Homicide At The Hydro – Part 9
Wentworth Falls, New South Wales
Continued from this morning …
It was just as things were getting to the interesting bits, down at the Boiler House, when suddenly there was a loud … ‘BANG!’
‘Oh my Gawd,’ exclaimed Nigel Strachan, ‘the lights are out!’
‘Oohh, it’s ever so romantic Nigel! Did you arrange this especially for me? You naughty boy!’
‘No of course not you silly bint—there’s been a failure in the generator!’
‘How dare you? I’m no such thing!’ said Milly outraged. ‘I’ve a good mind to slap your face!’
Nigel quickly recovered, not wishing to offend and spoil a possible future liaison. ‘I’m sorry Milly that was rather rude of me! It was just the shock of the lights going out. Look I’ll have to attend to this immediately.’
Nigel scratched about in the dark until he managed to find a couple of paraffin lamps, which he lit immediately. ‘Look, you’d best slip back to reception. Perhaps I can make it up to you later. Hmm?’
‘Well … we’ll see! Maybe I’d better check the telephones. Mr Foy will be having kittens.’
‘Good, good. Here Milly, take this lamp Tilley and don’t be silly; you’re a lovely filly! Did you enjoy the dally and dilly? By Jove, love to see you again! Ah, best adjust your skirt perhaps.’
Milly giggled, ‘A poet as well eh? Well, goodnight Nigel.’ She said rather mollified. ‘I really had a lovely time.’ She picked up the Tilley lamp and sashayed her way to the door.
Foy slipped on the greasy floor of the kitchen, now awash with spilt soup, blood and various other liquids that had been knocked over in the melee. The Mayor of Blackheath fell down on top of him. Charlie struck a match and Annie managed to find some candles. The soft light from a candelabra did not show the full extent of the carnage in the kitchen.
‘Get off me you oaf!’ bellowed Foy.
‘Doing my best Foy—the floor’s a bit slippery.’
Foy and the Mayor finally regained their feet. Foy immediately went on the attack, ‘What on God’s earth is going on here? Watson, where’s Mercier? What did you do to him to make him cry out?’
‘Not a blessed thing Mr Foy!’ cried Charlie Watson. ‘He was swinging a meat cleaver about and I was trying to get it off him. He’s already hit Mrs Locke with it; though I don’t think he drew blood there—he was drunk and completely off his head!’
Foy ran his hand through his hair, ‘So why was he enraged do you think, you ignoramus?’
Shirley spoke up, ‘Go easy boss, it was because I showed him the revised menu, told him that Melba Chicken Garniture was now on for tonight’s meal. Then he threw a tantrum ’cause I told ’im that we were usin’ spuds instead of truffles as specified. ’
Foy listened open-mouthed and dumbfounded, ‘But it wasn’t a huge change and truffles …’
There was worse news to come. The Mayor had taken a candelabra and ventured outside and discovered Thierry Mercier, lying face down on the gravel just outside the kitchen door. He reappeared in the doorway looking grim.
‘Foy, grab yourself a candle or something and come and have a look at this—I’ve found your chef, I think.’
Annie handed Foy a candle; a blob of hot wax dripped onto his hand. ‘Oh dear, so sorry I’m sure.’ She said as coquettishly as was possible.
Foy glared at her, ‘Why don’t you make yourself useful and start issuing candles in the dining room. Start with Sir Arthur’s table; I’m sure you can remember where it is! When you’re finished there, go and check if there are any stranded guests in the Cat’s Alley. Mrs Locke, please salvage what you can of tonight’s meal and continue serving. Watson, start cleaning up the mess—be mindful of any broken glass, crockery etc.’
Foy picked his way gingerly over the debris until he reached the staff entrance. Outside, Foy found the Mayor crouched down beside Thierry Mercier’s prone body. ‘Come on Thierry, on your feet,’ Foy demanded, ‘there’s still work to be done inside. Give him a poke Mr Mayor.’
‘He won’t be doing anything evermore Foy,’ replied the Mayor. ‘This cove’s dead!’
‘What? It can’t be!’
‘’Fraid so, I felt for his pulse. Look, there’s a nasty blow to the right side of his temple. Do you know, he bears an uncanny resemblance to Sir Arthur?’
Foy felt the earth move beneath his feet. What else could possibly go wrong? I must have killed a Chinaman in a former life! he thought to himself. For just the briefest moment, his instinct was to get the Mayor to grab Thierry’s shoulders and for him to grab his feet, and together they would fling the obstreperous Frenchman over the edge of the escarpment that was not so far away. Claim that the chef had gone missing, was drunk and had stumbled over the edge in the dark due to the failure of the lights and power. But he knew that the Mayor would not deign to sully his hands and reputation. There was only one thing for it—they would have to call the police. He mused, a real-life mystery for Sir Arthur.
In the dining room Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, his wife Jean, eldest son Denis and the Mayor’s wife sat in bemused silence. Even the general hubbub from the rest of dining room had become rather subdued. Finally Sir Arthur said, ‘A bit of a rum show this my dear—a loud crash from the kitchen; lights are out and now we have candles; Dame Nellie still hasn’t arrived, not to mention our main course. I wonder what the deuce has happened? The waitress, Annie wasn’t particularly forthcoming.’
‘I just hope Miss Jackman and the children are all right in our room.’ Lady Doyle replied. ‘When do you think the lights will go back on Arthur?’
‘I don’t think there’s a ghost of a chance of it happening soon, Jean my dear. Might as well have another glass of wine and just wait. Something’s amiss. Foy the manager will be back soon, I’m sure he’ll explain.’ Sir Arthur turned to his son Denis who, unaccountably, was whistling. ‘Look here, old chap, consider other people’s nerves and give up that rotten habit of whistling.’
‘Oh sorry Daddy, I was just wondering if a snake got caught in the hotel’s electrics.’
‘Perhaps it was the ghost of Sir Edmund Barton.’ said the Mayor’s wife sardonically, who was piqued by Sir Arthur’s previous reaction to her mentioning of fortune-tellers and mediums.
Sir Arthur was about to respond to this thinly veiled insult when Foy and the Mayor emerged from the kitchen. The Mayor returned to the table to report on the commotion in the kitchen; whilst Foy, holding a candelabra and looking like a spectre in his ruined tux, made straight for his office and the telephone.
To be continued next Sunday …
Bio: This is the ninth instalment of James’ account of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s visit to the Hydro Majestic Hotel in the 1920s. For more examples of James’ writing click here