Chapter Sixteen: Polly #AtoZChallenge 2023 Who Killed Sir ABC?

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 Sixteen: Polly

“As you all know by this time,” Crowner began, “Miss Polly was the anonymous letter writer who has been plaguing the village.”

“Really, we should have known,” said Stella. “I should have known, at any rate. I was her next-door neighbor. And I knew she spied. I got the wall between our houses built up to twelve feet, just so she couldn’t peer at me through my downstairs windows. It makes the place dreadfully dark, but it was better than the alternative.”

Crowner eyed Stella with interest. “But you never guessed she was the poison pen?” He asked.

“No, Inspector, I did not.”

“Did anyone suspect Miss Polly of being the poison pen writer?” Crowner asked the room at large. No-one spoke. “You see, it is rather important,” he continued, “because our theory—or one of two possible theories—is that someone did suspect. The killer suspected, in fact. Or perhaps the killer knew.

“You see, Miss Polly did a very foolish thing after Sir Adam’s murder. We have evidence that she sent out three identical anonymous letters. At least three—there may have been more. This is all from the evidence of the blotting paper we found in a locked drawer in her cottage. She must have gone to the fire, seen Sir Adam’s death, and come home full of her idea. She must have written her letters at once. The next morning, she went into a nearby market town and dropped the letters into a secluded postbox. They arrived the next day, we think. And the day after that, she was murdered.

“The letters all said the same thing. Mug, read the reconstructed message from your notes.”

Sergeant Mug flipped open his notebook. “The message begins abruptly at the head of the page,” he said. “Here it is. ‘I saw you poison Sir Adam. When I’m ready, I will tell the police who you are, and you will hang. An eye for an eye, says the Lord. Of course, suicide is wicked, but I wonder if it is so bad as hanging. A thought for the day.’” He looked up. “Nasty,” he said with professional interest. “High-class stuff. No profanity. Makes it worse, somehow.”

Crowner nodded. “Yes, I think it does.” He looked round the room. “The note is the first piece of evidence we’ve gathered. There is another document, too, which I’d like you all to hear. Mug, do you have Miss Polly’s diary?”

Mug looked offended. “Of course, chief. Here it is. And I think I know the bit you want. It is from the 7th. ‘Went into town today to mail my nice letters. You know what I mean. But—it was too awful!—just after I dropped my little love-notes in the box, I turned around—and there was Sir Adam! He nodded and passed on, utterly uninterested in an old lady—but one of my love-notes was to him! When he gets it—will he think of me then, I wonder? Or will I still be a quite irrelevant old lady? I sometimes almost think I shouldn’t have started writing my little admonishments. But the world is so wicked. Shouldn’t it have some Workers in Light about, to chastise sin?’ Is that the part you mean, sir?”

“Yes, it is,” said Crowner. “And we have Hattie’s report that there was a pair of gloves, conjecturally belonging to Miss Polly, left in Sir Adam’s office. Did he, in fact, realize who had sent him that letter? Did he threaten to expose her, in that interview? And—here is a really fascinating question—could it have been Miss Polly herself who poisoned Sir Adam’s whiskey? And, if so, who killed Miss Polly?”

For a moment, there was dead silence in the room.

“Yes, I know,” said Crowner, nodding. “Tantalizing possibility, isn’t it? We can’t rule it out, not absolutely, with the evidence we have so far. Did anyone see Miss Polly at the fire?”

Dr. Daniel nodded. “Yes, I noticed her.”

“Was it before or after you and Ulric went in for your drink?”

Dr. Daniel looked thoughtful. “She was there beforehand, I think, though I can’t be absolutely sure. She was a shy, retiring thing, and tended to stay at the edges of crowds.” He made a face. “I can tell you that she was there when Sir Adam died. Oddly unpleasant, that. I was working on him, trying to figure out what had happened, and if there was anything to be done for the man, when I felt a presence looming above me. Looked up, and there was Miss Polly, staring down at Sir Adam, her eyes bulging from her head, and her tongue licking her lips in a manner that suggested to me she’d lost track, in her excitement, of what her face was doing. That’s the kind of thing doctors notice, you know. Anyway, she wasn’t the only curious one, but everyone else was standing back a bit. She was practically stepping on him. And then when I looked up at her, she croaked at me. ‘Dead? Is he dead? Oh, wicked, wicked!’ She was almost dancing, hopping from foot to foot, in her agitation.”

“Was it agitation, sir?”

Dr. Daniel stared. “I certainly thought so at the time.”

“Could it have been triumph?”

“I don’t—oh, you mean if she poisoned him. I see. All I can tell you is how it struck me at the time.”

“Keep in mind what we are theorizing,” said Crowner. “It is only a theory, and not a very probable one. But it must be explored along with the others. Consider. It seems possible that Sir Adam found out that Miss Polly was the poison pen. We know he could have done that—the diary entry—and we think that Miss Polly met with Sir Adam in his office, shortly before his death—the gloves. That means that Miss Polly had an excellent motive for the murder of Sir Adam. From what I know of Sir Adam’s character, he probably wouldn’t expose her, or not right away, at any rate. He might have taunted her—or he might even have thought to use her as an instrument. He’d have another string to pull then, another way of bringing pressure to bear on the people around him, if he could decide who got a poison pen letter and what it said.”

“I don’t see that, Inspector,” said Dr. Daniel. “Wouldn’t it have been less trouble, if Sir Adam wanted people to receive poison pen letters, to write them himself?”

Crowner and Mug exchanged looks. “It’s a matter of style, sir,” said Mug, quite kindly. “You sit down and try to write one now. Hard to get the tone, if it isn’t in you already.”

“Yes,” said Crowner, “that sort of thing is best left to the professionals. But let us assume that Sir Adam had recently told Miss Polly that he knew her secret. For the first time, someone knew! She might well have felt so threatened by this fact that murder would seem like an attractive option. And think back to that moment, when she stood over Sir Adam. You say she was agitated. I say that, whether she murdered him or not, she must have felt ecstatic. The man who knew her secret was dead! She was safe once again.”

“Ecstatic,” said Dr. Daniel, looking mildly disgusted. “Well, perhaps she was. It isn’t inconsistent with what I saw. But as you say, she’d be ecstatic whether she’d killed him or no, so that proves very little, even if you’re right. And I don’t see why she wrote the letters if she was guilty.”

“All I can say,” said Crowner, “is that poison pen writers are twisted creatures, and capable of some very surprising actions indeed. I don’t see that as a fatal weakness in the case against Miss Polly. No, the real puzzle is, if Miss Polly killed Sir Adam, why did someone kill Miss Polly? If she didn’t kill Sir Adam, Miss Polly’s murder is easily explained. One of her letters was sent to the real killer, and that person, feeling mortally threatened, figured out who the letter was from, and killed Miss Polly before she could speak. He—or she, of course—wouldn’t know that more than one letter had been sent out. He’d assume she knew.”

Crowner looked round the room. “How many people here got at least one of Miss Polly’s letters? I don’t mean this last one, I mean, have you ever received a nasty anonymous letter in the mail, any time in the past couple of years.”

No one moved.

“Don’t worry, I’m not going to ask you what they said,” said Crowner. “I dislike poison pen writers almost as much as blackmailers, and have no intention of furthering Miss Polly’s work of destruction.”

This time, hands went up. Eli, Ingrid, Quinton, Cecil, Stella, and Dr. Daniel, then Fred and Josephine, then Annabelle, then Wilhelmina and the Vicar, then finally Leonard. The people who didn’t have hands up eyed one another in wonder.

“She was fairly complete,” said Crowner, nodding. “Most of the local people, minus the ones she may have considered beneath her notice. Miss Zoe, you didn’t get one? That surprises me a little.”

Zoe looked like Crowner’s words had recalled her from some astral journey. “I never open letters,” she said, with fine scorn. “Unless I’m guided.”

“I see. And now,” Crowner eyed the crowd, “I’m going to ask you a question you won’t like answering, but I beg you to consider doing so. Remember, we know that she sent out at least three identical letters the day after Sir Adam’s death, accusing three different people of the murder. She was acting either from no information at all or from some very incomplete information—or, of course, if she killed Sir Adam herself, she was acting from some other desire difficult to categorize. If you—any of you—received a letter like the one Mug read to you, I ask you to say so.”

For a moment, there was dead silence in the room. Then, Quinton sighed deeply and spoke. “I got one,” he said.




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  1. OK. Something in the diary entry changed my mind about who killed Sir Adam.


  2. Miss Polly and her righteous zeal were vile. I believe her meeting with Sir Adam was about reaching an agreement about cooperating in light of their ability to mutually destroy each other by exposing the other’s secret/s. So, no, I don’t believe Polly murdered him.

    The list of people who never received a letter from Polly (barring the last one) is enlightening also. It makes me wonder who among them might have received the other a You-killed-Sir-Adam letters. Bruce, perhaps? Timothy? Ulric? Xavier? Might she have used information from Sir Adam to decide whom to accuse?

    I’m a little surprised Quinton got one, but that may have been a stab in the dark because of Miss Polly’s sense of outrage about his sexual orientation.

    In any case, I’m eager to hear what Quinton has to say!

    • She really was a vile person, yes. And it seems like a strong possibility that she and Sir Adam would come to some understanding.

      Of course, the people who say they’ve never received a letter may still be lying… and I love the notion that Polly’d use information from Sir Adam to decide who to accuse. That is a strong possibility.

      I think Miss Polly wouldn’t realize Quinton’s sexual orientation unless Sir Adam told her… but he may well have done so, in their fateful meeting. In which case, she probably would send him a nasty letter. But I think that the other, older anonymous letters Quinton received from Miss Polly would be pretty wide of the mark. Maybe suggesting that he’d gotten Ingrid pregnant or something. I’m considering working that in, in today’s post, but the post is already awfully long, and I may not find the right place for it.

      I am using your notion of Quinton’s situation, as you’ll see–but I’ve changed some of the plot bits. Thanks again!

  3. I love Mug’s comment about how hard it is to write one if you haven’t got it in you… But I maintain that Sir Adam did have that sort of toxin in him, and could have written his own, no problem. I think the real issue is that he just liked manipulating other people to do his dirty work, and wouldn’t have passed up the opportunity to wield the poison pen with someone else’s hands.
    As for who did or did not receive the letters, I think it has more to do with Polly’s prejudices and snooping than with the actual recipients themselves. Still, there’s also the question of whether they are all telling the truth (most likely denying receiving a letter out of guilt and shame, but also potentially claiming to have received one to lead us astray from the fact that they, too, were writing letters, or something like that).
    Finally, it occurs to me that I, too, open letters only when guided… But I’m sure I would feel guided to open a hand-addressed envelope postmarked from my own town.

    • You may be right, he was pretty nasty, and maybe he could have written his own. But if you already have an active poison pen in the district, it is probably more elegant or something to make her do your work. And, as you point out, more fun, for someone with Sir Adam’s ideas about fun.
      Yes, we don’t know if everyone is telling the truth here.
      I see your point about the guiding, but Zoe may have different spiritual criteria than we would. “Only envelopes with cheques in them; nothing else really resonates on the proper spiritual plane.” Something like that. Or, of course, she may just not want to admit that she’s received an anonymous letter.

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