“Have to say, old bean,” I said, passing round the Peek Freans, “You couldn’t have left if much later.”
Holmes clasped the mug between his hooves and sipped his cocoa. “Would’ve been quicker off the mark, Watson, but my accessories kept catching on the stair rods.”
“Humph.” Mary put the kettle back on the stove and gave the famous consulting detective a fierce sideways glance. “That’ve sounded good in court – sorry m’lud, if I hadn’t caught my udders on the banister, I’d have been able to avert the stabbing to death of Flora, Doctor Watson and his beautiful wife.”
I coughed, nervously. “Alright my dear, Holmes has apologised.”
Flora helped herself to another biscuit and waved it at me like a baton. “No, Mary’s right. Another few seconds and it would have been curtains for the lot of us.”
I was about to apologise again for the general lack of appreciation, but Holmes shook his head.
“It’s fine, Watson. The ladies have every right to complain – after all, I was well aware of your plight. It took longer than I expected to curtail the killer’s movements.”
Mary thumped his arm. “Well aware, were you? Well aware? Fat lot of good that’d do us with a knife in our backs.”
Sherlock Holmes rubbed his bruised arm. “Perhaps it’s time I filled you in on the details, then.” He gave me a hopeful smile. “Mind taking notes, Johnny?”
“No, no, not at all.” I took another slurp of cocoa and pulled out my pocket diary. “Fire away.”
Holmes slipped off the remainder of his bovine costume and made himself more comfortable. “After your husband left me in the field to welcome you, Mary, I spent a few minutes with my animal friends before heading towards the barn. Unfortunately, I had forgotten that I was masquerading as a cow, rather than a bull, and had not made provision for the consequences of milking time. I shan’t bore you with the details, but I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a more surprised milkmaid.”
I leaned forward. “How did you manage to approach the house without being seen?”
“Ah-ha,” said Holmes, giving me a sardonic smile. “Being a cow has its advantages. I was able to make my way into the farmyard behind the gathering crowd without drawing attention to myself, simply by mooing occasionally. It was while I was watching the proceedings after the dastardly murder of the police officer, that I noticed Judith Starkadder counting the heads of the throng. I studied her features carefully, Watson, and I saw a strange expression slide across her hard, bony face. I therefore deduced that she had worked out who the killer was.”
At this, Holmes took out his Meerschaum pipe and began to stuff it with Hard Old Shag (one of his favourite tobaccos). I glanced at Mary and she rolled her eyes, while Flora affected a yawn.
“And then?” I said, hoping he would take the hint. But Holmes is never a man to be rushed and he took his time lighting the pipe, taking a few thoughtful puffs before continuing with his tale.
“It occurred to me,” he said, “that if another murder was going to be committed – and I believed it was – the killer would have not only had to be present when the police officer was stabbed, but would also have needed to be able to watch you three in Ada Doom’s bedroom.”
“Sorry.” Mary waved a hand dismissively at Holmes. “But we already know who the murderer is – Adam Shitebreath.”
“Yes,” put in Flora. “After he turned into a zombie.” She nodded enthusiastically.
Holmes sniggered in a way that seemed to suggest he believed himself to be the only individual in possession of all the facts. I myself have become almost immune to this annoying habit, but I could see temperatures were rising in the faces of the womenfolk.
“Actually, Holmes…” I began.
“Not zombies, in fact, Miss Starkadder, but a member of your own family.” He turned to look at the still-naked figure in the corner. The three of us followed his gaze.
Adam Shitebreath had been securely fastened to the chair, but his face was still a mass of silent rage. Holmes got up and crossed the room.
“You see, Mary, your theory about the knives was quite correct.”
Mary sniffed and allowed herself a smile. “Course it was.”
“However, the conclusion you had not reached was why Adam was strangled, and not stabbed.”
“Strangled?” Echoed all three of us.
Holmes puffed at his pipe. “The murderer is left-handed as you deduced, but there is another factor we must consider. It’s far easier to make believe you’ve been strangled than to have been stabbed, wouldn’t you agree, Doctor?”
I nodded. “Of course, Holmes. Goes without saying.”
The great detective turned to Mary. “Have you read any of those trashy crime novels by that Christie woman?”
Mary nodded warily. “Some, yes.”
Holmes glanced at me, gave a slight smile, then turned back to my wife. “What about ‘And Then There Were None’. Read that one?”
Mary nodded, a frown forming on her already wrinkled brow.
“Then you will know that the murderer is a man who pretends to be killed in order to draw suspicion away from himself. In order to do so, he enlists the help of one of the other suspects.”
“What are you getting at, Holmes?” I was beginning to feel I’d missed a vital clue.
“Adam could not have killed Sergeant Flange, because Adam at that very moment was lying on the table covered by a bed sheet, was he not”
“Well, yes he was, as a matter of fact,” said I.
“So the murderer must have been someone very close by. Close enough to use that old circus trick known as the ‘boomerang throw’.” Holmes smiled sardonically. “Isn’t that right, Flora? Or should I say – Dexterous Dixie the Knife-Throwing Queen?”
We all turned to look at Flora and for a moment, I thought she was going to burst into tears, then her face began to change and a low growl came from her lips.
“Think you’re so clever, don’t you, Mister Holmes?”
Holmes nodded. “Yes, actually, I do.”
“I say, Holmes, you can’t be serious – Flora was standing next to me when Flange was killed.”
Holmes raised an eyebrow. “Was she, or is that simply what she allowed you to believe?” His right hand flicked up suddenly and a pair of standard-issue handcuffs flew across the room. In a second, Flora’s left hand came up and caught them.
Holmes laughed. “Hoist by her own petard. Cuff her, friend Watson.”
Somewhat taken aback I nevertheless obeyed my companion and clasped Flora’s wrists together with the dreaded manacles.
“And so,” Holmes continued, moving back towards the silent figure of Adam. “Now we come to the unmasking.” And with a deft movement, he grabbed the back of Adam’s neck and pulled it sharply downwards. The man’s whole head seemed to give way and fell to the ground. Underneath was a familiar, but shocking face – Aunt Ada Doom.
“Bloody hell,” said I.
“Christ on a bike,” muttered my wife.
“Fuck,” said Flora Poste.
“You see,” said Holmes. “When Flora’s parents were killed, everyone assumed it was an accident, but – and I’m making one or two assumptions here – I believe Flora found something in her mother, Melanie Poste’s, effects that told her something that shook her world.” He waved a hand at Flora. “Would you mind?”
Flora shrugged. “Yes, alright, clever clogs. I did find something in my mother’s knicker drawer – a letter from Fig Poste, Ada Doom’s husband, declaring his undying love for my mother. The cheating bitch made my father’s life unbearable.”
Holmes nodded. “So you decided to get your own back on the family by killing them all and inheriting whatever fortune was left.”
Flora nodded solemnly.
“Sorry Holmes,” I said. “I still don’t understand.”
“Naturally,” said Holmes. “It turns out that Aunt Ada Doom did see something nasty in the woodshed all those years ago – she saw her husband banging the arse off Melanie Poste. And she knew when Flora turned up at Cold Comfort, she’d have to ‘cut a deal’ as they say in the flicks, in order to avoid ending up dead.”
“So where’s Adam?” asked Mary.
Holmes pointed upwards. “On the bed. They skinned him and used it as a costume. Much like my own disguise,” he said with a chuckle.
“Sorry Holmes,” I muttered, “But I’m still confused. Isn’t Ada Doom lying on the bed too?”
“No. That is in fact the body of Melanie. Flora’s mother.” He frowned and gave Flora a hard stare. “I expect she brought the body to the farm in the hope of scaring Ada to death. As it turned out, they simply substituted one body for another.”
“You mean..?” I said.
“Yes, Watson – the two women were twin sisters. Obvious, really. No doubt when Ada had outlived her usefulness as a killer, she herself would have been killed.” He stuck his pipe in his mouth and busied himself relighting it.
“But why on earth did Flora involve us?”
“Like all villains, she believed herself infallible. Knowing I was in France, she thought silly old Doctor Watson would toddle along, go through the motions but in time, give up, effectively clearing her of any blame.” He looked up at me. “But she was wrong.”
“Right, then,” I said. “Better call the police, eh Holmes?”
“No need, Watson, they’re already here. Inspector Lestrade is in the barn. He’s the Holstein Friesian.” Pulling out his pocket watch, he frowned. “Better be quick – he’s due for milking in five minutes.”