Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Stiff Hand, Part 4 (Conclusion)

(continues from Part 3)

Natalie tensed. I could see the frustration on her face. "I think we should take them all to the station. After a few hours of... interrogation, I'll wager I can get the killer to confess." She moved her mechanical arm to and fro, the gears whirring away, leaving no doubt as to the form the "interrogation" would take. Fursey looked nervous and Alderton visibly flinched. Skelton stood to one side, a deck of cards in his hands, idly shuffling the deck and making cards appear and disappear. Elwood remained unflappable, and Newport rocked from one foot to the other.

"And end up with five confessions in the process, no doubt," I said. "In any event, I don't think you'll need to use extreme measures. I know who killed Jeremy Fallon."

I turned to the players. "All three of you feared Mr. Fallon enough to give you motive to kill him.: Mr. Alderton, you feared disgrace and possible arrest if you were discovered as a card counter; Mr. Elwood, you feared financial ruin when Mr. Fallon called your loan; and you, Mr. Fursey, feared prison if Mr. Fallon disclosed your crimes.

"But only one of you had the opportunity to kill Mr. Fallon, to administer the poison he ingested." Natalie's head swiveled to stare at the bartender, Jake Newport. "No, Sergeant, not Mr. Newport. Although he had the opportunity to poison the drinks, he couldn't have known which drink Mr. Fallon would receive, as everyone ordered a whisky highball. Instead, the one person who could have poisoned Mr. Fallon was the dealer, Mr. Skelton."

Skelton's face flushed and his eyes went wild. "That's a lie!"

I faced him. "No, sir, not a lie, but an observation. As I'm sure the police will confirm, the poison was on a card - specifically, the ten of diamonds Mr. Fallon received just before he died. The poison, as you can see, discolored the edge of the card. When Mr. Fallon touched the card, then placed his fingers on his lips, as he invariably did, he sealed his fate."

"Preposterous!" the dealer exclaimed. "How could I possibly have known to poison the correct card?"

"He's right, Miss Jameson," said Carl Fursey. " If this man had done anything with the cards during the game, we all would have seen it. He would have had to apply the poison before he dealt the last game, and how could he have known who would get the poisoned card?"

"I've been watching Mr. Skelton perform various card tricks while he's been waiting, just to keep in practice, or perhaps it's just a nervous habit of his. He's quite good at making specific cards appear at his command. Slipping the ten of diamonds to Mr. Fallon at the appropriate time would have been child's play for him. The trickier part would be to dispose of the poison. I suspect, Sergeant Bishop, that the poison might still be on Mr. Skelton's person, should you choose to search him thoroughly." Natalie looked pleased at the prospect.

"Why would Mr. Skelton want the victim dead?" Natalie asked. "Mr. Fallon wasn't a regular card player. It's doubtful the two ever met."

"Precisely my thought. Which means someone else, someone who knew both Mr. Skelton and Mr. Fallon and had a motive to want Mr. Fallon dead, arranged for the murder."

The light came on in Natalie's eyes, and she moved discreetly toward the correct suspect, ready to act if he tried to escape.

I continued, "Mr. Fursey had motive, but no connection with Mr. Skelton. Mr. Fursey may steal money, but he does not gamble. Mr. Elwood, on the other hand, admits he does enjoy gambling at this casino - and, as his finances show, he enjoys gambling in business as well. He may have known Mr. Skelton before tonight. However, he seemed more interested in a different tactic for getting ahead tonight: inducing his fellow gamblers to become sufficiently inebriated to make their play sloppy, while remaining sober himself. Recall that it was Mr. Elwood who ordered the first drink, which inspired the others to follow suit, and yet Mr. Elwood was the only one who did not actually consume the alcohol.
"That leaves you, Mr. Alderton. A gambler and a cheat. Even though Mr. Skelton denies it, I suspect you two have a long - and doubtless profitable - history together."

Alderton mopped his forehead with a handkerchief already dark with perspiration. "You have no proof of any of this!"

I smiled grimly. "No proof, but a great many suspicions. For example, that marked card of yours, the jack of spades with its tiny dog-eared corner. Mr. Skelton dealt from a new deck, and yet a brand-new card is already marked? I think he was helping you win in return for a share of the profits. You're a good player, Mr. Alderton, so even a small advantage - for instance, having only a few face cards marked as such - would be enough to help you win more often than not. What odds would you give me that, when Sergeant Bishop makes her enquiries, she will find you regularly ask to be seated at Mr. Skelton's table?"

Natalie said, "I've heard enough. Antony Alderton, I arrest you for the murder of Jeremy Fallon. Morris Skelton, I arrest you for the same. We'll find enough to convict you both, never fear."

I collected my belongings. "Thank you, Nata... Sergeant, for inviting me along. This was most stimulating. I think this calls for a drop of whisky - poured by someone other than young Mr. Newport here."

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