I don’t mind admitting that I’m not used to this journal-keeping lark, but what with all the strange goings-on, and not having my usual police-issue notebook with me, I thought it best to get the details of the murder down on paper.
Following our initial assessment of the murder scene, Doctor Watson and myself brought in two paraffin lamps. We placed one on the chest of drawers and the other by the window. The light was not perfect, but illuminated the scene well enough for our examination. We then had a good look round the room and noted the following items of possible importance:
1. The naked body of Anthony Marston, strangled to death and nailed to the floor of the room in which he was occupying at the time, ie first floor bedroom – one of three on this side of the inn and with a single window from which the stable and yard can be observed. Said window frame is painted shut and therefore could not have been opened recently.
2. Items of furniture: one bed, one wardrobe, one chest of drawers, one rug (on top of which lies the body) and one piss-pot (unusually located on the floor between the bed and the wardrobe).
3. A small statuette of what I would’ve supposed was a red-Indian person, but which Doctor Watson tells me is properly termed a native American, depicted holding a bow and arrow and sporting a small feather in his headgear. This was found on the dead man’s chest when I first inspected the room. Doctor Watson assures me it was not present on his first assessment of the scene.
4. A piece of notepaper found pinned to the back of the dead man’s door, bearing the words ‘And then there were seven’ written in black ink. Again, Watson assures me this was not there before, but I suspect that on discovering the murder he may have neglected to check behind the door. For the present time, I shall assume the latter situation to be the case.
Aside from what is in the room, there are several bloodied footprints leading away from the doorway to the end of the passage. There is no indication of any similar footprints in either the dead man’s room or in the room beyond where the footprints end.
“And that’s our bleedin lot,” said I, having read over my notes for the benefit of Doctor Watson. “Unless I’ve missed anyfing?”
Watson shook his head, held up his hands and dropped them hopelessly at his sides, then tutted several times and shook his head again. I took this to signify he had nothing to add.
“What about the chamber pot?”
I looked up and saw Mrs Watson (lovely woman) standing in the doorway. “Ah,” I said, raising my hat in greeting, “Nice to see you again, Mary.”
“And you, Inspector,” said she. “But if you’ll permit me, I think there is a clue here.” Holding up her candle, she pointed at the pot, which still stood on the floor between the wardrobe and the bed.
“It’s in an odd position, right enough,” said Doctor Watson, “but I can’t see that it has any bearing on the murder.”
“Your ‘usband’s right, missus,” I said. “It’s just an empty piss-pot after all.”
Mrs Watson rolled her eyes in a way that made me feel a bit inferior (though I’m not sure why).
She stepped across and stood over the aforementioned item. “I may not be Sherlock Holmes’ most strident supporter, but sometimes I wonder if the pair of you ever listen to a bloody word he says. Imagine Holmes was here. Look at the pot through his eyes. Look at it properly.”
Watson and myself did as she asked, but for the life of me I couldn’t see what she was getting at.
“Well,” I said, straitening up and folding my arms, “I like ter fink I know the methods Mr Holmes utilises, but I can’t see anyfing.”
The good lady’s husband nodded. “Have to say, Lestrade’s right, m’dear. It’s just a chamber pot.”
At this, Mrs Watson let out sigh and her wonky eye swivelled back and forth, which made me think she must be annoyed with us.
Picking up the pot, she tipped it up. “Well?”
“It’s empty,” said Watson.
“And tell me, dear husband, where do we place a chamber pot when it is in a state of emptiness?”
I looked at Watson and he looked at me, then we both sort of got what she was going on about at the same time and the both of us turned to look under the bed. Now, I’m not one of those chaps that goes around putting down the fairer sex, but obviously womenfolk aren’t as bright as men are, for if they were, we’ve have them in all the top jobs that blokes do now. Anyway, this thought was running through my head when Mary Watson said something that proved she is not like other women.
“Move the bed across to the far wall.”
The Doc and myself exchange a look but thought it best to keep our thoughts to ourselves, so with him at one end and me at the other, we lifted up the bedstead and shuffling our feet, moved the whole thing a yard or so to the right, thereby exposing the space which would normally be unseen due to it being beneath the bed.
“Now,” said Mary. “What do you see?”
“Dust,” said the doctor.
“And what else?” Mary shook a finger at a particular patch of floorboard.
Taking care not to step into the cleared space, I strode forward and leaned down in order to see better. Watson crossed over and stood beside me and the two of us immediately grasped Mary’s meaning.
“There’s a mark,” said I.
“In the dust,” said Watson.
“Exactly,” said Mary. “A mark in the dust where the chamber pot stood.”
I looked at Mrs Watson with a new sense of admiration. “Someone moved it.”
She smiled. “Yes, Inspector. And why would someone move it?”
“It would only have been moved,” said Watson, “in order to…well, to take a leak. Excuse my language, darling.”
“You’re excused, Johnny. So, given that the pot is empty, it has not been used for its normal purpose, therefore I say again – why was it moved?”
Watson walked around to the wardrobe and looked at the place where the chamber pot had been found. “It was here, and it should have been there, and as it has not been used it must have been placed here for some other reason.”
“Finally, he gets it,” said Mary Watson. Then, crouching down on the floor, she ran a finger along the floorboards where the boards joined, right at the point where the chamber pot had stood. Holding the palm of her hand a few inches above the crack, she looked up. “Air. There’s a gap through to the room below. A gap that could accommodate…” She shrugged. “Well, come on – I’m not going to do all the work…”
Dropping to my knees, I put my eye to the crack and peered through. “It’s dark. What’s underneath this room?”
A moment later, all three of us were hurrying down the stairs, Mary holding one of the paraffin lamps and Watson brandishing his gun. Reaching the ground floor, we saw that directly underneath Marston’s room was a door. I tried the handle. It opened.
Watson grabbed my shoulder and held up his revolver. “Careful, Inspector.” And with that, the two of us stepped into the room.