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:
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.
“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.