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 Four: Dr. Daniel
Dr. Daniel looked at Cecil with tired tolerance. “You really are a sick man, you know. But we’ll leave that, for now; I’ve said it before. I can confirm Cecil’s alibi for Polly’s murder, Inspector. Polly was found strangled in her cottage at around seven, wasn’t she? And she was last seen in the village at six. Cecil was in my back room all that evening, starting at around five. I only wish he could confirm my alibi. I was, as it happens, doing some routine paperwork at a desk he could have seen from his bed. But he was dead to the world, so I don’t expect he did.”
Cecil grinned wolfishly. “I’ll give you an alibi if you like, Doc. Just say the word.”
Dr. Daniel ignored this. “And Cecil is right, I was worried about Sir Adam’s health. In fact, a week or so before his death, I got the results back for some tests I’d ordered. It—wasn’t good news. It looked like he had about a year left, and some of that was likely to be very painful. And when he died, I still hadn’t told him. I kept meaning to, but I put it off. When he fell out of that window and died, I felt the sweetest sensation of relief, because he was spared what was coming to him, and because now I’d never have to tell him.
“That was a strange night altogether. I saw the fire from my back garden, where I was out tending to my hydrangea bushes. I arrived at Clutterbuck Court no later than quarter past nine. I stood around, trying not to get in the way, until about ten-thirty, when I realized that the Elizabethan wing was about to collapse. Well, Sir Adam’s uncle Ulric had been living in the Elizabethan wing, and I thought that if he saw the collapse actually happen, he’d probably have some sort of fit. So I lured him away. As a doctor, you learn, in a general way, how to get your patients to do what you want. Some of them, at any rate,” he said, looking ruefully at Cecil. “Anyway, I’d come to understand Ulric’s psychology, so I said to him something like, I know where your nephew keeps his good whiskey, let’s go steal some. Made it sound mildly criminal, you know. It worked like a charm.”
Ulric grunted disgustedly.
“So,” said Dr. Daniel, “Ulric and I drank from that whiskey decanter at a little after ten-thirty. No poison in it then.”
A stunned silence followed this announcement.
“If you knew that already, Crowner—and you must have done—why on Earth have you been wasting our time with the earlier parts of the evening?” asked Annabelle, staring resentfully at the Inspector.
“I wanted to hear about the time leading up to the murder, Lady Annabelle. In fact, I still do, very much. Surely that’s not a waste of time. Did you have anything else you wished to add, Doctor?”
Doctor Daniel looked round unhappily. “Yes. There is just one thing I feel that I must say. I know that most of you disliked and even hated Sir Adam. I can’t say that he didn’t give you reasons for that—he did, and I know it! But he was a friend of mine, and I valued that friendship.” He blinked back the little brightness that had come into his eyes. “You have to understand, I’m a humble G.P. Always had a sneaking urge to try my hand at research, but no money, no genius, just a drudge. I’ve been the doctor here for thirty-five years. Thirty-five! What brain I had is all gone now, eaten up in colds, coughs, confinements, chronic alcoholism, farming accidents, all that run of the mill. But I still have my dreams. When Sir Adam came here—the man who’d solved the Fernissimus-Timpanum Problem—”
Ravi stirred uncomfortably, and opened his mouth to speak, but Crowner waved him to silence. “Later, sir. Later,” he said to Ravi. “Go on, Doctor.”
“I felt like a god had descended from heaven. He’d tackled a medical mystery that had baffled scientists for years, and he’d solved it. Oh yes, I valued his friendship. And he was so encouraging! I’d occasionally—quite diffidently, you know—outline my own theories on various medico-scientific subjects, and he’d listen so patiently, and then ask just one question—just one! That was our agreement, that I ask no more of him than that. And that one question would always seem so simple at first—almost stupid. But when I thought about it, and gave it the weight proper to a question asked by a scientist of Sir Adam’s stature, it always led me to realize something profound about the subject under discussion. You can say what you will about him, and God knows some of it is justified. But he was very patient with me. Only wish he’d been patient enough with me to walk me through his famous paper. I’d read it, of course, but with my limited intellect I just couldn’t get it. I’d ask him sometimes, but he always said—quite kindly!—that it would be painful for him, talking through all that with someone who’d never be able to grasp the finer points. He was really very nice about it, though I suppose it doesn’t sound like it.”
“I can’t stand any more of this, it’s horrible,” said Ravi, staring at Dr. Daniel with fascinated pity. “No, Inspector, really, it won’t do. Not for another second. Come here for a moment, Doctor.”
Dr. Daniel hesitated for the fraction of a second. Then he went and joined Ravi by the table. When he caught a glimpse of the papers Ravi had before him, he went rigid. He barely seemed to be breathing.
“Here is the proof of the Fernissimus-Timpanum Problem,” said Ravi, “written out roughly, but if you’ve studied the subject you should be able to follow. And look at this note here—and then at this note here—and just here, this is the critical bit. I think you’ll understand it just fine. Look.” He scribbled for a moment. “The miraculous thing about the problem is the simplicity of the solution, once you see it from the proper angle. Sir Adam never understood that, and his paper didn’t express it, because he hadn’t grasped its simplicity, and because he wanted it to be hard. It was more impressive to him if his paper was a bunch of long words and incomprehensible nonsense. His numbers were right, though, and his conclusions checkable, so somehow no-one noticed that his explanation was rotten all through. Perhaps no-one wished to admit that they couldn’t understand his paper.”
“Sir Adam didn’t solve the Fernissimus-Timpanum Problem,” said Dr. Daniel. It wasn’t a question. His face was white and waxy.
“No he didn’t,” said Ravi.
The room held its breath while Dr. Daniel stared down at the proof on the table in front of him in silence. “If Sir Adam were alive right now,” said Dr. Daniel at last, “I think I would kill him. I would kill him. Or perhaps, more unkind yet, I would not kill him. I would merely tell him in detail the stages of the disease that would soon take him. Oh my God.” And he sat down on the table and buried his face in his hands.
“As he’s dead already, all this seems a little beside the point,” said Ravi. “But you have my sympathy. Personally, I’m spiteful enough to hope he suffered. Did he?”
“Mmm? Oh! Yes. Yes, I suppose he must have done. That poison—cyanide, I believe—at that dosage—yes, it must have been painful,” said Dr. Daniel, looking a little more cheerful.
“Ah,” Ravi smiled. “Well, well.”
And strangely enough, there was no single voice to point out how wrong this line of thinking was. In fact, the idea that Sir Adam had suffered seemed to brighten the room up a bit.
“And now, Doctor,” said Crowner, “let’s have your suspicions, shall we?”
Dr. Daniel looked stubborn. “I’m sorry, Inspector, but no. I won’t help to hang the man who did this. No, not even if you wave Miss Polly’s murder at me. As you’ve said, that may be separate. I have no evidence that the person I suspect of Sir Adam’s death killed Miss Polly. I didn’t like accusing this person anyway, because I think Sir Adam treated him horribly, but I was going to do it, because I thought I owed the victim something. Now I find that he… no, I’ll say nothing.”
Eli grinned. “Awfully nice of you, Doctor, but I think we’d better have it out and look at it. Inspector, Dr. Daniel rather thinks I might have killed Sir Adam. He told me so himself, the day after the murder. I think his idea was that I’d fly the country. But, as I happen not to have done it, I stayed put.”