Shaggy Dog Contest

“By an odd coincidence,” said Atherington, “everyone chose that night to do away with the Marquis.” He said it ‘mar-kwiss,’ which made Diane wince; Simon sneered at her and mouthed, “He’s right.” Karl, standing behind her at the sideboard, couldn’t suppress a snort of laughter. The Marchioness frowned ferociously at all of them. Atherington continued, undisturbed: “First on the scene was Lady Pokingham with her vial of exotic mineral salts. Sloppy work, Your Ladyship: we found traces in his toothcup. A truly herculean jolt, if the amount left is any indicator.” He clinked his ice cubes at them affably. “Next, I think, was the young Lord Simon, with his subtle syringe. Oh, yes, we found that, old top, kicked underneath the bed and covered with fingerprints. Oddly enough not with anything else. Hoping for an embolism, were you? Well, nevermind. Then came Miss Pokingham and her young man. A nice bit of work with the knives all around – right into the lungs and not a drop of vino spilled on the bedspread. You’re to be congratulated. In another life you might have made a fair pair of surgeons.”

“As though he’d have let us slip out that way,” murmured Diane. “But thank you.”

“All in all, a full night’s work between the lot of you.” He handed his glass to Karl. “Would you mind terribly? Brandy, please. Thank you.”

“Very good, Inspector,” said the Marchioness, tartly. “Very nicely reasoned. But who killed him? We all wanted to, right enough, but who succeeded?”

“I’m afraid we’re out of the running, dearest,” sang Karl, busy with siphon and stopper.

“Oh, I wouldn’t say so, necessarily,” Simon drawled. “You chose the fastest, most reliable method, certainly. The old beast might have survived until you got to him, though not to morning.”

Atherington chuckled. “Alas for your fame. No one killed him, I’m afraid. He was dead before his head hit the pillow. The shrapnel in his lungs had finally worked itself loose. Lady Pokingham’s poison was still waiting in his stomach when we examined him. No, he died a war hero at the last. Terribly glorious, in a way, don’t you think?”