On examining the corpse, I was gratified that at least he did not have a large pointy object sticking out of his chest – the sight of blood at that time of night was more than I could have borne. The marks around Mr. Shitebreath’s neck indicated he had been strangled (although I admit the presence of a length of rope in the vicinity of his collar, did help qualify this conclusion).
“Who could have done this,” muttered Flora, descending the stairs.
I looked at her. “More to the point – why is he naked?” I glanced down at Adam’s nether regions and wondered at nature’s methodology in awarding a small man such a large appendage. I’m only glad my dear wife was not present to witness such unnecessary cockage, since I could imagine how the conversation would run, come bedtime.
“Oh,” said Flora. “That’s easy – Adam always washed the dishes in the nude. He claimed it saved his clothes getting wet from waving his cletterin stick”
I walked across to the stone sink and studied the evidence. The cletterin stick was on the window sill as usual, while the dishes were all washed and draining at the side. I peered out the window. Four farm hands were standing idly in the yard, peering back at me. No doubt Flora’s screams had brought them running, though clearly their eagerness to discover the cause had not sustained their curiosity enough to prompt them to actually enter the house.
“I want to speak to everyone. Now.”
Flora waved a hand at Adam’s body. “Shouldn’t we move him first?”
I coughed. “Yes of course, I’ll cover him up, but it is imperative that I question everyone while their individual movements are still fresh in their minds.”
Flora nodded. “I’ll gather them together.” After she had departed, I covered Adam’s body with a bed sheet, but not before noticing that he had a quantity of cottage cheese between his fingers. Curiouser and curiouser.
Ten minutes later, I stood on the stairs gazing at the whole family and several of the workers. I studied the list of names Flora had kindly provided and tried to work out which was which. Since I’d had little contact with the Starkadders as a whole, I allowed myself a moment to put names to faces:
Judith and her son Seth stood by the fireplace, and noting their physical proximity to one another, I was reminded of a conversation I’d had with Flora and her implication that an ‘unhealthy relationship’ might be under way. Judith’s pouting mouth and wandering hands did little to dismiss this theory. Next to them stood Judith’s husband Amos, who busied himself with caressing the breasts of Mrs. Beatle, the cleaning lady. Only the waiflike Elfine (as rare a beauty as I’ve ever set eyes on) seemed not to have her hands full, or her bounties fondled. Arms folded across her ample chest, she stared back at me with eyes that could light a fire or two on a dark night.
Dragging my gaze away from hers, I took in the various half-brothers, cousins, half-cousins, third-cousins, second uncles, wayward aunts and other relations that stood around the room. It occurred to me that almost everyone in the house seemed to be romantically preoccupied with someone else to whom they were related, but not married. If the motive for killing Ada Doom had been money (understandable), there might be more than a dozen possible suspects, but in the case of Adam Shitebreath, I couldn’t see what possible reason there might be for his murder.
“Good evening,” I began when the general hubbub had subsided. “As you know, there has been another death…” I paused, allowing my eyes to skim across the assembled group in the hope the guilty party might give themselves away with an involuntary shudder or self-conscious twitch, but all faces were turned towards me, and even Judith Starkadder removed her busy hands from her son’s trousers to listen to what I had to say.
“I would like you all to line up and give me a few minutes of your time so that I may take details of your whereabouts during the last half an hour.” I waited for the expected growl of annoyance, but they simply nodded their heads and quietly formed into an orderly queue. For a moment, I wondered if there was some sort of mass conspiracy going on involving them all. Glancing at Flora, I saw from her expression that the same thought had occurred to her.
Moving to a small table at the other end of the kitchen I prepared myself to take the first statement.
The first to sit down opposite me was Judith herself, hanging on to her son’s hand. “I was upstairs.” She glanced at Seth.
“I see,” said I, making a note of this. “And were you alone?”
She shook her head and smirked. “Let’s just say I have an alibi.”
“Or an accomplice,” I suggested. Her smile fell away and she sniffed in a rather sniffy way.
“Anyway, I didn’t kill him. Why would I?”
“That’s what I’m trying to find out.” I gave her a hard stare, but she merely stared back.
“Very well, I said. “That’s all for now.”
Judith stood up. “Appen you should be looking elsewhere for murderers.” And with that she walked off. I turned to my next interviewee.
“Oright Dotter Watton, what yer antin ter know, en?”
I took a deep breath and studied the man’s face. “And who might you be?”
“Oi be yer prime witness, that oo.” He grinned. “Cos Oi did saw oo did in owld Adam.”
I leaned forward. “Really? Go on.”
The man’s face seemed to freeze in an expression of smiling benevolence. Then it sagged, lost its grin and his eyes rolled back in his head. For a moment I wondered if he was having a seizure, but then his head dropped and he slumped across the table, emitting a low groan. I immediately discerned the probable cause of this change in his demeanour – there was a knife sticking out of his back.
“Oh, for fuck’s sake…” I leaped up and threw out my hands. “Nobody move!”