I have just killed a good friend of mine. It was immensely satisfying. I got him after a long and very irritating conversation we’d had about man-made global warming (my friend, James Heneage, is a believer, whereas I, as you know, am not) but that wasn’t my main motive. Rather, I did it because those were my orders. I had to kill James, in a red Land Rover, with a bar of soap.
If it sounds a bit like a game of Cluedo, that’s more or less what it was. Human Cluedo. Perhaps you’ve played it too, sometime over the summer. You need a fairly large house party of people who are going to be in the same place for several days, and at the beginning of their stay everyone has to write down their name, a murder weapon and a murder location. These are all then put into three hats and divided among the guests (who swap, obviously, if they end up picking their own name). Over the next few days, you have to bump off your victim before you are killed yourself. Once you’ve killed someone you inherit their murder mission.
But how to kill Heneage? Clearly he deserved to die (God how annoying it is when, over the course of 40 minutes, you have treated a man to a beautifully modulated, exquisitely argued, amply supported thesis as to why anthropogenic global warming is bunk, only to have him reply ‘I’ve never heard such piffle in all my life’), but he had to do so in a very specific way. It’s not easy to get a man out of a hot bath, into a red Land Rover that isn’t his, and then to pick up the bar of soap which will kill him the second he touches it. It requires a great deal of devious planning.
The reason it requires deviousness is, as you can imagine, for the duration of a game of Human Cluedo everyone becomes deeply suspicious of everyone else. Your hostess might announce: ‘Can everyone please take their wellies into the bothy so the porch doesn’t look a mess for our dinner guests.’ Or an eight-year-old boy might come up to you sweetly with a stuffed toy and say: ‘Please can you help me mend my fwog.’ And suddenly, you find yourself dead — and cursing your gullibility.
To complicate matters further, the more sophisticated players start operating double or treble bluffs. Girl, for example, did something of such Machiavellian sophistication for an eight-year-old that I am afeared she may not be my progeny after all but the spawn of Satan. Her task was to kill 13-year-old Xan with an apple by the gates to an outbuilding called the Steading. Quite impossible I should have said, but she managed it.
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