Why did you do it?
Why? It was agreed. We all hated him. The professor and I had to play rock-paper-scissors to determine the privilege. You see, whenever the professor had to pause in a sentence to search for a word or phrase, he would tap the poor man on the head and call out ‘Dain bramage!’ and giggle. Insufferable, really. I cheated prestidigitorially to ensure that I would be chosen.
So you killed him because he was annoying?
Such a tepid word! A flaccid word. It should hang vertically from the page whenever it is written. ‘Insufferable’ is more serviceable; rewind your charming little voice-recorder if you doubt me. ‘Infuriating’ would also suffice. ‘Exacerbating.’ The man could scarcely have gotten under our skins more effectively had he been a subcutaneous injection.
Was there no other motive? What about his money?
Oh, I doubt it. That nasty young woman—heaven forbid I call her a lady—Ms. Scarlet might have stood to come into a pittance, but his estate was given over to the care and maintenance of his truly impressive collection of topiary.
You knew what was on his will?
We all did. The colonel had witnessed it, so we all knew the details that very night. If only that idiot lawyer had stayed, I’d have taught him a thing or two about shrubbery.
That was supposed to be menacing, rather than referring to my skill as a gardener, by the way.
Why that particular night?
The act, by its very essence, was unavoidable. His death was certain, lacking only an agent, a tool, and a site for the final anticlimactic battle.
As I said, anticlimactic. After three blows he was still berating me for my faults and complaining of his arthritis. ‘If only my knees were young, I’d show you a thing or two about how a real man fights,’ he said. It was as if he did not want me to have mercy.
But what happened that night? What was the trigger?
There was none, as such. You remind me of Mrs. White, you know. Not by virtue of being a homely middle-aged new-age heretic, as she is, but in your belief that prophecy must precede an event. Not so: some things are always happening, have always happened, will always have been happening. She attempted, repeatedly, to prognosticate his demise in the cards—she had an impressively elegant ‘The Simpsons’ tarot—but she always drew the ten of swords, reversed, and could never remember what it signified. For me, the matter was far simpler. I came to the kitchen for a snack before playing billiards. I opened a box of cereal but discovered that no milk remained to eat it with. It was then that I knew that it was the time.
Because there was no milk?
I would not offer my support to such a weak supposition, but I must admit that the fault can hardly belong to the wheat bran. You would never suspect anything high in fiber of having psychic resonance, although milklessness seems no less innocent.
How many people would you say were involved?
Other than those mentioned previously, there were only myself and milady Peacock. I have no idea what nationality her name implies, by the way. She may have been American, especially since it was she who brought the revolver. She always claimed that it was for hunting rabbits, but apparently her scattered brains had forgotten to bring live ammunition, so it was useful only as a bludgeoning weapon, and of those we had plenty. The butler, by the way, was completely innocent, as is probably proved by his death three days prior in a truly unpleasant accident involving hedge-shears and a hedgehog.
So you say that the butler’s death was an accident?
Sir, it cannot be doubted. I have long campaigned against the dangers posed to our civilian population by hedgehogs, but the papers are always too caught up in petty local politics to make space for the editorials I grace them with. There is an in-depth analysis at home in my safe, if your inspectors have not found it yet.
I see. And what was the butler doing under the privet bushes with a pair of shears?
Engaging in a losing battle against the prickly menace, unless (as is rather unlikely) he had developed a fondness for the taste or texture of the soft ends of newly grown grass. I tried to warn him on several occasions, and even showed him how a contraption might make use of the rope to remove the trimmer from danger, but he was too hardheaded and soft-kidneyed to live, it seems.
Back to the accomplices… you make repeated reference to there being six of you, but we can find no records of these others ever visiting him. In fact, they are all public servants like myself, private investigators, or civilian specialists who were brought in to help solve the murder. Are you sure that there were five others with you in the conspiracy?
Oh, we were all there. Always.
In the conservatory, with the candlestick.