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 Twenty: Timothy
“Don’t be foolish, Timothy,” said Stella. “Of course you do. And you’re not going to be able to keep all that a secret, so it may as well come out now.” She turned to Crowner. “Inspector, Timothy was quite a good friend of Sir Adam’s. They knew each other from school, and Timothy was a frequent visitor to Clutterbuck Court during the years of our marriage. He was also, back then, a wealthy young man, and liked to toss his money about. One thing he tossed his money into was a tontine, which he and Sir Adam and some other bright lads thought would be such a lark back in ’09.” She turned back to Timothy and examined him critically. “From the look of you, I expect you’d like that money tossed back at you just now.”
Timothy laughed unpleasantly. “Not just that money, girlie. Don’t you try to cheat me. I’m the last one alive, and that tontine is all mine, all for little Timothy, and it’s back to the high life for me with the funds.”
“You’ll spend it in a week,” said Stella.
Timothy smiled a broken-toothed smile at her. “Well, it will be a damn good week, anyhow. Haven’t had a damn good week in a damn long time.”
Crowner blinked. “Are you saying,” he queried, “that Sir Adam was the last thing standing between Timothy and a sizable fortune?”
“That’s a motive!” crowed Mug.
“Can you,” asked Crowner, “prove an alibi for the time of Sir Adam’s murder? Or for the murder of Miss Polly?”
“Hoy!” cried Timothy.
“Well, can you?” asked Crowner.
“I’m not in touch with recent events. When were these murders committed?”
“Sir Adam was killed a week ago. He was poisoned at between 10:30 and 11 PM on the night of the big fire.”
“Ha! I’m clear. I wasn’t around a week ago,” said Timothy.
“That’s a lie, for one thing,” said Cecil, coming out of what appeared to be a light dose.
Timothy looked at Cecil in a wounded manner. “You wouldn’t,” he whined. “Not to an old friend.”
“I would, though,” said Cecil.
Timothy made some comments on Cecil’s character.
“Nasty,” said Cecil mildly. He turned to Crowner. “Timothy showed up at my cottage door two weeks ago, looking for a place to stay while he negotiated a tontine settlement with Sir Adam. I told him it was no go. Didn’t want him looking over my shoulder when I found the treasure, to be perfectly candid with you. Didn’t like the look of my dear old friend, and anyway I wasn’t thinking of sharing my little haul with anyone. Didn’t know he’d stuck around. Thought he’d beat it. Hadn’t thought of…” Cecil shuddered “…camping.”
“Why didn’t you just call on Sir Adam at once?” Crowner asked Timothy.
Timothy scowled. “I’m not saying a damn thing,” he said. “Refuse to be questioned—impertinent jack-in-office—won’t put up with it! I’m a rich man, or anyway I will be, and I’ll soon show you who can push whose face in what.”
Cecil smiled. “Always has a chip on his shoulder, our Timothy,” he said lazily. “The type of chip changes, but the chip itself remains. I expect at the moment he hates policemen. When he’s rich, he’ll hate tramps. Versatile chap. But I expect I can answer your question, Inspector. Timothy knew that if he wasn’t damn careful about his approach, Sir Adam would say no to a split. Sir Adam wasn’t in need of money. The need was all on Timothy’s side. That was exactly the sort of fact that Sir Adam was good at noticing.”
Fred snorted. “That’s true enough,” he said bitterly.
“I expect what our Timothy really wanted,” said Cecil, “was something that would put him one up in his discussion with Sir Adam. He’s probably been spying. Of course, he might have just been waiting to murder Sir Adam. I’m not saying he didn’t do it.”
“You filthy sot!” Timothy exploded. “What business is it of yours to go takin’ policemen into your confidence? Turnin’ me away from your door was bad enough—but if you had your own game on, I can see why you did it. But buried treasure! You must have gone soft! Kids’ stuff. Do you know, you miserable old drunk, what I’ve been doin’ for the past two weeks? Livin’ rough, that’s what. And if you think I like it, let me tell you I do not! I’ve had a rotten time!”
Timothy continued, seeming to get swept up into his grievance. “After you turned me away, I snuck into the Elizabethan wing of the Court. Adam and I used to explore it, in the old days. I had a pretty good idea of where would be most snug. I was making my way there when I practically ran smack into some grumbling, half-crazy old man. He was walking along the hallway, talking to himself. Hadn’t time to hide, but he walked straight past me, like either he was a ghost or I was. And that’s how I found out that the place was inhabited! And of course, the old louse had snuggled down into the place I’d earmarked for myself. Only place where the rain doesn’t come in. Or anyway, not much.
“But I knew the ruins well, and I found a spot where I’d be inconspicuous for a bit while I thought things out. I started to get quite interested in the old fellow’s conversation. He was always tellin’ his servants about how he’d do in ‘young blighted Adam.’ Well, I didn’t mind if he did, see? I was hoping to find Sir Adam in a good mood and talk him round, but someone putting a knife in him would do just as well. I liked to hear the old man talk. Seemed like the only problem he saw was that he’d only be able to kill Sir Adam once. Depressed him, rather. Still, he seemed to have plenty of murder in him.”
Ulric growled. “Filthy spy,” he said. “Thought I smelt something livin’ in the walls. Heard ya thumpin’ about, too. Thought it was rats. Not far wrong, hey?”
“And your tobacco,” said Timothy, his wrongs seeming to grow before his eyes in the telling, “must be some special brand. Pyromaniac’s Delight or something. I’d just lit up when the place was all over sparks. Seconds later, my little nest was on fire. I barely escaped with my life! I’ve half a mind to take you to law.”
“Burned down my wing? Why—” Ulric leapt at Timothy’s throat.
In a flash, Mug was beside the two men. His arms moved; Ulric grunted and sat down suddenly.
“That’s right, sir,” said Crowner, “have a sit-down. No—” as Ulric made to rise, “really, it won’t do. You really shouldn’t try to strangle people in front of the police. It confuses them.”
“I’ll make a complaint! This man tried to kill me! Have him up before the beak! Assault! Attempted murder! Arrest him!” Timothy cried, dancing from foot to foot.
“Quite, sir,” said Crowner. “But, as he could easily bring several charges himself—trespassing, theft of property, arson—I think it is in your best interests to be magnanimous here. Tell us what you did after you escaped the fire.”
“What else could I do?” Timothy said sullenly. “I scrambled up into the woods. Had a bit of a sit and a quiet think. Got chased out by some sickening young couple, spent the rest of the night on my feet, finally found myself a nice abandoned shed to settle in around sunup. Walked out of it next day to realize it was right next to the bally gamekeeper’s cottage, so shifted again. Was hoping for somewhere with a roof, at least, and a bit of privacy. But the shed by the graveyard is full of rotten old coffins—not nice when a chap is already dispirited, I tried it one night and couldn’t sleep for staring at the things and thinking—and the one by the orchard is haunted. Anyway, that one is awfully close to some rotten old pile, and I didn’t think I’d go unnoticed for long.
“So I’ve been sleepin’ under the stars. And every time I found a decent camp site, this louse—” and he pointed at Ollie, “would come round and find me, and I’d have to shift again, quick.”
“Haunted?” asked Crowner. “What do you mean by that?” He’d had cases with ghosts in them before, and he took them seriously.
“I mean, I approached it, at close on midnight, in the pouring rain by the way, hoping to get in out of the wet. The sounds I heard comin’ from the place entirely put me off. Bangings and rattlings. And the place was all boarded up. So I thought, whatever’s in there, I don’t want any part of it. I went away again without asking questions. It was a day or two after Sir Adam’s death, and I was feeling creepy anyway.”
“A day or two after Sir Adam’s death,” repeated Crowner. “That brings up a very interesting point, doesn’t it? Why on Earth did you stay in the neighborhood? You could claim the tontine from anywhere.”
Timothy looked wary once more. “That’s my business,” he said.
Crowner looked at him. “Sometimes, I just know things. Mug, don’t I sometimes just know things?”
Mug nodded. “It’s uncanny.”
“I have a feeling that you know something about this crime, and you’ve been waiting in the offing for a good chance to turn that knowledge into money.”
“Oh, I know something, do I? Did your feeling tell you what?” jeered Timothy.
“Miss Polly claimed to know something, and she was murdered for her pains,” said Crowner. “And she was probably only bluffing. I wonder how long you’ll survive, if we don’t catch the killer this evening. I wonder,” Crowner continued, thinking of Timothy’s inability to sleep in a shed full of coffins, “if we’ll find your body when it is still relatively fresh, or whether the worms will have been at you.”
Timothy went pale, but his lips remained stubbornly sealed. Crowner looked at him closely. No, he wouldn’t talk. No point in applying pressure. Still, it was both encouraging and frustrating, to know that the solution to the mystery was probably locked in Timothy’s unlovely mind. If he could figure it out, surely Crowner could, too.
Or had it been dumb luck? Had Timothy seen something he wasn’t meant to see? Crowner thought of Leonard’s statement, about finding a half-buried vial in the woods. That was it. Timothy’d seen who buried it. Crowner would have made a small wager on it. For now, Timothy could be left to stew. Crowner was smiling as he turned to Ulric.
“And now, sir,” he said, “Let’s hear from you. It was interesting, watching you trying to strangle Timothy. Miss Polly was strangled.”