I then considered writing a Jonathan Creek mystery. Again, a series I adore, and after being so disappointed with the recent episodes I knew I could write something more exciting and importantly blood thirsty. I know Jonathan has married and moved to the countryside now, but there's no need for there not be a murder, I mean, has David Renwick ever watched Midsomer Murders? Anyway, getting off track. After realising that I couldn't figure out how the murders were ever committed before Jonathan, my chance of writing one successfully was slim to none, so I decided to veer towards my other love, Agatha Christie.
I love Miss Marple and Poirot, although Poirot I think is a lot harder to write, so I plumped for dear old Miss Marple and thought I'd give it a crack. Please forgive me, it's nowhere near the genius of Christie, but it has been a lot of fun to write. As always, comments and feedback appreciated.
The Death Of Miss Eleanor Durant
Smoke gathered at the top of the room, curling and swirling around the light fixtures. Miss Marple gave the smokers a small, disapproving frown before smiling openly at the six individuals gathered in the drawing room. They were the guests of Sarah-Jane Sampson. To Miss Marple, Sarah-Jane was the daughter of her close friend Elizabeth and they had remained in contact after Mrs Sampson had passed.
“Thank you for gathering,” said Miss Marple. She was met with silence. “I have brought you all together to discuss the death of Miss Eleanor Durant.”
“I’ve already told you, me and my wife have nothing to do with this!” cried a man sitting by the fire place. He placed a reassuring hand on his wife’s shoulder. The man responsible for the outburst was Roger Cardwell, a banker in London. He and his wife were overflowing with money. Husband and wife were like chalk and cheese. Mr Cardwell was dark haired, smart and almost oily in personality. Mrs Celia Cardwell was fair and plain. She barely spoke to anyone and her let her husband do most of the talking. When Celia Cardwell was Celia Banks, she had been Sarah-Jane’s best friend.
Miss Marple smiled, her patience a long way from waning. “I have spoken to all of you Mr Cardwell and I believe I know who killed the poor girl. I simply ask you to remain here for a little while longer so everything can be cleared up."
One of the smokers, a red headed woman wearing scarlet lipstick suddenly sat up alert in her soft arm chair. “Killed?”
“Yes Marlena, killed,” said Miss Marple.
“I thought it was an accident.” Marlena Foxx cast an uneasy gaze around the rest of the occupants in the room. “Are you telling me somebody in here actually murdered her?”
Marlena Foxx was an actress, originally born in Germany, she had immigrated to Hollywood to make her fame and fortune and was doing rather well. But Miss Marple wasn’t sure how good an actress the girl actually was. Time would tell. Sarah-Jane had met her at a charity ball two weeks previously and had invited her along on impulse.
“Yes my dear,” she answered. “Dr. Foster, can you confirm the time and cause of death please?”
The man who answered had a rotund stomach testing the limits of the tweed jacket he wore. A monocle resided in his right eye and he puffed on a pipe which glowed orange in the semi-darkness. Dr. Foster had been the Sampson family doctor for years, ever since Miss Marple had known them.
“Of course Jane,” he said, with an over familiarity she didn’t appreciate. “Miss Durant was killed at approximately midday yesterday. She was killed with a sharp blow to the back of the head.”
“That’s impossible!” protested Mr Cardwell. “My wife found her, she fell down the stairs at seven pm. We all heard her!” He looked around the room for support and found none.
“You’re right Mr Cardwell, she did fall down the stairs, and was found by your wife just after seven. But she was in fact killed much earlier.”
“I don’t think I’m following any of this,” said a young man quietly. He sat just to Miss Marple’s right and looked very youthful. His handsome face appeared innocent and bore no trace of wrinkle or beard. The young man in question was named Alfred Ellis. He was Miss Sampson’s cousin and temporarily residing in the house.
“You see, when Miss Durant was killed, the first time, she must have fallen onto her wrist, for her watch was smashed, and the time stuck at twelve-o-five,” explained Miss Marple. To which Sarah-Jane Sampson let out choking sob. The hostess had dark hair and unusually clear blue eyes. She had been friends with Eleanor Durant at school, along with Celia.
“But I spoke to her,” pointed out Marlena suddenly rising from her chair. “At six pm, I knocked on the door of her room and told her dinner was being served. She replied to me! She said ‘just coming.’ See! She can’t have been!”
“I’m afraid body temperature also indicates she was killed long before she was found at the bottom of the stairs. Dr. Foster and I both felt for a pulse, and she was cold to touch.”
“The door was locked from the inside,” muttered Alfred. He was so quiet only Miss Marple heard him.
“Of course, the locked room mystery,” she said, trying not to show how much she was enjoying herself. Others looked at her with a mixture of pity and disbelief when she told them she had worked out how it was all done. There was a quiet sense of satisfaction when she was proved right.
“So you’re saying that someone murdered her, left a locked room, then returned, pushed her body down the stairs, relocked the room and somehow escaped again. You’ll forgive me Miss Marple, but isn’t this all a tad far-fetched,” protested Mr Cardwell.
“If you’ll just allow me to explain,” she replied, clearing her throat. “Shall we start from the beginning?”
“Please do,” said Sarah-Jane, managing to control her tears.
Miss Marple nodded. “Please stop me if any of this is incorrect.
Miss Eleanor Durant arrived yesterday morning at around ten am. She was dropped off outside the house by a taxi and then welcomed by Miss Sampson, who showed her to her room for the weekend. Dr. Foster, the Cardwell’s and I were already here, as of course, was Alfred, who lives here. Marlena Foxx was the only one to arrive after Miss Durant and she too was showed to her room, just next door to Miss Durant’s.”
“That’s correct, I was delayed,” said Marlena.
“All the guests enjoyed elevenses, right here in the drawing room where most of them met for the first time. Of course Mrs Cardwell, Miss Sampson and Miss Durant had been friends at school but they hadn’t met since then. Dr. Foster and I only knew each other and of course Miss Sampson.
But of course. I am already incorrect. Miss Durant did know others here, for she was in love with one of you.”
There was a collective gasp around the room, but Miss Marple just smiled. “You could see it in both of their faces, I’m surprised nobody else noticed. Mr Ellis, this must be terrible for you.”
The young man looked up with barely concealed surprise. “We’ve been keeping it a secret, for Sarah-Jane’s sake,” he said, indicating his cousin.
She laughed. “You didn’t have to keep that a secret from me! I would have been thrilled for you!”
“Mr Ellis was not the only person she knew. Dr. Foster, she was indeed a patient of yours, was she not?”
“Yes, she lives within my area, she comes to my practice, but that is not a crime Miss Marple.” She noted that he had referred to her by her surname, maybe he now felt under suspicion.
“And you Miss Foxx,” said Miss Marple, giving the actress a chance to explain herself.
“Have I met her before? I really don’t remember I’m afraid.”
“You’re currently working in London, on a motion picture?” prompted Miss Marple.
“Yes, it’s called Love and Money, it’s about a bank thief and his lover. It’s very good,” said Marlena with a smug smile.
“Miss Durant told me she had a small part in the film. She also told me you were threatening to leave and if you did she would get to step into your shoes. Isn’t that correct?”
Marlena appeared visibly flustered. “I don’t know what on earth you’re talking about!”
“And Mr Cardwell was bank rolling the film, was he not? So really, you all knew each other!”
Roger Cardwell rose to protest, but before he could speak the unusually quiet Alfred Ellis spoke up.
“What does that matter Miss Marple? Who killed her and how?” He stood up from his chair and reached for a glass of whisky on the table. “I went to her room at three ‘o’ clock, the usual time I paid her a visit. There was no answer and when I peered through the keyhole I could not see a thing, so the key must have been in the other side!” He sunk down into the arm chair.
“And someone was definitely in her room, because I heard her speak!” said Marlena.
“After elevenses, Miss Durant returned to her room,” continued Miss Marple. “She said she did not require any lunch and was going to do some unpacking and have a nap after her long journey. But shortly after this, she was struck on the back of the head and the killer apparently left through a locked door which in itself is impossible.
In fact, on closer inspection, the door was locked from the outside. A scented bag was on the inside of the door, pressed against the keyhole which made it appear as though the door was locked from the inside.”
Alfred looked quite perplexed but indicated for Miss Marple to go on. “The killer returned, realising what they had done and then disposed of the body. Isn’t that right Mrs Cardwell?”
“What?” she whispered, aghast, looking to her husband for support.
“That is absurd Miss Marple. She found the body!”
“The body was never supposed to be found, was it Mrs Cardwell? You had to move it, but you weren’t strong enough and there was only one of you so you carried her as far as you could and then put her in the dumb waiter on the third floor landing.”
Marlena laughed. “Oh that is quite ridiculous.”
“It explains how you heard a female voice, when you informed her of dinner. It was Mrs Cardwell in the room at the time.”
Marlena stared at Mrs Cardwell with newfound curiosity. The banker’s wife, so timid and shy, capable of murder.
“I didn’t kill her!” she suddenly shouted. “I just moved the body! I didn’t kill her!”
A murmur spread around the room, catching and passing from each person. Mr Cardwell soothingly rubbed his wife’s shoulders.
“But she was having an affair with your husband! If any one of us were in your shoes we would feel the same. We would understand completely.” Said Miss Marple.
“What?” cried Alfred. “I don’t believe it! Show me your evidence Miss Marple.”
“I wasn’t having an affair with Miss Durant!” yelled Mr Cardwell, stepping away from his wife. Miss Marple turned to face the actress. Marlena had winced at her words, despite doing her best to cover it up.
“No, you weren’t having an affair with Miss Durant,” said Miss Marple.
“What is all this?” muttered Dr. Foster. He was ignored.
“You were having an affair with Marlena Foxx.”
“What?” Mrs Cardwell repeated, her voice small. There was no sound but the cracking and popping of the fire.
“Maybe your wife got the wrong end of the stick. You were good friends with Miss Durant. She covered for you many times while you sneaked off with Marlena. And when your wife saw the joyful, glowing face of Miss Durant, a face clearly in love, she jumped to the wrong conclusions.”
Mrs Cardwell was now crying quietly. She shook her head. “I had no idea. I didn’t ask any questions. I just did as I was told.”
“So was it you Marlena, did you ask your lover’s wife to clear up your mess? Maybe Miss Durant threatened to tell somebody about your affair. Maybe she decided she wanted a bigger part in your film.”
“No, no,” said Marlena. “It was nothing like that, thank you. If I’d have murdered her, why would I have told you I heard a voice at six? It would have been better just to keep my mouth shut!”
“Well then if it wasn’t Marlena, maybe it was you Mr Cardwell? Maybe Miss Durant wanted to tell your wife, her poor friend Celia? Your wife is loving and faithful. If you asked her to go and move a body I’m sure she would.” suggested Miss Marple.
“No! I did not murder Miss Durant! As you said, she kept my secrets. I had no reason to murder her. I’d like to add that if I murdered her to stop my wife from finding out about my affair, then getting said wife to move the body would require a lot of explanation!” pointed out Mr Cardwell.
“So who else is left?” asked Miss Marple. “Who else would Celia do anything for, no questions asked? Someone who also has access to keys to the house? None other than Sarah-Jane Sampson.”
Miss Sampson, whose tears were now dry, did not speak for a moment. “I don’t believe this.”
“Celia Cardwell is your oldest friend, your most trusted friend. When you found out that your cousin Alfred with in love with Eleanor and planned to marry her, you just couldn’t let that happen. You loved Alfred, he was supposed to be yours. As children you had planned it. But you can’t help fate and you can’t predict the future.”
Miss Marple let out a small sad sigh. “What is this world coming to, when we can’t be happy for our friends and family?”
Dr. Foster frowned in confusion. “Well then, how did Miss Durant end up at the bottom of the stairs?”
“The latch on the dumb waiter on the first floor has always been untrustworthy. With a little investigation I discovered it had not been repaired. The pressure was too much and the body fell out and down the stairs. Also, and rather accidentally, providing Mrs Cardwell and Miss Sampson with an alibi.”
“Well I never,” said Doctor Foster.
“The police are on their way,” said Miss Marple. “Thank you for a… different weekend. I’ll come and visit you in the spring, Alfred.” With that, she packed away her knitting, picked up her small suitcase and left the room, closing it behind her.