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The Plot Thickens


Diary of Doctor J. Watson

Following the discovery of Frau Klopp’s body yesterday, Holmes demanded that we all meet in the kitchen. Here, he announced his intention to prepare a meal for the guests who still remained alive – eight now, including Holmes. My initial surprise in hearing my Baker Street pal suggest that he embark on an activity as mundane as cooking, was soon dispelled as he proceeded to open several tins of bully beef, to which he added several tins of baked beans, dropped the lot in an eight-pint saucepan and popped it on the stove.

“Reminds me of when I was at Rorke’s Drift,” he said, as he and I stood watching the pot.

“Wasn’t aware you’d been a soldier, Holmes,” said I.

“The sum total of those things of which you are not aware, Watson, would fill a large box.”

I felt a little hurt at this, but laughed it off and changed the subject. “I suppose you have a plan, eh?”

The big-nosed detective lowered his voice. “For once, old friend, I find myself at a loss. Discovering the body of Ethel Rogers and the revelation that she was none other than Professor Helga Klopp, has thrown all my current theories out the window.” He rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “The whole thing makes no sense.”

Mary brought over a pile of soup bowls. “What’s the plan, Sherlock?”

Holmes glanced around at the others. Apart from the butler, they were all seated around the kitchen table. Other than an occasional comment about the weather, no-one spoke. Every so often, one of them would glance pityingly at Rogers, who stood by the window staring blankly out across the lawn. The poor man hadn’t uttered a word since learning his wife was not only dead, but not who he thought she was, and I judged he must be feeling pretty rotten about it. Unless he turns out to be the killer, of course, though Holmes thinks this unlikely, due to the man’s general ineptness. Then again, his ineptness may be part of his plan, in which case I have to admire his acting ability. Unless he tries to murder me, in which case I shall not hold back in my choice of expletives.

“I don’t know, Mary,” said Holmes. “I really don’t know. But we must come up with something soon, because the killer will strike again. Of that, I am certain.”

“Why don’t we lock them all in their rooms until we’ve decided what to do?”

Holmes grimaced, but he had to admit, short of tying them all up, it was the only solution which might prevent further murders.

By the time the meal was over, it was early evening and there seemed to be no reason not to proceed with Mary’s suggestion. Lining everyone up, Holmes led the way around the house, dropping each person off at their rooms and locking them in, until there was only the three of us left.

In our own room, Holmes produced a bottle of brandy and three glasses (which apparently, he’d half-inched from the kitchen). “Now, Watsons,” he said, pouring out generous helpings, “do either of you have any ideas?”

“It seems to me,” I said, pulling up an armchair, “that none of the others could have been in a position to kill Marston and Miss Bent and the judge and Mrs Rogers – there are simply too many variables. And now the revelation that she wasn’t who we thought she was, just makes it even more complicated.”

Holmes nodded. “So what might make it less complicated?”

I pondered on this for a moment. “If there were two killers, perhaps, as you suggested earlier?”

“Ah,” said Holmes. “As you say, it had occurred to me that the most likely solution was that Mr and Mrs Rogers were in collusion and that they are in fact Mr and Mrs Owen. Since they were masquerading as servants, not guests, it would not seem unusual for either or both of them to be out of sight of the others for any length of time.”

“Apart from Mr Marston,” put in Mary. “They’d have had to be on the mainland for his murder.”

“Yes,” said Holmes, “there’s always one fly in the liniment and that particular theory is further buggered by the fact that the butler’s wife was not his wife.”

“Perhaps he discovered that not only was she not his wife, but was also the killer, and so he killed her,” I said. “Except that if she wasn’t his wife, you’d think he would have noticed sooner.”

“Unless they were in collusion from the start and had a falling out,” said Mary.

Holmes sighed. “If the fellow would only deign to speak to us, we might discover exactly what was their arrangement. As it is, we can only guess.”

“Has Lestrade heard back about the post-mortem on Marston yet?” I asked.

Holmes shook his head. “I expect to hear very shortly, though I doubt it will shed light on how the killer effected the murder.”

We discussed the case for a while longer, but as the brandy began to take effect, our abilities to converse sensibly soon curtailed our discussion and the three of us nodded off where we sat.

On awaking this morning, my first thought was that my mouth had somehow been the recipient of a large spoonful of horse manure. Jumping up, I hurried to the bathroom and drank greedily from the tap, til my thirst was quenched. On re-entering the bedroom, I was pleased to see Mary and Holmes had both opened their eyes and both quickly advanced to the bathroom to follow my lead vis a vis slaking their individual thirsts.

We each took a few minutes to make ourselves presentable and after taking a couple of Sarson’s Vinegar Pills for my headache, I walked over to the window and stuck my head out, breathing deeply and striving to keep down the bile that threatened to announce its presence at any moment.

It was then I noticed the pigeon sitting on the far side of the window ledge, looking up at me. Gathering him in my hands, I took him inside and Mary unfastened the note from his leg.

Holmes took it out of her hand and unfurled it.

We both watched him keenly and saw his initial eagerness sink into an expression of gloom. Still holding the note, he dropped into his chair and for several minutes, glared at the carpet. I knew from experience that this was not a time to interrupt his thoughts and that he would share the contents of the note only when he was ready to do so.

“This is bad,” he said, eventually. “It appears the post-mortem on Marston cannot help us. But there is something else of far greater concern to us – Doctor Armstrong has died of consumption. Unfortunately, it turns out he was not Doctor Armstrong.”

“Not Doctor Armstrong?” I said. “Then who the bloody hell was he?”

“I haven’t the foggiest,” said Holmes, “but I’ve an awful feeling that the whole point of this charade was not to persuade me to investigate this case, or to prevent the murders of anyone else, but to lure the three of us here to the island, in order to kill us.”

 
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Posted by on June 18, 2019 in Detective Fiction

 

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Londen Calling


Journal of Inspector G. Lestrade
Mrs Miniver’s Bunk-Up
Dolphin Cove

I am happy to report that Mrs Miniver has finally heeded my request to desist from sexual shenanigans, and last evening, for the first time since arriving here, I spent a peaceful and wonderfully unmolested night. Arising feeling refreshed and ready for anything, I washed, dressed and brushed my sideburns, before bounding downstairs for breakfast. However, it turned out that I was not, after all, ready for anything. This morning’s news has put me out of sorts a good deal and I am a little concerned that my Baker Street pals may be in grave danger.

Following my most recent message to Mister Holmes yesterday, I received by first pigeon-post this morning his return communication, indicating that the current toll of corpses has now risen to four. I have to admit to feeling more than a little uneasy to learn that Holmes is no longer concealing himself as a rectangle of lawn grass (which did at least afford him the luxury of remaining unknown to the other guests). In showing himself, Holmes has made himself a target for the deranged killer (in my humble opinion), along with Doctor and Mrs Watson. My sense of agitation has further been heightened with the knowledge that Holmes has still not requested assistance from either myself or his brother Mycroft. This fact alone would seem to leave him open to the very real threat of death. Nevertheless, I realise that a horde of coppers pouring over the island won’t necessarily help the situation and may well cause the killer to go to ground.

After ruminating on the problem over a breakfast of muffins and quince jelly, I walked up to the post office in the hope of collecting Mister Stallworthy’s post-mortem report on Anthony Marston. (I thought it best to have all mail forwarded to a central collection point that would ensure some degree of confidentially, since the murderer may well have spies on the mainland, and Mrs Miniver, while of sound mind and willing body, has a complete absence of insight regarding discretion and police matters in general. (She told me over supper last evening that she once dropped a police officer in the shit when she related the full details of her affair with him to the man’s wife – a matter not helped by her description of how she had employed the officer’s own truncheon for a purpose which most definitely was not part of official procedures.)

The little woman in the post office gave me a toothy grin as she handed over two large brown envelopes and a smaller white one bearing the Scotland Yard crest. “Ar ye go, Inspec’or Lesbian,” said she, “Oi expect you’ll be a-solving of that murder the other night, eh?”

“For your information, missus, my name is Lestrade, not Lesbian, and this is confidential police business that I’ll thank you to keep your gob shut about.”

At this, the other people waiting in line turned to look at me as if I’d uttered a blood-curdling threat at the old dear, so I coughed and lowering my voice, added, “that is to say, it isn’t information what you want to be putting about, if you see what I mean.”

The woman grinned, but it was obvious that I had offended her. As way of recompense, I purchased four second class stamps and a packet of envelopes.

Hurrying back to my lodgings, I perused the contents of the envelopes in the privacy of my room. The first was from the lady novelist Mrs Agatha Christie and listed several possible methodologies that a killer might utilise if he or she were to concoct a murder that takes place on a remote island. I deemed none of these worthy of further study, as one relied on the application of mass hypnotism, another required the cooperation of the psycho-killer Kay Kersey (who is currently serving a life-sentence in Durham jail for slaughtering a family of Geordie miners and their pet whippet), and the others are all too far-fetched to even consider.

Putting the papers aside, I opened the other envelope and read through the autopsy report for Mr Marston. This appeared to be very much as Watson and myself had expected, including details of the damage to the hands and the strangulation, which is of course what killed him. In any case, there was nothing that would give us a clue to who the murderer might be or how they had engineered the whole thing.

I tossed the document aside and it was only then that my eye caught the third envelope. I had assumed it to be some tedious reminder of the workload awaiting me on my return to Londen, but I was mistaken. The letter was from Sergeant Radish, who is best known among my colleagues as a fairy fancier and lover of Lancashire beer. However, one of his roles is to update the files on unidentified bodies. His letter ran thus:

Dear Inspector Lestrade

Just a short note to say how we is all missing you down at the Yard and hoping you are enjoying your holiday.

Oh, by the by, you might be interested to know something what I discovered relating to a chap known to your friend Mister Holmes. Doctor Edward Armstrong, who apparently visited Holmes a few weeks ago, has died of consumption. This is not news in itself of course (I hear you say!) but the reason it came to my attention was due to the Doctor not having no living relatives to identify him other than a cousin who lives in Cambridge. Anyways, this cousin eventually arrived to do his duty and lo and behold, it turns out that the dead man is not Doctor Armstrong after all, but an anonymous imposter.

Well, that’s all – I just thought it might be of interest to you, though I do not suppose it will be relevant to whatever it is you are up to down there in Devon (nudge nudge, wink wink!)

Well, that is all for now, Inspector.

Your faithful friend,
Sergeant Radish.

A cold chill ran up my spine as if someone had walked over my grave. However, it turned out to be a draught from the window. I put the letter in my pocket, but then I said to myself, could this Armstrong business have something to do with these murders? Nah, I told to myself. But then, I said to myself again, as I was not in fact present when Holmes met with Doctor Armstrong, I probably ought to pass the information on to him.

Just in case.

 
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Posted by on June 12, 2019 in Detective Fiction

 

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Sherlock Sheds a Light

Diary of Doctor J. Watson

By the time we arrived back downstairs and exited the house via the French windows, Rogers had reached the shed. Sprinting across the lawn, I arrived a few seconds later and yanking the door open, found myself faced with an odd scene. Sherlock Holmes was sitting in a deck chair in the rear part of the shed, holding his Meerschaum pipe in one hand and a wine glass in the other.

“Ah, Watson,” said he, taking a sip from his drink. “Won’t you join me in a gin and tonic?” He nodded at a selection of spirit bottles atop an upturned crate at his side along with two large buckets of ice.

“It was you who took the ice?” I muttered, staring at his glass.

“Of course, old bean. Can’t have gin without the necessaries.”

It was only then that I remembered Rogers, and turning round, found the butler hovering in the corner behind me, still brandishing the knife. The man gave me a sharp look, his mouth a snarling grimace, then his features abruptly sagged into an expression of hopeless resignation and he let his arm, and the weapon, drop down to his side.

Noticing that Rogers still held an old sack in his other hand, I gestured towards it. “What’s that for?”

He shrugged. “I were going ter put it over his head before I did the deed.” He shrugged again. “Bit squeamish, yer see.”

“Hardly the attitude of a murderer,” murmured Holmes.

“I’m not sure I understand…” I said.

“Of course not, Watson,” said Holmes with a sardonic smile. “Rogers here thought I was up to something with his dear wife and no doubt having followed the trail of ice cubes I left across the lawn, he expected to confront the two of us.” He raised an eyebrow at the butler.

“Well, I dunno…” said Rogers, his anger having petered out completely.

“Let me see if I can help,” said Holmes, getting to his feet. “Mrs Rogers likes a drop of gin, does she not?”

The butler nodded meekly.

“And on hearing that all the ice had disappeared from the icehouse you naturally leapt to the conclusion that she had secreted it away somewhere in order to avail herself of a quiet drink, eh?”

“I did fink that, yes.”

“And when you noticed a few apparently stray ice cubes on the grass, you followed the trail here. Except,” here he wagged a finger at the butler. “You did not immediately come into the shed to confront what you imagined was occurring.”

Rogers shook his head solemnly.

“Because,” continued Holmes, “you heard my voice and assumed that your wife was in conversation and therefore collusion with me. You therefore decided to arm yourself and put an end to her shenanigans and the murders in one fell swoop.”

“I heard you saying there were going to be another murder. So I thought you was the killer…”

Holmes sighed and reaching down, pulled up a long metallic tube attached to a rectangular wooden box. “An invention of Mycroft’s, based on Moriarty’s Conical-Rite-a-Phone machine.” He smiled and poured himself another drink.

Turning to Rogers, I explained. “It’s a mechanical device that interprets his words and scribbles them down by means of a copper nib onto a wax cylinder. No doubt what you heard was Holmes recording the case for future reference, rather than him having a conversation with your wife. Or anyone else, for that matter.”

Holmes nodded. “Thank you, Watson. And as Mr Rogers was quite obviously employed for some considerable time tracking down his wife, returning to the kitchen to fetch a knife, then coming back here to wreak vengeance, I imagine he could not have been involved in the murder upstairs which you and your dear wife have just discovered.”

“How the hell did you know about that?”

I turned to see Mary in the doorway, her face a mixture of annoyance and confusion.

“Because, dear lady,” said Holmes in that irritating manner he adopts when in possession of more information than anyone else, “while you and the other guests were taken up with the demise of the unfortunate Miss Bent, I took the liberty of popping up to your bedroom to take delivery of the message that had recently arrived on your windowsill via Lestrade’s pigeon post. I won’t bore you with the details, but having visited Mrs Christie, Lestrade is of the opinion that the murderer is not following the sequence of deaths as they occur in the book, in which case the aforementioned lady novelist is unlikely herself to be connected with the killings. However, while I am of the opinion that our adversary intends to kill everyone on the island, I believe he or she has utilised the plot of the book as a means of drawing us off his or her real purpose.”

Mary looked at me, then back at Holmes. “And what would that be?”

“Before I tell you, please fill me in on the details of the most recent killing.”

Between us, Mary and myself related how we’d found Warmonger’s body but that I believed he was not actually dead and had merely injected himself with some form of sedative to slow down his heartrate and therefore give the impression he had shuffled off his proverbial coil.

“Ah,” said Holmes. “And he could then go about the business of killing the rest of us without casting suspicion in his direction, since a dead man could hardly be responsible for killing anyone.”

“Precisely,” said I.

“The problem,” said Holmes, with a frown, “is that Justice Warmonger is actually dead.”

“I’m fairly sure he isn’t, Holmes,” I said, a little put out to have my medical judgment questioned.

“Tish tish, Johnny,” he said, waving a hand dismissively. “I do not doubt your expertise, but I think I’m right when I say that while we have been engaged in this little catch-up session, our murderer has once more been at work.”

“But I thought you said Warmonger was the killer?”

He shook his head. “Never said any such thing, Watson. In fact, Warmonger was most likely persuaded by the real murderer to pretend to be dead.”

“Just like in the book,” said Mary.

“Except,” said Holmes, “that in the book Warmonger is the killer.”

“Well there’s one way to make sure,” I said.

“Exactly Watson,” said Holmes. “To the bedroom!” And with that, he pushed past us and began to run across the lawn towards the house.

 
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Posted by on May 26, 2019 in Detective Fiction

 

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Tea and a Quickie with Aggie


Journal of Inspector G. Lestrade
Mrs Miniver’s Bunk-Up
Dolphin Cove

Having spent most of the last twelve hours in the company of a most interesting woman, I am now back in my room, taking the opportunity to update my journal on recent events.

Since the Watsons departed for the island, I had begun to regret my decision to remain in Dolphin Cove. Though I’d agreed to report back to Holmes on the post-mortem of Mister Marston and related matters, I failed to appreciate the foolhardiness of staying at Mrs Miniver’s Bunk-Up in the village. Having been advised by that same lady’s niece that the aforementioned lodging-house is held in the highest regard in this locality, I soon learned this fact has less to do with Mrs Miniver’s ability to deliver the requisite services usually provided at such establishments, and more to do with her penchant for climbing into her guests beds of a night-time. So far, I have been the victim of roaming fingers, an extraordinarily long and inquisitive tongue and an inclination to indulge in the local nightly pastime of ‘fisting’.

I should point out that although this latter practice has been mentioned several times by my hostess, with the explanation that it is the ‘ultimate delight’ for many of her male lodgers, I have not as yet been on the receiving end, so to speak. Following her rather detailed description of the activity, I made it quite clear I would not be a party to such deviant practices and if she attempted to realise such an act, she would find herself in very hot water indeed.

However, I digress.

Yesterday morning I determined to follow up on one of the suggestions put to me by Holmes before he departed for the island, and it was with this objective in mind that I made the journey to Greenway House in Devon in a little under an hour, thanks to the generosity of Sherlock’s brother Mycroft, and the provision of one of his flying contraptions. (I don’t mind admitting that the experience of being whisked into the air at great speed, surrounded by pounding pistons and hissing steam, scared me half to death and I was only too glad to reach my destination and clamber down from the infernal machine.)

A chap in a butler’s outfit greeted me on the lawn and led the way up to the house. One of Mycroft’s minions had alerted the lady in question to my imminent arrival and I was gratified to learn she had proffered no objections to my visit.

The house is quite magnificent, and I confess to feeling somewhat overawed by its daunting immensity and the sheer bloody opulence of the furnishings.

The butler chappie spoke kindly to me as we crossed the great hall, advising that The Mistress would be delighted to meet me, so long as I made no attempt to persuade her to divulge the plot of her latest book – currently titled An Excruciatingly Painful Murder is Announced.

“Ah,” said Miss Christie, rising from her chair, “Inspector Lestrade. How the buggering hell are you?”

I blinked at this unexpected use of colloquialisms, but took her hand and shook it firmly.

“I ‘ope you ain’t gonner find my questions objectionable, Miss Christie, but a copper ‘as ter do what he ‘as to do, eh?”

“Bloody good show, Inspector,” she said, waving me into a seat by the window. Dragging her own chair across the carpet in order to sit opposite me, she plonked herself down heavily and spread her legs wide, in a rather mannish manner.

“Hope you don’t mind the plus fours,” she said, brushing a hand down her tweeds. “Stops the servants looking at my snatch.”

When I’d finished coughing, I pulled out my notebook and stared at it until the blood had once again drained from my face. “Right, then, Miss er…”

“Call me Aggie. Everyone does,” she said, with a snort.

“Right,” I said again. “Now I ‘ave ter tell yer that the private investigators Messrs Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson are involved in a case what I am also examining, so…”

“Oh, jolly good,” she erupted, rubbing her hands together gleefully. “Love a nice bloody murder.” Her face went serious and she leaned forward, eagerly. “There has been a murder, has there?”

“There has, Miss, er, Aggie. The victim is one Mister Marston.”

At this, the famous novelist sat back, rubbing her chin. “Marston, you say? That’s interesting.”

“Yes, and that’s what I was wantin ter talk to yer about.” I hesitated, unsure how to continue.

“Don’t tell me, “she said with a sly smile. “It’s a copy-cat killer.” She leaned forward again and squeezed my knee. “I’m bloody right, aren’t I?”

“Actually, yes. Mister Holmes was of the opinion that someone may be replicating the murders in your novel, And Then There Were None, though if yer ask me, I fink it’s all a bit far-fetched.”

Agatha gazed out of the window, her mouth slightly open. “I wonder…”

“Although, to be fair,” I continued, “so far there ‘as been only one murder.”

“Mister Marston. Hmmm.” She nodded. “Yes, but Holmes expects there to be more, in fact I wouldn’t mind betting twenty bloody quid that another one has already occurred.”

“Well, I don’t know about that, Miss…”

“Sequential Killers rarely hang about, you know. Best nip this one in the bud, before he or she does it again, eh?”

“Exactly.” Glancing at my notebook, I steeled myself for the next question. “Now, I was wonderin…that is, Mister Holmes was wonderin, if you yourself had, by any strange coincidence, in recent days, visited a place called Huge Island. Or perhaps Dolphin Cove?” Licking my lips, I watched her face for any tell-tale sign of guilt.

“Well now, Inspector,” said she, a crafty smile sliding across her thin face. “If I was the murderer, pretending to follow the plot of a highly successful and very well received crime novel, I’d most likely also pretend to be the author herself.” She winked at me. “Wouldn’t you?”

“Oh, I might, I suppose,” I stuttered. “Though…”

“Yes, Inspector?”

“Well, Mister Holmes and me, we was wonderin, if that is indeed the murderer’s intention – pretending to be you, I mean – how might an individual do that in practice?”

She shrugged. “If it were me, then obviously I would just be me. But if the murderer were someone else, then he or she would simply wear a mask.”

With a sudden spurt of energy, she leaped out of her chair and slapped her thigh. “Now, d’you fancy tea and scones before we go for a quickie?”

“Erm…a quickie?”

“A round of golf, dear. What’d you think I meant – a fuck?” And with that, she collapsed into gales of laughter before ringing the bell for tea.

 
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Posted by on May 11, 2019 in Detective Fiction

 

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And Then There Were Ten


Diary of Doctor J. Watson

It occurred to me as I returned to the dining room, that I’d forgotten to leave any birdseed on my bedroom windowsill. If Holmes or Lestrade sent any messages via carrier pigeon, I might never see them and consequently miss important information. Then again, it seemed unlikely my companion would be on the island already and Lestrade wouldn’t have anything to impart until after the examination of Marston’s body, so I probably didn’t need to worry about it.

Crossing the entrance hall, I noticed an ornate bowl on the hall table containing a variety of fruit. Picking it up, I congratulated myself that I’d at least have some good news to divulge to my companions. On pushing open the dining room door, I found everyone in much the same locations as when I’d left. As one, they turned towards me.

“Luncheon is served,” I said, sliding the bowl onto the table.

All eyes fell on the bowl and for a few seconds, there was silence. Then everybody moved at once, standing, pushing, squeezing in and grabbing anything that might feasibly pose a risk-free meal. (Luckily, I’d pocketed a few damsons for myself.)

“What did Rogers have to say?” asked the judge, chomping on an apple.

I slid into my seat next to Mary and pulled out my plums. “Apparently, Mrs Rogers does the cooking and the Owens are expected back this evening.”

“For God’s sake, man, we knew that already,” said Warmonger with a scowl.

“And if Mrs Rogers is the killer, what are we going to eat?” Emily Bent gazed forlornly at her banana. “She might have poisoned the fruit too.”

At this, they all stopped eating and stared at their own choices.

“Which is precisely why I’m taking a moment to examine my plums for signs of intrusion,” said I, none too smugly.

“Intrusion?” bellowed Warmonger. “What the deuce d’you mean by intrusion?”

“I believe my husband is referring to marks made by a hypodermic needle,” said Mary. “Which would be the obvious way to poison soft fruit.”

Billy Blah looked down at the orange peelings on his plate. “Bollocks. That’s my dinner fucked, then.”

Mary passed the fruit bowl across to him. “Try an apple – easier to see any marks on the skin.”

Blah nodded a thanks, examined a Cox’s Pippin and took a careful bite out of it.

“So, Doctor Watson,” said Warmonger, giving me a baleful stare. “What do you suggest we do about the rest of our meals here?”

“After visiting the kitchen, I looked into the pantry. There are dozens of tins of meat and vegetables that will be perfectly safe to eat. All we have to do is prepare them ourselves.”

“Really?” continued the judge. “And how do you suggest we organise that?”

“I suggest,” I said, in what I hoped was a condescending tone, “that we congregate in the kitchen this evening and prepare a meal together, so no one person is left alone with the food.”

“But you just said Mrs Rogers was the poisoner,” wailed Emily.

“No,” I said, “that was your suggestion.”

“Well I for one do not intend slaving over a stove, hot or otherwise,” said Warmonger.

General MacArthur thumped the table, making us all jump. “In the Crimea,” he said, “all the chaps did their own. Cooking, you know. Not difficult. Straightforward, mainly. Heat it up. Eat.”

“I just don’t see why all of us have to be involved,” said Emily.

“Oh, I see,” said Warmonger, jumping to his feet. “You know who the killer is, do you?”

“Well, no…” she said, avoiding his glaring eyes.

“So, in order to avoid death, what would your wonderful solution be, Miss Bender?” growled the judge.

“It’s Bent, actually,” she murmured.

There was silence for a moment, then Dilip Lombardi spoke up.

“Surely the solution is obvious?” he said.

“Not to me,” growled Warmonger, “but what do I know? I’m only a high court judge?”

“The solution,” continued Lombardi, “is for Doctor and Mrs Watson to do the cooking.”

“On the basis of what, exactly?” said Warmonger.

“On the basis that out of all of us, including the butler and his wife, the Watsons are the only two people who were not invited here.”

This made perfect sense, though if Mary and I were the killers, we would surely have arranged things precisely this way to fool our potential victims. This important point, however, did not seem to have occurred to anyone else.

“That’s fine with us, if everyone agrees?” said Mary.

Everyone did, albeit with a sense of desperation.

“That’s settled then,” said Mary. “We shall prepare an evening meal for seven o’clock.”

“And what are we supposed to do until then,” asked Emily Bent.

Mary glanced at me, then said, “Lock yourselves in your rooms.”

There were no objections, so we all drifted off to our respective quarters.

Upstairs, I closed our bedroom door behind me and sat on the bed. “What now?”

“Now, dear? I think you ought to answer Sherlock’s message.”

“Oh, sod it, I forgot to put out the bird seed.”

“But I didn’t, Johnny.” Mary smiled and pointed at the window.

A pigeon had perched on the sill, his beady eyes watching us. Sliding the sash upwards quietly so as not to alarm the creature, I took hold of the bird and brought him inside. A moment later, I’d unfasted the message tied to his leg. It read:

    Watsons
    Do not trust the servants. Very likely they have not met the Owens. Possible the Owens do not exist. Possible the Owens are the servants. Also, watch Emily Bent – Lestrade informs that she killed her employer.
    Holmes

“So,” said Mary, “do you think Rogers and his wife are the murderers?”

I rubbed my chin thoughtfully, but it didn’t help. “I suspected Rogers was lying, but I don’t think it’s just about the Owens. I think there’s something else.” Recalling my conversation with the butler, I added, “He mentioned something about having had instructions from the Owens.”

“What sort of instructions?”

“Not sure, but he implied they’d been told not to divulge any information about Mister or Mrs Owen.”

“But you agree with Sherlock that perhaps they’ve never met?”

“I do. Which still means one of our companions could be the real Owen.” Placing the pigeon back on the windowsill, something across the lawn caught my eye.

“So we’re back to the beginning,” said Mary, squeezing my hand.

“I wouldn’t say that, darling. I think we can cross one name off the list…”

Across the lawn on the north side of the house we could see the upper parts of the oak trees above the hedgerows. Hanging from the tree nearest us, was a body. A naked body. A body that looked awfully familiar.

 
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Posted by on April 20, 2019 in Detective Fiction

 

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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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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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