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.