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What Lies Beneath…


Journal of Inspector G. Lestrade
The Dolphin Cove Hotel

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 exchanged 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.

 
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Posted by on February 11, 2019 in Detective Fiction

 

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A Note on a Murder


Diary of Doctor J. Watson
Dolphin Cove

Having dragged one of the serving girls out of bed and sent her to fetch the village constable, I urged the other guests to return to their rooms. Then, standing in the doorway of Marston’s bedchamber, I gazed down at his body.

“Oughtn’t we to stay and keep guard?” said Mary, clutching my arm.

“I’ll wait for the constable, or whoever passes for the law in this God-forsaken place.” I patted her bottom. “You try and get some sleep.”

After she’d gone, I stepped into Marston’s room and looked around. What would Holmes do? Rubbing my chin, I struggled to stimulate something approaching inspiration, but the killer had taken great pains to avoid leaving any trace of his (or her) tracks. The bloodied footprints were clearly a blind, no doubt intended to lead us, quite literally, in the wrong direction. But what I couldn’t get out of my head was the fact of the thump-thump-thump we’d heard only moments before discovering the body. How could the murderer have been in the room and then vanished completely? More mysterious was the fact that, according to Mrs Christie’s version, the prime suspect should be Justice Warmonger, yet he had only appeared on the scene after coming downstairs from his room in the attic and could not have carried out the murder, escaped Marston’s room and gone back upstairs without us seeing him.

Apart from the bed, which like our own, was a metal-framed affair with plenty of space underneath for storage, the only furniture was a rickety wardrobe, a chest of drawers next to the bed and a chamber pot that stood on the floor, rather oddly, between the bed and the wardrobe. A window in the wall opposite the door, looked out over the stables, but as the frame had been painted shut, it could not have been opened without leaving some trace of that fact. In short, there was nothing that indicated an explanation.

Crouching next to the dead man, I studied his wounds. If the killer had hammered the nails into the body while the poor chap was still alive, we’d have heard his screams. Therefore, he must have already been dead, or at least unconscious, at that point. Then again, if he had been insensible during the mutilation, the pain must surely have brought him round. In any case, the fact of him being nailed to the floor would not have been sufficient to kill him.

Undoing Marston’s pyjama jacket, I noted a thin red mark encircling his neck. He’d been strangled, which suggested the apparent crucifixion routine must have served as a form of symbolic act. Was this significant to Marston’s line of work? Could there be a possible connection to the manner of his death? After all, the characters in the novel had all committed crimes.

It was about half an hour later that I heard the clunk of the front door and guessed the serving girl had returned with the police. Hurrying down to join them, I met the girl on the stairs. The poor thing was soaked to the skin, but visibly thrilled to be assisting with a murder enquiry. She happily informed me that as the usual constable was ill, she had taken the liberty of continuing up the lane to her aunt’s house where a gentleman lodger had happened to mention he worked with the police. On requesting that same gentleman’s assistance, she had discovered him to be an officer by the name of Inspector Heehaw.

My suspicions on hearing such an obviously made-up name were immediately raised, but I had no wish to make assumptions. As Holmes would put it, ‘It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data.’ I therefore determined to avail myself of the facts before jumping to conclusions.

“Oi put ‘im in the public bar, sor,” said the maid, wiping a hand across her face. “If you loike, Oi’ll make yous a pot of chockerlit ter warm yer’s up.” And with that she scurried off to the kitchen, leaving me to make my own introductions.

The newcomer stood near the fire with his back to me, shaking the worst of the rain from his greatcoat. From behind, he had the distinct characteristics of a weasel on two legs, his small head waggling back and forth as if sniffing out clues. As he turned around, he whipped up a finger to his lips, warning me against giving away his true identity.

“Ah,” I said, loudly enough for the maid to hear, “Inspector Heehaw, is it?” I strode forward to meet him and shook his hand warmly. Then, dropping my voice to a whisper, added, “Lestrade, what the bloody hell are you doing here?”

The little man giggled and leaning forward, muttered, “Your pal Holmes found out I was due some holidays, so he persuaded the Chief to let me to come down ‘ere and lend a hand.” He shook his head. “All unofficial, of course.”

“Of course,” I said. “Did the girl tell you what’s happened?”

“No, though I guessed it’d be a rum old do if you was needing me in the middle of the night.”

“I nodded. “It’s a rum do, right enough.”

Just then, the serving girl came back with our hot chocolate and two mugs. I thanked her and told her to get off to bed. Within a few minutes I had enlightened Lestrade as to the facts as I knew them and expressed concern at the lack of clues to the killer’s identity.

“Indeed,” said he. “Holmes did warn me things might proceed a bit quick, but I don’t believe even he expected the killings to start before you reached the island.” He sipped his drink. “Supposed I’d better have a look at the body.”

We finished our hot chocolate and went up to Marston’s room, however, there was now an additional item on the body that I knew had not been there before. A small black figurine, about the size of a matchbox, sat on Marston’s chest.

Placing a hand on Lestrade’s arm, I bade him wait, while I stepped forward. Nothing else in the room seemed to have altered, only this small statuette. Gingerly picking it up, I studied it closely, then passed it to Lestrade.

“Looks like a little Indian,” said he, holding it close to the candle. “See – little bow and arrow there, and a fevver in ‘is bonce. What d’you think, Doc?”

But I had been distracted by something else. Closing the bedroom door for privacy, I’d caught sight of a small rectangle of notepaper pinned to the back of the door. Taking out the drawing pin, I held the note up to the light. Five words were printed across it in small, neat handwriting:

And then there were seven.

 
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Posted by on February 3, 2019 in Detective Fiction

 

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One Less for Breakfast


The Diary of Mary Watson (Mrs)

It was still dark when I awoke and the tingling sensation on my upper thigh suggested Johnny’s wandering hands were edging towards my ladyparts in the hope of some midnight fun. However, I soon realised he was merely rubbing my leg in order to wake me gently.

“What is it, darling,” I whispered, sensing danger.

“Thought I heard something.” He was sitting up straight, staring at the door of our room, his revolver held firmly in front of him. Following his gaze, I noted the chair was still propped against the door.

“Shall I light a candle” I said, reaching for the Swan Vestas.

“No, wait.” He cocked his head to one side. ”There it is again.”

Holding my breath, I listened and after a moment, a low thump-thump-thump came from the room next to ours.

“It’s just someone having a bunk-up,” I said, sliding my hand towards my husband’s marital equipment. “Which is what we could be doing…”

“Sh!” He hissed, holding up a finger. “It’s coming from Marston’s room.”

“Perhaps he got lucky with one of the gals,” I said.

“What? Bent Emily and Dreary Vera? I doubt that.”

“Then perhaps he’s doing man things with one of those soldier chaps. What is it squaddies say – one up the–”

“Yes yes, I know very well what they say, Mary. What I’m saying is that Marston told me he’s not been sleeping well. I gave him something to knock him out. He couldn’t sprout a Morning Glory if his life depended on it.”

I looked towards the door. “You think he might be in trouble?”

“I’m sure of it. Come on.” And with that he leaped out of bed and crept across the room. Pulling on my dressing gown I followed closely and a moment later we were standing on the cold floorboards in the passage.

Our room was the first door off the landing, so turning right, we padded along to the next one and paused outside the door.

“It’s stopped,” said Johnny. He leaned forward and pressed one ear to the wood panelling. “Can’t hear a thing now,” he murmured.

At the end of the passage, a small window allowed the moon to cast a silvery glow along the floor. I was pondering on the simple beauty of this when I noticed something. In several places between Mr Marston’s door and the one at the far end, there appeared to be marks on the floorboards. I tugged Johnny’s pyjamas.

“Look,” I whispered.

He looked at the floor and I heard a low moan escape his lips. Crouching down, he dipped a finger in the first of the wet marks. “It’s blood.”

Then, in a move that made me feel awfully proud, he jumped up, spun round and aimed a kick at Marston’s door. The wood splintered and the door sprang open, banging back against the wall with a thud.

There, sprawled across his floor, lay Mr Marston, completely naked and covered in blood. His hands and feet had been skewered to the floor with huge iron nails.

“Oh, my Christ…” I muttered. “Is he…?”

Johnny knelt down beside the man and touched two fingers to the poor fellow’s carotid artery. Then looking up, he shook his head.

For a moment, we said nothing, simply staring at each other in utter disbelief. Then Johnny stood up and strode past me back into the passageway. I watched as he followed the trail of bloody footprints to the far end, where he halted. Standing there in the moonlight, illuminated like one of those quaint silhouettes that used to be so popular, his features reminded me a little of Holmes, with his jutting chin and determined stance suggesting a man about to pounce on the culprit. Raising his gun, he took a step forward, but in that same instant, the door jerked open and Emily Bent appeared, holding a candle in one hand and tugging her nightdress around herself with the other.

“Something wrong, Doctor Armstrong?” she said, in a voice so soft I had to strain to hear her.

“Damn right there’s something wrong,” barked Johnny, pushing her back into the room.

Hurrying along to join them, I saw my husband shove the woman roughly onto her bed. I was about to object on her behalf when his reasoning became clear.

“Show me your feet,” he ordered, taking the candle from her.

The woman stared at me, her mouth open in shock, but nevertheless, she held up first one naked foot and then the other.

Johnny examined each one intently, using the edge of a bedsheet to wipe the soles of each foot. After a minute, he stood up. “Nothing,” he said, turning to me. “No blood.”

At this point, a rumpus behind me told us our fellow travellers had emerged from their rooms to see what the fuss was all about.

General MacArthur was first on the scene. He stood in the doorway, looking at each of us in turn, before demanding, “What’s the meaning of this? Waking a chap up in the middle of the bally night, what?”

Johnny took my hand and led me past Messrs Blah and Lombardi and a wide-eyed Vera Claymore, to Marston’s door. He pointed. “Tony Marston’s dead.”

The General looked at the scene before us. “Oh. Bugger.”

A clump-clump-clump nearby caused me to whirl round. Justice Warmonger had descended from the floor above and stared down at me as if I were something he’d stepped in. “Ah. Mrs Armstrong. Something wrong, is there?”

I nodded in the direction of the dead man. “In there.”

Warmonger leaned forward and peered in. “Ah. One less for breakfast, then.” And with that he turned around and tramped back to his room.

I looked at Johnny and saw the fear in his eyes. The killing had started.

 
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Posted by on January 26, 2019 in Detective Fiction

 

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Strangers in the Night


Diary of Doctor J. Watson
Dolphin Cove

With seven faces turned towards us and a silence I could have sliced with a knife, we were faced with little choice but to take the bull by the horny bits. Clearing my throat in a manly way, I stepped forward.

“Good evening. I understand that my wife and I, along with several other individuals will be ferried across to Huge Island in the morning, so I suggest we all introduce ourselves. My name’s Armstrong and this is my good lady.” Turning to our young companion, I gave him an encouraging nod.

“Oh, right,” said he, clearly feeling I’d put him on the spot. “Marston. That’s me.” He sniffed and looked purposefully at the nearest of our fellow travellers, an elderly chap sitting alone by the fire.

“Ah-ha,” announced the man, giving Marston a surly stare. “Righto. MacArthur. Jack. Major. Retired. Veteran of the Crimea, don’t you know.” He twirled a thin moustache between finger and thumb and gazed at the rest of us as if expecting a round of applause.

At the next table, a spinsterish-looking woman in a raincoat and headscarf, mumbled something inaudible. The man closest to her held up a finger.

“Says she’s called Bent Emily.” The woman tapped him on the arm and whispered in his ear. ”Sorry,” said the man, “Emily Bent.” The woman smiled appreciatively. Her saviour lifted his head in a superior sort of way and told us he was a former police inspector. “Blah’s the name. Billy Blah. Private investigator these days, if anyone’s interested. Cheap rates.”

The other three persons in our happy band turned out to be Dilip Lombardi, a middle-aged ex-soldier, Vera Claymore, a twenty-eight year-old teacher whose haggard face gave her the appearance of a lady of the night, and our last companion, a bald-headed mean-faced man named Lawrence Warmonger, who declared himself to be a Justice of the Peace and who did not relish sharing a room, let alone a house with anyone else.

“Right, then,” I said. “That wasn’t so hard, was it?” I forced a smile and raised my glass in a toast. “To the island.”

The others responded half-heartedly, apart from Warmonger who simply peered at me over the top of his spectacles, his pale forehead furrowed like a ploughed field on a rainy day.

“Well done, Johnny,” whispered Mary, giving me a peck on the cheek. “Now, how about some food?”

“You’ll be bleedin’ lucky,” said Marston, indicating the toothless crone behind the bar. “Cheese toasties is all they’ve got, and I reckon we’ll be getting ‘em for breakfast an’all.” He laughed heartily and threw back the remains of his pint. “Another one, squire?”

Ordering more drinks and a helping of the aforementioned toasties, Mary, myself and our new friend settled down at a table close enough to our travelling companions to listen in on their conversations. Unfortunately, it seemed everyone else had the same idea, and apart from the crackle and hiss of the fire, the room remained obstinately silent for the remainder of the evening.

Retiring to bed shortly after eleven, I took the precaution of bracing a chair against the door.

“Expecting visitors, darling?” said Mary, pulling a flannelette nightie over her head.

“I’m hoping not,” said I. “But it wouldn’t surprise me if the would-be killer decided to get one in the bag before morning.” Tucking my trusty revolver under the mattress, I crawled into bed and prepared myself for a sleepless night.

 
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Posted by on January 20, 2019 in Detective Fiction

 

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The Victims Gather…


The Diary of Mary Watson (Mrs)

By the time we’d reached our destination, Johnny had finished his book and for the past several minutes had sat opposite me with a look of total confusion on his face. I smiled to myself as I recalled he’d worn that very same expression on our wedding night.

“Any the wiser, darling,“ I asked, patting his knee.

“Wiser,” said he, “but no happier. I do hope this Mr UN Owen does not intend to follow the plot of the book to the letter, otherwise we’ll all be in the shit.” He cast the novel aside and with slumped shoulders and a downturned mouth, gazed mournfully out of the window.

“Don’t forget, Johnny,” I said, “it’s likely that none of the others who’re invited will react according to their counterparts in the story either. I should think Mr Owen will have his work cut out if he means to kill us all off.”

We said no more about it, for the train had pulled into the station at Saint Just and we spent ten minutes hauling our bags across the platform and down the hill to the market square. Considering that it was only six o’clock, the place was deserted and only the light from an inn (appealingly titled The Budgie Smuggler) showed any signs of life. On questioning the innkeeper, we were directed to a gnarled individual huddled near the fire nursing a tankard of ale. After some prompting and the promise of six shillings, he agreed to transport us the five miles to Dolphin Cove in his cart.

The ride was not in the least comfortable, so I distracted myself by asking our driver a series of questions regarding other visitors bound for the same destination.

“To Dollen Co, yer mean?

“That’s what I said – Dolphin Cove.”

“Rum ol’ place that. No near nob’dy ner go there this time o’ yur. No’tin there, ‘ceptin the ol’ house. No doins nor not’in.”

“We’re going to the island.”

At this, the surly fellow turned his face to me and stared hard. “What’n go there fer?”

“We’ve been invited.”

“Wouldn’t go there meself. Not fer nobody.”

“But have you seen anyone else going there?” I persisted.

“Ye mean apart from yerslves?”

“Yes.”

“No.”

Johnny rolled his eyes. “Helpful chap.” Then digging into his pocket he produced a sovereign. “Look here my man, we’d like some information…”

The driver’s eyes lit up at the sight of the coin and he snatched it out of Johnny’s hand in an instant.

Two minutes later we knew all he knew – that seven other people had arrived in Saint Just that day and all had been transported to Dolphin Cove via this very cart (except for one fellow who had insisted on making the journey on foot).

“Strange that none of them were on our train,” murmured Johnny. “Surely we’re not the only travellers from London?”

I knew what he was thinking. “I’m sure our companion will have made alternative arrangements. He wouldn’t want to meet any of the others face to face just yet.”

Johnny nodded. “Yes, I’m sure you’re right.”

Half an hour later, we arrived at our hotel. I use the word in a very general sense, as the resemblance to anything I’ve previously experienced was similar only in that the building had a roof and four walls.

Johnny and I were billeted in a sparse room at the top of the house with a window that looked onto a back yard containing several pigs and a small horse. As we’d eaten nothing since lunchtime, we decided to forgo unpacking and seek refreshment in the bar. It was there that we met the first of the other invitees.

Leaning against the bar stood a young man in a pin-striped suit. His hair was greased back in the American fashion and a cigarette hung limply from the corner of his mouth. On seeing me, he withdrew the item and flicked it into the hearth.

“What’s a gal like you doin’ in a place like this, then?” he gushed, staring at my chest.

“Smacking you in the gob, if you don’t stop looking at my tits,” said I with a smile.

The man’s mouth dropped open and his eyes widened so much I thought they might fall out of his face.

Johnny stepped in front of me and patted the stranger’s chest. “Don’t mind my wife,” he said, “just her little joke. Can we buy you a drink?”

“Oh, yeah, course you can, son, course you can. I’ll have a dry martini, mate.”

“You’ll have a pint of bitter and like it,” said Johnny with admirable masculinity. He leaned on the bar and ordered the drinks, while I took in our surroundings.

Looking around the room, there were several other individuals sitting in twos or threes and keeping their conversations to general chit-chat. There were seven of them, a figure which corresponded with the number of people invited to the island. It seemed odd that each would have chosen this particular dwelling as their overnight lodging, but then again, the likelihood of the village being able to offer anything more suitable in terms of accommodation was minimal.

“On holiday?” asked Johnny, handing the man his drink.

“What, oh no, nothing like that.” Taking a sip of his beer he wiped a hand down his trousers and held it out. “Tony Marston’s the name. Greetings cards and related ephemera.”

“Ah,” said Johnny, shaking the man’s hand firmly. “I’m Doctor Wa…Wa…” He stammered and coughed, then regaining his composure, said, “Doctor Armstrong. Wedward Armstrong. Though you can call me Edward.”

“And this must be your old lady, eh?” said Marston, keeping his eyes firmly fixed on my face.

“That’s right,” I said. “So…Marston. That’s an interesting name.” I glanced at Johnny and unseen my our companion, he mouthed The first victim. I nodded. “Related to the Marston’s of Kent?”

“No love, I mean, Mrs Armstrong. “Just a common-or-garden Marston.”

“So you’re going to the island?” I said, giving him a sly grin.

Once more, the man’s mouth dropped open. “You two going there an’all?”

“We are,” I said, gazing around the room. “Along with seven others.”

As my eyes slid around the room, all heads turned towards me and the hum of conversation came to an abrupt halt.

 
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Posted by on January 12, 2019 in Detective Fiction

 

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Death and Other Anxieties


Diary of Doctor J. Watson

Our travelling documents stated that we must reach Dolphin Cove – a small village a few miles up the coast from Land’s End – by the following Friday lunchtime. Some chap with a boat would meet us at the harbour and take us across to Huge Island (which apparently does not live up to its name). Whether we were to encounter our fellow travellers at that point was unclear, and it was for this reason, and several others, that I decided to spend our train journey reading a copy of Mrs Christie’s novel, in the hope it might shed light on our forthcoming adventure.

“You do realise,” said Mary, flicking through a copy of Detective Monthly, “that we shall probably all be horribly murdered?”

“I should have thought that horribly was the only way to be murdered,” I said, giving her a playful wink.

“Don’t be obtuse, Johnny,” she snapped. “The only reason I agreed to this mad outing is my belief that between the two of us and Mr Big Nose, we can solve this thing.” She cast the magazine aside. “I do hope I’m right – If we all get killed, I’ll be really annoyed.”

Flipping to the end om my book, I said, “D’you recall who the culprit is in Mrs Christie’s version?”

“The judge.”

“Ah. So all we need do is look out for a wizened old magistrate or some such.”

Mary sighed and shook her head. “Really, husband, sometimes I despair of you.”

“What on earth d’you mean, darling?”

“Well, for a start, I’m not in the book and you’re not who you say you are. Don’t you think it’s probable none of the others will be who they say they are either?”

I considered this for a moment. “Of course. Even so, they’ll all have the same names as the characters in the novel? I mean, I am posing as Doctor Armstrong, the Harley Street Doctor.”

“Yes, but your Doctor Armstrong – the one with consumption – doesn’t work in Harley Street, does he?”

“No – he’s a junior doctor at St Bart’s.”

“There you are, then.” She sat back, satisfied.

I gazed out of the window at the long gardens and allotments whizzing past in the fading afternoon light. “I hope the hotel’s nice.”

“In any case,” said Mary, deftly avoiding my attempt to change the course of the conversation, “we’re not taking part in a book, are we? This is real, with real people and a real murderer.”

“We don’t know for sure it isn’t some ghastly joke.”

“Yes, darling, we do – no-one in their right mind would go to all this trouble to play a trick on a bunch of strangers.”

“No, I suppose you’re right.” I returned to my book with a view to finding out how my particular character meets his end and was a little disturbed to discover, a short while later, that Armstrong’s body is found washed up on the beach, having previously been suspected as the killer.

I persuaded myself there was nothing to worry about. Sherlock Holmes would utilise his skills in observation, logical reasoning and all-round clever-dickiness to save the day. After all, he’d pulled us back from the edge of death many times before.

“Besides, “ said Mary, butting into my musings, “Holmes won’t let us die – he’d have no-one to write up his adventures.”

“I’m sure you’re right,” said I, but my resolve had begun to slide away and I had the awful feeling that this time, Holmes had made a terrible error of judgement.

 
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Posted by on January 5, 2019 in Detective Fiction

 

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The Game’s Afoot

Exchanging a meaningful look with Holmes, I approached our visitor and knelt down beside him.

“How long have you had this cough?” I said.

He shrugged. “Three weeks, maybe four.”

Looking at his jacket I saw that it hung rather loosely about his torso. “And you’ve lost weight?”

He nodded.

“Night fevers? Sweats?”

Again he nodded, then looking into my eyes, I saw he knew as well as I did what the trouble was.

Returning to my seat, I allowed myself a moment before confirming my diagnosis. “Consumption, I’m afraid.”

Holmes waved the white card. “You think a spell on this island might help?”

“Of course, if it happened to be in the Caribbean, but the Devon coast is too cold at this time of year.” I cast a sidelong glance at Doctor Armstrong. “It might finish him off.”

“That’s it, then,” said Holmes, leaping to his feet. Crossing the room, he pulled the doctor from his chair and patted him heartily on the back. “Off to Barbados with you, my man. My colleague and I shall deal with this other matter.”

The visitor muttered his thanks and left.

“This other matter?” I said, when Holmes had seated himself again.

My friend took a few moments to fill his pipe and light it, puffing away until a cloud of blue smoke had almost engulfed him. “This doctor has been invited to an island, all-expenses paid, for reasons neither he nor we can guess, except for the ‘wonderful opportunity’ mentioned in the invitation. The doctor does not know his benefactor and has no conception of what may occur on his arrival. Following my initial interview with Armstrong and my investigations yesterday, I took the liberty of amending the doctor’s tickets to include another passenger – your wife.”

“You wish me to go in his place? And with Mary?” I sat back, aghast.

“To the Eastern Isles, yes.” Holmes dropped his voice. “My enquiries have unearthed a few odd, but important facts – as well as the good doctor, seven other individuals have been invited to this island. I suspect each of them has no idea as to why, which is suggestive, don’t you think?”

“Of what, Holmes?”

“Of murder, Watson. This has all the hallmarks of a master plan – something that has put the perpetrator to a great deal of trouble.”

A short burst of laughter escaped my lips before I could stop it. “Sorry, Holmes, but this whole thing sounds completely ridiculous.”

Holmes nodded. “Indeed it does, and I should think so to if it were not for one small fact.” Standing, he reached behind his chair to the bookshelf and took down a single volume, sheathed in a colourful paper dust-jacket with white and red lettering. “Here,” he said, waving the item. “A piece of fiction by the female authoress we know as Mrs Christie – I believe your wife has read a few of her efforts.”

I took the proffered volume and looked at the cover. “They changed the title?”

Holmes grunted. “Ah yes, some issue with offending certain communities, I believe. However, the point is that this story starts off with eight individuals being invited to a mysterious island where they are picked off, one by one, until there are none.”

I considered this for a moment, then said, “And you want Mary and I to go there and find out if this is some copycat killer?”

“Precisely.”

“And you don’t think this mysterious person may cotton on to the fact that I am not Doctor Armstrong?”

Holmes shook his head. “I suspect Armstrong has never actually met his intended benefactor and the latter’s knowledge of him likely relates to personal details, education and so forth. Also, as it happens, you do bear a vague resemblance to Armstrong in terms of height, bearing etcetera, though I suggest the application of a little hair dye and the removal of your moustache will aid the charade.”

“Shave off my moustache?” I exclaimed, fingering my facial development. “But I grew it especially for Mary – she likes the way it tickles her–”

“Yes, yes, spare me the details, Watson. The point is, the only fly in the ointment from the point of view of our would-be murderer, will be the appearance of Mary. And I’m certain you’ll be able to explain that away without arousing his suspicions.”

“But surely,” I protested, “It would be easier to simply prevent each of these people from going to the island in the first place?”

“Of course it would, Watson, but then we should not find out who the murderer is.”

I let out a long sigh, though I could not conceal my curiosity. “Seems a bit of a risk.”

“Yes, which is why I shall be coming along too, though no-one must know of my presence in order that I may have time to evaluate the situation and catch the killer before he, or she, strikes.” He raised an eyebrow. “Is the game afoot?”

I smiled. “Yes, Holmes, the game’s afoot.”

 
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Posted by on December 28, 2018 in Detective Fiction

 

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