Another submission for a story competition with my writing group. It didn’t win, but it did get voted for.
Murder at Waddington Manor! Who would have thought it? The stately residence of my erstwhile mentor, Professor Wilhelm Schwartzmann, had long been host to discord, yet not even I, the infinitely perceptive Julius Fox-Glover, imagined murder might occur there.
The grisly event occurred one evening three months ago, when my fellow PhD recipient invited sundry chums to Waddington Manor to celebrate his OBE nomination for services to physics. The guests included myself, Colonel Reginald Lemmon of the Royal Fusiliers and Gilbert Grass, pastor of the local parish.
Unfortunately, Marjorie Bluejay, Endora Snow and their husbands were also among the guests. These women were just two of many females Schwartzmann had wooed but never stood by over the years. Jealousy simmered to the surface in the dining room, so I excused myself and retreated upstairs as the sparks began flying.
As a studious academic, the library was my natural bolthole. One would not have thought the same of Miss Ruby Russett, Schwartzmann’s current belle and minor star of that facetious new mass medium, television. But that was to our mutual advantage.
“That man!” she fumed, sobbing noisily as she entered. “Showing me off like that to Marjorie and Endora, just to spite them!”
“Ruby, my dear,” I smiled, “Don’t distress yourself. Schwartzmann’s a fathead but he’s no brute.”
“Oh Julius,” sighed Ruby, “If not for your letters I’d have gone crazy these few months. Thank goodness you’re here.”
“I’d have come sooner but for my research,” I pleaded, “Don’t worry, Ruby. Wilhelm will let you down soon, then we can be together.”
A gleam entered Ruby’s lovely eyes as they locked on mine.
“Why wait?” she purred.
She advanced amourously towards me, but a thrill of unease went through me and I began backing away. Unfortunately, an ornate, cherry wood desk in the middle of the room confounded my retreat.
“Ruby, wait,” I stammered. “What if I get you pregnant? Wilhelm could commit you!”
“Let him,” she gloated. “I’m going insane waiting for you anyway, Julius. Wilhelm’s not only a sleep-around, but a liar. He even lied about why he left Germany.”
Before I could skirt the desk, Ruby pinned me with her knees then leant forward. She leant forward and whispered right into my ear.
“Julius… Wilhelm isn’t cut.”
My shock was so violent that I seized a rounded corner of the desk to steady myself. It spun in my hand with a loud click and we both staggered. Something shot out of the desk, landing heavily on the carpet.
“Oooo, my!” Ruby squealed. “A secret drawer, with something inside it. Let’s see what other juicy secrets Willie has.”
“Ruby, steady on!” I protested.
But Ruby had already seized the item in the drawer; a black cardboard portfolio bound with a red ribbon, which she quickly untied. The first thing we saw within was a photograph.
“That looks like a young Reverend Grass,” I said thoughtfully.
Ruby began rifling through the portfolio. There were numerous photographs of Reverend Grass, Professor Schwartzmann, or both of them, by sports fields, on boating lakes, outside nightclubs and cabaret shows all over Germany.
“They must have been very close friends once,” said Ruby.
“Very close,” I said, darkly echoing her words.
“Oh, look at this,” Ruby grinned. “Plans of Waddington Manor.”
She was right. There was a plan of the ground floor, then diagram after diagram the hall, billiard room, conservatory, kitchen and others, most crossed out in red.
“Only the drawing room is unmarked,” I mused. “Now here’s a photo of the armoury display in it. And these plans… They look like some kind of pulley system to…”
“My, vat have ve here?” came a malevolent Teutonic voice from the doorway.
There stood Professor Schwartzmann, holding a cushion before him in his left hand. His right was angled in the pose of one holding a revolver.
“Wilhelm, this isn’t what it looks like!” Ruby protested.
“It never was, was it Schwartzmann?” I said grimly. “You fled the Nazis because you were homosexual, not Jewish. And Grass was your lover!”
“No more,” hissed Schwartzmann. “Gilbert is undergoing therapy on your NHS to correct himself and protect his reputation. But I von’t let him. I vill see him die before I lose him!”
“So Marjorie, Endora and all those other girls…” rasped Ruby.
“Smokescreens, my dear Ruby,” sneered Schwartzmann, “I too had to protect my secret, vatever ze emotional cost.”
“Those plans,” I said, “You’ve rigged the armoury display in the drawing room to collapse at the pull of a string while everyone’s having sherry and cigars. Grass will get a sword in the back and everyone will just think it’s a tragic accident!”
“You alvays vere a bright lad, Fox-Glover,” chuckled Schwartzmann, “Too bad I must now kill you for it. Auf wiedersehen.”
Revered Grass charged through the doorway, causing Schwartzmann to wheel round and fired his revolver in shock. The muffled shot went clean through the pillow and into Grass’s chest.
“Nein! Gilbert! I didn’t mean to!”
Schwartzmann dropped the gun, babbling remorsefully, as Reverend Grass crumpled to the floor. In a surge of courage and initiative, I seized a lamp from the desk and brought the heavy base down on Schwartzmann’s head. He collapsed face forwards to lie beside Grass, who whispered his forgiveness as he squeezed Schwartzmann’s hand one last time.
What with Ruby running to summon the other guests, Marjorie Bluejay calling the police and Colonel Lemmon guarding Schwartzmann with me while they got there, it was hours before Ruby and I were alone in the library again.
“Do you still love me, Ruby?” I asked.
“Of course. Why wouldn’t I?” she smiled.
“Aren’t you now worried that passion could deal us the same fate those poor wretches suffered one day?”
“Julius, you’re the most perceptive person I know. If it starts to go wrong you’ll see the signs, I just know it. Now come here.”
Our kiss did the rest of the talking.