The Tragedy of Perception

A novel use for a truncheon

In which a policeman’s truncheon is used on Primrose Jones in a seemingly unconventional manner.

Primrose Jones was the chairperson of The Perception Residents’ Committee. She sat in her flat at 9B Festering Resentment Passage, waiting for Francis Meeke (the committee’s secretary) and Thomas Smithe to pick her up on their way to the MP’s house.

The most noticeable feature of Primrose’s home was her coffee table, which was piled high with back issues of her favourite magazine: The Vindictive Person’s Weekly Magazine of Hints and Tips on How Best to Get Your Own Back on Absolutely Anybody.

She sat on her sofa before the coffee table, holding the committee’s completed petition. She vindictively scrutinized its thickness and contemplated the joyous prospect of getting the constabulary back for their incompetence.

She recalled her one and only encounter with a police officer. He stopped her car, leant in her window and said, “Never mind the driving licence, madam, just lift your skirt for a moment while I try my truncheon out… Oh yes, no problem there; it’s a perfect fit. Right, on you go, madam!” Then he stood back and waved her on.

She thought this procedure odd at the time, specially that curious smirk he wore as he waved her on, but after a moment’s consideration she simply shrugged the incident off (—They are professionals, after all; they must know what they’re doing). But this experience, combined with all the other stories she heard while compiling the petition over the past two weeks—stories of the police rolling up their trouser legs and dancing in village duck ponds while singing. “Where, oh where have all the criminals gone,” and stories of them reversing road signs at crossroads and laughing at the frustration and worry scurrying about the faces of the misdirected motorists, chasing this way and that but unable to find their destination—all this left Primrose Jones in considerable doubt about their ability to apprehend the mass murderer. And on top of all this, when she read that day’s news, her malice towards the police become so great she found herself spraying the newspaper with (what, to the casual observer, might have looked like) an involuntary squirt of venom.

This latest news was leaked to The Perception Daily Chronicle that morning by a uniformed constable, one P.C. William Grass, who was working in Bright Spark House, the constabulary’s headquarters. He took a telephone message from an anonymous witness who gave a description of the murderer, and he placed the message in the in‑tray of a certain Detective Sergeant Humbug (whom we shall have the pleasure of being fully informed about later).

But after carefully considering the matter, the constable decided to leak the description to the press (if only because his name was “Will Grass”—he could think of no other reason, but nonetheless, that was good enough for him), so he phoned The Perception Daily Chronicle’s star reporter, Ivor Longnose, and gave him the description, which was that of a middle‑aged, blonde woman.

This was printed in the early‑evening edition of that day’s paper. And Primrose, a few moments ago, on reading this description, found herself (as I have said) spraying her venom over the newspaper (—Incompetence, that’s what it is, twenty‑one murders and they’re looking for a woman—ha—simpletons! that’s what they are).

She sat on her sofa, clenching her fists vindictively round the petition and eyeing all those back issues of her favourite weekly magazine.

The doorbell rang and she stood—still clutching the petition—and crossed vindictively to the door. She opened it and found a frail, white‑haired old woman standing there in a white lab coat. The woman was carrying a wire basket—which was laden with test tubes—slung over her arm like a shopping basket and had an alarming look of urgency about her. She came darting in through the door, pushing passed Primrose while chanting, “Cogitation! Cogitation!—where is it?”

Her eyes darted round the flat, then she hurried—rattling all the way—over to the goldfish bowl, fiddled inside it with her implements, put a test tube back into her basket, then rattled back over to the door, when Thomas (whom Primrose noticed was limping) and Francis arrived at the door and stood there in the doorway. The white‑haired woman bustled through them all, chanting, “Cogitation! Cogitation!” and then vanished clean away, like some elusive apparition that was eternally sought after but remained ultimately ungraspable.

Thomas and Francis looked quizzically at Primrose, who shrugged back at them, then the three of them made their way down to Francis’s car (Thomas having left his car parked near to Francis’s house, it being so painful to drive with his wounded foot), and they set off for the MP’s house to deliver their attack on the constabulary.

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