by Hy Conrad
It was a chilly evening in March, 1930. England’s legendary business magnate, Lord Dudley was hosting a dinner party at his London mansion. As midnight struck, only the overnight guests remained in the drawing room, sipping their port and admiring the Asprey Whites, a collection of unset diamonds that had been passed down in Lady Dudley’s family for generations.
“It will be a pity to sell them,” Lady Dudley sighed. “But we do so need the money, at least until this stock market thing turns around.”
Lord Dudley protested that conditions were not that desperate. “How many times must I tell you, dear. I don’t want you to do it.”
“Well, they’re mine and I’m going to. I don’t know why you’re being so stubborn,” Lady Dudley rejoined. “Just last November, you were begging me to sell.”
Marie Dudley was a sensible. good-natured girl and she seconded her mother’s feelings. “Don’t keep them for my sake, Daddy. Enough of Gene’s money survived the crash. If ever I need diamonds, I’m sure my future husband will provide.”
Captain Eugene Batts held a family pedigree even more distinguished than the Dudley’s. “Within reason,” the young aristocrat chortled. “Lucky for me, our little Marie is not that fond of jewelry.”
The fifth and final member of the group raised her voice in disbelief. “What? How can any woman not be fond of jewelry?” Katrina Burghar was Marie Dudley’s best friend from school, as daring and full of life as Marie was drab and proper.
Lord Dudley stood by the window smoking his pipe. “What’s that?” Suddenly he was pulling back the curtain. “I saw something move. In the garden.” Captain Batts joined him, and both men stared out into the darkness. “Someone was there, I tell you.” The butler was sent out to check but reported back an empty garden. Whatever had been out there was no longer around.
As the party broke up, Lord Dudley swept the diamonds into their velvet pouch. “I think I’ll keep these in my bedroom tonight. Better than the safe. Something was definitely prowling around.”
It was shortly after one a.m. when the first gunshot was heard. Lady Dudley emerged from her second floor boudoir. Captain Batts came down from the third floor guest bedroom and his fiancee ran up the stairs from the library. The three of them approached Lord’s Dudley’s suite only to find the door locked.
A second gunshot thundered through the hall and was quickly followed by a dull thud. Mere seconds later, when Captain Batts shouldered open the door, they found Lord Dudley on the floor behind his desk. Dead, a bullet hole in his head. Clutched in his right hand was a fireplace poker. Marie noticed the open window and the brisk breeze. Captain Batts noticed the open desk drawer and the revolver lying in the bottom of it. But it was Lady Dudley who noticed the empty velvet pouch.
“Gone,” she said, distracted momentarily from the bloody, lifeless form of her husband. “The diamonds are gone.”
There was the sudden sound of raised voices on the floor below but no one moved. They stood transfixed by the horror of the scene until Pembroke the butler appeared in the bedroom doorway followed by the last guest, Katrina Burghar.
Captain Batts recovered enough of his senses to explain the situation. “Obviously a burglar,” he concluded. “The figure Lord Dudley saw in the garden. The open window. The poker he picked up to defend himself. Pembroke, what’s wrong?”
The stately butler was staring accusingly at young Katrina. “Sir, I believe Miss Burghar has something to say.”
“It was all just a lark,” Katrina cried. “Just to see if I could do it. You have to believe me.”
It seemed that the petite guest had been fascinated by the dumb-waiter. It was a pulley-operated mechanism, built into the mansion walls, a small box elevator connecting the basement kitchens to the dining room and used to lift food and plates between floors. It also opened onto the second floor master suite and the guest bedroom above that.
“I couldn’t sleep,” she explained. “As I was walking through the rooms, I heard a sound, like stones falling down a chute. I wandered into the dining room and saw the dumb-waiter. I had played with one as a child and was curious to see if I could still lift myself up in it. I looked up the shaft. The box was on the third floor. I pulled it down, barely squeezed myself inside and began to pull myself up. I’ve put on weight since childhood. I managed to move it only a few feet and then…The first gunshot was terribly frightening. Right afterwards I heard some mumbling, like a man talking to himself. Then came the second shot and I lowered myself down. The butler was in the dining room when I squeezed myself …” Her face stiffened as she realized what everyone was thinking. “I didn’t kill Lord Dudley. It had to be one of you. Or Pembroke. What’s Pembroke’s alibi?”
Pembroke simply rolled his eyes. “Please. These things are never done by the butler.”
The police arrived and were followed shortly by a Scotland Yard inspector. He spent much of his time questioning Katrina. “One a.m. is an odd time to be playing games with a dumb-waiter,” he suggested. “Especially when one is in a black silk evening dress. You are particularly fond of diamonds, aren’t you, Miss Burghar?”
“I could not have entered his bedroom,” she countered. “The dumb-waiter doors can only be opened from the outside. Everyone will tell you. And the dumb-waiter doors in Lord Dudley’s room were tightly shut. What about the sound I heard? Things being thrown down the chute. Did you check?”
The police had indeed checked. At the bottom of the dumb-waiter chute, they collected a pile of a dozen diamonds. It was the next day before a gemologist discovered that these were not the Asprey Whites but quality imitations. A thorough search of the Dudley mansion and gardens would reveal no trace of the real diamonds and no trace of an intruder.