15:12 Friday 22 February 2013

The Case of the Statutes Fair Murders - Part Three

Written byDAVID BROOME

IN PARTS one and two, Sister Modwenna and William Ross had begun investigating two shootings at the Statutes Fair, the first of magician Robert Bletchingley whose body then vanished, and the second of his partner Samuel Meddings.

THE theatre was silent for approximately three seconds after the shooting, and then all hell broke loose.

Women screamed, men screamed louder, children – of whom there were a large number gathered – cried, although some cheered, thinking it part of the show.

The dim light emitted by the two remaining stage-bulbs did not help matters, with people falling over one another in the dark.

Through all the confusion though, and despite the poor light, William Ross had thought quickly, and kept his eyes firmly locked on the masked figure, who made good his escape as soon as he had fired his second shot.

The blacksmith followed him out of the theatre and onto a back staircase that wound round and round before finally depositing the miscreant and his pursuer onto the roof of the theatre.

Here, the masked man looked trapped for a moment, then a thought seemed to strike him, and he stopped running, instead turning to face Ross.

“It just occurs to me,” he said, “that I am running from you, and yet it is me who has a gun.”

Here he raised the rifle, pointing it at Ross, who took a step backwards in dismal realisation.

“I do not wish to shoot anyone else today, so perhaps you should just walk away and we can forget all about this.”

Ross was about to acquiesce, but sudden thoughts seemed to be bouncing around galore on the rooftop, and one struck the blacksmith this time.

“I would, sir, except that I couldn’t help notice that the rifle you are holding is a Martini-Henry.”

The masked figure glanced down at his weapon. “So?” he said.

“So, it needs reloading after each shot, and you have not done so since your second shot downstairs.

“This however,” added Ross, pulling out his service revolver from inside his out, “is a Beaumont-Adams revolver. It takes five rounds, all of which are currently nestled comfortably inside, and has been my faithful companion for the last 15 years.”

The assailant looked annoyed, and then amused, and he lowered the rifle to his side.

“You have bested me then, sir, but let me see – your attire betrays you as a smithy, and yet you carry a service revolver. Could you be the faithful assistant to this Sister Modwenna that I hear so much about?”

The masked man had been stepping backwards as he spoke, and Ross, confused, followed him, his pistol still raised.

“Aye, I am, what of it?”

“I have been keen to meet her for a long time, perhaps you could tell her that Simon Meseuriay is a huge fan of hers.”

“I’ll not remember that name, and anyway, you can tell herself, I’m taking you back downstairs if you’d stop walking backwards for a second.”

“Ah, simple blacksmith, you may have disarmed me,” and here he threw his rifle towards Ross, who caught it clumsily in his spare hand, “but you will never take me anywhere,” he added, and stepped backwards off the roof.

Ross cried out, “you fool!”, dropped both guns and ran to the edge.

Looking below, he found himself staring at the upturned, smiling face of Meseuriay, who had fallen no more than eight feet onto a small balcony below.

After winking up at the blacksmith, he disappeared through the window.

Returning below feeling rather foolish, Ross found Sister Modwenna, Sergeant Harris and an elderly woman he soon recognised as Lady Burton.

“Did you catch the miscreant?” asked the policeman.

“Unfortunately, he escaped,” confessed Ross, and revealed the whole sorry tale of his adventures on the roof.

“Ah, that is a shame, but we have at least got our hands on one of the culprits.”

“I will not tell you again, officer, do not refer to me in such vulgar terms. This is a travesty of justice, and the very least you can do is treat with the respect I deserve, if not as a member of the nobility, then as a woman.”

Thus spoke Lady Burton, who Ross now noticed was in handcuffs.

“What’s going on?” he asked.

“The body of Mr Meddings had disappeared when we finally cleared the crowd and got to the stage,” said Harris.

“However, amongst the crowd, we Lady Burton here, and in her handbag, we found this,” he added, producing a small slip of paper, and passing it to Ross. “Much as it pains me to do so, I now have little choice but to arrest her ladyship.”

The blacksmith unfolded the paper and found it contained a list of names, the top two of which – those of Robert Bletchingley and Samuel Meddings, had been crossed out.

Ross handed the paper back to the policeman, saying: “That certainly does look incriminating.”

“I have explained that paper several times now,” insisted the first lady of brewing.

“Her ladyship claims that the list is merely a list of the performers she wanted to see during the Statutes Fair, and that the top two names were crossed out because she had been unable to see Mr Bletchingley before his demise, and she had just arrived to see Mr Meddings.”

“But you despite the Statutes Fair,” countered Ross, “why would you have a list of acts you wanted to see?”

Lady Burton turned to Ross with a look of disdain, somehow managing the tricky act of looking down her nose at him despite being seated.

She turned back to Harris without answering Ross’ question.

“Really. It is bad enough to be treated like a common thief by the constabulary, but am I now to be cross-examined by a....blacksmith?

“I think I will avail myself of my right to remain silent, and save any further comment for when I have my lawyer present.”

Harris looked marginally relieved at this last statement, and after calling over a colleague, escorted Lady Burton away.

Left alone, Modwenna, turned to Ross.

“Mr Ross, we must act quickly.”

“What is it sister?”

“I am convinced the police have arrested the wrong person, and we need to put them right before an even bigger political nightmare envelops them.”

“I must admit I agree – as acerbic as Lady Burton is, murder does not seem her style. Do you think we need to track down this Simon...whatever his name was?”

“Meseuriay. That is a possibility, but from everything I have deduced about him, that will not be easy, and may not be that useful.”

“You say you have deduced something about him – is this not the first time you have heard his name then?”

“No, he has been writing to me for a number of weeks now, mainly to congratulate me – albeit in a condescending manner – for the small assistance I have given in our recent cases, but also to hint at some foul deeds of his own. I never took much notice of them, but it seems that was a mistake.

“However, I do still think that although Mr Meseuriay was the shooter, his hand was owned by a third party – I just do not believe that was Lady Burton and her friends.”

“What do we do then?”

“Well, I believe that this should be a relatively simple case to solve – the more intriguing question is who exactly this Meseuriay fellow is –but alas that must wait for another time.”

“You say it is a simple case, but surely you cannot still believe that Meddings and Sarah are the suspects now that one of them is dead?”

“Dead, Mr Ross? Exactly how many bodies have we recovered in this case?”

“Well, none, but the whole audience saw Meddings shot just now.”

“Correction, my dear friends, they saw Mr Meddings shot at, but as I said before, I believe the ‘shooter’s’ role in all this was merely theatre.

“My theory remains that Mr Meddings is behind this, and that this latest show was just to throw us off the scent. He is a magician, and so it would be simplicity itself for him to make himself disappear.”

“Then how will we find him again?”

“Well, while you were chasing our new friend across rooftops, and Sergeant Harris was arresting members of the ruling class, I was very interested to see where Sarah Bletchingley went. I managed to persuade two of the officers stationed here for security to follow her, and I believe one of them has returned now.”

Indeed, as the nun spoke a young officer arrived on the stage, and reported that they had stopped Mrs Bletchingley in her cart as she was attempting to leave the town.

Ross and Modwenna made their way downstairs, where they found the cart they had examined earlier waiting outside, with a flushed and nervous-looking Sarah Betchingley remonstrating with a second policeman.

“Mr Ross, would you do the honours,” said Modwenna, and the blacksmith dutifully opened the door at the base of the cart, tumbling two bodies into the street.

The first was a distressing sight, being the cold, lifeless corpse of Robert Bletchingley, but he was followed onto the pavement by the very much alive Samuel Meddings.

“He made me do it,” cried Sarah Bletchingley, as soon as she saw the body of her definitely deceased husband. “He said he wouldn’t marry me unless we got rid of Robert first.”

Upon hearing this, Meddings tried to make a run for it, but between Ross and the two policeman, he and Sarah were detained and handcuffed.

“Despite her protestations, I believe that Mrs Bletchingley should be charged with murder, and Mr Meddings with conspiracy to murder and attempting to fake his own death – not that I would dream of telling you how to do your job,” said Sister Modwenna.

“I would, however, march these two along to your sergeant as quickly as you can, before he angers Lady Burton any further.”

The constables did just that, leaving Modwenna and Ross alone on the pavement – alone, that is, except for the rapidly decompsoing body of Robert Bletchingley.

“I should really have asked those policemen to dispose of the body before they left,” said the nun, wistfully. “Now we will have to stand guard until someone returns.”

“Never mind,” said Ross, helping his friend into the cab of the vehicle – away from the body – before joining her there himself, “that gives us chance to talk about this Simon...chap.”

“Meseuriay,” corrected Modwenna again, “and you would do well to commit that name to memory, as I believe this is not the last we will hear from him.

“It seems he fancies himself as something of a criminal mastermind, and whatever petty offences he may have committed before, this was his coming out party – his first public appearance, if you like.”

“Then he is more interested in fame than crime – as he did not do much wrong here.”

“Indeed, although we should have guessed that from his name – it is rather theatrical.”

“Really? Simon Meseuriay?”

“My dear Mr Ross, that is not his real name – it is merely an anagram.”

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