“IT IS NO FREAKING GOOD PIERRE,” said Roquefort, hoisting with an involuntary grunt his legs on to the desk in front of him. “I am too old in the tooth for this. Even using trendy words such as ‘freaking’ isn’t working. I need to appeal to a younger demographic or get the funk out of the detecting strange crimes game. Who's idea was breakdancing anyway?”
The supersized Parisian detective sighed melodramatically, rolled his unused breakdancing mat up and torpedoed it through the window of Chief Inspector Vacherin’s 19th storey penthouse office suite.
The offices had been redecorated by the noted Parisian interior designer Claudine Baudy-Poppin, famed for her love of and strict adherence to the aesthetic mores of the mid-1980s.
Consequently the walls were painted light grey and the furniture was of the chrome and black leather variety. A nest of smoked glass coffee tables sat unused in the corner, alongside a single bed sporting a black and grey pinstriped duvet with a large Playboy bunny logo. On the other side of the bed stood Nik Kershaw, silent and unwanted.
Vacherin waved his hand vaguely in Roquefort’s direction and continued with his attempt to solve the Rubik’s Octagon his wife had bought him for his birthday.
“Look at you,” Roquefort continued, “with your young trendster's pursuits, such as the Rubik’s Octagon - probably one on the few six-sided geometric puzzles available to mankind. You have street credibility and are a coolstyler, as they say in the hip circles of Luxembourg.”
“Eight sides,” corrected Vacherin. “Not six. Eight sides. Taunting me. Mocking me. Haunting my dreams. What was Madame Vacherin thinking of, getting me...this...when she knows I wanted Kensington, the much-hyped but ultimately short-lived UK board game of the 1970s that was completely baffling and based around a series of hexagonal tile clusters? She knows I favour the hexagon over the octagon.”
“What about the pentagon and the dodecahedron?” asked Roquefort.
“Pffff,” spat Vacherin, his disgust all too apparent. With an unexpected jerking movement he tossed the Octagon towards Roquefort. The big-boned crimesolver snapped his hand into the air and caught it, inches away from his puffy face.
“You still have your reflexes, Roquefort. I envy that.”
“You never forget what you learned at Catching School.”
“Now I’m intrigued,” said Vacherin, now intrigued. “What exactly did you learn there?”
“How to catch a variety of objects,” shrugged Roquefort. Vacherin stared at him for a second, before speaking.
“Any of them hexagonal?”
“I do not recall,” replied Roquefort.
Roquefort thank. “Non. No hexagonal objects.”
Vacherin sighed. “Very well. To business. Why are you here, canny lad?”
“I need help.”
“Not with catching things, I’m guessing.”
“Non, non,” chuckled Roquefort. Vacherin threw a hexagonal paperweight in the rough shape of Brest town centre into the air and watched as his best detective caught it with absolutely no problems at all.
“I have always thought that of all the countries of the world, France produces the best catchers,” said Vacherin, nodding appreciatively. “The way you dealt with that just there was just sensational Roquefort.”
“If only we produced the best geometry-based eight-sided puzzle solvers as well, eh Jean-Baptiste! Then the Rubik’s Octagon would not trouble you so!” said Roquefort with a rueful laugh.
Vacherin’s face froze. “Shut up you gigantic tit,” he seethed. “Just tell me what you want before my patients were thin.”
“I want out, or I want help. I should be nothing more than a traffic cop. I feel like things are getting on top of me.”
“These last few cases I have been given – the Da Vinci Mug code, the pelting to death with frozen blocks of cheddar cheese the English diplomat Sir Nigel Timpson – I have found myself avast, aghast, bemused, confused, banjaxed, poleaxed, poll-taxed, muddled, befuddled and in a guddle.”
“What is a guddle?”
“It’s a huddle with one more person involved.”
“I see. For example, a huddle that has five people, then another joins in, making it six people. Like a hex-”
“Enough with the hexagons!” exploded Roquefort.
“Sorry, sorry,” said Vacherin, nearly in tears.
“You need help squire.”
“I know!” sobbed the police chief, brought low and vulnerable by his shape-based fixation.
“I can recommend a good psychiatrist if you wish. Very well versed in Pythagoras and right up to date with the more contemporary teachings of Ball, Johnny - the Think of a Number scholar from England.”
"Ach! What in the name of Bertrand Russell do the English know about philosophy! “Thank you anyway Roquefort, but there are six sides to every story. Now, Explain to me what your problem is.”
Roquefort sighed. “I just can’t keep track of what’s going on. My mind isn't as deft as it used to be, when I was a young, deft-minded man working for the Deft Squad in downtown Delft, in Holland.
"Every adventure I find myself in seems to be riddled with non-sequiturs…random sentences that go on for far too long and are not relevant to the story…strings of punning humour that leave me confused and sometimes frightened…characters pop up who bear no relation to the real world...there are lapses from French into inappropriate regional dialect…wilful absurdity…appalling racial stereotyping...and so on.”
“I see,” said Vacherin, adjusting the string of onions around his neck as he booked online a pair of tickets for a saucy show at the Moulin Rouge that night with his beautiful mistress. “And what – or whom – do you think is the cause of this problem?”
“It’s reet hard to say pet,” said Roquefort, in a tremulous whisper. “But I think it’s all down to…Him.” Roquefort gestured over his shoulder and towards the ceiling.
“God?” said Vacherin, aghast.
“Non, non. ‘Him.' The divvy that writes this crud. He’s out of control. His syntax is all, over the place; his use of – language is at times bewilderingly antidisestablishmentarianism to fathom and. Also he has been known to drop into foreign languages for no apparent reason. Also he can never resist dropping me into a sentence that just rambles off at a lengthy tangent and has no use for the wider context of the story.”
Roquefort paused. With a wary expression he looked up at the ceiling, as if waiting for something awful to happen.
“It’s okay,” he whispered after a moment. “I think the danger has passed.”
Vacherin nodded. “I think-
“Have you ever been on one of those Segway Personal transporters? The motorised scooter things?” interrupted Roquefort.
“No,” said Vacherin.
“I’ve often wondered whether or not I would enjoy using one of them; of course they do take some getting used to but I think they might be useful in the fight against crime. That said, perhaps just a regular, push-along scooter would be adequate. It’s hard to tell these days and then of course there is the issue of storage. Where would you store such a thing? Say you wanted to go to into a shop in order to buy a magazine – say a magazine about the fine sport of angling or even miniature teapot collecting, which as you know is a passion of mine Vacherin – anyway, yes, say you wanted to go and buy Miniature Tea Pot World in order that you could experience the sheer joy of absorbing yourself in this sacred, secret world for hours, and to broaden your knowledge of that specialist field, and you were on a Segway scooter, would you park it on the pavement or on the road? How would you chain it up? Do they come with a special lock? Are they made of plastic? Do they use petrol? Do they have seatbelts? Do they have a special compartment where you could perhaps secrete those exotic and collectible miniature tea pots you had found on sale in the market at Venves for just a few euros which turned out to be worth thousands and thousands, perhaps rare examples from the Ming (Small) Dynasty, where would you put them if you were on a Segway? Then of course there’s the question of-”
“ROQUEFORT!” shouted Vacherin, slamming his fist down on his mahogany desk with ultimate force.
“Oh my God. I am so sorry,” said Roquefort, his head in his hands. “I shouldn’t have taunted ‘him’ like that. Anyway, one good thing has come out of my ramblings. At least you now know I am being serious.”
“Yes, I see.” Vacherin sat back in his Grassy Knoll Fatboy 4000 recliner and pondered the problem. Finally, he spoke.
"Before we go any further, I have something very, very important to tell you. It is vital that you understand what I am about to say. Your life may depend on it, let alone your career."
Roquefort leaned anxiously in to hear Vacherin's words.
"Wist u dat de laatste woorden van Adam Faith's waren: "Kanaal 5 is al shit, is niet het? Christus, crap die zij daar hebben gezet op. Het is een afval van ruimte."
The senior detective leaned back in his chair. A satisfied grin spread across his face. Roquefort scratched his head.
"Stop scratching my head Roquefort," sighed Vacherin. Roquefort withdrew his hand.
“Thank you," said Vacherin. "Where were we? Ah yes. I have it.”
"Oh for the love of Billy Dainty. Your problem, Roquefort."
“Oh yes. Sorry. The way you went into Dutch back there temporarily stunned me. Well?”
“Pun camp. A week of intensive training in the ways of the pun, with added seminars on jocular asides, unwanted tangents and assorted wordplay. There are assault courses and, naturally, a salt course at dinner. It’ll do you the power of good to be put through your paces. But watch the abseiling - it will leave your abs ailing.”
Roquefort winced. “Will there be pastry?”
“Don’t be so flaky Roquefort.”
“Sorry about that. I shall see to it that the finest pastries are at your disposal.”
“Bon. So where can I find this place?”
“If they build it, you will pun,” said Vacherin, enigmatically.
“That just doesn’t make any sense.”
“Forgive me Roquefort, I have only done the Introduction to Puns course we were all made to do when we signed up for this life. Where you are going it is much tougher. It is intense, and for part of the time you will be in tents. By the time they’ve finished with you will be an elite Punatrooper in the Humour Army, which as you know is commanded by General Hilarity. Alors, without the zut: by the time you have been through it, I think you'll feel refreshed. A new man. ready for new challenges. Capable of coping with 'him' and his idiot ways."
"Fine. Just tell me how I get there."
"Take a driver."
"Excellent, my very own chauffeur."
"No, I mean a golf club. They have a gorgeous nine-hole course at the camp."
Roquefort sighed. "Can we stop with the puns now?"
"Very well. But je demand visible results Roquefort. Comprendez? VISIBLE RESULTS."
Roquefort made his way to the door, pausing only to switch on the TV in the corner and select the French equivalent of Teletext (if it exists), go to the page with the latest football results and change the display to 'super big characters for the hard of seeing'.
Vacherin nodded in admiration. "You never said you had completed the Advanced Visual Punning module."
With a flourish Roquefort tossed the remote control to Vacherin, who fumbled it and let it drop to the floor. Roquefort smiled and moonwalked backwards out the door, into the elevator and thence on to the undeniably romance-heavy streets of Paris, the City of Light, on a blamy summer's day.
"Shouldn't that be 'balmy'?" shouted Vacherin, as he leaned precariously from his office window.
"No! This is all your fault," Roquefort shouted back, waving his fist in the air.
It was that kind of day.