This morning I experienced an epiphany, or more truthfully, the germ of an idea that forced me to stop banging away at my Remington Victor T and sit back from my desk. I’d wasted several hours chewing pencils, staring at my typewriter, and mulling over the characteristics of the killer in my new book, ‘An Excruciatingly Painful Murder is Announced’. I’d even spent half an hour tying to work up a sweat on my other current work-in-progress, ‘Humping Miss Daisy’ (though I suspect Bodley Head won’t touch that one with even the longest of barge poles, due to its working-class connotations).
It was something Inspector Lestrade mentioned, as we sauntered across the golf course the other day, that gave me cause to ponder. He talked about the use of masks (utilising my very own visage) and wondering why on earth anyone would place such an item on their victim’s faces. We had come to the joint conclusion the perpetrator must either be completely bonkers or simply endeavouring to throw Mister Holmes off the scent, vis a vis the murders.
And then it hit me – Lestrade is not the only person to put the idea of mask-wearing in my mind recently. A fan of mine (whose name I forget) appeared at my window one morning a few months ago, having somehow evaded the chaps at the main gate, and tapped her fat fingers on my windowpane until I gave up trying to ignore her and lifted the sash.
“Arr,” she began, climbing through the opening, “never thought Oi’d see the day when Oi might come face ter face wi’ the famous writer Missus Christie.” Sitting on the open sill, she clumped her boots onto the floor and grinned up at me.
I forced myself to suppress a sigh and held out my hand. “Very well, then, where is it?”
“Where’s what, moi luv?” said the dull-witted woman.
“The book you wish me to sign.”
“Oh-arr,” she said, gurgling like a drain. “This ‘ere.” And with that, she pulled out a paperback copy of ‘The Merder of Bodger Ackrood’ by Egetha Chroosty.
This time, I did not attempt to supress a sigh, and instead let out what I can only describe as a very definite grunt of irritation. “This is not one of mine,” I said, tapping the cover with my forefinger. “As you can see from the title, it is by one of those copycat writers who steal the manuscripts of famous authors like myself and put them out with a slightly different title in order to sell them to stupid people. Like you.”
The woman scarcely reacted to this put-down (almost as if she’d expected it), and with a shrug, stuffed the book back into her overcoat.
“If you’d care to buy a genuine copy of one my books, I’d be happy to sign it,” I said, adopting an air of pretended bonhomie. “Until then, goodbye.”
“Oh, oh,” she muttered, “can’t Oi jest take a picture of you for moi scrapbook, please?”
I sniffed and gave a curt nod. “If you must.”
The woman produced one of those cheap cameras that are all the rage these days and began snapping away.
“Happy now?” I said, my natural churlishness beginning to get the better of me.
“Thank ye muchly,” said the fool, clambering back through the window. “Oi’ll get it printed life size so Oi can wear it and look just like what you do.”
“Why on earth should you wish to do that?” I said.
“Oh, no partic’lar reason.” So saying, she hurried away across the lawn, just as one of my chaps came into view, brandishing a shotgun.
“And stay out, you fuckin bitch!” he shouted. Then making his way over to the still-open window, he lifted his hat. “Excuse the language, Aggie, but that bloody cow put something in me tea. I been out cold for the last twenty minutes.” He peered into the room. “Didn’t cause you no trouble, did she?”
I glanced around the room in case I had somehow missed something. “No, I don’t think so. She wanted a photo, that’s all.”
“I see,” he said. “Well if she shows her face again, I’ll stick my boot up her fat arschfotze.”
“Excuse me?” I said, a little taken aback.
“Oh, sorry, Aggie. Something she said as she was running off just now. German, I believe. It means–”
“Yes, I know what it means, thank you Brian. Look here, I don’t know what that silly woman put in your drink, but I suggest you pop round to the kitchen and ask cook for some tea and Battenberg. I think you deserve it.”
“Thanks very much,” he said, raising his hat again.
“You’re welcome. And if you fancy a quick one later, you know where I am.” I gave him a wink and he reddened slightly, but giggled, nevertheless. Then he was off round the side of the house in search of cake.
The memory of this incident suddenly seemed vitally important, and after pondering on it for a while longer, it occurred to me that the strange woman and her Deutschlandish colloquialisms might well have something to do with the goings-on at Huge Island.
Striding over to the mantelpiece, I tugged on the bell, drumming my fingers on the shelf as I waited.
Maudie popped her head around the door a few seconds later. “Yes ma’am?”
“Ask my chauffeur to pop up here, will you? I’m going on a little trip.”
“Sorry ma’am, William’s got a dose of the clap. He’s gone to the doctors.”
“Really? Well, I suppose that’s what he gets for hanging around with those tarts in the village.” I hesitated for moment, unsure what to do.
Then Maudie piped up, “Oi can drive, ma’am, if you like?”
“Oh, jolly good.” I looked her up and down. “Can’t have you going out in that skimpy skirt though, Maudie. Come up to my bedroom and you can try on a pair of my jodhpurs.”
And so half an hour later we were speeding towards Devon and the small village of Dolphin Cove. I could only pray we’d get there in time.