In the year 2010 a French astronaut, one of an international space team from the Federated States of Europe, becomes the first man to be murdered on the moon. Retired detective-superintendent Andrew Dalziel and Peter Pascoe are required to investigate. The author also wrote Bones and Silence.
About the Author
Reginald Hill (1936-2012) was an English crime writer best known for his Dalziel and Pascoe series. He began the series in 1970 with the book A Clubbable Woman; he would go on to write two dozen books in the series, which would later be adapted by the BBC. In 1995 he was awarded the Crime Writers' Association Cartier Diamond Dagger for Lifetime Achievement. The last book he published before his death was 2010's The Woodcutter.
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The first man to land on the moon was Neil Armstrong on July 20th, 1969. As he stepped off the module ladder, he said, 'One small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.'
The first man to be murdered on the moon was Emile Lemarque on May 14th, 2010. As he fell off the module ladder, he said, 'Oh mer —'
There were two hundred and twenty-seven million witnesses.
One of these was ex-Detective-Superintendent Andrew Dalziel who was only watching because the battery of his TV remote control had failed. What he really wanted to see was his favourite episode of Star Trek on the Nostalgia Channel. By comparison, Michelin-men bouncing dustily over lunar slag heaps made very dull viewing, particularly with the Yanks and Russkis leapfrogging each other to the edge of the solar system. But the Federated States of Europe had waited a long time for their share of space glory and the Euro Channel had been ordered to give blanket coverage.
In the UK this met with a mixed response, and not just from those who preferred Star Trek. Britain's decision to opt out of the Federal Space Programme had always been controversial. During the years when it appeared the Programme's best hope of reaching the moon was via a ladder of wrecked rockets, the antis had smiled complacently and counted the money they were saving. But now the deed was done, the patriotic tabloids were demanding to know how come these inferior foreigners were prancing around in the Greatest Show Off Earth with no UK involvement whatever, unless you counted the use of English as the expedition's lingua franca? Even this was regarded by some as a slight, reducing the tongue of Shakespeare and Thatcher to a mere tool, like Esperanto.
But all most True Brits felt when they realized their choice of channels had been reduced from ninety-seven to ninety-six was a vague irritation which Andy Dalziel would probably have shared had he been able to switch over manually. Unfortunately he was confined to bed by an attack of gout, and irritation rapidly boiled into rage, especially as his visiting nurse, who had retired to the kitchen for a recuperative smoke, ignored all his cries for help. It took a violent splintering explosion to bring her running, white-faced, into the bedroom.
Dalziel was sinking back into his pillows, flushed with the effort and the triumph of having hurled his useless remote control through the telly screen.
'Now look what you've made me do,' he said. 'Don't just stand there. Fetch me another set. I'm missing Star Trek.'
It took three days for it to emerge that what the two hundred and twenty-seven million witnesses had seen wasn't just an unhappy accident but murder.
Till then, most of the UK press coverage had been concerned with interpreting the dead man's possibly unfinished last words. The favourite theory was that Oh mer ... was simply oh mère, a dying man's appeal to his mother, though the Catholic Lozenge stretched this piously to Oh mère de Dieu. When it was suggested that a life member of the Société Athéiste et Humaniste de France (Lourdes branch) would be unlikely to trouble the Virgin with his dying breath, the Lozenge tartly retorted that history was crammed with deathbed conversions. The Jupiter, whose aged owner ascribed his continued survival to just such a conversion during his last heart attack, showed its sympathy for this argument by adopting Camden's couplet in its leader headline — BETWIXT THE MODULE AND THE GROUND, MERCY HE ASKED, MERCY HE FOUND. The Defender, taking this literally, suggested that if indeed Lemarque had been going to say Oh merci, this was less likely to be a plea for divine grace than an expression of ironic gratitude, as in, 'Well, thanks a bunch for bringing me so far, then chopping me off at the knees!' The Planet meanwhile had torpedoed the oh mère theory to its own satisfaction by the discovery that Lemarque's mother was an Algerian migrant worker who had sold her unwanted child to a baby farm with many evil results, not the least of which was the Planet's headline — WOG DOG FLOGGED FROG SPROG. Ultimately the child had come into the hands of a Lourdes couple who treated him badly and never took him to the seaside (the Planet's italics), persuading the editor that this poor deprived foreigner had reverted to infancy in the face of annihilation and was once again pleading to be taken au mer. Chortling with glee, the Intransigent pointed out that mer was feminine and congratulated the Planet on now being illiterate in two languages. Then it rather surrendered its superior position by speculating that, coming from Lourdes, Lemarque might have fantasized that he was falling into the famous healing pool and started to cry, Eau merveilleux!
It took the staid Autograph to say what all the French papers had agreed from the start — that Lemarque was merely exclaiming, like any civilized Gaul in a moment of stress, Oh merde!
But it was the Spheroid who scooped them all by revealing under the banner CASE OF THE EXPIRING FROG! that the Eurofed Department of Justice was treating Lemarque's death as murder.
Even Dalziel's attention was engaged by this news. For weeks the Current Affairs Channel had been stagnant with speculation about the new German Question. Two things had happened since the euphoria of the early 'nineties when a reunified Germany had agreed to a continued, though diminishing, Soviet presence in the East and US presence in the West. First, the hardliners had regained control in Moscow and glasnost was dead. Secondly, the new Germany had become increasingly irritated with its military guests and increasingly fretful over certain of its frontiers. So now, in the kind of simplification so beloved of the media, the stark choice facing the Great Powers was either to withdraw and let Europe resolve its own destiny, or to advance and confront each other once again along the old pre-1990 boundary.
All this Dalziel found rather less enthralling than non-alcoholic lager. But a murder on the moon had a touch of originality which set his nerve ends tingling, particularly when it emerged that the man most likely to be in charge of the case was the UK Commissioner in the Eurofed Justice Department, none other than his old friend and former colleague, Peter Pascoe.
'I taught that lad everything he knows,' he boasted as he watched Pascoe's televised press conference from Strasbourg.
'Lad?' snorted Miss Montague, his new nurse, who could snatch and press her own considerable weight and whose rippling muscles filled Dalziel with nostalgic lust. 'He looks almost as decrepit as you!'
Dalziel grunted a promise of revenge as extreme, and as impotent, as Lear's, and turned up the sound on his new set.
Pascoe was saying, 'In effect, what was at first thought to be a simple though tragic systems failure resulting in a short circuit in the residual products unit of his TEC, that is Total Environment Costume, sometimes called lunar suit, appears after more detailed examination by American scientists working in the US lunar village, for the use of whose facilities may I take this chance to say we are truly thankful, to have been deliberately induced.'
For a moment all the reporters were united in deep incomprehension. The man from the Onlooker raised his eyebrows and the woman from the Defender lowered her glasses; some scribbled earnestly as if they understood everything, others yawned ostentatiously as if there were nothing to understand. Dalziel chortled and said, 'The bugger doesn't get any better.' But it took the man from the Spheroid to put the necessary probing question —'You wha'?'
Patiently Pascoe resumed. 'Not to put too fine a point on it, and using layman's language, the micro-circuitry of the residual products unit of his TEC had been deliberately cross-linked with both the main and the reserve power systems in such a manner that it needed only the addition of a conductive element, in this case liquescent, to complete the circuit with unfortunate, that is, fatal, consequences.'
Now the reporters were united in a wild surmise. The Onlooking eyebrows were lowered, the Defending spectacles raised. But once again it was the earnest seeker of enlightenment from the Spheroid who so well expressed what everyone was thinking. 'You mean he pissed himself to death?'
Dalziel laughed so much he almost fell out of bed, though the nurse noted with interest that some internal gyroscope kept his brimming glass of Lucozade steady in his hand. Recovering, he downed the drink in a single gulp and, still chuckling, listened once more to his erstwhile underling.
Pascoe was explaining, 'While there would certainly be a severe shock, this was not of itself sufficient to be fatal. But the short circuit was induced in such a way as to drain completely and immediately all power from the TEC, cutting dead all systems, including the respiratory unit. It was the shock that made him fall. But it was the lack of oxygen that killed him, before the dust had started to settle.'
This sobered the gathering a little. But newsmen's heartstrings vibrate less plangently than their deadlines and soon Pascoe was being bombarded with questions about the investigation, which he fielded so blandly and adroitly that finally Dalziel switched off in disgust.
'What's up?' asked Miss Montague. 'I thought you taught him everything he knows.'
'So I did,' said Dalziel. 'But one thing I could never teach the bugger was how to tell reporters to sod off!'
He poured himself another glass of Lucozade. The nurse seized the bottle and raised it to her nostrils.
'I think this has gone off,' she said.
'Tastes all right to me,' said Dalziel. 'Try a nip.'
Miss Montague poured herself a glass, raised it, sipped it delicately.
'You know,' she said thoughtfully, 'you could be right.'
'I usually am,' said Dalziel. 'Cheers!'
At nine that night the telephone rang.
'This is a recording,' said Dalziel. 'If you want to leave a message, stick it in a bottle.'
'You sound very jolly,' said Pascoe.
'Well, I've supped a lot of Lucozade,' said Dalziel, looking at the gently snoring figure of Nurse Montague on the sofa opposite. 'What's up?'
'Just a social call. Did you see me on the box?'
'I've got better things to do than listen to civil bloody servants being civil and servile,' growled Dalziel.
'Oh, you did see it, then. That's what we call diplomatic language out here in the real world,' said Pascoe.
'Oh aye. Up here it's called soft soap and it's very good for enemas.'
Pascoe laughed and said, 'All right, Andy. I never could fool you, could I? Yes, this whole thing has got a great crap potential. To start with, we reckon the Yanks deliberately leaked their suspicion of foul play to bounce us into letting them take full control of the investigation. Now, we're not terribly keen on that idea.'
'Oh aye? Don't they have jurisdiction anyway?'
'Certainly not. Space is international by UN treaty. But they're established up there with all the facilities, so on the surface it's a generous, neighbourly offer, only ... Look, it's a bit complicated ...'
'Come on, lad, I'm not quite gaga and I do read the papers still,' snarled Dalziel. 'It's this German business, isn't it? Lots of people, especially the Yanks, think it'd be daft to remove all control from the Krauts. Some 'cos they reckon after ein Volk and ein Reich, it's not a big step to ein Führer. Some 'cos they reckon that hotting up the Cold War's the best way of getting them big defence dollars rolling again. And some 'cos they've believed all along that all that 1990 did was put a big red rump on NATO!'
'I don't quite see —' began Pascoe.
'Don't go all diplomatic on me, lad. You've not got the eyebrows for it. I'll spell it out, shall I? The Yanks' preferred option is more troops and bases in Germany even if it means seeing the brickies back on the Wall again. But they know they can't manage this without Eurofed backing. Their best bet for support there is France — typical of the Frogs, no one knows which way they're going to jump. But one thing's for sure, it'll be emotion not logic that sets them hopping.
'Us Brits on the other hand are famous for our rationality, and because the Yanks have banned all British supporters from the World Cup Finals in Florida, we'll bust a gut to get them buggers chucked out of Germany!
'But the Frogs hold the key. Which means, anything that gets them and the Krauts at each other's goolies just now will look like very good news to the Yanks and lousy news to us.
'Conclusion. The Americans have elected the German crew member number one suspect, and you reckon any investigation they mount will make bloody sure that's where the finger points. How's that for a bit of close political analysis?'
'Marvellous,' breathed Pascoe admiringly. 'Who speaks so well should never speak in vain.'
'I don't know about in vain, but I do prefer in plain English. So what have they got on this German, then?'
There was a long pause.
'Come on, lad,' said Dalziel. 'They must have a pretty good case against him, else you'd not be so worried.'
'Yes, they do. But it's not ... Look, Andy. I'm sorry, but the thing is, security. You're not cleared for this. It's a need-to-know classification and the only people who need to know outside of government are the investigating officers. So I really can't tell you any more. Not unless I appointed you an investigating officer!'
He said this with a light dismissive laugh, but Dalziel had had many years' experience of interpreting Pascoe's light laughs.
'All right, lad,' he said softly. 'What's going off? Spit it out and make it quick, else this phone goes back down so hard it'll need a jemmy to prise it back up.'
'There's no fooling you, is there, Andy?' said Pascoe. 'OK. Straight it is. I've been asked to take charge of the case, not because I'm the best, but because I'm not French, German, Spanish, Italian, Dutch, Danish or Irish. Meaning none of the countries actually involved in the Europa's mission will trust any of the others to give them a fair deal! They've given me a free hand. They've also given me four days to get a result.'
'The truth, Andy,' said Pascoe heavily. 'That's the result I'm looking for.'
'Only asking,' said Dalziel. 'So how come you're wasting time talking to a clapped-out candidate for the boneyard?'
'Andy, I need eyes and I need a nose. All right, I know I could have any of the Yard's top men for the asking. Only, nowadays they get to the top by being on top of the technology and that's no use to me here. Technology's a two-way ticket. If you live by it, you can be fooled by it. Also the Yard's best will still be on the way up. Europe's wide open to an ambitious man nowadays. But ambitious men need to tread carefully, else when their names come up for advancement there can be more vetoes in the air than flies round a dustbin. So what I need is a seat-of- the-pants copper with a bloodhound's nose, who's got nothing to lose or to gain, and who doesn't give a tuppenny toss about any bugger. I fed this data into my computer and it let out a huge burp. So I picked up the phone and I rang you, Andy. What do you say?'
'You cheeky sod!' exclaimed Dalziel. 'I say you must be off your trolley! My nose is so out of practice I can hardly tell Orkney from Islay. As for seat-of-the- pants, I've been stuck in bed with gout for nigh on a fortnight, and I don't want no jokes either.'
'Who's laughing? Andy, what you clearly need is a place where you won't have to worry about putting pressure on your foot, and I can help you there.'
'Hold on,' said Dalziel. 'I didn't quite get that. This must be a bad line. You are talking about bringing the Europa's crew back to Earth for investigation, aren't you? Well, aren't you?'
'Andy!' said Pascoe reprovingly. 'First thing you taught me was, good investigation starts at the scene of the crime. And anyway, you always expected the moon from me. So how can you turn me down now that I'm finally offering it to you?'CHAPTER 2
Space travel weren't so bad after all, thought Andy Dalziel. It put him in mind of an occasion half a century ago when he'd supped about twenty pints and ended up on his back in a rowing boat drifting slowly down the cut, looking up at a midnight sky, heavy and dark as a nautch-girl's tits, all studded with a thousand stars.
He should have realized how easy it must be when Pascoe told him the Yanks had dumped a minority party senator and his wife to make room for them on their state-of-the-art lunar shuttle which had been ferrying distinguished visitors to the moon for half a decade. But he'd still been protesting even as Pascoe urged him into the soft yielding couch.
'What's going off?' he demanded in alarm. 'This thing's trying to feel me up!'(Continues…)
Excerpted from "One Small Step"
Copyright © 1990 Estate of Reginald Hill.
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