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 Three: Cecil
The first time Bruce had mentioned his name, Cecil had stirred slightly. With every repetition, he seemed to grow more fully awake, until he finally sat up straight and looked at Bruce.
“What? Think I did it, do you? Well, I didn’t. So there.” And he closed his eyes again. They flew open a moment later. “Did you say digging?” He asked, fully awake now. “You’re onto that, are you? Damn. Not that it matters, now Sir Adam is dead. This gentleman—“ and he pointed at Leonard the solicitor, “says that the old will stands, and I get to keep my dear old cottage, so I don’t need the treasure, really. Still, it would have been nice.”
“Treasure?” Crowner wanted to make quite sure he’d heard this correctly.
“Sounds loony, don’t it? But unless someone’s already been at it, it ought to be there, all right. In King Charles’ day, the Clutterbucks buried a bunch of the stuff to keep the Roundheads from getting hold of it. But then everyone who knew anything specific about the matter died in the subsequent shindy, and there are just little suggestions here and there in the family annals. When I first came to live here, Adam and I—could never get used to the “Sir” business—used to look for it together, as a bit of a lark. Showed me all the family papers. He didn’t know I’d made notes. As soon as the old boy started in on this eviction nonsense, I got out the notes again and started to try to find the stuff in earnest. Figured that if I was really getting the boot, I’d need the money.
“I was digging the very night he snuffed it, come to think of it. Bruce is quite right, I didn’t turn up for the fire. No fear! You show up for a fire, what do you have to do? Help, that’s what. It’s all hold this hose, pass this bucket, rescue that infant. Not for me, thanks! No, as soon as I saw the flames licking round the old wing of the Court, I knew everyone else would be at the fire, and so I’d have a bit of time to myself at last. Thought I knew where the stuff was, y’see, only my latest idea wasn’t in a very private area, not a very private area at all. I’d been waiting for the opportunity to get at it.”
Wilhelmina looked up from what had appeared to be a deep mournful trance. “Then it was you,” she said, practically quivering with rage, “who dug up my late roses!”
Cecil smiled unrepentantly. “Yes ma’am, I’m really afraid it was. Y’see, your little plot of land used to be Clutterbuck property. Maybe it still is, I don’t know. Anyway, it was part of the estate. On all the old maps. There’s a suggestion… but never mind. Keep that to myself, in case I want to look for the treasure later on. You didn’t happen to stumble upon a chest or anything when you were planting the things, didya? Because if you did, only fair to give old Cecil a share.” And his smile widened, becoming ingratiating.
Crowner looked at Wilhelmina. She looked like she wanted to give Cecil something, all right, but probably not a share in any treasure. “Tell me more about the roses,” urged Crowner. “When did you notice they’d been disturbed?”
“The morning after the fire,” said Wilhelmina. “After Sir Adam’s death. I went outside to enjoy the sight of my roses in the first freshness of morning—I thought it might to some limited extent banish the horror of the image burned into my brain, of Sir Adam all blue and broken and dying on the terrace—and found a great big pit where once they had been. They’d been dealt with so brutally, I thought that some animal was responsible.” She looked suddenly chagrined. “I thought it was the Vicar’s dog,” she said. “I’m afraid I was rather rude about it.”
The Vicar made a vague, forgiving gesture of benediction at the room in general.
Cecil gave a thick chuckle. “I may be a dog,” he said, “but not the Vicar’s.” This pleased him, and he went on repeating it. “No, I wouldn’t say I was the Vicar’s dog. Not me. Ha ha!”
“Ha ha indeed, sir. So, you’d say you don’t have an alibi for Sir Adam’s death?” asked Crowner.
“I’d say I do! Took me quite a time to dig that pit, I can tell you. And those blasted roses were pretty solidly in there. Had to hack at them with my shovel.”
“Yes, they had very strong roots. Quite healthy plants. Thriving,” said Wilhelmina, gazing at Cecil with deep disgust.
“Exactly! Dashed nuisances.”
Wilhelmina growled. There was really no other word for it.
“But even if I don’t have an alibi for old Adam’s murder, I have quite a good one for Polly’s death. I was passed out in the back room of Dr. Daniel’s surgery, having had one or two too many. Often happens.” The casualness with which Cecil said this was, to Crowner’s way of thinking, rather chilling. He was a three-pint man himself, as a rule. Tonight, maybe it would be two. Maybe.
“The funny thing about Polly’s death,” said Inspector Crowner, “is that no-one seems to have done it. I’m not saying that everyone has an alibi, because that isn’t precisely true, but the ones who don’t have alibis are unlikely for other reasons. And it isn’t as if she was poisoned, which can be done well before the actual death. She was throttled. You have to be physically present to throttle someone,” he said, helpfully. “Also, we must consider the possibility, at least, that the deaths of Sir Adam and Miss Polly may be only very loosely related. Someone might have wanted to kill Miss Polly already, and decided that now would be a good time. Miss Polly’s killer might have hoped that we’d just assume that the killer of Sir Adam was Miss Polly’s murderer also. It has happened before. Hasn’t it, Mug?”
Sergeant Mug looked up from his notes and nodded. “It has,” he said. “Why, there was that case in—Devon, wasn’t it?—where we found three separate and distinct murderers. Nothing to do with each other, really—the first one just gave the other two the idea. Bit contagious-like, murder.”
“So, you see,” said Crowner, “even if we accept the doctor’s word for it that you were in no condition to commit a murder at the time of Polly’s death, that doesn’t necessarily put you in the clear for Sir Adam’s.”
This announcement seemed to have a dampening effect on the room in general, as lots of people realized that they were still suspects.
But Cecil was thinking of something else. “Speaking of the doctor, I think you’d better ask Dr. Daniel some questions about his attitude towards his friend and patient Sir Adam. You see, I’m a hopeless case. Liver shot. Nothing to be done, or so he says. Hasn’t slowed me down any. He says it will, though. Just what a doctor would say. They’re for temperance, the lot of them. Anyway, Dr. Daniel sometimes talks a bit freely to me, seeing as he thinks I’ll be dead soon, and lately he’s been worrying himself over Sir Adam.” And he jabbed Dr. Daniel in the ribs. “Better tell ‘em about it, what?” he said. And he closed his eyes and settled back to listen.
I’m with Wilhelmina on this one: any man who would dig up roses is certainly a likely murderer. On the other hand, who in their right mind would murder for gain when they could dig up buried treasure instead?
I know! I’d be furious, too. And he isn’t even sorry! I tend to sort of let my characters talk when I write things (as lots of people do), so I can say without it being too weird (I think) that I was mildly shocked by his behavior and attitude. Not that I don’t plan points that I need my characters to cover, because I do, but their personalities are often a bit of a surprise.
I agree that buried treasure is much more attractive than murder, and Cecil does seem to believe pretty fervently in its existence. So, he probably didn’t do it, unless his belief in the treasure is feigned.
Cecil’s easy admission of his deplorable behavior and his unrepentant manner regarding his boorish offenses lead me to believe he’s not a viable suspect for Sir Adam’s murder. And if Dr. Daniel confirms Cecil’s story about the day of Miss Polly’s murder, I think he’s off the hook. True, he would lose his home if Adam were still alive, but given enough time, I think he was sufficiently motivated to find that supposed treasure — if it exists — on the Clutterbuck property. Either that or die of liver failure.
Yeah, he doesn’t seem the likeliest killer. And, I mean, if I had a drinking problem like his, and if that drinking problem caused me to say things I shouldn’t say in pubs (as Cecil’s entry from last year has him doing), I’d be especially unwilling to commit a murder, because I’d know I’d probably blab about it later. But it all comes down to how much he really believes that the treasure exists.
I like characters like Cecil. Bluntly honest, not too bright, certainly not smart enough to commit murder or another involved crime unless it was on someone’s order. He could certainly be a villain, but not an irredeemable one.
I enjoy this kind of character, too. And you have got exactly what I was going for, here.