She sat sipping her glass of pinot noir delicately, balancing the glass between two fingers and watching the burgundy contents inside swish. He didn’t understand how she could be so calm under the circumstances. They had just come back from the morgue after having examined the body of one Mr. JacksonMcArthur, a victim of what appeared to be a vicious fire started by some careless home cooking.
Mrs. McArthur sat in their living room, looking rightly lost among the many filing cabinets, mis-matched furniture and clusters of red wine bottles resting unopened on almost every available surface. He had no idea why she would ask this woman who had just lost her husband to come in for questioning. The case itself wasn’t even that atypical, nothing like the bizarre serial homicide or unexplained disappearance cases they usually took on. But it wasn’t his job to choose the cases, she was the master detective, not he.
“Tell me about that night once more, Mrs. McArthur.” her voice was nonchalant. He recognized the tone, she was done. The case was technically solved in her head, how long it had been that way, he would never be able to tell. She was now merely going through the motions for the police. External evidence he could hear her telling him as she had from the beginning, for those incapable of the simple acts of seeing and thinking.
“Jackson came back a little drunk as I was making dinner. He had been doing that more often, work troubles, you see…” Mrs. McArthur’s voice had the tendency of trailing off at the ends of her sentences as if she wasn’t really sure whether what she had said constituted a full thought, afraid of the finality of a statement. “He got himself a glass of wine and started throwing a fit at me in the kitchen—he’d gotten into the habit of throwing these fits. I didn’t know how to deal with them. I—I do what I can, we don’t make much but I—I do what I can— ” her voice had begun to tremble and he gave the aloof female detective an meaningful glare, the type he reserved for when she would cruelly toy with people’s emotions for the sake of the case.
She rolled her eyes at him, in a single movement telling him he was showing too much sympathy for the client. Nevertheless, she set the wine glass down and respectfully turning to face the poor woman, appearing at least to listen attentively, she prompted, “and then the fire…”
“Oh! The fire! Oh!” her elderly features changed, contorting into one of fear as she sunk further into herself, “He was having his fit and coming towards me, I didn’t—I didn’t know what to do, I was scared. He was all rough tempered and kept coming up to me until we was in the living room. That’s when I heard the first sizzle.”
He didn’t want to listen to the story again. She was making the poor woman relive the horror of her husband’s death again, recounting all the facts they had already had from the police report. The building had gone in flames, luckily after most residents were evacuated. Among those not evacuated were Mr. McArthur and the young woman in the unit directly below. Mrs. McArthur, one of the last to leave the building, smoky and charred in some places herself was being charged with second degree murder.
He didn’t believe it, of course, but the evidence was stacked against the poor woman. The fights she and her husband had had were broadcast through the thin walls of the building as were the affair he was having with the lady in 3B downstairs; both public service announcements that were now being used as motive and proof of killing intent against Mrs. McArthur. To the public it was too coincidental that a whole building could go up in smoke with the only two casualties being the husband and his mistress of an unhappy wife, especially when said fire started in her apartment during one of their infamous spats.
“Thank you so much, Mrs. McArthur.” She was seeing the fragile woman out the door, “I assure you your name will be cleared within the week.”
He waited for the door to close before asking, “What was that? How do you know she is innocent?”
“Don’t you ever pay attention? I asked her over here after going to see the body at the morgue so that you could hear the story again and hopefully see how undoubtedly obvious it is that she didn’t kill anyone!” He gave her a blank look, she sighed. “Why do I even try?” She wandered back to her wine glass and picked it up before gingerly setting herself in an armchair. “Open that file cabinet over there. Third drawer, fifth file from the back.”
He was surprised; he was not usually allowed near the file cabinets. They were intimately hers, a physical replication of all the information she had stored in her brain. To rifle sans permission through them would be a crime manifold times worse than murder.
Trying not to appear too eager as he weaved his way through the living room over to the aforementioned cabinet, the possibilities of what this drawer could contain, breezed through his mind too fast for him to process. The drawer, he could tell, was old, had seldom been opened and contained a meagre 11 vanilla folders hanging, and the fifth from the back was one labelled, ‘safety hazards.’ Inside were papers detailing the deaths of Tom Pryce in 1977 and Humberto Hernandez in 2007. Both died from blunt force trauma to the head by fire hydrant.
“What is this…” he tried processing the information, replaying the supposed scene of the crime in his head with the images of Mr. McArthur’s corpse in the morgue.
“It’s a problem that I haven’t had enough evidence of to bring to the department of health and safety. But this case should give me what I need, especially since otherwise the justice system would have convicted an old innocent women.” He looked up from the files at her blankly, still not comprehending. “Oh come now! It’s obvious! Don’t you see! Mr. McArthur was found in his apartment, the fire hydrant turned weapon not far from his person. While the hydrant has been neglected by incompetent police investigators as circumstantial, further inspection of the deceased’s body proves otherwise. If we weren’t living in a society so prone to pointing fingers and so wanting a scapegoat, none of this murder accusation mess would have ever happened!” She gulped happily at her wine, “Also if we lived in a society where the tools meant to save us were just as dangerous themselves, a lot of these sorts of accidents turned murders wouldn’t occur!”
He put the files away, quietly ruminating over the recent developments as he settled himself into an armchair opposite hers. She was amazing from her penchant for red wine to the file cabinets of her mind that stored enough information that could rival the encyclopedia. Her ability to observe and read into the details of what she saw to analyze and unearth the truth was unrivaled, truly living up to her name. She was satisfied with herself, he could tell. Case closed, another day’s work as master detective. And as he sat there watching her pour herself a fifth glass of wine, he was reminded that this was just another day in the life of Margaret Holmes.
First trial into detective/mystery fiction! Sort of….ehehe I got lost in the details of my own murder mystery and it sort of changed directions. Whoops. Let me know what you think!
The deaths by fire hydrant mentioned are real and were found on wikipedia. Read more about odd deaths here.
image courtesy of google and of course from the BBC series Sherlock.
Your prompt: Filial Piety