The Case Files of Chief Inspector Geoffrey McSwain
Disclaimer: This short story is a work of fiction and was written purely for fun. I don’t own the characters and my intention is not to infringe upon anyone else’s copyright. I also do not intend to profit from this endeavor. That said, thank you to Universal and Donald Bain, respectively, for the wonderful characters Jessica Fletcher and George Sutherland.
As usual, the return trip from
Heathrow to his
The root of the problem lay not in the time that they spent together, but rather in the time that they spent apart. Jessica lived an ocean away and they frequently went long periods of time without seeing each other. The acknowledgement of their situation, which was impossible to avoid on an occasion such as this, had resulted in the onset of a rather gloomy demeanor during his drive home.
After climbing the four flights of stairs to his loft, George collapsed miserably onto his king size bed. Three bloody days is not nearly enough time, he thought to himself dejectedly.
After a few moments of feeling sorry for himself, he stretched his long, lanky frame, inhaled deeply, and then relaxed. Jessica’s lingering scent had the affect of nearly washing away the melancholy that he was feeling. She is an amazing woman, he reminded himself. Intelligent, beautiful, affectionate, thoughtful, dedicated, kind, loyal, witty, and incredibly loving.
Stop feeling sorry for yourself, Sutherland, he scolded. She’s worth it. No matter the circumstances, she’s worth it.
As he started to sit up, he noticed a strange book on Jessica’s bedside table. Stretching across the bed, he grabbed the book, then turned it over in his hand and read the title – “Five-Minute Mysteries from the Case Files of Chief Inspector Geoffrey McSwain,” by J.B. Fletcher.
It wasn’t an advance copy, he knew. Ever since they had first met Jessica had honored him by sending an advance copy of each of her soon-to-be-released novels. Each of those looked exactly like the hardcover version that was later sold in bookstores across the globe.
He examined the blue paperback cover more closely. It was Jessica’s proof-reading copy, he realized with a rascally grin. What had she called it, he wondered before recalling the proper term – Galley. Or was it Galleys? He made a mental note to look up the word in the dictionary.
It wasn’t like Jessica to leave a work-in-progress lying around, and the temptation to take a sneak peak was overpowering. He began to open the front cover and then paused, considering the ethical dilemma he faced. He knew without hesitation that he was treading on very thin ice. With a shrug, he closed the book and carried it to the kitchen where he wrapped it in brown paper and addressed it in preparation for returning it to her the following morning.
As he lay in bed trying to fall asleep, his thoughts returned to the book. Jessica had always been quite protective of her creative efforts but not completely secretive. Usually, she felt free to mention new projects to him (never in great detail, of course) or to ask his professional opinion on this or that when she needed to consult an expert in investigative techniques or police procedures.
Over the years, George had enjoyed being involved with Jessica’s writing even in a very limited capacity. During that time he had learned two very important things. The first was to never attempt to ferret information out of her because you’d never get anywhere, and the second was to never, ever read over her shoulder, especially when she was writing! Remembering these two things he soon fell asleep, wise in the knowledge that he had made the right choice.
The following evening, just as he was preparing to light his pipe, the telephone began to ring. He set the pipe aside and reached for the receiver.
Habitually, he answered, “Sutherland here.” To his surprise, Jessica was on the other end.
“I trust you arrived home safely,” he said as he relaxed into his favorite chair. He cradled the telephone between his ear and shoulder and lit his pipe as he listened to her reply.
“Yes, I did. And today has been wonderful, very productive,” she added. “How was your day?”
successful,” he answered before drawing on his pipe. “We finally closed the
We? Jessica thought. George was nothing if not modest.
“Please don’t tell me that you spent your day solving a murder,” he teased lightheartedly.
“Close, I spent the afternoon at the library researching my new book.”
George cursed under his breath. He had forgotten to mail Jessica’s book.
“I’m glad to hear it’s going well,” he said as he got up from his chair and headed into the kitchen. There it was, still sitting on the center of the table.
“Speaking of books, George, I left one on the bedside table. Did you happen to find it?”
“Aye,” he replied simply.
“Did you read it?” she asked, suppressing a smile on the other end of the line. She was sure that he had at least been tempted.
“No, of course not,” he answered quickly, causing Jessica to laugh to herself.
“I wrapped it up but forgot to take it with me this morning. I’ll be sure to send it tomorrow, straight away.”
“I wouldn’t do that,” she warned playfully.
Now George was, without a doubt, confused. “Why?”
“I was hoping that you would proof-read it and then give me your opinion.”
The phone line went completely silent.
“George? Are you still there?”
“Aye,” he answered tentatively as he sat down on a chair.
“Why me, Jess? I don’t know anything about writing unless, of course, it’s a police report.”
“Because, George, I wrote it for you.”
“Yes, for you. I know that you don’t have nearly as much time as you would like for reading and I also know that you enjoy…what do you call them…lateral thinking exercises?”
George answered her rhetorical question with a silent nod.
“So, I wrote a small collection of stories for you, something you can enjoy when you only have a few minutes of free time.”
George picked up the package. “You wrote a collection of mysteries for me and had them bound into a book?” You are amazing, he thought fondly.
“Sort of,” she continued. “I wrote them for you but somehow a few pages got mixed in with my last manuscript. After explaining what happened and straightening things out with my editor, my publisher got wind of what was going on and decided that it would be a great idea for another book…if you don’t mind.”
“You mean, if you don’t mind,” George said, correcting her.
“Actually, it’s if you don’t mind.”
“Why would I mind?”
“I think you’d better read it and then we’ll discuss it some more,” Jessica suggested.
“Give me just a moment, love,” he said agreeably.
Jessica had piqued his curiosity and he began to rip away the brown paper wrapping. He quickly found page one, skipping past the title page, dedication page, and table of contents without taking the time to read a single word.
Fortunately, the print was large enough to read without his glasses.
Welcome to the case files of Chief Inspector
Geoffrey McSwain. McSwain, a tall,
handsome Scotsman, is a senior inspector at New Scotland Yard. He was born in a castle in the Scottish
Highlands but has resided in
George stopped there and paged through the book. “Does the Inspector appear in all twenty-five stories?” he wondered aloud.
“Yes, he does. Will you read it?”
“Aye,” George responded, unsure exactly what to think. It was flattering, of course, but if it was ever published and someone put two and two together, it might be rather difficult to live down.
“Wonderful,” she exclaimed with a sigh of relief. “If you find any mistakes, would you please make corrections,” she added.
“Aye, but there’s no guarantee that I’ll be able to solve each and every one of them.”
“You already have,” she replied with a chuckle.
George laughed, too. “I guess I have, haven’t I?”
“And you’ll let me know how you feel about having it published once you finish?”
“Aye, love, I will,” he answered, hoping that the stories wouldn’t contain any information that he deemed too personal. She had, after all, written the book with no intention of ever having anyone but him read it.
After chatting for a few more minutes, they said their farewells and George settled in for an evening of reading.
One month later
George lounged comfortably in his favorite chair, where he had spent short periods of time over the past four weeks systematically working his way through Jessica’s book. He had also carried the book with him to the office, having on occasion a few free minutes to indulge himself.
She had obviously set out to challenge him and several of the puzzles had taken a great deal of deductive reasoning and thinking outside of the box to solve. The final mystery, he decided, she had written with the hopes that he would never solve it. Wishful thinking, love, he thought determinedly as he settled in to read it for what seemed to be the fifth or sixth time.
Geoffrey McSwain weaved his way through the crowded lobby of a large garden
estate on the outskirts of
The room was being guarded by a young constable who stood at attention, blocking the open door of the suite. McSwain introduced himself, simultaneously flashing his identification, and the young man stepped aside to allow him entrance.
McSwain stopped suddenly, recalling that Constable Baker had been the first to respond to the scene.
“Constable,” he said, causing the man to stiffen his posture even more.
“I’d like to hear your report, what you found upon arriving at the scene.”
“But, sir, Inspector Conrad has taken over…”
“You report, Constable,” McSwain repeated. “I want to know what you saw, what you learned, what your impressions were.”
Baker had a reputation as an inexperienced but promising police officer. McSwain had worked with him once previously and the young man had lived up to that reputation. He had good instincts and with the proper experience, the makings of a future inspector. Inspector Conrad, on the other hand, McSwain felt would serve the city better if he set aside his personal agenda and ego once in a while and used all of the resources that were available to him. There was no place at The Yard for a one man show.
McSwain motioned over another officer to take Baker’s position at the door. “Walk me through it,” he suggested.
Sir,” Baker answered sharply as he stepped into the suite’s common room. “The deceased is one John Farrell, American. He, his two business partners - also from the
States - and their wives arrived in
“Their names?” McSwain asked as he flipped open a small notebook and prepared to take notes.
“Sorry, sir,” the nervous constable apologized. “The partners’ names are Jason McIntosh and James Snow. Their wives are Melinda Farrell, Sara Truman-McIntosh, and Gail Snow.”
McSwain nodded, encouraging him to continue.
“Apparently, the men were having a drink in the pub downstairs after an afternoon business meeting and the women were shopping at Harrods. They had plans to attend the theatre this evening followed by dinner.”
“Farrell left the bar before the others, saying that he felt a migraine coming on and that he needed to lie down for a bit before showering and going out. McIntosh and Snow claim to have left the bar approximately an hour later, each returning to his own suite. The women arrived another thirty minutes later. The couples had agreed to meet in the Farrells’ suite at seven o’clock and when Mr. Farrell didn’t come out of his room, his wife went in and found him lying on the floor in a pool of blood.”
As the constable spoke, he led McSwain to John Farrell’s bedroom. “Why didn’t Mrs. Farrell notice her husband lying on the floor when she returned to the suite to prepare to go out for the evening?” McSwain querried.
“I wondered the same thing, sir. Apparently, they have an…uh…open marriage,” he explained, blushing slightly. “And prefer separate bedrooms, even at home.”
McSwain shook his head.
“Suspected cause of death?”
“Gunshot wound to the neck,” Baker replied.
“Did you recover the weapon?”
“Yes, sir. It appears that he was shot with his own handgun.”
McSwain’s eyebrows arched into the shape of question marks. Even he didn’t carry a handgun on a regular basis.
Farrell said that she begged him not to bring the gun but he insisted because
the last time he visited
Baker ushered McSwain into John Farrell’s bedroom. Surprisingly, Inspector Conrad was not present. “He stepped out for a cigarette,” one of the forensic technicians explained.
“Then I’ll ask you to tell me what you’ve found so far,” McSwain replied. Baker made a motion to retreat out of the room but was halted by McSwain’s words. “I could use another set of eyes and ears, Constable Baker.”
The inspector nodded at the technician to proceed with his report.
“As you can see, there was a great deal of blood. The medical examiner said that the bullet severed the carotid artery and that he died very shortly thereafter.”
As he listened McSwain explored the room, being careful not to disturb any evidence. Like most old estates, the bedroom had a moderately sized fireplace and several small tapestries hanging from its walls.
“If you’ve finished processing this room, I’d like to see the inventory.”
“We’re nearly finished, sir,” the technician responded, retrieving a list from a box of evidence that he was preparing for transport to the lab.
McSwain handed the piece of paper to Baker and asked him to read it while he knelt down to look more closely at the body of the deceased. Farrell had fallen backwards. His left hand rested on his sternum, just below his throat, and his right hand, smeared with blood, rested on the floor at his side.
As instructed, Baker read the list. “One shaving kit containing toothpaste, toothbrush, nail clippers, electric razor, and aftershave……collected from the bathroom. Clothing, collected from the bureau and closet – trousers, two pair casual in khaki and four pair dress, two navy and two black; four dress shirts, two blue, one white, and one burgundy; one belt, brown; one pair brown loafers; two sport shirts; four ties, navy, burgundy, gray, and black; one houndstooth sport coat.”
“Anything else?” McSwain asked.
“On the night table, a black leather wallet, loose change, passport, and room key.”
McSwain looked up at Baker and nodded toward the bed, where another tech was logging the few remaining items. “Still laid out on the bed – it looks like one pair of black trousers, a black sport coat, black belt, and socks. And one pair of black shoes on the floor next to the bed.”
“Very good,” McSwain replied as he stood. “Now, where are Mrs. Farrell and the others?”
“In the suite across the hall.”
“And Mrs. Farrell’s bedroom?”
“Next door,” the constable said, showing the inspector the way. The forensic tech followed.
The second bedroom was nearly an exact duplicate of the first. The closet door stood open and several gowns, some still displaying price tags, were hanging there. An assortment of shopping bags and boxes were neatly stacked in one corner of the room. Apparently, Mrs. Farrell had enjoyed her afternoon outing and had little difficulty spending large sums of money.
Like her husband’s room, Melinda Farrell’s room was decorated with wall hangings and one wall was dominated by a fireplace. But unlike her husband’s room, the fireplace looked as though it had been recently used.
“Have you collected any evidence from the fireplace?” the inspector asked as he knelt in front of the hearth.
“Yes, sir - one moment.” The technician stepped out of the room and retrieved an evidence bag containing an odd-looking piece of ash. He handed it to the inspector. In a second bag was a six inch length of melted plastic.
“Your best guess,” McSwain asked.
“The first is probably some type of fabric. We’ll need to run a few tests to determine the type, origin, and so forth. The second looks like it could be a zipper.” The technician’s response affirmed McSwain’s own suspicions and he nodded his agreement.
Before leaving the room, he stopped once more and inspected the contents of the closet, paying close attention to the fasteners on Mrs. Farrell’s clothing.
McSwain finally exited the suite with Baker in tow. As they crossed the hall, another door opened and Inspector Conrad appeared.
“I believe I have this one all wrapped up,” he informed McSwain confidently. “It appears that Mrs. Farrell finally had enough of her philandering husband and murdered him in cold blood.”
McSwain cocked his head to one side as if to say, “Are you sure?”
“In that case, you don’t mind if I ask a few questions…just to satisfy my own curiosity about a few things,” the seasoned inspector asked politely.
“Be my guest, but you’re wasting your time. She had means, motive, and opportunity. In addition, she made the mistake of not completely disposing of all of the evidence.”
“You mean the remnant of fabric and the zipper from the fireplace?”
“Exactly,” Conrad gloated. “It’s obvious that her husband swiped his bloody hand on her evening gown after she shot him and her only option was to burn it and change into another. Fortunate for us that it didn’t burn all the way and the zipper was left behind.”
“I’d still like a few minutes, if I may?”
“Of course,” Conrad replied. “I’ll be on the balcony next door when you’re finished.”
McSwain motioned for Baker to follow him into the main sitting area of the Snows’ suite, where they found the remaining members of Mr. Farrell’s group.
He assumed, correctly, that the tall, elegant woman with tear stained cheeks was John Farrell’s widow. She was dressed in a pale icy blue gown and matching heels and clutched a handbag of the same color in her trembling hands. Glittering jewels adorned her neck and dangled from her ears.
When the inspector introduced himself, the widow broke into sobs once again. A fresh stream of tears trickled down her face. She wiped the tears away with a balled up tissue and fought to gain control.
“How many times are you people going to ask me the same questions? I told the other detective, I didn’t kill my husband!”
“Can’t you see she’s had enough?” Jason McIntosh snapped. Like John Farrell, McIntosh was a tall, well-built man. He was dressed nicely in a charcoal gray suit with a white shirt and poorly knotted, black tie.
McSwain looked in the direction of Constable Baker. “Please escort the ladies into the other room and see that they are comfortable,” he instructed. “And then report back to me.”
McSwain took a chair facing the two men who remained behind, and once again withdrew his notebook.
“Please, correct me if I’m mistaken, but you are Mr. Farrell’s partners?” he asked.
“Yes,” they answered in unison.
“How long have you known Mr. Farrell?”
McIntosh shrugged. “Since college, I guess.”
“And how long have you been in business together?”
McIntosh answered again, “Four years, more or les.”
“Can you tell me if your partnership includes a survivorship agreement?”
“Yes,” Snow replied quietly, looking up to meet the inspector’s eyes. He was a short, pale man with thinning hair and a rotund build. He, too, was dressed in a suit – brown with an ivory dress shirt and a brightly colored orange, yellow and brown tie.
“But that doesn’t mean that we had anything to do with John’s death,” the other partner replied defensively.
McSwain nodded, then asked, “Then you’ll be willing to allow the forensics squad to search your rooms?”
“Of course,” McIntosh replied for both men. “We have nothing to hide.”
The inspector flipped backward a few pages in his notebook, and then continued. “It’s my understanding that Mr. Farrell left the bar early with a headache and you both came up approximately an hour later.”
“That’s right,” Snow agreed.
“You each went directly to your own suites to shower and change for an evening out.”
Both men nodded.
“Your spouses arrived sometime later and once everyone was ready, you met here. That’s when you found Mr. Farrell.”
“Melinda found John,” McIntosh corrected.
“Ah, yes, that’s right. She did,” McSwain agreed. He looked up from his notebook, glancing from one man to the other.
“Would it be safe to say that you and Mr. Farrell were close friends?” the detective asked.
“Yes,” both men answered.
“That will be helpful,” the inspector mumbled absently as he once again consulted his notes. “Does either of you have knowledge of the contents of Mr. Farrell’s will?”
Both men answered ‘no.’ “But I assume that Melinda inherits everything,” Snow added.
McSwain jotted a few more notes and then looked up at both men. “Well, you’ll be glad to hear that I don’t believe that Mrs. Farrell had any part in her husband’s death.”
Both men sighed audibly and relaxed.
“I do, however, believe that one of you came to Mr. Farrell’s room before his wife returned. You likely argued, lost your tempers, and Farrell pulled out his gun. You struggled and he was shot in the neck.”
Both men protested loudly.
“I’m also fairly certain that I know which of you is responsible, so this would be the appropriate time to come forward and explain what happened.”
How did the inspector know who murdered John Farrell?
Just as George finished the last paragraph, the telephone rang. He set the book aside for a moment and took the call.
“George, it’s Jessica,” she said, bursting with excitement. “How is your reading coming along?”
“You didn’t call to gloat, did you?” he replied in a rather serious tone.
“You still haven’t solved the last case?”
“I was just going over it again but I’m starting to think that it was never meant to be solved,” he confided.
Jessica laughed. “Don’t worry, you’ll figure it out…eventually.”
“I’m just about ready to file it away with our other cold cases.”
“Oh, George,” she laughed again. “Twenty-four out of twenty-five isn’t too shabby,” she teased.
“I dare you to come over here and say that,” he retorted playfully.
“I wish I could.”
“Aye, me, too,” he agreed warmly.
“How about if we agree to get together and discuss your thoughts on the book once you’ve solved the final case?” Jessica suggested.
“Agreed. Your place or mine?”
“We’ll decide that once you’ve finished.”
When George awoke at two o’clock in the morning with the solution, he didn’t hesitate to call Jessica immediately.
“Hello,” she answered cheerily.
Without greeting her, George blurted out, “I’ve got it – Jason McIntosh did the dastardly deed.”
Jessica laughed happily. “George, it’s the middle of the night there.”
“That doesn’t matter. This is what I believe happened: After being shot, Farrell reached out with his bloody hand, smearing McIntosh’s shirt and tie. McIntosh tried to burn his clothing in the fireplace. Being the same build as Farrell, he took Farrell’s shirt from the bed. The melted zipper is from one of those zipper-ties, which McSwain will surely find several of in McIntosh’s room. That would also explain why McIntosh had done a poor job of knotting his tie.”
George paused to catch his breath.
“What can I say, George? When you’re right, you’re right. Now, ‘your place or mine?’”