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The Corpse, the Mask and the Novelist


The Diary of Mary Watson (Mrs)

As Johnny ran around alerting the others, I hurried downstairs to stand by the door. We had quickly decided that whoever was responsible might still be outside, in which case the exact whereabouts of the remaining guests was of the utmost importance. I could hear Johnny knocking on doors and yelling at everyone to meet in the foyer urgently. As footsteps began to clatter along the corridors above me, the butler and his wife appeared though a doorway at the end of the hall.

“Has something happened, madam?” enquired Rogers.

“Yes,” I said. “Something has.” I determined to say no more until we had gathered everyone together.

Mrs Rogers hid behind her husband, as if showing herself might cast suspicion in her direction. I smiled kindly in a bid to ease her obvious agitation (though I had no reason to think she was innocent).

A moment later, the others thundered down the main staircase like a herd of wildebeest and I ticked their names off in my little notebook as they appeared:

General MacArthur was first, followed by Billy Blah and Dilip Lombardi. Vera Claymore and Justice Warmonger were last in line and even the sarcastic old judge wore a look of concern across his features.

“What’s going on?” he asked, crossing the hall towards me. “Has there been another one?” He looked around suddenly as if checking who might be missing.

“Just a minute,” called Johnny from the landing. I saw him jot something down in his own notebook, before putting it in his pocket and hurrying downstairs.

“Well? Has there?” demanded Warmonger, sliding easily back into his usual tone of contemptuous irritation.

“Everyone please wait here a moment,” said Johnny. He patted my arm and walked off along the passageway to my left. I knew what he was doing – he was checking to see if another of the Indian braves had been tampered with.

A moment later, he returned, his face grave. Giving me a quick nod, he said, “We believe there has been another murder. Mary…?”

Glancing down at my notepad, I looked at the one name I had not crossed off my list. “Emily Bent is not here.”

A collective groan arose from the others, and Vera Claymore let out a mournful sigh.

“So where is she?” said Mister Blah, looking around the hall.

Johnny held up a hand. “We believe she is in the garden. Now, I need everyone to stay together.” With that, he led the way out through the main door and across the lawn to the north side of the house. In the distance, I could see the tree we were headed for, though from the ground, its occupant wasn’t visible.

As we rounded the hedge, I held onto my husband’s sleeve. The oak tree stood directly in front of us and, just as we’d seen, there was a naked body hanging from it.

“Jesus fucking Christ,” muttered the judge, with what sounded like genuine shock.

We stood there for a moment, staring at the scene before us. It perhaps came as more of a surprise to the others that Emily Bent had what can only be described as a stonking great erection.

Beside me, Johnny cleared his throat. “An effect of the force applied by the rope on the spinal cord causes an involuntary response in the er…” He waved a hand at the corpse. “As you can see.”

“But she’s a man!” gasped Vera Claymore.

“State the bloody obvious, why don’t you…” said Warmonger with a scowl.

But it was not Emily’s dead body that interested Johnny. Stepping forward, he picked up an object that was lying on the ground. Bringing it over for me to see, I saw that it was a cardboard mask with a short piece of elastic attached at each side to enable it to be worn over the face.

Johnny held out one frayed end of the elastic. “Broken. It must have been attached to her head, but when the body dropped, it came loose.”

I looked at the image imprinted on the mask. It was taken from an enlarged photograph – the face of Agatha Christie.

“The face at the window,” I murmured.

Johnny nodded. “Don’t tell the others.”

Looking up, I noticed our companions had shuffled away from the gory scene and were standing some yards off talking among themselves.

“They were all in their rooms,” said Johnny gazing across at the group.

I shook my head. “Whoever did this would’ve had to have time to lure her outside, strip her naked, put the mask over her face, hang her, go back into the house and fasten a bit of string around the neck of one of the Indian braves and get back to his or her room before we saw the body from our room.” I turned away from the horrible sight. “It had to be suicide. It’s the only explanation.”

My husband nodded. “You’re quite right, darling. Except for this…” He passed me a folded sheet of paper. “After knocking on all the other doors, I checked Emily’s room too. Just in case. This note had been pushed under the door.”

I stared at the scrawled handwriting. It read:

Do not go into the garden, Miss Bent. It will be the death of you.
Signed
A Christie

 
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Posted by on April 30, 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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