It started with a Flash Fiction challenge – to write 500 words of a story that would be finished the next week by someone else. Then someone changed the rules and the next part was the middle part… and Rebecca Douglass did that. Then we tossed it backwards and forward for another couple of weeks.
Rebecca has very kindly made a page on her blog to contain the whole project – you can read the story so far here if you missed it.
Now I shall take up my fountain pen again to complete the story, beginning where Rebecca left off… The whole story now runs to 4000 words, since I’ve added 1500 here!
Part 6 – Finale (JP)
“Come quick sir, it’s the reverend!” Harris seemed in somewhat of a hurry, so Clueso obliged him by standing up.
“It would be best if you two stayed in the house, but not alone, and not with the other guests. Where would be best?”
“The kitchen?” asked Scarlett.
“Hmm. You feel safe there?”
“Yes, of course! And anyway, Russell will be with me.”
Clueso nodded his assent, and followed them from the study, watching them take the servants stairs to the kitchen.
“We have not yet questioned the servants,” he murmured to Harris. “Perhaps…”
“I’ll take you to the body, then return to the kitchen, sir.”
Clueso nodded. Body, eh? Always it was so in these country houses. One murder set off a chain of events. Where would it end this time?
Harris led his boss through the living room, where two of his policemen held Professor Plum and Dr Black back from the windows, corralled in the indoor space.
“Tell me,” Clueso said to Harris as they crossed the gravel patio.
“We heard the shot from the living room. I stood up but Dr Black just said ‘pigeon shooting’ and stayed in his chair. Something didn’t sound right to me, though. Sounded more like a revolver than a shotgun. Perkins was patrolling the grounds. Found him at the gate from the churchyard and called me over.”
By this time they were standing by the wall, gazing at the body of Reverend Green. The pathologist looked up at them.
“That was quick,” commented Clueso.
“I was coming back to tell you about Colonel Mustard. Perkins stopped me. This person’s been shot by a standard service revolver, judging by the size of the hole. Of course, that’s a guess, but the bullet’s still inside.”
“So he was shot from a little way away?”
“Yes, the edge of the copse, perhaps. Judging from the way he’s fallen, probably over there.” The pathologist pointed. Clueso nodded to Harris, who went there with Perkins.
“What were you going to tell me about Colonel Mustard?”
“It wasn’t the dagger that killed him. He had a large contusion on the back of his head. Hit with something hard and probably cylindrical. Traces of metal on the scalp – I’m having it tested. He was dead before the dagger went home, that’s why there wasn’t as much blood as you’d expect.”
Clueso sighed. “Thank you, Dr Popworth.”
He wandered over to where Harris and Perkins were examining the ground. “Anything?”
“Footprints, yes. We’ll get a plaster cast on them. Big feet, though.”
“Heavy as well?”
“No, not that heavy. Roughly my size.”
“Thank you. I will return to the house and continue the questioning. Would you care to join me?”
Harris followed Clueso as he plodded, eyes downcast, across the well-kept grass to the terraces below the living room, up the steps, and in through the French windows.
“Well, gentlemen,” he said to Professor Plum and Dr Black. “You were both in here at the time of the shot, Private Peacock and Miss Scarlett were with me, and so far as we know, Mrs Peacock is still at home.”
“I can vouch for my servants, sir. None of them would carry out such a dastardly deed!” Dr Black was adamant.
“Yet either one of them is not what they seem, or we have a random killer on the loose, my dear doctor. In my experience, these things are never the work of a random killer. Bring everyone up to this room, Harris, if you please.”
In only a few minutes Harris had assembled Reeves, Mrs White, Betsy the maid and cleaner, and Higgins the chauffeur and general factotum, who stood along the wall looking nervous, behind the settee where Scarlett sat close to Peacock. Dr Black paced by the windows, occasionally stopping and looking towards the vicarage, and Professor Plum took the over-stuffed armchair, crossing his legs and waggling one foot up and down.
“So, in the space of a few hours, two guests at a dinner party have been removed from the scene by person or persons unknown. It seemed to be a straightforward case of eliminating a person who has aroused antipathy. Then it became necessary to remove a second person who has caused, shall I say heartache and disgust, but who may have had valuable information about the first murder. Everyone’s movements have been accounted for, since my younger police officer has already spoken to the staff. Harris here has been observing everyone else.
“Miss Scarlett and Private Peacock have been, what you call, ‘set up’ in this matter. I am satisfied they have nothing to do with it. The spotlight might fall on any of the household, knowing as they do the reputation of Reverend Green, a reputation that the gentlemen around here seem to be at pains to deny.” Dr Black shifted at this, but said nothing.
“When you, Professor Plum, and you, Dr Black, collude with each other over antiquities and suchlike, you fail to recognise a syndrome which I shall call the ‘cosiness factor’ – neither of you are willing to take any action, but are delighted to plant all the misleading evidence. What none of you know, is what I have been investigating for many years, and that is the connection between a band of army chums who served together in Egypt, and the civilian staff who worked on the archaeological studies there.
“One of you is now in great danger…”
Clueso’s words were halted by a strange gurgling noise, emanating from the overstuffed armchair. All eyes in the room turned to Professor Plum, whose eyes appeared to be popping out of his head, and his tongue, protruding from between his teeth, was turning black.
Clueso leapt to his feet, flew to the back of the chair, and grabbed at a rope leading out into the garden. He was too late; however it was being tightened, it reached the point where it dragged the now-deceased Professor Plum over the back of the chair. Private Peacock produced a pocketknife and slashed at the rope, which whipped back through the window and up towards the windvane, spinning sturdily in the breeze. The ladies screamed, fainted or stood stoically through the commotion.
“Dr Black, we must all crowd into your study, if you please.”
They left the scene of the third murder and crammed into the former interrogation room. Clueso resumed his speech.
“Alas, I should have foreseen an attempt to remove the professor as well. If I am right, only one of you is still in danger. Dr Black, please would you remove that candlestick from the cupboard behind you and place it outside.”
“I’ll help you with that, sir,” Harris said as he opened the door for Dr Black.
“I think not, Harris,” interrupted Clueso. “Stay where you are, or my very small pistol that you laugh so heartily at will demonstrate its power. Your hands up, if you please!”
“Have you gone mad, sir?” asked Harris, maintaining his hold on the doorknob.
“No, Harris. It was you who hit Colonel Mustard over the head with the lead piping in the library, before allowing Dr Black to carry out the ritual knifing. You were the one who slipped out to waylay the Reverend Green, in full view of Dr Black and Professor Plum, your partners in the conspiracy. They were there as your alibi the whole time, were they not?”
Harris pulled the door violently, grabbed the candlestick from Dr Black, swiped it across his face with the full force of his shoulders, and ran down the corridor. Dr Black dropped to the ground, his head lolling. Mrs White bent to him.
“I’m sorry, his neck is broken.”
Clueso had pulled a silver whistle from his waistcoat pocket and blown it with full force, yet no-one had heard a sound. What they did hear, in the distance, was the yelping of dogs.
“He won’t get far. I am sorry you had to witness that violent finale. I was never sure of Harris’s past, and once the Professor had spoken so eloquently about his finds, I realised that this was a long-developed plot to secure the futures of certain elements of a conspiracy. Now all are dead, except Harris and one other.”
“Which other?” asked Peacock.
“Your father, I am afraid. We do not need to worry too much about him, though, since his end is very near. I am sorry to have to break this to you. But this is the end of a story of greed and treachery, all the conspirators are accounted for, and you are free to marry Miss Scarlett, if that is what you both wish.”
“Scarlett, will you marry me?”
“Oh, Russell! Yes, yes…”
(c) J M Pett and R M Douglass 2014