42

By Ian Rankin

So there are these two cops.

They’re in a bar half a dozen streets away from the station. There’s a place nearer, but they never use it. ‘Clients’ drink there sometimes. They use this place instead. I’m calling them Jones and Smith. Jones carries the first round to the table in the corner.

‘Go on then,’ Smith reminds him.

‘What?’

‘Forty-two. You were going to tell me why.’

‘Why what?’ Jones is sitting down now.

‘Why forty-two days? Why not thirty-nine or fifty-six?’

‘Secret of the universe, mate. Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.’

‘Yeah, I know, but really…’

Jones wipes a line of foam from his lip. ‘Six weeks, innit? Six times seven.’

‘So?’

‘So we’ve got them in our tender care for six whole weeks. Time enough to work out what’s going on.’

‘And what precisely is going on.’

Jones shrugs. ‘Whatever it is, it’ll be written in Arabic or Katmandi or Sod-Knows-What. Takes time to work out all those squiggles. Then there’s the files, computer-disks.’ Jones looks up at his colleague. ‘Know your way around a hard-drive, do you, Smithy? It all takes time.’

‘And you’re saying it takes six weeks… max?’

‘Powers that be say so. Nothing to do with thee and me.’ He leans forward, elbows pressed against the table. ‘End of the day, they’re ours for six whole weeks. Plenty of time to let them know what we know.’

‘And what do we know?’

‘I’ll tell you when the time’s up. You drinking that pint or dating it?’

Smith lifts his drink. He does not look satisfied.

It is now eighteen minutes to seven - six forty-two. Detective Sergeant Jones is forty-two years old. There are forty-two steps from the station’s reception area to the top floor where the brass live. Twenty-one peanuts in each of the two bags Smith (married) will eventually fetch from the barmaid he fancies. Coincidence, that’s all. No rationale behind any of it.