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April 30th, 2017

Insight

The case of the body that moved

Paul Greenberg

By Paul Greenberg

Published Feb. 16, 2016

(With apologies to Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot, Inspector Clouseau, Lt. Columbo, Dick Tracy, Charlie Chan and a whole cast of other fictional characters.)

He was dead. That much was certain.

"How can you tell?" asked Inspector Rathbone, adjusting the flaps on his deerstalker's cap and stoking his pipe with some ceremony. "Just because of the neat bullet hole in his forehead, the dagger sticking out of his chest, the wire cutters on the desk, leaving the dear departed clutching a dead receiver after the phone line went dead, the half-consumed bottle of sleeping pills, the blood-stained butcher knife in his right hand, the flattering obituary of himself he'd written for the morning papers. ... What could possibly lead you to believe our friend here has taken his own life?"

All circumstantial evidence, continued Inspector Rathbone. "Merely corroborative detail to give artistic verisimilitude to an otherwise bald and unconvincing narrative."

"It is the brain, the little gray cells on which one must rely," chimed in M. Poirot, brushing his mustache.

"Elementary, my dear Watson," offered Sherlock Holmes. "Just look at his shoes, still muddy after a walk on the moor. Listen and you can hear the Hound of the Baskervilles still baying. What more proof is needed?"

"Remember," added M. Clouseau, never at a loss: "There is a time to laugh and a time not to laugh, and this is one of those times."

Just then Lt. Columbo chose to make his unimpressive entrance, complete with wrinkled old overcoat, nubby pencil and ever-present notepad in hand. He interviewed all, prepared to leave, and then turned around. "One more t'ing," he added. "Why would our late friend kill himself when only the morning before he was making plans to attend a gala dinner in his honor?" The question hung in the air like a dead weight.


Just then a hawk-nosed character in a fedora, snap brim and all, passed by on the fringe of the gathering crowd. The whole place looked like some kind of trenchcoat sale by then. He already had a suspect in custody, whose appearance matched his face: Pruneface. It was the great Dick Tracy, who should have been proud of his catch, but already had the unsettling feeling that he would spend the rest of his fictive life crammed into a little box on the comic page.

Then came an authoritative voice like thunder out of the East, "The obvious solution to this case, which would never occur to No. 1 son, fool that he is, has escaped all the rest of you, too." It was Charlie Chan, complete with Fu Manchu mustache. "The answer to all your questions is quite simple, if you would only think about it. While you were all asleep, the butler entered the room, cleared it of all its old contents, and replaced them with exact duplicates, so your memory of the victim would be that of a hale and hearty friend, and no one would ever suspect he had been the victim of foul play."

Only now is it possible to pronounce the sweetest words of tongue or pen over the corpus delecti:

Case closed.

As for those of you who still entertain doubts, your humble servant would be most grateful if you kept them to yourselves, for why not leave bad enough alone?

Case closed.

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Paul Greenberg is the Pulitzer-winning editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

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