Homicide at the Hydro – Part 10
Wentworth Falls, New South Wales
Continued from last Sunday …
Mildred stumbled back to reception in the dark and set the Tilley lamp on her desk. The telephone was ringing and in the darkness seemed louder and more urgent. She picked it up at once: ‘Hello, Hydro Majestic Hotel, good evening can I help you? Mildred speaking …’
‘Hi Milly, it’s Jan at the exchange, I’ve got the police on the line from Katoomba—what have you been up to you naughty girl? Ha ha …’
Milly blushed in spite of herself, ‘Nothing at all Jan, do put them through.’
‘Hello is that the Hydro? It’s Sergeant Starr here at Katoomba Police, I’ve rung a couple of times—is everything alright there?’
‘Err … y-yes Sergeant, it’s Mildred Prior here—the receptionist. I’m afraid our power has failed and we’ve been a bit, um, preoccupied.’
Just then, Foy the manager arrived with candelabra. ‘Who are you speaking to?’ he demanded.
Mildred screamed in fright, ‘Ahhh!’ and almost dropped the receiver, ‘Mr Foy you gave me ever such a fright. I thought you were a ghost! It’s the police: Sergeant Starr.’
Foy was perplexed, ‘The police? Give me that receiver, quick.’
How on earth do they know so quickly? Foy thought to himself. ‘Hello, it’s Foy here the manager, how did you know …’
Starr cut him off. ‘Listen Foy, I’ve had a call from a Mr Hugh Ward, who’s presently down at the Hotel at Lawson, claims he’s Nellie Melba’s manager—you know him? Says he’s tried to ring there a couple of times and got no answer; where’s your receptionist been? I’ve rung a couple of times meself.’
Foy slapped his forehead in frustration, he’d forgotten about the delayed arrival of Dame Nellie in the ensuing chaos. He shot a furious glare at Mildred. ‘Yes I know him Sergeant, we’ve been wondering where Dame Nellie is. We’ve also got Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and family staying with us, and …’
Once more, Sergeant Starr interrupted Foy, ‘Okay well listen, we’ve got a serious bushfire problem down below Wentworth Falls that’s crossed the highway, so no traffic’s getting through in the foreseeable future. Gotta go, we’re very busy tonight. Okay?’
‘Hang on Sergeant, before you ring off! We’ve got another problem here, besides no power … I’m afraid there’s been a death!’
Richard (Dick) Wesley ran out of the main gates of the Hydro, and started stumbling along the highway by the side of the sandstone fence that bordered the hotel grounds. Dick had never been known to perpetrate violence before. Consequently, his own actions perplexed him. He was still crying as he crossed the railway bridge, making his way towards Blackheath.
‘Time for a fresh start,’ he said to himself between sobs, ‘they don’t appreciate me here anyway; catch The Fish in the morning down to Sydney. That’s the place to do God’s work—no more Sir Dick or Saint Dick from the plebs hereabouts. At least that spiritualist blighter Doyle won’t be spreading any more evil.’
Constable Joe Morey was just sitting down to a late supper at the Blackheath Police Station residence, when the phone rang. His wife groaned, ‘Oh no, who can that be now? You’ve just got back from that ruckus at the Gardner’s Inn.’
‘I don’t quite recognise the ring,’ Joe replied giving his wife a wink. ‘Never mind love, I’ll deal with whoever it is quickly.’ However, they were Constable Morey’s famous last words.
‘Hello, Blackheath Police, Constable Morey speaking.’
‘G’day Joe, or should I say good evening, it’s Ernie Starr here at Katoomba … enjoying the heat?’
‘How are you, Boss? How’s the fire doing down at Wenty—keeping you busy? Need some help I presume?’
‘Jeez, you can say that again Joe! Nah, not with the fire mate. Listen, there’s been a death at the Hydro. Had Foy the manager on the blower—isn’t he a slippery cove! Anyway, the lights have failed there and apparently there was a disturbance in the kitchen and the head chef’s had some sort of accident; bashed his head or something—seems a bit queer. Now I’m reasonably sure that it’s simply a case of death by misadventure, but that’s not how it looks … at the moment. I know this could be outside of your area of responsibility, but, could you slip down there and sort things out? Just at the moment we’re flat strap and I haven’t got anybody to spare.’
‘Struth Boss!’ Joe replied, ‘Didn’t Barton our first Prime Minister turn up his toes there at the Hydro about twelve months ago? It was your blokes who had to deal with that. This might be a bit sticky!’
‘Yeah, well if it’s a bit of a mystery, ask Sir Arthur Conan Doyle for assistance. He’s staying there at the moment.’ Ernie Starr said with tongue in cheek. ‘He’s on some lecture tour about spiritualism. You know, the bloke that writes those Sherlock Holmes detective stories—read any of them?’
‘Aw not really Sarg—are you serious?’ Joe asked incredulously.
‘Yeah, fair dinkum! Not only that we’ve got Dame Nellie Melba the op’ra sheila presently waiting at Lawson ’til the fire menace passes, so she can meet Sir Arthur for dinner. Very, la de bloody da!’
In the dining room at the Hydro Majestic Hotel, the Mayor enlightened Sir Arthur’s table as to the state of affairs in the kitchen. Sir Arthur and his wife sat open-mouthed as the Mayor recounted the altercation between the drunken chef and the other staff members; resulting in the chef’s unfortunate demise. The Mayor also noted to Sir Arthur the remarkable resemblance of the chef to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Lady Doyle shuddered involuntarily.
At reception, Foy tore strips off Mildred for deserting her post. ‘I note that the Tilley lamp you’ve so fortunately come by, belongs down in the Boiler Room. How do you explain that?’ She couldn’t.
In the darkened Cat’s Alley, Annie shepherded hapless guests to the comparative safety of the dining room. She noted that several couches had been damaged by guests, who had stood on the seats when the lights had gone out. She made a mental note to inform her husband Albert, an upholsterer. It also gave her a further idea as how to deal with Foy and his odious advances.
Joe Morey fired up his 350 Douglas Motorcycle and sidecar and was soon on his way to Medlow Bath. As he began to approach the railway bridge, the headlight of the cycle picked up a figure wandering erratically along the side of the road. Good God, who’s that out at this time? Joe wondered. Shall I ignore him or what? Nah … best see who it is. Bringing the cycle to an abrupt halt in front of the hapless rambler, Joe was astonished to discover it was Saint Dick Wesley—the well-known lay preacher and self-righteous pain-in-the-neck.
‘Bloody hell, is that you Dick? What on earth are you doing wandering along the highway in the dark at this time of night? You’re liable to get yourself killed; you’re not wearing any light coloured clothing!’
‘Oh Constable Morey, I’m ever so pleased to see you; what a fool I’ve been!’ Dick bleated piteously.
‘Whatever are you talking about Dick?’
‘It’s that heathen Anti-Christ—Arthur Conan Doyle,’ replied Dick shaking.
‘Yesss,’ said Joe Morey cautiously, ‘you mean the author bloke staying at the Hydro—what about him?’
It took Dick a few moments to settle himself, ‘I think I’ve killed him …’
To be continued this afternoon …
Bio: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (creator of Sherlock Holmes) and his family visited the Hydro Majestic Hotel in Medlow Bath in 1921. This is an imaginative account of their time there. This is the tenth instalment of James’ story.