I did not realize just how much I had missed Dr. John Watson until he came to the door and beamed at me before taking my hat and coat.
“You were supposed to be back a week ago,” was his greeting.
I carefully lit my pipe even before sitting down.
“Didn’t lose any opportunities to poison yourself, I see,” he continued with his usual cynicism frequently displayed over the years about my smoking habit.
I finally sat down delighted to be back home and looked at him trying my utmost not to allow any expression on my face that would give away anything or give him any clues.
“Don’t tell me. Somehow on holiday out there in the African bush some case came up.”
I nodded back looking rather pleased with myself. “Very perceptive my dear Watson, very perceptive.”
“Golly, these cases do follow you around the world then don’t they? Who would have guessed that some minor case of burglary would have come up at some remote game lodge in Africa?”
“Not burglary my Dear Watson but suspected murder. I am hoping that you can work it out for me, as I did.”
I had punished the man enough and so I settled down to giving him the details of the strange murder in the most beautiful place I had ever been to in the heart of the African bush just days before my holiday was due to come to an end.
I have to admit that I had quite grown fond of John Adams, the chain smoking American who loved his beer and recounting tales of his encounters with the high and mighty including royalty. His hearty laugh at the end of almost all his tales was rather infectious.
And so when I came down for breakfast at the game lodge one morning and found him sprawled on the floor of the dining area dead and surrounded by shocked guests, I was more than a little distressed. His face was still twisted in pain and he was clearly foaming from his mouth his other hand still clutching desperately at his stomach.
“Poisoned. Poor fellow.” Watson interrupted me.
“Elementary my dear Watson, obviously so,” I responded.
Adams was on holiday with his wife, son and daughter-in-law. Naturally I started by interviewing them.
His wife Rose was surprisingly young to be the wife of Adams in actual fact younger than his son’s wife.
She said she had come down for breakfast and found Adam’s son, Peter and his wife Lorna already halfway through their breakfast. She recalled her husband asked why they were so early and Peter said that they were going on some game drive.
Apparently Adams was in high spirits and sat down to sip his tea. A few minutes later he excused himself to go to the washroom. Rose did not think anything was amiss until he came out of the washroom and staggered as he walked back to the table. She found that strange since he had not taken any strong drink since waking up. He sat at the table obviously trying very hard to conceal his agony. But soon it must have gotten unbearable because he started clutching his stomach and moaning in pain. As luck would have it there was no doctor in the hotel, he had left the day before on some long game drive and had yet to return. Somebody suggested he be given some warm milk but before it could arrive from the kitchen he was on the floor. She watched helplessly as Adams died right there on the floor. It all happened so fast.
“I have not lived for years with Sherlock Holmes for nothing. In cases like this you need NOT look further than the spouse for your villain,” Watson piped out.
“Precisely, my dear Watson. But as I have always told you; 'I never guess. It is a shocking habit,—destructive to the logical faculty. Beware of the obvious which may not always be as obvious as you think.”
Further interrogation revealed that Rose (25) had married Adam (55) for his money. One would imagine that she was now going to come into immense financial wealth as his surviving widow.
I was already trying to work out how she had gotten the poison into his tea undetected and yet they had come down for breakfast together. At the time I told myself it was possible that this was the area I would have to focus my intellect for this simple open-and-shut-wife-murders-husband-for-his-money case. But I did not have all the facts. And neither did I want to get myself into the situation of twisting the facts to fit the theory.
Admittedly there was plenty I did not know at the time which would prove that such conclusions were presumptuous and possibly erroneously so..
Peter Adams was inconsolable and was still in tears as I interviewed him. He clearly loved his late father to bits. He told me that he had never understood what had come over him to marry Rose 30 years her junior and obviously a gold digger to everybody else but his father who adored her. He had come down to breakfast with his wife early when the tables were still being laid and did not notice anything unusual until his father started writhing in agony. No, he did not see Rose put anything into his tea but he was sure that she had to be responsible in some way for his father’s death.
Lorna corroborated her husband’s version of events but she added that she did not think Rose was capable of murder. Further interrogation unearthed the fact that she was a close friend of Rose, close enough for her to have clouded judgment over what she was capable or not capable of doing.
But I had not even finished interviewing Lorna when the manager a burly red head Mr Butler who had the hairiest hands you can imagine burst in and proclaimed that they had already caught the murderer.
He led me out of the main building into the servants’ quarters to show me a native waiter called Kimilu. They had already tied his hands and legs together with some rope and had sent word to the police constable who live about 50 miles away from the game reserve.
Apparently the day before Adams had complained about the waiters’ incompetence in always getting his orders mixed up. Mr Butler admitted that Kimilu was the best waiter on his small staff and that is why he had assumed that being from the American deep South Adams’ had a deep hatred for anybody dark skinned and this is what it was all about. He had seen this kind of thing on numerous occasions before and he always did the same thing. He told his valued visitors that the waiter had been sacked and they were simply kept out of site until the said guest departed.
Only that this particular case was different. Adams had violently slapped Kimilu so hard that the sheer force had floored the waiter and the usually humble waiter had lost it. He had stood up and angrily talked back at him in his native language which Adams did not understand. But Butler had lived in Africa for over two decades and he understood every word, his translation confirmed by other native workers who witnessed the drama. It was chilling to say the least.
“In our tribe a man is never ever slapped. Never, ever. You have hated and accused me for no reason. The sun shall not set tomorrow before you join your ancestors. Your death will be agonizing and you will writhe in pain on the very ground I have unjustly landed on when you hit me. Nobody shall be able to save you. Others shall watch in horror but it will not matter even if the white man gives you his best medicine and magic portion, you will die. This is what was proclaimed as justice for what you have done by my ancestors and my ancestors have never been proved wrong. If this does not come to pass, I myself will die before sunset tomorrow. My ancestors have spoken.”
Butler looked at me triumphantly before adding. “Kimilu comes from the Masai tribe. They are experts with plants and herbs. He must have gotten some herbs from the bush and somehow slipped it into Mr Adams’ tea. You will have noted that whatever killed Adams was potent because he died very quickly.”
It made sense. Neatly so. Except for one minor detail. What Kimilu had said sounded to me like some curse rather than a threat. My dear Watson the two are not the same thing. But then this was Africa and I am not familiar with Africa.
I asked Kimilu about the incident through a translator. He pointed out that Adams was already in a bad mood because he had been shouting even before he served him lunch with his son. The two were dining alone. He had no idea what the quarrel was about and he said he had heard Adams use the word “intestine” several times. Peter denied that he had argued with his father and added that they had certainly not discussed any “intestines.”
I asked Mr Butler where he was during breakfast and if he had noticed anything unusual. He said he was right there the whole time supervising breakfast and was busy mostly in the kitchen which is where he was when he had a commotion amongst his guests and rushed back to find Adams gasping his last breath on the floor.
Next I asked him if he could figure out how the poison had gotten into Adams’ tea with his son and daughter in-law seated at the table the whole time. To which he answered that he too was puzzled and would only speculate that it had been slipped into his cup in the kitchen and was so potent that all it needed was for somebody to pour out tea in the cup. He admitted that he had personally placed Mr Adams tea cup at his usual place on the table fearing that he would start another row if he discovered that it was a native who had prepared and set his tea cup.
“Any thoughts at this juncture Watson?”
“I would take a closer look at this Mr Butler and explore possible motives he may have to murder one of his own guests. There is plenty of mischief that happens out there in the African bush.”
“It didn’t make any sense to me my dear Watson. But I still checked. The game lodge is in excellent financial footing. Hardly surprising since it is so bloody expensive. I would not afford it on my own and as you know the holiday was a gift from one of my rather grateful clients. Now why on earth would Mr Butler spoil all that by murdering a wealthy client and giving himself the kind of publicity that will almost certainly keep away his treasured guests and threaten the financial stability he currently enjoys?”
“Then he must surely hold the key to the mystery. That key has to be the cup and the happenings in and around it shortly before Adams came down for breakfast.”
“I agree Watson. The key is the cup. But you will need to look elsewhere for the answers.”
But even as I was putting my thoughts together something else happened.
Peter Adams came to me accusing his step mother of the murder. He pointed out that he had discovered that she had gone to great lengths to contact the solicitors. They had gone into the nearest town on the following day with the car that took away Kimilu into police custody where Butler assured us the police would get the whole truth from the native using methods he would rather not talk about. Rose had gone into the post office and placed a long distance call to the solicitors to enquire about Mr Adams’ will. How would she when the body of her husband was hardly cold?
When I got to her she admitted that she had placed the call and had been told that it was not possible for her to get the information she wanted over the phone. That is not how wills were administered. Rose was frightened over what she had done but she uttered something that made plenty of sense although it did not exonerate her from the murder.
“Why would I kill my husband without knowing or being sure of the contents of his will? That wouldn’t be very clever would it?”
But what was even more interesting was a confession by Peter Adams that would have meant nothing to a lesser mind.
Alcohol is a clever detective’s best friend because it loosens the tongue considerably. All that one has to do is get as relaxed as possible with the subject and talk about anything and everything. Which is precisely what I did.
Peter talked rather bitterly about his childhood and ended up blurting out that he was not Adams’ biological son and had in fact been adopted when his mother got married to the American millionaire. He was only 4 years old then.
That statement my dear Watson burst the case wide open.
Peter was obviously very fond of Adams. I could tell that with certainty. And yet he talked about mistreatment from Adams during his early child hood. He talked about a macabre incident where he was sent out into the dark of the night to search for a key he had lost while playing in his tree house. He described the incident rather vividly evidence that it had stuck in his mind for years and had never left him. His mother had been distressed and he could hear her sob as an angry Mr Adams shoved him out into the night and locked the door knowing fully well that he was always terrified of the dark. He was trembling in fright as he tip toed to the tree house but somehow his mother’s helpless sobs had given him strength. With his heart still beating violently against his chest, he had desperately searched the tree house and had found the key. And over the years he had also found love for his brute of a father, or had he?
So who murdered my friend John Adams? Kimilu the native waiter out of blind rage? Rose his gold digger of a wife? Peter his loving step son or Lorna his daughter in law? Or perhaps Mr. Butler the owner/manager?
My lab would have been of considerable help in this case but being away in the middle of the bush in Africa I had no such luxury. It would have certainly helped to interview Kimilu the waiter further but the language barrier and a lack of understanding of the local culture were a major obstacle to my using my usual methods.
“It would be understandable if this were the only case you never go to solve,” Watson said. “But you say you solved the mystery. How did you do it may I ask?”
“A small detail Watson. It is always a small detail and it has to do with the alleged intestines.”
“Intestines?” Watson was puzzled. “What intestines?”
“Remember that this was a native who had presumably never been to school and had only learnt a English as a second language. In fact just enough English to enable him fulfill his duties as a waiter.”
“Meaning that you needed to look for a word similar to intestine.”
“Golly there are dozens of words similar in some way to the horrid word intestine.”
“Actually not many that are connected to this case. Actually I can only think of one.”
“Now what word may that be?”
“Patience my dear Watson. You have several more minutes to find the word as I finish my African tale.”
I worked it all out but needed to prove my theory. And so I interviewed Rose, Lorna and Peter separately one last time. That order was important because I believe I would have not got the same results had I started with Peter.
This is how the interviews went.
“Rose, did Mr Adams leave a will?”
“I am not sure.”
“Why do you say that?”
“He always said he would never write a will and get murdered for it.”
“He said that?”
“Why then did you call his solicitor to ask if there was a will?”
“Because everybody said he had secretly written a will but did not want anybody to know about it.”
“Lorna did your late father-in-law ever write a will?”
“No I don’t think he did. But I can’t be sure.”
“What is it that you forgot in the room on the morning that your father-in-law died?”
“Who told you about that?”
“Just answer the question, please.”
“It wasn’t me. It was Peter’s wallet.”
“So he went back to the room for it?”
“No, I did but it didn’t take me 2 minutes.”
“Peter, why did you deny the fact that you had an argument with your father?”
“Because it is the truth.”
“Is it also the truth that was upset and used the word intestate a few times?”
“Who told you that?”
“Just answer the question.”
“Yes, we may have discussed intestate in passing but I don’t quite remember.”
“You deliberately left your wallet in the room and then sent your wife to fetch it as you poured out his tea and poisoned it.”
“That’s not true.”
“I can prove it. I managed to get your fingerprints off that cup of tea. It was quite prominent.”
“That proves nothing… but wait a minute where did you get my fingerprints?”
“The drink we had together, remember.”
“You are an idiot Sherlock, and you can prove nothing because I am innocent.”
“That’s your opinion.”
We finally got a confession out of Peter. He had planned the whole thing knowing that he even if he made a mistake in the bush in Africa nobody would notice. And he would have gotten away with it had some generous client not paid for me to be on holiday at that game lodge.
Watson still had a puzzled look on his face. “I though you said you missed your lab and had no way of doing anything scientific? How did you get the fingerprints?”
Improvisation my dear Watson. Sticky tape and a little ink did just fine.”