The Elizabeth West Mysteries, p.1Anthony E Thorogood
The Elizabeth West Mysteries
A Bigfoot Littlefoot & West
by Anthony E Thorogood
Copyright Anthony E Thorogood 1987
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Elizabeth West - How it all came about
I wrote these Elizabeth West Mysteries when I was in England in the 1980's. I was living in Yorkshire at the time and entered my book A FOXTROT THROUGH INDIA into a competition, I didn't win but when I turned up at the presentation I was treated as the hero of the night and ended up eating some nice food, drinking a lot of red wine and had a London literary agent for my troubles. My agent requested a detective story with a female hero so I wrote these little stories. Years later I pulled them out, reread them and was inspired to write my madcap comic whodunit series Bigfoot Littlefoot & West. The first book in that series is Death in the Australian Outback and if you like madcap humour and satire then this is the book for you.
The Elizabeth West Mysteries
Two: Femme Fatale
Three: The Seeds of Death
Anthony E Thorogood
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As I drove along the tree lined causeway Goyt Hall, designed in 1698 by an Italian architect, with its gardens laid out along the lines of Versailles, its sculptures and marble facade, looked very impressive. It was a grand and inspiring sight, the setting perhaps for fabulous balls and royal dinners. Inside, however, on the marble floor lay an eighteen year old girl who would never get the chance to go to a fabulous ball or a royal dinner.
I walked up the steps to the entrance and rang the bell. To my surprise neither a butler nor a maid answered the door but eighty seven year old Lady Margarite, Lord Silverstone's sister, she was hideously ugly. Upon her head she wore an old felt hat, the brim being cut away at the front. Her hair was like old and frayed rags and her wrinkled old face was covered in warts and scars. I do not like to make these notes into melodramas but I would just like to write down here that Lady Margarite reminded me more of an evil witch than anyone or anything I had ever come across before, alive or dead.
'Yes,' she said.
She looked me up and down with her eyes almost protruding from their sockets. I explained that I was Elizabeth West, Officer West of the Greater Manchester Constabulary (on loan from the Territory Police, Australia) and that we had been notified of a murder.
'Yes,' she said.
She opened the door just wide enough for me to enter and as she opened the door the first thing I noticed was that all the furniture was covered in sheets. The hall looked very gloomy, the pictures had been removed from the walls, and the windows seemed to let in but little light.
'Horrible girl," said Lady Margarite. 'Deserved it...deserved it, yes...yes.'
She led me up the grand staircase to the north room, the banister was covered in dust, as was the rest of the house. Outside an old oak door the old lady turned and said to me:
'Yes...yes, no good at all.' Then she shuffled up the corridor talking to herself, 'yes...yes,' she was saying.
I knocked on the old oak door, there was no response so I pushed the door open. As I entered the scene before my eyes was rather startling. Light seemed to enter the room from only one stained glass window, the light from that window fell upon the body that lay, as it had fallen, across the hearth of the fireplace. The rest of the room was in darkness apart from a pale white face that caught a single beam of light in the otherwise enveloping gloom. The face lit up by the single ray of light was that of Lord Silverstone. I called out his name and my voice echoed around the walls. I moved closer to Lord Silverstone, it was then that I realised his breathing was laboured. I looked at his eyes and checked his pulse. In one eye, I noted, the pupil was dilated, his pulse was very weak. I immediately found the only servant the house seemed to contain, the cook, and she telephoned for an ambulance. I kept a check on Lord Silverstone's pulse while we waited and kept him warm but my efforts were to no avail, Lord Silverstone died on the way to hospital.
She had been a pretty young thing, the girl who lay dead on the hearth. Actually she was hardly more than a child and she was white and pale. The whole case seemed to have eerie overtones to me. A dart stuck out of her back between her shoulder blades. Next to the chair where Lord Silverstone had been sitting was a blowpipe. From that distance he could not have missed. It was a simple case, all I had to do was work out the motive.
The cook gave me a potted history of the girl. She was born in British Guiana now Guyana, her name was Angela Clark-Upminster and her father was involved in sugar, coffee, timber and bauxite. I studied the body more closely. On the dead girl's shoes were stray pieces of cut grass, the type that clings to shoes after a lawn has just been mown. There were also some blades of grass in her hair. From the back of her jumper, and from her hair, I took two strands of pink wool. I made a note of these facts and carefully secured the strands of wool. There were no remains of a fire in the hearth and no preparation for one, from this and the general state of the room I concluded that the room was not normally used.
When I had first entered the room Lord Silverstone had been sitting in a big old comfortable chair. His face had looked strained and rather blue with the cold. He had worn pyjamas, slippers and a smoking jacket. As far as I could tell there had been no trace of cut grass on his slippers. His hair had looked very grey but there had still been plenty of it. The most startling fact about Lord Silverstone, which threw me momentarily when I first heard it from the cook, was that he had been engaged to be married. The prostate body, in the hearth, whose life he had apparently terminated with a blowpipe dart, had been his fiancée. What charm must he have had if he, at seventy eight, could become engaged to an eighteen year old beauty. Before I had begun to unravel the mystery, my key witness and it seemed highly likely, the murderer himself had died! I felt as they say in cricket, stumped.
The cook made me a cup of tea, I felt I needed it.
'Ursula's me name,' said the cook.
'Elizabeth,' I said.
Apart from the gardener Ursula seemed to be the only servant. As we began to talk about Lord Silverstone and Angela, the cook broke down and cried. Then she wiped away her tears.
'It's all so shocking,' she said and then we had a good gossip.
She told me about Lord Silverstone's school days and how he kept a wombat and a kangaroo in his dormitory at boarding school. She described how he had gone jackarooing in Australia instead of attending Oxford University. His youth, it seemed, was spent wandering the world. In World War II he fought alongside the partisans in Crete and in Yugoslavia and after the war he went out to British Guiana where he met Angela's parents and later he held baby Angela in his arms and declared he would marry her. On Guiana he also studied native poisons and the blowpipe.
'About a year ago now,' said the cook, 'young Angela came to England to finish her education. Old Lord Silverstone met her at the airport, wined her and dined her in London, he told her about his declaration when she was a baby and then he proposed'"
'What happened then?' I asked.
'No one would have believed it, but she accepted.'
'Was anyone against the marriage?'
'Yes, they were against it and Lady Ma
'Poodle?' I said.
'Poodle, Lady Margarite's grandson, Chrispian.'
'He's known as Poodle?' I asked.
'And how did you feel about the marriage?'
'Me, I'm the cook, nothing to do with me. I loved old Lord Silverstone but Angela she was a smashing girl.'
'Tell me,' I said, 'did Chrispian show any affection towards Angela?'
'Head over heels in love,' said the cook.
'Did Lord Silverstone know?'
'Yes, and when he found out he packed young Chrispian off to Spain. Must have been back end of June.'
The case against Lord Silverstone now seemed to be complete and the postcards were the final and conclusive evidence. As Lord Silverstone had sat in his big old chair, dying, in his left hand he held three postcards. They were all from a place called Estepona on the Costa del Sol in Spain, the cook had told me Chrispian was currently holidaying there. They were addressed to Angela Clark-Upminster, Goyt Hall, Bredbury, Cheshire, England. I asked the cook if there had been any chance of Lord Silverstone having seen the postcards when they first arrived, she said that there was every chance. I felt that it was strange and unfortunate that Chrispian had not been more circumspect and had not taken greater pains to cover his tracks. Chrispian's openness and direct flaunting of his great uncle's authority, I postulated, had driven Lord Silverstone to desperate measures. All the cards were dated, the first card had the date Wednesday the 15th of July.
Having wonderful time. Weather fantastic. Lazy days by pool. Boozy nights in bars. Drive over an experience. Hangovers terrible. Morning swim pool. See you Saturday when fit, healthy, brown.
Love Poodle, xxx.
Not exactly a love letter but then Angela was engaged to Lord Silverstone. The second postcard was dated the 17th and was brief and to the point.
Saturday the 25th 7.30 p.m. Poodle, xxx.
The final card was much the same as the second and dated the 19th.
Don't forget 7.30 !!!
I examined a copy of Chrispian's handwriting, there was no doubt in my mind that he had sent the cards and that he had been having an affair with Lord Silverstone's fiancée, Angela Clark-Upminster. Why so open was the question I asked myself. Was Chrispian trying to drive his great uncle to distraction?
I examined Angela's room. It was the only room in the house I had entered so far that seemed at all airy and pleasant. The bed was brass and covered in a beautiful lace quilt, the cupboards were oak but they were new and modern looking. Light beamed in at the window and on the windowsill stood several pottery figurines of characters from Beatrix Potter stories. I recognised Peter Rabbit and Mrs Tiggy-Winkle. The cook had described young Angela as a ray of sunshine, and in that house I could believe it.
'Always had a smile for everyone,' said the cook. 'Very young, very impressionable, she was desperately fond of old Lord Silverstone, but she fell in love with young Chrispian.'
I took a look at Angela's handbag. Inside I found two thousand pounds in traveller's cheques, her passport, lipstick and make up, handkerchiefs, keys, an address book and a photograph, not of Lord Silverstone, but of young Chrispian. Beside the bed I found a case packed ready for a long trip. The evidence was coming together very nicely.
To put it in a nutshell, it was a simple case, a crime of passion. The seventy eight year old Lord Silverstone had become engaged to eighteen year old Angela Clark-Upminster. Why she accepted his proposal, I could not fathom, but young love knows no bounds. Angela had been introduced to Lord Silverstone's nephew, Chrispian, and they had fallen in love. Lord Silverstone had discovered the attachment and had banished his nephew to Spain. Chrispian and Angela, however, made plans to elope. Due to Chrispian's carelessness Lord Silverstone unravelled the plot and in a fit of jealousy he killed his fiancée.
Jim, Detective Flatfoot, my assistant, was photographing the body. He sidled up to me as I examined the postcards.
'Have you seen these postcards?' I said.
'Yes,' he said, 'this case is cut and dry.'
'Is it?' I said.
'It's the Looney Lord, goes on telly with his thingamajig.'
'It's called a blowpipe.'
'Jealousy is the motive. He confronts the girl with the evidence, she tells all, turns her back in tears. Looney Lord takes aim with his pea shooter, one fateful blow and chips.'
'Seems to be that way.'
'Nice young girl, tragedy really, good looking. Shame about the old fellow all the same.'
'Brought on by remorse.'
'You think so.'
'Sister's as looney as a one eyed lama with leprosy. The gardener confirmed that the nephew was having an affair with the girl.'
'What else did the gardener have to say?'
'Planned to meet here 7.30 tonight to elope.'
'That confirms my suspicion,' I said.
'Looney Lord found out, stepped in.'
'Young Chrispian must be ruled out as a suspect then?'
'And her parents would hardly murder her even if they did disagree with her choice of a prospective husband. So it's either Lord Silverstone,' I said, 'or his sister.'
'Sister's too loopy,' said Jim.
'But we must not rule her out completely and it seems she hated the girl so much that the thought of her grandson eloping with the girl may have provoked Lady Margarite to murder.'
'Can't see it myself, she's as crackers as a stray steer on a motorway.'
'Still it's something we must think on.'
Antonette from forensic was, as usual, on the ball. England were playing Pakistan, a one day match at Old Trafford, but I managed to catch Antonette before she became too liberally spliced in the member's stand.
'Death,' said Antonette emphasising her words, 'was caused by a fatal dose of the poison drug Curare, Strychnos toxifera.'
For once I knew something about this for I had seen Lord Silverstone giving blowpipe demonstrations on breakfast television.
'Upon injection,' said Antonette, 'it acts as a neuromuscular blocking agent and produces flaccidity in scriated muscles. In other words it competes with acetylcholine at the nerve endings preventing nerve impulses activating skeletal or voluntary muscles.'
'Quite,' I said, but by now I was out of my depth.
'The first effect of the drug is a haziness of vision, followed by a relaxation of the facial muscles, an inability to raise the head, loss of muscle control of arms and legs and finally the respiratory muscles. Death,' said Antonette emphasising her words again, 'was caused by respiratory paralysis.'
As far as I was concerned that just about wrapped the case up and gave us Lord Silverstone, who was Britain's greatest exponent of the blowpipe as a weapon, as chief suspect.
'I would just like to add,' said Antonette, 'that the girl was most probably unconscious when the poison was administered.'
'What?' I said.
'There is evidence of a blow to the back of the head by a heavy blunt object.'
'This is a whole new ball game,' I said.
'And the dart was, I believe, administered not by being fired from a blowpipe but by hand. The dart was inserted twice and was somewhat bent as a result of being pushed in too deeply.' Antonette smiled to herself, I put on my coat and drove back out to Goyt Hall.
Lord Silverstone's great nephew and heir, Chrispian, was due to arrive at Goyt Hall at 7.30pm for his clandestine meeting with Angela, a meeting that could now never be. Unless he had read the newspapers, and as he was driving all the way from Spain this was unlikely, he would not know that Angela was dead. There was no one to break the news to him, so I decided to await his arrival and
'Yes...yes,' I heard the familiar words that announced Lady Margarite's entrance. 'He's a good boy, yes...yes.' Then she shook her head as she approached the place where the girl's body had been. 'Yes...yes,' she said, 'he's a good boy, yes...yes,' then she shuffled out.
What was playing on my mind was the grass I had discovered on Angela's shoes and in her hair. Then I suddenly realised what had been staring me in the face for so long. How could I have been so stupid not to have realised it straight away. Angela had been killed in the garden. She had been knocked unconscious, then the body was carried back inside where she had been stabbed with the blowpipe dart. Lord Silverstone, I felt, was not strong enough to carry the body of Angela back into the house. More and more I was thinking of Lady Margarite, but was she strong enough to carry the body in to the house?
I began a systematic perambulation of the grounds. They were quite beautiful, especially as the sun was setting over the tree tops, but I wasn't there to revel in the beauties of nature. Eventually I walked along by a system of fountains and came across an area of lawn that had been freshly mown. There was a gate, a road, a ditch and a few thick trees, the very place for a secret meeting. Under the trees I found the prints of a car. In the ditch I found a ticket for a channel ferry and the burnt remains of a letter, enough remained of the envelope to tell me that it was written by Chrispian and addressed to Angela.
I was absorbed by my thoughts as I walked back to the house and then in a second storey window I saw a frighteningly ugly face looking down at me. The window opened and a horrible voice rang out.
'Yes...yes, I'm glad she's dead, she's no good, yes...yes.'
I knew then that Lady Margarite could have easily killed Angela and carried her inside. The mentally insane have been known to exhibit tremendous feats of strength.
My evidence, I felt, was strong and I was also fairly sure that Lady Margarite had had a reluctant accomplice. Chrispian, perhaps because of boredom, or impatience, had arranged with Angela to elope one day earlier on the Friday night rather than the Saturday. He had driven to England and parked in the field. Angela was all packed and waiting. It was then that Lady Margarite had intervened and killed Angela before Chrispian could stop her. Chrispian had acted according to a sense of filial duty and had covered up the murder perpetrated by his grandmother. I didn't blame Chrispian for his acts and his grandmother wasn't to blame, she was incapable of knowing what she had done. All the evidence was accounted for and I had a nice tidy case. Just then I heard the roar of a sports car screeching to a halt around the front of the house. It was seven thirty precisely.
I walked around to the front of the house and there was young Chrispian dressed in the latest fashion. A pink jumper casually slung across his shoulders and neatly tied over his chest. I didn't even explain to him that Angela was dead. I told him that he had the right to remain silent, he could make one telephone call and that he was under arrest for the murder of Angela Clark-Upminster. He moved towards me and struck out with his fist. I grabbed his arm and twisted it behind his back.
'It was a hunch,' I said to Antonette. 'I'd worked out exactly how his grandmother could have done the murder and how he had covered up for her but equally he could have done the murder and his grandmother could have covered up for him.'
But hunches do not hold water in a Court of Law. The evidence Antonette and I managed to assemble was as follows:
One: Chrispian had crossed the English Channel on Friday morning and not Saturday morning.
Two: The letter that had been partially burnt was restored from the ashes and it informed Angela of Chrispian's plans to elope on Friday and not Saturday night.
Three: The car prints in the field came from Chrispian's car.
Four: Shoe prints were taken from Chrispian's and Angela's shoes. It was proved that they had both been in the field and that Angela's prints went to the car but did not return to the house.
Five: Strands of pink wool found in Angela's hair and on her jumper came from the same wool used for Chrispian's pink jumper.
Six: Specimens of paint from Chrispian's hotel room in Spain matched paint specimens found on Angela's jumper.
Seven: Hairs from a dog owned by the manager of the hotel where Chrispian was staying in Spain were found on Angela's jumper.
Eight: Traces of a dark brown aromatic substance, positively identified as Curare, were found under Chrispian's finger nails.
Why? What was the motive? I leave that to the reader to decide.
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