
The paint was still wet. The celebratory booze washed it away. The painter quit. And the cleaner told me to mop the bloody thing up myself. I spent the rest of the day sorting out the mess. It hadn’t been an auspicious first day but the only way was up.
Before I left for the night I repainted the letters on the door. I didn’t need to pay a painter for such a simple job. It took another month before I noticed why I hadn’t received a string of wealthy clients coming to my door in despair. A month before someone pointed out a little error in those big, shiny, bright red letters. They read