by by Rachel Holmes, Paul Brookfield, Lee "Budgie" Barnett, Amy "Ayla" Ross and Chris B
It seemed to be just an ordinary day in the life of Bob Smith, he had no reason to doubt that today would be ordinary as every day was pretty ordinary to Bob, he was a very ordinary kind of bloke. Nothing exciting ever happened to him, well, nothing until now that is. You see Bob was about to get the biggest surprise of his life...
Maddy could hear the phone ringing, so she knew it had to be somewhere in the flat, she just couldn't find it. She also knew that it had to be Jonathan ringing to tell her he had another of his amazing mysteries for her to put in her book, at least that's what she hoped it was. Now all she had to do was locate the phone.... there it was, underneath the pile of ironing she had been trying to put off for as long as possible. To her disappointment, it wasn't Jonathan on the phone, it was her Uncle Bob's wife, Betty Smith, something terrible had happened to Bob.
Maddy listened intently to the woman on the end of the phone. Betty was going hysterical. Maddy felt stupid. She was listening to this hysterical aunt and she couldn't catch a single word that she was saying.
After a while she managed to calm her down and Maddy started the conversation from the beginning.
"Now auntie what is the problem? Has anything happened to Uncle Robert? Tell me what has happened in a calm, relaxed voice."
Maddy pressed the monitor button on the phone and put the receiver down.
Betty began with the story,
"When Bob left for work this morning he took all his usual paraphernalia. I didn't say much to him but I noticed that he was carrying a large tube. Something like an architect would carry to put his plans in. He ate his breakfast and left for the office. I continued with my house work until the phone rang at eleven thirty. When I picked it up it was Bob's boss. He hadn't turned up for work this morning and was wondering if he was ill. I told him that Bob had already set out to work but that was at seven thirty. He should have arrived at nine. The next thing I know the police are knocking on my door. They've found a body in a car. The number plate and ID found on the body all correspond to Bob's. He's dead. They say he committed suicide but the police are puzzled on how he did it. There was a bullet through his head. Shot at close range. The keys where in the ignition and all of the doors where locked from the inside. If they said he committed suicide how was it that the gun was found outside the car, lying on the grass."
The biscuit that Maddy was holding in her mouth fell to pieces as it hit the floor. She mumbled something to her aunt and hung up. She pressed MEMORY ONE on the phone. A number she was very familiar with.
With a sigh, Jonathan Creek put down the book he had been reading and rolled towards the telephone. That he was overly successful in his rolling and ended up reaching into thin air as he fell off the end of the bed couldn't be fully blamed on him, since it had only been a week since the new bed had arrived and he was constantly forgetting that it was six inches narrower than the previous model.
There was an elegant swear word uttered and he reached up and pulled the receiver of the telephone down to his height.
"Hello?" he asked.
"It's me," ventured Maddy.
"Of course it is," replied Jonathan, "everyone always says 'it's me'. You're hardly going to say 'it's you' now, are you?"
"No, I mean it's ME" said Maddy.
Jonathan stood up and sat on the edge of the bed, covering the lower half of his body up for no accountable reason. He wasn't in the mood for witty banter - he always felt that he'd never really developed the skill - and merely asked, "OK, who's dead now?"
There was a short silence before she leapt to her own defence.
"Jonathan Creek. You really are the most insufferable man. You seem to imply that the only reason I ever telephone you is when someone's died or when there's a mystery that I think only you can solve." There was a further short pause, slightly longer than the previous one and then "OK, you may be right there, but this one's personal."
"They always are," Jonathan stated. "you have more friends with mysteries than Jessica Fletcher. All right," he yawned, "tell me."
So she did.
As the car drove up and parked outside the house, Betty Smith got a surprise, though admittedly not one even remotely on the scale which her late husband had received some hours earlier. Maddy got out of the car and waved towards Betty who was looking out of the window. It was Maddy's companion that gave rise to the mild shock Betty felt.
From Maddy's description, she had expected someone who was a mixture of Arnold Shwarzenegger, Hercule Poirot and Paul Daniels. Instead, this anorak wearing, curly haired, train-spotter type got out of the passenger side of Maddy's car. They had obviously been discussing the case in detail, since they both had earnest expressions on their faces.
Betty opened the door and was slightly put out as she caught the tail end of their conversation.
"...I'm saying is," said Maddy, "I can't see the point of making Nelson's column disappear - I mean, you're only going to have to put it back again, aren't you?" She looked up and realised that Betty had opened the door. She gave her aunt a hug and introduced Jonathan.
Betty turned a disapproving eye on Jonathan and then melted as he turned a smile on her.
They sat in the living room and after twenty minutes, Jonathan had still not spoken. At last his face lit up and both Betty and Maddy leaned forward expectantly.
"I told you, Auntie", said Maddy. "He's already solved it."
He shot a withering glance at her. "Of course I've solved it," he sighed, "I haven't been told where the car was, where the weapon was found, the length of the tube nor the why the police think it's suicide if the weapon was outside." He shook his head, the curls hiding his face for a moment. "You may think I'm good, Maddy, but I'm not that good. I can think of a couple of ways that I'd do it, but I'd need an accurate picture of where everything was."
He reached out for a cream cake and took a bite, blissfully ignorant of the look mild disappointment Maddy had all over her face...
"Maybe I can help?" offered Betty. They both turned to look at her. "The police told me most of what you said you need to know, Mr Creek."
"Why didn't you tell us earlier?" asked Maddy with a frown.
"I didn't think you needed to know," said Betty, looking rather bewildered. "I don't think I can tell you anything you can't guess already."
Jonathan nodded, licking the remainder of his cake off his fingers as he listened to what Betty had to say.
"The car was found on a long country road, the one Bob always took to get to work. It was just stopped at the side of the road, as though he had parked there to enjoy the scenery or something. The gun was on the grass by the passenger door, facing away from the car. The only fingerprints on the gun were Bob's, and they were quite fresh, which is why the police think it was suicide. The tube I told you about was lying on the passenger seat. It was about as long as the seat is wide, and the end facing the window was open. The other end was closed with a normal cap. Bob was sitting in the driver's seat in a normal position. The bullet was in the side of his head, and his hands were beside his body."
Jonathan nodded again. "Hmm," he mused. "Was there anything inside the tube?"
Betty thought about this. "Only a couple of old, broken elastic bands," she said dismissively.
"It's just as I thought," Jonathan said with a shrug. "It's obviously suicide, but apparently he wanted to make it look like murder."
"So how did he kill himself?" prompted Maddy, looking slightly happier now that Jonathan had reached a conclusion.
"I'll show you."
Ten minutes and a toilet roll later, Jonathan had set up a makeshift model of the scene. A shoe box without its lid served as the car, with a small drinking glass for Bob, an empty toilet roll for the tube and a pair of scissors for the gun.
Jonathan picked up an elastic band and stretched it until it snapped, making one long piece of elastic. He then made a small knot in one end of it, and tucked it into a slot cut out of one end of the toilet roll. He tugged on it, making sure it wouldn't get pulled out, whilst Betty and Maddy watched in silence. He then picked up the pair of scissors, and cut a "window" out of the shoe box, on the opposite side to the drinking glass temporarily named Bob.
He rested the toilet roll on the notch cut out for the window, tilting it slightly so that one end, the end that had the elastic band tucked into it, was pointing directly towards the top of the glass, and the other end, from which he was holding the stretched elastic band, was protruding slightly out of the window.
He picked up the scissors, leaving them open, and looped the elastic band around them and the "trigger". He then brought the end of the band up to the glass, so it was resting along the top of the toilet roll.
"This is all it is," he said. "Now all Bob has to do is pull on the elastic band, and the trigger is pulled on the gun." As he tugged on the band, the scissors closed together. "Once he is shot, he automatically releases his hold on the elastic band." As he let go, the band, stretched almost to the point of snapping, twanged back against the scissors, unwrapping itself from them with such velocity they were pushed slightly away from the shoe box and landed with a thud on the table. Free from the scissors, the elastic band recoiled back inside the toilet roll with a loud snap, the force pulling it free from the notch holding it in place. "The force of the recoil pushes the gun outside the car. It was facing away from the vehicle when they found it because it would have bounced that way. Then the tube, with the elastic band still inside it, would just drop onto the passenger seat because most of it was still inside the car, with just the end outside the window."
Betty looked impressed, but Maddy, as always, was ready to pick holes in Jonathan's theory. "Then how did he close the window?"
"If he just wanted to kill himself he wouldn't go to all this trouble. He'd just shoot himself in the head. Because of all this elaboration, it's obvious he wanted to make it look like murder. He made two serious mistakes. Firstly, his fingerprints on the gun. He should have worn gloves, but then again that would raise suspicions - he's not likely to wear gloves to drive on a warm, sunny day. Maybe he was unaware of print dust. Secondly, the closed window. That destroys all hope of a murder investigation; it's impossible for someone to close a window from the inside of the car without being inside the car themselves. Betty, what type of window controls were there in Bob's car?"
"Electric ones," she replied promptly. "Much better than the old wind-up ones we used to have. With these ones, you just press and hold them. Bob used to love messing around with them; he had extra controls for all the windows right by his seat."
"See?" said Jonathan. "There's your answer. A mistake that couldn't have been avoided once it had happened, yet the key to the whole thing. I suspect that when he died his hand fell onto the controls by his seat. Unfortunately for him, his hand landed right on the control which closed the passenger window."
"So that's it, then," said Maddy.
"Not quite," he replied. "This is only the beginning of the mystery. The case here isn't how, it's why. Why make it look like murder when it's obviously suicide?"
"Oh dear, oh dear oh dear...", Mewed Betty almost on the verge of feinting.
"What is it Auntie?", asked Maddy, rushing to her side with genuine concern.
"Well I hoped it wouldn't come out, but its all this embezzlement business...", she continued.
Jonathan threw Maddy a knowing glance, half sarcasm, half sympathy for the old woman.
"I think you better tell us everything, Aunty..."
Over the course of the next few minutes the tea grew cold as Aunt Betty told the pair of the allegations that Bob had been 'relieving' the bank where he worked of several thousand pounds over recent years...
"There's no way Bob could take money like that," sobbed Betty, "he was the most honest man I ever knew." Betty took hold of the wedding photo from the mantle, as if to be close to him again. "He was old fashioned, he'd return to a shop if he realised he had been undercharged 10p. I swear, if it hadn't been for Hector, we'd never have coped."
"Hector?" Inquired Maddy
"He is, I mean was, Bob's boss at the bank, ever since the auditors found the problems that led to Bob being questioned, he has backed him 100%. Mind you, we go back a long way, best man at our wedding he was, 35 years ago. Offered to help us with legal costs if it went that far. If you ask me, they should look start questioning Bobs partner Simon, never liked him, shifty eyes, if ever there was a man with a skeleton in the cupboard its him...."
Jonathan took Maddy to one side, "Look, why don't we assume there's no way I'm getting out of this without a black eye, and hit me now while I'm expecting it, I'm really sorry for your Aunt, but how much motivation do you need for Bobs suicide, she's clasping at straws to defend him, shifty eyes indeed, what's next, a voodoo curse?"
Maddy ushered her Aunt away on the pretence of fresh tea to get Jonathan alone.
"Look," jabbed Maddy, "this is my Aunt, YOU are going to give her a chance, YOU are going to look at the car, with me and the police tomorrow. Betty trusts ME, I trust YOU, and that's the only way we can get her to accept the loss of my Uncle. UNDERSTOOD?"
For fear of his life, Jonathan nodded, "Look, its late," he said, "and a good soldier retreats after loosing a battle, I'm going to sleep on it..."
In bed, Jonathan turned over the car in his head, from above, below, inside out, still suicide. Well, it beat counting sheep.
The bell rang, it was early, very early, too early for Jonathan anyway who was only semi-conscious. He followed the sound of voices into the kitchen to see Maddy and her Aunt talking to possibly the youngest looking policeman he had ever seen. "Tea? " asked Auntie.
"Oh lord, yes please" said Jonathan.
"She meant PC Simmons!" whispered Maddy through gritted teeth.
"Oh, better make it two then..." he replied.
The car trip to the site took only minutes, as the officer explained how he had driven his superior to the site to first witness the bizarre circumstances, just the days before.
Maddy, Jonathan and the policeman pulled up about 30 feet from the site, walking the rest of the way, "...and nothing has been touched?" asked Jonathan.
"Well erm... no, that is erm... the body and the gun you see they erm... had to..."
"Take it. Its OK, you can mention the body without me bursting into tears." Maddy reassured him.
"It's not that ma'am, its just.. I erm.. never saw a dead body before this business..."
The car was surrounded by a square of yellow incident tape, dripping with the mornings rain.
"Go on Jonathan go do your thing."
"Just go!" Maddy continued to talk to the young officer, who was almost shivering, doing her best to imply the great job he was doing.
For fifteen minutes Maddy and the PC watched the silhouette against the sunrise tentatively inspect the car inside and out in every way possible. Seeming like an eternity he eventually returned to Maddy's side, looking crestfallen.
"What did you find." Maddy inquired.
"Well, unfortunately, the police kindly trampled all round the car, no way to trace footprints, but I did find a smear of face paint on the back seat, a missing label and a partially cleaned boot. Which tells us two things."
"And they are?" Maddy tartly answered given Jonathan's leading pause.
"Firstly, it tells us that far from careless, the events that took place in this car were brilliantly planned"
"AND?" insisted Maddy
"And I have been wrong all along, this was murder, cold blooded murder."
"What?" Maddy eventually composed herself to say, ",what about all that back at the house? A suicide meant to look like murder you said, but he made mistakes you said."
"It's all about misdirection, making assumptions, that's the heart of any magic trick, that's what makes this so clever."
"Trick? Trick? This is my Uncle, he's dead, this is not a trick!"
"Oh boy, murder?!" Interrupted the juvenile policeman, "I better get the chief."
Thanks to a call from Maddy's mobile, in the best tradition, the widow, the amateur detective, the assistant and two policemen were assembled at her house to hear the truth revealed by the one there who knew it.
"Go on then Jonathan," said Maddy, she'd been in this situation too many times to feel nervous, "put us out of our misery, what on earth happened?"
"Maddy, Betty, officers, what we have here is in fact, a murder disguised as a suicide, in turn disguised as a murder."
"Run that by me again?" Asked the bemused police chief, trying to keep up with his pad and pen.
"It was a double bluff, and a great one, I mean, I didn't see it...we couldn't see the big picture. A suicide would look a bit suspicious from such a stable man, but a suicide meant to look like a murder would give us just to enough to think about to pat ourselves on the back, when we deduce it couldn't be murder... but the truth is far worse."
"Yesterday morning Bob leaves for work, carrying a sealed tube he received by post the day before, the tube is postmarked the day before his death. Driving down the lane as usual, Bob sees a man trying to flag him down frantically, the killer, heavily disguised in case he's seen, he shouts out some imagined emergency, a pregnant woman or something. Bob pulls over, lowers the passenger window to see if he can help, and at the appropriate moment, the killer draws the gun and fires into Bobs temple. He plants Bob's finger prints on the gun and places it on the ground. Now is the part that took the real nerve. The killer climbs into the car raises the window and locks all the doors, he unseals the tube and frantically tears off the label, you can all see it was impatiently done."
"Wh-Why would he do that?" stuttered Betty.
"Well, my guess is that it came to your address, but was deliberately addressed in the name of someone else, perhaps the killer, marked private and confidential, he wouldn't dare open it, he mustn't or he would discover the contents, just 2 rubber bands. Anyway, the killer places the tube to imply suicide as we initially suspected, climbs onto the back seat, moves the rear seat forward to allow access to the boot, climbs through, accidentally leaving a smudge of white face paint and closes it behind him, and waits."
"...For the police to come, inspect the car, forcing the door to gain access." Finished Maddy, as she began to see the big picture.
"The sweat must be dropping off him by now," Jonathan continued, ",eventually they leave, this case needs expert attention after all. When they are gone, he is about to exit the car through the now open door, when he notices the mud, he was careful in the car, but cramped in the boot he has no choice but to get muddy prints on one place. Frantically he scrubs the telltale prints away, leaving a patch much cleaner than the rest of the boot of Bobs overworked wagon, and runs like the wind leaving us with an almighty puzzle to solve."
"Unbelievable." Said almost everyone in the room.
"That's all well and good", said the constable, "but what does that tell us about the identity of the killer?"
"Enough. It was white face paint, so its safe to say the killer has darker skin or why use it? And have you ever tried to get into the boot of one of those cars that way? There's no way he could pull it off unless he was thin, and little more than five feet tall."
Maddy was the first to see it, then Aunt Betty, as gradually all eyes in the room fell upon the wedding picture above the fire, Betty, her beloved Bob, and their best man, Hector, with his Mediterranean features standing on tiptoes to make it into the shot.
"My god. Hector? Surely not." Betty eventually said, in total disbelief.
"I think we better have a word with this gentleman.", added the policeman.
"I have a feeling this will shed a different light on the embezzlement investigation too" added Maddy. "I bet Hector stole the money, laid the trail to lead right to Bob when the auditors came in. No wonder he offered to help with the legal expenses, he can afford it!"
"No doubt at some point he planned to pretend to realise Bobs guilt", continued Jonathan ",desert him and leave him to the mercy off the law, but it looks like Hector lost his nerve, worried that someone would see through the trail he left, maybe even Bob suspected, and so planned to kill the primary suspect, and everyone thinks Bob just couldn't take the guilt of his crime."
"I don't know what to say, Mr Creek," said Aunt Betty "I couldn't stand people thinking that of my Bob."
"I told you about Jonathan and his 'knack' didn't I?" said Maddy with a wry smile.
After their goodbyes, Jonathan left with Maddy the next day, yet he was strangely depressed. In the car, Maddy asked why, "So why the long face? Another problem solved, another puzzle cracked with your genius?"
"For years I've worked with magic, illusions, acts of misdirection is my business, and yet I get thrown off the scent by a glorified accounts clerk!"
"Oh, don't worry Jonathan, I still have faith in you," said Maddy with a smile, "sometimes it just takes a while to see the big picture."