While Holmes and my dear Johnny organised breakfast for everyone, I worked my way around the house and unlocked the bedrooms, collected the others and ensured no-one had popped off during the night. Thankfully no-one had, and they quietly fell in behind and followed me back down to the kitchen without complaint.
“Here we are,” said Holmes, ladling porridge into eight bowls. “A traditional Scottish breakfast for all, och the noo, etcetera.”
“Hmph,” said General MacArthur, inspecting his oaty provision. “Out of a tin, eh?”
Holmes shook his head. “Sealed cardboard box, actually.” He passed the container across the table for inspection.
“What’s this? Awfy Guid Porridge fer Wee Scots Folk,” said the general, reading the label. “And sealed, you say?”
“We both gave the box a thorough going over before opening it,” said Johnny helpfully. “I can assure you, it’s poison free.”
Vera Claymore was the first to start eating and had already shovelled several spoonfuls into her not-so-dainty mouth when she held up her spoon. “Any more, Mr Holmes?”
“Plenty in the pan,” said the Great Detective, tucking into his own bowl with gusto.
The General hmphed some more but set about filling his own stomach, nevertheless.
“What shall we do today, Sherl?” I asked Holmes, when the others had cleared their plates and begun organising the washing up.
“I should very much like to have a day free of murder, Mary.”
“I’ll second that,” said Johnny. “Perhaps we could all sit outside – it’s warm enough and we could keep an eye on everyone.”
“Good plan,” said Holmes. “Think I spied a few deck chairs behind the shed.”
And so, fifteen minutes later, we had arranged a rough circle of chairs and loungers on the lawn behind the house, with two small tables bearing jugs of tap water (the pouring of which we had all witnessed).
I arranged our chairs so Johnny and Holmes were on either side of me but none of the others were within hearing distance. As we sat there gazing around our depleted circle of acquaintances, I couldn’t help wondering who would be next on the killer’s list.
Holmes produced his meerschaum pipe and after stuffing it with a lump of Hard Shag, proceeded to puff away as if he hadn’t a care in the world. I glanced at Johnny, who rolled his eyes, though not in a scornful way.
“What are you thinking, Sherlock?” I said, when the silence had dragged on for several minutes.
“I’m thinking, Mary Watson, that if we could work out who killed Marston, we should be a great deal closer to solving this mystery.” He puffed away for a while, then added, “but I’m bound to say that I can’t see how even two murderers could pull off this thing easily.”
“What?” said Johnny. “You surely don’t think there can be more than two?”
Holmes looked at me with a sardonic smile. “Go on, Mary, you’ve worked it out, I’ll be bound.”
As it happens, I’d spent a good deal of time considering how one or even two individuals could be responsible, and I could only come up with one possible solution. “As it happens,” I said, “I’ve spent a good deal of time considering how one or even two individuals could be responsible, and I can only come up with one possible solution.”
My husband stared at me. “Really?”
“Yes,” I said. “Really.”
Holmes shuffled round in his chair and gave me a wide smile. “Go on, then, spill it.”
I took a sip of water and a deep breath. “The way I see it, no single person has been unaccounted for in each case. If they had, we’d have spotted it before now. However, if one person was unaccounted for in each case, but only on one occasion, we’d have little reason to suspect them…”
“Since they were accounted for on the other occasions,” finished Holmes, nodding.
“And as you say,” I went on, “if we knew who Marston’s killer was, we’d be well on the way to working out the rest of it.”
Holmes sniffed. “You’re so close, Mary, so very damn close, but not quite there.” He looked at Johnny. “Watson? You must have your own ideas about Marston?”
“Oh, well, you know. Nothing specific.”
“Come on, John,” urged Holmes. “Even if you’re completely wrong, I’d like to hear your thoughts.”
“Thanks for the encouragement, Holmes,” said Johnny with more than a trace of bitterness.
“Go ahead, darling, I know you have a theory,” I said, patting his leg.
My husband reddened a little and coughed several times before continuing. “Well, I was thinking about the other guests. As I recall, we first of all followed the footprints to Emily Bent’s bedroom. Then General MacArthur arrived, followed by Billy Blah, Lombardi, Vera Claymore and finally Warmonger.”
“And Warmonger came down the stairs from the upper floor?” said Holmes, a frown creasing his brow.
“Yes,” said Johnny, “but…”
“Go on,” said Holmes leaning forward.
“It’s just that I didn’t actually see him coming down the stairs. Rather, I heard him come down – clump, clump, clump – his footsteps somewhat exaggerated, if you see what I mean.”
Holmes waggled his meerschaum. “So he could have simply given the impression that he was coming downstairs, when in fact he had just come back upstairs from the store cupboard underneath Marston’s bedroom?”
I nodded eagerly. “Where he’d created the thumping noise with a broom attached to a breadknife poking through the floorboards and banging against the chamber pot in order to attract our attention and give him time to come back upstairs and appear to have nothing to do with the murder.”
We all looked at each other for a moment, digesting the consequences of this information.
“I don’t understand,” said Johnny. “Warmonger’s dead, so even if he did kill Marston, he can’t be the main killer.”
“But that’s the whole point, darling,” I said, grasping his hand. “He’s only one of the killers.” I looked at Holmes.
“Let me take you back, Watson,” said the big-nosed detective. “What do you recall about the invitation Armstrong, or whoever he was, received?”
“You remember,” went on Holmes, “Armstrong’s invitation mentioned some ‘wonderful opportunity’ which he would receive if and when he arrived at the island?”
“I suppose,” said Johnny, his expression now one of complete confusion.
“In your examination of the invitation itself, do you recall the left-hand edge of the card?”
Johnny sighed, shaking his head. “No, Holmes I do not recall the left-hand edge.”
Our companion smirked and waved a hand dismissively. “Apologies Watson, I’m showing off again. No, there was a slight difference in the border of the card which at the time I thought little of, but of late I have begun to consider of utmost importance.” He glanced around to ensure the others were still seated in their respective chairs. Then, “I suspect the card was originally of the folding variety and that the second half had been cut off in order that I should not see it.”
“And why would Armstrong not wish you to see it?” said Johnny.
“Because, friend Watson, it was on that piece of card that Armstrong’s instructions were written.” He sat back, apparently satisfied.
“For God’s sake, Holmes,” spluttered Johnny. “What instructions?”
With another sardonic smile, Holmes murmured, “the instructions that he was to murder one of the other guests.” He turned to me and gave a small nod.
“It’s simple darling,” I said. “Each of the guests was told to murder one of the others, or they themselves would be murdered.”
Johnny threw up his hands. “That’s ridiculous – why wouldn’t they just go to the police?”
“Because all of them had committed crimes and would’ve landed themselves in even more trouble.”
I watched my husband’s face as this information worked its way through to his brain. Then his eyes lit up. “But that’s preposterous!”
“It is,” said Holmes. “And brilliant.”
“The only problem,” I said, with a glance at Holmes, “is Armstrong.”
“Yes,” he said, letting out a long breath. “If he wasn’t who he said he was, then…”
“Then the real Armstrong could be the brains behind it all,” said Johnny.
“He could,” said Holmes. “Or he could be our one saving grace. The one person who could bugger things up for whoever planned this bizarre charade.”
We turned to look at the other guests, all still sitting in a circle and all staring straight back at us.
“Yes,” said Holmes, in a low voice. “Each one of them intends to murder one of the others. Except for that one individual who does not need to, because he or she intends to be the only person left alive.”