A Commonplace Killing
investigations, and led a few on his own account; but all of this experience had taught him only that he lacked the flair, the intuition that separates a first-rate murder investigator from the dull, work-a-day plod. He was tenacious, occasionally given to flashes of insight; but when it came to homicide all he really knew to do was follow procedure.
    He sighed and tossed away the last of the notebooks. Detectives, he decided, provide a desultory, barely literate read, with their unavailing tallies of unsatisfactory interviews with pawky snouts. It was depressing to learn of crimes that had yet to be committed; of the lorry loads waiting to be hijacked; the coupons hitherto unstolen; the shops unlooted; the safes uncracked – knowing that there was bally-all that you could do about most of it. And even if there was… He was painfully aware of the rest of his life stretching out before him in a long never-ending stream of crime report sheets. After a few moments of thinking like this, he rubbed his eyes back to alertness and removed his feet from the desk. Then he picked up his pen, unscrewed the barrel and recorded a few scant pieces of information : the sort of reassuring twaddle that the detective superintendent liked to see. When he had done this, he took himself down to the cells to see how the interviews with the two crooks they had nabbed last night were going.
    If there was ever need of proof just how much CID had suffered since the war, it was writ plain on the boyish, worried face of the junior detective sergeant – a fellow named Quennell. It takes a good long while to train a detective, and a lot of good men weren’t coming back for one reason or another, and there had been very little recruitment for the duration. The remainder were not always of the highest calibre. Quennell was still wet behind the ears, smooth-chinned, no more than a few months out of uniform and a good few fathoms out of his depth.
    “Have you been playing them off against one another?” Cooper asked. “Telling each of them that the other one has landed him in the – you know what – up to his filthy neck.” Quennell blinked back at him, doubtful. Cooper took a slurp of tea. “I don’t have time to help you on this, Quennell. We picked up a murder today.”
    “Oh yes, sir, I heard about that.”
    Cooper sighed.
    “Let me have a word,” he said.
    He went into the first room. Little Jimmy Dashett was one of those to whom war had given a swagger, a sense of entitlement: nothing more than a cosh-boy, the hooligan sort who is nothing without a knuckleduster in his pocket. Cooper knew instinctively that there was little chance of extracting any worthwhile information from him. To begin with, Jimmy would know nothing about the racket; and it was evident that although the stupid kid had grown up before his time, he still had a lot to learn about how things worked. He told him to take his feet off the table and sit up straight. With a good deal of sneering and ill-graced shifting, the kid complied.
    “I’m not interested in you, Jimmy,” he said. “You’re small fry as far as I’m concerned. I’m after bigger fish. Tell me about Johnny Bristow.”
    The kid smirked.
    “What about him?” he said.
    “We know all about his rackets.”
    “So what do you need me to tell you for then?”
    Cooper was always unerringly polite when interrogating prisoners, and had never found it necessary to raise his voice when doing so, no matter how wearing it was hearing the same old lies and excuses over and over again. However, he had to suppress the urge to clip Little Jimmy Dashett round the ear.
    “We already know about the eggs, Jimmy,” he said. One hundred and eighty thousand of them coming up from the West Country, on their way to a Ministry of Food warehouse. “That’s a big operation. A job like that requires money up front; it takes planning. Oh, you’ll have your part to play, I don’t doubt, but what do you stand to get from it?

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