Homicide at the Hydro – Part 11
Wentworth Falls, New South Wales
Continued from this morning …
Foy was still in the midst of venting his spleen at reception, with Mildred being the unfortunate recipient, when the telephone rang once again. ‘Good God in heaven who can that be now?’ thundered Foy.
Mildred was tempted to say, I don’t quite recognise the ring, but bit her tongue just in time.
‘Well just don’t sit there girl, answer the damn thing … oh never mind, I’ll do it myself—seems it’s the only way to get things done.’ He answered gruffly, ‘Hydro Majestic, Foy speaking, can I help you?’
Jan the operator was expecting Milly to answer; anticipating some juicy gossip. Upon hearing Foy’s brittle tone, she put him through to Hugh Ward at Lawson without delay.
‘Foy is that you? My God man what’s going on? I even rang the police at Katoomba. Dame Nellie, her accompanist and I, are stuck here at the hotel at Lawson because there’s a fire raging below Wentworth Falls.’
‘Yes I know, I spoke to the police—Hugh, you wouldn’t believe what’s happening here …’
Hugh Ward cut across him, ‘You’ll have to speak louder Foy, there’s quite a hubbub coming from the bar. Dame Nellie’s having a sing-a-long with the patrons to while away the time. It’s quite an experience hearing Knees up Mother Brown being performed by an opera singer, I can tell you. Mind you, she’s about three sheets to the wind now because she hasn’t had dinner yet with Sir Archie Coconut Oil; as she’s taken to calling him. Hah!’
Foy raised his voice accordingly and filled Hugh in briefly about the chaos at the Hydro. ‘… so maybe Hugh you’d better grab something to eat there; come later when you can.’
Hugh Ward though was not keen on the idea of Dame Nellie Melba being involved in a possible murder scandal. ‘The press, especially The Truth, would crucify us,’ said Hugh. ‘In any event, she’s got an engagement in Sydney tomorrow at the National Club. I think I’ll convince her to just stay put for now, and then we’ll slip away quietly back to Sydney when we can. And I’ll be in contact again soon to confirm further bookings and to talk about that museum idea for my son. Righto, bye for now.’
Foy gnashed his teeth. It was clear that his grandiose plan of bringing together two of the greatest cultural icons of the age, was not going to happen; at least not in his establishment. He slammed the phone down in a fury. Just at that moment, Constable Joe Morey arrived with a very contrite Richard Wesley by his side.
In the dining room, Charlie Watson was speaking with Sir Arthur. ‘I’m sorry it took so long to serve your meal Mr Doyle, err I mean Sir Arthur, but you see, um our chef had a bit of an accident and he’s …’
‘Dead? Yes, so I hear from the Mayor. And your name is Watson eh? Bit of a coincidence.’
‘Err yes sir,’ said Charlie; ‘not realising what Sir Arthur was alluding to, ‘but it wasn’t my fault—the lights went out and the floor was so slippery and my hand got cut.’ Charlie held up his bandaged hand, ‘See?’
Sir Arthur held up his own hand for silence, ‘Best tell it all to the police when they arrive young Watson—it’ll be elementary I’m sure! Ha ha!’ The creator of Sherlock Holmes laughed at his own in-joke. His wife groaned.
Annie the Irish waitress, had heard Foy’s strident voice berating Mildred the receptionist. She waited nervously in the shadows. When she saw Constable Morey arrive with the strange little man with head bent, she remained hidden. Her intention had been to try and use the telephone and call her husband and let him in on her plan.
She heard Mr Foy say to Mildred: ‘Miss Prior, if you happen to see Annie, send her along to the kitchen. In the meantime, you might give Strachan a call down at the Boiler House; see if he can tell you when the lights might go back on. Use your influence!’ He added sarcastically.
‘At once Mr Foy!’ replied Mildred, who was still reeling from the tongue lashing. ‘Snake!’ she added when they had moved out of earshot. She reached for the extension phone. ‘Nigel … sweetie? It’s Milly …’
In the dark Annie blushed. She slipped away again, wondering how best to use the latest piece of gossip.
As luck would have it, moments later the lights were suddenly restored and everyone cheered; just as Foy, Joe Morey and Dick Wesley entered the dining room. Before approaching the kitchen, they made for Sir Arthur’s table.
‘It can’t be!’ exclaimed Dick Wesley, ‘You’re dead! I struck you outside the kitchen!’
‘Oh my hat, Arthur!’ cried Lady Doyle, ‘That’s the dreadful creature who was so beastly towards you at the last meeting in Sydney at the Town Hall. How does he come to be here?’
Joe Morey’s antennae was aroused, ‘You know this man—Richard Wesley, sometimes known as Saint Dick or Sir Dick?’
‘Just of recent times,’ said Sir Arthur now with a grim expression, ‘Sir Dick was rather acerbic when we last encountered him, as my wife has just said. Constable …?’
‘Oh, Morey … Sir Arthur, I presume? Constable Joe Morey from the New South Wales Police, Blackheath.’
‘Morey did you say?’ Joe nodded. ‘Did you hear that Jean? This policeman’s name is Morey!’
Lady Doyle laughed despite the strained circumstances. ‘Yess, his name is Morey… Artie! It seems that your main villain is really a policeman!’ It was Sir Arthur’s turn to look suitably embarrassed.
But Joe Morey was less than impressed. ‘Yes terribly amusing I’m sure. However, we do have a death on our hands to attend to. The chef Thierry Mercier, whom I believe bears a striking resemblance to you Sir Arthur, is dead. And Dick Wesley here believes he is responsible for your, or rather, the Frenchman’s demise.’
The enormity of the situation confronted Dick Wesley, who gave an anguished cry and sank to his knees. ‘Oh God forgive me, I have killed an innocent man!’ He began intoning, ‘The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want …’
‘And you judge me to be at fault sir?’ shouted Sir Arthur, ‘You are a hypocrite of the first order!’
At this point Foy, fearing a public relations debacle there in the dining room, said, ‘Ah should we not adjourn to the kitchen now Constable? I’m sure you’ll be wanting to look at the body. Watson here has no doubt cleaned up the mess by now.’
‘What?’ Joe Morey roared. ‘That kitchen may well be a crime scene, nothing further should be touched!’ He turned to the Mayor (who was of a robust build), ‘Mr Mayor, could you please keep an eye on Brother Wesley there for the moment? The Mayor nodded his assent, whilst Dick Wesley babbled incoherently.
‘Right, let’s go. Foy, Watson … and you too Sir Arthur … if you’re willing.’
‘Yes by gum I think I’d better. Perhaps I can lend you some expertise.’ He added sagaciously.
Lady Doyle’s nerves couldn’t take anymore. ‘Arthur if you’re going off to play detective again, I think that Denis and I will retire.’ Turning to the Mayor’s wife, she said, ‘Please excuse me, but my head is reeling—would you mind?’
The Lady Mayoress smiled sympathetically. ‘Not at all … Mr Foy what news, if any, of Dame Nellie?’
‘Please excuse me ladies. I had forgotten to tell everyone that due to a bushfire at Wentworth Falls, the highway has been blocked. Consequently, Dame Nellie Melba and her associates are unable to get through; tonight at least. Mr Ward, her manager, passes on their apologies and hopes that …’
Lady Doyle waved her hand in annoyance, not wishing to hear any further platitudes, ‘Come along Denis.’
‘Oh must I Mama? Just when things are getting interesting … at last!’ Denis looked at his father pleadingly.
‘No Denis, not this time. You’ll hear all about it in the morning.’ His father replied. ‘Anyway you’ve got a big day tomorrow—a trip to Jenolan Caves by motor-coach; you’re sure to enjoy that. And you might get to see a snake at last! Off you go, there’s a good chap.’
In the kitchen, Constable Morey ordered the staff to cease cleaning for the moment. He took various statements from the staff members who were in the kitchen at the time the lights had failed, including Foy. Earlier on, Foy and the Mayor had moved Thierry Mercier’s body to a storeroom adjoining the kitchen; turned him face up and covered him with a blanket. Whilst being unhappy that the body had been moved at all, Joe Morey was relieved that with the lights restored it would be easier to see what injuries Thierry had sustained. He took a deep breath and removed the blanket, making sure that indeed there was no pulse. The first thing that struck him was a strong smell of alcohol. So the Frenchman apparently was drunk as all the statements seemed to indicate. Secondly, there was a nasty contusion on the right side of the temple and serious slash marks to his hands; consistent with the story of the struggle for the meat cleaver.
Joe Morey took a pocket knife from his trouser pocket, and under the watchful eye of his companions, began cutting away the chefs’ tunic. After a while he sat back on his haunches with a puzzled look on his face. There were numerous small contusions and cuts across the chest. Whilst the gash on the Frenchman’s head looked dreadful, none of the injuries seemed to be serious enough to have caused the man’s death. The only other strange phenomena were that the man’s eyes were open and the eyeballs distended. Furthermore, he had been bleeding from the mouth perhaps indicating some internal injury? Unlikely. A heart attack? Impossible, Thierry Mercier was too young!
Joe scratched his face, yet the man is as dead as a bloody doornail! he thought wearily. He turned and looked up at Sir Arthur Conan Doyle who was still marvelling at the doppelgänger in front of him. ‘Well Sir Arthur, Mercier here does look like you. As to what killed him I’m stumped, got any ideas?’
But Sir Arthur just shook his head, ‘I’m afraid not Constable Morey. I might write about Sherlock Holmes the brilliant detective, but I really am just an amateur sleuth.’ He admitted, then added, ‘We might have to sleep on it.’
To be continued (and finished) next Sunday …
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 eleventh instalment of James’ story—getting close to the end now!