Inpsector Inchworth and the Dinner Party of Death
A chill wind blew across the desolate scenery outside 151 Eastham Avenue, dancing through the open dining room window and doing a maudlin fandango with the net curtains at Inspector Inchworth’s back. He whistled, and sternly pulled his trenchcoat collar up and around his neck, yet the chill remained: the chill of murder.
He turned his attention back to the audience gathered around the long table, already set for dinner. It was an odd time for the eccentric young Australian millionaire Cecil Gould to schedule a dinner party, right in the middle of a murder investigation, but at least it had gathered all the main suspects in one place. Inchworth wondered whether this sort of thing was how Gould had earned his reputation as an eccentric, but then cast that idea aside. After all, how many murder investigations could one man eat his way through before losing his appetite? Inchworth put what was left of his biscuit in his inside coat pocket, not feeling particularly hungry right then, and pointed in the direction of the window.
“Could somebody shut that, please? I’m trying to determine who murdered Mrs. Fletcher.”
“Oh, yes sir, Inspector.” A young brunette moved towards the window.
“Thanks, miss. And you are…” He paused to consult his notes. “B.D. Nurding, correct? The help, or some such?”
“Yes, that’s right. Bea Dee Nurding.”
“And where were you the night Mrs. Fletcher was killed?”
“Why, I was down in the wine cellar, with the wine seller, Monsieur DeCloque, selecting Mr. Gould’s favourite vintages.”
“I see. And can anyone vouch for that?”
“I can!” A voice rang out from the far end of the long table.
“Ah ha! And you are…?”
“Francois DeCloque! Mrs Fletcher’s godson, and trusted friend to old Cecil, here. And we were seen leaving the wine cellar by Mr Won, the Chinese restaurateur.”
Inchworth flicked through his notes, found some relevant scribblings, and tucked his notepad away. He paced across the room, eventually standing beside the piano in the corner.
“Ah yes, Mr Won. It seems that Mrs. Fletcher was seen passing some small pieces of paper to you at the party, mere hours before she was found dead. Care to explain?”
“Arrgghhh! Those notes are just an annoyance!”
“Oh – sorry.” Inchworth stopped playing Alouette, and put his hands in his pockets. “Please, continue.”
“Yes, she gave me some pieces of paper. Contact details for some mutual acquaintances. I was hoping to cater their parties. Entirely innocent!”
“Okay then – explain to me why she was found dead, surrounded by objects most commonly found in Chinese restaurants?”
“I can’t explain – I can’t stand chopsticks!”
“Oh, sorry again.” Inchworth moved away from the piano – he just couldn’t help himself standing beside it.
“As I was saying, Inspector, I can’t explain the wok and the bamboo brush. But I think someone’s trying to frame me!”
Inchworth snapped his fingers. “You’re right, Won. And I think I’ve figured out who committed the ghastly crime.”
Cecil looked astonished. “Crikey! You mean it, guv?”
“Yes. You see, Mr Won was framed. The murderer was none other than Father Luke.”
Father Luke, a greying old chunk of coal, started in his seat as an astonished gasp ran around the dinner table.
“Constable Gasp, could you please try to act a little more professional.”
“Oooh, sorry, sir.”
Father Luke stood. “You can’t prove a thing, Inspector!”
“Ah, but I can. You see, I know the parish has been low on money these last few years. I know you’ve been looking for ways to find funding. And then you hit upon the idea of murdering Mrs. Fletcher. After all, it’d be easy to get away with it: no one would suspect a man of the cloth of any heinous crime. And appealing for funds for an ailing parish in the wake of a funeral for a beloved town figure would be a sure thing… you’d struck gold.”
“Nah, he never hit me, guv” protested Cecil.
“Shut up!” spat Father Luke. “Do you know how often I’ve wanted to? It is your fault we’ve run out of funding – ever since your eccentricities shifted from ‘charitable donations’ to ‘odd food combinations’.”
“Oi! Don’ make fun o’ my food!”
“Quiet, both of you,” interrupted Inchworth, noting Cecil’s eccentricity in his pad for future reference. “So, Father Luke, you attended Cecil’s party, catered by Mr. Won, and saw Mrs. Fletcher hand him the notes just after midnight. That’s when you decided to frame our easily aggravated friend. You knew this town’s unspoken provincial racism would make him an easy target. You also knew that Mrs. Fletcher generally leaves these things around 1.15am, since Benjamin the Cabby also works as custodian at the church, and, as a cabby, is quite incapable of not talking about the passengers he’s had recently. And so, you made your move as soon as you heard the clock strike one.”
“I did no such thing, monsieur! I am no racist!”
Bea Nurding put a hand on the wine seller’s shoulder. “Quiet, Francois, he wasn’t talking about you.”
“You surreptitiously removed a wok and a bamboo brush from the kitchen, and waited in the dark for Mrs. Fletcher, where you did her in with this fireplace poker here.” Inchworth produced the poker from within his trenchcoat.
“Caw blimey, Father Luke,” said Cecil. “You’re a right miserable brute, aintcha? And ta think I was gonna feed you dinner!”
“Arrest Father Luke, won’t you, Constable? And in the meantime, Mr. Gould, I believe I’d like to see some of your famously eccentric food combinations. Perhaps we could serve dinner now?”
“Aw’ri… Bea? Ma chow mein! An’ the cabbage!”
“Hmm? Yes, that’s right: RIP, ‘Macho Man’ Randy Savage – but what’s for dinner?”
And they all laughed, except for Father Luke, who was understandably upset, and swore bloody vengeance upon all present.