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Who's the Culprit?
Chapter Three
Read Chapter One | Chapter Two | Chapter Three
I let out a breath I hadn't realised I'd been holding, which at once I deduced was why my vision had gone spotty and I'd been swaying slightly. With the effortlessness of long practice, I turned this into an unfocused, thoughtfully drifting gaze.

"Mr Potomac," I continued, at the psychological moment. "As we all know, Dee was holding this dinner party for you, his new client. His new client. Dee runs a business that relies on having foreign clients, and you appear - foreign and wanting to be a client. Something of a coincidence, don't you think?"

"Dee had lots of foreign clients and held welcome dinners here for many of them," Hewell put in, contemptuously.

"Indeed?" I pinned him with a glance. "A fact you, as a former partner of Dee's, would know, Mr Hewell. And tell me, as a former partner, did Dee's success gnaw at you at all? Dee's business is now worth five million pounds - but what did you receive, Mr Hewell, when you sold him your 50% share some years ago?"

Hewell's face contorted slightly; he walked over to the French windows and gazed out bitterly. "Two-point-three million," he hissed.

"Hardly surprising, then, that you resented him so. Resented him enough to jump at the opportunity presented by meeting Mr Potomac, a chance meeting whose details we needn't bother with here. It seems obvious a plot was hatched. Why else would Mr Potomac choose, as his guests, to bring along the Colonel and Mrs Haverly-Haverly were it not for the military expertise required to shoot someone with a gun?"

The Colonel began to bluster with indignation, but Mrs Haverly-Haverly wailed, "Oh, Herbert! Can't you see it's useless trying to deny it?" and broke down, sobbing, on his shoulder.

" Her ovaries slipping away "
"So," I continued, "Potomac and Hewell have decided upon murder and brought in the 'for hire' killing skills of the Colonel and Mrs Haverly-Haverly"; here Mrs Haverly-Haverly gave out another wail and clung to her husband for support: "It can't have taken much to bring Miss Ginia on board too. Miss Ginia - or should I say popular author Virginia Woolf? - No, I should not, and that's exactly as I expected. Miss Ginia, now of an age where she can feel her ovaries slipping away from her, finds herself engaged to Mr Dee. Even if she can persuade him to marry her with the desperate haste the situation requires, Dee is a successful businessman - what will he want with children? No, it appears obvious that the despairing, womanly madness of seeing her chance to bear children vanish, combined with her unpredictable Latin blood, would make Miss Ginia an enthusiastic accomplice in the terrible events to come... Which leaves us with the Bishop of Lichfield. The Bishop - so conveniently in the area just at the time that Dee is holding his dinner party. No one reaches the position of bishop - Bishop of Lichfield, no less - without some considerable degree of religious fanaticism. Witness, moreover, the Bishop's special penchant for the poor and feckless, as demonstrated by his familiarity with the music-hall world. His knowledge of ribald jokes is ample evidence, but you also recall his performance last night? Little more than a hymn to impoverished Cockney characters who exist on a diet of nought but alcoholic drink and innuendo - I can't believe that I was the only one to hear his voice catch with emotion as he sang us the tale of the eviction of a scatter-brained rent-defaulter in My Old Man (Said Follow The Van)? No, it's easy to see how a sick blend of religious fervour and communism led to the Bishop of Lichfield setting himself the task of killing the person he saw as the living embodiment of Mammon; Giles Dee."

"One of Dee's delivery vans ran over my wife," the Bishop growled.

"Whatever. You joined the others, that's all that matters. I have no doubt that you all intended to kill Dee at some point during the evening and have it look like an accidental suicide. But then I turned up unexpectedly and you had to change your plans. Like so many villains before you, you decided it was best to commit the murder in such a way as to have it appear inexplicable; thereby making it impossible for anyone to get a conviction because they couldn't show 'means.' One, some or all of you knocked on Dee's door early this morning and, when he let you in, you shot him."

"You're forgetting he would have seen the murderer raise the gun in the reflection in the full-length mirror, Madame de Fraude," argued Hewell.

"But he wouldn't, that was a red herring - his own reflection, at that distance, would have obscured anything behind him. And anyway, he was unarmed and in his nightshirt, what would he have done? Don't be stupid. Now, if I may continue, you arranged the room - one of you stayed inside, locking the door, while the others popped out and 'broke in.' Then you all lied about everything."

" Matters under English "
Everyone in the room was silent. I walked over to the mantelpiece, picked up a photograph of Dee that stood there and looked at it, thoughtfully. "I can't prove who did what, of course, but that hardly matters. Under English law the person who suffered a last-minute pang of conscience and lay in their bed throughout the whole affair is just as guilty as the person who pulled the trigger, and will be hanged until just as dead."

Their silence was finally broken as Hewell let out a resigned laugh. "Excellent work, Madame de Fraude, excellent. But what, if you don't mind my asking, gave us away?"

"Ahhh," I replied, "the smallest of things, really. Mr Potomac was very finicky at the meal last night - at the time I thought nothing of his bad manners, of course, because I knew he was American. Perhaps you also recall that earlier in the narrative I very quickly mentioned - immediately clouding it with a much more prominent event - that Dee's baby pictures were thin, or narrow? Together those two things might pass off unnoticed, but add a third and there can be only one conclusion; a conclusion that revealed to me the initial seed that grew into this murder hedge."

I ticked off the appropriate finger. "That third thing was Mr Potomac announcing he was ill while we were upstairs. It then became obvious that his fussy eating was because of a sickness that meant he had to be careful with his diet - perhaps his kidneys, or his liver, or some other organ. Whatever it was, he needed a replacement or he would die. I've never heard of anyone transplanting human organs at this time, but it's easy to imagine that Mr Potomac had met some well-meaning Christian doctor who was pioneering the technique experimentally. Add this to the baby photographs, which can only have been thin, or narrow, for one reason; Giles Dee was one of twins."

" The infants killed the maid "
Someone in the group coughed, and I countered by sneezing lavishly. "It's common knowledge that twins are born sharing a single soul, and if both are allowed to grow up using just half each they'll be nothing but trouble; but it's only here, in this part of Norfolk, and, I understand, several counties in the North, and Wales, where they solve this problem not by automatic institutionalisation, but by choosing at the moment of birth one twin to live and throwing the other in the river. The tradition would certainly have been common practice when Dee was born and we can easily imagine a maid or housekeeper taking pity on the condemned infant and, when sent out to drown it, whisking it off instead to America. Dee's parents would have kept the secret and attempted to cover their tracks by cutting off the 'extra' baby from the photographs - no doubt cursing themselves for being so careless as to take the photographs at all when they knew they were just about to have one of the infants killed. The maid, or housekeeper, would also need to keep the secret, so, to avoid suspicion in a country where single mothers are routinely flogged in the street by Church officials, she invented a dead husband and - replacing the river in her homeland with one from her adoptive country - took the name... Potomac."

"So..." interrupted Gerald Potomac. There was a pause. "Sorry," he added, "I meant - So."

" An elementary calculation "
I rubbed at my ear. "Only many years later when Gerald Potomac developed a medical condition that required a suitable organ did his 'mother' tell him the truth and things begin to move towards this, their inevitable conclusion. You remember when I checked Dee for fraudulent death? - I briefly lifted the body with my shoe, and an elementary calculation of Dee's weight against the tables of average human size we all learn in school told me he was definitely missing something. Which leaves us with just one problem..."

The door to the drawing-room opened and in strode a man in a brown trenchcoat, accompanied by a sergeant in uniform with his helmet under his arm.

I looked across at them and smiled. "Ahhh, the police. I was beginning to wonder where you were."

"Problem?" asked Hewell. "What problem?"

"The problem that you couldn't expect to get away with it. The gun can't be far away, there's a host of forensic evidence just waiting to be picked up, none of you is going to stand up to any sort of questioning, and Mr Potomac quite possibly has Giles Dee's liver in his pocket." Potomac's hand flew automatically to his jacket, and I could see now that there was quite a lot of visible seepage through the weave.

"No, the only way you could ever imagine that this scheme was going to work was if you had an ace up your sleeve - not," I added, shaking my head indulgently, "Mr Potomac's sleeve, incidentally, which is now along with his fingertips flecked with disgorged fluids - if, baldly, the police were in on it too." I glanced, curious, at the two policemen.

" The inspector in fleeing "
"Um, my mother was the Dee family housekeeper," coughed the inspector. "In fleeing to America to raise Giles's condemned twin, she abandoned me and my eighteen brothers. Near killed my father bringing us up all alone - while she lived, day-to-day and hand-to-mouth in a frightening, savage foreign land and gradually, as the years went on," his eyes welled up, "picked up a Boston accent."

"I'm Dee's illegitimate half-brother, denied a share of the family fortune," added the sergeant.

"So," I nodded, "there were have it. I was looking for a killer, when I ought to have asked myself from the start, 'Who're the culprits.' Haaa." I glanced around at the party. "I don't suppose you'd all be prepared to let me go if I promised not to breathe a word of this?"

Everyone shook their heads. Mrs Haverly-Haverly approached me holding a poker.

"Fair enough," I said, and spat on my palms.
The thing you couldn't think of that's like this one:
The Altairians | Who's the Culprit?
An old, thrice-washed ticket stub for a film; name of film does not appear on ticket

Strangely woolly pound coin; immediately bursts stringily, revealing it is made of pressured lint

That thing you couldn't find last week; thing was quite small, but even as you stood there with thumb hooked over belt and trying to place it mentally, you couldn't make the connection

A mysterious phone number; pickpocket daren't try number in case there's a repeat of the "incident"

A petrified paper handkerchief; pickpocket discards it instantly, little realising it wraps your store of valuables; pickpocket is defeated; although you've lost all your valuables and no one's likely to spot, gather and return them for the reward if they're concealed within a petrified paper handkerchief
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