It was still dark when I awoke and the tingling sensation on my upper thigh suggested Johnny’s wandering hands were edging towards my ladyparts in the hope of some midnight fun. However, I soon realised he was merely rubbing my leg in order to wake me gently.
“What is it, darling,” I whispered, sensing danger.
“Thought I heard something.” He was sitting up straight, staring at the door of our room, his revolver held firmly in front of him. Following his gaze, I noted the chair was still propped against the door.
“Shall I light a candle” I said, reaching for the Swan Vestas.
“No, wait.” He cocked his head to one side. ”There it is again.”
Holding my breath, I listened and after a moment, a low thump-thump-thump came from the room next to ours.
“It’s just someone having a bunk-up,” I said, sliding my hand towards my husband’s marital equipment. “Which is what we could be doing…”
“Sh!” He hissed, holding up a finger. “It’s coming from Marston’s room.”
“Perhaps he got lucky with one of the gals,” I said.
“What? Bent Emily and Dreary Vera? I doubt that.”
“Then perhaps he’s doing man things with one of those soldier chaps. What is it squaddies say – one up the–”
“Yes yes, I know very well what they say, Mary. What I’m saying is that Marston told me he’s not been sleeping well. I gave him something to knock him out. He couldn’t sprout a Morning Glory if his life depended on it.”
I looked towards the door. “You think he might be in trouble?”
“I’m sure of it. Come on.” And with that he leaped out of bed and crept across the room. Pulling on my dressing gown I followed closely and a moment later we were standing on the cold floorboards in the passage.
Our room was the first door off the landing, so turning right, we padded along to the next one and paused outside the door.
“It’s stopped,” said Johnny. He leaned forward and pressed one ear to the wood panelling. “Can’t hear a thing now,” he murmured.
At the end of the passage, a small window allowed the moon to cast a silvery glow along the floor. I was pondering on the simple beauty of this when I noticed something. In several places between Mr Marston’s door and the one at the far end, there appeared to be marks on the floorboards. I tugged Johnny’s pyjamas.
“Look,” I whispered.
He looked at the floor and I heard a low moan escape his lips. Crouching down, he dipped a finger in the first of the wet marks. “It’s blood.”
Then, in a move that made me feel awfully proud, he jumped up, spun round and aimed a kick at Marston’s door. The wood splintered and the door sprang open, banging back against the wall with a thud.
There, sprawled across his floor, lay Mr Marston, completely naked and covered in blood. His hands and feet had been skewered to the floor with huge iron nails.
“Oh, my Christ…” I muttered. “Is he…?”
Johnny knelt down beside the man and touched two fingers to the poor fellow’s carotid artery. Then looking up, he shook his head.
For a moment, we said nothing, simply staring at each other in utter disbelief. Then Johnny stood up and strode past me back into the passageway. I watched as he followed the trail of bloody footprints to the far end, where he halted. Standing there in the moonlight, illuminated like one of those quaint silhouettes that used to be so popular, his features reminded me a little of Holmes, with his jutting chin and determined stance suggesting a man about to pounce on the culprit. Raising his gun, he took a step forward, but in that same instant, the door jerked open and Emily Bent appeared, holding a candle in one hand and tugging her nightdress around herself with the other.
“Something wrong, Doctor Armstrong?” she said, in a voice so soft I had to strain to hear her.
“Damn right there’s something wrong,” barked Johnny, pushing her back into the room.
Hurrying along to join them, I saw my husband shove the woman roughly onto her bed. I was about to object on her behalf when his reasoning became clear.
“Show me your feet,” he ordered, taking the candle from her.
The woman stared at me, her mouth open in shock, but nevertheless, she held up first one naked foot and then the other.
Johnny examined each one intently, using the edge of a bedsheet to wipe the soles of each foot. After a minute, he stood up. “Nothing,” he said, turning to me. “No blood.”
At this point, a rumpus behind me told us our fellow travellers had emerged from their rooms to see what the fuss was all about.
General MacArthur was first on the scene. He stood in the doorway, looking at each of us in turn, before demanding, “What’s the meaning of this? Waking a chap up in the middle of the bally night, what?”
Johnny took my hand and led me past Messrs Blah and Lombardi and a wide-eyed Vera Claymore, to Marston’s door. He pointed. “Tony Marston’s dead.”
The General looked at the scene before us. “Oh. Bugger.”
A clump-clump-clump nearby caused me to whirl round. Justice Warmonger had descended from the floor above and stared down at me as if I were something he’d stepped in. “Ah. Mrs Armstrong. Something wrong, is there?”
I nodded in the direction of the dead man. “In there.”
Warmonger leaned forward and peered in. “Ah. One less for breakfast, then.” And with that he turned around and tramped back to his room.
I looked at Johnny and saw the fear in his eyes. The killing had started.