The start of the year had been tiresome for mister Taylor, working as an investigator in the middle of London made for taxing work but tomorrow, he was finally due a week off. He had made plans to meet up with an old acquaintance, Jackson Green, and then to perhaps visit some of the old historic sites that the city had to offer, Taylor himself had wanted to visit the Victoria and Albert Museum for a couple of years now and he distinctly remembered Green being excited when it was first opened.
His hopes for the following day had thoroughly distracted him, the ride on the way back to the apartment building had seemed to have breezed past with him barely noticing, the detective was feeling relieved he wouldn’t have to take pains in remembering the minutiae of the day from now on. The building was named ‘Wenwik House’, it was four stories high with each floor large enough for two residences, the first floor was dedicated for a small foyer, communal area, bar, and office for the landlady; She kept a bed in her office too and would often stay in the building for a couple of weeks at a time. If Misis Wenwik was sleeping in her office, Taylor would always have to brace himself for ambush every time he wished to leave or enter the building, today was one of these times.
“Hello, Detective Taylor, is this the start of your holiday then?” she asked, shuffling out from the room behind the front desk, before Taylor could make his way to the elevator, she had descended upon him.
“Yes, I will be taking some time off over the next few days, I have a fair bit planned so I must…”
“Oh, this year must have been quite busy for you, I remember last year that it wasn’t until the September, so what changed this year if you don’t mind me asking,” she cut him off, the detective’s efforts to leave the ground floor had quickly failed, he was now stuck talking to the small queen of the building, Mrs Wenwik’s nose has inspired this title in the detective’s mind specifically in how it was bent and angular in the same way as the queen’s, she also had the same signature round face of Victoria too which caused Taylor to suspect they may even be distant relatives.
“Not at all, crime is changing Mrs. Wenwik, as our methods of catching criminals are advancing, it’s one thing taking witness accounts, now they want us searching for hairs and criminals are getting smart to this too, one of these days this profession will get too complicated for any real policework,” Taylor responded frankly and as he hoped, the intensity of his response had put off the aging landlady from further prodding, she was all face, she was only ever interested in gossip and the detective knew this.
An ornate elevator led up to each of the rooms, it was surrounded by a spiralling staircase and those who were taking the elevator could look out of the metal grates enclosing the shaft at those who were taking the stairs. Mr. Taylor hit the button to call the elevator, the metal shook slightly as the powerful winching device placed the carriage at his level, the door in the shaft opened and he stepped in. There was another panel in the carriage with numbered buttons, he pressed the button to go to floor three and started up the motor again. The ascent of the carriage was gradual, Taylor looked up above his head to admire the great effort made by the driving mechanism.
“Detective, excuse us!” Called out Mr. Simmons, he was with his wife too and they were both looking extremely concerned through the lift shaft wall.
“What is it Sam?” asked the detective.
“We’ve found a body in out fireplace,”
“Hey!” Detective Taylor hit the emergency stop button and the doors opened halfway between the first and second floor, he quickly climbed out of the carriage and met the newly married couple on the stairs.
“Well, go and tell Mrs. Wenwik to call the police and don’t leave this building, Mrs. Simmons, could you show me into your sitting room?” he requested, the couple agreed straight away and he was led into apartment two where they lived. Their rug had been rolled back and lying on the floorboards before the fireplace was a body covered in soot. Mrs. Simmons stood far from the body and watched as the detective searched through the victims’ clothes.
“Did you find his body just today?” he asked.
“Yes, at five o’clock when we both got in, we waited for you,” she answered with a nervousness in her voice.
“You should never wait,” he said in a dulled tone, worrying her any further was pointless, there would have most likely been plenty of time for the assailant to get away before they came to their apartment, five o’clock was also consistent with their schedule, she was probably telling the truth.
He finished checking the body, there was no sign of any identification, no wallet, no watch, not even a name on his shirt, the man looked to be roughly his own age, he was quite thin looking and wore scruffy clothes, the detective thought about if he was potentially a chimney sweep but that theory wasn’t possibly true, Mrs. Wenwik had always opted for more modern cleaning methods, unless he had dropped a long pole down the chimney shaft and had suffocated as he tried to retrieve it from below, this was clearly fantasy but there was always a higher chance of there being no murderer.
The building was quickly closed off by the police and a medical specialist had appeared onto the scene. Including the two policemen who had set up in the foyer, nine people were in the building and one body, making for five suspects. Doctor Price, the man tasked with identifying the body had been working all evening in the Simmons’ room after sending off the body to the mortuary, he had spent his time on the phone to call in a multitude of public records and had requested Mrs. Wenwik lend him a room close to the crime scene. The doctor called upwards for the Detective as Taylor was speaking with Ms. Charlotte Green, another occupant of the building, he walked down to meet the doctor who showed him a long list of dental records.
“I think I’ve got a match Taylor, if you look these diagrams I took of his mouth you can see this man has two fillings, one newer one for his right central incisor and an older, mercury based filling in his left premolar, this is very lucky because there is only one match in the records, a man called Richard Barker,” explained the doctor, looking quite impressed with himself.
“Richard Barker, are you sure?”
“Well, this is the best idea I have right now, I can visit the mortuary to double check if you are unsure,”
“That won’t be necessary Dr Price, I hesitated because I went to school with this man” Taylor answered.
Earlier in the evening Detective Taylor made sure to firstly speak with the Simmons’s and then soon Mrs Wenwik, the couple living in apartment two had calmed down after the initial shock but were still anxious about getting arrested, After the body had been removed from their front room, Taylor was invited into the kitchen where the two of them seemed happy to take questions from the detective.
“Could you please describe what you were doing in these last two days?” Taylor asked, he knew it was a very open request but questions like these had often produced very clear tells from suspects in the past.
“Yes, yesterday I went to work at Winkworth, this was at eight o’clock, I had a forty-minute break at half past twelve when I met up with Rosa,” Mr Simmons gestured to his wife. “Then I got off at the usual time at half past four, the same can be said about today, except I didn’t meet up with you today did I darling?”
“That’s right, I was with the florist,” Mrs Simmons agreed.
“Then when I came home, I met up with Rosa and when we got back in here, we saw soot all across the rug, I looked inside the chimney and well, you know the rest,” Mr Simmons finished.
“Very good, could you provide me a number for your workplace, and I also need to ask you if you left the estate agents at any point in the day yesterday and today,” the detective replied.
“Here’s my business card, this number belongs to my branch, I was only taking clients these past few days, so I don’t remember ever leaving work, not even again for lunch today,” the anxiousness in his voice had returned, the detective also noticed how keen he was to cover for his wife too, this was typical.
“And you Mrs Simmons, the past two days may have been a little less regimented for you, just a brief description will do,”
“Thank you Mr Taylor, well yesterday I spent the morning with some friends, we had volunteered to help at Aldersgate for their sports day, it was only a short walk to Park Road so I spent lunch with my husband, today I met up with the florist we had for our wedding, I stayed with her, Mrs Birch, until Sam came for me,” Rosa Simmons gave her story, afterwards the detective only requested the phone numbers of the florist and continued on the investigation, there was one pressing line of enquiry he had in mind.
Taylor took the stairs back down to the ground floor to speak with the landlady herself, she was with one of the officers sitting in the foyer, he was looking tired but quite welcomed by the old bat, Taylor was surprised that he was keeping up with her as she was most likely to be divulging every rumour that she could to him.
“Mrs Wenwik, could you show me to the cellar?” he asked.
“Oh, of course, let’s just go through here, the door down is through my office you see,” she agreed, though Taylor did detect a hint of annoyance as she was interrupted in the middle of a story. He followed her as she unlocked the cellar door and down the concrete steps. The room below was cold unlike the rest of the building even if it was keeping two furnaces for the chimneys in both wings.
“Can you open the hatches for the burners?” he asked Mrs Wenwik.
“Yes, I have the key on this chain too,” she went and unlocked the door to the furnace for the left wing, it was positioned under rooms two, four and six, exactly where he wanted to look.
“Mr Taylor, do murder cases ever damage the value of a property?” she asked as the detective sifted around in the dark.
“I believe it can happen, maybe Mr Simmons is the man to ask but remember that just because there’s a body, it doesn’t necessarily mean someone was murdered, people die for all kinds of reasons,”
“Oh, I see,” she responded, at that moment the detective grasped a piece of soft leather, he pulled it out and wiped off as much soot as he could from the parcel. It was a protective sleeve for a brass pocket watch, Taylor turned the device in his hands, it was still functional and there were even initials on the side that spelt out “T.E.”
“What is it?” the woman asked.
“It seems like someone dropped their watch, does anyone on the left side of this building have these initials?”
“Well, I can’t say there is but there is Mr Edwards in room three,” she pointed out.
“Interesting to think how his watch got in here, thank you Mrs Wenwik, this will be all for now,” he dismissed himself and headed straight back up the stairs to room three. On his way up he was met by the second officer.
“Detective, I think you should see this,” he gestured and lead Taylor up to the third floor where a ladder had been set against a wall in the landing.
“I thought it prudent to check where I could, I thought it was quite peculiar that there’s a ladder all the way up here,”
“You’re right, the ladder to the attic is kept in the cellar, but that ladder still remains there, this one must have been bought in from elsewhere,”
“Well, you have to see this now,” the officer finished leading Taylor up into the attic where he showed him to the windows positioned at the back of the building.
“Now you see, this window can’t be opened, there’s a latch keeping it in place,” the officer pushed at the base of the large window, the wooden frame creaked slightly.
“But if you look under the latch here, you can see daylight” this was all the officer needed to explain once the detective scanned each of the windows.
“I see what you’re getting at, just a thin piece of metal wire and this latch can come undone quite easily, when I look out of this window, I can also see that there is a fire escape too, how convenient,” The detective followed.
“Quite right,” the officer looked proud of his finding.
“Well, either the assailant is still in the building, or we have a manhunt on our hands, I had my doubts, but this is almost certainly a murder,” the detective composed himself and continued with his original plan, now more than ever he was eager to visit room three.
Mr Edwards was already outside of his apartment once Taylor returned to the second floor, he had a look of concern on his face but before the detective could speak with him, a doctor called up from below.
“Excuse me detective Taylor!”
“What is it, I take it you’re here for the body?” he replied with a slight hint of impatience as he was distracted form what could be the most important enquiry of the evening.
“Yes, I’ve got what I needed off the body and it’s off to the mortuary now, I just wanted to let you know Mrs Wenwik has lent me a room and that I’ll be staying close to the crime scene at least for tonight,” explained the doctor, the detective was surprised that someone like him would be so intrigued as to want to stay so close to the scene but having someone with his skills nearby would be very helpful to the investigation nevertheless.
“Very good, now excuse me, I have to be speaking with Mr Edwards now,” the detective saw Price nod and returned to apartment two, then he fixed his gaze towards the tall but quite frail historian at his door. Edwards let the detective into number three without any resistance and offered him a seat.
Mr Edwards worked as a history professor at The University of London and his apartment reflected this much. Papers which he was in the middle of grading took up most of his desk space and he marked them with a large set of inks and quills he kept in a small cupboard above the workstation. His whole sitting room was filled with bookshelves and a few old antiques including portraits and vases, the door to his bedroom was ajar showing even more unorganised books lying in piles next to the bed and he had even added shelves across his kitchen to keep more items.
“Apologies for the mess, I get quite busy this time of the year,”
“Think nothing of it professor, I would be curious if you could assess this watch for me,” The detective took out the pocket watch he had found earlier and presented it to him. The man did not seem to react to it and very quickly resolved to dismiss the trinket.
“Well, I’m not sure how I would give an historical assessment, it’s far too new to start, the only interesting thing about it to me is quite personal, whoever owns this has the same initials as me,” he pointed this detail out to the detective, Taylor raised an eyebrow at the professor.
“Apologies if you feel I’m underestimating you detective, I just wanted to clarify, I hope this isn’t the only thing you wanted to speak to me about,” Mr Edwards had perfected the tone of a teacher, Detective Taylor could not help but grin somewhat at the feeling of unease he could so easily promote.
He asked the professor for a summary of his past couple of days as he did with the Simmons couple and left his apartment, the situation for the detective was getting unclear and once again the possibility that the assailant would not even be in the building surfaced in his thoughts. Despite his misgivings, the detective continued and knocked on the door to apartment one, the residency of Charlotte Green.
The young woman took her time coming to the door and was surprised to see the detective still dressed in his work clothes at such a time.
“Oh, Mr Taylor, if everything okay?” she asked, the detective had expected her to be too involved in her acting as to worry about her neighbours.
“I’m afraid not Ms Green, a body has been recovered from room two, I would like to ask you some questions,”
“Oh, yes, come in,” she replied, looking to be in a slight state of shock.
“Is it someone anyone knows?” Ms Green asked as she led the detective into her kitchen, the seats in her sitting room had all been moved giving her ample floorspace to move around for her practice.
“It’s unlikely, we may have conformation in the next few days though,”
“Can I make you a drink?”
“No thank you, it’s getting quite late already, now Ms Green I have to ask about your perspective of the last couple of days,”
She agreed to answer and recited her recent audition on the Thursday, but she struggled to give a good answer for what she did earlier in the day, but the detective thought of this as a consequence of the life of an actor, despite her bad memory, Green did produce one piece of information.
“What about last night, did you hear any strange movement?” asked Taylor.
“I didn’t hear anything, but I did see that Mr Edwards had come home late, he had a large parcel with him up the elevator, oh yes, and his hands were also covered in some black substance,” she answered.
The detective had almost finished speaking with Ms Green when the doctor called him down to listen to his assessment, and as said, the detective was met with the revelation that Richard Barker, his old schoolmate had been the one who had been murdered. Taylor found himself downstairs at the bar deep in thought, he was never really friends with Richard and ironically, only started to know more about him once he had put the man behind bars; the detective wondered if that arrest he made all those years ago was the reason he was dead today.
The food at the bar was lacklustre but managed to tie him over, the time was nine o’clock and the summer light had begun to retreat from the building. He called down the elevator, it was as slow as ever, it matched his mood and besides he always liked riding it since he moved into the building, despite his dislike for socialising with the landlady, he very much agreed with her taste.
All of a sudden, a soft shunting could be felt in the carriage, the detective looked up and saw that a shadowy figure was above him messing with the contraption above He had hand drill and looked to be unscrewing a section of the exposed winching mechanism, within only moments the cord supporting the carriage had came undone and the Taylor was sent falling down towards the foyer.
At ten past nine on the Friday, Detective Taylor called everyone in the building to congregate in the communal area, the residents and public workers separated off across the tables and watched as he finished his phone conversation.
“Thank you doctor, that was very informative,” Taylor finished and stood up to meet the small crowd.
“I’m sure you all know why I’ve called you down here at such a time, this will certainly be something to talk about because thanks to a few blunders on their part I have figured out the killer,” with his words, everyone looked around the room at one another and Mrs Wenwik gasped in enjoyment.
“I must apologies to you Mr Edwards, after finding that watch with initials matching yours, you became the prime suspect, but am certain now that it would be impossible for you to be the murderer,”
“But what about that big parcel he was carrying last night?” interjected Ms Green.
“That was marking,” Mr Edwards and the detective replied at the same time.
“And the black substance you saw on his hands was merely ink, besides the body did not come from below, that would have been far too obvious, no, instead it came from the roof and was dropped down the chimney shaft in the left wing,”
“You two, Mrs Simmons and Ms Green, both had plenty of opportunity to do just this but of course there is complete lack of evidence for this, and you’ve been practicing acting for a few years now Ms Green, but you aren’t that good,” the detective let out a small laugh as Green folded her arms at him.
“Three peculiarities have stood out to me more than anything, firstly how the soot was spread out on your rug.” He pointed to the Simmons couple. “Secondly are the mismatching initials on the watch to the name of the victim, and thirdly your willingness to spend your evening in the building, doctor,”
“I’m not sure what you’re getting at Taylor, I’m just here to do my job,” Dr Price reacted, looking offended.
“I’m saying, very plainly, that you are the killer,” the whole room turned to the doctor.
“You are committed to your job, yet you failed off the mark to point out that the body had clearly impacted from above, the dental records you showed me, they were very convenient, despite the rarity of matching dental records and the quantity of them to begin with, finding a match as quickly as you did was unbelievable,”
“You think I am the killer because I didn’t do my job in the way you were expecting? You need a rest detective,” the doctor was now visibly irritated.
“I am not finished, I was thinking about the watch again after you told me who had been murdered and, for a moment I floated that idea that the watch did in fact belong to the victim and that you were instead mistaken about his identity, but who’s body is it then?” the detective looked in the direction of the doctor now sitting pensively and refusing to give a comeback.
“It’s your body Doctor, you might want to know who I was on the phone with just a moment ago, I was asking about recent absences at St George’s or if they knew of any absences at other hospitals, fortunately they did, on Tuesday a junior doctor called Thomas Edmondson did not turn up for work, T.E.,” The detective tapped the matching initials on the pocket watch. As this happened, one of the officers came out from Mrs Wenwik’s office and placed handcuffs around Dr Price’s wrists.
“I checked, a specialist was never allocated to here, the station has no clue who a Dr Price even is, you’re coming with us,”
“Not so fast, I would like a confession, because you will give one, won’t you? When you cut the wire for the elevator, your plot was almost complete, too bad about the emergency breaks, right Richard?” the detective asked. The doctor dropped the act and looked straight as the detective.
“You’re right, I am Richard Barker, I’m not dead, those years ago you ruined my life and now I almost has my chance to get my own back, you would have been dead but now only that, your last investigation would had been a complete shambles,”
“Well, it was a good try Richard, shame about the watch.”