Today’s Story-A-Day May challenge prompt is simply to end the story with a particular sentence.
Just for fun, I’m trying to make my story a different genre each day — we’ll see how long I’m able to manage that! This time, it’s a murder mystery involving a less-than-honorable detective.
“Stumped again, inspector?” The detective breezed into the drawing room, hanging his deerstalker hat on the policeman trying to block him, and shrugging off the overcoat his foolish assistant tugged on. “You call more often than my dear mother does.”
Not a difficult feat, after she’d caught him stealing her good silverware a few years back.
Inspector Solde had the look of a condemned man. “I didn’t call you. Nor did any of my men, I trust. Though devil knows how you hear about these murders so quickly.” He fixed a suspicious glare on the officers scattered about the lavishly appointed room. “You’re trespassing on a crime scene. I should have you both hauled out in irons.”
“But I tried to stop him!” came the assistant’s muffled whine, still tangled in the overcoat.
“Those would be the only arrests you make this evening,” said the detective, “after another killer slips through your grasp.”
Solde’s ugly smile spoke of unusual confidence. “Not this time. We caught Lord Harper’s wife literally red-handed. See for yourself.” He led the way into a study that smelled of cigars and death.
Lord Harper sprawled facedown on rich mahogany floorboards, rather spoiling their finish with the contents of his skull. A heavy antique globe, covered in blood and brains, appeared to have delivered the coup de grace.
The detective’s eyebrow raised. “Atlas, he was not.”
His assistant groaned.
“The maid found him like this,” said Solde. “Her screams brought the butler and the wife in short order. All three played innocent, claimed they’d been in different parts of the house, in no position to see or hear anything. But…” He strode to the large desk, where a half-drunk glass of scotch still sat. “Look here.”
The detective leaned in, catching a whiff of that wonderfully smoky scent. “Marvelous. It’s been aged at least twenty years, according to my keen sleuthing senses.”
“What? No, the empty globe stand.” He jabbed his finger. “There’s blood on that pointy bit, clearly left by whoever removed the globe in a hurry.”
“Might it not be blood splatter from the impact, sir?” asked the assistant.
Solde rounded on him with a look of disgust. “Do you see any other splatter that reached this far? Do you think such a remarkable coincidence likely?”
“Er, no.” Under his breath, he added, “But not strictly impossible.”
Finally his assistant had done something smart. Taking advantage of the distraction, the detective hastily downed the scotch in a single gulp and set the glass down. His eyes watered. It may have been more of a sipping spirit, but the flavor was exquisite.
“Regardless, we found the wife nursing a freshly bandaged finger, still leaking blood. Oh, she claims it was a sewing accident, but the housestaff can’t recall ever seeing her engaged in that hobby. And between you and me, she does not look like the sort of lady who sews. This case is open and shut. No need for your unwanted services this time, detective, thank-you-very-much.”
“It does appear that way, inspector. But there’s one thing I simply cannot abide-”
“Not getting paid?” muttered his assistant.
“-Loose ends. Surely there’s no harm in my interviewing the suspect?”
Solde grumbled, but went to fetch her. As expected. His veneer of confidence — even in such an obvious case as this one — was belied by years of incompetence, missed clues, and acquittals in court. Not to mention the danger to one’s career, if falsely accusing a wealthy socialite.
As the detective took out his magnifying glass and began studying the room in detail, his assistant quietly asked, “Why are we wasting our time, sir? Inspector Solde may be a stopped clock, but this time, I’m certain he’s right.”
“Oh, well, if two such accomplished gentlemen have arrived at the same conclusion…” He discreetly rearranged a few items around the room. Took a book from the shelves that lined the walls, scooted a leather chair a few feet over. Withdrew a handkerchief from his pocket and daubed its corner in blood.
The assistant’s eyes narrowed. “What are you scheming at, sir? And how likely is it to land us in jail?”
“I merely seek the truth. And the truth depends entirely upon Lady Harper.”
She arrived a moment later in a fine silk dress, wearing a gold necklace adorned with rubies. Her fingers were perfectly unmarred and uncalloused, except for a single pointer wrapped in cotton. Not the type for sewing, indeed.
Before she could speak, the detective pounded his fist. “I said ‘suspects’, inspector! Plural. Where are the others?”
He frowned. “But I could swear-”
“What kind of sense does it make to only interview one suspect, if her guilt is in doubt?”
Solde grumbled again as he left.
“Now, we have precious little time,” said the detective. “Tell me-”
“I didn’t kill my husband,” pleaded Lady Harper, batting her long eyelashes. “You must believe me. Though- Though he was a cruel man, and you might find it in your heart-”
“Stop that, I don’t care. Tell me how much your necklace is worth.”
She blinked. “I- I don’t know, exactly. Quite a lot?”
“What a coincidence, that’s my favorite number. And how much would you say your freedom is worth?”
Lady Harper’s innocent expression slowly vanished. “…Quite a lot.” She quickly unclasped her jewelry.
His assistant hissed, “Sir!”
“You’re already an accomplice, and I’m prepared to testify to that.” The detective smiled as he claimed the necklace and yelled, “Inspector! No need for the suspects, I’ve solved the case.”
Solde stomped back to the study more irritated than ever. “That was suspiciously quick, so let’s hear it. Who killed Lord Harper?”
“Of all the bone-headed-” He seemed to remember he was in the company of a lady and bit his tongue. “Then, if you don’t mind saying, how did the globe end up on Lord Harper’s head?”
“It’s quite simple, really. Lady Harper lied to you.”
Her eyes widened. “What?”
The detective raced out the door in excitement. The grand finale of a murder case always gave him a thrill — irrespective of truth. The inspector and his officers huddled around, wearing skeptical expressions.
The detective began, “She was frightened to reveal her location, because it implicated her in the crime. In truth, she was sitting out here in the drawing room, correct?”
She slowly answered. “…I was.”
“Needle and thread in hand, working on an embroidered handkerchief for her husband. This handkerchief, which she just entrusted to me.” He removed his own from his pocket, lightly stained with blood, its threads loosened by some quick work. “Naturally, she was able to see that no one entered or left the study.”
“This all just makes her sound more guilty,” said Solde.
The detectie waved him to silence. “When a slip of the needle struck her finger, she screamed! You screamed, did you not?”
Lady Harper nodded vigorously, his energy infectious. He ran back into the study, trailed by his increasingly baffled audience.
“Lord Harper sat in that chair, beside the bookshelves. Hearing the scream, concerned for his beloved wife, he leapt to his feet. The chair slid back and struck the shelf, like so.” The detective demonstrated with a much harder shove than any such action would realistically generate. “The whole row of bookshelves shook, as you can see.” That much, at least, was true. He took a dramatic step across the study and picked up a book from where he’d dropped it, minutes ago. “It caused this book to fall, which struck the globe stand, and dislodged the globe.”
Inspector Solde waved his hands. “Alright, alright, hold on. Maybe all of that is possible, but how did the globe fly all the way from the desk to here, where it crushed Lord Harper’s skull… uh, if you’ll pardon my bluntness, your ladyship.”
She put on a good show of appearing distressed, causing several unoccupied officers to offer comfort. However, she still managed to give the detective a sharp glance, no doubt wondering at his solution to the problem.
He hadn’t been able to test this part, but he trusted in his unparalleled instincts. “Step closer to the desk, inspector. Now look down. What do you see?”
“Yes, from the bottle of scotch. It must have fallen from the desk.” Or been placed there by a malicious personage. “Now, if you’ll forgive me, I assume you’ve sketched the scene by now…” The detective lifted the heavy, blood-spattered globe. “When the globe struck the cork — we can never know at exactly what angle, or with exactly what force — it bounced.”
The moment of truth. He dropped the globe. It struck the cork. And jumped back into his hands.
“Well, I’ll be damned.” Inspector Solde scratched his head and whistled, casting nervous sidelong glances at Lady Harper. “It does seem possible, when you put it all together. Just an unfortunate series of events.”
His assistant whispered, “You have a remarkable mind, sir. If only you turned it toward good, on occasion…”
The detective took a bow. “That’s how a small cut in her finger led to the end of the world.”
Thanks for reading!