On the 3rd December 1926 Agatha Christie went missing for 11 days. The newspapers had a field-day but no one ever found out where she went or why. Here I put forward a possible explanation.
Something inside me seemed to snap. How could he sit so blatantly across from me reading his newspaper when I knew within the next few hours he’d be lying next to another, whispering those same words he’d once whispered to me?
I thought of Rosalind lying innocently upstairs and wondered if he loved her – at least as much as he was capable of love – lust yes, he was more than capable of that.
What I intended to do was not fully formed in my mind when I ascended the stairs. Entering my daughter’s bedroom I walked across to her bed to kiss her goodnight. It was only when I watched her tiny heart beating I finally constructed my plan – at least its beginning and middle; the end, my personal end, was yet to be decided.
I felt excited, more excited than I’d done in years, certainly more than I’d experienced on my last literary journey. Yes, I would undergo the beginning and the middle and see where my journey would take me.
After I’d thrown a few things into a suitcase I walked quietly back down the stairs and let myself out into the night. My feet crunched upon the gravel as I headed across to my Morris Cowley. I didn’t rush, I didn’t care who saw – because this time I was in charge.
As I drove away I saw the lounge curtain move, throwing light upon the driveway. I smiled; what would he be thinking. This had put paid to the amorous evening he had planned. Would he now be phoning her to say he’d been left without a word – to baby sit!
I was thirty six and I’d been trapped in a world of make believe for too long and now the make believe was to become real. As a writer I had learned to ‘plan’ and I felt wild abandon because this time I had no plan. I would go … where? I knew I’d need to find a place to stay – so my literary mind thought, ‘where would Miss Marple go’ … and once I’d decided I went in the opposite direction. Not for me a comfortable Manor House, this Miss Marple was going to see ‘life’! She wanted to drink and to smoke. She wanted to see what it would be like to become a ‘flapper’. She wanted to throw away her corset and to dance on tables – to jazz.
After I’d abandoned the Cowley I booked a room in a sleazy club and changed my clothes, before taking my ‘new self’ down to the bar. Heads turned as I walked in – who was this strange woman? The bar of ‘The Blue Grotto’ was smoky. A girl, peroxide blonde, sang a sultry number, draping herself seductively about the microphone, while looking towards the bar.
“A Gin and It, please,” I said in the most seductive tone I could muster.
“Coming right up Lady,” the barman returned, in a fake American accent, pouring my drink without taking his eyes from the singer.
I crossed my legs (as I’d seen Gloria Swanson do in ‘movies’) sipped my drink and looked around. The blonde seemed to be having an argument with her pianist.
“Stop it Miss Marple!” I told myself. “No analysing tonight, just enjoy your freedom.”
I felt a hand slide round my waist as someone asked me to dance. We danced closely. He was short, about my height and I could feel his hot breath upon my neck and smell tobacco. Then the tempo changed and a tall man with a scar running down his right cheek cut in, and we gyrated round the small, dimly lit, dance floor. I could feel all eyes upon me – and I laughed – Miss Marple was wanton! She danced all night, she drank and she didn’t care. She wallowed in her newfound liberation.
It was 4.30.am before I staggered back to my bedroom, which more resembled a closet after the hotel rooms I’d frequented with my husband. I pulled my nightgown from my case and looked across to the single bed, trying to decide if it was clean. As it was now nearly 5.am I’d hardly be sleeping in it very long. Perhaps I’d find somewhere cleaner later in the day to lay my head.
I’d just begun changing out of my clothes when I heard a scream, followed by heavy footfall running past my room. I peered out. The commotion seemed to be coming from the end of the corridor. I quickly pulled a shawl about my shoulders and donned my shoes before following in the direction of the skirmish.
“What’s the matter?” I shouted.
“Cleaner found Billy done in,” Jimmy the Barman shouted back.
“Billy Denver -trumpet player.”
“Perhaps you should call the police.”
“No, not yet,” he said quickly blocking my passage into the room.
From the doorway I could see Billy stretched out on the bed, one arm limply dangling over its edge – a knife through his heart.
“Go back to your room, there’s a good girl, there’s nothing here your pretty eyes should see.” He closed the door in my face, leaving me staring at it.
Making my way back towards my room I encountered the pretty blonde singer, who rudely pushed past me. She ran along the corridor to the dead man’s room and, without knocking, went inside.
I’d been unable to sleep, so when my watch said 9am I dressed, and armed with a book, headed down to the bar, hoping to acquire a pot of tea. Shorty was sitting at one of the tables, his eyes glued to an empty pint beer glass. He looked like death. He ignored me.
The piano player was tinkling on the piano. I went up to him.
“Your singer looked very upset last night,” I told him.
“My wife you mean?” He continued playing. “Yes I expect she was.” He looked up at me. “We’re going to have to look for another trumpet player now, aren’t we?”
At around 11’o’clock the bar began to fill. I recognised Scarface as he came in. Bar tender Jimmy had taken up his station. Pretending to read my book, I watched as something was passed between them from beneath the counter.
Lauren, the singer, appeared; her eyes red rimmed. The piano player struck up and she moved, as if in a trance, towards the mic, where she began singing a mournful rendering of ‘Aint Misbehavin’, more to herself than to her audience. Her husband didn’t take his eyes from her. Just as I was wondering who she was singing it to, Shorty came over.
“You want a drink Lady?” I shook my head. He noticed me watching her and as if reading my mind asked, “Who do you think she’s singing it to?”
I listened to the words. ‘Aint misbehaving, saving all my love for you’, she sang. The ring on her wedding finger caught the light – it looked familiar. Where had I seen it before?
“Do you think she’s singing it to him?” he continued.
“Trumpet player, Billy Denver.”
“It must be hard losing a member of the band,” I replied.
“Some think he got what he deserved.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Scarface never forgave him.”
“For spoilin’ his good looks of course.”
“Did they fight?”
“Denver didn’t have to fight – his daddy employed men to do that for him.”
“You think Scarface killed Billy Denver?”
“I’ll let you into a little secret Lady” he whispered into my ear. “I’m not sure – all I say is – I know it’s not you. I’ve been watchin this lot for some time. I’m undercover see. If I were you I’d head back to wherever you came from – things are likely to get very ugly from here on in.”
But I didn’t want to ‘head back’. Who would I head back to? And there was something bothering me, something I couldn’t put my finger on – but what?
Lauren suddenly ran past me, crying. I followed and found her outside, leaning against a wall, smoking a cigarette.
“Are you alright?” I asked.
“Yes.” She turned away from me.
“Is it the trumpet player? Were you fond of him?”
She didn’t answer but I could see her shoulders shaking as she sobbed silently.
“I’m a good listener. Sometimes it’s easier talking to a stranger,”
There was a long pause before she spoke.
“He’s my brother.”
It was then I remembered where I’d seen the ring before – from the doorway of the dead man’s room, on the hand which dangled limply from the bed.
We sat on a low wall outside the back of the club, nub ends and beer bottles at our feet.
“After my dad died Billy looked after me. I know he’s bad – but he was brought up to be bad, it’s not his fault – and I loved him.”
“And that was why you both wore matching rings?”
“It were Dad’s ring. When he died we had it split and made into two – so we’d both have part of him. I better get back or my husband will come lookin for me.” She got up and hurried inside. I followed her and sat down at an empty table. Scarface came over and put a glass down in front of me. I was impressed he’d remembered what I’d drunk the night before.
“Thank you.” I smiled up at him. “Looks like you’re a man who gets himself into trouble,” I said pointing to his scar. I laughed. He didn’t.
“I was looking forward to paying the bastard back,” he said, “– but someone managed to get to him before me. Guess I’ll have to make do with getting my money elsewhere.”
“Did Billy do that?” I asked feigning innocence.
“His dad’s mob did it – same thing.”
“I was working for his dad – he was a receiver. He’d buy goods in order to make a nice profit on ‘um – and one day I decided he needed to up my cut. After all I was the one taking all the risks. This was done to put me back in my place.” He rubbed his scar.
“Ouch,” I cried.
Was the scar good enough motive to want Billy dead? Or had someone really got in first? It was certainly the best reason for murder I’d found so far. What was I doing? I’d run away from home to rid myself of Miss Marple and here I was writing another chapter!
I went back to my room, head buzzing. I got out my note pad and wrote:-
1) Lauren – loving sister, obviously upset. Wears other half of late father’s split ring.
2) Her husband, the piano player – seemingly more concerned with having to find another trumpet player than with his brother-in-law’s demise.
3) Shorty – undercover cop? Or is he?
4) Scarface – the only one with a definite motive – traumatized by having to live a life of disfigurement.
5) Jimmy the barman – what was passed across the bar between him and Scarface?
Then it struck me!
I went back to the bar and walked over to Shorty. The piano was playing and Lauren was singing. Jimmy was behind the bar and Scarface was slumped in a chair.
“Have you decided who killed Billy yet?” I asked.
“You still here? I’m still workin’ on it love.”
“I think the murderer could be right in front of your nose Shorty.”
I went on to tell him how I’d seen Jimmy look at Lauren. He was obviously head over heels in love with her. How I’d seen Scarface accept a brown envelope from Jimmy across the bar. How Lauren and Billy wore their father’s split ring. How Scarface despised the dead man’s father for disfiguring him.
“So you think its Scarface, is that it?” inquired Shorty.
“I did for a while, he certainly seemed most likely. But then I thought ‘what if someone was setting him up’? I do believe he was blackmailing Jimmy, who would do anything to stop Billy knowing about his affair with his beloved sister. Yet if Scarface had killed Billy, then his income from blackmailing would stop – and I don’t think he’d want to risk that.”
“So who else could it have been?”
“.Well, Jimmy knew Scarface had it in for Billy because of his disfigurement. What better way would there be to get his blackmailer off his back than by killing his enemy? Scarface would then be accused of his murder – and meddlesome Billy would be out of his life?
“So, it was Jimmy?”
“Then I wondered if Jimmy had the intelligence to devise such a plan – so I started looking closer to home. Who had the most to lose? I believe we’re looking at our murderer right now Shorty.”
Lauren was still singing as her husband played.
“What better motive do you need than love Shorty? Everyone knew the hold Billy had over his sister. She loved her brother deeply and while Billy lived everyone else could only ‘play second fiddle’. Each day her father’s ring sparkled on her wedding finger … while his ring – her husband’s ring – had been downgraded to her right hand.”
Shorty nodded. He then got up and walked slowly towards the piano. I left him to make the arrest and hurried off to sort out my own life. I hadn’t quite become the flapper I’d planned, but I had realised holding onto something for appearance sake, something that wasn’t meant to be, could only end in heartache. I headed up north to a hotel I knew in Harrogate for my last few days of freedom, I would then return refreshed and ready – to begin filing for my divorce.