Authors: Anna Lord
Tags: #feng shui, #murder, #medium, #sherlock, #tarot, #seance, #steamship, #biarritz, #magic lantern, #camera obscura
Mrs Merle shot up like Scylla
and Charybdis combined in all their fearsome glory. “You’re saying
the killer is a man!”
“Yes,” replied the
“Well, that’s a blessed relief!
I was getting worried you were gonna try and pin this murder on me!
My major planets are in opposition to my sun sign. The portent is
all bad news!”
She sat back down with a heavy
thump and almost broke the deck chair.
“No more interruptions,”
announced the Inspector brusquely before turning to the Countess.
“The question arose in my mind
– what did Elodie look like? I assumed she was fair of face, but
no, she was like the girls from the south of France with the blood
of Mediterranean pirates in her veins, like Claudette who fell
overboard, the same Claudette who discovered the body of Madame
Moghra, and who wanted to say something when she was being
interviewed by Captain Lanfranc, but held her tongue and thus ended
up dead. Yes, a third murder.”
The Countess paused to gather
her thoughts before summing up.
“Are you almost done?” asked
the Inspector, suitably impressed but withholding judgment on
whether she could pull the rabbit out of the hat when it came to
the grand finale.
“Yes,” she said confidently.
“The killer of Sissy, Madame Moghra and Claudette was a
blood-relation of Elodie. The killer decided to frame Dr Watson for
no reason other than it was hugely advantageous to divert
suspicion. The killer is with us now. It is someone who was able to
steal the darts, use one as a murder weapon and plant two on Dr
Watson. Someone who was able to steal the slides, paint them and
work the camera obscuras. Someone who was familiar with the layout
of the ship. Someone Sissy would regard as trustworthy and
respectable. Someone who had time to push Claudette overboard.
Someone who could remove the dart from the wig even though they
might be seen by Claudette. Someone who came from the south of
France. Someone who –”
Captain Lanfranc, who had been
leaning casually against the starboard rail, cried out:
All eyes turned to the steward.
His frozen face reminded the Countess of a terrified baby possum
that had fallen down a chimney and landed in a room full of hostile
“No! No!” he denied furiously,
foaming at the mouth with fear. “I didn’t kill anyone! I am
innocent! Remember Dreyfus!”
“We remember,” said the
Countess calmly, recalling the recent gross miscarriage of justice.
“I am not accusing you. I am accusing Captain Lanfranc.”
The captain laughed risibly,
dismissing the accusation as a grotesque slander. “
You forget something,
. I did not go into the
“You went first of all,” she
contradicted. “You took Madame Moghra her cup of coffee. She was
dead before the first suspect even went in.”
The captain pulled out a pistol
and levelled it at the Inspector to stall his advance. “Stay back,”
he warned as he edged toward the stern, then, just before he leapt
overboard to his death he fired off a shot at the Countess.
The bullet flew past her ear
and hit the dart board – a perfect bull’s eye!
If further proof of guilt was
needed, Inspector de Guise found it in the captain’s cabin when he
opened a wooden box and almost died of heart failure. Inside the
box was a decapitated head - the fake waxwork head of Elodie that
had been used in the guillotine act. There was also a log book,
detailed notes on how to use a camera obscura, three glass slides
with images of Dr Watson, and a diagram of the public rooms
depicting the position of various mirrors, plus a vial of unknown
poison, most likely curare, for the captain had recently visited
South America. So confident was he of not being caught he had got
rid of none of the incriminating evidence apart from the dart.
Most damning of all was some
correspondence dating back several years with the owner of the
shipping company. It soon became clear that Captain Lanfranc was
Elodie’s father. He had apparently promised her in marriage to the
owner of the shipping company in exchange for promotion to captain
but she fled on the eve of the wedding. By the time he had tracked
her down, she was dead. The unscrupulous shipping owner wanted
revenge and demanded blood in exchange for sparing the captain’s
life. Lanfranc had been instructed to frame Croquemort for the
murder of Madame Moghra, thus killing two birds with one stone, but
when the captain met Dr Watson he took it upon himself to frame the
man who professed such deep hatred for the woman he was about to
kill and thus divert suspicion from himself. This he had outlined
in a letter to the shipping owner which he had not yet posted.
Inspector de Guise shared his
discovery with the Countess and made a friend for life.
“Captain Lanfranc did not
foresee the framing of Dr Watson to offer up any difficulty,” he
conjectured, “especially with his famous colleague, Mr Sherlock
Holmes, removed from the scene, but he did not count on you,
Countess Volodymyrovna. I take my hat off to your sleuthing skills.
If you are ever in need of police assistance, do not hesitate to
call upon the services of Didier de Guise.”
Dr Watson stepped down the
gangway into the bright Basque sunshine like a man reborn with
shoulders back and head erect. Feeling as generous as a king, he
tossed some coins to the ragged brown urchins and old salts who
crossed his path, taking no particular notice of them, neither the
lame nor the limbless, nor those riddled with lice and fleas and
scabies, though his eyes lingered a moment on the filthy
long-haired ruffian slumped among the coiled ropes and lobster
cages, a fag end dangling from his lips…No! Impossible! He shook
himself and caught up to the Countess striding ahead and together
they began to walk
bras d’ssus-bras d’ssous
She waited until they were
comfortably seated in the open air carriage. “Now, will you finally
share with me the reason you wished Madame Moghra dead?”
In the background, the splendid
Hotel du Palais shimmered like a belle époque mirage, as unreal as
what had just taken place. Dr Watson had not yet thanked her
properly for saving him from the ignominy of a murder trial and
sometimes words were inadequate, even for a seasoned author. He
drew breath and braced for the pain that gripped his heart whenever
his thoughts returned to what he termed the blackest days of his
“Madame Moghra told me Mary was
with child when she died of tuberculosis.”
“Are you saying you didn’t
He nodded glumly.
“The news took you by
“Do you think it was true?”
“I don’t know – that’s the
“Do you want it to be
“Yes and no - I’m not sure –
that’s the wretched part.”
“You can believe whatever you
want since it cannot be proven either way.”
“Yes, but what comfort is
his hand and held it tenderly in her own. “You must believe
whatever brings you most comfort – that is the essence of