The Third Party: Shot in the Dark
September 30th, 1925
Adrian sat at his desk in his office, skimming through the party plans and guest lists from the Royal Pavilion and Crystal Palace. So far, he had found nothing unusual about the party plans, but what baffled him the most was the guest lists from both parties.
Glancing at the guest list for the Royal Pavilion, there was nothing unusual about the layout. All he could tell was, it was any company’s official invite. However, the layout of the guest list for Crystal Palace had changed. Instead of the usual ‘H.H’ initials resting on a laurel wreath, the logo on the Crystal Palace guest list had changed to a pair of scales evenly weighed by ‘H.H’.
Why did he suddenly change his logo? Adrian wondered to himself. He had recently found a stash of invitations to Mr. Hange Hurston’s previous parties his father, Commissioner Powell had been invited to in the past. Comparing the guest list and the past invitations, he noticed that the logo had changed when the invites for the second party this year had been distributed.
Adrian then placed the guest list from both parties side by side. Aside from the change of logos, there was nothing peculiar about the Royal Pavilion guest list. However, upon closer inspection of the Crystal Palace guest list, he noticed the names of the victim and the suspects marked with a strange symbol that had been hand drawn. Supposedly by Mr. Hange Hurston himself.
“What do those symbols mean?” he quietly muttered under his breath.
Skimming further down the guest list from Crystal Palace, Adrian’s eyes widened when he saw Leslie Beckford’s name also marked with a strange symbol. Deciding to make note, Adrian meticulously enlarged and copied the symbols onto a blank notepad for future reference.
Just as he finished copying the final symbol, the doors of his office burst open. A constable rushed in.
“What is it Havers?” asked Adrian as he stood up from his desk.
“There’s a phone call for you from Somerset House,” Constable Havers replied.
Adrian hurried out of his office and to the front desk to take the call. Picking up the phone, he greeted the caller and was stunned to learn that a murder had occurred at Somerset House.
“Yes, I’ll be there right away!” he replied.
Hanging up, he rushed back to his office to grab his coat and hat. Gathering a team of police, he jumped into his Ford Model T and sped to Somerset House. The police in their police wagons followed behind him.
Upon arriving at Somerset House, Adrian and the police were greeted by the receptionist at the entrance from the Strand. They passed through the courtyard where it was filled with the guests, as they were shown the way to the crime scene.
Adrian noticed that the house was being used to promote Fortnum & Mason products. When he passed through the Strand entrance, he had seen a large board displaying the layout of the rooms being used as showrooms, and the courtyard was the social space for food and drinks.
The crime scene was on the terrace, just outside the reception overlooking Embankment. The victim was a young man who had been shot in the head. As Adrian examined the body, he noticed that the man had supposedly shot himself on the right side of his temple as the gun was in his right hand.
“The victim is Mr. Maurice Higham,” said Constable Havers who had accompanied Adrian for the investigation. “He is the only son of Mr. Victor Higham, the current head of the Highham family.”
“Who discovered the body?” Adrian asked the receptionist.
“Miss Leslie Beckford,” she replied. “I saw her leaving through the reception by herself. She said she wanted to smoke on the terrace. A few minutes after she stepped outside, I heard her scream. I ran outside and saw the dead body of Mr. Maurice Higham on the terrace.”
“Miss Beckford?!” exclaimed Adrian, “Where is she right now? I must go and speak to her immediately!”
“In one of the powder room in the courtyards,” said the receptionist. “Mr. Victor Higham, and her lady companion have both been attending to her since she discovered the body.”
Adrian quickly beckoned Constable Havers to accompany him as he hurried back to the courtyard. Just as the receptionist had told him, Leslie was in one of the makeshift powder rooms. She was being comforted by Mr. Victor Higham, and her lady companion, Harriet.
“Good evening Mr. Higham and Miss Potts,” he greeted. “May I have a word with Miss Beckford?”
“Can’t you see that the poor girl is in shock?!” exclaimed Victor, “If I were you, I’d-”
“Mr. Higham, I’m fine,” interrupted Leslie. “Thank you for calming me down, but I am fine now. I want to help Mr. Powell to find out who killed Maurice.”
“Thank you for being cooperative Miss Beckford,” said Adrian.
He then pulled up a chair and sat down in front of her. Quickly turning to Constable Havers, he instructed him to study the layout of the house and to further question the receptionist. Constable Havers nodded and hurried off as instructed.
“Now, Miss Beckford,” said Adrian. “Were you well acquainted with the victim? I noticed that you addressed him as ‘Maurice’ when you spoke of him, and how close you are to his father.”
“He was my ex-fiancé,” she immediately replied. “Maurice and I were arranged to be married, but there was an incident which caused myself to end the engagement.”
Glancing up at Victor, the old man nodded. This indicated that what Leslie said was true.
“My business was experiencing a financial crisis,” explained Victor. “Leslie’s father who happened to be an old friend of mine, offered to help me.”
“So you both arranged for Miss Beckford to marry the late Maurice Higham for political purposes,” said Adrian. “Your company would be saved since Mr. Beckford will be obligated to support your company through their marriage.”
“That is correct,” said Victor. “Maurice became engaged to Miss Leslie when she was seventeen, and he was twenty. Before Miss Leslie nullified their engagement, Aristo and I would arrange constant meet-ups between our children in order to deepen their relationship.”
“I see,” said Adrian as he mentally took note of the story.
It was not long until Constable Havers returned with some new information. He told Adrian that the only way to access the terrace was through the reception. According to the receptionist, the only people who went to the terrace was; Mr. Victor Higham, Miss Leslie Beckford, and a man named Ivan Walsted during the time of the murder.
“Find Mr. Ivan Walsted and tell him to come to the powder room,” instructed Adrian. “Also, tell the police to search every part of the house, and make sure no one leaves. In the meantime, I will re-examine the body unless it has already been taken to be autopsied.”
“Yes, Detective Powell,” replied Constable Havers.
After Constable Havers left, Adrian turned to Victor and Leslie. “I’m sorry to inform you that you are both now suspects in this case. Until I return, I advise you not to go anywhere unless accompanied by one of my men.”
As he said this, a police officer entered the powder room to keep watch on both the suspects. Adrian then left to head back to the terrace.
“Surely Mr. Higham would never kill his own son!” exclaimed Leslie.
“Miss Leslie, the detective has a point,” Victor told her. “He has every right to suspect me.”
Back on the terrace, Adrian examined the body. Luckily his men had not taken it away yet. This time, his main focus was on the weapon. Putting on his gloves, he carefully pried the gun out of the victim’s right hand. Rigor mortis had not set yet. He scrutinized the weapon, taking note of the silencer attached to the gun’s muzzle.
“So that’s why no one heard the gun shot,” he muttered under his breath. “Though how did the murderer lure the victim out here on the terrace?”
Examining the body again, Adrian patted the sleeves and pockets for anything unusual on the victim. Patting the cuffs of the right sleeve, Adrian heard a soft crumple of a paper. Reaching into the cuffs, he pulled out a small piece of paper which turned out to be a small note:
Meet me on the terrace at half-past eight. Go ALONE.
“The victim must’ve been dead for almost two hours,” said Adrian. “Deducting the time it took for myself and police to arrive at Somerset House, the receptionist called Scotland Yard five minutes past half-past nine. Most likely the time when Miss Beckford discovered the body.”
As he stood up, Adrian noticed the victim’s handkerchief in his right breast pocket. Before he could process this seemingly trivial information, he was interrupted by a police officer who had been scouring the murder scene before he went to re-examine the body.
“I was looking for you Detective Powell,” said the police officer. “I found this note next to the victim before you arrived.”
He handed the note to Adrian who carefully read the contents:
I cannot go on like this. For all my sins, God must have cursed me with never-ending self-indulgence. To all those whom I have wronged, I hope my departure from this world will satisfy you and cease your desiring vengeance for my sins.
Adrian smirked as he finished reading the note.
“I don’t believe for a second that this is a mere suicide,” he declared. “Whoever killed Mr. Maurice Higham wanted everyone to believe that he committed suicide.”