Special Investigations Inspector J. Gerald Oxnard arrived on the scene moments after the crime had been committed. Accompanying him were the usual entourage of detectives from the S.I. Division of New Bastwick's Police Department. I’d been newly appointed to this crack investigating team, a reward for my exemplary grades at the Police Academy.
It was just my luck that my first case was a murder.
Inspector Oxnard knelt beside the cooling body of a man in his late twenties. After several minutes of intense scrutiny, he nodded and cleared his throat, prompting one of the nearby detectives to help him to his feet.
"He was killed by a lion," Inspector Oxnard said. "I'm thoroughly convinced."
The room absorbed the declaration, mulling and silent.
"But... Inspector," I said, "How did a lion get up to Room 715 of the Vandenburg Hotel without anyone seeing it?"
Inspector Oxnard put a thin and elegantly manicured hand up to his moustache and rolled the waxy end.
"A disguise," he said.
"Of course. Perhaps a long overcoat and some dark glasses. Haven't you ever seen a lion walk on his hind legs at the circus?"
Several of the detectives standing around sounded their approval. One wrote it down in his note pad.
"But what about the knife?" I said.
"The knife?" Inspector Oxnard shot back, eyes sharp and accusing.
"In the deceased's back."
There was a moment of chin-scratching silence.
"Don't lions have an opposable thumb?" Detective Jenkins said.
"No, you’re thinking of monkeys," Detective Coursey said.
"But isn't a lion kind of like a big orange monkey with sharp teeth?" Detective Rumstead said.
There were several nods of agreement. Inspector Oxnard ran a hand through his gray hair, which was slicked back with mint-smelling gel, and wiped his palm on Detective Coursey's blazer.
"It had to be a lion with a knife," the Inspector said, "wearing an overcoat and dark glasses. Put out an All Points Bulletin, and check to see if a circus is in town."
"But Inspector,” I said, “there's no sign of forced entry. How did the lion get into the room?"
"Simple. He had a key."
"Why would he have a key?"
The silence that followed was steeped in apprehension. After a minute, Inspector Oxnard made a self-satisfied yelping sound and thrust his finger skyward in revelation, poking Detective Graves in the eye.
"The deceased was having an affair with the lion! Thus, the lion had a duplicate key!"
Excited applause swept through the group. Inspector Oxnard drew on his pipe, but it did little good because the bowl was upside down, the tobacco speckling his shoes.
"Was the lion gay?" Detective Struber said.
"Perhaps," Inspector Oxnard said. "Or perhaps it was... a lioness!"
Several 'ahs' were heard. Somene piped in, "Of course! The lioness is the one that does the hunting!"
"But what about motive?" I said, my Police Academy training coming out. "What was the motive?"
"Hunger," the Inspector said. He nodded smartly to himself.
"But the body is intact.”
"None of it has been eaten!"
"That makes no difference. Maybe the lioness was scared away before she could finish, or perhaps she simply lost her appetite."
"I sometimes have terrible shooting gas pains, and can't eat at all," Detective Gilbert said.
"But where are the paw prints?" someone shrieked. "Where is the fur? Where is the spoor? What is the damn reason that this was done by a lion and not a human being?"
Everyone stared at me, and I realized I’d been the one shrieking.
Inspector Oxnard frowned and gave me a patronizing pat on the head.
"I know you're only a novice, so I can understand why you cannot grasp all of the subtle intricacies of a murder investigation. But in time, Detective Cornhead, you'll begin to catch on."
"My name is Richards, Inspector. Detective Richards."
"Nothing to be ashamed of." Inspector Oxnard slapped my shoulder. "We were all young once."
Detective Oldendorff ran through the door and tripped over the body. He picked himself up, urgency overriding embarrassment.
"There's been another robbery!" he said. "The First New Bastwick Bank!" Inspector Oxnard trust out his lower lip and nodded.
"It sounds like that blind panda has struck again. Come, gentlemen!"
Inspector Oxnard gracefully exited the room, his entourage filing behind him like
ducklings. I stared for a moment at the body, and then followed.
This police work was a lot harder than I thought.