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Monthly Archives: April 2019

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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