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In the Mooood for Murder…

Moood for Murder 350
From the Diary of Doctor J. Watson

“Have to say, old bean,” I said, passing round the Peek Freans, “You couldn’t have left if much later.”

Holmes clasped the mug between his hooves and sipped his cocoa. “Would’ve been quicker off the mark, Watson, but my accessories kept catching on the stair rods.”

“Humph.” Mary put the kettle back on the stove and gave the famous consulting detective a fierce sideways glance. “That’ve sounded good in court – sorry m’lud, if I hadn’t caught my udders on the banister, I’d have been able to avert the stabbing to death of Flora, Doctor Watson and his beautiful wife.”

I coughed, nervously. “Alright my dear, Holmes has apologised.”

Flora helped herself to another biscuit and waved it at me like a baton. “No, Mary’s right. Another few seconds and it would have been curtains for the lot of us.”

I was about to apologise again for the general lack of appreciation, but Holmes shook his head.

“It’s fine, Watson. The ladies have every right to complain – after all, I was well aware of your plight. It took longer than I expected to curtail the killer’s movements.”

Mary thumped his arm. “Well aware, were you? Well aware? Fat lot of good that’d do us with a knife in our backs.”

Sherlock Holmes rubbed his bruised arm. “Perhaps it’s time I filled you in on the details, then.” He gave me a hopeful smile. “Mind taking notes, Johnny?”

“No, no, not at all.” I took another slurp of cocoa and pulled out my pocket diary. “Fire away.”

Holmes slipped off the remainder of his bovine costume and made himself more comfortable. “After your husband left me in the field to welcome you, Mary, I spent a few minutes with my animal friends before heading towards the barn. Unfortunately, I had forgotten that I was masquerading as a cow, rather than a bull, and had not made provision for the consequences of milking time. I shan’t bore you with the details, but I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a more surprised milkmaid.”

I leaned forward. “How did you manage to approach the house without being seen?”

“Ah-ha,” said Holmes, giving me a sardonic smile. “Being a cow has its advantages. I was able to make my way into the farmyard behind the gathering crowd without drawing attention to myself, simply by mooing occasionally. It was while I was watching the proceedings after the dastardly murder of the police officer, that I noticed Judith Starkadder counting the heads of the throng. I studied her features carefully, Watson, and I saw a strange expression slide across her hard, bony face. I therefore deduced that she had worked out who the killer was.”

At this, Holmes took out his Meerschaum pipe and began to stuff it with Hard Old Shag (one of his favourite tobaccos). I glanced at Mary and she rolled her eyes, while Flora affected a yawn.

“And then?” I said, hoping he would take the hint. But Holmes is never a man to be rushed and he took his time lighting the pipe, taking a few thoughtful puffs before continuing with his tale.

“It occurred to me,” he said, “that if another murder was going to be committed – and I believed it was – the killer would have not only had to be present when the police officer was stabbed, but would also have needed to be able to watch you three in Ada Doom’s bedroom.”

“Sorry.” Mary waved a hand dismissively at Holmes. “But we already know who the murderer is – Adam Shitebreath.”

“Yes,” put in Flora. “After he turned into a zombie.” She nodded enthusiastically.

Holmes sniggered in a way that seemed to suggest he believed himself to be the only individual in possession of all the facts. I myself have become almost immune to this annoying habit, but I could see temperatures were rising in the faces of the womenfolk.

“Actually, Holmes…” I began.

“Not zombies, in fact, Miss Starkadder, but a member of your own family.” He turned to look at the still-naked figure in the corner. The three of us followed his gaze.

Adam Shitebreath had been securely fastened to the chair, but his face was still a mass of silent rage. Holmes got up and crossed the room.

“You see, Mary, your theory about the knives was quite correct.”

Mary sniffed and allowed herself a smile. “Course it was.”

“However, the conclusion you had not reached was why Adam was strangled, and not stabbed.”

“Strangled?” Echoed all three of us.

Holmes puffed at his pipe. “The murderer is left-handed as you deduced, but there is another factor we must consider. It’s far easier to make believe you’ve been strangled than to have been stabbed, wouldn’t you agree, Doctor?”

I nodded. “Of course, Holmes. Goes without saying.”

The great detective turned to Mary. “Have you read any of those trashy crime novels by that Christie woman?”

Mary nodded warily. “Some, yes.”

Holmes glanced at me, gave a slight smile, then turned back to my wife. “What about ‘And Then There Were None’. Read that one?”

Mary nodded, a frown forming on her already wrinkled brow.

“Then you will know that the murderer is a man who pretends to be killed in order to draw suspicion away from himself. In order to do so, he enlists the help of one of the other suspects.”

“What are you getting at, Holmes?” I was beginning to feel I’d missed a vital clue.

“Adam could not have killed Sergeant Flange, because Adam at that very moment was lying on the table covered by a bed sheet, was he not”

“Well, yes he was, as a matter of fact,” said I.

“So the murderer must have been someone very close by. Close enough to use that old circus trick known as the ‘boomerang throw’.” Holmes smiled sardonically. “Isn’t that right, Flora? Or should I say – Dexterous Dixie the Knife-Throwing Queen?”

We all turned to look at Flora and for a moment, I thought she was going to burst into tears, then her face began to change and a low growl came from her lips.

“Think you’re so clever, don’t you, Mister Holmes?”

Holmes nodded. “Yes, actually, I do.”

“I say, Holmes, you can’t be serious – Flora was standing next to me when Flange was killed.”

Holmes raised an eyebrow. “Was she, or is that simply what she allowed you to believe?” His right hand flicked up suddenly and a pair of standard-issue handcuffs flew across the room. In a second, Flora’s left hand came up and caught them.

Holmes laughed. “Hoist by her own petard. Cuff her, friend Watson.”

Somewhat taken aback I nevertheless obeyed my companion and clasped Flora’s wrists together with the dreaded manacles.

“And so,” Holmes continued, moving back towards the silent figure of Adam. “Now we come to the unmasking.” And with a deft movement, he grabbed the back of Adam’s neck and pulled it sharply downwards. The man’s whole head seemed to give way and fell to the ground. Underneath was a familiar, but shocking face – Aunt Ada Doom.

“Bloody hell,” said I.

“Christ on a bike,” muttered my wife.

“Fuck,” said Flora Poste.

“You see,” said Holmes. “When Flora’s parents were killed, everyone assumed it was an accident, but – and I’m making one or two assumptions here – I believe Flora found something in her mother, Melanie Poste’s, effects that told her something that shook her world.” He waved a hand at Flora. “Would you mind?”

Flora shrugged. “Yes, alright, clever clogs. I did find something in my mother’s knicker drawer – a letter from Fig Poste, Ada Doom’s husband, declaring his undying love for my mother. The cheating bitch made my father’s life unbearable.”

Holmes nodded. “So you decided to get your own back on the family by killing them all and inheriting whatever fortune was left.”

Flora nodded solemnly.

“Sorry Holmes,” I said. “I still don’t understand.”

“Naturally,” said Holmes. “It turns out that Aunt Ada Doom did see something nasty in the woodshed all those years ago – she saw her husband banging the arse off Melanie Poste. And she knew when Flora turned up at Cold Comfort, she’d have to ‘cut a deal’ as they say in the flicks, in order to avoid ending up dead.”

“So where’s Adam?” asked Mary.

Holmes pointed upwards. “On the bed. They skinned him and used it as a costume. Much like my own disguise,” he said with a chuckle.

“Sorry Holmes,” I muttered, “But I’m still confused. Isn’t Ada Doom lying on the bed too?”

“No. That is in fact the body of Melanie. Flora’s mother.” He frowned and gave Flora a hard stare. “I expect she brought the body to the farm in the hope of scaring Ada to death. As it turned out, they simply substituted one body for another.”

“You mean..?” I said.

“Yes, Watson – the two women were twin sisters. Obvious, really. No doubt when Ada had outlived her usefulness as a killer, she herself would have been killed.” He stuck his pipe in his mouth and busied himself relighting it.

“But why on earth did Flora involve us?”

“Like all villains, she believed herself infallible. Knowing I was in France, she thought silly old Doctor Watson would toddle along, go through the motions but in time, give up, effectively clearing her of any blame.” He looked up at me. “But she was wrong.”

“Right, then,” I said. “Better call the police, eh Holmes?”

“No need, Watson, they’re already here. Inspector Lestrade is in the barn. He’s the Holstein Friesian.” Pulling out his pocket watch, he frowned. “Better be quick – he’s due for milking in five minutes.”

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Posted by on June 26, 2016 in Detective Fiction

 

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Cletterin, Mollockin and Murderin…

Sunset Cold Comfort 350

To Sherlock Holmes Esq from Doctor Watson

My Dear Holmes,

I write these lines sitting by my window overlooking the meadow, watching the sun slowly sink in the gray of the sky. Or at least I would if Flora’s description of the farm had been stuffed with actual facts, rather than pathetically idealistic notions of country living. The truth of the matter is that I have been billeted in what can only be described as a bit of a shithole above a slightly larger shithole, locally termed ‘the cow shed’.

While it’s true that I can indeed see the meadow, this latter geographical feature might be more readily recognised by persons such as yourself, as ‘a field’. A field covered in cowshit. Indeed, the whole place is pretty much covered in cowshit – I’m beginning to think the substance must be revered as some sort of priceless local currency. Next, they’ll be telling me they grow potatoes with it!

However, I digress. I’m sure you will be less interested in my domestic situation than in the goings-on at the farm itself.

We arrived in the early evening just as the workers were gathering for their meal. Our driver (Adam Shitebreath) led the horse away while Flora bid me follow her up to the house. The farm itself is situated at the brow of a hill, which I imagine must present a fetching scene when viewed as a silhouette at sunset. Flora led me across the farmyard, taking care to tread on a series of filthy planks that had been laid out in lieu of a path, thus saving our footwear from the worst of the mud and aforementioned cowshit that covered everything.

Pushing open the back door (no-one uses the front door for some reason), I was led into a large kitchen area packed with men of various ages, along with a couple of odd-looking women. The genial hubbub ceased as I came into view and all eyes turned to me.

“Everyone – this is Doctor Watson. He’s from Londen.”

At the mention of my name, a low groan rumbled round the room and a single voice piped up “Ar be gon ter bring Mistress Doom backer loife, en?”

I looked to Flora for a translation, but she simply advised the speaker to ‘stop talking shite’, which was language I could understand.

We then pushed through the crowd towards the stairs, leaving the workers to their meal. I clutched my rucksack to my chest, mindful that poor Henri was still nestling inside.

Upstairs, Flora directed me along a series of complicated passageways that I assumed were leading to the room I was to stay in. Unfortunately, this was not the case and as the young woman opened the door at the end of a particularly long and dark corridor, I realised what it was she wanted me to do.

The smell was the first thing to hit me, followed by a familiar gurgling in my tummy. I swallowed hard, praying my luncheon would not resurface from either orifice. Thankfully, Flora guessed my predicament and crossed the room, drew back the curtains and threw open the windows, allowing sufficient fresh air into the place to quell my surging stomach.

I took a few deep breaths and turned my attention to the body lying on the bed. “She’s still here, then?”

Flora nodded. “I thought you’d want to examine her.”

“Well, yes, normally I would, but I’d assumed the police would’ve…” I looked at the body, the blood-encrusted knife glinting in the fading sunlight. I looked at Flora. “The police have been, haven’t they?”

She coughed. “I’m afraid they won’t come up this far.”

“What? There isn’t a constable in the village?”

She shook her head, then nodded. “There is, but he won’t come up here.”

I sensed my next question was one I probably didn’t want to hear the answer to. But it had to be asked. “Why not?”

“Because of the thing in the woodshed.”

“In the woodshed.” I swallowed hard. Again. “And what exactly is in the woodshed?”

Flora gave a regretful shrug. “Something nasty.”

 
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Posted by on May 25, 2016 in Detective Fiction

 

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Very Cold Comfort at the Farm…

At the Station 350

From the Diary of Doctor J. Watson

Having made it clear to my dear wife that I would be catching the early train, I should have expected some kerfuffle on my departure. It wasn’t enough that I’d spent most of the night seeing to her ‘womanly needs’, preparing breakfast in bed and then bathing her in that ‘special’ way, no – before I was allowed to leave, I was forced to endure one of her lectures on the perils of consuming unpasteurized milk and mixing with ‘loose-limbed country folk’. I shall have to cancel her subscription to Dairy Farming for the Middle Classes – it’s giving her far too many ideas. Quite what she imagines I’ll be getting up to on a farm is beyond me – although to be fair, I may have trumped on rather a lot about the young and vibrant Flora Poste, so perhaps the fault is my own.

I finally escaped my wife’s clutches in the front hall, and as I opened the door, I heard the familiar call of a certain feathered friend coming in to land.

Like most of Sherlock Holmes’ missives, his ‘French Letter’ had arrived in the nick of time. Fluttering down onto the pavement, Henri, as is his wont, walked the last few yards pigeon-toed up the path, then looked up at me as if to say ‘What’s Up Doc?’ I removed the small canister from the bird’s leg and unrolled the message, sliding the latter (the message) into my top pocket and the former (the bird) into my rucksack, where he proceeded to make himself comfortable.

Later, as the train chugged its weary way southwards, I re-read my companion’s letter over and over, his words echoing in my head like strange echoey things. It had not occurred to me that the death of Ada Doom might be anything other than a freak accident – perchance a slip of the hand while slicing an apple, or a knife-juggling trick gone wrong. Perhaps I was foolish to imagine a simple explanation, but I can see how my initial reaction that – as Holmes himself says – the case might be ‘an interesting distraction’ was completely wrong. I should have concentrated on the rather more obvious clue that Ada Doom’s death was in fact murder, and whoever killed her is more than likely still in the vicinity of Cold Comfort.

It was this very thought that reverberated yet again as I stood on the deserted platform at the curiously-named village of Howling. Gazing up and down, I noted that not only did I appear to be without a lift to the farm, but it was also pissing down with rain.

For some minutes, I was at a loss. Taking a look round, I was not heartened to find that the station itself was about as isolated as it’s possible to get, and the village, if in fact it existed at all, was nowhere to be seen.

As I stood at one end of the platform looking into the distance, I saw movement in the bushes further up the line and after a moment was able to discern a horse’s head, a cart and two figures trundling along at the other side of the hedge.

“Coo-ee!” called a female voice in a not-unpleasant tone. “Doctor Watson? Is that you?”

I collected my bag and hurried to the gate where I awaited their approach. The young woman waving from her perch on the rickety cart, was of course Flora herself – an image of radiant beauty and sparkling eyes (it seems my wife had good reason to be jealous). Beside her sat a man with a face so wrinkled it might have been made out of cheese. Mouldy cheese, with lots of wrinkles in it.

“Clar oop yer, dottor watton,” said the old man, leaning down to help me up.

I clambered onto the seat next to Flora and threw my rucksack in the back, quite forgetting about poor Henri, who let out an indignant squawk.

The old man (who I later learned was named Adam Shitebreath) hummed a strange tune as he hauled the cart around in a circle and set off back the way he’d come.

As the skies cleared and the sun began to break through, I noticed a dead pig in the back of the cart. I glanced down at Flora’s ample cleavage and wondered what I’d let myself in for.

To be continued

 
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Posted by on May 18, 2016 in Detective Fiction

 

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A Curious Communication…

Folsom Crash Paper 350

To Sherlock Holmes Esq from Doctor Watson

My Dear Holmes

I trust you’ve heard about the ‘Moriarty’s Ma’ debacle at Scotland Yard? I can’t believe Lestrade thought it was a good idea to let the Evil Genius have visitors, but that’s what a public school education does for you, eh? At least the aforementioned villain had the decency to let me have transcripts of his recordings before disguising himself as his own mother and disappearing into the mists once again. My account of what I’m calling ‘Not the Thirty Nine Steps’ will be appearing in The Strand Magazine next week.

More interestingly, I had a curious communication from the daughter an old acquaintance this morning: it seems that my former school chum Henry Poste has popped his clogs after a typically ill-fated adventure charting the inlets of the California River. He and his good lady wife (who I never met) fell to their deaths after the wind dropped and the water-cooled glider aeroplane they were travelling in plummeted into the murky depths of Folsom Lake. He always was a bit of a risk-taker, so it’s no surprise, really.

However, their daughter Flora has found herself in a rather sticky situation, and it is she who wrote asking for assistance. Having stayed temporarily with an old friend, she accepted an invitation from distant relatives the Starkadders. Arriving at the oddly named ‘Cold Comfort Farm’ last weekend, she was given a reasonably warm welcome, and while family relationships appeared normal at first, two days ago she was wakened during the night by a ‘blood-curdling’ scream. It transpired that the Starkadder matriarch Aunt Ada Doom, had been stabbed in the heart and is, unsurprisingly, dead.

Reading between the lines, I suspect Flora is concerned that something sinister may be afoot. I suggest we take ourselves off to Sussex without further delay. At the very least, she promises we shall be well fed, and if things take a turn for the worse, we will be on hand to intervene.

I look forward to your speedy response.

Watson

 
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Posted by on May 5, 2016 in Detective Fiction

 

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