Midwynnter Murder - A Stab in the Dark

This story was written by Colin, the tutor of the Writers Workshop of U3A Clarence, as a challenge to the members of the Workshop that each respond with their solution of the crime. My solution, Midwynnter, is linked.

Christmas at the Grange was always a homely affair. The family would leave their distant workaday lives and gather at the grand old house which had been the family home for generations. It was usually much the same: arrival on Christmas Eve; often in the snow; the traditional big feed and present exchanges on the Day; a trek onto the moors on Boxing Day or through the forest, maybe a shooting party if the men were inclined; some light-hearted fun that evening and departure the next day.

This year, father had let it be known that since his 80th year was fast approaching he'd invited a few friends as well. The mansion was huge, the accommodation generous. With due notice the kitchen staff would be well able to provide all that was necessary.

Snow started to fall on the 22nd. By the 24th it had reached the top of the low stone wall which surrounded the lawns fully a quarter of a mile from the house. Appleby, the butler and general dogsbody, had driven the Humber along the drive several times in an effort to keep it open for the guests.

Mary arrived first, as she usually did, at precisely 11 a.m. the weather had threatened to delay her train she said but apart from having to squelch the few steps from the taxi and a little snow reaching the inside of her boots, she was feeling alright. Appleby took her coat and case and directed her to the lounge.

It was lunch time when the doorbell chimed again announcing a somewhat bedraggled Catherine - she'd travelled on the overnight sleeper from Scotland - and a bright and cheery Bev, carrying a portfolio of her latest art work which she struggled to protect from the wintry winds at her back.

As the afternoon moved on the women talked about the pleasures and travails of the year: children, shopping expeditions and the small talk of life until father put his head around the door to inquire whether anyone had seen Elsa or Louise.

"I expect the weather's delayed them," he said. "They don't always make it. I know Elsa was having worries about her grandchildren but Louise enjoys our little get-togethers and I've got a new spoon for her collection. Perhaps I should telephone. See if they left this morning. Oh, and by the way," he added, "I've got some friends arriving in time for dinner."

The snow has stopped falling but the sky remained leaden. Afternoon tea - delicate petit fours, pastries and tiny Wedgewood cups - was well underway when Margaret arrived with her granddaughter, also named Bev.

"You know," said Margaret, almost before her coat was off, "I've been coming here for Christmas since I don't know when but I always love to see that fire roaring in the hearth. Makes me feel like I'm still living here." She wiped a straggling hair from her face smudging her lipstick as she did so.

Catherine turned, her teacup balanced carefully, and said to the newly-arrived Bev, "How's your latest novel going? Is it finished yet?"

"I'm about halfway through," she replied. "But yes, it's going well. It's a detective story."

Dinner time was approaching. Father appeared, already looking quite merry. The doorbell chimed once more. "Ah," he said, "that will be the doctor." He moved to welcome not one, but two newcomers, both unknown to the family. " Meet my friends: Doctor Michael Ben …"

"Enough of that, George," interrupted the tall man with a broad American accent. "Call me Mickey like everyone else. And forget the doctor bit. Sure, I got a degree in extraterrestrials and things. That's no big deal. Anyway it's Christmas. Glad to meet you all."

"As you wish, Mickey. And this is Sondra. She's from New Zealand originally. She sails quite a lot. Not in the winter I imagine. These two are part of the international friendship group I'm with. Thought you'd like to meet them. They'll be staying tonight.

Pleasantries were exchanged and dinner was served.

Later that evening while Christmas carols played on the stereogram the eight of them settled down in the lounge to play Cluedo.

"Strange, don't you think," said Mickey, "how playing an innocent game like this in a grand old English mansion makes you wonder if a murder could really happen. Well, we've got enough suspects haven't we? He laughed. Catherine and Mary looked horrified; Margaret smiled discreetly; the younger Bev looked decidedly interested.

George said, "Your turn, I think, Sondra."

"Yes," she said, "I'll have the knife in the kitchen!"

By 10 o'clock the game was over. The ladies took their leave and retired. George and Mickey stood by the fading log fire finishing their drinks.

"Y'know," said Mickey, "it's Christmas Eve. Should be a happy time. Yet I've got this strange feeling. Something here is not quite right. Can't quite put a finger on it."

"H'm," mused George. "It's strange too had Elsa and Louise didn't arrive. I wonder why. They left early this morning. Anyway time for bed, eh?"

Snow stopped falling in the night. Before the cold dawn broke, Pauline, the cook descended bleary-eyed to light the kitchen fire. Barely awake she did not immediately see the body. It lay lifeless on the tiles staring at her with unseeing eyes, a long-handled knife in his back. She screamed. And dropped to her knees next to his head. But the youth was long since dead, the blood congealing in long strands across the floor.

The pitch of her scream brought a trail of running feet. First, Bev - the artist - closely followed by the other women; the men last.

"Who … who is it?" whispered Bev.

Pauline looked up. "Col … Colin, he's a lad from the village. Comes and helps me in the mornings." Her sobs muffled in the silence.

From the back of the group Mickey said, "Better send for the police. Just leave him. Don't touch anything." The group moved away.

An hour later the local constabulary arrived. A short dapper man followed by a younger woman.

"I'm Detective Inspector Graeme Lindridge and this is my assistant Sergeant Frances Coll. Now lead me to this scene of the crime if you'd be so kind."

He walked briskly behind George, looking carefully around as he went. "And who found the body?" he asked.

"I did," said Pauline.

Sergeant Cole bent over the body. "Looks like he's dead, sir; has been for some time. How did that occur? Sorry - I spoke in rhyme."

"Yes, well, we'll get forensics to check that. Now, how did he get in?"

"Well," said Pauline, "he's got a key to the back door. He comes in early. Gets the wood ready for the fire."

"I see," said Lindridge, moving to the door and looking outside. "Now I see his footprints in the snow. There's another line of prints almost alongside."

"Perhaps he was followed," offered the Sergeant.

"Maybe, but then where did the murderer go after the deed was done?"

"Not sure, Sir."

"Very well, we'll need to interview everyone in the house."

They returned to the lounge.

"I have a hunch," he said, "but I'll need to know a lot more about the movements of the house-guests last night. It may have been an inside job. We'll see," he said thoughtfully.

Previous | Top | Home | Next