Motive for Murder
Florence squeezed Monty’s arm gently.
“Yes, my dear?” he enquired.
“Before you get the guest list from Helen, shouldn’t you say something to the other guests? The rumour mill will be doing overtime, and that won’t help us.”
“Of course, you are absolutely right. Helen, my apologies. Perhaps you would accompany me to explain the situation to your guests?”
“Yes. I’ll get the list of guests from Gerald…” said Helen
“Gerald?” Monty interrupted.
“…My butler. I’ll get the list from him at the same time.”
Florence squeezed his arm again.
“What have I forgotten now?”
She nodded towards the corpse of Alan Droightman.
“Oh, yes – did you find anything interesting amongst the items Mark found in his pockets?”
“Actually, I was wondering if you really wanted to just leave him lying there like that. It might upset people. Murdered bodies can have that effect.”
“Yes, I see your point. Engineer!”
The Engineer whipped the table cloth from a table, leaving plates, cutlery and uneaten food behind. She drew the cloth over Droightman, showing that she had been using the tablecloth to sketch out a practical design for a steam engine made of chocolate. Naturally, she had used chocolate from the fountain to draw with.
“But Florence, did you find anything in his pockets?” persisted Monty.
“Travel chits from the Board of Transport for three people, some lose change, an identity card, a set of keys, that’s it.”
“Well, we’ll need to see if the keys fit anything here, like luggage or such-like. I assume the identity card was his?” Monty received a nod from Florence. “And the travel chits. For three people?”
“There were two other people in his party,” volunteered Helen. “He invited them himself, which was rather rude, but typical.”
“Interesting that he kept hold of them himself. Still, he was always a controlling type,” said Monty. “Now, Florence, before I make any more mistakes, what else have I missed?”
“Only that although we have asked people not to leave, and asked that communications be stopped, it’s only a matter of time before someone decides the rules don’t apply to them.”
“At which point things will get tediously official. Yes, you’re quite right, dear. Engineer!”
The Engineer jumped off the table where she had been sitting. “I love being popular,” she said. “Let me guess – you want me to make sure that no one enters or leaves the estate until you say so?”
“It would be helpful.”
“No problem. I’ll see you soon,” she said, and left the ballroom through the French windows. As she did so, Monty, Florence and Helen exited the ballroom into the hallway.
The hallway was a broad space, with dining and drawing room on either side, leading to the main entrance. Overhead it arched in a series of vaults, and in each vault there was a painting of romanticised country scenes.
“A very fine ceiling,” said Monty to Helen, then, calling to the other guests who were milling around, “This way, please, into the main entrance!”
“I can’t stand it,” Helen replied. “It was one of Papa’s little conceits, but I’m afraid that I find it a little too obvious.”
“Why not paint it over?” suggested Florence.
“Because it is very difficult to find something to paint it over with that won’t be equally bad.”
“Magnolia,” said Monty. “Couple of coats of magnolia paint will fix anything.”
The main entrance was a large area, double height, with a broad staircase leading up to a balcony that surrounded it. Monty climbed to the head of the stairs with Florence and Helen, and looked down at the faces of the guests. One of these people had murdered Alan Droightman. A clever murder, it was true, one designed to evade detection. Most ingenious the way the chocolate fountain had been used to kill the victim, but most definitely murder. Someone who could come up with a plan like that was not some common thug, but someone who would be a challenge. He started to smile at the thought, then remembered that he should appear solemn. A person was dead, after all.
He banged his swordstick on the floor at the top of the stairs, and the low muttering of guests’ voices died away. Remarkable how much power people gave you if you had a stick to bang on the ground. Everyone was looking at him, expecting instruction. Capital!
“Ladies and gentlemen,” he began, “It is with deep regret that I must inform you of the passing of Mr Alan Droightman. You will be aware that he was taken ill a short while ago while using the chocolate fountain. Apparently, he suffered from a heart attack, and it was not possible to revive him.”
He paused, and looked around the room, at all the upturned faces. What were they thinking? What were they feeling? None of them appeared overcome with grief, that much was certain.
Monty continued, “Naturally, there will have to be a proper investigation. Can’t just have leading members of the Board of Transport dying without someone looking into it. Not the done thing. As my wife and I have some experience in this area, we will be making some preliminary notes in order to help the investigative team.”
Checking the crowd again, there seemed to be mute acceptance of this. He nodded.
“Meanwhile, I must ask you to remain on the grounds of the estate, so that we can contact you if necessary. In any case, I understand that there is a problem with the train line out of the estate at the moment, which the Railway Engineer is looking at. Thank you for your time.”
Monty took a step back, still watching the guests. Helen chose that moment to step forward.
“I am, of course, most terribly sorry for the inconvenience and distress this situation must be causing you. Please feel free to use the facilities of the estate if you need to distract yourself. In addition to the boating lake and stables, there are many walks, and my staff will provide you with anything you need. Thank you.”
Helen turned away and called to her butler, while the guests broke into small groups, talking amongst themselves. They started to drift away from the entrance hall.
“Well, what do you think?” Monty asked Florence.
“I think you need to stop bashing that stick of yours on the floor. Have you seen the dents you’re making? Some poor servant will be having to sort those out now. I know you think it makes a nice noise, but you really must stop.”
“Sorry dear,” said Monty bowing his head. He had been doing this double act with Florence for so long now that it had become automatic. Both of them playing elderly has-beens who didn’t realise that their time was past. It was surprising how many people fell for it and underestimated them.
“I don’t know why I bought you that thing anyway,” she said, turning her attention to Helen. “Do you have that list of guests yet?”
“Gerald is just bringing it now – ah, here he is.”
The butler handed Helen a list and faded into the background. Helen passed the list on, watching the last few guests in the entrance way as they dispersed.
“Let me see… There’s no mention of the two extras that Droightman brought with him,” said Florence.
Monty peered over her shoulder and said, “Well, they’d be at the top of my list of suspects. If I was at Droightman’s beck and call he’d last about ten minutes.”
“And Mr Ainsworth. I believe we should talk to him.”
“Wasn’t there some kind of problem between them a few years ago? Something to do with the Board’s Academy project?”
“Yes – he was supposed to have been a director, but Droightman interfered, and he got shunted off sideways.”
“And don’t forget Aubretia Williams.”
“I don’t think I heard about that one.”
“Really?” asked Monty, “It was quite the thing at the time. You remember when she became Baron of Air Travel? Almost didn’t happen. Some kind of disagreement between them.”
At that moment, Mark returned.
“I’ve finished with Droightman’s rooms, and I think I’ve found something interesting. You know how everyone apprenticed to the Board of Transport has to learn Droightman’s Equations?”
“Of course,” said Monty. “Considered the basis of our understanding of how the Transport Systems interact across Interfaces.”
“That’s why he has the influence that he has,” said Helen, “And why I was so pleased that he agreed to come to my party.”
“What if I told you that he didn’t write the equations that made his name?”
“That,” said Florence, “Would be a very sound motive for murder.”