Back when I was teaching Legal English at the University of Leiden, I once had to draft and supervise a resit for two students. My colleague and mentor has always maintained that teaching is a lot more successful if done with humour, so I decided to make this resit a little unusual, and a lot more fun than an ordinary resit would be.
I decided to write them an original case for their questions on English law, and the result was this cliché-ridden, unfinished contemporary American crime/detective story in film noir style and set around the 1950s. It had my students thinking hard, and possibly laughing harder.
The exam questions were basic questions on mortgage vs. hypotheek, contract, the legal profession, mens rea, criminal procedure, divorce, coroner’s court, wills and probate, trust, tort, and criminal prosecution.
After they had finished the exam, they wanted to know how the tale of mystery, murder and theft ended. I had to tell them I didn’t yet know myself. I suppose maybe one of these days I should see if I can finish it.
I present, for your amusement: Dick Snoop and the Case of the Lost Locket.
The Case of the Lost Locket
My name on the door. I was officially in business.
I had just set up shop on the fourth floor of an old delapidated building on 39th Street. The rent was steep, but so were the stairs – I accepted it as a fact of life. Bottom line: my venture had to be legit; the only people better than me at snoopin’ around in someone else’s business were the IRS and I didn’t need them on my case while I was workin’ on somebody else’s. At least I hadn’t had to take a mortgage – that way I would’ve had the bank on my case as well and you know what they say: two’s company, three’s a crowd. I can hear you thinking: if you’re renting you gotta have a landlord. Well, he don’t exactly count as a person. He’s got more in common with a cockroach … a very rich cockroach.
This was my first morning in my new office. After thirty years of frustrating police work and a Captain breathing down my neck, I decided it was time to strike out on my own. I was just about to drink the hot coffee I had picked up on my way to work when there was a cool knock on the door. I said I was open for business and the door creaked when it swung inward.
The minute she walked into my office, I knew she was trouble: with legs up to there and lips redder than the fire truck I need so badly to put out the flames that were licking at my heart. She walked slowly up to my desk. I gestured for her to sit down but she declined. Instead she leaned over my desk and looked me straight in the eye. She said huskily: “I need your help. The police think I murdered my husband.”
I wasn’t surprised, her looks were lethal.
“And why do they think that?” I asked her.
“They found my letter opener sticking out of his chest.”
“Honey,” I said, “You need a lawyer.”
“The coroner said it was murder,” she said.
“Smart man, the coroner,” I replied. “Go on.”
What she said next didn’t make things any better.
“The bastard was cheating on me…”
“Who? The coroner?”
She said nothing for a moment while I mentally slapped myself.
“Right, your husband.”
“I told him I wanted a divorce, but he wouldn’t give it to me. My family’s rich, and in case of a divorce he gets nothing. My late father made that provision in his will. He’d set up a trust fund for me. My late husband couldn’t touch a cent unless I gave it to him.”
I wanted to hear more, so I just sat and waited. She sat down. She had tears in her eyes, but it didn’t impress me. If a dame cries, especially one that looks like that, that means she’s trying to sell you something.
“Naturally, from the moment I found out I never gave him another cent,” she continued.
“Naturally,” I replied.
“But he found other ways to get money from me.” She got up and started unbuttoning her jacket, I was startled but I didn’t say anything. I just sat and waited. She was wearing something under it with no sleeves and a low neck. I liked the view but I didn’t like the scenery: there were bruises on her arms and shoulders and there was a deep red cut around her neck. She looked at her arms. “That’s where he grabbed me.” Then she reached round her neck. “And that’s where he tore off my necklace.”
She put her jacket back on and sat down again. “The locket on that necklace was very precious to me. I want it back. And I want you to prove that I didn’t murder my husband.”
She got up again and looked at me before she turned to walk out of my office. At the door she turned around. “And I didn’t murder him, Mr. Snoop.” She reached for the door.
“Wait!” I called after her. “How do I find you?”
She cocked an eyebrow. “Read the papers, Mr. Snoop.”
The door closed, and she was gone.