Monday. A party at Mr. Glockenspiel’s — a school friend of mine from long ago, nowadays a much-maligned politician — with nine of his various acquaintances present. An hour into the party, Mr. G. keeled over, dead of cyanide.
Ten minutes later the police was there; two minutes before that I had solved the crime, and once again made Inspector LaMorgan wonder, among other things, about my intellect — it had been a Mrs. A., because of the horrid death of Mr. A. during the latest war, and with the cyanide not in the bottle or the beaker, but in the corkscrew!
With the sad addition of the revenge-maddened Mrs. A., I had thus this year solved 31 cases of murder, plus some mere burglaries, thefts and threats of ruinous blackmail, and it was only the fourth of September!
So many deaths wherever I go, whomever I meet; and without a fail I, with my giant intellect, solve them all!
I do not visit my relatives anymore because of this; none, except my Aunt Agatha, that irritating and seemingly immortal old crone.
I, now and then, doubt even the wisdom of going out, buying milk, things like that — the young woman at the corner-shop adores me, of course, for did I not show that her mother had been killed by an evil and greedy barrister, instead of being guilty of the horrible insult of mere self-slaying!
And yet, that it what I contemplated myself: the mortal sin of suicide. Of what use was my prodigious intellect, my keen observation, if everywhere I went, people dropped like the flies of the English proverb! Was I cursed to be the bane of people, the trigger of action on various deadly prejudices and old hatreds no matter where I went? Even the admiring Inspector LaMorgan has been cold lately — “You again, you old murder-crow?” he let slip today, and that accusation of being a terrible lathspell to all I met hurt me, deeply, terribly.
Thus, just as I had composed my last note, and toyed with my poisoned chalice — no uncertain and easily missed cyanide for me; let the plodding and unimaginative LaMorgan know, from the start, what had killed the famous detective — when there was a knock at the door.
My manservant had gone to bed already; the outer door was locked; and yet the inner door of my library opened, and in stepped a most curious man. I am not a coward in spirit or in body, but the presence of that man — all the subtle things wrong in him — chilled my soul and froze my limbs. Powerless I sat as he spoke.
“You cannot die. You cannot cease in your solving of the puzzles you come across; no, you cannot, no matter how frequent they might be, or how much they may pain you! You must be yourself, the Great Solver of Crime!”
“Why?” I croaked, like the last word of the dying man I had so nearly been.
He smiled, and that smile knew too much. “Because the police is, as you often say, ‘dull, plodding and unimaginative’ — because I and my associates are in the curious business of directing and navigating things, and occasionally this demands the quiet exit of various people from the national and international stages. Those unwitting agents of ours that do the deed never do it against their will. Yes, Mrs. A. was one such unknowing but wholly willing agent, the dreadful fate of her husband 20 years ago coming to be through means and prognostications you should not contemplate, for the precise purpose of the long hatred she bore and the thus wholly logical murder she committed only five hours ago!”
“We are not murderers, my old friend, maybe murderer-enablers if even that; but to us it is of utmost importance that these fateful few deaths remain commonplace — that there is no odious stench of Mystery. Scandal and publicity our designs can weather, but Mystery — that attracts eyes much too keen for our comfort.”
“I can offer no reassurance except the knowledge that you are a small but vital smoothing part of a great plan across Time and Space, a plan for the success and well-being of all mankind. If you doubt, consider what you have learned of the nature of Mr. G. the deceased today, and ask yourself if he would have been suitable for the highest positions of political power — I see you grasp he would have been a wolf in the presence of those dubious lambs, and a wolf of greater rapacity than you can guess. A great disaster was averted by his death. Do not distress yourself with considering how we know this.”
He laughed. “You serve not only law and conscience, but a Law and a Conscience greater than yours or of Merry Old England — that is all I am allowed to say.”
With a tip of his unspeakable hat he departed; I crumpled my unnecessary suicide-note and picked up my pen to write this diary-entry; tomorrow I will no doubt cross it over as the confusion of an uncommonly vivid dream.
* * *
Note: Inspired by Hercule Poirot, who’s a bit like the detective above, and by Conan Edogawa, who has the same problem as the above sleuth. (No Poirot would, of course, speak of a lathspell, but since one is wholly ignorant about the French language beyond bon appetit and the Shakespearian baise mon cul, one has to go with what one knows.)