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DEATH IS NOW MY NEIGHBOUR BY COLIN DEXTER.

PROLEGOMENON

January, 1996

A decided boon, therefore, are any multiple-choice items for those pupils in our classrooms who are either inured to idleness, or guilty of wilful ignorance. Such pupils, if simply and appropriately instructed, have only to plump for the same answer on each occasion - let us say, choice (a) from choices (a) (b) (c) (d) - in order to achieve a reasonably regular score of some 25% of the total marks available. This is a wholly satisfactory return for academic incompetence

(Crosscurrents in Assessment Criteria: Theory and Practice, HMSO, 1983)

'WHAT TIME DO you call this, Lewis?'

'The missus's fault. Not like her to be late with the breakfast.'

Morse made no answer as he stared down at the one remaining unsolved due:

'Stand for soldiers? (5-4)'

Lewis took the chair opposite his chief and sat waiting for some considerable while, leafing through a magazine.

'Stuck, sir?' he asked finally.

COLIN DEXTER

'If I was - if I were - I doubt I'd get much help from you.'

"You never know,' suggested Lewis good-naturedly. 'Perhaps-'

'Ah!' burst out Morse triumphantly - as he wrote in TOASTRACK. He folded The Times away and beamed across at his sergeant

"You - are - a - genius, Lewis.'

'So you've often told me, sir.'

'And I bet you had a boiled egg for breakfast - with soldiers. Am I right?'

'What's that got-?'

'What are you reading there?'

Lewis held up the tide page of his magazine.

'Lew-is! There are more important things in life than the Thames Valley Police Gazette.'

'Just thought you might be interested in one of die articles here ...'

Morse rose to the bait. 'Such as?'

'There's a sort of test - you know, see how many points you can score: ARE YOU REALLY WISE AND CULTURED?'

'Very doubtful in your case, I should think.'

"You reckon you could do better than I did?'

'Quite certain of it.'

Lewis grinned. 'Quitecertain, sir?'

'Absolutely.'

'Want to have a go, then?' Lewis's moudi betrayed gende amusement as Morse shrugged his indifference.

'Multiple-choice questions - you know all about-?'

'Get on with it!'

DEATH IS NOW MY NEIGHBOUR

'All you've got to do is imagine the world's going to end in exactly one week's time, OK? Then you've got to answer five questions, as honestly as you can.'

'And you've already answered these questions yourself?'

Lewis nodded.

'Well, if you can answer them ... Fire away!'

Lewis read aloud from the article:

Question One

Given the choice of only four CDs or cassettes, which one of the following would you be likely to play at least once?

(a) A Beatles album

(b) Faure's Requiem

(c) An Evening with Victor Borge

(d) The complete overtures to Wagner's operas

With a swift flourish, Morse wrote down a letter.

Question Two

Which of these videos would you want to watch?

(a) Casablanca (the film)

(b) England's World Cup victory (1966)

(c) Copenhagen Red-Hot Sex (2 hours)

(d) The Habitat of the Kingfisher (RSPB)

A second swift flourish from Morse.

Question Three

With which of the following women would you wish to spend some, if not all, of your surviving hours?

COLIN DEXTER

(a) Lady Thatcher

(b) Kim Basinger

(c) Mother Teresa

(d) Princess Diana

A third swift flourish.

Question Four

If you could gladden your final days with one of the following, which would it be?

(a) Two dozen bottles of vintage champagne

(b) Five hundred cigarettes

(c) A large bottle of tranquillizers

(d) A barrel of real ale

Flourish number four, and the candidate (confident of imminent success, it appeared) sat back in the black-leather armchair.

Question Five

Which of the following would you read during this period?

(a) Cervantes' Don Quixote

(b) Dante's The Divine Comedy

(c) A bound volume of Private Eye (1995)

(d) Homer's Iliad

This time Morse hesitated some while before writing on the pad in front of him. "You did the test yourself, you say?'

Lewis nodded. 'Victor Borge; the football; Princess

DEATH IS NOW MY NEIGHBOUR

Diana; the champagne; and Private Eye. Just hope Princess Di likes Champers, that's all.'

'There must be worse ways of spending your last week on earth,' admitted Morse.

'I didn't do so well, though - not on the marking. I'm not up diere among the cultured and the wise, I'm afraid.'

'Did you expect to be?'

'Wouldn't you?'

'Of course.'

'Let's hear what you picked, then.'

'My preferences, Lewis' (Morse articulated his words with precision) 'were as follows: (b); (c); (b); (c); none of them.'

Turning to the back page, Lewis reminded himself of the answers putanvely adjudged to be correct

'I don't believe it,' he whispered to himself. Then, to Morse: "You scored the maximum!'

'Are you surprised?'

Lewis shook his head in mild bewilderment

"You chose, what, the Requiem?'

'Well?'

'But you've never believed in all that religious stuff.'

'It's important if it's true, though, isn't it' Let's just say it's a bit like an insurance policy. A beautiful work, anyway.'

'Says here: "Score four marks for (b). Sufficient recommendation that it was chosen by three of the last four Popes for their funerals."'

Morse lifted his eyebrows. *You didn't know that''

COLIN DEXTER

Lewis ignored the question and continued:

"Then you chose the sex video!'

'Well, it was either that or the kingfisher. I've already seen Casablanca a couple of times - and no one's ever going to make me watch a football match again.'

'But I mean, a sex video ...'

Morse, however, was clearly unimpressed by such obvious disapprobation. 'It'd be the choice of those three Popes as well, like as not'

'But it all gets - well, it gets so plain boring after a while.'

'So you keep telling me, Lewis. And all I'm asking is the chance to get as bored as everybody else. I've only got a week, remember.'

'I like your next choice, though. Beautiful girl, Kim Basinger. Beautiful'

'Something of a toss-up, that - between her and Mother Teresa. But I'd already played the God-card.'

'Then' (Lewis considered the next answer) 'Arrghh, come off it, sir! You didn't even go for the beer! You're supposed to answer these questions honestly.'

'I've already got plenty of booze in,' said Morse. 'Certainly enough to see me through to Judgment Day. And I don't fancy facing the Great Beyond with a blinding hangover. It'll be a new experience for me -tranquillizers...'

Lewis looked down again, and proceeded to read out the reasons for Morse's greatest triumph. 'It says here, on Question Five, "Those choosing any of the suggested titles are clearly unfit for high honours. If any choice

DEATH IS NOW MY NEIGHBOUR

whatsoever is made, four marks will therefore be deducted from the final score. If the answer is a timid dash - or similar - no marks will be awarded, but no marks will be deducted. A more positively negative answer - e.g. 'Come off it!' - will be rewarded with a bonus of four marks."' Again Lewis shook his head. 'Nonsense, isn't it? "Positively negative", I mean.'

     

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