Death by Arts Council Application

August 17, 2012

A story for Kate Morrison

With apologies to Agatha Christie

Inspector Judd ran his hands through his hair in exasperation and reached for the telegram forms. It was no good. He’d looked at all aspects of the case, but in every occasion, he’d run headlong into insurmountable obstacles. He was going to have to summon that insufferable Belgian detective to get to the bottom of this tangled web of mystery.

Two hours later, Poirot strode into Judd’s office, immaculately dressed from his patent leather shoes to his glorious moustaches. “So, dear Judd, once again you seek my advice”, he pronounced, unconsciously arranging the objects on Judd’s desk into orderly lines.

“That’s right, Poirot”, Judd conceded. “It’s this Arts Council business. Can’t get to the bottom of it.” Poirot nodded. “Tell me more about it. All the little details”.

“Perhaps it’d be better if you saw the crime scene for yourself.” Within minutes, Poirot and Judd were strolling through the city, weaving their way through throngs of French tourists and drunken day trippers. “Ah- they make the holiday”, noted Poirot. “Such big rucksacks! Such sunburn!”

Judd attempted to ignore Poirot’s social commentary, and they approached the shabby offices where the deed had taken place. Plaster flaked off the walls, and a stack of mugs seemed to be breeding life forms of their own. “Ah!” Poirot exclaimed, “this is clearly where the magic happens!” They turned, past teetering ring binders stuffed with press cuttings, and beheld the grim scene.

The lifeless corpse of an Arts Administrator lay slumped across a desk, blood spilling out over a 70 page application form for Arts Council Funding. Yet more coffee cups adorned the surface of the desk, and an ancient computer hummed away like a tin full of furious bees. Poirot breathed in deeply, and leant over the macabre scene. He inspected the colourful yet ragged clothes that adorned the late Arts Administrator.

“Ah, these coloured rags. This is a tragic end. And the application form. So nearly complete.” A ball-point pen was clutched in the dead hand of the victim, and he attempted to remove it without success. The ink on the page remained clear and unsmudged.

“Hmmm.” He leaned over the form and inspected the section. 16a. Please assess how your event will benefit a large cross section of the community and describe which audiences you hope to attract. “Ah,” he mused, “This is always a difficult one. I am grateful we do not need to complete these applications in the world of detection.”

His inspection complete, he turned to the hapless Inspector Judd. “I have seen all we need to see. Except for one thing. Inspector Judd, will you please assist me to move the body.”

The two men took the limp figure of the late Arts Professional by the shoulders, and with a little effort, lifted it off the seat, moved aside yet more ring binders, and placed it gently on the ground. A bullet hole in the chest left little doubt as to the cause of death.

“And yet…” Poirot wondered, “There was no-one else in the room.”

“Clearly not,” Judd agreed, “You don’t think they can afford more than one member of staff at a time? This is an Arts Organisation we’re talking about! No-one else had been in the office for days!”

“Difficult”, mused Poirot aloud. “Very well. I will need to think about this for a while. Do you suppose, Judd, you could take some of those mugs and make some attempt to clean them? It offends my idea of hygiene to have such objects around me. And if by any chance they have half-decent coffee in this establishment, I would greatly like a cup.”

Judd sighed, collected together the filthy crockery, and went off in search of hot soapy water. Poirot sat down in the chair recently vacated by the victim, and gazed at the half-finished Arts Council form.

As he pondered the issue, he leaned far back in the chair, as was his habit, and ran over the problem in his mind. Clearly someone had shot the Arts Administrator – and yet no-one else had been in the office for days. He gazed at the windows. No double glazing. He wouldn’t like to be here in the winter without his overcoat – but Poirot was fond of the greater comforts that life can contain.

Idly, he looked back at the form. He raised a single eyebrow as he looked at the final answer to question 16a. “We intend to engage with a diverse range of people across the community by presenting an eclectic range of performances from across the broad spectrum of the flourishing arts scene”. He winced. Did anyone really think the word “eclectic” actually meant anything? He reached for a pen off the desk, and went to strike it out in a moment of petty fury.

As his pen touched the paper, he heard a loud explosion, and collapsed backwards off the chair. A fiery pain burst in his knee, and he clutched at it in agony. Someone had shot him in the knee! He screamed out in pain, and could hear the advancing steps of Inspector Judd as he slipped into unconsciousness on the floor.

Two hours later, bandaged up with the office’s supply of blue plasters and emergency eye patches, he turned to Judd with a look of pained accomplishment. “Judd, I have solved the problem.”

Judd looked at him in surprise. “You see,” Poirot began, “the moment I came into this building I realised that someone was desperate for money. And then – the Arts Council application – it was clearly in someone’s great interests that this form did not get completed. And so what did they do? Well, take a look at the next page – see!”

Judd tried to lift the form off the table, and a thin metal wire stretched through a hole and beneath the desk. “Careful”, Poirot muttered, “That thing may go off again.”

Underneath the desk was a revolver, intricately connected to the metal wire. “You see, Judd, when enough pressure is placed on Question 16a – possibly the most difficult question to give a vaguely coherent or satisfactory answer to without lapsing into triteness… the weapon goes off!”

“But who would do a thing like that?” asked Judd, astonished.

“Ah, that will be easy to find. There is only, as you say, so much money in the pot. This has to be a rival arts organisation, keen to take out their competitors and make sure that they are the ones who have the arts council money, do you not see?”

“But Poirot – we can’t move for struggling arts organisations in this city! How are we going to find the one responsible?”

“But a clever murderer like this, Judd – they will strike again! One death by Arts Council application is not enough! Wherever someone is applying for funding – they are in danger. But this time, dear Judd, we shall be ready! We shall set a little trap for them!”

And with those words, Poirot produced a fresh Arts Council application form from his pocket. “What project should we apply for, then? A Moustache Parade? I have always liked the idea of a Moustache Parade…”

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