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Detective Sergeant Rod Barnes surveyed the remains of Manton Rempville monastery with incredulity. He’d heard that a hundred thousand pounds had been spent on preserving the ruins and he couldn’t understand why anyone would do such a thing. Ruins were ruins for a reason. The natural order of things, in Barnes’ mind at least, was gradual decay – preservation only delayed the inevitable, like applying skin cream to wrinkles or a new coat of paint to a rusting car. Besides, the ruins were open to anyone and there was no entry charge, so they were never going to get their money back.
Barnes stiffened slightly as he saw Detective Inspector Colin Knowles’ Land Rover chug into the car park and lurch to a halt too close to Barnes’ Morgan sports car for his comfort. He glanced down at the body and thought that Knowles, his boss, would find this crime scene interesting indeed. Barnes had heard that Knowles was on a new diet and that his latest culinary delight was vegetable kebabs cooked on his nearly new barbecue even in the depths of autumn.
Taking care not to get his highly polished shoes muddy, Barnes walked across the uneven grass as a low, cold wind whipped across the historical site, slightly disturbing his short, brown hair. He hadn’t seen much of Knowles in the past month as they’d both been away on holiday at separate times since the murders in Goat Parva. As he came towards him, Barnes noticed that even though the Inspector had lost weight, he still wasn’t able to tuck his Marks and Spencer shirt into his trousers.
“Good morning, sir, how are you today?”
“Fair to middling, Barnesy old son, the diet’s working well, nearly fifteen pounds lost.” Knowles gripped his much reduced stomach with some pride.
“How’s the gym going?”
“Gradually doing more on the treadmill, lifting a few weights, and getting some stretching done on those large blue balls they have. That’s not easy – those balls are bouncy as hell – I almost fell off the first few times I tried to lie on the thing. Anyway, not only can I see my toes now, but I can almost touch them too.”
“That’s good to hear, sir. The trick to keeping the weight off is by committing to a lifestyle change rather than thinking you’re on a diet.”
“Good point, Sergeant, lifestyle sounds very magazine-like though, very posh Sunday newspaper, but I know what you mean. Anyway, who do we have over there?” Knowles pointed in the direction of the photographer and Forensics team, who were investigating the crime scene.
The two men started to walk over to the eastern wall of the monastery’s refectory where the body had been found an hour earlier by Bingo the retriever, out on a long walk with his owner Adelaide Hills from Goat Parva. Both dog and owner were well known to the police from a few months before when Bingo had made a habit of finding bodies in the early morning.
“According to his credit cards, his name is Edward Pritchard; we are just running some computer checks to find out where he lives. It’s how he’s been killed that you will find interesting, sir.”
With his hands in his trench coat pockets, Knowles stood on the wall and looked down at the body lying on what would have been the refectory floor. Edward Pritchard had been run through with a sword and the handle was sticking out of his back on the left-hand side. Knowles smiled at Dr. Crabtree, the forensic doctor, who was examining the body.
“Dr. Crabtree, we have a real sword being used as a murder weapon?” Knowles would have rubbed his hands with glee if they hadn’t been warming up in his pockets.
“We do indeed, Colin, a very real sword. This is a heavy cavalry sword with a straight blade with one cutting edge whereas the other side has been thickened for greater strength. The blade is around three feet in length. It directly penetrated his heart and he would have died instantly.”
“Any prints on the handle?” Knowles looked hopeful when he said this.
“We’ll check back at the lab, Colin, can we move him now?”
“Yes, that will be all I think. We’ll be back at the station in an hour or so; could you have something by then in terms of fingerprints, time of death, and any ideas on a profile of who could have done it?”
“We’ll try, Colin – no promises, but we’ll try.”
“I presume the person who murdered Edward wasn’t aware of the type of sword they were using,” said Barnes, “because that’s a sword for slashing people with, not for running them through.”
“So, you would have expected a murderer who knew what he was using to have hit Edward here in the neck with the sharp side,” replied Knowles.
“Yes, sir, that’s correct.”
“So we’re looking for an ignorant murderer then? We show the suspects the sword and ask them how they would kill someone using the sword and those who opt for the neck slash are innocent?”
“They might be bluffing, sir, so we shouldn’t just use that as a method of elimination from our enquiries,” said Barnes, playing along with Knowles’ quite acerbic sense of humour.
“OK, we’ll just confine ourselves to telling the murderer, when we catch him, that he/she murdered Edward here in the wrong way. So where could the sword have come from? It’s not the sort of weapon you can easily conceal.”
“The nearest house is Manton Rempville Hall – you can see it just poking through the trees over there. That might be the best place to start.”
“Agreed – they probably maintain an assortment of weapons to keep the staff subdued and repel invasions by the local peasants in times of crisis. We should go there after visiting our oldest friend in Goat Parva, Mrs. Adelaide Hills, and her bundle of fun, Bingo.”
“It’s just like old times, sir.”
“Indeed it is, Barnesy. I just hope that this is the only body Bingo finds in this murder investigation.”
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Colin Knowles was lying on a beach in the Caribbean. He was drinking a mojito and soaking up the rays of the sun, while secretly admiring some of the local females. Slowly the eloquent cawing of the parrots in the trees turned into the ringing of his phone and intruded into his dream. Knowles tried to find the device without opening his eyes, but only succeeded in knocking his mint tea on to the floor. Eventually he located the phone and drew it slowly to his left ear.
“’Allo, who is this? It had better be good.”
Sergeant Rod Barnes gave Knowles a very good and brief reason why Knowles should come back from his reveries in the Caribbean to the realities of Manton Rempville Hall.
“When was this reported, Barnesy?” asked Knowles, checking the floor to see whether his tea had stained the carpet.
“Around 7:15a.m. by Fairfax,” replied Barnes.
“And everyone else will know because of the ambulance sirens, I suppose,” said Knowles, soaking up the excess tea with his bedside tissues.
“Yes, it was the first thing that Bunny Johnson mentioned to me – I am not convinced she is completely in touch with reality; sirens only after midday, what a ludicrous idea.”
“What was the weapon that was used by the way; it wasn’t the missing dagger, was it?”
“Kitchen knife, sir, straight out of the drawer.”
“Someone is taking the mickey out of us, Sergeant Barnes, unless this is the thief’s work and not the first murderer’s work.”
“That’s getting very complicated, Inspector, having one killer is bad enough, but the thought there’s competing murderers here is mind-boggling.”
“Indeed it is, Sergeant – I will be over in thirty minutes. Keep everyone happy until I arrive.”
“I will do my best, sir, I will do my best.”
Knowles put two rounds of rye bread in his toaster and took the low-fat cream cheese out of his fridge. Freddie the cat was miaowing his head off and circling around Knowles’ feet like a shark scenting blood. Knowles fed both cats from the can in the fridge door compartment. He ate his toasted bread and watched in amusement as Freddie gulped down his own food and then tried to eat Gemma’s too. Gemma hissed and Freddie retreated under Knowles’ chair, watching carefully until she had finished before daring to see whether there was anything left for him.
“You’re out of luck, Freddie old son, she’s finished everything,” said Knowles as Freddie looked glumly in his direction. Knowles finished his toasted rye and put the plate with the crumbs on down on the floor for Freddie to lick off voraciously.
Knowles brushed his teeth and put on his warm coat before exiting his house. The journey over to Manton Rempville Hall took ten minutes on a Sunday morning and he was soon heading down the drive towards the inexplicable topiary boxes. He saw Barnes standing in the turning circle with his hands on his hips. As Knowles brought his Land Rover to a halt, Barnes headed towards him.
“Now then, Barnesy, how bad is it?”
“Very clinical, sir, not brutal, but would have been instantaneous. The knife was pushed into the throat with force when the victim was asleep.”
“Right, let’s go and have a look.” The officers headed towards the coach house and climbed the stairs. All the other guests were in the Hall and the only people present were from the Forensics team. The ambulance had left once the death had been confirmed.
Knowles greeted Dr. Crabtree.
“Well, Kevin, we should really meet under nicer circumstances occasionally.”
Dr. Crabtree smiled and nodded in agreement.
“Indeed we should – oh, by the way, there was some dirt on the bottom of the handle of the sword, only a few faint specks but we found them…”
Knowles beamed, but indicated Dr. Crabtree should continue.
“…Anyway, the victim is Basil Fawcett and he has been neatly stabbed through the throat with a large kitchen knife, used for carving meat. No fingerprints at all, which suggests the killer cleaned the handle at some point. Basil would not have known a thing. He would not have made a noise. I understand Toby was in the next room and Henrietta was down the hallway. Both are distraught and are receiving counselling. Time of death around seven hours ago, approximately 1:30a.m.”
Knowles looked down at Basil and shook his head.
“Oh, Basil, you didn’t tell us something – what did you do when Toby and Henrietta went for their walk? Who did you see – who was outside the lower study window at 11:30p.m. – did you follow them and didn’t tell us?”
“Does this mean he saw the murderer or Edward Pritchard before he was killed?” asked Barnes.
“Unless this is a random attack then yes, I think it does mean that – I think we can safely say that Edward Pritchard was killed after 11:30p.m. and that his watch was smashed to give the murderer an alibi. Perhaps Pritchard was the figure outside the lower study that Basil saw.”
“Why can’t people just be totally open with us, sir?” asked Barnes almost beseechingly.
“Maybe Basil here was trying a little blackmail with the murderer?”
“But he had no guile, did he? Just think about how he hung around outside the interview room door and you saw his reflection in the window. He was genuinely surprised you’d seen him. Very naive.”
“Is there anything in his pockets or on his phone that we could use, such as a text or a phone number?”
“His phone has a passcode, which isn’t immediately obvious and his pockets revealed nothing.”
“Not immediately obvious, what does that mean?”
“Well, it’s not B-A-S-I-L, 12345, or 54321, for example.”
“Does his sister know his passcode?”
“She might, but she’s too upset right now, not surprisingly.”
Knowles nodded thoughtfully. He hoped that the phone would reveal some significant communication between Basil and the person who had murdered him.
“So, Barnesy, why did Fairfax find the body and not Henrietta or Toby?”
“He was rousing people for a planned trip to the golf course, which Basil had expressed an interest in. 8:30a.m. tee off time, apparently.”
“And Henrietta and Toby weren’t going?”
“Apparently not, sir.”
“I wonder if we shouldn’t go and look at Pritchard’s place and then come back here when everyone’s had a chance to eat breakfast and to absorb the news. I doubt that Henrietta would be in any fit state to answer our questions now, anyway.”
“That sounds like a plan, sir, and I would agree with you regarding Henrietta.”
“Thought you might, Barnesy.”
“Shall we go then? I will go and tell Sir Michael that we will be back in a couple of hours.”
“Sounds good, Sergeant, I will see you by the vehicles in a couple of minutes.”
Barnes smiled and left the room.
Knowles turned to Dr. Crabtree.
“Was there any sign of a struggle, at all?”
“None whatsoever, Colin, he was taken completely by surprise by the looks of it.”
“Nothing under the nails?”
“Nothing at all.”
“Right, well would you say the person who did this committed the first murder too?”
“It’s likely; don’t forget this killing was more surgical than the first and the knife was inserted from above into the throat really quickly.”
“And the place it was inserted suggests prior knowledge of how to kill people quickly?”
“No, not really, I couldn’t say that – the throat is the most vulnerable part of the anatomy if you’re in bed and your attacker has a knife. And that might be a clue because a strong man would have smothered Basil with a pillow.”
“There’d be noise though, Kevin, with a pillow and a struggle too, both of which might have woken up the neighbours.”
“I suppose so, Colin. Anyway, can we take the body away now?”
“Please do, Kevin.”
Dr. Crabtree’s assistant, who’d been hovering in the background, came forward and helped the doctor move the body on to the stretcher. The photographer took some pictures of the now empty bedclothes as Basil Fawcett began his last but one journey to the morgue at Scoresby police station.