As the elderly female amateur sleuth entered the drawing room, the occupants quickly hushed and stared at her with anticipation. They knew of her deductive prowess and uncanny ability to worm the truth from even the most hardened of criminals. They had apt reason to be concerned. They all had secrets.
Two policemen quietly followed her in and stood by the door. No chance of escape.
Her name was Cressida Crowley and she was a sight to behold. A mass of grey corkscrew hair haloed her round face, her eyes were like two sapphires pushed into floury dough and her nose was akin to an arrow head. Even the kindest of critics would say that she had a face like a pastry hatchet.
In a voice as sweet and sickly as treacle, Miss Crowley said, “You all know why you have been told to come here. The death of Lady Alice Ffoier, Dowager Duchess of Marpleshire. Rather than an accident as some people might suggest,” she turned her icy eyes upon Lord Hampton who was pointedly staring at the ceiling. “I know that this was no mere accident but a murder most foul.” She paused until the customary gasps faded away.
“You cannot be serious,” spluttered Percy, cad and eldest son of Lord and Lady Hampton.
“Oh, but I am very serious indeed, young man. Very serious. Unless, of course, you think that a bull elephant could just innocently wander into a country mansion by accident?”
“Ah, you may have a point, Miss Crowley. But who would do such a fiendish thing?”
“A bull elephant would require a handler,” said the carrot-topped detective, rocking to and fro upon her heels. “And so the pointing finger of suspicion would fall on you, Mr Thighbiter!” Her crooked finger pointed at the grounds-keeper, Uriah Thighbiter.
Thighbiter’s eyes widened. “Now, you can’t accuse me of anythin’. I didn’t do nothing, right? I know ‘ow the law works, you need evidence and you ain’t got none.”
Miss Crowley smiled. “Oh, but I do. Is it not true that you, in your last position, worked as keeper at London Zoo? Prior animal handling experience I believe. And is it not also true that you left the job in mysterious circumstances?”
She cut across him savagely. “You were caught in flagrante delicto in the meerkat enclosure. You had been working your way through the zoo, taking liberties with the animals you were entrusted to protect, Mr Thighbiter!”
“You don’t understand!” the grounds-keeper called out. “Their eyes tempted me every day and I am just a weak man. How was I meant to resist?” He turned to the others. “Surely you understand the need for the touch of fur or feathers?” The others avoided his teary eyes.
“Luckily for you, Mr Thighbiter, a desire for animal flesh doesn’t mean you have a capacity to kill. You are not our killer.”
The grounds-keeper slumped to the floor, tears running down his stubbly face.
“And so the finger comes to you,” she pointed, “Percy Hampton, layabout cad and feckless ruiner of the virtues of all the scullery maids!”
“I say, is that not a little harsh? At least I am not rogering rabbits like Thighbiter here, what?”
“Mr Thighbiter cannot fight his base urges,” said Miss Crowley, “but you willingly slake your diabolical thirsts upon each and every female member of stuff here. Do you know that half the babies born in the local village all bear your features?”
“Slander! Utmost slander!” shouted Percy, rising to his feet. “I know for a fact that most of the maids do not even come from the village!”
Percy’s mother spoke up. “Only because all the young girls in the village are too busy giving birth to your bastards, Percy. Do you not know how hard it is to find good help when they keep being impregnated with illegitimate heirs?”
Percy was silent. Mama was where the buck stopped. Even a cad would not risk the bite of his mother’s acid tongue.
Miss Crowley continues, “‘Putting it about a bit’, as our Cockney cousins might say, is not the same as being a murderer no matter how many virtues you prick like a balloon. So, the culprit is still here in this room unfound. Let me quickly turn to the other suspects who have alibis. Pepe the circus dwarf lover of Lady Hampton,” at this point the suspects all stared in astonishment at Lady Hampton except for Lord Hampton who promptly kicked Pepe into the fireplace, “is not the murderer since he has neither motive or opportunity or indeed the wits to arrange this most foul murder. Neither is the butler, Smithers, who was killed in the same pachyderm-related incident. The same goes for Tobias, younger son, who was playing snakes and ladders in the nursery. Finally, Lord and Lady Hampton are obviously not the killers either since they were both dining at the Savoy at the time of Lady Alice Ffoier’s unfortunate squishing.”
Lord Hampton got up, looked around, and then said, “But that just leaves you.”
Miss Cressida Crowley smiled gently. “I cannot tell a lie. It was me who arranged for the death of Lady Ffoier to be sat upon by a bull elephant at the point of orgasm as she allowed the butler to serve her a portion.”
They all gasped. Lady Hampton even clutched at her chest rather hammily.
“I guess you would all want to know why I had Lady Alice murdered. We were at school together, Marpleshire Academy. Best friends until that one fateful day when she was picked to play Mary in the 1922 Christmas play. That part should have been mine. But that bitch,” everyone gasped at her gutter slang, “stole it. I was reduced to the part of third sheep from the right. Was that fair? Was it?”
The two policemen quietly approached and laid a hand on each shoulder. Handcuffing her, they began to take her away when Lord Hampton interjected, “But how did you get the elephant into the room?”
Miss Crowley smiled gently. “I simply knocked down a hole in her bedroom wall and placed a ramp against the outside wall. Borrowing a elephant off our mutual friend, Lord Bath, I took it to the bedroom. Lady Alice, being both blind and incredibly senile with age, did not notice either hole or elephant. Smithers, being of a lower class, would not even think to question anyone of a higher social standing. As he proceeded with the coitus, I simply waited to Lady Alice’s exuberance to arrive and then I made the elephant sit down on the two of them. Simple really. Coitus interruptus.”
And with a giggle, Lady Cressida Crowley was led out by the police to the general bafflement of all that just witnessed the madness.