6th October 2018 at 11:18 am #57922
My previous entry seems to have vanished, so here’s another shot….
Classic cosy crime, whodunit, trying first person for the first time (much harder than I thought it would be!)
Any thoughts anyone?
‘I must inform you, sir, that a body has been discovered on the front doorstep.’ Gregson announced.
My concentration was entirely taken up tying a Bibio. Only this morning I’d received a small box of precious seal fur for the exact purpose of creating this seemingly simple fly. The fur had required delicate teasing along the waxed thread, followed by a splash of red, then a little more black for the body. Finally I’d bound this excellent dry lure together by winding silver wire around a black cock hackle feather.
I was vaguely aware of Gregson hovering behind me and creating an annoying distraction – he knew how tricky tying off was.
‘I’m busy.’ I told him, eyes fixated on the vice holding the fly hook; scissors poised in one hand, thread held taut in the other.
‘Major Lennox, sir.’ Gregson persevered. ‘It is rather urgent.’
I snipped, then straightened up – the fly complete, and stood back to better survey my work. ‘Who is it?’
‘I do not know sir, he is in no condition to furnish a name.’
‘What are you talking about Gregson?’ I looked at him sharply, wondering if he’d started early. ‘Didn’t you ask him?’
‘The person on the doorstep is dead, sir,’ he replied.
Gregson had been my personal batman and butler throughout the four years of the Great War; we both knew more than we wanted to about death – he was unlikely to be mistaken in the matter. I left the gunroom and made my way toward the front of the house, Gregson trying to outpace me to reach the door first – he failed. I yanked it open and walked out into the fresh winters day – crisp and cold, with a brisk breeze and a weak sun illuminating the body of a large fat man lying on his back across the broad stones of my porch.
Gregson was right, the man looked very dead.
‘Did you check?’
‘No, sir – back’s been playing up, sir,’ he motioned vaguely behind him.
‘Your paunch is more of an impediment than your spine, Gregson.’
‘As you say, sir.’
‘Well, best to check – just in case,’ I squatted on haunches to feel for a pulse in his neck – there was nothing. I stood up and we both looked down at him.
‘I was going fishing today.’
‘I suppose I’ll have to change my plans now.’
‘What do you make of him?’
‘Looks a bit shocked, sir.’
He was right, the man’s bulging eyes and raised eyebrows had a distinct semblance of surprise about them.
‘You’d better call Doctor Fletcher.’ I told him as he retreated indoors, ‘and don’t allow the operator listen in or the whole village will be gossiping about it.’
Must admit I was rather surprised myself – it’s not every day one encounters death on the doorstep. I rubbed my chin and eyed the fellow more closely. Who the devil was he? Certainly not someone I knew – he was quite distinctive, with a face and figure that would stick in the mind. Bald with a boxer’s nose, cauliflower ears, three or four chins, ruddy cheeks, froth around his gaping mouth – sufficient evidence that the man had breathed his last; but why had he chosen to do it here?
I couldn’t see any sign of injury although the body needed to be rolled over to be sure, and I wasn’t about to undertake that mammoth task alone.
Gregson returned puffing with exertion.
‘Sorry for the delay, sir. I notified the doctor and the police,’ he said with some pride at his show of initiative. I couldn’t help but smile; Gregson could be an old woman with nitpicking tendencies and overfond of Irish whiskey – but he was a game old soldier.
‘Good man.’ I replied. ‘Where’s Mr Fogg?’
‘Not too sure sir. Probably hiding under your desk, sir.’
‘Did he alert you to the body?’
‘He did, sir.’
‘Always was useless with anything dead.’ I glanced at Gregson. To my observation, butlers dressed pretty much the same; black tailcoat, white shirt, stiff collar, black dickie and black waistcoat, which showed up crumbs. ‘Cook been baking, has she?’
That flustered him, he brushed off specks of biscuit, muttering under his breath.
‘Make sure you save some for my tea, and you’d better supply a plate for the Old Bill when they arrive – keep them sweet.’
‘Yes, sir. They asked who he was, sir.’
‘The police, they wanted to know who was dead,’ he said with a hint of expectation. ‘You could examine his garments, sir?’
‘Surely they can do that?’
‘Oh, very well.’ I bent over the body. His clothes were of the cheap sort and rather unkempt; a dark brown overcoat, greyish-white shirt showing a string vest between straining buttons, brown suit, brown tie, brown shoes – muddied and scuffed, no hat, nor gloves, no rings nor watch. I flipped through the man’s pockets – nothing at all, not even a wallet, except I heard a rustle of paper somewhere inside the coat lining. I felt around and found a hidden slit in the seam and pushed my fingers down to discover a single sheet of folded paper which I extracted.
I read out the neatly formed copperplate lettering; ‘Countess Sophia Androvich Zerevki Polyakov.’ I regarded it, frowning. ‘Definitely not his name.’
‘You’d better call them back and tell them we don’t know.’
‘Yes, sir.’ He went off back into the warmth and the telephone, letting the door slam shut behind him.
It seemed poor form to leave the fellow alone even if he were dead, so not having much else to do, I took a walk around him. In doing so the change of light cast a shadow over his face revealing a faint indent around his forehead, I looked more closely – he had been wearing a hat not too long ago, the skin was faintly red where it had rubbed.
I scanned the length of the curving drive up to where the wrought iron gates stood open between high stone walls. No sign of a hat, nor any sign of how he’d got here, no car parked in the grounds, no motorbike or bicycle, no tyre tracks in the recently raked gravel, the man had simply walked in. I should keep the bloody gates shut.
I strolled up to see if the hat were lying there. It wasn’t, nor was it out in the lane, or under the lime trees lining the drive, or in the garden or snagged in rose bushes, or anywhere to be seen, so I went back to the porch to keep the fat man company.
The Police station was the other side of the village -Ashton Steeple – which was just under four miles from The Manor. The country lanes were narrow and winding, so at best they would be another twenty minutes. A sigh of exasperation escaped me and I sat quietly in the cold, my mind turning over – what the hell was it all about, and that name – Countess Sophia Androvich Zerevki Polyakov?
My box of cheroots were in a pocket of my shooting jacket, I dug about and pulled one out, lit it with a silver Dunhill lighter and blew smoke into the air as the Police arrived with an irritating jangle of alarm bell. The Chief Inspector lowered himself carefully from a highly polished blue Crossley motor car followed by a sprightly Sergeant. The driver, a Constable with a round face under a large helmet remained in the vehicle with his hand on the rope attached to a brass bell fitted on top of the car roof, presumably in the hope of ringing it again.
‘Good day to you, Major Lennox.’ Chief Inspector Rawlins said, tugging his overcoat over his crumpled suit to button it against the cold.
‘Inspector Rawlins,’ I nodded politely in greeting; surprised to see he was still in service – last I’d seen of him was before the war and he was verging on the decrepit then.
We wasted no more time in pleasantries, his rheumy eyes turned from me to the fat man forming a mound at my feet. He and the Sergeant stood in silent observation for a moment, closely watched by the Bobby in the car, who was peering through the windscreen.
‘Take a look at him, Walker.’ The Inspector ordered.
Sergeant Walker snapped into action, he tugged up his uniform trousers to preserve the sharply pressed creases and knelt by the body to examine the neck, chest, face, hands and wrists of the deceased.
‘Dead, sir,’ Walker declared, turning up towards his boss, long face frowning in ernest. ‘An I can’t see nothin’ that killed him. No blood nor nowt.’
‘Any identity on him?’ The Inspector asked, watching the Sergeant closely.
Walker rummaged around in the clothing, turning pockets inside out, even looking under the tie. ‘No. Not on his person, but we might find somethin’ if we turn him over.’
‘Easier said than done my boy, but I’m sure you’ll manage.’ The Inspector straightened up, coughed with a loud wheeze of the chest then turned to me. ‘He was visiting you then?’
‘No, he was not,’ I stated quite clearly to remove any doubt on the matter.
‘So what was he doing here?’ The Inspector demanded.
‘I have no idea.’
The Inspector stared up at me under beetle brows, it was irritating so I stared back.
‘You living here now, Major Lennox?’
‘Yes, of course. Where do you think I’m living?’
‘Thought you might have gone to London after your father died. This house is big for just one man and it’s a mess, very run down.’
He was right, but I couldn’t see what it had to do with him. Always the trouble with country villages, everyone knows your bloody business and has some comment to make on it.
‘What does the state of my house have to do with finding a body on the doorstep?’
‘He might of fallen off the roof, or a ladder. Maybe he was fixing something for you and it was dangerous and you don’t want to admit it.’
‘Considering the size of the man, he was hardly likely to be up a ladder.’
‘Everyone knows you like shootin’ things Major Lennox.’ Sergeant Walker joined in.
‘It is patently obvious that he was not shot,’ I pointed out. ‘And I shoot pheasant and game, not people.’
‘If he was tryin’ his hand at burglerin’, you might have tried to scare him off,’ Walker added.
‘Good thinking lad,’ Rawlins added in support, ‘and he could have been trying to break-in up a ladder.’
‘Gregson,’ I was shouting into the open front door for Gregson to come and tell them how he’d found the body when we were interrupted by a red Riley Eleven driven at speed through the gateway; it drew up in a spray of gravel, Doctor Cyril Fletcher jumped out, nattily dressed as usual in tweeds and plus fours, sporting a trim moustache and carrying a leather medical case. He raised his hat to the police then came to shake my hand, grinning with affection. I was very relieved to see him.
‘Well, well, Lennox. A body! Pheasant is more your style – what have you been doing?’ Cyril Fletcher joshed.
‘I did not shoot him Cyril. Will you please inform the Constabulary that this man has not been shot.’
‘Ha! They giving you a hard time old chap?’ He turned to the Inspector, ‘no blood Rawlins, he can’t have been shot.’
‘Then he must have fallen,’ Rawlins retorted.
‘No, there would still be blood, from his nose or ears most likely,’ the Doctor told him, stooping to examine the whale-like corpse. He stood up, ‘need to roll him over.’
We looked at each other, the Inspector coughed meaningfully.
‘Very well,’ I conceded and bent to put my arms under the fat man’s shoulders. ‘Get the torso Sergeant. Cyril, turn the legs.’
We heaved, pushing hard, rocking him to gain momentum and finally rolled him onto his stomach with a thud as he slumped face down onto the stone flags, then we stood back breathing heavily. No blood, no knife, no nasty wound – nothing to see other than the creases in the corpse’s damp coat and some snags in the trousers.
‘Nothing,’ I said.
‘Ay, doesn’t look like much,’ Sergeant Walker straightened his helmet and looked disappointed at the lack of dramatic murder.
‘Best check him over my lad, just to be sure.’ The Inspector ordered.
‘Yes, sir,’ Walker replied with a note of despondency. The sun slid behind a grey cloud as the sergeant examined the body and again failed to find anything significant.
Gregson emerged with a tray of tea and biscuits for the multitude, which managed to draw the Bobby out from the vehicle although he was shooed back in again by Inspector Rawlins.
‘He’s looking after the car. It’s new,’ he imparted, ‘we’re modernising the police force. Very important work we have now, making sure those Germans don’t come back,’ he looked slowly around the property as if to check we hadn’t been invaded recently.
Cyril Fletcher raised his eyebrows as we exchanged glances.
‘Take him to the mortuary Inspector, I’ll have a better look at him there.’ Fletcher ordered. ‘Heart attack looks most likely, so I doubt there’s anything here for you gentleman to concern yourselves with.’
The Doctor turned to follow me into the house as Gregson held the door open.
‘Apart from the lack of any identity,’ the Chief Inspector Rawlins remarked.
We turned back to regard the policeman.
‘There was that paper, sir.’ Gregson reminded me in his helpful fashion.
‘Ah yes, one moment,’ I dug out the folded sheet of paper from my inside pocket and handed it over. ‘I found this.’
‘You should have given this to me when I arrived Major Lennox.’
‘My apologies Inspector, I forgot about it.’
‘I hope you’re not hiding anything, sir. It does seem strange that this man has died on your doorstep and you not knowing him. Or so you say.’
‘I can assure you again Inspector, I have no idea whatsoever who this man is.’ I replied with feeling.
The Inspector read out the name on the paper, stumbling over the foreign words. ‘Countess Sophia Androvich Zerevki Polyakov.’ He stared up at me. ‘And you don’t know who she is either?’
‘No, I do not.’ Except I did, and the day suddenly seemed a lot more complicated than when it had started.
8th October 2018 at 11:28 am #58020
I liked the last version, but I personally found this one much more engaging and it pulled me in quicker. That’s quite possibly a personal preference thing though, as I do like first person. Overall, very enjoyable and a great hook in the last line!
9th October 2018 at 1:18 am #58063
Hi Kate, much thanks as always for your heroic input. I really like first person but it is truly tough! I will persevere and see how far I get with it.
I’d be very interested to hear other people’s views on first versus third and how they dealt with it.
10th October 2018 at 3:37 pm #58294
First person makes it much fresher and ramps up the humour. I like this version a lot better, and I liked the first one well enough.
14th October 2018 at 12:42 pm #59937
Just read your opening and was certainly intrigued. I’ve just finished my first draft of a first person novel and I think the important thing is to know what the purpose is. I used it because it is about a young girl dealing with the death of her friend and I wanted to be able to delve deeply into her feelings. But first person can be limiting in many ways as it doesn’t allow us to see the perspective of other characters. So think about why you made the choice. I haven’t read your previous version so don’t know whether this is better.
On another note, just be careful some of your sentences don’t run away with you, such as: Gregson,’ I was shouting into the open front door for Gregson to come and tell them how he’d found the body when we were interrupted by a red Riley Eleven driven at speed through the gateway; it drew up in a spray of gravel, Doctor Cyril Fletcher jumped out, nattily dressed as usual in tweeds and plus fours, sporting a trim moustache and carrying a leather medical case.
Sometimes you seem to be using commas quite often when other punctuation may be better suited.
Overall though, a very strong start and well written. I think this is probably almost ready. Good luck with it!
15th October 2018 at 10:02 pm #60062
Many thanks! I do enjoy it and it forces me to focus on the POV.
15th October 2018 at 10:05 pm #60064
Thank you! I’ve gone back over the punctuation, not one of my strong points, but I’m working on it!
It really helps to hear from other authors, wishing you great success.
16th October 2018 at 7:27 am #60069
Hi, I’m new here but I just read and very much enjoyed it. I think you have the first person pov nailed. A couple of things struck me –
“ruddy face” – unlikely on a dead body (and as an ex paramedic I’ve seen a few). More likely pale grey. Same for the red mark where the hat sat – try a small abrasion instead.
The discussion between the inspector and sergeant when they are trying to accuse the Major didn’t seem realistic to me. Just a thought.
Still a lovely read, Thanks
16th October 2018 at 12:17 pm #60110
Ex paramedic! Wow, couldn’t do that at all but you are a hero for doing so, it’s a desperately needed service.
I’ll change those lines over, much thanks. Also I agree with you on the police exchange, I do like things to be light hearted but it’s got to be a real murder mystery too.
Lot to learn in this game!
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