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Episode Three: The First Clue
Coffee was brewed.
The remaining seven guests of the dinner party had collected in the lounge, leaving the unfortunate Mr Nicholas Grimsby in the smoking room. Mr Cooper was muttering under his breath, a constant whispered leitmotif that, while perhaps preserving Mr Cooper’s wits, threatened the sanity of everyone else in the room:
“I refuse to accept that one of us is a murderer. It’s a preposterous notion. I’ve known these people for years. Years! Absolutely preposterous. One of us a murderer. Preposterous…” And so on, and so forth, until I began to despair of it ever stopping.
“Shouldn’t we call the police?” asked Mrs Cooper.
“I should much prefer it if we didn’t,” Turnbull replied. “At least, not yet.”
“Why, for God’s sake? Nicholas is dead!”
“Genevieve, my dear, please! Gentlemen, is it not possible that we apprehend the criminal ourselves, instead of having booted constables tramping around my home and disturbing my collections? Mr DeLongue, you must be mistaken. Mr Grimsby was not well liked in my household – Genevieve, please! – he wasn’t well liked, but murder? It just doesn’t make sense.”
“I also have no desire to spend the night in a police cell being interrogated,” said DeLongue, “but we all saw the cyanide. Mr Grimsby was poisoned while all of us were in the room with him.”
“We have to do something!” said Miss Peckerel. “Nicholas has been killed and we are sitting in soft chairs drinking coffee!”
I wished I could put her mind at ease. “We will do something,” I said, hoping that somehow the correct words would tumble out of my mouth in something approaching the right order. “First, I suggest we take a sheet to cover Mr Grimsby, and then perhaps we will find one or two things to tell us how this deed was done. I shall see to it that before this night is out, justice will be done.”
“I absolutely agree with you, Mr Falconer,” said DeLongue. I was very relieved to have his support. “I would like to accompany you back to the smoking room and take another look.”
“Yes, and I as well,” said O’Leary.
“I will remain here,” Turnbull said. “I cannot see what good it will do me to go back into that room. In any case, if the killer truly is one of us, then they cannot slip away as long as we all keep our eyes open.” He paused for a moment, his eyes suddenly wide with disbelief. “I cannot believe I am talking this way about my own good friends.” He shook his head and sat down, stunned.
The others agreed to stay in the lounge, leaving O’Leary, DeLongue and myself to walk back to the smoking room. It was hard to believe how much the atmosphere had changed since dinner, which had been most congenial, apart from the rain cloud Grimsby himself had brought with him.
Once in the smoking room, we crossed the carpeted floor and examined poor dead Mr Grimsby. I suggested we cover him, but DeLongue – thinking more practically – first proposed that we search the man, in case something illuminating was secreted within a pocket. O’Leary was equal to the task, for which I was glad, as I had absolutely no desire to rummage through a dead man’s pockets. It put me uneasily in mind of a certain battlefield, strewn with corpses, and of the men and women who took their clothes, their boots, and their trinkets.
The search turned up nothing except a billfold, which was crammed full of notes of small denomination. DeLongue nodded, indicating that the Reverend was to take charge of it, and nodded again when the man lifted the sheet we had brought.
O’Leary sat Grimsby straight in his chair, closed his eyes and covered him with the sheet, crossing himself as he did so. He eyed us with some suspicion, though he tried to hide it – and why shouldn’t he be suspicious? We were recent acquaintances, whereas the people in the lounge were his flock, whom he saw – at the very least – every Sunday ‘without fail’.
DeLongue was crouched on his haunches, his eyes flickering from one point in the room to another, to another, far too quickly for me to follow. I felt completely lost. There was nothing in the room which I found even remotely suspicious. The table itself was made of a heavy wood, something like mahogany. The cigar holder, as I had seen earlier, was built into the wood in a fine example of the joiner’s craft, and it was one of four on the table. They were made of brass, and were highly polished. I supposed you could also place cigarettes or even pipes into them, though I knew that pipe smokers preferred to keep hold of their smoking apparatus. The room was lit by three chandeliers.
I understood nothing.
Though I had spoken bravely to Miss Peckerel in the lounge, in truth I was well out of my depth. Suddenly, DeLongue straightened up.
“We must go straight back to the lounge,” he said.
O’Leary and I turned to him with raised eyebrows, but he wouldn’t elaborate. He was already striding towards the lounge and we hurried after him. He opened the door with a look of relief on his face. Miss Peckerel must have seen it, though she reacted with concern.
“What is it?” she asked.
“I do not believe it was one of us. Come to the smoking room, everyone, I have something to show you.”
And so we had to follow him back to the room we had just been in. DeLongue explained as we walked.
“Nobody was close enough to poison the cigar, I was certain of it right from the beginning. The cyanide must have reached the cigar in some other way. Reverend, Mr Falconer, forgive me for marching you about like this, but if I’m right then it is important that from now on no one is alone, even for a minute.”
Once more we entered the room of death. Mrs Cooper buried her head in her husband’s chest, but Miss Peckerel stared resolutely ahead. DeLongue came to his point.
“It is my belief that the poison was very carefully dripped onto Mr Grimsby’s cigar from above. If this is the case, then we should find crystallised cyanide on that chandelier.” He pointed, and we followed his finger to a chandelier which hung over the table at which Grimsby had sat.
“Very well,” said Mr Cooper. It was clear that he was a frequent guest of Captain Turnbull; he slid a panel near the bookcase to reveal a small ladder suitable for reaching books on the top shelf. He was surprisingly nimble as he sprang up the rungs and took out his own handkerchief to inspect the chandelier.
“You look most at home on that ladder, Mr Cooper,” observed DeLongue
Cooper peered around the brass fitting as he answered. “Before I managed the station, I studied as a railway engineer. I’m quite at home on tall or unstable platforms, tinkering away with electronics and such.”
“You must be very pleased to have such a man around the house, Mrs Cooper. I can barely change a light bulb,” I said. It was a lie, but I hoped it would lighten the mood.
“Oh yes,” she replied, “Owen can do all kinds of little jobs.” She beamed.
Cooper leaped lightly down from the ladder, holding out the handkerchief. Tiny crystals were just visible against the white cloth.
“It is as I thought,” said DeLongue, “and that is why it is too dangerous to go anywhere alone. Somewhere in this house, a murderer is hiding. Someone who dripped cyanide onto Mr Grimsby’s cigar under his very nose.”
It was almost possible to hear the gears spinning in Mr Cooper’s brain. “Could it have been one of your servants?” he asked. “I hate to suggest it, but everything else seems so unlikely.”
“Impossible,” said Turnbull. “Mrs Pott was the only help I kept on for the dinner party, and she was dismissed at the start of dessert.”
“That’s right,” added DeLongue. I escorted her to the door in order to lend her my umbrella, and she locked the door behind her.”
“She locked the door?” I was astounded.
“Quite right,” replied Turnbull. “Security is a watchword of mine, with so many valuable clockworks in the house. Every window and door to this house is completely sealed. Locked tight.”
Mr Cooper held his wife in a firm embrace. Once more I was struck by the affection they showed one another.
“So the murderer is definitely still in the house?” asked Miss Peckerel.
“I should say so. As I said, I dismissed Mrs Pott, and she locked the only door remaining unlocked at that point. The murderer would have had to break a window to get in or out, and we would have heard that.” He shook his head in disbelief. “And I just had that chandelier re-hung. Tuesday. Now I shall have to get it cleaned as well, if the police don’t take it away as evidence.”