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Whilst Your Purpled Hands Do Reek and Smoke

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O mighty Caesar! dost thou lie so low?

Are all thy conquests, glories, triumphs, spoils,

Shrunk to this little measure? Fare thee well.

I know not, gentlemen, what you intend,

Who else must be let blood, who else is rank:

If I myself, there is no hour so fit

As Caesar's death hour, nor no instrument

Of half that worth as those your swords, made rich

With the most noble blood of all this world.

I do beseech ye, if you bear me hard,

Now, whilst your purpled hands do reek and smoke,

Fulfil your pleasure. Live a thousand years,

I shall not find myself so apt to die:

No place will please me so, no mean of death,

As here by Caesar, and by you cut off,

The choice and master spirits of this age.

 

William Shakespeare

Julius Caesar (1599)

 


 

The deceased’s aunt, the distraught Mrs. Towns, showed us to the door of his darkroom but refused to follow us inside.

“I don’t want to see it again,” she explained, with a tinge of defiant embarrassment. “Where he died, I mean.”

She looked as though she expected Dogger and me to insist, or perhaps to give her the stink eye for it. Mrs. Towns, after receiving a call from her sister who was worried that her son had not arrived that afternoon as expected, had gone round to his house and found him dead as a doornail in his darkroom.

“There’s no need, Mrs. Towns. We shall take it from here,” Dogger told her, with the perfect blend of sympathy and reassurance in his voice. Dogger always knows just how to handle such things.

“I’m not sure you should either, miss,” she said to me. “It’s a ghastly thing for a young girl to see.”

How dare she! All my good will towards her fled instantly. Why, I had seen more corpses than she’d had hot dinners, and solved their murders to boot! And I had already turned thirteen years old now, anyway. I was hardly a young girl, to be shuffled away from anything interesting for fear it would damage my health.

I had half a mind to remind her that in this case, there wasn’t even a body to be seen. The doctor had removed Mr. Goodwin’s body earlier, limiting our evidence to what we could discern from Mr. Goodwin’s environment. Our investigation would be further muddled by the police, who had already trampled their way through the entire house. Luckily, Mrs. Towns had a poor opinion of her local constabulary, and had promptly telephoned Arthur W. Dogger & Associates (with yours truly, Flavia de Luce, being the associate) as soon as they had left. Dogger and I had jumped the Rolls Royce and arrived in Holcombe the very same evening, but now here Mrs. Towns was, questioning my intestinal fortitude!

“Miss Flavia has a strong constitution,” Dogger said, “and will be quite all right, though your concern does you credit.”

Good old Dogger. I could always count on him to have my back!

“Yes, Mrs. Towns,” I said with rather fawning good cheer, “It’s awfully nice of you to think of me.” Sometimes, the best thing a girl can do is act insipid, even when she’d rather turn to her old friend, arsenic.

“Well, if you’re sure, then,” Mrs. Towns said, rather dubiously. “I’ll wait in the sitting room.”

With that, she hustled herself off, and Dogger and I entered the late Mr. Goodwin’s darkroom.

Dogger removed the red filter from the lightbulb, leaving the darkroom hardly dark at all. There was all the standard equipment, which I was familiar with from the darkroom I had inherited from my Uncle Tarquin. There was the enlarger, a cabinet no doubt holding bottles of developer and other necessary chemical solutions, and a sink set up with bins for the chemical baths that would fix the images onto the photographic paper.

It was a marvelous set of chemical reactions. The photosensitive silver halide emulsion on the paper that would hold a secret, invisible image when exposed to the gradations of light filtered through the negative, and the series of reactions to first bring that latent image to life, and then to keep it from simply darkening away endlessly into nothing more than a piece of black paper. Thomas Wedgwood, son of the famous Josiah Wedgwood who founded the pottery company named after himself, would no doubt be delighted to know what his experiments with silver nitrate on paper and white leather had led to! From simple silhouettes and shadowy blurs to crisp, clear images of whatever you like, pinned down neatly on paper for all eternity!

After a quick look around the room, Dogger opened the cabinet and studied the dark chemical bottles inside. I poked around the enlarger, pocketing the strip of negatives still clamped on the tray. The only trace of what had happened to the unfortunate Mr. Goodwin was the bottle tipped over in the sink. It proved to be the fixative, which would keep the photographic paper from continuing to react with light after it had been developed.

Mr. Goodwin must have dropped it, or knocked it over on its side, before he had ended up dead on the floor. I certainly couldn’t imagine Mrs. Towns puttering around in the darkroom after finding her nephew’s body. His cabinet and workspace was tidy, and it was hard to picture anyone but the worst of slobs simply leaving an overturned bottle in his sink while making prints.

Dogger and I continued our separate paths around the darkroom in silence, so as not to contaminate each other’s observations. Even after we had finished, all Dogger had to say as we left the darkroom was, “An interesting case.”

“Yes,” I agreed eagerly, but by sheer dint of will, managed to hold my tongue all the way through thanking Mrs. Towns for her time and assuring her we would keep her informed. I waited until Dogger was behind the wheel of the Rolls, driving us back to Buckshaw, the ancestral home of the de Luces, before I ventured an opinion.

“Chloroform,” I said. I was all too familiar with the sickly sweet smell of the stuff. A murderous undertaker had betrayed my admiration for his profession, and had drugged me with it when I discovered his crime in an attempt to suffocate me inside a coffin. It’s an experience that leaves an impression.

Dogger nodded. “And nitrogen dioxide.”

Drat! Drat, drat, drat! How had I missed it? Nitrogen dioxide, NO2, has a sharp, harsh odor. At a boiling point of 70.7 degrees Fahrenheit, or 294.3 degrees Kelvin, the heat of the past week meant that it would have likely been a gas during the middle of the day. Was it when Mr. Goodwin died? It seemed likely.

There was no reason for nitrogen dioxide in a darkroom, any more than there was for chloroform. Nitrogen dioxide is used in manufacturing explosives, bleaching flour, and in the manufacture of plastics. As a clerk at the local patent office, Mr. Goodwin was unlikely to have come into contact with it at work, and he had hardly been bleaching flour before baking himself a cake for his tea!

No, the likeliest explanation was that it was someone else who brought the nitrogen dioxide into the darkroom, along with the chloroform, and used it to kill him. It would have been a simple matter. Just top off the bottle of fix with some chloroform and nitrogen dioxide in its liquid form, and when Mr. Goodwin went to pour it out: poof, that was it! He would have been standing there with his head in a cloud of the gasses. The nitrogen dioxide would have started reacting with the lipids and antioxidants in the epithelium of his airways. His nose and throat would have burned; maybe he would have had a coughing fit. That would have caused him to gasp for air and inhale more, drawing it deeper into his lungs, where it would start causing edema.

The chloroform would have come along too, laying Mr. Goodwin out flat while his lungs filled with fluid. He would have drowned without even having a chance to try to save himself.

“Poor Mr. Goodwin,” I said.

“Yes. Someone must have had a true disregard for his life.”

“Someone he knew?” I asked.

“It often is,” Dogger said. “Adding weight to that theory is that they must have know his hobby as an amateur photographer, and been able to tamper with his equipment.”

“I don’t think it was his aunt,” I ventured, even though I knew making such judgements could be a tricky business.

“I think it unlikely as well,” Dogger agreed, however. “Perhaps the film will provide some answers.”

I felt a warm glow of pride that he had noticed my purloining of the negatives. It’s good to have one’s efforts noticed, and approved of. I resolved to head straight to my dark room and enlarge prints as soon as we arrived home.

“We should go to his supply store,” I suggested, keen to let Dogger know I had understood his careful examination of the cabinet. I had taken a squint after him, and spotted what he had surely seen: all the bottles were labeled by the same company, Larington & Co. Photographic Supplies. “Someone there may know who his friends are. And his enemies!”

“First thing in the morning,” Dogger told me, and we continued home in the convivial silence of those who know they make a jolly good team.

 

***

 

The negatives were a bust. Every one of them, nothing more than sunsets and rolling hills! It was clear Mr. Goodwin had a great appreciation of the outdoors, but even Dogger couldn’t come up with any interesting clues out of the lot. I had been hoping for a shot of a suspicious figure, or perhaps even a crime caught by happenstance in the click of Mr. Goodwin’s shutter, but it wasn’t to be. It was all scenic countryside as far as the eye could see.

I developed large prints of them all the same, and hung them around my laboratory from strings to look at while they dried. I had never gone in for photographs or paintings of sunsets, but knowing that they were the last work of a man who had been murdered gave them a certain melancholy shiver. They seemed to settle in alongside the painting of my mother, Harriet, who had died frozen in the ice of a glacier when I was only a year old.

I wondered if she would have liked them. And more to the point, would she have liked me? Growing up, my older sisters had always tormented me with claims that she had hated me, and left Buckshaw to flee the very sight of me. I knew that they could be filthy liars, and that they were wrong about why Harriet had found herself in the deep crevasse where she had lain for so many years before finally being brought home, but I couldn’t help but wonder. I dearly hoped she would have liked me.

 

***

 

Larington & Co. was a small shop, tucked between a pharmacy and a dressmaker’s. There were no customers in at 9 o’clock when it opened, and the only one there was a taciturn man tending the counter. Dogger managed to pry out of him that Mr. Goodwin was a customer, but very little else.

“He bought his film and chemicals here,” he grudgingly revealed, “but he didn’t speak about his private business and I don’t care to gossip about our clientele in any case.”

I was feeling rather deflated as we left the shop. It would be closed on Sunday, and I didn’t want to wait until Monday to question the other staff.

“Shall we go back to Mr. Goodwin’s house?” Dogger asked. “There’s something I would like to try.”

“Of course,” I responded immediately. Dogger is possessed of singularly sound ideas, and I was eager to find out what this one might be.

We drove back to Mr. Goodwin’s, and let ourselves back in. Mrs. Towns had not left us a key, but Dogger had the door open in a trice and we walked in as smooth as if we’d been invited to tea. Anyone watching would hardly have been able to tell he had picked the lock.

I held my breath in excitement as he went straight to the telephone in the little nook under the stairs, and rang the operator.

“I’d like to know the listings under Larington, please,” he said, as if it were the simplest thing in the world! And it was, really. The one person who could be counted on to spend the most time at Larington & Co was the proprietor. If anyone could tell us about Mr. Goodwin and who might have tampered with his fixative, it would be Larington.

Dogger listened gravely for a moment, and told the operator to connect him through. There must only be one Larington in town, which was a lucky break for us.

“Miss Amelia Larington?” Dogger asked.

My ears felt like they might fall off, they were pricked up so hard.

“This is Arthur W. Dogger, of Dogger & Associates. I would like to speak with you about the death of Mr. Goodwin, at your earliest convenience.

“Yes, I’m afraid so. The details are still coming to light.”

Miss Amelia Larington clearly hadn’t been informed of his death, which meant the police had not thought to track his photographic supplies back to her. A thrill of delight ran through me. It was always best to get there first, before they could come along and confiscate the evidence.

“It would be best to discuss it further in person, Miss Larington. If you have time—?” Dogger left the question hanging delicately.

“Of course. We shall come at once.”

 

***

 

Amelia Larington lived in a small, neat house, with a very old, very flat spaniel draped across the front step. He raised a greyed muzzle at us briefly as we walked up the path to the door, gave a single thump of his tail, and lay his head back down with a sigh.

Dogger reached over him to give two sharp raps with the knocker. The door opened almost instantly, swung open by a woman who looked as if she had just been hastily smoothing down her hair.

We’ve all been caught out by the need to look suddenly presentable, so I gave her a brilliant smile. She gave me a weak, uncertain one back.

“Miss Larington?” Dogger asked, offering his hand. “Arthur Dogger and Miss Flavia de Luce, at your service.”

“I— yes,” she said, hesitantly. “Do come in. Oh, Henry—”

She had realized the spaniel was lying across the step like lumpy rug. She made to try to shift him, but Dogger stopped her.

“No need to wake him,” he said, “we can manage.”

With that, he took a careful step over the old dog, and I hopped over behind him.

Miss Larington’s house was of an ordinary sort inside, perhaps with more photographs scattered across the walls than was usual, but certainly there was no sign that she had toxic gasses hidden away in a closet. But then, the best poisoners never do, do they?

As she showed us to the sitting room, another woman came from what must be the door to the kitchen with a tea tray. She was dressed smartly, but in men’s trousers and shirt. I’m afraid I gawked.

“I’m Helen,” the woman said, setting down the tray. “Amelia told me Charles died?”

“Yes, I’m sorry to say that he has,” Dogger said.

“How did it happen?” Miss Larington asked, twisting her fingers together. Remembering herself, she gestured for us to sit, and started pouring the tea.

“It’s under investigation. There was an incident in his darkroom.”

An incident, I thought, what a lovely way of putting it. Dogger had given only enough information to whet their curiosity, and now we would wait to see what these stirred waters brought to the surface.

“In his darkroom?” Amelia said with a frown. “I don’t understand—what kind of accident? Did he fall?”

She appeared genuinely surprised.

“It was chemical in nature,” Dogger said quietly.

“He only had the standard chemicals,” Helen objected. “And he knew how to use them. He’s had a darkroom since he was a boy. He wouldn’t do anything foolish.”

“He’s always been interested in photography, then?” I asked, and using that as a springboard, jumped straight to my next question. “Did he have a lot of friends who were also photographers?”

Helen looked at me oddly, as if she were trying to figure out why I was there. I didn’t give her a chance to dwell on it.

“I know his poor aunt Mrs. Towns will be having a terrible time trying to let everyone know what’s happened. We could inform some of his fellow hobbyists for her.” I felt this had been a masterful touch. Who could possible deny such a kind, charitable undertaking? Not Amelia Larington!

“There were a few people he would chat with in the shop. I can write down their names,” she offered. “Oh, and I think once he mentioned someone he works with who went shooting with him a few times. But not recently, though, and I don’t know his name.”

“Thank you,” said Dogger. “We’ll be able to find that out.”

“He was a quiet man,” Amelia said. “He mostly kept himself to himself. I don’t think he had very many real friends. Even with me— well, we talked about cameras and different kinds of paper, and not much else.” She looked down, at her hands clasped around her teacup.

Helen gave her a look then, of love so strong that her face seemed to light up with it. I had only seen such a look once before. It was on the face of Cynthia Richards, the vicar’s wife at Bishop’s Lacey, when she awoke from a faint to see her husband, Delwyn, at her side. It had made her beautiful in a way I had never seen on anyone else before or since, until just now, as Helen gazed at Amelia’s bent head.

Something changed in that moment, although I wasn’t sure what. All I knew was that I felt it, even though I could not explain it.

Helen said. “Charles was good with landscapes. Amelia told him he should go out to the coast some time, see what he got there. He was planning on going for a few days this autumn.”

“Are you the ‘and Company’ of Larington & Co?” Dogger asked.

“Yes. ‘Berring & Larington’ sounded ridiculous, and I told Amelia that Larington sounds better.”

“We started it together,” Amelia said. “It’s been seven years, now.” She smiled at Helen, some of her sadness fading away.

“Is there anyone else who works there that we could speak to about Mr. Goodwin?”

“Well, there’s Reggie,” Amelia said, “who works Saturdays. Other than him, it’s just Helen and me.”

“And Reggie only started this summer,” Helen added. “He barely knows any of the regulars. Bit of a waste, really.”

“Oh?” I inquired.

“He’s going to be leaving at the end of the month. Told us a few weeks ago. Something about his uncle taking ill, I think it was.”

We shared a quiet moment, then, one of the sudden, odd silences that so often follow a recent death, until Amelia put her cup in its saucer with a clink and rose. She fetched a stationary pad and wrote us out the list of names she had promised. It was a short list, only four people that she could think of who might have shared confidences with the late Mr. Goodwin.

“His death,” she said, after she finished writing, “it’s…suspicious?”

“It is,” Dogger said gently.

“Poor Charles,” she said sadly. “If there’s any way we can be of help to him—” She stopped, and did not continue.

“We will let you know,” Dogger told her. “You’ve been of great help already.”

As we returned to Harriet’s silver Rolls Royce—after stepping over the still-sleeping Henry on the front step—I blurted out, “Miss Larington and Miss Berring,” and then found myself tongue-tied. I didn’t know what I was trying to ask.

Fortunately Dogger has a sixth-sense for these things, even when I don’t know my own mind.

“I believe,” he said, “they are the very closest of friends.”

This was very similar to the answer he had given when I had asked him what an affair was—two people who had become the very best of friends—and I found myself beginning to wonder more about what that entailed. Usually I was eager to avoid anything that seemed likely to devolve into disgusting, mushy sop, but for some reason, this time I was not.

Did Dogger mean they chatted happily over biscuits like I did with Cynthia Richards, or did he mean something else? Was it like with my oldest sister, Ophelia, and her newly-married husband, Dieter, where one had to be careful not to turn a corner too quietly, lest one’s eyes be blighted with the sight of them sucking at each other’s faces like two horrible octopuses? I found that while usually such a thought would spark an urge to make fake retching noises, with Amelia and Helen it did not.

It was something to ponder more thoroughly, but for the moment, I had other matters on my plate.

Dogger and I, with the help of a telephone directory, worked our way through the list of names Amelia had given us. It being a Saturday, all four men were at home, and all—with an introduction carefully crafted to spark even the dullest sense of curiosity—were willing to speak with us.

One might expect that in these days, with a queen once again on the throne and her face engraved on every new pound note and shilling, that the general stock in young women had risen. That the populace might extend a certain measure of respect to those of us who are of the female nature, and perhaps even deference. Well, you’d be wrong!

Two of them tried to send me off to the kitchen so they could discuss the matter without me, and one even had the nerve to ask if my mother knew what I was up to. I feel no shame at all that I let my eyes water and sniffled as I told him my mother was no longer with us. 

The indignity of putting up with this bloody cheek hardly seemed worth it by the end of the day. None of them seemed to know a thing about the matter, and as far as I could tell, all we had determined was that Mr. Goodwin barely had a conversation that wasn’t about the nuts and bolts of photography. Was that enough to kill someone over? I didn’t think so, but the mind of a murderer must be a strange place.

 

***

 

When we returned to Buckshaw that evening, I retired to my room glumly. What was I to make of Mr. Goodwin? With his job reviewing forms at the patent office and his hobby of solitary trips to the countryside to photograph landscapes, it seemed that he had made few ripples in the world. How had a man such as him made an enemy who not only wanted him dead, but would do it by snaring Mr. Goodwin into exposing himself to poison gas by his own hand? It was a devious, cruel act, and it must have been inspired by a deep hatred. I could think of no reason for it. There must be something I had missed! But as I lay in bed turning it over in my mind, I could not see what.

If only we had gotten there before the police! Who knows what evidence Dogger and I might have discovered on the body, or in his effects that had be confiscated before we even set foot through his door. It was a frustrating thought.

After spinning my mental wheels on this for a while, I gave it up for the night and turned to the other subject on my mind: Amelia and Helen. I recalled the look Helen had given Amelia, one of an overwhelming fondness that seemed to have changed the very structure of her face. She had glowed like the people in the stained glass windows at St. Tancred’s. With a pang, I realized I should very much like someone to look at me like that. As if I were the most wonderful person they had ever seen, and everything I did was amazing and exactly what was called for.

Unbidden, another memory arose. It was of Phyllis Wyvern, the famous actress. She had come to Buckshaw one winter—her last winter, as it turned out—for the shooting of a film that had used Buckshaw as a set. I had come across her taking a bath in Harriet’s boudoir, and after talking for a while, she had stood up in the tub, the suds dripping from her body and the steam swirling around her. I hadn’t been very impressed at the time, but now, with the trickery one’s mind can pull without one even being aware it’s going to do it, Phyllis Wyvern’s face shifted, taking on the shape of the lovely Antigone.

A hot flush burned my cheeks at once! Oh, how could I? Imagining the divine Antigone Hewitt, naked in the bath! Of all the people I most wanted to approve of me, to smile favorably at me—how could I ever look her in the eye again? And what of her husband, Inspector Hewitt? I could hardly avoid him! We crossed paths professionally far too frequently. What a dreadful thing for my dratted brain to have done to me!

I lay shamefaced in my bed, trying to blot the image out of my mind. But it was no use; I had thought it, and once thought it wouldn’t leave. Did I love Antigone? Of course, without question. But did I love her in the way that Cynthia Richards loved Delwyn Richards? That, if her look was to be believed—and I could hardly doubt that it was—Helen Berring loved Amelia Larington? The way that my father had loved Harriet, before he lost her to the ice?

It was a thought that shook me, and would not let me go.

 

***

 

The next morning I woke tired and out of sorts. It was Sunday, and the patent office Mr. Goodwin had worked at was closed. We would have to wait until Monday to find which of his fellows had shared his passion for photography, and I had little else to occupy me in the meantime.

My cousin Undine had set herself the task of learning to understand the language of the frogs and beasts of the field, as she put it, and set up a camp on the little island in the ornamental lake. Ordinarily I would revel in the lack of her pranks and her irritating quality of getting underfoot, but today I could have used the distraction.

My sister Daphne was holed up in the library with her nose wedged in a book, as she usually was, and briefly I considered trying to talk to her about the thoughts that had kept me up all night. But I thought better of it. We were de Luces, Daffy and I, and the de Luces are solitary fortresses when it comes to our emotions. We each stand on our own hill, and only in the rarest of circumstances do the drawbridges drop and the portcullises lift on their heavy chains. I simply could not bring myself to bare my soul to her.

There was Mrs. Mullet, our cook, who was a sympathetic ear. But the last heart-to-heart I had had with her involved the both of us bawling our eyes out on the eve of Ophelia’s wedding, and I uneasily felt that if I went to her, I might succumb to the waterworks again.

Cynthia was another person I could talk to about almost any subject, but there was still the difficulty that I wasn’t sure I knew what to say. What if I went round to her house, and then words failed me? I’d be left stumbling and stuttering like a fool, and her having no idea what I wanted her advice and reassurance about.

I needed someone who I could share anything with, and who knew my own mind even when I couldn’t articulate it. There was obviously only one choice.

I found Dogger in the greenhouse, watering the plants.

“Regarding our case,” I said, easing into the subject, “do you think we can safely rule out Miss Larington and Miss Berring?”

“It’s a risky proposition to exclude suspects,” Dogger answered, straightening. “But based on their demeanor, in this case, yes, I believe we can, reserving as always the ability to reconsider should we find evidence that suggests otherwise.”

“Yes, of course,” I agreed. I appreciated his turn of phrase: reserving the ability to reconsider should we find evidence that suggests otherwise. It was a beautifully professional statement.

“They seemed very happy,” I said. With anyone else I would have had to clarify that statement, lest they think I was talking about Mr. Goodwin’s death, which had clearly left them saddened. But Dogger knew exactly what I meant.

“They did indeed.” He refilled the watering can from the tap and began the second row of plants. “It can be a rare thing to find true happiness, and it is important to hold to it tightly when one does. Even if one must do so in the face of those who disapprove, or must hide it from them.”

Thank goodness for Dogger! I still did not fully understand what had changed yesterday, but his words were like a balm spreading over my troubled mind and soothing it. The world might have shifted around me, and left me feeling lost and off-kilter, but Dogger was as steady as a rock. Buckshaw itself could have been built across his shoulders, and had no firmer foundation.

I was tempted to ask him if he had ever been truly happy, but I kept my lip firmly buttoned. There were questions it was not right to ask, and this was undoubtably one of them. Instead, I watched him water the plants in companionable silence. When he was done, he put the watering can away.

“I have been meaning to speak to you about a small matter,” he said. “I discovered a wasp’s nest in the garage last night.”

“Oh!” I said, instantly cheered even further. “I’ll whip up some potassium chloride. It won’t take but a moment.”

“I’d be much obliged.”

I wished everyone could be like Dogger. The world would be a far better place.

 

***

 

The rest of the day passed far more peacefully, and soon it was bright and early Monday morning. I had been struck by inspiration the evening before, and now set about my plan to flush out the patent office employee who Mr. Goodwin had told Amelia Larington about.

It was a very simple ploy, all I had to do was ring up the office and put on a little show! I called as soon as the patent office was open, and a bored-sounding woman answered the telephone.

“Hello, this is Alexandra Elswitch,” I put as much earnest goodwill into my voice as I could. “I’m calling because—well, it’s a bit of a funny story,”—it’s never a funny story when someone tells you it will be, and very rarely even a mildly interesting one—“I’m trying to get a camera lens back to its rightful owner.”

“This is a patent office, dear,” the woman said, still sounding throughly entrenched in the doldrums of boredom. “Just run it to the station and they’ll sort you out.”

“Oh, no,” I said, “you see, the gentleman who lost it works in your office. I saw him taking photographs in the and stopped to speak with him about the light," I blather on, "and what f-stop he was using, but later I walked back the same way and saw one of his lenses fallen on the ground. I’m afraid I don’t remember his name, but I’m sure he said he worked with patents.”

I readied my pen and scrap of paper.

Her answer, I will confess, shocked me. But it’s an amazing thing, what the body can do while the mind sits poleaxed. My hand wrote steadily, and my mouth rattled off, “Thank you ever so,” without any conscious thought on my part.

I hung up the receiver in a daze. Could it really be? It seemed ridiculous, and yet—what a coincidence if it wasn’t.

I made another call, to Mrs. Towns, to see if the idea that had sprung into my mind like a bolt of lightening was possible.

“Oh yes, that’s how I knew something was wrong,” came her instant confirmation.

I went to Dogger immediately. He was checking the inflation of the Rolls’ tyres in preparation for our drive to Holcombe.

“The other patent clerk,” I said, breathlessly, and held out the paper.

“My word,” he said. “We had best take your suspicion to the police.”

I loved how he called it my suspicion, even though he had been instantly struck by the same thought as I had. One of Dogger’s many wonderful qualities is a generosity of spirit. He, unlike the majority of adults I encountered, never failed to appreciate and credit my brilliance.

 

***

 

“Charles Goodwin visited his elderly mother every weekend, arriving Friday afternoon and departing Sunday morning,” I told Inspector Gavett at the Holcombe constabulary. “He was very punctual about this routine, which is why his mother called Mrs. Towns when he didn’t arrive and Mrs. Towns immediately went to check on him.

“When Dogger and I investigated the scene of the crime, we discovered all of Mr. Goodwin’s photographic supplies—including the bottle that had been laced with chloroform and the nitrogen dioxide that killed him—were purchased from Larington & Co. Photographic Supplies, as I’m sure you’ve noticed. We discovered that the only people who work at Larington & Co. are Amelia Larington and Helen Berring, the proprietors, and a man called Reggie, who began working there earlier this summer and has recently handed in his notice. I believe, if you check his documents, you will find that Reggie is John Reginald Prescott, who is a clerk at the same patent office as the victim.”

I paused after this pronouncement to savor it.

“Mr. Prescott kept this connection secret from Miss Larington and Miss Berring, and made no mention of it to us when we questioned him about Mr. Goodwin. Furthermore, he gave the impression that he had met Mr. Goodwin while working at the photography shop, but  Miss Larington told us Reggie works exclusively on Saturdays, a day Mr. Goodwin was always out of town visiting his mother.

“I don’t know why Mr. Prescott wanted to kill Mr. Goodwin, but he had access to Larington & Co. labeled bottles and could easily have taken one and added the poison to it. I suspect you’ll find he went home sick from the patent office on Wednesday or Thursday to swap the tampered bottle with one in Mr. Goodwin’s darkroom while he was at work.”

Inspector Gavett stared at me, then gave a sidelong glance at Dogger.

“I believe Miss Flavia is correct,” Dogger said gravely. “The evidence points to Mr. Prescott. I have also been informed that this is not the first death at the patent office; a Mr. David Mercer was killed in a motor accident last winter, when his brakes failed on an icy turn.”

Dogger had told me about Mr. Mercer’s demise on the drive to Holcombe, and we both agreed that it might well be more than coincidence.

“I humbly suggest you consider the possibility that Mr. Mercer’s death may have bearing on this case. I am told Mr. Mercer and Mr. Goodwin sat at desks next to one another. There was a suggestion that Mr. Goodwin felt there was something untoward about Mr. Mercer’s death, although he never presented evidence to the police.”

After a moment, the inspector said, soundly faintly stunned, “I will look into the matter. Is there anything else?”

“No,” I said cheerfully, “that’s it.”

As we left the station, Dogger said to me, “A good day’s work, I think.”

I basked in the warm glow of success, of bringing to justice a murderer, and—sweetened by my recent personal upheaval and confusion—in the stalwart approval of Dogger. There are some things that make the whole world brighter.