Murder at Midnight
By Jeff Stone
‘Murdered? What the hell do you mean, murdered?’
DJ stared at his mentor in disbelief as he spoke; at present, only he could find his tongue. The rest of the group just stood around the unmoving body of Dr Black, trying to take in what had just happened. The only real noise came from the Ormolu clock on the wall, and from Loretta Scarlett, who was weeping unconsolably into Colonel M'Stard's shoulder.
The Doctor folded his arms and sighed heavily. ‘What do I mean, DJ?’ he countered in a tired voice. ‘I mean exactly that: Dr Black has been murdered - by one of us in this room.’ Everyone had know precisely what the Doctor had been implying, yet his voicing of that implication caused a wave of outrage and indignation among the guests.
‘How dare you, sir!’ M'Stard roared stridently, his Kaiser Wilhelm moustache twitching in fury. ‘How dare you accuse us of killing our good friend in cold blood? Why would we do it, pray?’
‘And how do you know he was murdered, hmmm? He may have just suffered a heart attack,’ Professor Plum enquired calmly, with just a hint of suspicion in his voice. The Doctor was ready for this, however - he knelt and picked up the glass Dr Black had been holding when he had collapsed. The brandy it had once contained was now spilt across the expensive carpet, but the Time Lord was not interested in that. Rather, he drew Plum's attention to a light frosting of a gritty yellow-white substance on the inside of the glass. Plum sniffed at it, and recoiled at the sharp odour.
‘I noticed it when I bent down to check for Dr Black's pulse,’ the Doctor explained. He pointed to the frosting. ‘Strychnine - enough was in his glass to kill a herd of African elephants.’ There followed another long pause, as everyone absorbed this new fact. Murderers among us...
‘We'd better call the cops then,’ Valerie announced after a time. ‘He's been murdered - that's a job for the police.’ Agreeing, Mrs Peacock went off to summon Garrett. As she left the room, untrusting eyes followed her - was she really going to fetch Garrett, or was she making an escape? DJ did not care - he had his hands full consoling Bernice. The girl stared at him, her red-rimmed eyes stained with tears.
‘He... he was such a nice man,’ she sobbed. ‘The perfect father...’ DJ could sympathise - he had lost his mother when he was only seven, leaving him with an embittered, alcoholic father. Life could really suck at times, he observed cynically, as Bernice poured out her grief.
At that point, Garrett entered the room with Mrs Peacock. He expressed shock at the sight of his master's corpse, then composed himself and announced drily: ‘I'm afraid that telephoning the police is impossible - the lines have been brought down by the storm. We will have to wait until the morning.’
The idea of spending the rest of the evening with a possibly deranged murderer in their midst appealed to no-one, least of all the Doctor. He knew that DJ, Valerie and himself were innocent, but that would be hard to prove. The three of them had turned up out of the blue, unannounced - in the eyes of many, they would be the most likely candidates. He sighed again.
‘Well, then,’ he said, trying to smile. ‘It looks like it's going to be a long night. Chess, anyone?’
The watcher smiled at this remark as he gazed at the scanner. Chess; an admirable game, full of complexity and hidden danger. It paled in comparison, however, to the game he was playing now. He enjoyed games - especially difficult ones. This game would be very hard indeed, but it would prove all the more fulfilling in the end.
Your move, Time Lord...
Silence had fallen over Tudor Close. At the Doctor's suggestion, all of the guests had retired to their rooms and had locked them. Garrett had taken the keys, and guarded the passageway leading from the guest rooms. No-one would be able to leave their room without being seen.
At least, that was the idea.
With a soft click of tumblers, the door to DJ's room opened a crack. Pocketing his lock-pick, the young skateboard fanatic tiptoed out into the corridor, the plush carpet muffling his footfalls. Garrett stood sentinel at the end of the passage, his back to him. DJ briefly considered sneaking up on the butler and decking him, but he quickly dismissed this option - if he was going to collect data for the Doctor, that wasn't the way to go about it.
Without a sound, he crossed to the facing passage wall and bent down until he was at eye-level to a central heating grate. A quick calculation confirmed that he could fit through the space, if he ditched his skate-armour. So, he did just that - he removed the light, yet bulky, custom-made fibreglass chest and back-plates, and slipped his elbow guards off. Thus shorn of his brightly-coloured protective gear, DJ gently prised the grille covering the grate open and wriggled into the tight aperture. The boy found that by wiggling his body snake-fashion, he could progress along the cramped ducting at quite a speed. But it would still be a slow journey, he told himself. Oh well; lead on, Mc DJ...
The Doctor put another log on the fireplace in his room and stared at the walls. What a predicament, he mused. The TARDIS gets them to their destination on the first try for once, but the person they'd come to see gets murdered just hours after they arrive! Already, he was regretting his suggestion that everyone should lock themselves in their rooms - he was longing to question the other guests and find out who had murdered his friend. But, confinement was probably the best option at the moment.
The storm outside refused to abate, the rain smashing itself vainly against the window. Deciding to take a look outside, the Doctor got off his bed and crossed the room, then froze in thought. The painting on the wall above the fireplace looked like a genuine Cezanne - indeed, the artist's signature was at the bottom - but the Doctor knew Cezanne very well and the Time Lord had never seen the painting that adorned the wall before. Cezanne never painted that way, he thought, puzzled.
Going up to it, he lifted the heavy artwork off the wall to examine it more closely - exposing a sophisticated video camera built into the wall behind it. Shocked, the Time Lord stared into the camera's cold video eye. ‘This isn't 1932,’ he spat derisively.
‘Quite correct,’ the watcher said to himself. ‘Fooling you for long was something I could never do.’ Smirking at the grim dark-skinned face on the monitor, the watcher deactivated the camera in the Doctor's room. Now enshrouded in total darkness, the watcher played with a Rubik Cube.
‘I'm waiting, Doctor. Try and find me,’ he hissed...
Garrett yawned as he bit into the cheese sandwich Mrs White had taken him. Somewhere in the house, a clock chimed two, a sinister sound in the pregnant silence. Garrett, being a rather unimaginative and cynical man, was not prey to such things as fear, but he was perceptive of the intense pain he felt as something hard and blunt hit him across the base of the head. White light flared briefly before his eyes, before he pitched forwards into a deep blackness.
Standing over the unconscious form of the butler, breathing hard, the committer of the deed looked around in anxiety. Good - no-one had heard Garrett's strangled cry as he fell backwards. That would make the job he had to do all the more easy. He had broken free, shrugged off the bonds that had held his mind. He knew now what he was, and he hated it.
A pain flared in his subconscious, an agony that could only be quenched by death. The death of the one who had done this to him - to all of them. With that thought uppermost, he moved down the stairs.
DJ now knew how a bullet felt, just before it was fired, as he wriggled slowly down the ducting. The tunnel seemed to go on forever, with no turn-offs or intersections, which was what he was looking for. Furthermore, it was getting steadily hotter as he progressed.
DJ was just about to turn back and rethink his strategy when a light shone ahead. Moving faster, he came to a grate like the one he had entered. This grate, however, led out into the Close's kitchens - he could see pots and pans on the walls, and Mrs White moving about as she prepared the morning's meals. Doesn't she ever sleep? DJ wondered as he pushed the grille free of its moorings and wriggled out into the room like a caterpillar emerging from its cocoon.
Once out, he ducked behind the large table in the room and worked out the cramp in his legs and arms. Once he had done this, DJ waited until Mrs White's back was turned, then he edged stealthily for the door. It didn't work - the cook turned around, a jar in her hand. She jumped in surprise, and dropped the jar. ‘What are you doing in here?’ White demanded, as she began to pick up the shards of the jar.
‘Uhh, nothing,’ DJ spluttered, nervousness freezing his throat. ‘Just hungry...’
‘I thought Garrett locked all of you in your rooms.’ The cook's pudgy face, not unfriendly, smiled warmly at him. He smiled back.
‘Not me, ma'am. I'm not under suspicion. Here, let me help you with that. ' DJ bent to help Mrs White pick up the glass fragments, but she flew into a fuss and virtually beat him off with her puffy hands.
‘No, no, don't bother. I can manage,’ she said crossly. Undaunted, DJ picked up a handful of fragments. One of them had the jar's label on it. The boy's heart nearly burst as he read the label - STRYCHNINE. DEADLY POISON. KEEP OUT OF REACH OF... Jesus Christ; she was putting strychnine in the food, DJ thought in terror. He shot a glance at the cook, who now had a massive meat cleaver in her hand. DJ was petrified.
‘Y-you killed Dr Black...’ he said in a strangled whisper.
‘That's right, you little shit. Now I'm going to kill you!’ White swung the cleaver in a murderous arc, but DJ ducked it and belted out the door in sheer terror. Behind him, he could hear the cook chasing him. He glanced back to see how far behind she was, then looked forward, only to gape in horror. One of the suits of armour had come alive and was stomping down the passage towards him! Unable to stop, the terrified boy cannoned into the metal figure, sending it reeling, and tore across the foyer to the main door.
With a strength borne of desperation, DJ ripped open the door and raced out into the rain. Behind him, White and the possessed suit of armour were in hot pursuit. The going was slow - the muddy ground sucked at his feet, hampering his progress. All the time, the boy's would-be killers gained.
‘Help me, someone!’ DJ screamed hysterically as he ran. ‘Help me-'
His voice was cut off as he ran full-tilt into an invisible wall. Sprawling backwards, DJ lay dazed on the wet earth. By the time he had gotten back on his feet, the duo were upon him. DJ desperately tried to get away, but the unseen barrier prevented any escape.
Mrs White advanced, her eyes glinting madly in the ragged lightning. The cleaver rose, ready to descend on DJ's neck. ‘Time to die...’ she hissed maniacally.
The cleaver fell...
This item appeared in TSV 27 (February 1992).