Monday, 14 September 2015

The Phantom of Elswick Hall (part 2)

The waiters, once they'd finished screaming, listened to me with a calm interest.
"I'm Gabriel Rathbone." I explained. "I write an article on crimes. This a norm for me. Can you lot take everybody still alive to the lounge? I'll have a look at the body, decide a cause of death. Rachel can call the police. Okay?"
They set about doing as told whilst Rachel moved an evidently traumatised Tom towards the overtime seeking arms of a waiter, to transport him to the lounge. The others followed, with their eyes creeping back to claim a look at the corpse, before turning away once more in disgust. I waited until they were all gone before kneeling down to check the corpse's pulse. It had already been found missing but I thought I'd repeat the process just in case.
"Victim is called Linda Hegarty." Rachel announced. "Approximately thirty three. Worked as an alcoholic councillor, supplied by the University to stop Tom from killing himself."
"This isn't CSI, Rachel." I said, pulling a pair of plastic gloves from my pocket. I opened Linda's mouth peered in. "Nothing overly suspicious." I mused to myself.
"Sorry." She said. "I cannae help it. I babble when I'm nervous."
"Evidently." I said. I poked my finger around the inside of her mouth, feeling for fake teeth which might have contained cyanide capsules. Unlikely but possible. All I found from the inside of her mouth was that she had very bad breath, not helped by the swig of gin she'd taken from Tom.
I closed her mouth and turned to her torso, checking for any stab wounds or injections. Again there was nothing. "Think public restaurant." I said to myself.
"Pardon?" Rachel said.
"Nothing." I said.
"What does Robin normally do when you're poking and prodding a corpse?" Rachel asked.
"Feeling jealous of someone not even present?"
"Shut up."
"She normally comes to the same conclusions as me then feels proud of herself for a moment until she realises I know everything she's already said."
"Can I look at her- no. It. Can I have a loot at it?"
I turned away from Linda and instead to Rachel. "You're volunteering to stare at a corpse?"
She nodded.
"Why didn't I find you earlier?" I grinned. I stepped away and passed her two more plastic gloves from my pockets.
"How come you have gloves with you?"
"Always be prepared. Dib dib, and all that."
"You were a boy scout?"
"It is possible to learn something from common sense rather than an official institution."
"You make the Scouts sound like a mental health facility."
"Have you ever seen the Scouts?"
"Deadly nightshade." Rachel said, standing up.
"I'm sorry?" I replied.
"It was deadly nightshade that killed her. Maybe if you'd joined the scouts rather than slagging them off, you'd know that nightshade causes the eyes to dilate." She pointed towards the eyes, which she was holding open. The pupils were much larger than they should be.
"How did it enter her?" I asked, trying to think of everything I knew about Atropa Belladonna. Besides the amusing notion that Belladonna translated to Good Woman, I remembered very little. Then the memories of a topic on Macbeth, the real Macbeth, came to mind. Had he not used Deadly Nightshade to poison soldiers? And what form did it take?
I looked towards the plate on the table and grinned. "Deadly nightshade. The deadliest part is none other than small black berries."
We looked towards Lynda's plate and discovered a helping of fresh berries. I grinned at Rachel. "You are very clever, y'know that?"
"Darling, please." She grinned back.

"To be honest," Rachel said, "of the two, I would have expected Tom to be the one more likely to be killed."
"What a cheery thought." I said.
"No, but honestly, it would make more sense. He is a scientist, after all."
"And do scientists get many death threats?"
"As many as any journalist does." She said. "There are religious extremists from every religion, and there are a lot of religions."
"Ah, but I'm not just a journalist. The people who send me death threats aren't concerned about the sanctity of Diana's memory or the importance of cancer from raw eggs. The people who threaten to murder me are actual murderers."
She laughed. "I love how seriously you take your job."
"I'd want a cheery detective to investigate my death." I shrugged. "And, at least I don't do noire monologues."
We walked towards the room where the witnesses awaited, our shoulders pressed down with the weight and expectation of our justice bringing duty. Beyond the wooden doors was a sea of anxious faces, burdened with the weight of their appalling memories. It was a dark time to be present, a darker time to be one with the answers. It was a darkness I had to live with.
"Anybody got a phone I can borrow?" I demanded. Someone quickly presented me with a busted Nokia. I tried 999 but the call failed. I tried Robin's phone number, just on the off chance, but that call failed as well. I gave the phone back and told the owner to drive to the nearest police station and explain someone had been poisoned with Deadly Nightshade. "You should probably tell them Gabriel Rathbone is here, as to calm them down slightly."
He nodded and smiled and then wandered begrudgingly off. I turned to the crowd and announced, "Everybody needs to calm down. It's all going to be alright."

About six hours later, there had been no return of the man I'd sent to the police. A part of me worried that he was the murderer and had made a clean get away but he had no obvious motive and I could have sworn he wouldn't have given me to phone if he was guilty. He didn't looked intelligent enough to do it as a way of convincing me of his innocence.
The storm that lashed against the windows convinced me that he must have been slowed down by caution. Perhaps there was a traffic jam caused by a crash. Maybe he'd crashed. I shivered at the idea.
A group of kids who didn't understand what was going on were staring out of the window, watching the forks of lighting cutting through the air. It was the type of evening that the term 'It was a dark and spooky night' was created for.
Rachel and I were sat on a sofa, trying to take our minds off the corpse in the other room. A young woman was playing the piano, to try and calm the room. Her choice of rock music, I think it was by the Fratellis, wasn't helping.
Tom was sipping from a large bottle of alcohol, trying to distract himself from the trauma. A part of my mind which really enjoyed dark comedies thought it was funny how the death of the alcoholic councillor had brought to an increase in drinking.
It was just as I was contemplating whether to share that joke with Rachel when we heard it. The boom of lightning, the crash of doors, the clatter of breaking glass. The howling winds and splattering rain. Then the steady thud of footsteps. I turned to Rachel and raised my eyebrows.
"Not even a bloody holiday." She said.
We went across to the doors and opened them, staring out. The hallway light had turned off, but a candle from the lounging room quickly illuminated it well enough. There was nobody either way, but the floor told a different story.
Muddy footprint after muddy footprint. They all led towards the end of the corridor. I cast a bemused glance towards Rachel but I never heard her reply. Not because she was talking really quietly but because of Tom. With a drunken slur, he screamed, "It's the Phantom of Elswick Hall!"

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