A Blair and Beethoven mystery.
Foreword by A. Literature-Critic:
Why the hell am I writing a foreword for this clichéd old rubbish? Honestly, the things one has to do to make ends meet. (Don't forget to edit this bit out when you print it.) In this, the first of the popular "Blair and Beethoven Mysteries", many of the hallmarks of the series were established, such as Beethoven's ability to find a piano at the scene of every murder - which gave the author considerable difficulties when writing the later book "Death In An Empty Room", (it was eventually renamed "Death In A Room Containing Only A Piano"). Of particular interest to series, enthusiasts are to see how their heroes came to work together as such an original mismatched detective duo. The public quickly warmed to their exploits, for some reason obvious reasons, and a further 18 books were written, bringing delight to literally some fans. Oh that'll do for this drivel won't it? Honestly, I'm running out of good things to say about it. Don't forget to pay my fee - in cash for preference, I'm having a little problem with the taxman. (Edit this bit out as well. Thanks.) A. Lit-Crit.
Part 1 - Enter the Protagonists
It made sense they'd call me in. When you've got a sensitive situation that needs a careful and capable pair of hands you send for the best in the business. And that's me. Blair. Anthony Blair - Tony to my friends. And you'd better hope I'm your friend because if not, that means you've made an enemy of the keenest mind in British Politics. Er, in Crime Detection, not British Politics. I'm not Prime Minister any more, am I? *sigh*. Still, I want to make sure I'm in a position to help my country any way I can, and if that involves catching a dastardly murderer and making the streets safer for the ordinary people (such as myself - *sigh*) then so be it.
I wasn't sure what to make of my new partner though. I tend to play by the rules. If necessary, I've been known to make up new rules, just so everyone knows I'm playing by them. But this guy didn't seem to follow anything besides the rhythm in his head, and his muse. And also, I'm now a Private Detective - so how the hell did I end up with a partner I didn't choose? Still, who was to say a mismatched duo like us couldn't crack this case? It was such a crazy, original idea that it might just work.
"Vas ist der situation then Tone?" asked my partner, in a stereotypical mangled German/English hybrid accent, interrupting my thoughts like a Police Officer inquiring about illegal donations to political parties.
"Well, it seems that Lord Michael Fotherington-Carstairs, the toilet paper multi-millionaire, has been found mysteriously dead in his country house", I said. "Details are a little sketchy at the moment, but all the key suspects are still in the house, so hopefully with careful interrogation, and a massive secret kept from the reader until the dramatic conclusion, we should be able to identify the killer or killers".
"Fair enough, let's do vot ve do best zen, eh?"
"Well, no," I said. "Because what you do best is compose. Or possibly decompose. I mean, you're Ludwig Van Beethoven, born in Bonn, Germany, in 1770, died in 1827, known for composing various Symphonies, Concertos, Overtures and pieces of Chamber Music, even after going completely deaf!"
"You've got my number zere", he remarked, "do you know my bank account number as well?"
"Pity, I've forgotten it. Can you lend me ein fiver?"
"No! And what are you doing here, now, in 2008, alive, not deaf, and wearing an ill-fitting baseball cap?"
"Vot I'm doing is listening to you. Vot I'd like to be doing is solving zis mystery. Shall we go?"
He was right, there were more important things to take care of. "You're right," I said, acknowledging this, "there are more important things to take care of. And I pledge that, when it comes to this crime, I will not stand idly by, I will not rest, I will be ever vigilant, and I shall fulfill my duties to this great country in laying bare the true events behind this devious..."
"Er, Tone, zis isn't a press conference you know, you're just talking to your partner. Let's do zis". And with that second unwelcome interruption, he strode purposefully toward the great door of the house. And again, he was right. It wasn't a Prime Ministerial press conference. *sigh*. I followed him to the house and the mystery that awaited therein.
Part 2 - The Scene of the Crime
We were admitted to the drawing room of the rather splendid Tagnut Towers by the butler, Winnets. We had to duck under something in order to access the drawing room that was the scene of the crime - could this be our first clue? "What is this?" I asked, indicating the strip of stained paper, covered in strange markings, that had been strung across the entrance.
"Ah, I have seen several Police movies sir, and I took the liberty of 'taping off' the crime scene, as I believe is the term" responded Winnets.
"With toilet paper, naturally, it is the first thing that comes to hand around here sir."
"But what are these markings on it? I thought it could be an indication of a bizarre ritual."
"Ah, no sir, I tried to write 'Police Line - Do Not Cross' on it sir, but you know how ink goes on toilet paper."
"Oh yes, I think I can make out the 'Do' now you come to say it. Well, if you'll excuse us. We will, naturally, question you later, but for now, we must examine the room."
He left without another word, and we went to our work. However, a full search of the room turned up very little in the way of clues. The victim had been found in the middle of the room, strangled to death in such a way that very few marks had been left on his neck, except for a small cut that resembled a papercut - a fact I noted as possibly significant. There was no furniture within 5 feet of him, and very little in the room. A dust for fingerprints was fruitless, a search for written confessions failed to yield much beyond a couple of losing betting slips in the waste paper bin, and a look for discarded DNA samples clearly labelled 'the murderer's' went the way of a Hans Blix WMD inspection. My partner, however, seemed excited by one thing.
"Zis is significant!" he announced.
"What is it?" I asked.
"What's significant about that?" I queried.
"Vell, it vos Érard who perfected the double escapement action zat allows for much faster playing of repeated notes" he explained.
"And what significance does that have to the case?" I prodded.
"Vell, none," he admitted, "but it's a darn nice piano."
I shook my head and wondered, not for the first time in my life, what I'd done to end up with a partner I didn't really want.
Part 3 - The Suspects Are Introduced
What The Butler Saw
We worked through the suspects one by one. First up was the butler, Winnets. He had worked for his Lordship for 20 years and was regarded as his right arm in many ways (although his Lordship was left handed). He had to be a major suspect, purely by the nature of his job. We interviewed him in his butler's quarters, and I decided to tell him of my theory that the murder was committed with a soft-yet-strong roll of toilet paper! He did raise an eyebrow, but then informed us he had thought one of His Lordship's collection of 'Rolls of The Ages' looked a bit odd when he had dusted it earlier. We inspected them all immediately, and sure enough, there was one with a bloodstain on it! Some basic tests confirmed the blood was His Lordship's, and we had our murder weapon! He also informed us that he thought His Lordship and Her Ladyship had fallen out the previous day, and although it was far from his place to comment on such matters, in his opinion, Her Ladyship had seemed particularly enraged.
So, the butler had pointed us towards a couple of vital clues - but had he done it deliberately, in order to throw us off his trail? I smiled grimly: things were getting interesting!
The Obvious Suspect
Our next port of call was Sir John Obvious-Suspect. We quickly established that he was an old friend of Lord Fotherington-Carstairs from way back. They had traveled the world together, researching paper-making techniques in order to create the softest and strongest, yet cheapest paper known to man. "Ah yes," he observed, "some of the papers we tested were abominable, don'tcherknow? Damn near bled for m'country testin' some of those on my hindquarters, what?" However, they were unable to find the perfect combination - they had to settle for either a soft paper or a cheap one. Lord Fotherington-Carstairs favoured the soft option, while Sir John maintained that cheapness would increase profitability.
Inevitably, they came to blows. Sir John went off to manufacture cheap, scratchy toilet paper, and gained several lucrative contracts with High Schools, public toilet facilities and roadside diners. Lord Fotherington-Carstairs established his own enterprise, with a more 'luxury' product, and the two former friends were now rivals. Sir John's company had been in the ascendancy for years, but recent increased competition in the scratchy-yet-cheap market had left his business in deep trouble. Rumours were rife that Sir John would declare himself bankrupt soon, and the only chance of salvation for his business lay in a merger with his old friend's company.
"But he turned me down flat! Imagine that!" Sir John told us, "he kept holdin' to his high falutin' theories about softness and strength. Said he wouldn't risk his customers' asses on my paper, and that was that! Well, it made my blood boil, I don't mind tellin' yer! So that's why I came around last night - to appeal to him man to man, as a gentleman and a scholar."
"And he still vouldn't listen, and you flew into ein rage, hein?" asked Ludo. "And ended up strangling him? Come on Sir John, I'm a composer - I can soon have you singing ze right tune!"
"Will you shut up? I'm trying to question a gentleman here!" I retorted. Well, there are some questions a gentleman never asks a gentleman, you understand!
"No, no... Nothin' like that, what?" said Sir John. "We talked for a while, and he seemed willin' to agree to a compromise. I left him feelin' quite optimistic actually!"
And despite the poor man's unfortunate name, that seemed plausible to me - if the word of
rich party donors upstanding pillars of the community can't be trusted, what can? Beethoven seemed to be doing nothing but asking the wrong questions, when was he going to do something useful?
A Chip Off The Old Block
Robert Fotherington-Carstairs was next. The young man was the very image of his father and shared his passion for paper too. He regaled us with anecdotes of the great papermakers. It was endlessly fascinating, but kept shifting off the point. I tried to ask him if his father had discussed Sir John's compromise with him, and he turned it into a vignette about his prized hunting dogs. He did finally tell us that he was soon to join the board of his father's company, as soon as he graduated from university, that he could vouch for the character of Winnets the Butler - "as clean as a properly wiped arse", were his words - and that he would bet anything that his mother had nothing to do with it. This would seem, to him, to leave Sir John Obvious-Suspect as the obvious suspect.
Finally, looking to get a reaction from him, I asked Beethoven to show him the murder weapon. It worked. "Oh, how ghastly!" he exclaimed, "my father's blood on one of his prized antique toilet rolls - I can't bear to see it!"
"Fine," I responded, "turn the rollover, Beethoven!" (I thought that was rather clever actually, they both just groaned). And we carried on with our work.
Doth The Lady Protest Too Much?
Lady Fotherington-Carstairs was the final suspect. She was also the hardest interview, as she kept bursting into tears, which she dabbed away furiously with a ready supply of toilet paper - which reminded her again of her husband and caused her to burst into fresh floods. We finally managed to ascertain that she had been taken ill with diarrhea the previous day, and in her haste to the bathroom, had accidentally grabbed one of her husband's collection of rolls instead of an ordinary one. She admitted he had been a little angry with her, and they had had a blazing row, but vehemently denied that she had even entertained thoughts of murder. "No, it's just not in my nature," she explained, "and quite frankly, I'll kill Winnets for saying that about me!" Then she collapsed again into tears, and we could get no more from her.
The case was baffling, we appeared to be at a dead end. And then, I had a little idea...
Part 4 - The Dramatic Revelation
With matters coming to a head, I invited all of the suspects to a meeting in the drawing room.
"Ladies and gentlemen, let me thank you for coming at short notice," I said. "I know none of you had anything else to do, but I still appreciate it. I have spoken with you all, and let me assure you I intend to take action on what you have told me! Yes, decisive action is called for, and I promise to see to it that, as your Prime Minister, I will be decisively active..."
"Not Prime Minister, remember?" hissed Beethoven, bringing me back to earth with a bump. I cleared my throat.
"Ahem. That is to say: I take it you all know why you're here?"
"Well, one assumes," said Fotherington-Carstairs junior, "that you have an idea who did this dirty deed, and want to guide us through your clever-clever deduction processes at the scene of the crime, before dramatically revealing the murderer's identity."
"Der der der derrrr!" hummed Beethoven, dramatically. I glared at him. "Vell, I haven't had much to do so far, so I thought I'd help vith the atmosphere," he explained. I silenced him with my special
Prime Minister street-tough detective look.
"Actually, no," I admitted, "I've called you all here because I'm stumped, frankly. This is a most perplexing case, I haven't a clue who did it, and I wondered if anyone in here had any ideas?"
Sir John Obvious-Suspect snorted at this. "I've an idea," he rasped, "why don't we dismiss you and that Teutonic twit, and hire a competent detective to solve this case?"
"He's got ein point, Tone," opined my partner. "Ve don't seem to have made any headvay here. Vot do ve actually know anyvay?"
Just what I needed, the waste-of-space tunesmith was practically admitting defeat, just when I needed him to back me up. That did it, from now on, I was going to work alone!
"Well," I said, "one thing we do know is that CCTV footage shows none of you left the house all night, and nobody else came in. That means that the murderer must be in this room!"
"Must zey, by jove?" exclaimed Ludo, "vell vhy didn't you say so? Then the ball's in Beethoven's court!"
And with that, if you please, he sat at the piano, and began to play! I couldn't believe it for a few seconds - and then the melody swept over me, and I was transfixed. The piece was hauntingly beautiful - it dashed away one's outer defenses and left the inner soul beholden to all. I started sobbing, softly. I wanted to admit all of my failings, except of course that I have none - but I almost felt like inventing some, so that I could admit them. The butler hung his head and stared at the floor. Sir John shifted uneasily in his seat, biting his knuckles. Lady Fotherington-Carstairs buried her head in her hands and wept for her lost husband.
And then, with an anguished cry, Robert Fotherington-Carstairs fell to the floor weeping. "Enough!" he cried. "I can take no more! Your astounding composition has rendered my defenses dashed! It was I who killed my father. I who strangled him while he stood there, telling me he was going to buy Sir John's business and leave me out of the enterprise! How could he not give me a seat on the board? How could the selfish bastard tell me to find a job the way the common people do? And he wouldn't even listen when I told him I had to sell my prized hunting dogs to medical science so I could pay off my crippling gambling debts! He wasn't interested! And how could he go into business with someone whose paper tears strips of flesh from your arse! I hated him at that moment. So I admit it, I strangled him. I CONFESS! Now please stop your playing, I can take it no more!"
And with that dramatic revelation, the case was closed.
Part 5 - The Conclusion
As we watched a still weeping Robert Fotherington-Carstairs being escorted to a waiting police car, I turned to Beethoven. "I have to admit, I had you wrong Ludo," I said. "I thought you were going to be of no help at all in this case, but your unconventional methods, aligned to my dogged fact-finding, really did the trick. Thanks."
"Hey, it's vot I do!" he said.
"But how did you know it would work?" I asked.
"Vell, it vos in D Minor, which is zer saddest of all zer keys," he explained. "Zer double-escapement action of zer piano allowed me to hammer home several repetitive sequences designed to play on zer killer's sense of guilt, which helped. But basically, I think it's just because I'm so damned good!"
I couldn't argue with that. "Ludo, I can't argue with that," I said.
Just then, a Policeman came over to us. "Excuse me, sir, the Chief Inspector was impressed with the way you handled this case and was wondering if you could help with another. It seems Simon Cowell has been murdered, his waistband pulled up to around his neck and tightened until he was strangled. Frankly, sir, we're baffled - there's no shortage of people with a motive to kill him, after all. Can you lend your unique talents to the investigation?"
I caught Beethoven's eye. "Shall we, Ludo?" I asked.
"Vell, whoever did it has performed a great service to music," he remarked, "but murder is murder. Let's roll!"