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Murder in Lapland

A QUIET SNOZE , a dream of bones, invaded by the jangling phone.

“Inspector Dogg?” A man’s voice, light, precise, but urgent too.

“Ex-inspector Dogg. I’m no longer …”

“Yes, sir, you’re the one. There’s been a murder. We’d like you to get here as soon as you can.”

“As I said, I’m no longer with the forces of law and order. If there’s been a crime, I suggest you contact your local police office. Where are you phoning from?”

“Lapland.”

“Is this a joke? Now you’ll tell me the dead man is Santa Claus.”

“You’re absolutely correct, Mr Dogg. Santa has been murdered. And only two weeks to go before Christmas. How soon can you get here?” “Well, Lapland’s not just round the corner.”

“I should explain that Santa’s relationship to the world that you would call ‘real’ is not straightforward. Rather like your own.”

“I’ll be there in a jiffy.” I grabbed a deerstalker and threw on an ulster, for purposes of identification. Transportation in the world of magical realism is not about speeds and distances. I could have got the magic train that goes through dramatic highland scenery, but it wouldn’t take the plot forward very much. Beam me up Scotty!

I could have got the magic train that goes through dramatic highland scenery, but it wouldn’t take the plot forward very much

I stepped out of the transportation cubicle into a neon-lit piazza carpeted with snow. To my right stood a large neo-classical building, tall Corinthian columns supporting a broad portico embracing a staircase leading up to an arched doorway. To my left, by contrast, was a wire fence, perhaps seven feet high, topped by coils of razor wire. Behind it I could see a row of corrugated iron huts, and beyond it others hinted at in the gloom. And opposite me, directly across the square, stood a row of two-storey wooden buildings, each painted in a different pastel shade. The white light of the lamps round the piazza made the snow crystals sparkle. I had thought the square was deserted, but then caught sight of something near the fence to my left. An elk stood immobile, watching me with big unblinking eyes. Was it trying to tell me something? But as I watched, it sank, still standing and still staring, as if on some hidden elevator, slowly down into the snow until it disappeared out of sight.

I was still peering at the empty spot when I felt a hand on my arm.

“Inspector Dogg, I presume.” A tall, thin man, wearing a black frock coat, a watch chain visible on his black waistcoat; a sharp nose, thin lips, and glinting eyes under a top hat. It all suggested a predatory undertaker; but it was the owner of the voice on the phone. “My name is Woade, Elias Woade. I am Head of Administrative Affairs here.” He held out a claw-like hand for me to shake. It felt like clutching twigs. “I must apologise for the darkness. There’s no daylight at this time of year. More importantly, I can assure you that the scene of crime has not been disturbed. Shall we go?”

Woade snapped his fingers and a large penguin appeared from somewhere behind me. Looking round, I realised it had come from an anonymous white building next door to the transportation centre. “Please take Inspector Dogg’s travel bag to the Lodging House.”

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