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The Burnt Case

Chapter Three


___I decided to go and have a talk with Mr. Sylvester. If he was the murderer, he was bound to slip up and say something incriminating, and if he wasn't, he might lead me in the right direction. I went and informed Jeff, asking him to back me up in case there was any trouble. I didn't much want to be the next victim!

___"Mr. Hopkirk, I didn't kill Mrs. Burnt. What reason would I have? What could I possibly gain from it? If you ask me, the only people who would gain anything would be her children. Perhaps you should talk to them."
___"How did Mrs. Burnt come to be under that rosebush, then?" I demanded. "You knew she was there, didn't you? Why else would you insist that the thing wasn't moved, eh?"
___This seemed to rattle Sylvester. He rubbed his hands together nervously and lowered his gaze. "I knew she was there, but that doesn't mean that I put her there."
___"No, but you know who did, don't you?"
___"Do I? Mr. Hopkirk, you don't know whether I didn't just find the body and cover it back up, not wanting to upset anybody."
___"Why would you do that?"
___Sylvester stared up at me sharply. "Would you feel safe, working for a murderer?"
___I shook my head. "No, I wouldn't. So I'd finish my work and hand in my notice - calmly, without arousing suspicion. But that's just me."
___Sylvester stalked past me aggressively, almost as if he meant to walk through me.
___I watched him carefully as he went into the vegetable garden.
___"Did you buy any of that?" Jeff asked, coming out from one of the borders.
___I shook my head. "I don't know. He could be telling the truth, but... Well, I don't think I'D hang around, knowing that a murder was being covered up in my flower beds!"
___"No, I wouldn't, either."
___"Did you get anything out of the maids?" I asked, suddenly. I'd forgotten them, after the discovery of the body.
___"Yes. I fixed a date with two of them..."
___"Jeff...!"
___"I get the pretty blonde, you get the lanky brunette. Fair?"
___"I hope you're joking!" I glared at him angrily.
___"Oh! Sorry, you meant information. Yes, I got some of that, as well."
___I rolled my eyes impatiently. I'm sure Jeff enjoys driving me crazy. "Well?"
___"Your 'emotional' maid has been upset since Mrs. Burnt disappeared. Apparently, she's been very worried about her."
___"Oh, is that all?"
___"One of them, Emily - the brunette - said she overheard her talking with the head gardener. She was saying something about calling the police, and he was insisting that all would be fine if they didn't."
___"So she's in on it? THAT would explain a few things!"
___"Trouble is, Marty, how do we get to the bottom of all this? We have a murderer loose in the house somewhere, and we don't know who it is."
___"Yes we do - it's Bertie Sylvester."
___"Marty, we have no proof! We can't just go making accusations - you know that."
___I nodded in agreement. "Sorry, Jeff. It was just such a shock, finding that body like that, and Sylvester..."
___"Look, the police will be here soon. In the meantime, let's try wrapping this case up on our own."
___That sounded like a plan to me. I hate it when the police start interfering with a case - for some reason, Jeff and I always seem to end up on their suspect list. Usually somewhere very near the top.

___I went after the tearful maid again, meaning to try to talk with her. I took her aside and made her a cup of tea, making her sit with me in the kitchen.
___"Here you are, Maria. Now, why don't we have a nice little chat?"
___She stared into her teacup nervously, as if it held the answer to a difficult question. "What shall we talk about, sir?"
___"Martin. Martin Hopkirk," I smiled at her. "But my friends call me 'Marty'."
___"Well, Marty... What shall we talk about?"
___I studied her face for a moment. That was enough smalltalk, time for business. "I think you know, Maria."
___"I've already been asked whether I'm free tomorrow night - by Jeff."
___No change there, then. "No, my subject is a little more... serious."
___She stared at me through nervous dark eyes. "Then..."
___"I came across a body, Maria. I know that you know something about it."
___As I expected, she burst into tears. "I didn't kill her!"
___"No, I'm sure you didn't. But you know who did, don't you?"
___"It was an accident!" Maria blurted. "It all happened so fast... She..."
___"What happened?" I moved closer to her, squeezing her hand gently as I fumbled in my pocket for a handkerchief.
___"Ben was reversing the car and..." she sniffed loudly.
___"Ben?"
___"The cheauffer. She was behind the car, looking for her ring. Ben didn't see her!" she dabbed at her eyes with the handkerchief I gave her. "Am I in trouble?"
___"Why didn't you just report it?" I demanded. The story was getting ridiculous!
___"Ben's quite new - he took over from Mr. Sammy Fox, who retired a few months ago. He got into an awful state, thinking he might be given his cards..."
___"I'm not surprised."
___"Then Mr. Sylvester came up. He said it'd all be alright if we just stayed quiet and did as he said."
___"So he buried Mrs. Burnt in the flower bed, and told you and Ben to keep quiet."
___Maria nodded. "Ben was so worried, and I didn't want him to get into trouble. Then Mr. Burnt started looking for her and... Oh! It broke my heart! They were always such nice people..." she stared up at me, tears still running down her face. "Are we in trouble?"
___"I should think it's Sylvester that's in the worst of it," I replied. "But we'll have to see what the police think."

___"I remember the conclusion," Jeff leant back in his chair, helping himself to a cigarette. "The police charged Sylvester for with-holding evidence, and Mr. Burnt discharged Ben and Maria..."
___"Ah! You're wrong, Jeff!" Marty corrected him. "If you remember, he changed his mind. The death of his mother had hardly been their fault, and it was Sylvester who had decided to keep it all a secret. The police learnt that Sylvester had been using the incident to blackmail Ben, and that seemed to help him to change his mind."
___"That's one thing I never quite understood, Marty. Blackmailing Ben of what? Cheauffers don't exactly earn a fortune, do they?"
___"No, but Ben had been saving as much money as he could. He and Maria were planning to marry."
___Jeff nodded. "Of course! Yes, I remember you telling me," he was quiet for a moment. "They were a nice couple... I hope they made it."
___Marty nodded and finished typing. "End of case one," he announced with a smile, putting his feet up on his desk.



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