My thanks to everyone who voted for The Sparrow Conundrum. This is how the news of it winning its second award, the Readers’ Choice Award for Humor and Satire, was greeted by those most closely associated with it.
Tessa was busy investigating the latest batch of agents who’d been found bloodless in graveyards with two puncture wounds in their necks. She found vampires as believable as politicians so she suspected this was a twisted April Fool’s stunt. When the phone rang she grabbed it and barked a curt ‘What?’ into it.
‘Tessa?’ The caller was tentative.
‘Yes, who’s that?’
‘Chris. Chris Machin.’ Then, with an embarrassed chuckle, ‘Sparrow. You remember?’
How could she forget?
‘What d’you want Chris? I’m busy.’
‘Ah, you haven’t heard then?’
‘Don’t piss me about. Heard what?’
‘The book. It’s won the Readers’ Choice Award for Humor and Satire.’
‘Oh great,’ said Tessa. ‘Terrific.’
Her tone was heavily ironic.
‘I thought you’d be pleased,’ said Machin.
‘Why? Because some hack has had his ego massaged for distorting the facts about our line of business? Just think for a minute, Chris. It’s OK for you. You’re a teacher. Nobody knows you exist. But what about me? I’m supposed to be involved in clandestine activities. With all the media attention we’ll be getting now, that’s me well and truly buggered, isn’t it?’
A scream from the outer office made her jump. It was followed by the sound of wood splintering as heavy boots kicked at her door until it was hanging from its hinges and a terrifying figure stepped through it. In its left hand was a red wig. Tessa recognised it as belonging to her secretary, Barbara, whose struggles with shampoos and conditioners were constantly being chronicled by lifestyle advisers in various magazines.
‘Chief Inspector Lodgedale. What a pleasant surprise,’ said Tessa.
She pointed at the wig.
‘I take it Barbara did something to incur your displeasure,’ she added.
‘Shut it,’ said the policeman, throwing the wig to the floor and taking from his pocket an Oxo-sized lump of cannabis resin wrapped in cling film.
‘Ah, no need for that,’ said Tessa. ‘I already have some in my drawer here.’
As well as tangling with him during the adventures recorded in The Sparrow Conundrum, Tessa had had this beast of the constabulary under surveillance ever since he’d arrived back from Russia, sent home by bosses in the Lubyanka who’d found his treatment of prisoners too harsh. Her agents had watched him planting drugs and condoms in nunneries, arresting shoppers who were walking too slowly and subduing pedestrians before they even had time to provoke him.
She put down the phone. The moment Machin had heard the name Lodgedale he’d begun to cry and hung up.
‘Can I help you with your enquiries?’ she said.
‘I’ll be the judge of that,’ said Lodgedale, bafflingly.
‘Indeed,’ said Tessa. ‘And will you be using your new water-boarding facility to do so?’
Lodgedale had indeed had such a facility added to the suite of offices he’d demanded in his new role in Aberdeen’s anti-terrorist organisation.
‘Because, if I may say so,’ Tessa went on, ‘the media interest in the recently-awarded Readers’ Choice accolade might misinterpret its significance.’
Lodgedale’s usual response to words he couldn’t understand was to assault the speaker but he was wary of Tessa. She had access to wrestlers who bit lumps out of teak.
‘What’re you on about?’ he said.
Tessa saw at once how she could get rid of him.
‘Ah, you haven’t heard then,’ she said. ‘I had a call from Chris Machin. Remember him?’
The anger that flushed up through his face as he heard the name made her question redundant.
‘You know, Sparrow,’ she said.
‘I know bloody Sparrow,’ said Lodgedale. ‘A good pluck, that’s what he wants.’
‘Well, you’ll be pleased to hear you can go and give him one. He’s at home right now, celebrating the award.’
‘Better ask Chris. All I know is the media will no doubt want to ask you about your interpretation of the term “justice” and your predilection for applied sadism will come under close scrutiny.’
‘Bloody Sparrow again,’ yelled Lodgedale.
Tessa scribbled on a Post-It note.
‘Here’s his address,’ she said.
Lodgedale hesitated, then grabbed the paper and stamped out. As Barbara began to scream again, Tessa sighed and reached for the phone. Her bearded boss, Mary, needed to know about this.