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Monthly Archives: March 2019

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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The Island Awaits


The Diary of Mary Watson (Mrs)

As the sun came out and gradually eased the chill from our bones, I settled into my seat with a flask of tea and a few Custard Creams I’d put away for just such an occasion. The sea lay all around us, calm and blue, and I could almost have believed we were off on some jolly jaunt, rather than keeping an appointment with a killer. While Johnny concentrated on bringing his journal up to date, I spent my time watching our fellow travellers. It occurred to me that each of them must have considered that the murder of Mr Marston might have something to do with this whole enterprise, and yet here they all were, waiting for their turn to die.

I had chastised my husband earlier for thinking Holmes might have disguised himself as the ship’s captain, but now found myself looking at the gnarled old soak as he stood in his cabin, one hand on the wheel and the other brandishing a half bottle of rum. From time to time, he glanced across and gave me a sly wink, which I at first thought was nothing more than a randy old sea-dog’s second-nature, but then I noticed a familiar twinkle in his eye and wondered if perhaps Johnny had been right after all.

My musings were interrupted when Vera Claymore sat down beside me and gave me a firm nudge with her elbow.

“Come on, then,” she said, “what’s your story?”

I gave her my best ‘honest’ face and said, “No story, Miss Claymore, simply a wife doing her wifely duty accompanying her husband.”

“Of course,” said she, with a roll of her eyes. “But you’re not here on holiday, are you? And as we’ve already heard, your husband is more than a family doctor, isn’t he?”

“If you mean his association with Sherlock Holmes, then yes, he does assist in the occasional investigation.”

“Which would imply there’s something going on that needs investigating, that this so-called invitation has some underlying purpose the rest of us are not privy to.”

She clearly had more about her than I’d given her credit for, so I decided to find out what she knew. “Why did you accept the invitation?”

She coughed. “I’m between appointments at the moment and thought this might be a chance for development.”

“A job offer?”

“Yes.”

“As a teacher? On a remote island?”

She waved a hand dismissively. “Well I don’t bleedin know, do I? But the invite said there was an opportunity to be had so here I am.”

I noted how she’d slid easily into her native cockney twang. Presumably she kept her ‘posh’ voice for her pupils.

“Anyway, it’s all paid for so what’s not to like?”

“Getting killed.”

She pulled a face. “Like that inspector said – the incident was merely an unfortunate coincidence.”

Dropping my voice, I said, “I think he was just trying to make us feel better.”

We sat in silence for a moment, then I asked the question I’d secretly been dying to ask everyone. “Do you read much?”

“Of course. I teach English, don’t I?”

“Detective novels?”

She shrugged. “Some.”

“Agatha Christie?”

She gave me a funny look. “Strange you should mention her.”

“Strange how?”

“Well, I have read one or two but a few weeks ago I bought her latest one.” She furrowed her brow. “Can’t recall the title now. Something about one or none, or summat.”

“And Then There Were None?” I prompted.

Her eyes lit up. “That’s the one.”

“So you’ve read it?”

“No. That’s what’s strange. My flat was broken into only a day or so after I bought that book. But the burglars, they didn’t take nuffin. Except for that book.” She shook her head. “I mean I ain’t rich or anyfing, but there’s other stuff around they could easily have swiped, but all they took was that one book.”

“Almost as if someone didn’t want you to read it,” I said, half to myself.

“Yes. Funny that, ain’t it?”

I wondered if anyone else had had a similar experience. Before I could pursue the matter, the captain blew a toot on his horn, announcing our arrival at Huge Island. Peering over the side, I saw the jetty come into view as we approached a sheltered inlet.

“Ah-ha,” said Johnny, putting his diary away. “Here we are.”

As the boat slid into place alongside the rickety quay, I grasped Johnny’s hand. Standing on the shore waiting, were two people – a man and a woman. From their dress, I guessed them to be the butler and his wife. If I remember rightly, the wife gets poisoned, and the husband is found dead while chopping wood. But of course, that’s what happens in the book, and this isn’t a book.

Miss Claymore nudged me as we began to disembark. “I should think that inspector was right. I mean, it’s not as if we’re all going to be murdered, is it?” She laughed gaily and followed the others down the gangplank.

 
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Posted by on March 17, 2019 in Detective Fiction

 

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To the Island


Diary of Doctor J. Watson
Dolphin Cove

Leaving Lestrade to arrange for the body to be removed, Mary and I retired to our room. Jamming the chair against the door handle and sliding my revolver under the pillow, I snuggled up next to my dear wife and tried to sleep.

It was a pleasant surprise to find that the adventures of the night had not removed my ability to slumber, and I awoke this morning feeling brisk and alert to a rapid knocking at the door. It was Lestrade.

“Ah, Doctor,” said he. “Just to let you know I ‘ave ‘ad Marston taken to a suitable location in order to ‘old the post mortem.” He sniffed. “Though I don’t ‘old much ‘ope of discoverin anyfing else that could assist our investigation.”

I nodded. “You’ll want to talk to the others, I suppose?”

“Indeed. If you would be so good as to meet me downstairs in ten minutes, we’ll get started.”

I closed the door and stood for a moment, thinking.

“We’re due on the boat in two hours,” said Mary in a low voice.

I looked at her and couldn’t help but let out a long sigh. “Yes.”

She raised an eyebrow.” You haven’t changed your mind, then? About going?”

“Lestrade’s probably right,” I said. “The whole thing is utter folly, but even though we’ll be placing ourselves in danger, I feel we have to go through with it. Otherwise…”

She gave me a half-smile. “Otherwise the killer is free to do his worst.”

A few minutes later we made our way downstairs. Lestrade had assembled the other guests who were all sitting around the bar-room in the same seats they had occupied the night before. The only one missing was Marston.

“Now then,” said Lestrade. I’m Inspector Heehaw of Scotland–”

I harrumphed loudly, interrupting him. “Not sure there’s any point in aliases…”

He bit his lip and thought for a moment. “Quite. As I said, I’m Inspector Lestrade of Scotland Yard. And this is…” He glanced at me.

“Doctor John Watson, and my wife, Mary.”

A few members of the group let out audible gasps.

General MacArthur raised a finger. “Not Armstrong, then?”

I shook my head.

He twirled a thin moustache between finger and thumb and gave a quick laugh. “Heard of you. Baker Street, etcetera. Your detective chap. Holmes. Be arriving at some point?”

I thought it best not to herald my companion’s entrance, so I said, “He has no plans to join us.”

Former police inspector Blah shifted in his chair. “So if you’re not Armstrong, what are you doing here?”

I coughed in preparation for the lie. “Doctor Armstrong is ill. Terminal, in fact, but he wished that I, and my wife, should replace him, taking advantage of his good fortune in being invited to the island. Of course, he had no notion he might be thrusting us into a dangerous situation.”

Vera Claymore leaned forward. “Are you insinuating there may be another murder?”

I glanced at Lestrade and he jumped in.

“I expect this er – incident – was merely an unfortunate coincidence. After all, you lot are not actually on the island yet, are you, so no reason to assume Mister Marston’s death and your visit are connected, eh? Probably just some local lunatic on the rampage.” He looked around the room using his ‘optimistic’ expression.

“Well,” said Lawrence Warmonger in a voice loaded with sarcasm, “that is a relief.”

Lestrade continued. “If anyone has any further information that might ‘elp wiv enquires, I should be obliged if you would speak to me privately before you leave.”

No-one said anything more, and the following hour or so was spent attending to our individual needs regarding breakfast and preparations for the trip.

Lestrade took Mary and I aside as our companions drifted back upstairs.

“I don’t know what your pal ‘as planned, but I do ‘ope he gets ‘is proverbial finger out before anyone else gets the chop.”

He wasn’t the only one with concerns regarding the non-appearance of Holmes – I was beginning to think the Great Detective might be leaving his grand entrance a little late. We chatted for a few minutes about communications, as the only sure way of getting messages onto the island would be via carrier pigeon. Lestrade had come prepared with a dozen or so police-trained birds. He suggested we leave a portion of bird seed on our windowsill in preparation for such messages.

“This should keep you going,” he said, handing me a small paper bag. He turned and stared out of the window. From here we could just make out the island itself – a dark blotch on the distant horizon.

“Keep in touch, then,” I said, patting his arm.

He looked at me then with an expression of sadness I’d not deemed him capable of, and he laid his hand on mine. “Don’t go an get yerselves bloody murdered, will yer?”

“We’ll try not to,” I said, forcing a smile.

Twenty minutes later, together with the remaining travellers, Mary and myself made our way down to the harbour where a battered old paddle steamer waited by the meagre jetty. I was heartened to see it was a decent-sized vessel, though its obvious unsuitability for the journey across to the island did not fill me with hope. The captain, too, turned out to be a sad stereotype of that traditional old sea-dog – the drunken sailor whose knowledge of the sea had long since been overtaken by his familiarity with hard liquor. He stood by the jetty smoking a clay pipe and caressing a grizzled grey beard.

“Ar,” he muttered as I approached him. “Be thou one o’ they bound fer Huge Island?”

“That’s right,” I said, peering into his piggy little eyes. His skin was dark and leathery, and reminded me of a football I’d had as a boy.

“It be a grand day fer a crossin, ey?” He gazed up at the sky and I took the opportunity to examine him closely.

His height was about right and the sharp angle of his jawline too familiar to fool me for long. Giving him a playful punch in the shoulder, I said, “Nice one, Holmsey.”

The sailor swivelled his head toward me. “Say summat?”

I nodded and winked.

With a sudden movement, he reached out and grabbed my lapel. “Now lissen ‘ere, Mister. Oi don’t want no screamin bend-overs on moi boat, so if’n you’ve got any of that sort o’ nonsense in mind, ye can take yerself an’ yer whore of a wife back ter where ye came from.”

Recognising that I had perhaps granted my detective friend more talent for disguise than he actually had, I muttered a quick apology, grabbed Mary’s hand and hurried to our allotted places aboard the boat.

Once seated on one of the benches in the prow, Mary leaned over and whispered, “You surely didn’t think that was Sherlock, darling?”

I coughed. “It had crossed my mind.”

She laughed lightly and patted my knee.

A few minutes later, steam was up and the vessel pulled away from the dock, turning its nose towards our destination.

I couldn’t help wondering if we’d ever see Dolphin Cove again.

 
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Posted by on March 7, 2019 in Detective Fiction

 

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