by Barry Ergang
This one is more of a pun than an actual mystery, but it is definitely mystery related and fun! It’s what the author calls a groaner and was originally published in the now-defunct e-zine Crime and Suspense in the November 2006 issue.
“This murder is a fishy business, sir,” Detective-Inspector Shad Rowe said. “You’ve been of great assistance to us in the past when it comes to solving bizarre crimes and I hope you can help us now.”
The Sleuth Extraordinaire, a gaunt hawk-faced man with no official status, but possessed of a preternatural faculty for observation and deduction, sat in a chair opposite Rowe’s cluttered desk. He puffed complaisantly on his pipe, adding to the musty atmosphere of the cramped office. “I’m always pleased to help however I can, but you must give me the details. They’re essential.”
“Of course, sir.” Rowe leaned back in his chair and wiped a hand across his plump, ruddy countenance. “The victim is Lady Vera Muckinfutch.”
“The Parliamentarian’s wife?”
“The very one. Her body was discovered early this morning, but the post-mortem indicates she died at approximately half past nine last night. She was strangled.”
“Killed at her estate?”
“That’s one of the rummiest aspects of the case. You see, sir, her body was found in a textile manufacturing factory!”
The Sleuth Extraordinaire’s left eyebrow became a quizzical arch. “Had she ever been there before?”
“As far as her husband, friends and servants are aware,” Rowe said, “she had not.”
“You said it was one of the peculiar aspects. What are the others?”
“The room in which she was found was locked from the inside. The windows were locked, too, but even if they hadn’t been, they’d be unusable. They’re each covered on the outside by a metal grate and none of the grates had been tampered with. Furthermore, it snowed yesterday, as you know, but the snow stopped falling an hour before Lady Muckinfutch was murdered. There were no footprints beneath the windows of the plant. The snow was undisturbed.”
“And the roof?”
“How was the room entered this morning?”
“The factory manager has a key–the room in question is enormous; it houses the huge looms used in manufacturing.” Rowe held up a cautionary hand. “But before you ask, we vetted the manager thoroughly. He not only has no connection to the victim, he has an unshakeable alibi for the time of the murder.”
“I see.” The Sleuth Extraordinaire drew on his pipe, discovered it had gone out, and took a moment to relight it.
“But that’s not all, sir. Now we come to the oddest part of the business. Lady Muckinfutch’s body was found a few feet away from one of the looms. This particular loom was canted as if it had been shaken loose from its foundation, yet everyone who works in that room swears its position was normal at closing time. An examination showed no obvious signs of tampering and we certainly had no earthquake in London last night. Every other machine in the room was as it should be.”
Rowe paused long enough to emit a heavy sigh, and then said, “Frankly, sir, we’re baffled, and we’re hoping you can make some sense of this.”
The Sleuth Extraordinaire contemplated the pipe smoke that curled among the dust motes in the wintry light slanting through the office windows. “Rest assured, Inspector, I shall give it my utmost consideration,” he said, then looked toward the ceiling and murmured wryly, “Thank you, Vera Muckinfutch, for presenting me with the world’s first rocked loom mystery.”
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