Batman and Catwoman in Cat-Tales by Chris DeeCat-Tales 24: Trick or Treat

Trick or Treat 
by Chris Dee

Stop doing that


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Everyone felt it, but it was Moira who said it out loud: 

“Awfully creepy the way that locked room thing played out right after that guy talked about it.”

She pointed to Edward Nigma.

“I was talking about books,” Eddie insisted, “like, in a novel, the next thing that would happen is the lights would go out and we find out the phones are…”

The room went black.

“…dead.”

“Stop doing that,” Doris said.

There was a confused scrambling and Alfred’s voice was heard above the others saying he would fetch a flashlight from the prep room. Miss Lennox called out that the Dark Lantern was functional if anyone could get to it.  And Martin Stanwick said something about candles on the hall table.

Bruce knew what Lennox meant; it should be on Holmes’s desk.  He felt his way to it, upsetting some bit of furniture as he went.  There were similar bumps and collisions as the others tried to move in the darkness.  Finally, reaching the lantern, Bruce found a decidedly modern switch on its base.  He turned it on, and registered everyone’s position as a reasonable pool of light filled the room.  They were all still here.  Randolph was still there.  Bludgeoned, it was easy to see now, with the poker from the fireplace.

At the same moment Bruce found the lantern, Martin touched a lighter to a row of candles on a small table by the door.

“The Dark Lantern,” Bruce said, “from the Red Headed League, was used to see in the dark.”

“In most Victorian homes,” Martin explained his own impromptu light source, “a row of candlesticks would be placed on a hall table every night, and as each person retired, he would take one with him.  Use that little bit of light to find their room and undress for bed.”  

“Now we can see, at least,” Miss Lennox remarked, “well enough to get to the fuse box.”

While Miss Lennox moved to an electrical panel, strategically hidden behind a framed portrait of General Gordon, Gladys Ashton-Larraby burst into belated hysterics.  Moira tried to calm her and Miss Lennox suggested she be taken to her private office.  

Dick and Martin Stanwick both had their cell phones out to call the police.  Both met with the same response.
::A body in the library you say, at the Whodunit exhibit at the Mystery Museum.  I see, sir.  And a Happy Halloween to you as well::

Martin’s operator wasn’t quite so good humored:
::We don’t have time for pranks, young man.  This line is for real emergencies::

“We’re going to have to go down to the precinct in person,” Dick observed.

“And say what?” Eddie-Poirot declared sarcastically, “You want to go down there dressed as Philip Marlowe and say there was a blackout at our murder party, and when the lights came on we found a dead guy, and we couldn’t call it in cause the phones are dead?”

“Barbara and I will go,” Dick said, ignoring Nigma’s outburst, “they’ll listen to us.”

Bruce said nothing, but he suspected Riddler was right.  Two people in costumes walking to a police station on Halloween to report a murder were going to have a tough sell, especially after Dick said he used to be a policeman and is now a private investigator, and Barbara said she’s the former commissioner’s daughter.

It seemed they were on their own. 

Claudia Lennox successfully restored the power and explained, somewhat apologetically, that while the room appeared to be lit by a combination of gaslight, oil lamps, and a warming fire in the hearth, these seemingly period devices were, in deference to 21st century fire codes, all powered by electricity.

That most immediate crisis met, Bruce suggested Claudia help Alfred usher the remaining guests out to the main room.  She seemed to accept his authority, as a board member and event sponsor, and dutifully helped clear the room, leaving Bruce alone… with Randolph.

Bruce examined the body as best he could without disturbing the crime scene.  Clearly, Larraby had been struck with the heavy brass handle of the fire poker that lay next to his body.  The trauma to the head was obvious:  a single blow, struck from behind.  The total lack of bruising would indicate he’d died instantly.  The posture of the body and lack of defensive wounds meant he never saw his attacker.

Bruce looked up from the body, and the first thing to catch his eye was the leather slipper hung from a ring on a little hook to the left side of the fireplace.  Holmes was known to keep his tobacco in the toe, a custom likely introduced by Watson via Edinburgh, where single Persian slippers were sold (singly, never in pairs) for that very purpose. 

Reminded of Holmes’s pipe, Bruce righted the small sidetable he had overturned in the darkness.  This table, accurate even down to the cigarette burns marring its surface, displayed a pipe rack, which Bruce picked up from the floor and returned reverently to its place.

Bruce himself had borrowed a pipe from Jim Gordon for tonight’s masquerade and, on a whim, he took it from his pocket along with the small tin of tobacco Jim had pressed upon him.  He noticed a long, tan sliver pinched between the metal lid and the base… Moving to “the chemical corner” where Holmes conducted his experiments, Bruce found, on an acid-stained deal-drop table, amidst a rack of chemicals beakers and Bunsen burners, a delicate set of tweezers.  He carefully pulled the sliver from the tin and held it up to the light…  Sherlock Holmes was an expert on different kinds of tobacco. Bruce Wayne was not, but even he could see that this specimen was not a dried tobacco leaf but a dried blade of grass.

Bruce looked up at the wall.  There hung the skin of the “swamp-adder” from The Adventures of the Speckled Band. Above it, a stick rack with the cane Holmes used to lash the Speckled Band.  

Fantasy. 

What was he thinking?  Sherlock Holmes was a myth.  This was a real murder.  And a blade of dried grass in his borrowed pipe tobacco was hardly what you’d call a clue, even within the mystery genre.  In this world, a “clue” would be if Bruce was the only one who smoked a pipe, and he really smoked it: “Look, here’s a pipe cleaner laying beside the dead man.

But no such luck.

It was time for a little less Sherlockian snooping around the scene of the crime, and a little more Bat interrogating the suspects.

Bruce stood for a moment in the doorway from the Holmes Study and scrutinized the guests.  The only ones with absolute alibis were, curiously, the three who had been to the criminal party:  Selina, Eddie, and Doris had been in plain sight from the moment of their entrance to the scream, when the group broke down the door together and collectively found the body.

Motive?  Well, how much did he really know about Randolph Larraby? 
Item 1:  He liked Selina’s rack, which was certainly understandable.  But if that was only a minor symptom of more general philandering, his wife Gladys could have cause to want him dead.
Item 2:  He got mixed up with Ra’s Al Ghul.  In fact, he was instrumental in bringing down Ra’s plan to take control of Gotham through an underground information network.

One doesn’t cross The Demon’s Head.

Of course, Talia left early.  

Then again, Talia was not the only one here with ties to DEMON.

Could Omar?  Would Omar?

Bruce scrutinized the hooded form of Brother Cadfael chatting with Martin Stanwick.  Who knew how DEMON messengers were trained, how deep the indoctrination really went.  If, once a part of that world, one could ever fully and permanently change.  Omar certainly seemed like an easygoing, good-humored fellow who’d fallen in love, put his criminal past behind him, and settled into a normal life.  But what if…

The thought was interrupted by gasping… It was Doris!  She was clutching her chest, gasping, leaning heavily into Nigma, and her skin was a violently bright pink.

“HERE,” Bruce ordered, rummaging in his pocket for an amyl nitrite pearl as he raced across the room.  He crushed the cloth-covered glass capsule between his finger and thumb and passed it back and forth under Doris’s nose. 

“Breathe in, Doris,” he instructed, “it’s okay if you get dizzy, just keep inhaling.” 

In the urgency of the moment, Bruce hadn’t stopped to think how he would explain his actions.  The bright pink pallor despite the difficulty breathing meant Doris’s body was suddenly unable to absorb the oxygen in her blood.  If he’d waited to act on his suspicion, now confirmed from the telltale smell of bitter almonds, Doris would have perished from cyanide poisoning, and it wouldn’t have mattered whether Bruce could explain…

“How did you know to do that?” Edward Nigma asked, with more wonder than suspicion.

“Angina,” Bruce answered without hesitation.  “I get angina attacks.  Carry these.”

Nigma was too concerned with Doris’s wellbeing to question further.  Her skin had assumed a more natural hue, but she was lightheaded from the amyl nitrate.  Bruce suggested she be taken to Miss Lennox’s office, sit quiet, bend with her head between her knees, and so on. 

Then he asked as casually as he could, “Alcohol can seriously intensify the effects of amyl nitrate.  Was she drinking tea or port?”

“Tea, sir,” Alfred supplied the answer, “with milk.”

Bruce returned to Sherlock’s study.  He was beginning to seriously regret never taking up the violin.

Someone poisoned Doris. 

And while a second murder, particularly a failed attempt, was certainly a staple of crime-fiction, it was not commonplace in Batman’s investigations.  

In a novel, yes: Someone sees something, a witness, they do not understand its significance, but it is a danger to the killer so they must be silenced.  

Or sometimes the perpetrator missteps and strikes at the wrong person—for Alfred was quick to point out that Selina also took milk in her tea, and no other guests did.

And sometimes, in such novels, the guilty party diverts suspicion from himself… or herself… with a botched attempt on their own life.

All that was in novels.  In Batman’s world, criminals signed their work.  You knew a Joker victim when you saw one.  It was as plain as the hideous deathgrin frozen onto the corpse’s face.

Bruce tried to imagine such a grin on Randolph Larraby’s features, and what Holmes would deduce from it:

“There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact.”

It was one of his maxims.   

Bruce looked at the bookshelves lined with volumes on toxicology, soil analysis, chemistry, anatomical guides, factual writings about the misdeeds of criminals, and fictional writings about the triumphs of detectives.  There were volumes on boxing, swordsmanship, and law.  Even Clark Russell’s “fine sea stories” of which Watson was so fond.  Holmes’s “low-powered microscope” was displayed on the bookshelves, as was a quaint wire recorder. 

This last object was never mentioned in any Holmes story. It was in period and, given Sherlock’s love for all sciences, it was likely that he would have such a gadget that could capture and replay sound.  But it was included here in the exhibit for a different reason.  Conan Doyle was a contemporary of George Bernard Shaw, and the latter’s creations Henry Higgins and Colonel Pickering owed more than a little of their personalities to Holmes and Watson.  Henry Higgins recorded human voices on such a device to study their speech patterns.  The exhibit made such a recording of the signature phrases “Elementary, my dear Watson. You know my methods; apply them!”

Bruce took a turn about the room, thinking through the developments after Doris’s attack:  The milk pitcher had been smashed.  It was uncertain how many of the party guests realized Doris had been poisoned, or who knew she took milk in her tea, but most definitely the milk pitcher had been knocked off the tea table and deliberately smashed under someone’s foot.

Discreet inquiries as to who was seen near the tea things produced only one definite identification.  From Mrs. Ashton-Larraby.  She had seen a cloaked figure, someone in a long brown cloak… no, no, no, she insisted, not like Sherlock Holmes’s cape, like that monk.

More suspicion directed at Omar.  And while no one made an accusation or even mentioned poison, Moira was quick to defend him anyway, pointing out that there were two other robed costumes at the party.  It was true Lucius Fox and Barbara had both left, but either could have left their robes behind.  Lucius, because it was only meant to cover his real costume—she looked apologetically at Bruce—since he never wanted to be here and was only putting in a token appearance before heading off to another party.  And Barbara too could have left her robe behind in order to, you know, appear slightly less like a raving lunatic reporting a crazy murder on Halloween.

Yes, Moira argued her case well.  And it left Bruce with a splitting headache.

He looked ruefully at Holmes’s violin.

Crime is common. Logic is rare. 
Therefore, it is upon the logic rather than upon the crime that you should dwell.

It was such a damn cliché!  THREE different people in almost identical costumes—like a mystery novel.  People who couldn’t have done it because they came late—like in a mystery novel.  People who couldn’t have done it because they left early—like in a mystery novel.  Body in the library, locked door, everyone together when they discovered the murder.   It was all ridiculously like a mystery…

Man, or at least criminal man, has lost all enterprise and originality.

Was it possible?  A murder intentionally immersed in the conventions of the detective whodunit?

Improbable as it is, all other explanations are more improbable still.

Well, Bruce thought, if that was the case, the ultimate cliché of the murder mystery is that the killer was always the least likely suspect.   But that would mean… No.  Impossible. 

How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated
the impossible, whatever remains,
however improbable, must
be the truth.

It couldn’t be.

Eliminate all other factors and the one which remains must be the truth.

No.

Detection is, or ought to be, an exact science and should be
treated in the same cold and unemotional manner.

Bruce looked at the fire poker.

The emotional qualities are antagonistic to clear reasoning.

He looked at Holmes’s desk.

Women are never to be entirely trusted - not the best of them.

Bruce moved to the desk, revisiting in his mind those moments in the dark before he went for the lantern.

My brain has always governed my heart.

Looking down, in the costume of Sherlock Holmes on Sherlock Holmes’s own desk, Bruce saw a casebook, an inkwell, and a small framed photograph of Irene Adler.

Love is an emotional thing, and whatever is emotional is opposed
 to that true cold reason which I place above all things. I should
never marry myself, lest I bias my judgment.

To be continued…


 

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