Homicide At The Hydro – Part 12
Wentworth Falls, New South Wales
Continued from last Sunday …
It was a beautiful day for a trip out into the bush, albeit hot and dry. The motorcoach had arrived from Katoomba at the Hydro Majestic Hotel early in the morning, to convey Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his family plus Miss Jakeman out to the mysterious grotto known as Jenolan Caves. As fate would have it, Sir Arthur’s youngest child Baby Jean was sick and was left, en route, with the long-suffering Miss Jakeman at Hampton half-way house. It was later in the afternoon before they returned to retrieve their ‘castaways’.
Sir Arthur remarked to Miss Jakeman, ‘The caves are truly prodigious and I do believe that it has given me an idea for a new novel about the primordial era. I think I’ll call it The Lost World; these Blue Mountains are truly inspirational …’
It had been a disappointing day for Miss Jakeman and like so many before her, she gritted her teeth, ‘Yes Sir Arthur, of course. Are we returning to the Hydro now?’ She asked hopefully.
Denis had finally got his wish and seen a snake. However, it was not as he had imagined it to happen. As they were leaving Hampton, a long snake writhed across the road and was caught by one of the wheels of the motor. The luckless creature was killed instantly. The carcass was placed in a hessian bag in the luggage compartment.
‘We’ll have your photograph taken with the snake when we get back to the hotel.’ Sir Arthur promised his son though his mind was distracted; for the previous night’s disturbing events at the Hydro were weighing heavily on him. Then all of a sudden he had an insight and rather thought he now knew how Thierry Mercier, his unfortunate double, had been killed. He was anxious now to get back and consult with Constable Morey.
Back at the Hydro, Constable Joe Morey was becoming frustrated. What he hoped would have been a relatively simple case of death by misadventure, appeared to be turning into a possible homicide investigation. Joe had worked through the night having taken statements from all persons, who were in the kitchen at the time the lights had gone out. He retraced, as far as possible, everyone’s movements and trawled the kitchen. This was particularly frustrating as Charlie Watson and Shirl Locke had done a thorough job of cleaning up after the melee. He did, however, find a little blood residue on the side of a working bench. Having obtained permission from Foy, Joe had Dick Wesley locked up in a vacant room in the servant’s quarters. Despite Dick admitting that he struck Thierry Mercier with a rock, there was something niggling at Joe that did not make sense. Up to now, Dick had been a nuisance though harmless. But he was not about to let him go for now; just in case. Perversely, that vacant room turned out to be Thierry Mercier’s former accommodation.
Early on Joe was able to eliminate Annie as a possible suspect, even though she admitted that she disliked the French chef. Simply on the basis of logistics, she seemed to be nowhere near him when the fatal blow was struck—that is if there was a fatal blow. The Mayor of Blackheath was also eliminated as he had entered the kitchen a split second after Foy the manager, when the loud crash was first heard. As for Foy himself, he did make some disparaging remarks about his hand-picked chef. Foy stated that Thierry was extremely uncooperative and although there was a contract in place, he rather wished that he had not employed the French chef in the first place. But Joe Morey concluded that Foy was too shrewd to have committed such a heinous act. In any event, Foy, Annie and the Mayor were finding it hard to keep their feet on the slippery floor.
Shirley Locke made no secret that she resented Thierry Mercier, and coveted his position as Head Chef. But again, her location in the kitchen at the time that Mercier had screamed out ‘Vat have you done to me, Watson’, made it seem unlikely that she had anything to do with the fatal blow either. Furthermore, she was nursing a badly bruised arm when she collided with the chopping board that had a meat cleaver imbedded in it. That left Charlie Watson. Here, Joe Morey was troubled for he knew Charlie Watson well; and despite Mercier naming Charlie as the assailant, He’s a good lad, Joe thought. A bit rambunctious, certainly, but aren’t all young men the same at his age? Joe rechecked Charlie’s statement and concluded that the fatal blow had probably occurred whilst Thierry Mercier was reeling backwards after the lights had failed. Consequently it was unlikely that Charlie Watson was responsible. The other kitchen staff who took care of washing plates, cutlery and other equipment were in another annex at the time of the melee. Therefore, could there have been someone else in the kitchen, in the dark? Was that person Dick Wesley?
The Doyle family finally arrived back at Medlow Bath around five in the evening. Sir Arthur took leave of his wife and children as quickly as possible. Lady Doyle was again most displeased saying, ‘Oh no! Arthur, must you go off playing detective again? Leave it to the constable, that’s what he’s paid for!’
‘Yes, yes, Jean my dear I know! But this piece of information is crucial—he’ll be appreciative—trust me. Anyway, I feel somewhat responsible. It could be argued that the Frenchman has lost his life because of an unfortunate chain of events that I am at the centre of, surely you must see that?’
Lady Doyle sighed resignedly, ‘Try to be brief, you promised Denis that he could get his photograph taken with that ghastly snake.’ She again shuddered involuntarily. ‘I shall be so delighted to return to Sydney.’
Joe Morey was standing at reception, his eyes were red-rimmed. He had managed to snatch a couple of hours sleep sitting in an arm chair in the Cat’s Alley, but still felt wretched. Joe noticed that many of the chairs and couches had suffered damage and assumed it had occurred during the blackout, when people were stranded. He had phoned Sergeant Starr to report on his progress … or lack of it.
Starr was less than sympathetic, ‘Well I’m sorry if it ’asn’t turned out as straightforward as you’d hoped Joe.’ Said the worthy sergeant, subtly moving the onus of responsibility. ‘Sounds to me you’ve got the bugger well and truly trussed up anyway. Don’t waste too much more time, I need you down here in Katoomba. There’s still a bit of a problem with that fire at Wenty so I still can’t spare you anyone to help. If Sir Alfred Corgi Dog is of no help, ask the Mayor, wots ’is name? Belvedere – that’s it! He was a medical orderly during the war. Keep me posted!’
Joe wearily handed the receiver back to Mildred the receptionist, The Mayor has already done his bit by keeping an eye on Dick Wesley! he thought to himself … turning to Mildred he said, ‘If anyone wants me, I’ll be at the storeroom where the bod-’ just then, Sir Arthur came through the entrance, ‘Oh Constable Morey, glad I caught you, I think I’ve got some information that might be of vital importance.’
By a process of elimination, Dick Wesley was emerging as the prime suspect. The difficulty was that Dick insisted that he had never entered the kitchen. Furthermore, the wound to Mercier’s temple was on the right side of his head. As Dick Wesley was right-handed, it stood to reason that a circular motion whilst holding a rock, would have been directed to the left side of the head; as they were standing face to face. Dick also stated that Mercier had, to an extent, deflected that blow. Consequently, Joe believed that the wound to Mercier’s head could have occurred, during a fall in the darkness on the slippery floor of the kitchen; thus accounting for the blood residue on the side of the bench. Sir Arthur had also read the various statements, and concurred with Joe Morey’s theory that it was a glancing blow to the right of Mercier’s head, due to a fall in the darkness. Having reached a point of agreement, Sir Arthur proposed to Constable Morey that they re-examine the body. Joe again glumly agreed.
The two men again approached the body with trepidation. After removing the blanket, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle pointed out to Constable Morey the state of Mercier’s distended eyeballs as being a clear sign that the French Chef had an advanced case of syphilis. Indeed, Sir Arthur who had initially trained as a doctor in Edinburgh and become a practitioner, was an expert on the diagnosis and treatment of syphilis. Moreover, he was also an ophthalmologist and had been a volunteer doctor during the Boer War, for which service, he had received his knighthood. Joe Morey was very interested, naturally, but was puzzled as to what relevance this all had to the case on hand.
‘So, what’s it all about … Arthur?’ Said Joe, dispensing with the title. ‘Surely, you don’t think that Mercier succumbed to syphilis, just at the climax of the disturbance?’
Sir Arthur raised an eyebrow at the new note of informality. ‘Oh no … Joe, I don’t believe it was syphilis that killed the chef; although his body was undoubtedly in a weakened state because of it. No, I believe that our friend here died as a result of snake bite! I’ve seen it before numerous times in Pretoria in South Africa—lots of venomous snakes there; not to mention syphilis.’
‘Snake bite? That’s absurd!’ exclaimed Joe Morey. ‘Even if he was bitten by a venomous snake, contrary to popular belief, though some deaths are sudden I admit; it’s uncommon for someone to die within four hours of a snakebite. When was he bitten? Where’s the two puncture wounds? Surely you’re not serious!’ Joe was overtired and becoming angry and frustrated.
‘Oh but I am Joe … and stop calling me Shirley! It’s Sherlock … remember?’ Sir Arthur said flippantly, trying to lighten the situation. ‘Let’s turn him over and I’ll prove it to you—come on, give me a hand!
To be continued this afternoon …