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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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Twelve Little Indian Braves


Diary of Doctor J. Watson

Crashing through the French windows, we hurried towards the stairs, then having a sudden brainwave, I swerved right and ran to the dining room.

Holmes, Mary and Rogers skidded to a halt then followed me into the room. There, on the table (as I’d expected) we beheld the murderer’s latest message.

The row of miniature Indian braves still stood in a line as before, but now three of them had been tampered with. One had a small nail thrust through his chest, a second had a piece of string knotted around its neck and a third appeared to have lost his head.

Holmes crouched down and peered at the statuettes. “Ah. Ten little Indians.”

“Eleven, actually,” said Mary.

Holmes ran his gaze along the line. “Are you sure about that, my dear?” he said, a furrow sliding across his brow.

I watched my wife turn back to the statuettes and silently count along the row of miniatures. Then, looking back at Holmes, she whispered, “Twelve.”

I glanced at Sherlock. There was no need to ask who the new Indian brave represented.

Changing the subject, I stepped forward. “This one must be Warmonger.” I picked up the headless one. “Which means…”

“Which means,” said Holmes, “that my prediction was right and the good judge has met his end. But that is not what interests me here.” Reaching out, he picked up the fourth Indian brave, which had been lying on its back.

“Must’ve fallen over,” I said.

“Unlikely,” murmured Holmes, examining the small platform that held the tiny fellow. “Look here, the base is wide and heavy. It would take a jolly good thump on the table for this to have fallen over by itself.” He peered at me. “Don’t you think, Watson?”

“I suppose so,” I said. Then as my companion’s meaning filtered through to my brain, I saw what he meant. “Oh. It has deliberately been placed like that.”

“Quite so,” said he. “But why?”

At this, Rogers pushed in between us. “You sayin someone else ‘as snuffed it? As well as the judge, I mean?”

“I’m saying exactly that,” said Holmes. Here, he looked up and made a come-hither movement with his hand. General MacArthur, Miss Claymore, Mister Lombardi and Billy Blah had come to see what was going on.

“What’s gong on?” demanded the general. “And who might you be, sir?” This last was addressed to Holmes.

“I might be a nymph or a shepherd,” quipped Holmes, “but I’m not. Sherlock Holmes at your service, ladies and gentlemen.”

Miss Claymore let out a gasp of excitement. “The real Sherlock Holmes? Oh, my!”

“Don’t have an orgasm, dear,” said Holmes, placing the little Indian back on the table in the position we’d found him. “Everyone please stay here while Watson and I check on the judge. Mary, you’re in charge.”

“I’ll come wiv yer,” said Rogers, moving towards the door.

“No,” said Holmes sharply. “You, in particular must stay exactly where you are.”

I followed the Great Detective up the stairs but as soon as we were out of earshot of the others, I grabbed his sleeve and pulled him to a halt on the landing. “You think something’s happened to Mrs Rogers, don’t you?”

“I’ve been a fool, Watson, an utter fool. We’ve been investigating this mystery under the impression we were hunting a single killer.”

“You mean there’s more than one?”

He gave me a curious look then whirling round, ran up the next flight of stairs and down the passage that led to Warmonger’s bedroom. Bursting through the door, he stopped, one hand on the doorknob, the other holding his revolver. But we had no need to defend ourselves – the judge was dead. This time there was no mistake, as the absence of his head guaranteed that any involvement he might have had in this affair had come to an abrupt end.

“Bloody hell,” I muttered. “I wonder where his head is…”

“I expect it’ll turn up, Watson,” said Holmes with a smile that seemed to suggest he knew exactly where that particular object might be found. “Now, we must locate Mrs Rogers.”

As we flew up the staircase to the servant’s quarters, it occurred to me that the mask I’d found with the judge’s body had gone. I made a mental note to ask Holmes about it later, but reaching our destination, we hurriedly checked first the living room and then the bedroom. Nothing had changed since my earlier visit, except that a door I hadn’t noticed before stood open on the far wall.

“Of course,” I muttered. “I forgot to check the bathroom.”

Holmes strode across the room and opened the door wide. “Well, I doubt it would have made any difference, old friend.” He shook his head and stood aside.

Brushing past him, I gazed down at Mrs Rogers. She lay on her back, fully clothed, in a bath filled to the brim with water, her clear blue eyes staring straight up as if she might simply be holding her breath in some sort of macabre breath-holding competition. However, it was the bucket of ice next to the bath that drew my attention – Judge Warmonger’s pasty face stared up at me, its unblinking eyes wide open in surprise.

Moving the bucket to one side, I noticed the two Agatha Christie masks perched against the sink. Clearly the killer was intelligent enough to know that, on this occasion, placing them in water with the corpses wouldn’t work. I rolled up my sleeve and reached down into the icy water to pull out the plug. As I did so, the top of the dead woman’s head seemed to slide off.

“Fuck me,” I gasped, jumping backwards.

“No need to panic, Watson,” said Holmes, crouching down. As the offending item floated to the surface, he deftly picked it up and held it out so I could see it clearly.

“A hairpiece?”

He nodded. “One of her better ones, I might add.” Here, he looked up at me, a glint in his eye. “You recognise her now, Johnny?”

I stared at the woman’s face. The short curly hair that had nestled beneath her wig, the prominent front teeth and the thin unfriendly mouth, triggered something in my memory. “My God, it’s Professor Helga Klopp. Responsible for the murders of two British agents, three industrialists and several innocent bystanders, not to mention –”

“Yes, yes, Watson,” said Holmes with some degree of impatience. “No need to relate Frau Klopp’s role in our adventures for my benefit. The fact is it took me some little time to recall where I’d seen her face before, and when I did, I had no doubt that she, and she alone, was responsible for these ghastly killings.” He sighed heavily. “But apparently not. At least, not all of them.”

“Then the murderer is still at large?”

He nodded. “He is. And unfortunately, I think he’s winning.”

 
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Posted by on June 4, 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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To the Icehouse


Diary of Doctor J. Watson

As we could hardly leave the body of Miss Bent hanging from the tree like a giant flesh-coloured banana, I engaged Billy Blah and Dilip Lombardi to assist me in cutting her down and conveying the body to the icehouse. This brick-built structure was located on the north side of the island on the edge of a small wood that peppered the area behind the main house. Utilizing a wooden wheelbarrow dutifully provided by Rogers, we were able to complete the quarter-mile journey in a few minutes, then, girding our collective loins for the task, hoisted the corpse onto our shoulders as if it were a roll of carpet and began to hump her down the steps.

“Flippin cold in ‘ere,” muttered Blah, backing through the door.

“Better to be cold than hot and smelly,” I countered, spying a low bench along the back wall of the icehouse.

Sliding Miss Bent’s body across the rough surface, I found a piece of tarpaulin underneath the bench and covered her over to preserve what little was left of her dignity.

“Bit of a contradiction in terms, don’t you think?” said Mister Lombardi.

Turning to look at him, I saw he was leaning against the door post, panting a little, his face furrowed in thought. “How’s that?” I said.

He waved a hand in a general sort of way at our surroundings. “Just that there isn’t any ice.”

Taking care to keep my head down due to the low roof, I stepped back and rotated myself through three hundred and sixty degrees. The structure had been sunk into the earth a good four feet and I could already feel the cold seeping through the bare earth into my patent-leather Oxfords. With a floorspace of no more than ten feet square there was barely room to swing a muffin. Apart from shelving on two sides and the rough bench against the rear wall which now held the dead woman, the icehouse did not appear to contain anything.

“Well,” I said, “perhaps the kitchen has some kind of new-fangled cooling mechanism. Mister Owen clearly has plenty of cash.”

Billy Blah sniffed. “No. I arsked Rogers for a whisky on the rocks after lunch and he told me the house don’t have no means of storing ice.”

Lombardi laughed. “And yet we’re standing in an icehouse.”

“I don’t suppose they get many visitors,” said I, tapping my fingers on the walls the way Holmes does when searching for hidden compartments. “But you’re right – it does look very much like what it is: an icehouse without ice.”

“Doctor Watson,” said Blah, “I ‘ope you don’t mind me saying, but were you aware that Miss Bent wasn’t…you know…?”

“That she was a man?” I nodded. “Mary and I found out a little while ago. I don’t believe it’s significant. In relation to the murders, I mean.”

“Huh,” muttered Blah. “Speaking as a former police inspector, I’d say every bloody thing means something in relation to the murders.” He gave me a gentle punch on the arm. “I’ll bet your Mister Holmes would say the same.”

He was right. Holmes never allowed even the smallest detail to go unexamined. But for the life of me, I couldn’t see any clues in our present surroundings.

Back outside in the sunlight, I gazed across at the house. Mary was standing talking to General MacArthur and Vera Claymore. There was no sign of the servants or Justice Warmonger. If this ridiculous affair were running true to form, Warmonger would prove to be the killer, which might also mean that he was Mister Owen.

“There’s something I need to check,” I said and warned my two companions to stay with the others. Then, hurrying across to where Mary waited, I signalled her to come with me.

“No ice in the icehouse?” she whispered as we hastened around to the front of the house.

“No,” I said. “And I think I know why.”

Taking the stairs two at a time, we headed for the judge’s bedroom at the end of a long corridor. Leaving niceties at the door, I burst into the room.

“Oh, Christing hell,” said Mary, clinging to my arm. “Is he…?”

Justice Warmonger lay on his bed, hands crossed over his chest in the style so revered by undertakers. A cardboard Agatha Christie mask had been positioned over the man’s face. Removing the disguise, I examined him closely. His eyes were shut, his mouth a thin pale line turned up at one side as if in a deathly sneer. Holding two fingers to his carotid artery, I discerned there was no obvious pulse. Finally, lifting one eyelid, I saw exactly what I’d expected to see.

“He’s dead.” Leading my wife back out into the passage, I gave her a rapid explanation of my theory and we hurried down to the kitchen to find Rogers and his wife.

The kitchen itself was markedly free of servants. A quick check of the larder and scullery also proved fruitless.

“Where can they be?” said Mary, peering out of the window.

“Think,” I said. “Where would you least expect a servant to be during the time they would normally be on duty?”

Mary shrugged. “In bed?”

Hurrying back upstairs and up to the top floor, we located the two rooms given over to Rogers and his wife. The first door stood open and led into a living room, sparsely decorated with tatty furniture including two armchairs and a table. The second was closed. I knocked and went in. The bed, and indeed the room, were empty.

“Johnny…” Mary had moved across to a window that overlooked the rear lawn. “Look.”

Standing behind her, I followed her gaze. A lone figure strode across the lawn towards a wooden shed on the south side of the house. It was Rogers. In one hand he carried what looked like a brown sack. In the other, a large kitchen knife that glinted in the sunlight. The expression on his face was not pretty. It was the look of a man who intended to do harm.

“What’s in that shed?” said Mary.

“I don’t know for sure,” I said, “but I’ve a nasty feeling that’s where Holmes is hiding.”

 
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Posted by on May 19, 2019 in Detective Fiction

 

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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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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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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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