Short story: Murder Call, by Martin Ford
It had rained all day, when the phone rang.
“Hello, is that the police station?” asked the caller.
“Yes, I’m Police Constable Woods. How can I help, sir?”
“An old lady living opposite me’s been murdered. I see her through the window of her locked front door. She’s lying in the hallway.”
PC Woods, clicked his fingers to get Detective Inspector George Linden’s attention. He mouthed the word ‘murder’ to him as he took notes.
“What address has this murder taken place at? Who are you? Did you commit this murder, sir?”
PC Woods listened to the now raised voice protesting: “NO! I’ve not murdered her! Young Jim who lives with her must have done it.
“He must have killed her as she’s lying dead in her waterlogged hallway and there’s no sign of Jim anywhere officer.”
PC Woods scribbled down this caller’s name, neighbour Mr Erbal, his address and contact details. Woods assured him they’d be there immediately and thanked him for the call.
Inspector Linden phoned for the ambulance and fire brigade.
Seconds later, the inspector and Woods, were accelerating up the road in the direction of the murdered old lady’s address.
Three quick gear changes followed, as Inspector Linden floored the accelerator of his British Racing Green Triumph TR4A now heading up the carriageway. Its engine growled as the carburettors sucked in more air.
Off the slip road and down the streets, they screeched to a halt outside the address and jumped out to investigate the alleged murder scene.
Neighbour Mr Erbal, a pensioner, was waiting there. He pointed through the front door window at the old lady lying motionless in the recessed hallway.
Rainwater, seeping in under the door, was now three inches deep surrounding her.
Inspector Linden’s skeleton key gained them access. The old lady’s eyes were shut, she felt cold to the touch.
Behind her door, an empty shopping bag, containing her purse and shopping list.
They were relieved to discover the old lady was still alive. As the crew lifted her on a stretcher into the ambulance, she opened her eyes and spoke.
She’d slipped on the wet doorstep, getting ready to go out shopping and had knocked herself out falling backwards onto the waterlogged hallway floor. The ambulance took her away, and the fire brigade departed. The bump on her head was consistent with this accident.
Before Woods and the inspector relocked the property to leave, they noticed the pool of rainwater in the recessed hallway had completely gone.
Inspector Linden hurried down the staircase underneath, to find where it had disappeared to.
Was it draining down into that locked basement room through its floorboards?
“Woods, we’ll open her basement room to check rainwater isn’t running over anything electrical like the fusebox? Don’t want fire risks or electrical shocks for the old lady returning here..”
Using his skeleton key again, Inspector Linden unlocked this basement room’s door.
The stiff lock, and enclosed dusty smell confirmed it hadn’t been opened in a long time.
“Are you chaps in the basement?”
A young man’s voice called, as he arrived down the stairs to speak to them.
“You policemen called the ambulance for my mother. Thank you. I’ve thanked Mr Erbal for raising the alarm.
“The ambulance crew told me, she’s going to be alright after her fall. I’m Jim, her son. I work at the museum. I’m off to hospital to see her now.”
“This is PC Woods and I’m Detective Inspector Linden, we’re trying to find where the hallway rainwater drained to, in case it causes further problems for you both. Your mother could have been seriously injured, or killed when she slipped and fell from that wet front doorstep.
“Rainwater flooding in is hazardous. Why don’t you fix that leaking door, sir?”
“I’ve wanted to, but mother refuses. Maybe she’ll listen now.”
“What’s the basement room used for, sir?”
“Don’t know, it’s been closed for years. Mother stored her dresses in there, it’s kept locked and she has its only key.”
Entering, the room had no fusebox, the floor was soaked. This was where the rainwater drained down into from the hallway floor above. It contained ancient vases, sculptures, heraldic swords, shields, a suit of armour, and other artefacts, all cobwebbed.
“Magnificent sir, your mother’s collection of historic pieces?”
Jim looked shocked.
“No, none are ours, they’re the history museum’s, where my mother until her recent retirement, and myself, still work!
“Over the years, we hadn’t enough space in the museum store. I believed these artefacts had been lent to other museums. I never realised mother used our basement as the museum’s unofficial overspill area! This could have serious consequences, because the new museum director has me listing all of the museum’s artefacts. I never knew about all these here! My mother cares for all artefacts, but should never have housed them secretly here to help the museum.”
Inspector Linden made a very wise statement.
“You’re listing the museum artefacts? Then include all these, otherwise myself and PC Woods as policemen would need to report these items belonging to the museum. It would be considered in the eyes of the law as theft being the museum’s property, yet secretly kept elsewhere. Speak with your mother and keep her key to this room yourself, sir.“
Jim looked afraid.
“A pity we were unable to unlock this basement room to see its contents, sir.
“If these items were to be re-discovered in the museum’s storerooms, as you are its archivist there, before this week is over, that would be re-assuring to us two policemen to know no misconstrued theft has occurred from the museum at all, sir.”
“Thank you officers,” said Jim.
“We’re back in a week’s time, to open this locked basement room in which we’re standing. I am certain we’ll find this room completely empty, aren’t you Woods?”
“Indeed sir. Completely empty inspector.”