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The newest murder mystery on the block

I mentioned in an earlier column that I was going to write a mystery novel when I retired from my day job. Well now is the hour. I’ve started the book. Since many of you loyal readers have been so supportive in your letters and emails, and since I know of your interest in the book, I will share with you from time to time excerpts from the book as they occur.

The novel is set at Auburn University, a major research university located in southeast Alabama in the city of Auburn. The book is a work of fiction and any similarity between the characters in the book and people you might actually know is purely a product of the most unlikely coincidence. Incidentally, I’m writing this column on the day after Auburn whupped up on Ole Miss in a hard fought Southeastern Conference football battle, so I don’t mind talking up the school. War Eagle.

What follows is the first few paragraphs of the book. I hope to leave you in such a heightened state of suspense that you can hardly wait for the next installment, or for that matter, the book. I suspect that as soon as it is published you will want to run to the nearest bookstore for your own personal copy.

Here it is.

The scream reverberated through all 10 floors of Haley Center. It started in the Dean’s office on the second floor and reached every classroom and faculty office in the large complex. Sarah Pinkston, the Dean’s secretary, was the screamer and the stimulus was the Dean himself, or his former self, Dr. Broderick H. Chapford, III, Ph.D., as he liked to refer to himself. Dean Chapford was lying on his expensive sofa, his face vividly purple and horribly distorted, with the head and neck of a peculiar looking duck shoved down his throat. A member of the wildlife faculty later identified the duck as a black-bellied whistling duck. After what seemed like 10 minutes of screaming Sarah quietly fainted away.

The campus police were the first peace officers to arrive at the scene. After carefully examining the body, one of the officers conjectured that fowl play was probably involved.

Auburn city police and six representatives of the Lee County Sheriff’s Department soon joined the campus cops. Three members of the FBI who were relatively permanent fixtures at Auburn were the last to show up. All agreed that Dean Chapford had likely died of unnatural causes and death was probably not self-inflected. Although dean Chapford was a vertebrate zoologist specializing in ducks, no one had ever seen him put one in his mouth.

Sarah Pinkston had discovered the body when she first arrived at the office around 7:45 that morning. She was questioned by representatives of all the law enforcement services on the premises. Sarah reported that the dean was in good spirits when she left the night before. He had just fired the head of the largest department in the College of Science and Literature and was very pleased with himself. He always enjoyed firing people, particularly competent people. There was a widespread belief that Dean Chapford was not among that group, i.e., competent people.

Sarah said as best as she could remember he was wearing a different suit than the one he had on yesterday so he must have gone home to change. He owned two suits, one brown and the other a greenish-blue, rather like the color of an emu egg. He was wearing the brown suit today. Yesterday he was wearing his emu egg suit. That bit of information helped nail down the time of death within a few hours.

During the questioning of Sarah Pinkston, a squabble broke out among the law officers—a squabble over jurisdiction. The campus police said they should be in charge because the crime occurred on their campus. The Auburn city police said the campus cops were not trained to deal with a crime of this significance. The sheriff’s department said it was a slow time of year for them so they would have more time to do a better job than any one else. Finally, the FBI folks said that a federal law had likely been broken and they would, of course, have to be in charge. The federal law in question was the Federal Migratory Bird Act. The FBI contended that someone had obviously killed a duck covered by the act and on that basis they claimed jurisdiction.

As is the case in most jurisdictional disputes, the fibbies won. All the other officers were relegated to a position of support personal.

It seemed a bit silly, but since the FBI’s claim for jurisdiction was based on a violation of the Federal Migratory Bird Act, the agency was forced to investigate the brutal murder of the black-bellied whistling duck as its first priority. The agents reasoned rather slyly that that whoever did in the duck probably did in the Dean as well.

There was some debate among the agents about whether or not they should start by trying to discover individuals who might have had a grudge against the duck or should they cut to the chase and try to come up with suspects that might have hated the dean. They soon discovered that far more people hated the dean than hated ducks.

Well there you have it—the first few paragraphs of the newest murder mystery on the block. Stay tuned for more mayhem, murder, and mystery in the sleepy little town of Auburn.