FOOTSTEPS TO MURDER

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CHAPTER TWELVE: DARK FOREBODINGS

For the first time that day, Puree - generally the embodiment of confidence, élan and self-possession - looked rather uncertain and even anxious, as if sensing that something was amiss and at odds with his expectations.

’I do not understand, monsieur? You asked me to solve this murder case. For what other reason could I be here?’

’We insisted that you came here on your own, under a cloak of anonymity; without telling anyone else where you were going,’ said her Ladyship. ’Indeed even giving others a phony cover story about some walking excursion in the Trossachs.’

’Quite so. But these were your specific requirements, to which I fully complied.’ He noticed that some of people before him now glowered at him with undisguised hostility.

’Didn’t they give you any cause for suspicion?’ asked Sir Stanley, with a sly, knowing grin on his face.

’No monsieur. This was a delicate case, which had created a public scandal. You didn’t wish for any element of publicity or disclosure, to excite the press and the media even further. You wished to clear up the mystery of Third’s death, once and for all.’

Sir Stanley shook his head with grim finality.

’No, Monsieur Puree. These requirements were so that no one would know that you were ever on the island. Those are the salient facts.’

’What is all this?’

’We’d better come clean about the whole business, monsieur,’ Sir Stanley continued. ’All eight of us here were implicated in the murder of that swine. We conceived it, we planned it; and we were all here in this room when he was killed.’

’Yes,’ growled Lancaster; ’it was like putting down a rabid dog.’

’And may the divil be merciless to his soul,’ growled the sombre Mrs. Field.

Puree narrowed his eyes and shook his head. ’Y’know, I suspected all along that those alibis were suspiciously convenient.’

’They were a pack of lies,’ said Brackenberry; ’but they did the business.’

Sir Stanley pointed at the portrait of Sir Richard on the wall, then turned back to the hapless, helpless detective.

’I shot him here, at three o’clock, in front of all the others, as we’d arranged it.’

’I can remember it as if it were yesterday,’ said Mrs. Field, with a note of wonderment in her voice. ’Sure, it was a sight to behold.’

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