Hello, and welcome to my 2023 A to Z Blogging Challenge! For a detailed explanation of what I’m up to this year, see my Theme Reveal. But basically, I’m taking all the suspects I made up for my A to Z last year (with help from several commenters!) and putting them all into an actual murder mystery. See the sidebar for links to last year’s posts; if your device doesn’t display sidebars (if, for example, you are visiting on your phone), the links will be under the comment section, right under my A to Z 2023 participation badge.
Chapter Eighteen: Ravi
Ravi looked round the room, seeming to derive a good deal of quiet enjoyment from the effect his words had produced. “What surprises me,” he said, “is that anyone here is surprised. My little act of housebreaking seems to me like a thing that should pass without remark at this point in the proceedings. But I wasn’t after the silver or anything, you know. I just wanted my own property back.
“You see, Sir Adam, when we were students together at Oxford, stole not only the credit for the solution of the Fernissimus-Timpanum problem from me, but he also stole all of my notes. All of them. He appears not to have been fussy. Just took everything that looked at all science-y from my rooms. He had the chance to do this because I was called back home unexpectedly when my father fell ill. I was away for rather longer than I’d thought I would be, or I would have done more to secure my property, I hope. Though I was very naïve in those days.” And he shook his head in wonder.
“By the time I came back to England,” Ravi continued, “Sir Adam had not only published my solution as his own, he was on the honours list for a knighthood. That seemed to settle the matter. I didn’t think anyone would believe me, not after the thing had gotten so official as a knighthood. And unfortunately the professor who ought to have known, known absolutely, that the solution was my work and not that of Sir Adam, had…” he winced, “views on Indians. He would have been only too eager to believe Sir Adam’s claims, I’m afraid. So I couldn’t expect any help there.
“I let the matter drop. I was on the point of returning to India, after graduation, but then I met my wife. Her family comes from my own village, but she herself never lived anywhere but London, and she did not wish to leave. So I stayed. My wife and the boys help out in my little lab now, at home, and I have good connections with several of the colleges. My life was placid, and I was doing useful work. I was fairly contented. Until just lately, that is.
“Lately, I have come up against a brick wall in my research. And the maddening thing is, I know I’ve solved it before, in one of the notes that Sir Adam scooped up along with my F-T research.” And he tapped the sheaf of papers on the table, looking affectionately down at them. “For the first three months, I assumed I’d solve it again, given time. But perhaps my brain is not quite so good now as it was when I was a young man. I have not been able to solve it.
“I have been falling to pieces from sheer frustration. I am cantankerous, I quarrel with my colleagues, I criticize my wife’s cooking. My children, formerly very beautiful in my eyes, now look shockingly plain. I cannot think of anything but the one thing I cannot solve, and I can make no progress with that.
“I wrote to Sir Adam, many times, asking for the return of my notes—at least the part I needed. I received no reply. In desperation, then, I came down here, and tried to approach him in person. We had a very fiery quarrel in his office a few days before his death—which seems, at least, to put me in good company.” And he nodded politely to the room at large. “The man told me he didn’t know me, had never met me before, and that he’d throw me out bodily if I approached him again. And all the time, I knew that he knew he was lying, and he knew that I knew it. But he seemed to think that if he shouted loudly enough, he could make what he was saying true. Or anyway that is the best theory I have come up with so far.
“After the quarrel, I went back to the Inn and waited my chance. While I was in the office, I’d noticed that one of the panels in the wall was slightly out of true. I suspected that it concealed a safe. I also thought that if the papers weren’t in the safe already, they probably would be shortly, now I was making a fuss about them. When I saw the guests arriving for dinner that night, I thought I had a good two hours, at least, to try my hand at a break-in. Getting in through the window was simple, and I was right about the panel, there was a safe behind it. But, of course, it was locked.
“That didn’t worry me much. I knew, as Lady Annabelle also seems to have known, that Sir Adam would use only the most simple and memorable of combinations. Why, he had a locking piece of luggage with him at Oxford, and it opened to 1-2-3-4. I thought the most likely combination would be 1-4-1-4, actually. 1 for A, 4 for D, 1 for A, and then 13 for M, which he’d add up to 4. A-D-A-M. Well, that wasn’t right, and so I settled in to try other combinations. And then I heard a noise in the hall. This young man, I expect, coming to try his own luck with the safe. I was out the window in a flash.” And he nodded. “Haven’t moved so fast as that in a long time,” he said, with satisfaction.
“I see, sir,” said Crowner. “And…do you have any alibis? I think you know the critical times. Ten-thirty to eleven on the tenth, and between six and seven on the thirteenth.”
Ravi shrugged. “Not much by way of alibis, I think. The night of the tenth, I was sitting over a beer with Yuri at the Inn—we’ve become good friends, you know, being two mysterious strangers staying at a country Inn. Also, we have some scientific interests in common, though our fields are rather different. But he is an explorer, and an explorer and a scientist can always find things to talk about. We saw the smoke from the fire, and strolled up the lane to the cemetery gate, where we could get a good look at what was happening. We talked about going to help, but we both felt—rather shy about coming to Sir Adam’s notice. As soon as we’d made sure that other people were seeing to the blaze, we went back to the Inn. By ten-thirty, I was in bed.
“The evening of Miss Polly’s death, Yuri and I were taking a long country ramble. But, of course, we might be accomplices.”
“I see, sir. And now—is there anything more you’d like to mention?” asked Crowner.
For the first time, Ravi’s quiet confidence deserted him. He looked slightly miserable. “Well, no, but I suppose I’d better.” He turned to Stella. “I’m sorry to put you in an awkward position, especially as I am rather a fan of your charming mystery novels, but I recognized you at once as the young lady who used to visit Sir Adam in the lab sometimes. I understand… you married him later.” He stared fixedly into the middle distance as he spoke, as if determined not to make any embarrassing eye contact with any affected parties. “I understand,” he continued reluctantly, “there was a child.”
Ingrid gave a little scream. “Are you saying,” she asked with a wild note in her voice, “that Stella Slaughter is my mother?”