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Tea and a Quickie with Aggie


Journal of Inspector G. Lestrade
Mrs Miniver’s Bunk-Up
Dolphin Cove

Having spent most of the last twelve hours in the company of a most interesting woman, I am now back in my room, taking the opportunity to update my journal on recent events.

Since the Watsons departed for the island, I had begun to regret my decision to remain in Dolphin Cove. Though I’d agreed to report back to Holmes on the post-mortem of Mister Marston and related matters, I failed to appreciate the foolhardiness of staying at Mrs Miniver’s Bunk-Up in the village. Having been advised by that same lady’s niece that the aforementioned lodging-house is held in the highest regard in this locality, I soon learned this fact has less to do with Mrs Miniver’s ability to deliver the requisite services usually provided at such establishments, and more to do with her penchant for climbing into her guests beds of a night-time. So far, I have been the victim of roaming fingers, an extraordinarily long and inquisitive tongue and an inclination to indulge in the local nightly pastime of ‘fisting’.

I should point out that although this latter practice has been mentioned several times by my hostess, with the explanation that it is the ‘ultimate delight’ for many of her male lodgers, I have not as yet been on the receiving end, so to speak. Following her rather detailed description of the activity, I made it quite clear I would not be a party to such deviant practices and if she attempted to realise such an act, she would find herself in very hot water indeed.

However, I digress.

Yesterday morning I determined to follow up on one of the suggestions put to me by Holmes before he departed for the island, and it was with this objective in mind that I made the journey to Greenway House in Devon in a little under an hour, thanks to the generosity of Sherlock’s brother Mycroft, and the provision of one of his flying contraptions. (I don’t mind admitting that the experience of being whisked into the air at great speed, surrounded by pounding pistons and hissing steam, scared me half to death and I was only too glad to reach my destination and clamber down from the infernal machine.)

A chap in a butler’s outfit greeted me on the lawn and led the way up to the house. One of Mycroft’s minions had alerted the lady in question to my imminent arrival and I was gratified to learn she had proffered no objections to my visit.

The house is quite magnificent, and I confess to feeling somewhat overawed by its daunting immensity and the sheer bloody opulence of the furnishings.

The butler chappie spoke kindly to me as we crossed the great hall, advising that The Mistress would be delighted to meet me, so long as I made no attempt to persuade her to divulge the plot of her latest book – currently titled An Excruciatingly Painful Murder is Announced.

“Ah,” said Miss Christie, rising from her chair, “Inspector Lestrade. How the buggering hell are you?”

I blinked at this unexpected use of colloquialisms, but took her hand and shook it firmly.

“I ‘ope you ain’t gonner find my questions objectionable, Miss Christie, but a copper ‘as ter do what he ‘as to do, eh?”

“Bloody good show, Inspector,” she said, waving me into a seat by the window. Dragging her own chair across the carpet in order to sit opposite me, she plonked herself down heavily and spread her legs wide, in a rather mannish manner.

“Hope you don’t mind the plus fours,” she said, brushing a hand down her tweeds. “Stops the servants looking at my snatch.”

When I’d finished coughing, I pulled out my notebook and stared at it until the blood had once again drained from my face. “Right, then, Miss er…”

“Call me Aggie. Everyone does,” she said, with a snort.

“Right,” I said again. “Now I ‘ave ter tell yer that the private investigators Messrs Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson are involved in a case what I am also examining, so…”

“Oh, jolly good,” she erupted, rubbing her hands together gleefully. “Love a nice bloody murder.” Her face went serious and she leaned forward, eagerly. “There has been a murder, has there?”

“There has, Miss, er, Aggie. The victim is one Mister Marston.”

At this, the famous novelist sat back, rubbing her chin. “Marston, you say? That’s interesting.”

“Yes, and that’s what I was wantin ter talk to yer about.” I hesitated, unsure how to continue.

“Don’t tell me, “she said with a sly smile. “It’s a copy-cat killer.” She leaned forward again and squeezed my knee. “I’m bloody right, aren’t I?”

“Actually, yes. Mister Holmes was of the opinion that someone may be replicating the murders in your novel, And Then There Were None, though if yer ask me, I fink it’s all a bit far-fetched.”

Agatha gazed out of the window, her mouth slightly open. “I wonder…”

“Although, to be fair,” I continued, “so far there ‘as been only one murder.”

“Mister Marston. Hmmm.” She nodded. “Yes, but Holmes expects there to be more, in fact I wouldn’t mind betting twenty bloody quid that another one has already occurred.”

“Well, I don’t know about that, Miss…”

“Sequential Killers rarely hang about, you know. Best nip this one in the bud, before he or she does it again, eh?”

“Exactly.” Glancing at my notebook, I steeled myself for the next question. “Now, I was wonderin…that is, Mister Holmes was wonderin, if you yourself had, by any strange coincidence, in recent days, visited a place called Huge Island. Or perhaps Dolphin Cove?” Licking my lips, I watched her face for any tell-tale sign of guilt.

“Well now, Inspector,” said she, a crafty smile sliding across her thin face. “If I was the murderer, pretending to follow the plot of a highly successful and very well received crime novel, I’d most likely also pretend to be the author herself.” She winked at me. “Wouldn’t you?”

“Oh, I might, I suppose,” I stuttered. “Though…”

“Yes, Inspector?”

“Well, Mister Holmes and me, we was wonderin, if that is indeed the murderer’s intention – pretending to be you, I mean – how might an individual do that in practice?”

She shrugged. “If it were me, then obviously I would just be me. But if the murderer were someone else, then he or she would simply wear a mask.”

With a sudden spurt of energy, she leaped out of her chair and slapped her thigh. “Now, d’you fancy tea and scones before we go for a quickie?”

“Erm…a quickie?”

“A round of golf, dear. What’d you think I meant – a fuck?” And with that, she collapsed into gales of laughter before ringing the bell for tea.

 
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Posted by on May 11, 2019 in Detective Fiction

 

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The Corpse, the Mask and the Novelist


The Diary of Mary Watson (Mrs)

As Johnny ran around alerting the others, I hurried downstairs to stand by the door. We had quickly decided that whoever was responsible might still be outside, in which case the exact whereabouts of the remaining guests was of the utmost importance. I could hear Johnny knocking on doors and yelling at everyone to meet in the foyer urgently. As footsteps began to clatter along the corridors above me, the butler and his wife appeared though a doorway at the end of the hall.

“Has something happened, madam?” enquired Rogers.

“Yes,” I said. “Something has.” I determined to say no more until we had gathered everyone together.

Mrs Rogers hid behind her husband, as if showing herself might cast suspicion in her direction. I smiled kindly in a bid to ease her obvious agitation (though I had no reason to think she was innocent).

A moment later, the others thundered down the main staircase like a herd of wildebeest and I ticked their names off in my little notebook as they appeared:

General MacArthur was first, followed by Billy Blah and Dilip Lombardi. Vera Claymore and Justice Warmonger were last in line and even the sarcastic old judge wore a look of concern across his features.

“What’s going on?” he asked, crossing the hall towards me. “Has there been another one?” He looked around suddenly as if checking who might be missing.

“Just a minute,” called Johnny from the landing. I saw him jot something down in his own notebook, before putting it in his pocket and hurrying downstairs.

“Well? Has there?” demanded Warmonger, sliding easily back into his usual tone of contemptuous irritation.

“Everyone please wait here a moment,” said Johnny. He patted my arm and walked off along the passageway to my left. I knew what he was doing – he was checking to see if another of the Indian braves had been tampered with.

A moment later, he returned, his face grave. Giving me a quick nod, he said, “We believe there has been another murder. Mary…?”

Glancing down at my notepad, I looked at the one name I had not crossed off my list. “Emily Bent is not here.”

A collective groan arose from the others, and Vera Claymore let out a mournful sigh.

“So where is she?” said Mister Blah, looking around the hall.

Johnny held up a hand. “We believe she is in the garden. Now, I need everyone to stay together.” With that, he led the way out through the main door and across the lawn to the north side of the house. In the distance, I could see the tree we were headed for, though from the ground, its occupant wasn’t visible.

As we rounded the hedge, I held onto my husband’s sleeve. The oak tree stood directly in front of us and, just as we’d seen, there was a naked body hanging from it.

“Jesus fucking Christ,” muttered the judge, with what sounded like genuine shock.

We stood there for a moment, staring at the scene before us. It perhaps came as more of a surprise to the others that Emily Bent had what can only be described as a stonking great erection.

Beside me, Johnny cleared his throat. “An effect of the force applied by the rope on the spinal cord causes an involuntary response in the er…” He waved a hand at the corpse. “As you can see.”

“But she’s a man!” gasped Vera Claymore.

“State the bloody obvious, why don’t you…” said Warmonger with a scowl.

But it was not Emily’s dead body that interested Johnny. Stepping forward, he picked up an object that was lying on the ground. Bringing it over for me to see, I saw that it was a cardboard mask with a short piece of elastic attached at each side to enable it to be worn over the face.

Johnny held out one frayed end of the elastic. “Broken. It must have been attached to her head, but when the body dropped, it came loose.”

I looked at the image imprinted on the mask. It was taken from an enlarged photograph – the face of Agatha Christie.

“The face at the window,” I murmured.

Johnny nodded. “Don’t tell the others.”

Looking up, I noticed our companions had shuffled away from the gory scene and were standing some yards off talking among themselves.

“They were all in their rooms,” said Johnny gazing across at the group.

I shook my head. “Whoever did this would’ve had to have time to lure her outside, strip her naked, put the mask over her face, hang her, go back into the house and fasten a bit of string around the neck of one of the Indian braves and get back to his or her room before we saw the body from our room.” I turned away from the horrible sight. “It had to be suicide. It’s the only explanation.”

My husband nodded. “You’re quite right, darling. Except for this…” He passed me a folded sheet of paper. “After knocking on all the other doors, I checked Emily’s room too. Just in case. This note had been pushed under the door.”

I stared at the scrawled handwriting. It read:

Do not go into the garden, Miss Bent. It will be the death of you.
Signed
A Christie

 
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Posted by on April 30, 2019 in Detective Fiction

 

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And Then There Were Ten


Diary of Doctor J. Watson

It occurred to me as I returned to the dining room, that I’d forgotten to leave any birdseed on my bedroom windowsill. If Holmes or Lestrade sent any messages via carrier pigeon, I might never see them and consequently miss important information. Then again, it seemed unlikely my companion would be on the island already and Lestrade wouldn’t have anything to impart until after the examination of Marston’s body, so I probably didn’t need to worry about it.

Crossing the entrance hall, I noticed an ornate bowl on the hall table containing a variety of fruit. Picking it up, I congratulated myself that I’d at least have some good news to divulge to my companions. On pushing open the dining room door, I found everyone in much the same locations as when I’d left. As one, they turned towards me.

“Luncheon is served,” I said, sliding the bowl onto the table.

All eyes fell on the bowl and for a few seconds, there was silence. Then everybody moved at once, standing, pushing, squeezing in and grabbing anything that might feasibly pose a risk-free meal. (Luckily, I’d pocketed a few damsons for myself.)

“What did Rogers have to say?” asked the judge, chomping on an apple.

I slid into my seat next to Mary and pulled out my plums. “Apparently, Mrs Rogers does the cooking and the Owens are expected back this evening.”

“For God’s sake, man, we knew that already,” said Warmonger with a scowl.

“And if Mrs Rogers is the killer, what are we going to eat?” Emily Bent gazed forlornly at her banana. “She might have poisoned the fruit too.”

At this, they all stopped eating and stared at their own choices.

“Which is precisely why I’m taking a moment to examine my plums for signs of intrusion,” said I, none too smugly.

“Intrusion?” bellowed Warmonger. “What the deuce d’you mean by intrusion?”

“I believe my husband is referring to marks made by a hypodermic needle,” said Mary. “Which would be the obvious way to poison soft fruit.”

Billy Blah looked down at the orange peelings on his plate. “Bollocks. That’s my dinner fucked, then.”

Mary passed the fruit bowl across to him. “Try an apple – easier to see any marks on the skin.”

Blah nodded a thanks, examined a Cox’s Pippin and took a careful bite out of it.

“So, Doctor Watson,” said Warmonger, giving me a baleful stare. “What do you suggest we do about the rest of our meals here?”

“After visiting the kitchen, I looked into the pantry. There are dozens of tins of meat and vegetables that will be perfectly safe to eat. All we have to do is prepare them ourselves.”

“Really?” continued the judge. “And how do you suggest we organise that?”

“I suggest,” I said, in what I hoped was a condescending tone, “that we congregate in the kitchen this evening and prepare a meal together, so no one person is left alone with the food.”

“But you just said Mrs Rogers was the poisoner,” wailed Emily.

“No,” I said, “that was your suggestion.”

“Well I for one do not intend slaving over a stove, hot or otherwise,” said Warmonger.

General MacArthur thumped the table, making us all jump. “In the Crimea,” he said, “all the chaps did their own. Cooking, you know. Not difficult. Straightforward, mainly. Heat it up. Eat.”

“I just don’t see why all of us have to be involved,” said Emily.

“Oh, I see,” said Warmonger, jumping to his feet. “You know who the killer is, do you?”

“Well, no…” she said, avoiding his glaring eyes.

“So, in order to avoid death, what would your wonderful solution be, Miss Bender?” growled the judge.

“It’s Bent, actually,” she murmured.

There was silence for a moment, then Dilip Lombardi spoke up.

“Surely the solution is obvious?” he said.

“Not to me,” growled Warmonger, “but what do I know? I’m only a high court judge?”

“The solution,” continued Lombardi, “is for Doctor and Mrs Watson to do the cooking.”

“On the basis of what, exactly?” said Warmonger.

“On the basis that out of all of us, including the butler and his wife, the Watsons are the only two people who were not invited here.”

This made perfect sense, though if Mary and I were the killers, we would surely have arranged things precisely this way to fool our potential victims. This important point, however, did not seem to have occurred to anyone else.

“That’s fine with us, if everyone agrees?” said Mary.

Everyone did, albeit with a sense of desperation.

“That’s settled then,” said Mary. “We shall prepare an evening meal for seven o’clock.”

“And what are we supposed to do until then,” asked Emily Bent.

Mary glanced at me, then said, “Lock yourselves in your rooms.”

There were no objections, so we all drifted off to our respective quarters.

Upstairs, I closed our bedroom door behind me and sat on the bed. “What now?”

“Now, dear? I think you ought to answer Sherlock’s message.”

“Oh, sod it, I forgot to put out the bird seed.”

“But I didn’t, Johnny.” Mary smiled and pointed at the window.

A pigeon had perched on the sill, his beady eyes watching us. Sliding the sash upwards quietly so as not to alarm the creature, I took hold of the bird and brought him inside. A moment later, I’d unfasted the message tied to his leg. It read:

    Watsons
    Do not trust the servants. Very likely they have not met the Owens. Possible the Owens do not exist. Possible the Owens are the servants. Also, watch Emily Bent – Lestrade informs that she killed her employer.
    Holmes

“So,” said Mary, “do you think Rogers and his wife are the murderers?”

I rubbed my chin thoughtfully, but it didn’t help. “I suspected Rogers was lying, but I don’t think it’s just about the Owens. I think there’s something else.” Recalling my conversation with the butler, I added, “He mentioned something about having had instructions from the Owens.”

“What sort of instructions?”

“Not sure, but he implied they’d been told not to divulge any information about Mister or Mrs Owen.”

“But you agree with Sherlock that perhaps they’ve never met?”

“I do. Which still means one of our companions could be the real Owen.” Placing the pigeon back on the windowsill, something across the lawn caught my eye.

“So we’re back to the beginning,” said Mary, squeezing my hand.

“I wouldn’t say that, darling. I think we can cross one name off the list…”

Across the lawn on the north side of the house we could see the upper parts of the oak trees above the hedgerows. Hanging from the tree nearest us, was a body. A naked body. A body that looked awfully familiar.

 
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Posted by on April 20, 2019 in Detective Fiction

 

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The Window Watcher


From the Journal of Sherlock Holmes
Huge Island
Under a small shed

Utilising a pair of Mycroft’s patented super-strong spy glasses, I watched the proceedings from my burrow beneath the garden shed on the south side of the house. Unfortunately, my dear brother’s latest invention – a long-range listening device that depended on a clockwork mechanism for power – had developed a fault. The upshot of this meant I could only hear occasional phrases, interrupted by intermittent squeaks and whirring sounds from the headphones. Even so, I’d heard enough to know that Watson had made it clear to all and sundry (apart from the butler and his wife), that they were in danger, though how seriously they took this was hard to judge.

The guests were about to eat together for the first time, and I watched carefully as the butler served what I expected would be a cold soup of some description, followed by a ham salad. Curiously, none of the guests seemed keen to actually eat anything and after the butler’s departure, they all sat around looking at each other.

At this point, my hearing device gave up altogether, so I determined to get closer to the action. Packing my gadgets in my shoulder bag, I slid along the base of the hedge and round to the other side of the house where I knew the kitchen was located. Dressed in my patented Green-as-Grass-Lawn-Suit, I knew it would be almost impossible for anyone to spot me from the house, but nevertheless, I took the utmost care as I slid across the lawn to the kitchen window.

Rising slowly, I attached my headphones again and laid the patented Window-Trumpet attachment against the lowest pane of glass. Immediately, the butler’s voice echoed in my ears:

“I’m telling you, Ethel, they aren’t bloody eating a damn thing. Watched ‘em through the keyhole, I did, and they’re all just sitting there, like bleedin statues.”

The woman responded in a squeaky, high-pitched tone that put me in mind of Mrs Lestrade.

“Well, I’m doin’ me bleedin best, ain’t I, Tommy? Don’t know what they expect, anyway, what with the master not being here an’all to tell us what we’re supposed to be doin and that.”

At this, she burst into tears and her husband straightaway flew into a rage.

“Aw, for fuck’s sake, Ethel. Don’t you bleedin start wiv yer bleedin blubbering again – it’s more than a bloke can stand. An’ it’s not my bleedin fault the master and the missus ain’t here, is it? So just cut that out now, afore I give you summat to cry abaht.”

The woman ceased her snivelling, but a new sound came to my ears, informing me that someone else had come into the room. On hearing the newcomer’s dulcet tones, I couldn’t help but smile – it was my own dear Watson, no doubt hot on the trail of the killer.

“Ah, Rogers, and Mrs Rogers,” said he. “Hope you’ll forgive the intrusion into your particular domain, but we were wondering, that is, the other guests and myself were wondering, who prepares the meals.”

From the ensuing silence, I deduced that Rogers and his good lady were looking at each other, trying to work out what to say. Eventually, the butler coughed and said, “Well, sir, it is Mrs Rogers who prepares all the meals here, as we have been instructed so to do by the master.”

“The master. You mean Mister Owen?” said Watson.

“That’s right, sir.”

“You said earlier that he’s expected home this evening.”

“Yes sir,” said Rogers, “in time for dinner, we’re told.”

Another silence and I could almost hear the cogs in my old friend’s brain clunking round as he considered his next question. Footsteps on the stone flags told me the good doctor had crossed to the window and was no doubt rubbing his chin thoughtfully. If he’d taken the trouble to slide the sash up and lean forward, he’d very likely have spotted me. But Watson is not a man of action, so he simply stood there, thinking.

“Then you know your master well?” he said, after a long pause.

There was a hesitation in the other man’s voice that suggested what he would say next might well be a lie.

“Of course, sir, Mister Owen and his wife took us on several months ago and have treated us very well.”

“Several months ago?” said Watson, in a tone that I recognised. He too had seen through the lie. “So you’d be able to describe them to me?”

The butler coughed. “No sir.”

“No?”

“No. The master issued specific instructions regarding the guests and yourself and what we were to tell you and also…” he coughed. “And also what we are not to tell you.”

“You just said ‘the guests and yourself’, didn’t you?”

The butler coughed again. “Er, yes, sir.”

“So your master mentioned me by name – Doctor Watson?”

“Yes sir.”

Even though my listening device was not of the utmost clarity, I quite clearly heard Watson’s sharp intake of breath. It was almost as loud as my own.

Watson made his excuses and left, and after a moment, I heard an object thrown across the room.

“They know,” the man muttered. “They bloody know!”

The butler’s wife must have endeavoured to comfort him, as their next words were muffled, perhaps by kisses and a close embrace.

“Jesus wept,” moaned Mrs Rogers. “We’ll be buggered if this comes out.”

“Buggered’s the word,” said her husband. Then his voice became stern and I discerned an angry edge to his tone as he said, “But you listen ‘ere, Ethel. Don’t you dare say a bleedin word about this, no matter what any of ‘em say. If they find out we’ve never met Owen, they’ll only ask more questions and then everything’ll come out.”

This last was of great interest and I determined to let Watson know. Slithering back to my burrow beneath the shed, I scribbled a short message on a scrap of paper, then sliding a hand into my poacher’s pocket, pulled out George, Inspector Lestrade’s prize carrier pigeon. Fastening the message to the bird’s leg, I communicated with him in soft tones, explaining in pigeon-speak that he was to fly to the room of Doctor and Mrs Watson. The creature nodded, though whether this was to show his understanding, or simply a pigeonic tic, I couldn’t possibly know.

As George flew off to his destination, I hoped Watson had remembered to leave birdseed on his window ledge.

 
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Posted by on April 13, 2019 in Detective Fiction

 

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Doing it By the Book


Diary of Doctor J. Watson

Naturally, it occurred to me that Mr Owen and his wife (if they existed) were not included in the eleven Indian braves depicted on the dining table, and that the butler and his wife made up the numbers, just as they did in the book. Of course, as Mary keeps reminding me, this is not a book.

“Ah,” said a gruff voice behind me. “Red Indians, eh?”

I turned to General MacArthur. “Native Americans, actually,” I said.

“Some sort of parlour game, is it?” He waved a finger at the figurines.

Though I opened my mouth to reply, an explanation was not forthcoming. Luckily, my dear wife took up the challenge.

“No, no,” she said, approaching the old soldier and patting his arm. “I should think it’s something to do with the old nursery rhyme.” She pointed to a framed poem on the wall above one of the cabinets, and began reading. “One little, two little, three little Indians. Four little, five little, six little Indians. Seven little, eight little, nine little Indians. Ten little Indian boys.”

“Ah,” muttered the General, immediately losing interest.

“Except, that’s not quite right, is it?”

Mister Lombardi had slid silently into the room. He stood pointing at the table. “There’s eleven. Not ten.”

He gave me a hard stare and I coughed in a bid to distract him from the fact that I did not have an answer.

Billy Blah and Vera Claymore had also arrived, and they too looked at me as if I might be the fount of all knowledge.

“He’s right, you know, Doctor Watson.”

We all turned to look towards the window where Justice Warmonger stood staring back at us. How he’d managed to get into the room and reach that spot without my noticing, unnerved me rather and I made a mental note to keep a sharp eye on his movements.

The judge continued. “There’s something you’re not telling us, isn’t there Doctor? Something about this whole adventure.” His supercilious smile convinced no-one, but his voice held a menacing tone that threw me off balance and I saw no option but to tell the truth. Or most of it, at least.

Striding to the door, I peeked out and saw Emily Bent hurrying down the stairs. I waited for her to join us then closed the door.

“Has anyone read a novel called ‘And Then There Were None’ by Agatha Christie?” I said.

Miss Claymore stuck her hand up. “I had a copy of it,” she said, nodding to Mary, “but someone swiped it.”

“That’s odd,” said Billy Blah. “I was given a copy for my birthday recently.” He paused and glanced around as if expecting a chorus of congratulations to ring out. “Anyway, I’d left it on my bedside table one night and when I came back from having a sh– I mean, a wash, it was gone. Just vanished.”

“So no-one’s actually read it?” I said.

They all shook their heads.

Warmonger piped up again. “Not about a murder, this book, is it?” Again, that supercilious smile.

“It’s about a group of people who are invited to an island…”

“Ooh,” yelped Vera Claymore, clapping her hands excitedly. “Just like us, then?”

“Invited to an island,” I went on, “and murdered.”

The silence was deafening.

Eventually, Emily Bent (or, Bob, as I’d begun to think of her) stated the one thing I hadn’t wanted to mention.

“It’s about secrets, isn’t it? Secrets about stuff we’ve done. Stuff we oughtn’t to ‘ave done.”

“Humph,” snorted Warmonger. “I for one have no sordid secrets in my past.”

“Didn’t say they was sordid, did I?” moaned Emily.

I flapped my hands in a calming motion. “Let’s not get carried away. What we have to remember is that we’re talking about a book. And this quite clearly is not a book – it’s real.”

“Marston was the first, then?” said a voice behind me.

I looked at Dilip Lombardi. He shrugged and said, “Well, he was, wasn’t he?”

“The main thing,” said Mary, stepping forward and taking control, “is to stick together and not go off by ourselves.”

“But we are by ourselves,” whined Emily/Bob. “Up in our rooms. Alone.”

Mary bit her lip. “I meant, stay together when we’re together and when we’re not, keep the doors locked.”

They all fell silent again, until Billy Blah noticed the damaged Native American.

“Bloody Nora. That one’s got a flaming great spike through him.”

“Yes,” said Warmonger, striding over to the table and picking up the offending item. “Representing Mister Marston, I believe.”

“Bugger,” said Blah. “So if he was the first, one of us will be next.” He gazed around at the others. “What d’yer think – stabbed, hung, drowned, poisoned?”

At that, the door swung open and the butler appeared carrying a tray. “Luncheon is served.”

We all looked at him, no doubt wondering the same thing – would the meal be safe to eat?

 
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Posted by on April 6, 2019 in Detective Fiction

 

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The Undoing of Emily Bent


Diary of Doctor J. Watson

The butler and his wife directed each of us to our rooms, advising that lunch would be served in the dining hall at one o’clock. If either of them noticed they had an extra guest in the shape of my own dear wife, they made no mention of it. Strange too, that our names and those of our companions did not appear to be ticked off any list or schedule and no-one spoke any of our names aloud. This struck me as doubly odd in my case and I wondered if Rogers had already been alerted to my true identity, or if he simply presumed the matter was none of his business. Of course, it may be that, in true country-house-murder style, ‘the butler did it’, in which case he would be all too aware that Doctor Armstrong was not among the guests.

Our room proved to be adjacent to the one where I had observed the face at the window, so as soon as I’d unpacked, I took the liberty of unlocking the connecting door that led to the other room, and peeked in.

“Doctor Watson!” yelped Miss Bent, grabbing a towel and clutching it to her bare chest. “How very dare you.”

“Ahm, Miss Bent. Do excuse me, I was just…” But there was no explanation under which I could conceal my blunder. However, I did have one point in my favour. Having glimpsed the woman’s unclothed form, I now knew something none of our companions knew – Miss Emily Bent was a man.

“Oh, I say,” murmured Mary, who had appeared at my elbow. “Did I just see what I thought I saw?”

Miss Bent dropped the towel, revealing her nakedness, including the large appendage dangling between her legs. “Oh, what’s the bloody use,” she said with a tearful sigh.

“Come, come,” said I, grasping a blanket and wrapping it about her. “It seems Mary and I aren’t the only ones masquerading as other people.”

She sat down on the bed and covered her face with her hands. “I knew it’d never work,” she sobbed through her tears.

“Don’t be silly,” said Mary, sitting down beside her and sliding a protective arm around the woman’s shoulders. “If Johnny wasn’t such a nosy bugger, we’d never have known.”

“Really?” she sobbed.

“Really,” said Mary. She gave me a meaningful look and mouthed, ‘Say something nice’.

“Yes, indeed,” I began. “We’d never had guessed. A master of disguise.” I paused, then, “Nevertheless, I’d be interested to learn how you came to be invited to the island and why you chose this particular, er, outfit.”

Within a few minutes the whole story poured out, amid several more bouts of sobbing and much nose-blowing. It transpired that the real Emily Bent, a spinster with no known relatives, had died suddenly a few weeks earlier. Her maid Beatrice, realising she would be out of a job if the truth came out, had buried the old dear in the back garden and adopted the guise of Miss Bent in order to take over her employer’s house and the small, but regular, income from a long-established annuity. The fact that Beatrice too, was not, and quite clearly never had been, a woman, was omitted from the tale until I pointed it out.

“Oh, that,” she said, glumly. “Well, you’re the detective – you tell me.” She gave me a defiant look and would say no more, so with a glance at Mary (which offered no clue, though I suspected she had already formulated an explanation), I sat on the end of the bed and rubbed my chin the way Holmes always does when he’s ruminating on a problem. Recalling a case the Great Detective solved some years ago (The Adventure of the Poncing Man), I decided to put forward the same argument Holmes had on that occasion.

“Well,” I said, finally. “You are not a young woman, er, man, though you do hide your age well. From the structure of your face – high cheekbones, small mouth, rather petite nose, together with your slight build and smallish feet, I’d say you had discovered a talent for female impersonation, perhaps in one of those seedy Londen clubs where such things are popular. However, such work would be humiliating, and the ahm, carnal favours customers would naturally expect may have troubled you, so you sought out a more socially acceptable role.” I raised a questioning eyebrow. “Am I on the right track?”

Emily Beatrice nodded. “Near enough. Except that, a few weeks ago, a distant relative of Miss Bent’s turned up and I was forced to leave the house before they discovered my deception. But by then, I’d received the invitation to provide spiritual and religious support to Mr Owen, and with nowhere else to go, I thought I may as well give it a try.” Then with an imploring look, she said, “You won’t say anything to the others, will you?”

I glanced at Mary and said, “No. Provided you don’t kill anyone.”

Her mouth dropped open. “Why would I do that?” She looked at me, at Mary, then her eyes widened. “Oh God. You think the person who killed Mister Marston is here, on the island? That’s why you’re really here, isn’t it?”

It seemed appropriate to change the subject, so I said, “When you first came into this room, was anyone else present?”

She frowned and shook her head. “Only the butler.”

I walked across to the window and looked down to the place I’d been standing earlier. “Just wondered.”

Mary stood up and gestured that we should go. To Emily Beatrice, she said, “Why don’t you get changed and we’ll see you downstairs for lunch?”

Back in our own room, with the connecting door firmly closed, I said, “You think she’s telling the truth?

“If not, it’s an awfully convoluted tale.” She patted my arm. “Well done with your explanation for her disguise.”

I sniffed and puffed out my chest. “Yes, I thought so.”

“Almost sounded like one of Sherlock’s theories.” She gave me a sly wink and I knew she’d seen through my ploy. “Anyway, we should change for lunch.”

“Yes, I want to see the dining room before the others appear.”

And so a few minutes later, we made our way downstairs and entered the dining hall – a pleasant room with large windows looking across the lawn. On one side were the usual cabinets containing cutlery and silverware and on the other a long highly-polished table with twelve chairs arranged around it. Nine places had been set for lunch and in the centre of the table stood a line of miniature carvings, exactly like the one we had found on Marston’s body, each one depicted holding a bow and arrow and sporting a small feather in his headgear. The one furthest away from us had a small metal nail pushed through his chest.

“Marston,” I murmured.

“That’s funny,” said Mary. “In the book there are ten, but here there’s eleven.”

I nodded. “Eight invited people. Plus Rogers and his wife and…” I looked at her. “And you.”

 
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Posted by on March 30, 2019 in Detective Fiction

 

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A Face at the Window


Diary of Doctor J. Watson

I bade Mary to hang back with me while the others disembarked – I wished to observe the faces of our companions as they were met in turn by the two strangers on the shore. However, if anyone recognised either of them, they hid it well.

Staying close behind, we were able to hear what was said as our companions moved along, and I noted the man introduced himself and his wife to each guest with the exact same phrase and the same intonation – if he was not a butler, he was doing a damn good impression of one.

As we drew level, the man gave a nod of the head and said, “Good morning sir. My name is Rogers. I am the butler here and this is my wife, Mrs Rogers. I trust you will both enjoy your stay on the island.”

I reached out a hand in greeting to which Rogers offered the hint of a smile and gave another deferential nod, indicating it was not his place to shake hands with guests.

With a cough, I brushed my hand down my jacket, as if that’s what I’d intended all along, but I was pleased to see my little ploy had at least proved Rogers played his part well.

Mary put in a small performance of her own with the man’s wife, giving the woman a pat on the arm and observing that it was nice to see the sun out again. The woman, a dark-haired and rather slight-looking thing, offered a curtsy and forced a smile, though her timid sideways glance at her husband told us she was very definitely under his thumb.

As we joined the others on the beach with our belongings, Rogers collected a quantity of mail and other items from the captain and announced that we should follow him up to the house where we would be shown to our rooms.

Trudging up the rough track that led to the house, one of our companions dropped back and fell into step with us.

“What d’you think, then, Doctor Watson?” said he, in a low voice.

“About what, Mister Blah?”

“Call me Billy,” he said, “everyone does. I mean about all this – all of us here, total strangers, gathered on a remote island in the hope of a nice bit of something coming our way.”

“A nice bit of something?” I said. “And what might that be in your case?”

“Murder, of course,” he said, with a laugh.

I stopped and stared at him. “Murder?”

He laughed again. “Not actual murder, no, I mean the board game – Murder. You know, each one gets to play a part, like Colonel Mustard, or Miss Green or whatever and everyone has to try and work out who the murderer is.”

“You think we’re here to play a game?” said Mary.

Billy Blah rolled his eyes. “Ain’t that what I just said? That’s why I’m here.”

Mary and I must have looked blank, for he continued, “My invitation said I was to organise a real-life version of the board game for a private party and I would be rewarded for my troubles.”

“Rewarded how?” said I.

“Well, with money, obviously.” He strode off quickly in an effort to catch up with the others.

Mary tugged my sleeve. “What did your invitation say? Doctor Armstrong’s I mean?”

Thinking back to that day at Baker Street, I recalled the wording on Armstrong’s invitation. “Rather ambiguous in his case, I’m afraid. The words ‘wonderful opportunity’ were mentioned, but otherwise it was spectacularly unspecific.”

She nodded. “Vera Claymore seemed to think there was a teaching post in the offing.”

I frowned. “Teaching? Here?” I shook my head. “Whatever each one of these people thought they were going to get out of this trip, it had to be enough of a temptation to lure them away from their everyday lives.”

“It’d be interesting to know what all the other invitations said.”

“Yes,” I agreed, “it certainly would. Though since the point must have been to get them to the island, the murderer is already ahead of the game.”

We had reached the crest of the incline and were now standing on the edge of a vast lawn. A flagged path snaked away through a series of topiaried hedges, depicting numerous animals of the woodland variety. There was something a little unnerving about the sculptures and I was reminded of a case Holmes had declined to get involved in, where a man had slaughtered his entire family with an axe at an isolated hotel in the Scottish Highlands. On that occasion, it eventually emerged that the killer had gone completely insane. Could the same thing be happening here? Was our host – whoever he or she was – just a total fucking nutcase?

Negotiating our way through the ornamental gardens, Rogers and his wife halted by a narrow gateway halfway along a high Leylandii hedge. Passing through the gate, we were finally confronted by the house itself. Like the lawn, it was vast, spanning at least two hundred yards across and three storeys high. Being a connoisseur of architecture, I recognised the style as vaguely Tudor Rivivalist, with the usual characteristics, including steeply pitched-roofs, mullioned windows and half-timbered herringbone brickwork. The place was striking in its sheer immensity and I couldn’t help but let out an appreciative gasp.

Mary tugged my hand and leaning over, whispered, “Whoever owns this must have an absolute shit-load of cash.”

I nodded, and we walked on, heading for the entrance hall with its studded wooden doors. As we approached, I let my eyes wander upwards and caught a glimpse of a shape at one of the windows. The woman’s face, for that is what I believed it to be, disappeared in an instant. Stepping up to where Rogers was waiting, his hand on the open door as our fellow travellers passed through, I tapped the man on his shoulder.

“I just saw someone at one of the upstairs windows. Would that be your Mistress?”

The butler blinked several times. “Mrs Owen, sir? Why no sir. Mister and Mrs Owen are away on business and won’t be back until this evening.”

“Ah,” I said. “Then it must have been one of the servants?”

A frown creased the other man’s forehead. “Servants, sir? No, sir. Only servants are Mrs Rogers and me.”

I took a few steps back and peered up at the window again. There was nothing to see.

Mary joined me and followed my gaze. “Perhaps it was a trick of the light, darling?”

“Yes,” I murmured. “I suppose it must have been.”

But as we made our way into the house, I knew I had witnessed no optical illusion. I had seen a face. And it was the face of Agatha Christie.

 
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Posted by on March 26, 2019 in Detective Fiction

 

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