The great detective closed the book, scratched his head and frowned. He had been reading the recorded details of one of the most famous cases in the history of crime, generally held to be a model for all to follow. A body, a witness and a confession, though not necessarily in that order. Then a burial and no talk of unsafe conviction. Indeed no talk of any conviction at all. It all fitted, yet it all seemed too neat.

 His method, if it could be called a method, was to take the facts one at a time, and drop them into what he considered to be his subconscious, then slowly and thoughtfully sipping a generous measure of smooth malt whisky, or sometimes just a mug of hot cocoa, drift away into a half-sleep where everything would swirl slowly around over and over again until a pattern appeared that could not be ignored. There it would be, the whole story, reassembled and either agreeing with the commonly accepted verdict, but occasionally not, and it was for these rare moments that he lived. So, as he settled in to the familiar warm mood, the facts came to parade themselves before him

“I said the sparrow, with my bow and arrow,

I killed Cock Robin”.

 Apparently an open and shut case. But why confess so readily? What was there to gain? Criminals often boast about their crimes, but usually only after the apparent culprit is safely locked away and there is no chance of a second trial. Here the consequence was likely to be a life-sentence, and a brief one at that. Coming from what he often considered (perhaps wrongly) to be an underprivileged background himself, how well he knew the type. Didn’t do well at school because he couldn’t see the point. Disorderly home. Mother shoddily dressed, leaning over the fence or out in the street chatting, always round at the neighbours borrowing this or that. Overcrowded house sadly lacking in culture, but full of affection. So what did he become? Eager to please, boastful, but not very good at anything and not even as tough as he would like to appear.

 Tight folk, of whom there were many in the neighbourhood, would be quite happy to think that he was never coming back.  But, and this is the real test of character, there were some who would miss him sadly. Even the smug, who might express for Cock Robin, feelings they never really held, would one day realise that some joy had been lost, although never admit the part they had played in his downfall.

 Here, it must be said, that the Detective knew something that most of his colleagues did not; to understand people you first have to like them. Only when you draw back the door-bolt of prejudice, will truth reveal itself. And although he relished the trappings of success, he saw clearly that, like everyone else, he was a soul in transit. The fine oak panelling of his study would pass to another soon enough. The consequence was that he could stand, as they say, man-to-man in front of rich and poor alike.

 Yes, that must be how it happened. Where others would see layabouts down at the pub laughing and boasting about their exploits, he saw good-hearted young men making their way and, at the back of the crowd one desperate to meet with any form of approval.

 Now he saw the officer detailed to take notes in the process of what they called “firming-up” the original ‘confession’, scratching away on his slate and others standing by trying to conceal that they were in fact leaning over the suspect and preparing to pluck out some of his pinion feathers, but not enough to be seen, in any inquiry, as anything other than the result of natural moulting. At the same time making him think that all it needed was a signature (an X in his case) and he would be free to go.

 So with a feeling of deep unease, his thoughts passed to the next, and indeed only other witness and here it is worth describing the one aspect of his method that more than anything else had been responsible for his vast  

reputation. As the image of each witness passed in front of him he imagined that their words were coming from his own mouth, that he was indeed them, seeing the world as they saw it.

“Who saw him die? I said the fly,

with my little eye, I saw him die!”

and there it was, but why had no one noticed before? What is a fly but a body with an oversize head, which is itself dominated by two enormous eyes. These words, or at least part of them, were ones no fly could ever use. Or were they? What do we know of those eyes. Those marvellously engineered compound eyes with their hundreds, if not thousands of lenses.

 Now it began to make sense. He was drifting away as the whisky gave the warm feeling of diffusing throughout his whole body. The bow-string was drawn back and released, but instead of an arrow, the roulette ball raced around the bowl, rising and falling and making that wonderful hard sound that is possibly the main source of pleasure to the sad souls around the table and the part of their addictive experiences which most strongly pulls them back to the gaming clubs.

 The wheel slowed so that the numbers red and black passed in front of him in rapid succession. Then it was all over. The ball came to rest on red and there it was, the sight through the compound eye. Hundreds of similar images. A bird with a red breast in each of countless rounded windows and in one of them it was dead. Again they swirled in front of his eyes and he saw the hard stare of the villain gloating over the corpse. But who was he? Not Cock Robin himself, but his double!

 Now a flashback to a nest on an old shelf in a shed whose roof and walls were in serious disrepair. Five mouths gaped open as the birds flew in and out. One returns with a large and especially tempting caterpillar. It seems to be about to give it to one of the fledglings, but then passes over to the one behind and the prize is gone. It is things like this, which may seem trivial to us, that are never forgotten and are the seeds for tragedy.

 Two young birds survived the most dangerous days after leaving the nest. As the weeks passed they began to lose their mottled juvenile plumage to gain the smart red breast feathers of the adult. Then it was time to leave the nest and set up homes of their own. Robins, perhaps more than any other bird, are ruthless in pursuit of their own territory and here the deadly seeds of jealousy had been sown much earlier. All it required was to see the sparrow with his weapon, an ungainly bird, with so little ability at concealment that it is small wonder he never hit any moving target, or come to that any still one, for the plan to form and one afternoon the deadly dart began its flight. And now,

“All the birds of the air were a sighing and a sobbing.”

 All but one, and all he had to do was to keep a cool head after the fall-guy, bursting with pride at his apparent success, had virtually given himself up. The journals do not record the verdict, or the sentence, but unless an extremely clever lawyer had been engaged to handle the defence, it was unlikely to have been anything less than first degree murder, with no possible mollifying excuse of crime passionelle and very little chance that it could be commuted to the lesser crime of bird-slaughter.

Who Killed Cock Robin?