Leslie Vane was taking the waters in Baden-Baden when he heard the Great Detective had been murdered. Strolling into the Hotel Römerhof he asked at the desk for his key and was handed a telegram.
GREAT DETECTIVE SHOT STOP EXTRAORDINARY CIRCUMSTANCES STOP RETURN LONDON IMMEDIATELY STOP
It was unsigned, but since he had taken rooms at the Römerhof under an assumed name, and had gone to considerable lengths to ensure no one knew he was in Germany, it must be from Sir Keith Knight, the Head of the Secret Service, who in Vane’s opinion was overly attached to secrecy.
That evening he met Lady Julia Charles at the casino, as if by chance. As usual she was alone, her husband busy at the card tables. She clutched an empty purse, her ration of chips carelessly lost at roulette.
Vane showed her the telegram.
“Does this mean you will be leaving tomorrow?” she cried. They had flirted all week, knowing there was an etiquette to such matters that did not allow it to be rushed. And now this.
“Gerald would not notice if I returned to the hotel early.”
She searched his face. It was a very bold thing to say.
He inclined his head. “Then permit me to escort you.” He took her elbow. It was the first time they had touched.
“I shall not be going back to London,” he said later. He had never liked the Great Detective. Besides, he suspected he might be more useful here, as bait.
After Lady Julia had slipped back to her rooms, he considered the matter further.
Hadn’t LeGrand also been killed in mysterious circumstances? Found shot at his desk in the Paris headquarters of the Sûreté? Since an intruder seemed impossible, suspicion had fallen on his colleagues. Perhaps it was a crime passionnel over some misjudged adultery. They were French after all.
Leslie Vane’s mountaineering days were over, but he had judged the exterior of the building might be climbed. But that meant LeGrand unlatching the window to admit his murderer. Ironically, it was the sort of mystery LeGrand had excelled at solving.
He poured himself the last of the Veuve Clicquot, but it had lost its sparkle. He began running a bath.
After locking his door, he jammed a chair under the handle. Feeling foolish, he checked inside the massive mahogany wardrobe and beneath the bed. A quick glance out his third floor window confirmed it lacked easy access. Nevertheless, he precariously balanced his champagne glass so that the casement could not be opened without it smashing to the floor.
He turned up the gas mantles until they hissed, lighting the room brightly. Finally he unpacked his Webley revolver from his travelling bag. By then his bath was ready.
Only recently, that famous Yank investigator had been found shot in the Ninth National Bank of New York when they unlocked the vault. And now the Great Detective…
Some sound, some faint draught made him open his eyes.
A man he did not know was pointing a gun at him. Leslie Vane was well acquainted with firearms, but not this one.
“Good evening,” said Vane. “Forgive me if I don’t get up.”
He glanced at his own revolver, atop a towel on the chair near the bath. Rather awkwardly placed, he now acknowledged.
The man jiggled his gun and shook his head.
“I don’t believe you are in a hurry,” said Vane, relaxing back in the water. “Else you would have already pulled the trigger. Perhaps we might chat.”
The man shrugged.
“I presume the Great Detective was your doing. And that Yank. Not so sure about LeGrand, you don’t have the look of a climber. Or a balloonist.” There had been newspaper stories suggesting balloons were involved.
“No, that was me as well.”
“Who, is usually the last thing to be uncovered. As for How, you seem to have an obsession with locked rooms. And having locked these rooms myself, I am puzzled.”
“You wouldn’t believe me.”
“Yet here you are. Do explain before you use that gun. A small calibre, judging from the muzzle. A lady’s pistol perhaps?”
The man smiled thinly. “It’s a Glock 19.”
“The right size for a woman’s purse. Or a man with small hands.”
“I’ve not shot you yet,” the man said. “Because I’ve got questions that need answering.”
“Actually, my bathwater is getting cold, so if we could just settle How and Why…”
“I’ve got a time machine.”
“As I supposed,” nodded Vane. “Locked rooms do not deter you. You rented this suite previously, or perhaps afterwards, then simply entered by moving through time rather than space. As Mr Wells has suggested.”
“As you supposed!” The man glared. “You’re a real piece of work. I’m going to enjoy shooting you.”
Then he frowned. “Except…”
“You make your usual visit to the spa tomorrow morning. I’ve been watching you. Which means…”
Leslie Vane smiled. “Your nerve fails.”
The man’s face clenched in anger. “I came here to shoot you, but for some reason I don’t. Something saves you. Or…”
“Or perhaps you are not as clever as you think. Just a tiresome nobody attempting to make a name for himself. A rather shabby Herostratus. That is the mundane Why of it.”
May have gone too far that time, Vane thought as the man raised his gun.
He tried to leap up but only succeeded in slipping down the bath in a deluge of soapy water. There was a muffled shot.
He surfaced to find the fellow dead on the floor. And in the doorway, holding his revolver and wearing his town coat and his own favourite Oxford grey trousers – was himself!
“This is going to take some explaining,” he said, wiping foam from his eyes.
“Mistimed my entrance. Heard you mention he was a tiresome nobody, so I knew he was about to shoot. Still, I’d hoped to find out where he came from. Or rather, when.”
His visitor glanced around.
“You need to hurry up and get dressed. Don’t forget the Webley and that towel to muffle the shot. His machine’s sitting next door. Just use it to pop back here to save the day. I’ll clear off, else there’ll be a roomful of us.”
Vane still sat in the cooling bathwater, feeling strangely awkward about getting out under the other’s gaze.
“The body,” he ventured. “We’ll need to do something about the body.”
“Been thinking about that. Can use the fellow’s machine to leave him in this room a year, ten years from now. No connection with us. Then drop his contraption in the river.”
“Well, yes. Imagine Sir Keith getting hold of it. Still…”
“I know,” Leslie Vane shook his head. “This plot doesn’t bear thinking about.”
BIO: David Barber lives in the UK. His ambition is to write.