This is the Tenth and final part of a Murder Mystery that I have been writing.
This story started as a tribute to the great Agatha Christie. I now appreciate what a master craftsman she was.
This is the first part if you want to read it from the beginning:
Slowly, he felt himself regaining consciousness. His head was still rather painful, particularly where he’d been hit. He became aware of the hard wooden chair he was sitting on, and the fact that his ankles were tied to it. His arms too were tied behind his back. As his vision slowly came into focus, he realised the room was very dark, except for one small table lamp. The room was incredibly smoky and hot. It reeked of a mixture of cigar and cigarette smoke and sweat. He couldn’t see anyone else in the room, but he could feel he wasn’t alone. It was one of those strange things, an extra sense that most people seemed to possess. You can always tell when you are alone, or when you aren’t. You can also tell if someone was staring at you, even if you can’t see them. They have experimented with that phenomenon with one way mirrors. Most people glanced up and looked at the person staring at them, even though they could only see a mirror. He felt that way now. He knew someone was staring at him. He gave a slight involuntary cough and the lamp on the desk was turned into his face, the light blinding him, and a deep quiet voice came from somewhere behind that light.
“Ah, Inspector Thorpe, you are back with us again. I am pleased that the bang to your head wasn’t too severe. I apologise if my associates were a little rough with you. I am afraid they exceeded their brief slightly. I asked them to bring you to speak to me, and unfortunately they decided to do it this way, rather than just to ask you. It may be that they did not think you would be willing to come easily and they were instructed not to draw attention to themselves. It is likely they thought this was the quietest and easiest method. Would you like a cigarette?”
It was the voice of a gentleman, soft and refined but with a commanding and slightly menacing air. It made the Inspector shiver slightly. Or that may have been a slight concussion. The Inspectors voice was a little hesitant.
“Yes, please, I could do with a smoke.”
He felt a movement behind him and the ropes binding his wrists together were untied. He moved and stretched his arms to relieve the stiffness in the joints. How long had he been unconscious for, he wondered?
Another person stepped up to his right side and offered him a packet of cigarettes. He took one and put it between his lips. The man then struck a match giving off that strangely pleasant aroma of phosphorus. The Inspector leaned forward towards the hand that held the lighted match and touched the end of the cigarette to the flame, carefully to make sure he didn’t set his moustache alight. He had a couple of puffs, inhaling deeply and blowing the smoke into the already smoky room. He felt a sense of calm come over him which made him realise just how terrified he had been.
The two heavies had retreated back into the shadows. He still had the bright lamp shining in his eyes but he could make out the shape of someone sitting behind a large imposing desk.
He tried to keep his voice calm, he didn’t want to show his nerves, but it still sounded not as assured as he would have liked.
“What would you like to speak to me about?”
The man behind the desk chuckled slightly.
“Excellent Inspector, I admire your spirit. I wanted to talk to you about your current investigation into that unfortunate death of Dr Lancaster. I understand you have progressed rather well.”
“Yes, I have already detained a suspect and I believe I will shortly be ready to turn that detention into a formal arrest. I know the ‘how’ and the ‘who’, but the why still eludes me.”
“Well, let me be frank with you Inspector. We feel that your enquiry has gone far enough and we feel you need to cease your investigation immediately.”
“I don’t understand. Who are you?”
“I represent a branch of His Majesty’s government, a rather secretive branch, but important none the less. It is our wish that you close down your enquiry. We want you to conclude that the young man simply died of accidental asphyxiation. It is the matter of national security. You are a patriot I take it?”
“Yes, of course, I am, but I also strongly believe in justice and the rule of law. I can’t just shut down the investigation when a young man has been murdered. There are others involved too who are already aware that this is more than just an accident; my sergeant for one, the forensic officer, Hoskins, for another. Then there is a lady, a fan of Agatha Christie, who has already worked out quite a lot on her own.”
“I have taken care of your Sergeant Sheldon and your forensic officer. They have both been promoted and transferred to other divisions. I have also had some of my men pay a visit on a certain Mrs Audrey Patterson and have persuaded her of the virtues of remaining silent. She is, coincidentally a friend of my wife’s.”
“Your Wife? Then you must be….?”
“Yes Inspector Thorpe, I am Charles Atwood. My Wife tells me you haven’t heard of me, which given my position, I am rather pleased about. I don’t like people knowing who I am, or what I do. It would rather make my job much harder than it already is. I hope you are not going to make it harder either? I hope you are going to agree to close down the investigation and release my wife.”
“You said that it was a matter of national security? I don’t see what this has got to do with national security. I only see a man trying to get his wife off of a murder and I will have no part in that kind of corruption.”
“I see you are a rare man of morals, Inspector Thorpe. I assure you though, that this is more than just the fact I am protecting my wife, dear to me though she is. What I am about to tell you is top-secret. My wife did murder Dr Lancaster, but only because we were instructed that it was a matter of national security that Dr Lancaster should die. You see, we have had our eye on our Dr Lancaster for some time, since his university days, in fact. You may not be aware of it, but Cambridge University is rather a hotbed of Bolshevism and communist thinking and we were concerned that the good Doctor had rather drifted into that world. He was, of course, a brilliant scientist and had been working extensively in radio waves and also some rather dangerous areas of nuclear physics. We suspected he was passing information on his progress to the Russians through a secret network. We hoped to bring him back into the fold by offering him a lucrative government job; a job where we could make use of his brilliant mind and also keep a closer eye on him. Unfortunately he turned us down flat. It was then that we received the order to terminate him. Europe is in a bit of turmoil at the moment, I am sure you are aware. Italy and Germany have both got Fascist governments and of course Russia is now under the control of Tsar murdering Bolsheviks who are hell-bent on spreading their dangerous doctrine around the world. Britain is a bastion of democracy and moderate thinking; a beacon of light in these dark times. It falls to British intelligence to ensure we do not allow either the Fascists or the Bolsheviks to gain too much power. Usually of course we are more subtle by far than the American CIA or the Soviet secret police, but sometimes situations call for a less than subtle approach. Dr Lancaster had to die. I am afraid that I decided to take advantage of the fact that my wife had certain friends and they had invited Dr Lancaster to dinner. My wife was an agent in the past; that is where we met. She hasn’t of course taken part in direct operations for a number of years, but it seemed providence was playing into our hands. She undertook to despatch Dr Lancaster by placing a small tablet of Strychnine into her own drink, then knocking Dr Lancaster’s over enabling her to hand him her drink. It worked like a charm of course. Strychnine, as I am sure you are aware, doesn’t work as quickly as other poisons, like Cyanide. It normally takes between twenty to thirty minutes to take effect, which, of course, it did, when everyone was eating dinner. I hope now you agree that this was a matter of national security? Your cooperation would be regarded in government circles with much gratitude, Chief Inspector.”
A few days later, at the breakfast table of number 12 Cavendish Square, Mayfair, Mr Winthrop was just helping himself to another plate of devilled kidneys when his wife gave a loud exclamation. She was seated at the table eating a croissant smothered with strawberry jam and holding a letter that she had just started reading. The look of startlement on her face made Mr Winthrop ask her with some genuine concern “Is everything all right dear? You look like you’ve had quite a shock. Who is the letter from?”
“It’s from Scotland Yard; it’s from Chief Inspector Thorpe. He says that the forensic analysis has come back negative and that Dr Lancaster died of accidental asphyxiation after all!”
“Sorry, I don’t speak that medical mumbo-jumbo, in plain English please dear.”
“It means, Algie, that he just choked to death. No foul play. Case closed.”
“See, I told you everything will work out in the end, didn’t I? We can hold our heads high in public now can’t we. Now, who shall we invite to dinner? How about Sonia and Peter Eversley; they’re always up for some fun.”
The End (but not quite)
There will be an Epilogue coming soon……
Copyright: Kristian Fogarty 06/May/2018