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The Window Watcher


From the Journal of Sherlock Holmes
Huge Island
Under a small shed

Utilising a pair of Mycroft’s patented super-strong spy glasses, I watched the proceedings from my burrow beneath the garden shed on the south side of the house. Unfortunately, my dear brother’s latest invention – a long-range listening device that depended on a clockwork mechanism for power – had developed a fault. The upshot of this meant I could only hear occasional phrases, interrupted by intermittent squeaks and whirring sounds from the headphones. Even so, I’d heard enough to know that Watson had made it clear to all and sundry (apart from the butler and his wife), that they were in danger, though how seriously they took this was hard to judge.

The guests were about to eat together for the first time, and I watched carefully as the butler served what I expected would be a cold soup of some description, followed by a ham salad. Curiously, none of the guests seemed keen to actually eat anything and after the butler’s departure, they all sat around looking at each other.

At this point, my hearing device gave up altogether, so I determined to get closer to the action. Packing my gadgets in my shoulder bag, I slid along the base of the hedge and round to the other side of the house where I knew the kitchen was located. Dressed in my patented Green-as-Grass-Lawn-Suit, I knew it would be almost impossible for anyone to spot me from the house, but nevertheless, I took the utmost care as I slid across the lawn to the kitchen window.

Rising slowly, I attached my headphones again and laid the patented Window-Trumpet attachment against the lowest pane of glass. Immediately, the butler’s voice echoed in my ears:

“I’m telling you, Ethel, they aren’t bloody eating a damn thing. Watched ‘em through the keyhole, I did, and they’re all just sitting there, like bleedin statues.”

The woman responded in a squeaky, high-pitched tone that put me in mind of Mrs Lestrade.

“Well, I’m doin’ me bleedin best, ain’t I, Tommy? Don’t know what they expect, anyway, what with the master not being here an’all to tell us what we’re supposed to be doin and that.”

At this, she burst into tears and her husband straightaway flew into a rage.

“Aw, for fuck’s sake, Ethel. Don’t you bleedin start wiv yer bleedin blubbering again – it’s more than a bloke can stand. An’ it’s not my bleedin fault the master and the missus ain’t here, is it? So just cut that out now, afore I give you summat to cry abaht.”

The woman ceased her snivelling, but a new sound came to my ears, informing me that someone else had come into the room. On hearing the newcomer’s dulcet tones, I couldn’t help but smile – it was my own dear Watson, no doubt hot on the trail of the killer.

“Ah, Rogers, and Mrs Rogers,” said he. “Hope you’ll forgive the intrusion into your particular domain, but we were wondering, that is, the other guests and myself were wondering, who prepares the meals.”

From the ensuing silence, I deduced that Rogers and his good lady were looking at each other, trying to work out what to say. Eventually, the butler coughed and said, “Well, sir, it is Mrs Rogers who prepares all the meals here, as we have been instructed so to do by the master.”

“The master. You mean Mister Owen?” said Watson.

“That’s right, sir.”

“You said earlier that he’s expected home this evening.”

“Yes sir,” said Rogers, “in time for dinner, we’re told.”

Another silence and I could almost hear the cogs in my old friend’s brain clunking round as he considered his next question. Footsteps on the stone flags told me the good doctor had crossed to the window and was no doubt rubbing his chin thoughtfully. If he’d taken the trouble to slide the sash up and lean forward, he’d very likely have spotted me. But Watson is not a man of action, so he simply stood there, thinking.

“Then you know your master well?” he said, after a long pause.

There was a hesitation in the other man’s voice that suggested what he would say next might well be a lie.

“Of course, sir, Mister Owen and his wife took us on several months ago and have treated us very well.”

“Several months ago?” said Watson, in a tone that I recognised. He too had seen through the lie. “So you’d be able to describe them to me?”

The butler coughed. “No sir.”

“No?”

“No. The master issued specific instructions regarding the guests and yourself and what we were to tell you and also…” he coughed. “And also what we are not to tell you.”

“You just said ‘the guests and yourself’, didn’t you?”

The butler coughed again. “Er, yes, sir.”

“So your master mentioned me by name – Doctor Watson?”

“Yes sir.”

Even though my listening device was not of the utmost clarity, I quite clearly heard Watson’s sharp intake of breath. It was almost as loud as my own.

Watson made his excuses and left, and after a moment, I heard an object thrown across the room.

“They know,” the man muttered. “They bloody know!”

The butler’s wife must have endeavoured to comfort him, as their next words were muffled, perhaps by kisses and a close embrace.

“Jesus wept,” moaned Mrs Rogers. “We’ll be buggered if this comes out.”

“Buggered’s the word,” said her husband. Then his voice became stern and I discerned an angry edge to his tone as he said, “But you listen ‘ere, Ethel. Don’t you dare say a bleedin word about this, no matter what any of ‘em say. If they find out we’ve never met Owen, they’ll only ask more questions and then everything’ll come out.”

This last was of great interest and I determined to let Watson know. Slithering back to my burrow beneath the shed, I scribbled a short message on a scrap of paper, then sliding a hand into my poacher’s pocket, pulled out George, Inspector Lestrade’s prize carrier pigeon. Fastening the message to the bird’s leg, I communicated with him in soft tones, explaining in pigeon-speak that he was to fly to the room of Doctor and Mrs Watson. The creature nodded, though whether this was to show his understanding, or simply a pigeonic tic, I couldn’t possibly know.

As George flew off to his destination, I hoped Watson had remembered to leave birdseed on his window ledge.

 
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Posted by on April 13, 2019 in Detective Fiction

 

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Doing it By the Book


Diary of Doctor J. Watson

Naturally, it occurred to me that Mr Owen and his wife (if they existed) were not included in the eleven Indian braves depicted on the dining table, and that the butler and his wife made up the numbers, just as they did in the book. Of course, as Mary keeps reminding me, this is not a book.

“Ah,” said a gruff voice behind me. “Red Indians, eh?”

I turned to General MacArthur. “Native Americans, actually,” I said.

“Some sort of parlour game, is it?” He waved a finger at the figurines.

Though I opened my mouth to reply, an explanation was not forthcoming. Luckily, my dear wife took up the challenge.

“No, no,” she said, approaching the old soldier and patting his arm. “I should think it’s something to do with the old nursery rhyme.” She pointed to a framed poem on the wall above one of the cabinets, and began reading. “One little, two little, three little Indians. Four little, five little, six little Indians. Seven little, eight little, nine little Indians. Ten little Indian boys.”

“Ah,” muttered the General, immediately losing interest.

“Except, that’s not quite right, is it?”

Mister Lombardi had slid silently into the room. He stood pointing at the table. “There’s eleven. Not ten.”

He gave me a hard stare and I coughed in a bid to distract him from the fact that I did not have an answer.

Billy Blah and Vera Claymore had also arrived, and they too looked at me as if I might be the fount of all knowledge.

“He’s right, you know, Doctor Watson.”

We all turned to look towards the window where Justice Warmonger stood staring back at us. How he’d managed to get into the room and reach that spot without my noticing, unnerved me rather and I made a mental note to keep a sharp eye on his movements.

The judge continued. “There’s something you’re not telling us, isn’t there Doctor? Something about this whole adventure.” His supercilious smile convinced no-one, but his voice held a menacing tone that threw me off balance and I saw no option but to tell the truth. Or most of it, at least.

Striding to the door, I peeked out and saw Emily Bent hurrying down the stairs. I waited for her to join us then closed the door.

“Has anyone read a novel called ‘And Then There Were None’ by Agatha Christie?” I said.

Miss Claymore stuck her hand up. “I had a copy of it,” she said, nodding to Mary, “but someone swiped it.”

“That’s odd,” said Billy Blah. “I was given a copy for my birthday recently.” He paused and glanced around as if expecting a chorus of congratulations to ring out. “Anyway, I’d left it on my bedside table one night and when I came back from having a sh– I mean, a wash, it was gone. Just vanished.”

“So no-one’s actually read it?” I said.

They all shook their heads.

Warmonger piped up again. “Not about a murder, this book, is it?” Again, that supercilious smile.

“It’s about a group of people who are invited to an island…”

“Ooh,” yelped Vera Claymore, clapping her hands excitedly. “Just like us, then?”

“Invited to an island,” I went on, “and murdered.”

The silence was deafening.

Eventually, Emily Bent (or, Bob, as I’d begun to think of her) stated the one thing I hadn’t wanted to mention.

“It’s about secrets, isn’t it? Secrets about stuff we’ve done. Stuff we oughtn’t to ‘ave done.”

“Humph,” snorted Warmonger. “I for one have no sordid secrets in my past.”

“Didn’t say they was sordid, did I?” moaned Emily.

I flapped my hands in a calming motion. “Let’s not get carried away. What we have to remember is that we’re talking about a book. And this quite clearly is not a book – it’s real.”

“Marston was the first, then?” said a voice behind me.

I looked at Dilip Lombardi. He shrugged and said, “Well, he was, wasn’t he?”

“The main thing,” said Mary, stepping forward and taking control, “is to stick together and not go off by ourselves.”

“But we are by ourselves,” whined Emily/Bob. “Up in our rooms. Alone.”

Mary bit her lip. “I meant, stay together when we’re together and when we’re not, keep the doors locked.”

They all fell silent again, until Billy Blah noticed the damaged Native American.

“Bloody Nora. That one’s got a flaming great spike through him.”

“Yes,” said Warmonger, striding over to the table and picking up the offending item. “Representing Mister Marston, I believe.”

“Bugger,” said Blah. “So if he was the first, one of us will be next.” He gazed around at the others. “What d’yer think – stabbed, hung, drowned, poisoned?”

At that, the door swung open and the butler appeared carrying a tray. “Luncheon is served.”

We all looked at him, no doubt wondering the same thing – would the meal be safe to eat?

 
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Posted by on April 6, 2019 in Detective Fiction

 

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The Undoing of Emily Bent


Diary of Doctor J. Watson

The butler and his wife directed each of us to our rooms, advising that lunch would be served in the dining hall at one o’clock. If either of them noticed they had an extra guest in the shape of my own dear wife, they made no mention of it. Strange too, that our names and those of our companions did not appear to be ticked off any list or schedule and no-one spoke any of our names aloud. This struck me as doubly odd in my case and I wondered if Rogers had already been alerted to my true identity, or if he simply presumed the matter was none of his business. Of course, it may be that, in true country-house-murder style, ‘the butler did it’, in which case he would be all too aware that Doctor Armstrong was not among the guests.

Our room proved to be adjacent to the one where I had observed the face at the window, so as soon as I’d unpacked, I took the liberty of unlocking the connecting door that led to the other room, and peeked in.

“Doctor Watson!” yelped Miss Bent, grabbing a towel and clutching it to her bare chest. “How very dare you.”

“Ahm, Miss Bent. Do excuse me, I was just…” But there was no explanation under which I could conceal my blunder. However, I did have one point in my favour. Having glimpsed the woman’s unclothed form, I now knew something none of our companions knew – Miss Emily Bent was a man.

“Oh, I say,” murmured Mary, who had appeared at my elbow. “Did I just see what I thought I saw?”

Miss Bent dropped the towel, revealing her nakedness, including the large appendage dangling between her legs. “Oh, what’s the bloody use,” she said with a tearful sigh.

“Come, come,” said I, grasping a blanket and wrapping it about her. “It seems Mary and I aren’t the only ones masquerading as other people.”

She sat down on the bed and covered her face with her hands. “I knew it’d never work,” she sobbed through her tears.

“Don’t be silly,” said Mary, sitting down beside her and sliding a protective arm around the woman’s shoulders. “If Johnny wasn’t such a nosy bugger, we’d never have known.”

“Really?” she sobbed.

“Really,” said Mary. She gave me a meaningful look and mouthed, ‘Say something nice’.

“Yes, indeed,” I began. “We’d never had guessed. A master of disguise.” I paused, then, “Nevertheless, I’d be interested to learn how you came to be invited to the island and why you chose this particular, er, outfit.”

Within a few minutes the whole story poured out, amid several more bouts of sobbing and much nose-blowing. It transpired that the real Emily Bent, a spinster with no known relatives, had died suddenly a few weeks earlier. Her maid Beatrice, realising she would be out of a job if the truth came out, had buried the old dear in the back garden and adopted the guise of Miss Bent in order to take over her employer’s house and the small, but regular, income from a long-established annuity. The fact that Beatrice too, was not, and quite clearly never had been, a woman, was omitted from the tale until I pointed it out.

“Oh, that,” she said, glumly. “Well, you’re the detective – you tell me.” She gave me a defiant look and would say no more, so with a glance at Mary (which offered no clue, though I suspected she had already formulated an explanation), I sat on the end of the bed and rubbed my chin the way Holmes always does when he’s ruminating on a problem. Recalling a case the Great Detective solved some years ago (The Adventure of the Poncing Man), I decided to put forward the same argument Holmes had on that occasion.

“Well,” I said, finally. “You are not a young woman, er, man, though you do hide your age well. From the structure of your face – high cheekbones, small mouth, rather petite nose, together with your slight build and smallish feet, I’d say you had discovered a talent for female impersonation, perhaps in one of those seedy Londen clubs where such things are popular. However, such work would be humiliating, and the ahm, carnal favours customers would naturally expect may have troubled you, so you sought out a more socially acceptable role.” I raised a questioning eyebrow. “Am I on the right track?”

Emily Beatrice nodded. “Near enough. Except that, a few weeks ago, a distant relative of Miss Bent’s turned up and I was forced to leave the house before they discovered my deception. But by then, I’d received the invitation to provide spiritual and religious support to Mr Owen, and with nowhere else to go, I thought I may as well give it a try.” Then with an imploring look, she said, “You won’t say anything to the others, will you?”

I glanced at Mary and said, “No. Provided you don’t kill anyone.”

Her mouth dropped open. “Why would I do that?” She looked at me, at Mary, then her eyes widened. “Oh God. You think the person who killed Mister Marston is here, on the island? That’s why you’re really here, isn’t it?”

It seemed appropriate to change the subject, so I said, “When you first came into this room, was anyone else present?”

She frowned and shook her head. “Only the butler.”

I walked across to the window and looked down to the place I’d been standing earlier. “Just wondered.”

Mary stood up and gestured that we should go. To Emily Beatrice, she said, “Why don’t you get changed and we’ll see you downstairs for lunch?”

Back in our own room, with the connecting door firmly closed, I said, “You think she’s telling the truth?

“If not, it’s an awfully convoluted tale.” She patted my arm. “Well done with your explanation for her disguise.”

I sniffed and puffed out my chest. “Yes, I thought so.”

“Almost sounded like one of Sherlock’s theories.” She gave me a sly wink and I knew she’d seen through my ploy. “Anyway, we should change for lunch.”

“Yes, I want to see the dining room before the others appear.”

And so a few minutes later, we made our way downstairs and entered the dining hall – a pleasant room with large windows looking across the lawn. On one side were the usual cabinets containing cutlery and silverware and on the other a long highly-polished table with twelve chairs arranged around it. Nine places had been set for lunch and in the centre of the table stood a line of miniature carvings, exactly like the one we had found on Marston’s body, each one depicted holding a bow and arrow and sporting a small feather in his headgear. The one furthest away from us had a small metal nail pushed through his chest.

“Marston,” I murmured.

“That’s funny,” said Mary. “In the book there are ten, but here there’s eleven.”

I nodded. “Eight invited people. Plus Rogers and his wife and…” I looked at her. “And you.”

 
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Posted by on March 30, 2019 in Detective Fiction

 

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A Face at the Window


Diary of Doctor J. Watson

I bade Mary to hang back with me while the others disembarked – I wished to observe the faces of our companions as they were met in turn by the two strangers on the shore. However, if anyone recognised either of them, they hid it well.

Staying close behind, we were able to hear what was said as our companions moved along, and I noted the man introduced himself and his wife to each guest with the exact same phrase and the same intonation – if he was not a butler, he was doing a damn good impression of one.

As we drew level, the man gave a nod of the head and said, “Good morning sir. My name is Rogers. I am the butler here and this is my wife, Mrs Rogers. I trust you will both enjoy your stay on the island.”

I reached out a hand in greeting to which Rogers offered the hint of a smile and gave another deferential nod, indicating it was not his place to shake hands with guests.

With a cough, I brushed my hand down my jacket, as if that’s what I’d intended all along, but I was pleased to see my little ploy had at least proved Rogers played his part well.

Mary put in a small performance of her own with the man’s wife, giving the woman a pat on the arm and observing that it was nice to see the sun out again. The woman, a dark-haired and rather slight-looking thing, offered a curtsy and forced a smile, though her timid sideways glance at her husband told us she was very definitely under his thumb.

As we joined the others on the beach with our belongings, Rogers collected a quantity of mail and other items from the captain and announced that we should follow him up to the house where we would be shown to our rooms.

Trudging up the rough track that led to the house, one of our companions dropped back and fell into step with us.

“What d’you think, then, Doctor Watson?” said he, in a low voice.

“About what, Mister Blah?”

“Call me Billy,” he said, “everyone does. I mean about all this – all of us here, total strangers, gathered on a remote island in the hope of a nice bit of something coming our way.”

“A nice bit of something?” I said. “And what might that be in your case?”

“Murder, of course,” he said, with a laugh.

I stopped and stared at him. “Murder?”

He laughed again. “Not actual murder, no, I mean the board game – Murder. You know, each one gets to play a part, like Colonel Mustard, or Miss Green or whatever and everyone has to try and work out who the murderer is.”

“You think we’re here to play a game?” said Mary.

Billy Blah rolled his eyes. “Ain’t that what I just said? That’s why I’m here.”

Mary and I must have looked blank, for he continued, “My invitation said I was to organise a real-life version of the board game for a private party and I would be rewarded for my troubles.”

“Rewarded how?” said I.

“Well, with money, obviously.” He strode off quickly in an effort to catch up with the others.

Mary tugged my sleeve. “What did your invitation say? Doctor Armstrong’s I mean?”

Thinking back to that day at Baker Street, I recalled the wording on Armstrong’s invitation. “Rather ambiguous in his case, I’m afraid. The words ‘wonderful opportunity’ were mentioned, but otherwise it was spectacularly unspecific.”

She nodded. “Vera Claymore seemed to think there was a teaching post in the offing.”

I frowned. “Teaching? Here?” I shook my head. “Whatever each one of these people thought they were going to get out of this trip, it had to be enough of a temptation to lure them away from their everyday lives.”

“It’d be interesting to know what all the other invitations said.”

“Yes,” I agreed, “it certainly would. Though since the point must have been to get them to the island, the murderer is already ahead of the game.”

We had reached the crest of the incline and were now standing on the edge of a vast lawn. A flagged path snaked away through a series of topiaried hedges, depicting numerous animals of the woodland variety. There was something a little unnerving about the sculptures and I was reminded of a case Holmes had declined to get involved in, where a man had slaughtered his entire family with an axe at an isolated hotel in the Scottish Highlands. On that occasion, it eventually emerged that the killer had gone completely insane. Could the same thing be happening here? Was our host – whoever he or she was – just a total fucking nutcase?

Negotiating our way through the ornamental gardens, Rogers and his wife halted by a narrow gateway halfway along a high Leylandii hedge. Passing through the gate, we were finally confronted by the house itself. Like the lawn, it was vast, spanning at least two hundred yards across and three storeys high. Being a connoisseur of architecture, I recognised the style as vaguely Tudor Rivivalist, with the usual characteristics, including steeply pitched-roofs, mullioned windows and half-timbered herringbone brickwork. The place was striking in its sheer immensity and I couldn’t help but let out an appreciative gasp.

Mary tugged my hand and leaning over, whispered, “Whoever owns this must have an absolute shit-load of cash.”

I nodded, and we walked on, heading for the entrance hall with its studded wooden doors. As we approached, I let my eyes wander upwards and caught a glimpse of a shape at one of the windows. The woman’s face, for that is what I believed it to be, disappeared in an instant. Stepping up to where Rogers was waiting, his hand on the open door as our fellow travellers passed through, I tapped the man on his shoulder.

“I just saw someone at one of the upstairs windows. Would that be your Mistress?”

The butler blinked several times. “Mrs Owen, sir? Why no sir. Mister and Mrs Owen are away on business and won’t be back until this evening.”

“Ah,” I said. “Then it must have been one of the servants?”

A frown creased the other man’s forehead. “Servants, sir? No, sir. Only servants are Mrs Rogers and me.”

I took a few steps back and peered up at the window again. There was nothing to see.

Mary joined me and followed my gaze. “Perhaps it was a trick of the light, darling?”

“Yes,” I murmured. “I suppose it must have been.”

But as we made our way into the house, I knew I had witnessed no optical illusion. I had seen a face. And it was the face of Agatha Christie.

 
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Posted by on March 26, 2019 in Detective Fiction

 

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The Island Awaits


The Diary of Mary Watson (Mrs)

As the sun came out and gradually eased the chill from our bones, I settled into my seat with a flask of tea and a few Custard Creams I’d put away for just such an occasion. The sea lay all around us, calm and blue, and I could almost have believed we were off on some jolly jaunt, rather than keeping an appointment with a killer. While Johnny concentrated on bringing his journal up to date, I spent my time watching our fellow travellers. It occurred to me that each of them must have considered that the murder of Mr Marston might have something to do with this whole enterprise, and yet here they all were, waiting for their turn to die.

I had chastised my husband earlier for thinking Holmes might have disguised himself as the ship’s captain, but now found myself looking at the gnarled old soak as he stood in his cabin, one hand on the wheel and the other brandishing a half bottle of rum. From time to time, he glanced across and gave me a sly wink, which I at first thought was nothing more than a randy old sea-dog’s second-nature, but then I noticed a familiar twinkle in his eye and wondered if perhaps Johnny had been right after all.

My musings were interrupted when Vera Claymore sat down beside me and gave me a firm nudge with her elbow.

“Come on, then,” she said, “what’s your story?”

I gave her my best ‘honest’ face and said, “No story, Miss Claymore, simply a wife doing her wifely duty accompanying her husband.”

“Of course,” said she, with a roll of her eyes. “But you’re not here on holiday, are you? And as we’ve already heard, your husband is more than a family doctor, isn’t he?”

“If you mean his association with Sherlock Holmes, then yes, he does assist in the occasional investigation.”

“Which would imply there’s something going on that needs investigating, that this so-called invitation has some underlying purpose the rest of us are not privy to.”

She clearly had more about her than I’d given her credit for, so I decided to find out what she knew. “Why did you accept the invitation?”

She coughed. “I’m between appointments at the moment and thought this might be a chance for development.”

“A job offer?”

“Yes.”

“As a teacher? On a remote island?”

She waved a hand dismissively. “Well I don’t bleedin know, do I? But the invite said there was an opportunity to be had so here I am.”

I noted how she’d slid easily into her native cockney twang. Presumably she kept her ‘posh’ voice for her pupils.

“Anyway, it’s all paid for so what’s not to like?”

“Getting killed.”

She pulled a face. “Like that inspector said – the incident was merely an unfortunate coincidence.”

Dropping my voice, I said, “I think he was just trying to make us feel better.”

We sat in silence for a moment, then I asked the question I’d secretly been dying to ask everyone. “Do you read much?”

“Of course. I teach English, don’t I?”

“Detective novels?”

She shrugged. “Some.”

“Agatha Christie?”

She gave me a funny look. “Strange you should mention her.”

“Strange how?”

“Well, I have read one or two but a few weeks ago I bought her latest one.” She furrowed her brow. “Can’t recall the title now. Something about one or none, or summat.”

“And Then There Were None?” I prompted.

Her eyes lit up. “That’s the one.”

“So you’ve read it?”

“No. That’s what’s strange. My flat was broken into only a day or so after I bought that book. But the burglars, they didn’t take nuffin. Except for that book.” She shook her head. “I mean I ain’t rich or anyfing, but there’s other stuff around they could easily have swiped, but all they took was that one book.”

“Almost as if someone didn’t want you to read it,” I said, half to myself.

“Yes. Funny that, ain’t it?”

I wondered if anyone else had had a similar experience. Before I could pursue the matter, the captain blew a toot on his horn, announcing our arrival at Huge Island. Peering over the side, I saw the jetty come into view as we approached a sheltered inlet.

“Ah-ha,” said Johnny, putting his diary away. “Here we are.”

As the boat slid into place alongside the rickety quay, I grasped Johnny’s hand. Standing on the shore waiting, were two people – a man and a woman. From their dress, I guessed them to be the butler and his wife. If I remember rightly, the wife gets poisoned, and the husband is found dead while chopping wood. But of course, that’s what happens in the book, and this isn’t a book.

Miss Claymore nudged me as we began to disembark. “I should think that inspector was right. I mean, it’s not as if we’re all going to be murdered, is it?” She laughed gaily and followed the others down the gangplank.

 
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Posted by on March 17, 2019 in Detective Fiction

 

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To the Island


Diary of Doctor J. Watson
Dolphin Cove

Leaving Lestrade to arrange for the body to be removed, Mary and I retired to our room. Jamming the chair against the door handle and sliding my revolver under the pillow, I snuggled up next to my dear wife and tried to sleep.

It was a pleasant surprise to find that the adventures of the night had not removed my ability to slumber, and I awoke this morning feeling brisk and alert to a rapid knocking at the door. It was Lestrade.

“Ah, Doctor,” said he. “Just to let you know I ‘ave ‘ad Marston taken to a suitable location in order to ‘old the post mortem.” He sniffed. “Though I don’t ‘old much ‘ope of discoverin anyfing else that could assist our investigation.”

I nodded. “You’ll want to talk to the others, I suppose?”

“Indeed. If you would be so good as to meet me downstairs in ten minutes, we’ll get started.”

I closed the door and stood for a moment, thinking.

“We’re due on the boat in two hours,” said Mary in a low voice.

I looked at her and couldn’t help but let out a long sigh. “Yes.”

She raised an eyebrow.” You haven’t changed your mind, then? About going?”

“Lestrade’s probably right,” I said. “The whole thing is utter folly, but even though we’ll be placing ourselves in danger, I feel we have to go through with it. Otherwise…”

She gave me a half-smile. “Otherwise the killer is free to do his worst.”

A few minutes later we made our way downstairs. Lestrade had assembled the other guests who were all sitting around the bar-room in the same seats they had occupied the night before. The only one missing was Marston.

“Now then,” said Lestrade. I’m Inspector Heehaw of Scotland–”

I harrumphed loudly, interrupting him. “Not sure there’s any point in aliases…”

He bit his lip and thought for a moment. “Quite. As I said, I’m Inspector Lestrade of Scotland Yard. And this is…” He glanced at me.

“Doctor John Watson, and my wife, Mary.”

A few members of the group let out audible gasps.

General MacArthur raised a finger. “Not Armstrong, then?”

I shook my head.

He twirled a thin moustache between finger and thumb and gave a quick laugh. “Heard of you. Baker Street, etcetera. Your detective chap. Holmes. Be arriving at some point?”

I thought it best not to herald my companion’s entrance, so I said, “He has no plans to join us.”

Former police inspector Blah shifted in his chair. “So if you’re not Armstrong, what are you doing here?”

I coughed in preparation for the lie. “Doctor Armstrong is ill. Terminal, in fact, but he wished that I, and my wife, should replace him, taking advantage of his good fortune in being invited to the island. Of course, he had no notion he might be thrusting us into a dangerous situation.”

Vera Claymore leaned forward. “Are you insinuating there may be another murder?”

I glanced at Lestrade and he jumped in.

“I expect this er – incident – was merely an unfortunate coincidence. After all, you lot are not actually on the island yet, are you, so no reason to assume Mister Marston’s death and your visit are connected, eh? Probably just some local lunatic on the rampage.” He looked around the room using his ‘optimistic’ expression.

“Well,” said Lawrence Warmonger in a voice loaded with sarcasm, “that is a relief.”

Lestrade continued. “If anyone has any further information that might ‘elp wiv enquires, I should be obliged if you would speak to me privately before you leave.”

No-one said anything more, and the following hour or so was spent attending to our individual needs regarding breakfast and preparations for the trip.

Lestrade took Mary and I aside as our companions drifted back upstairs.

“I don’t know what your pal ‘as planned, but I do ‘ope he gets ‘is proverbial finger out before anyone else gets the chop.”

He wasn’t the only one with concerns regarding the non-appearance of Holmes – I was beginning to think the Great Detective might be leaving his grand entrance a little late. We chatted for a few minutes about communications, as the only sure way of getting messages onto the island would be via carrier pigeon. Lestrade had come prepared with a dozen or so police-trained birds. He suggested we leave a portion of bird seed on our windowsill in preparation for such messages.

“This should keep you going,” he said, handing me a small paper bag. He turned and stared out of the window. From here we could just make out the island itself – a dark blotch on the distant horizon.

“Keep in touch, then,” I said, patting his arm.

He looked at me then with an expression of sadness I’d not deemed him capable of, and he laid his hand on mine. “Don’t go an get yerselves bloody murdered, will yer?”

“We’ll try not to,” I said, forcing a smile.

Twenty minutes later, together with the remaining travellers, Mary and myself made our way down to the harbour where a battered old paddle steamer waited by the meagre jetty. I was heartened to see it was a decent-sized vessel, though its obvious unsuitability for the journey across to the island did not fill me with hope. The captain, too, turned out to be a sad stereotype of that traditional old sea-dog – the drunken sailor whose knowledge of the sea had long since been overtaken by his familiarity with hard liquor. He stood by the jetty smoking a clay pipe and caressing a grizzled grey beard.

“Ar,” he muttered as I approached him. “Be thou one o’ they bound fer Huge Island?”

“That’s right,” I said, peering into his piggy little eyes. His skin was dark and leathery, and reminded me of a football I’d had as a boy.

“It be a grand day fer a crossin, ey?” He gazed up at the sky and I took the opportunity to examine him closely.

His height was about right and the sharp angle of his jawline too familiar to fool me for long. Giving him a playful punch in the shoulder, I said, “Nice one, Holmsey.”

The sailor swivelled his head toward me. “Say summat?”

I nodded and winked.

With a sudden movement, he reached out and grabbed my lapel. “Now lissen ‘ere, Mister. Oi don’t want no screamin bend-overs on moi boat, so if’n you’ve got any of that sort o’ nonsense in mind, ye can take yerself an’ yer whore of a wife back ter where ye came from.”

Recognising that I had perhaps granted my detective friend more talent for disguise than he actually had, I muttered a quick apology, grabbed Mary’s hand and hurried to our allotted places aboard the boat.

Once seated on one of the benches in the prow, Mary leaned over and whispered, “You surely didn’t think that was Sherlock, darling?”

I coughed. “It had crossed my mind.”

She laughed lightly and patted my knee.

A few minutes later, steam was up and the vessel pulled away from the dock, turning its nose towards our destination.

I couldn’t help wondering if we’d ever see Dolphin Cove again.

 
4 Comments

Posted by on March 7, 2019 in Detective Fiction

 

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The Chamber Pot Explained

The Diary of Mary Watson (Mrs)

As I’d expected, the door opened into a store cupboard located directly beneath that portion of Mr Marston’s room where the chamber pot had originally been located. Sturdy shelves lined each wall, stowing linen, blankets and household cleaning products. A couple of cardboard boxes in the corner housed several rusty kitchen utensils including a bread knife. Evidently the proprietor was not a man to throw anything away, and this presumably extended to an unwillingness to squander profits on the latest dust-sucking devices. Instead, he relied on an old dustpan and brush and a variety of besoms and brooms, all of which had seen better days. (It also occurred to me that we had not seen our host since entering the inn the evening before. I made a mental note to mention this to Johnny later.)

“Ah-ha,” said the inspector, pointing up at the ceiling.

Aiming my lantern upwards, Johnny and I saw the object of his attention. The planking which created not only the roof of the store cupboard but formed the floor in Marston’s room, had been tampered with. In a well-maintained house, of course, a separate layer of boards would have been fitted underneath the ceiling. This was not a well-maintained house. However, the single layer of flooring would’ve allowed our culprit to generate a diversion that had initially fooled me.

“He must’ve climbed up the shelving and put ‘is eye to that gap in the boards,” observed Lestrade.

“He must, indeed,” said my husband.

I resisted rolling my eyes melodramatically and waited for one of them to suggest an alternative scenario, but the pair of dimwits simply stared up at the section of ceiling where someone had gouged away part of the wood, leaving an easily accessible hole which nevertheless would not have been visible from above, had we not been looking for it.

“So?” I prompted.

They both looked at me.

“What does this tell us?” I tried again.

Lestrade began to say something but whatever it was lost its motivation and petered out. John also opened his mouth but again, was unable to elucidate.

“Really,” I muttered. “You two are hopeless. Isn’t it obvious?”

“Oh come on, darling,” said Johnny, adopting a whinging tone that only succeeded in annoying me. “It may be obvious to you, but…” He shrugged.

Lestrade coughed. “Wiv all due respect Mary, we ‘ave established that the perpetrator could easily ‘ave put his eye to that hole to see into the room above.” He smiled as if this explanation solved the whole case.

“And what would he have seen?” I said, doing my best to sound interested.

“Well,” said he. “He’d ‘ave seen the er…into the er…well, the room itself.” He nodded at Johnny, but my husband had realised I was ahead of them both and dutifully kept quiet.

“All the evidence is here.” I waved my free hand towards the corner of the cupboard.

Both men looked.

“What? A brush?” said Lestrade.

“That,” I said, “and the bread knife.”

I sometimes wonder how the male of the species ever manages to get himself out of bed in the mornings, let alone achieve the miracle of procreation.

Striding to the corner, I picked up the broom and held it in front of them. “There’s a crack here in the end. D’you see?” They nodded. I picked up the knife and slotted the thin handle into the end of the broom. “And this?” Still they didn’t get it. I raised the device upwards towards the ceiling.

“Bloody Norah,” exclaimed Lestrade.

“My God, “said John. “He used it to poke through the gap and rattle the chamber pot.”

“Yes,” I said. “Though not so much a rattle, as a thump, thump, thump. Leading you and I to the conclusion that someone was engaged in –”

“Ah!” said the inspector, cutting off my description. “So after committing the crime and making those bloody footprints to throw us off the scent, he came down here to make a bit of a noise in order to create the effect that someone was doin…somefing untoward…in that room?”

We all looked at each other for a moment, then Johnny said, “Which means they must have been in here when you and I entered the bedroom and found Marston.”

“And then whoever that person was, simply joined in when the alarm was raised, eh?” said Lestrade.

“Which means the killer is someone in the house.”

I shook my head. “Not necessarily. Well, it’s hardly the Tower of Londen, is it? Anyone could have walked in here in the middle of the night.”

“No.” Now it was my husband’s turn to shake his head. “Holmes made it clear to me before we left – we mustn’t get distracted, because this case is all about the book. Whoever’s behind it must be one of our travelling companions, otherwise it makes no sense. Also,” he added, “in the book, Marston is the first one to be murdered.”

Lestrade gave a short laugh. “We’ll I don’t mind admitting, I ain’t goin to no island wiv you. If you two and Mr Holmes want to hang around til the bitter end, you’re welcome, but as far as I’m concerned, I don’t want to be around to hear the killer announce, ‘and then there were none’.”

I had to agree.

 
2 Comments

Posted by on February 26, 2019 in Detective Fiction

 

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