The Tarleton Sentence

So baffled were the police by the teeming ramifications of the Inspip case that they had no idea what to do, until a dejected inspector threw in the towel and suggested, reluctantly, that they call in Tarleton, the amateur’s amateur, in hope that he might hack a clearing through their mental forest, to which Tarleton’s response, upon receipt of the coppers’ telegram, was to instruct his helpmeet, the dwarf Crepusco, to pay them a visit and pull one of his faces at them, to which Crepusco’s response was “Are you sure?”, said in a trembling voice, for he was all too aware that when he pulled one of his faces the effect on those who saw it was akin to something from a story by H P Lovecraft, reducing the witness to a horror-stricken gibbering wreck, fit only to be chained up in an asylum for the incurably insane for the rest of their days, but Tarleton insisted, telling Crepusco to pull face number forty-three, expressive of fathomless and bitter contempt, so the dwarf toddled off along the lane towards the police station, and on his way encountered, as chance would have it, one of the teeming ramifications of the Inspip case, in that, not too far along the way, he tripped and toppled into the bottomless viper-pit of Shoeburyness, and was mightily surprised, after falling just a few feet, to land with a crunch upon a false bottom in the viper-pit, a platform installed by unknown hand, possibly but not definitively Inspip’s, the crunchy nature of his landing caused by the bescatterment, upon the platform, of eggshells in great abundance, with no sign whatsoever of the eggs’ innards, the albumen and yellow yolk and whatever else an egg expert might descry inside an egg, there were just the shells, upon which Crepusco landed, crunchily, before sitting up and rubbing his bonce and wondering why he had not continued to fall, forever and ever, as ought surely to have been his fate, the viper-pit of Shoeburyness, like that of Gaar, and several others, being notorious for being bottomless, according to the guidebooks and gazetteers available from the souvenir kiosk located at one end of a sort of modern-day ley line, along which magnets ceased to function and clumps of vetch and bindweed withered, at the other end of which stood, surrounded by an imposing fence fitted with floodlights, the police station, wherein the frazzled coppers were still awaiting a response from Tarleton, the amateur’s amateur, and busying themselves meanwhile by rummaging, for the umperumpteenth time, through their miles of filing cabinets in which every last scrap of information regarding the Inspip case was kept, from that very first report of an eye-witness, a preternaturally alert passer-by, who had tested negative for hallucinogens, thrice, and who had brought, breathlessly, panting, panting, to the coppers’ attention the curious circumstance that in Scroonhoonpooge Model Village, the aviary, behind the milk factory, was life-size, and filled with real birds, such that they would appear enormous and monstrous to the tiny little figures populating the model village, and their caws and chirps and chirrups and trills deafeningly loud, and that this anomaly was just the kind of thing Inspip would clap his hands with glee over, though try as they might not a single officer could say with any certainty, hand on heart, that Inspip had form in the area, nor indeed that he even knew where the Scroonhoonpooge Model Village was, given that all reported sightings of him for the past two decades placed him elsewhere, and he had been banned from consulting maps and atlases for even longer than that, ever since the Botched Shadow Puppetry case, when he was, albeit briefly, in cahoots, or “up to his eyeballs” as Detective Captain Cargpan put it, with Babinsky, the lumbering walrus-moustached psychopathic serial killer, an alliance that was mercifully short-lived, thanks to Cargpan, the very same Cargpan who, now, rummaging in one of the filing cabinets, chanced upon a tattered black-and-white snapshot of an unidentified acrobat performing an unidentified feat of acrobatics which would have seemed physically impossible were it not for the photographic evidence, and on a whim, or accident, the detective captain looked at the snapshot from a geometrically unlikely angle, and saw suddenly what nobody else had seen before, himself included, which was that, in her poise and turpsiletto, the acrobat seemed to be personating the exact lineaments of the stick-figure in the corner of an emblem on the flag of a secret society the doings, or misdoings, of which had ravaged several important colonial outposts and not a few unimportant ones at the tail end of the war, one of the wars, and which had long been thought consigned to the dustbin of history but which, Cargpan now realised, with a Lovecraftian shudder, could indeed still be active, and engaged in nefarious shenanigans, here and now, and particularly in the model village at Scroonhoonpooge, and he grabbed a butcher’s pencil and began scribbling frenziedly in his coppers’ jotting pad, and then he rummaged in some of the other filing cabinets, and tore some of his hair out, until he jumped up on to a desk in the middle of the situation room, gaining the immediate and rapt attention of all the other coppers, to whom he cried, ear-piercingly, “Where are the eggs? Where are the eggs?”, and they all knew at once he was referring to the various birds’ eggs laid by the anomalously life-size birds in the aviary of the model village, and, gosh, this is exciting, at that very moment Crepusco the dwarf, who had managed to clamber out of the temporarily non-bottomless viper-pit of Shoeburyness, came blundering into the room, dozens of bits of eggshell clinging to his clothing, and he was about to pull his fathomless and bitter contempt face, number forty-three, when a sixth sense stopped him, seeing the blazing eyes of Detective Captain Cargpan and all the other coppers gazing at him with an unmistakeable gleam of dawning understanding and clarity, as when pennies drop from heaven, every time it rains, and the clouds burst and it was raining now, as it always rains on the feast day of St Bibblybibdib, for yes!, this all happened on St Bibblybibdib’s Day, which is why it is significant, and why I have told you about it, for had it happened on any other day in the calendar year it would hardly be worth mentioning, and it would have remained one of those untold stories of Tarleton, the amateur’s amateur, untold and unknown, never collected in any of the many volumes devoted to his doings, all of which, like the pamphlets of the pamphleteer Dobson, are out of print.

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