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Inspector Pinchbottle to the Rescue

Enter Inspector Pinchbottle...

He walked into the drawing room like he had every right to be there, as if a policeman’s home could ever be as grand as this five-bedroom edifice in Chelsea. The house’s late incumbent, George Cumberland-Smythe, lay dead on the Aubusson carpet in a neat puddle of blood. A smell of almonds hung in the air. Dressed for dinner, George’s trousers were about his ankles and an unspeakable thing had been done to his posterior with a bottle of champagne.

This thing was spoken by Constable Gamadge until Lady Elspeth fainted and Pinchbottle clipped the clod around the ear. The lady was the dead man’s fiancée, and she cowered in a corner of the large drawing room as her dearly departed’s remaining modesty was protected by quick-thinking use of an Oriental screen. ‘Why don’t you take the poor woman somewhere else?’ said Pinchbottle to Gamadge, who promptly guided the shaking woman to the library across the hall.

When Gamadge returned he found his superior still gazing down at the dead man. ‘An obscene humiliation of the corpse...’ the Inspector remarked to himself.

‘Guv’nor?’

The inspector was stirred from his reverie. ‘Never mind’ he said, striding about the room, observing this and that. ‘Just recalled an old case of my mentor’s, from the late ‘80s. Never solved, that one. Chap did in several women-of-the-night and, ahem, desecrated their remains. To use the Christian phrase.’

The inspector suddenly realised just how many flowers, of various hue, were in this room. Stood up in vases, water jugs, even a couple of repurposed milk bottles. Odd for a gentleman’s lodgings, he thought.

‘Lady Elspeth isn’t normally resident here, is she?’

‘No, sir. The Cumberland-Smythes use it as their house-in-the-city.’

Pinchbottle sniffed. ‘Alright for some’ he said. ‘Well then’ he continued, having gazed a moment at an arrangement of daffodils, quite inappropriate for winter, atop an antique Shakespeare folio. ‘Let’s start with the victim. Dazzle me, Gamadge.’

Gamadge read from his notebook. ‘It appears that the late Hon Cumberland-Smythe had set himself up as an actor on the West End stage. According to our preliminary review, he came back here at about 11:00 PM with Lady Elspeth. The butler had put out champagne-in-a-bucket to celebrate opening night. Lady Gamadge went to powder her nose. Apparently she likes to spend her time in there. When she returned she found him like this. It seems that he was coshed with the bottle and then, well, the rest of it happened. Can’t have taken longer than 5 minutes, all in all.’

‘Who else has been staying here the past week?’

‘Apart from Smythe and Elspeth, there’s Michael Taylor and Georgette Bicknell, sir, also in the library. He’s the dead man’s school chum, operates a posh florist’s with his mother in Mayfair. Bicknell’s a distant cousin of the victim, worked in a hospital dispensary during the Great War and now just sort of wanders about.’

‘Motivations?’

‘Taylor’s been struggling and depends largely on George’s patronage. According to Michael, George feels indebted to him because he saved his life when they were fighting in France.

‘As for Georgeta, it seems that she may have been infatuated with her cousin, as a lot of women are. Lady Elspeth expressed some suspicion, although that could just be female sniping exacerbated by shock and grief, of course. She seems too weak and willowy to have so quickly overcome and killed her cousin in such a violent manner, but one never knows, of course.’

Pinchbottle noticed the smell of almonds again, and followed it to a spray of chrysanthemums guarded by little glass bottles on an end table. He looked at the silver service on which the bucket still stood beside a single upset glass. ‘Let’s head to the library.’

But before we head to the library...

MATCH MINDS WITH INSPECTOR PINCHBOTTLE!

Can YOU work out whodunit?

Was it...


Lady Elspeth, perhaps in a fit of jealous rage?
Michael Taylor, during an argument about money?
or Georgette Bicknell, out of a quasi-incestuous passion?

The clues are all there!

Solution:

‘How did you know, sir?’ said Constable Gamadge as the guilty party was led into the cold Chelsea night. The policemen’s breaths fogged the air before them.
‘I think you’ll find that the late Cumberland-Smythe died before the bottle ever struck him’ said Pinchbottle. ‘The empty glass by the bucket. I mentioned it in the library because it occurred to me how a killer could dispose of their victim before making the crime seem like something else entirely.

‘Lady Elspeth goes to powder her nose but doesn’t hear her fiancée being attacked with a bottle of champagne, no struggle, nothing?

‘Someone else slipped into the drawing room while she was gone, offered to toast the dead man’s success, and possessed of an actor’s ego, he agreed. The murder would have been highly premeditated. The little bottles on the end table, one of them was used to store a quantity of cyanide, hence the almond smell in that room.

‘Once the butler had departed, the killer laces a glass with cyanide from the bottle and hides it about their person. They produce the glass at an opportune moment, fill it with champagne, and then hand the man the means of his own demise. All else is just theatre.

‘And who among the suspects knows the most about poison, and would require it when killing a man? The weak and willowy one, who worked in a dispensary.’

Georgette glanced back at Gamadge and Pinchbottle as her head was ducked below the ceiling of the paddy-wagon, trying her best to look like a tragic innocent.
Casted_Runes
Written by Casted_Runes (Mr Karswell)
Published
Author's Note
For robert43041’s “Murder Mystery” contest: https://deepundergroundpoetry.com/forum/competitions/read/12368/#556928

Title taken from a Raymond Chandler essay, The Simple Art of Murder.
All writing remains the property of the author. Don't use it for any purpose without their permission.
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