He stared at us, a face contorted with the pain and confusion of sudden death. Perry Smith’s young life had ended and he was now surrounded by the Higham Police forensic department. I stood, as always, next to my employer, Mr Lupin who was comforting his still crying wife. The Inspector broke away from his forensic team and come over to the three of us.
‘I’d like to get a quick statement from each of you, if you don’t mind,’ he said. ‘We’ll start with you, Mr Lupin and then you Mrs Lupin.’ He looked at me, unsure of the convention surrounding the staff/resident relationship. ‘And then I’ll take one from you.’
Mr Lupin went towards the house, out of our earshot, with the Inspector. I watched the forensic teams bag up the remains of Mr Lupin’s favourite tea service. Not a single item remained intact.
The coroner was laying Perry into a bag when the Inspector asked for me to give my statement.
‘Mr Lupin likes to sit in the garden and have his breakfast when the weather is nice,’ I said. ‘Today was no exception. Mrs Lupin brought out some tea and toast for them both.’
‘And does she do this every day?’ asked the Inspector.
I hesitated to answer. A butler is required to keep his employer’s secrets, after all. ‘That’s something personal, Inspector,’ I said.
‘So is the man’s death,’ said the Inspector. ‘Now, if you would.’
‘Mr and Mrs Lupin have been distant with each other of late. Work and social commitments take up their time.’
‘OK,’ said the Inspector. ‘Carry on.’
‘While they ate and drank, Mr Smith was wheel-barrowing earth from Mrs Lupin’s new rockery. After the tea, Mr Lupin decided that he wanted to stretch his legs before coming back for another cup. Wishing to avoid the rockery, we set off for a walk around the herb garden while Mrs Lupin went back toward the house.’
At that moment, the body bag was wheeled past on a stretcher. The coroner whispered a few words into the Inspector’s ear and then departed with the body, followed by the forensic team. I glanced back at the garden, police tape still defining the area where Perry fell.
‘What happened then?’ asked the Inspector.
‘After a few minutes we heard Mrs Lupin shouting something, and we turned back to the main garden. She screamed, and there was the smash of the tea service. We found, Mrs Lupin on the grass, sobbing, with Mr Smith’s head in her lap.’
The Inspector said, ‘Yes, that seems to match up with the statements from Mr and Mrs Lupin. Here,’ he gave me his card. ‘If you think of anything you need to add.’
That night the house became silent and still. Despite barely, if ever, gracing the house during his life, his absence in his death left a void.
Two days past until anything was heard from the Inspector. Mr and Mrs Lupin were now spending every moment they had together. I had been charged that day to locate Mrs Lupin’s pearl necklace and when the Inspector called I had a pretty good idea where it had gone.
‘Hello?’ I said answering the phone.
‘Hello, is Mr Lupin available?’ asked the Inspector.
‘I’m sorry, Inspector, they have gone to visit Mr Smith’s parents. Can I take a message?’
‘We’ve had confirmation of the cause of death,’ said the Inspector. ‘It appears Mr Smith was poisoned,’
I replayed the moment in my memory just to be sure he didn’t say: “We’ve found Mrs Lupin’s pearl necklace.”
‘Poisoned? How?’ I asked, all thought of the necklace shoved from my mind.
‘Accidentally would be my guess. We discovered traces of a chemical called Paraquat. It’s a weed killer, fatal even in small doses. It was on the tea pot and in the tea cup…’
‘That’s impossible,’ I said. ‘Mr and Mrs Lupin both drank from that tea pot and they are still alive.’
‘Which is why we’re treating this as an accidental death,’ said the Inspector. ‘Mr Smith could have forgotten to wash his hands after using the Paraquat. If there was some on his hands he could have transferred the poison unknowingly.’
I held the phone to my ear for a few moments. ‘Thank you, Inspector. I’ll tell Mr and Mrs Lupin.’
‘You can request a report next week,’ said the Inspector. ‘I’ll come over after work and remove the crime scene tape and things.’
When the Inspector hung up I went about my routine, cleaning and preparing for dinner but I couldn’t stop thinking about what the Inspector had said. There must be some mistake, how could the poison be in the tea pot and not kill Mr or Mrs Lupin? Perhaps Perry had drunk it from another cup?
I needed to put my mind at rest and left dinner to roast and went out into the back garden. It was getting dark, the windows of the work shed, where Perry spent most of his time when at the house, were pitch black.
A grubby, sixty watt bulb slopped out light into the shed. Everything in here remained untouched since Perry’s death. I spotted immediately the bag of weed killer. A plastic scoop, like the ones used in sweetshops, stuck from the top of the bag.
Aside from the bag of weed killer, there were stacks of tools, a dirty sink, and some crates with stones and pieces of junk in. Something on the floor glinted in the weak light. I bent down to pick it up; Mrs Lupin’s pearl necklace, the clasp snapped. What was that doing here? Surely Perry wouldn’t have stolen it? I stood up quickly and bashed my head on a watering can, knocking it over. Water sloshed out, pebbled with black lumps. I brought a lump under the bulb. It was squidgy and dissolved when I rubbed it between my fingers. I went to the sink and turned the tap, hoping this wasn’t the stuff that had killed Perry. I opened a cupboard, looking for soap. I didn’t find any but what I did find was very disturbing.
A note, written on rice paper, from Mrs Lupin to Perry. The note told how Mrs Lupin watched Perry from the house every day, that her marriage to Mr Lupin was falling apart, how she wanted to be with him. It also explained why it was written on rice paper.
‘When you have read this,’ it read, ‘Eat the paper or put it in the watering can. That way, no one can read what I have written to you.’
The lumps in the watering can were the remains of other notes. I held up the pearl necklace, the clasp roughly snapped off, and wondered just how far their affair had gone. I took the note back into the house, made myself a cup of tea and sat down to think it all over. Poor Mr Lupin. What was I to say to him? Should I call the Inspector about this? What if it was all a mistake?
In the end, I called the Inspector and told him about the note and the necklace. If he thought it worth investigating, at least I couldn’t be arrested for withholding evidence.
‘It’s all circumstantial,’ he said. ‘But I’ll come round and take a look at it.’
I promised to keep it safe until he arrived.
The pork needed looking at. I put the note down and went to the oven. Still another hour at least.
I had made a very big mistake. I’d left the rice paper note on top of my steaming cup of tea. I watched as the paper soaked in the steam, the ink ran and the paper weakened. I yanked it away, another mistake. Half the note remained glued to the cup which went over. Tea spilled everywhere. It destroyed most of the note. But, as the pool of tea spread across the wooden kitchen table like a Rorschach ink-blot, it all made sense. I called the Inspector back.
‘Do you still have the tea-service?’ I asked him.
‘Yes.’ He sighed down the line at me. ‘The boys in the lab have put it together again. Hardly good as new though I’m afraid. Why? What’s this all about?’
‘Come round for dinner and I’ll explain,’ I said.
At half past eight the Inspector arrived. Mr and Mrs Lupin were in the dining room, already eating their dinner.
‘I apologise, Inspector,’ I said as I showed him into the dining room. ‘Dinner was never really on offer. But, please, allow me to make you some tea.’
The Inspector sat down at the table and I heard him explain the accidental death verdict he was going to report. I prepared the tea pot and brought it to the dining room. I poured out one cup for the Inspector and one for Mrs Lupin.
‘My apologies, sir,’ I said to Mr Lupin. ‘I’ve forgotten the sugar.’ And I left the dining room to get it. Mr Lupin followed after me. I needed to get him alone.
‘I don’t take sugar,’ he said in a hiss. ‘And why is the Inspector here?’
‘I’m very sorry,’ I said. ‘I must do this.’ We went back into the dining room and I poured Mr Lupin’s tea. The dark liquid was now frothy, fizzing in the cup.
‘My tea!’ yelled Mr Lupin. The Inspector gawked at the foaming cup in my hand. But Mrs Lupin understood. Her expression became one of silent fear.
‘It’s just bicarbonate of soda,’ I said. ‘Last time it wasn’t though. Last time it was…’ I looked to the Inspector.
‘Paraquat,’ he said, beginning to get a grasp of the situation.
I lifted the lid of the tea pot. ‘I filled the lid with bicarbonate of soda before I put it on the pot,’ I said.
‘But how did you stop it going in our cups?’ asked the Inspector.
‘The same way Mrs Lupin stopped the Paraquat from going into Mr Lupin’s and her own first cup of tea; sealing it in with rice paper. The paper gradually soaks up the steam from the tea beneath it and eventually breaks, letting the bicarbonate pour in.’
The Inspector’s head revolved round towards Mrs Lupin who was still, staring cold daggers into me. Mr Lupin didn’t turn to look at his wife and he could barely look at me.
‘When we heard you shouting at Perry,’ I said to Mrs Lupin. ‘You weren’t shouting from concern. You were telling him not to drink the tea. Sadly, he didn’t understand.’
‘You don’t have the proof,’ Mrs Lupin said.
I pulled her rice-paper note from my pocket and gave it to the Inspector. ‘Perry didn’t destroy them all,’ I said and then handed the broken pearl necklace over to the Inspector. ‘I found this in Perry’s shed.’
‘He was going to blackmail me,’ shouted Mrs Lupin. She rose to leave but the Inspector was quicker and he pushed her down. ‘Glen…’ she said, pleading to her husband but Mr Lupin shunned away from her, I could see tears in his eyes.
‘Mrs Lupin, I’m arresting you for suspicion of murder,’ said the Inspector. He handcuffed Mrs Lupin and lead her out of the house.
Over the next three days forensic police went over the entire house and the shed. They found more notes that Perry had hidden, perhaps out of misguided sentimentality, or perhaps he really was going to blackmail Mrs Lupin. The Inspector confirmed they had found traces of glycerine and rice paper around the lid of the teapot. Mrs Lupin’s trial is set for next Monday. And, while I will remain in the service of Mr Lupin, all I serve him now is instant coffee.
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