ROQUEFORT stood at the helm of the vessel as it cruised inexorably towards the less famous, but unarguably there, white cliffs of Folkestone. To anyone standing on the shore with a reasonably powerful telescope or pair of binoculars, the great French sleuth - the man who put the 'orp' in 'corpulent', not to mention the 'rond' in 'arondissement' - looked for all the world like Kate Winslet and Leonard Nimoy in Titanic, except perhaps larger, more obviously Gallic and drunk on rough white wine.
"J'adore le sea!" he bellowed above the sound of the gigantic ferry cutting through the Channel. As the boat, operated by Brian Ferries and costing a very reasonable £50 return, finally docked at Folkestone (the world capital of folk music) Roquefort composed himself. He found to his horror that he was a maudlin country and western song called I Would Wave You Goodbye But I’ve Caught Both Arms in The Thresher (And By That I Don’t Mean the Off-licence).
He contemplated the meaning of this for a moment before disembarking from the Avalon and embarking on to British soil. A true maverick, he had neglected to find out where the crossing landed, having assumed that it would just drop him off wherever he wanted in London. No, I don’t know why either.
"Where are we?" he asked the first person he met.
"Dunno mate," replied a middle-aged man wearing sunglasses and a hearing aid in each ear. "I'm on a mystery tour holiday organised by the Kircudbrightshire Rotarians. They're notorious. I could be anywhere, as could you."
"Kircudbrightshire Rotarians? Are they like the Knights Templar?
"Never speak that name again," commanded the man, suddenly about as serious as it's possible to be in this story.
"Alright, alright sweetheart," said a clearly chastened Roquefort. Immaturely for a maverick yet begrudgingly respected Parisian detective, the maverick yet begrudgingly respected Parisian detective gave the blind man the finger, but used his index finger rather than his middle one, for no reason.
"I can see that," deadpanned the possibly not blind man.
"How?" asked Roquefort, aghast and, given his proximity to the sea, avast. The man took off the spectacles and handed them to another man, who had stumbled out of a nearby toilet, gesticulating wildly and bumping into objects.
"I was just wearing these for my blind friend Eugene while he went for a piddle," the man explained, only partially. Eugene placed the shades on his visage and let out a satisfied sigh.
"I see," mused Roquefort.
"You taking the piss?" shouted Eugene in an accent brazen in its East Anglianicity.
"Shut up," ordered Roquefort, using his 31 years of policing to stamp his natural authority all over the exchange, like a well-liked postmistress in Bourton-on-the-Water who would do anything for those she favoured, yet at the same time would brook no nonsense in her post office.
Roquefort continued. "How do I get to London?"
Eugene gestured towards an old age pensioner nearby. "Get on that."
Fortunately, his fully-sensed friend intervened. "Take the train," he said. "Over there," he continued, pointing to a stationary train.
"You have public transport in this country?" said an incredulous Roquefort from the ground, on to where he had fainted.
Eugene nodded. "Course we do you berk. Our trains, with their beautifully upholstered Pullman coaches, friendly guards, silver service restaurants, competitive pricing and immaculate timekeeping, are the envy of the world." The blind man pointed enthusiastically at a Morris Dancer playing with a discarded box of Mr Kipling Cherry Bakewells. "THAT, my Welsh friend, is first-class travel."
Roquefort pulled a face. "He’s been blind since 1961" mimed Eugene’s friend. "Truth be told, he’s a bit of a divot as well."
"Divot...berk" mused Roquefort, glad to be picking up some foreign lingo. He turned on his heel and meandered gracefully towards the waiting Southern Fried Railways frequent stopping service to London Waterloo. A friendly guard waved him on to the train.
"Get a move on fatboy, we’re leaving in a minute," he said.
"Je ne regrette owt," replied Roquefort, punching him square in the coupon and climbing aboard the train. Cheap wine made him violent.
"ABSOLUTELY first-class, A1, tip-top and top hole to see you again Pierre," said DCI Lemongrass as he welcomed his French nemesis-turned-acquaintance Roquefort into the recently redesigned premises of downtown Parsons Green nick.
"I like what you’ve done here Barry," replied the French cop, eyeing the swish surroundings. "You have le good eye for design. Not as good as me, as I am French, natch, but good neverthetwain."
"Actually I can’t take the credit," said Lemongrass with a bashful chuckle. "My young charge Sweet Basil – you remember him don’t you? - is the brains."
At that moment there was a sexually ambiguous knock on the office door. Lemongrass and Roquefort marvelled as the stripped cherrywood door, which had been reclaimed from a deserted vicarage in Penge after an incident involving a scented candle from BHS and a set of Newton’s balls, swung open. A young man entered Lemongrass's domain.
"Basil! You remember our esteemed French colleague Pierre Yves St Jaques Roquefort, don’t you?"
"Mm-hmm! It’s an honour, Monsieur Roquefort, of course I remember you,"
"Basil completely remodelled the office," enthused Lemongrass. "He's redone it using the principles of Wang Chung, an ancient eastern mystical trend practiced for aeons by fashion victims. All the furniture has to point to the east.
"Ah. Towards the mystical land of our forefathers, of course" said Roquefort with a knowing nod.
Basil screwed his face up. "No, if you stand on the windowsill you get an awesome view of the top of the Post Office tower. It's really something."
Roquefort was growing irritated by the direction the conversation was going in. He slammed a meaty fist down on the table. "To business! We all know the reason I am here."
"Indeed Pierre," said Lemongrass, indicating the meaty fist Roquefort had laid on the table before them.
"Alors. This is the fist of a famous French historian, Alain Histoire. He was murdered by someone outside the Musée des Coupes, just to the right of the Left Bank in Paris. The perpetrators fled to Angleterre.
"How do you know?" asked Lemongrass.
Roquefort sat back in the Parker Knoll Obesity 4000 recliner that Basil had sourced for the office for from an abandoned syntax factory in Barons Court. Lemongrass mused for a moment, staring at the tip of the Post Office tower. Like all right-thinking people, he wished the revolving restaurant at the top was open to the public.
“Two things spring to mind. Numero one. You say this man is called Alain Histoire. Do you mean to say he changed his surname to History, because he is a historian? That’s totally mental!”
Roquefort’s face fell. He reattached it so as to better facilitate further communication.
“There is a lot of competition among historians where I come from,” he explained.
“Where’s that?” joshed Sweet Basil brightly. “The past?”
“Non. Paris,” replied Roquefort gravely as he diffidently Tazered Basil to the ground. “Historians there have similar status to pop stars here. So for example, Alain Histoire is like the equivalent of Chico Time, while Ludivine Medieval-Histoire is a bit like the chanteuse Barbara Dixon.”
“I see,” said Lemongrass. “Okay. Numero two. You're telling me there’s a museum of cups in Paris?”
“Oui. Cups, mugs – you name it. The whole schlemozzle.”
“Non, not saucers.”
“Non, those neither.”
"I don't even know what this 'tea cosies" are."
“Just cups and mugs then?”
“Oui. But not just any old cups. Legendary cups from the past, mugs with deep historical and national significance. Ancient mugs with hidden meanings. More seriously - though still somewhat absurdly - there are priceless drawings of mugs aplenty.”
“Drawings?” simpered Lemongrass and Sweet Basil, the younger man harmonising like some Crosby, Stills and Nash throwback.
“Yes, drawings. But not just any drawings. These drawings are special. These drawings are laden with significance. These drawings are by one of the greatest men who ever lived.”
“Lawrence Llewellyn-Bowen?” squealed Basil excitedly. Roquefort Tazered him once again.
“Stupid boy. Non, I’m talking about the master of masters. A genius painter who did that famous big one with all the blokes having dinner. A brilliant scientist who discovered some stuff, I can’t remember what. A beautiful mind who enthralled his contemporaries with his chat. A fantastic inventor who sort of came up with the concept of the helicopter, thus giving us Noel Edmonds, but one bearded blip in an otherwise exemplary career is allowed. A raconteur and after-dinner speaker to rival Clive Anderson. An accomplished handyman…”
“Just tell us who it is for Christ’s sake!” bawled Lemongrass.
Roquefort reclined in his faux-leather chair and smiled enigmatically. He said nothing.
“Well, who in the name of Ligne Roset is it?”
Roquefort kept mum. She was getting on a bit and her pension wasn’t up to mutch.
“I’ve had enough, I’m going,” said Lemongrass, getting up to, indeed, leave.
“I’m ivin oo a loo,” said Roquefort urgently, without moving his lips.
“I’m ivin OO A LOO!” he repeated, while pointing frantically at his enigmatic smile. “OANA EESA.”
After 15 minutes of contemplating the still enigmatically smiling French detective in repose, Lemongrass and Sweet Basil were still none the wiser. Eventually, Roquefort gave up.
“Zut alors! And to think that ‘Give Us A Clue’ ran in your country for 61 years! I was carrying out an impersonation of the MONA LISA, the famous painting that hangs in the Louvre!”
“Ahhhhhh,” said the two Englismen in unison, finally getting it. “What does that have to do with anything?”
Roquefort sighed. This was going to be a tough case.
“The drawings of which I speak are by Leonardo Da Vinci. They are for a mug, a special mug, a new type of mug that is groundbreaking yet as old as time itself. A mug that has been hinted at in art and literature down through the ages. A mug that, if fashioned in clay and glazed, will fundamentally change our world.”
“Christ on a minimoto,” said Basil.
Leonardo Da Vinci's famous painting, The Last Buffet.
“Indeed. And believe me when I tell you that there are some very, very, very, very, very powerful people who will literally stop at nowt to stop that mug being put into production. They will blow up every kiln from here to Falkirk. They will loot every craft shop in the country of its ceramic paints selection. Ceramicists will be martyred. And they will try to stop clay being dug out of the ground or something.”
“Hang on. How on earth would they be able to stop people getting clay out of the ground?” asked Basil, not entirely unreasonably.
“Trust me,” said Roquefort. “This is a game of very, very, very, very, very, very high stakes and very, very, very, very, very dangerous ceramics. This makes the 1953 Brest Macrame sting look like a stroll in the Tuileries. You don’t have a handle on this mug.”
“Who’d have thought a humble blueprint for a cup could be so potentially devastating?” asked a trembling Lemongrass - rhetorically, mind.
“Aye, I ken,” soothed Roquefort. “It’s a lot of info to drink in. But we must stay calm and be logical, and chill.
“This mug – how can I stress its importance? Let me just say that Hitler formed the SS especially to get his hands on it. It is said that Da Vinci’s plans for the mug were not his own, but that they were handed down via word of mouth from some mates of Jesus and Da Vinci merely rendered them in drawing form to ensure they lived on if anything ever happened to him. I needn’t tell you that Da Vinci died at some point.”
Roquefort let that last incendiary fact settle before outlining the case as he saw it.
“I strongly believe that Alain Histoire knew something about the Da Vinci mug plans and was trying to get them back to their rightful owner when he was killed, by being repeatedly bashed around the head with a vintage ‘I’m with stupid’ mug. If the plans are in this country, expect more deaths. We have got to find the blueprint. That will lead us to the killer and, perhaps, finally reveal the ancient secret of the Da Vinci mug code.”
Roquefort folded his arms and looked as serious as he could.
“Cup of tea anyone?” asked Basil.