The cellar was open, but there was no sign that the lock had been forced, even under the magnifying glass. Descending the stairs, I noted a small window, but it appeared to be designed more for ventilation. Certainly no human could fit through it. As I moved through the house I noticed several valuable items left untouched, suggesting the murderer was not a thief. Examining several closets and cupboards, there were no signs of dishevelment, suggesting that if the killer did take something, he knew exactly where to look. Inspector Myers afforded me great patience as I examined everything, down to the drawers in the kitchen, confident that my client was the only suspect.
'We found this in that drawer,' Inspector Myers began, pulling out a bit of cloth which contained an ice pick, 'We believe it to be the murder weapon. As you can see,' he said, handing me the pick, 'there's still a bit of blood on the corner of the handle.'
'Yes, thank you,' I replied, not very concerned with his theories. If I was going to find the truth, I could not be burdened with erroneous fact.
Mrs. Finch told me that she gone out to the market earlier that day, having plans to meet her son at a nearby restaurant. She had arrived late, having been delayed at the fish mongers, but when she arrived her son was not there, or at least she did not see him. She engaged the maître d' to escort him to her table when he arrived, but in the end her son found her on his way out. The two had lunch and returned home to find Mr. Finch expired upon the bed. The police arrested her on the evidence of a bloodstained ice pick in one of the kitchen drawers, which matched the wound.
'Would you like to see him now?'
I wanted to continue my observations before I moved to my final investigation. However, if I wanted to see my client by end of day, I would have to move on.
There was one thing bothering me after seeing the house, something not revealed by my client or solicitor. I turned to the inspector and held him off for a moment. 'Why did Mrs. Finch hire a Junior Barrister and not a Silk? Looking around, she clearly has the resources. It means her life.'
Meyers turned to me in confidence, 'Mr. Finch probably has all his money tied up.'
'But surely her son or her private resources?'
'He didn't give either one of them a cent that I can see. You'll find Mr. Finch was not the best of men. If it were up to me, she wouldn't be going to jail for what she did. She took care of him their entire marriage. It was her money that built the business, but he wouldn't give her so much as an allowance. He cheated on her regular like and then, when his kid comes of age, he makes him no more than clerk just to spite her. She used to be a strong independent thing, but he beat it out of her when she had the boy, most times literally. When he took ill, he wouldn't hire a nurse. He made her do all the work. I suppose she just snapped.'
'Why was he so vindictive?'
'He was a sadistic manipulating monster. Once he had her money there was little she could do. With a little one, where was she going to go? She had no family, save the boy.'
It wasn't much to go on. It damaged our case more than helped. It gave her motive, and the fact that she had lived with the abuse removed any defence I might put forth. As we walked into the bedroom, I nurtured a small hope that I would find evidence that the son had committed the crime, brought on by some change in circumstances. At least I could mount a defence.
Mr. Finch lay preserved on his bed, untouched. A glass, with its contents spilled upon him, lay on the covers. The water around his face, neck and upper body suggested he may have been drinking at the time of the attack. The glass was tipped over near his fingers, as if he had dropped it. Books were stacked on a table a few feet from the bed and a push-chair sat in the corner. Outside of a small table to house a pitcher and plate, there were no other furnishings in the room. There was surprisingly little blood; no more than a small stream from his nose, all of which irked me. Something was not right.
I had hold of an idea, but before I could say more I needed some advice; someone who had a unique perspective on the unusual details of crime. Instead of returning to London I made my way to Sussex, to see my father. A little apprehensive, I was not entirely sure how, or if, I would be received. Once an authority on the subject, my father did not like to involve himself in crime, rejecting the intrusion of his privacy.
I stood at his door a nervous child. 'Hello father.'
Seeing my Barrister's bag in hand along with a thick file, I am sure he knew why I had come. He said nothing, sitting across from me by the fire.
'Is this your first case on your own?' He asked.
I gave a nod that it was. Reluctantly he held out his hand for the file and took some time reviewing it.
'I need to prove her not guilty,' I finally added.
My father looked up sharply at me and snapped the file shut. A grin, perhaps at my audacity, slipped momentarily across his face. 'What is your theory?'
‘I have two, but cannot entirely convince myself of which is the more valid. Mrs. Finch fed her husband and set out water for him to drink during the day while she goes to market. She is supposed to meet her son, but she is late. The son, who knows the viciousness of his father towards his mother, sets his alibi at the restaurant by arriving and being seated, but slips out shortly after. He kills his father and returns. That would explain the waiter thinking the young man had come in, but could not swear to when or for how long. It would also explain his being late.
‘My second theory is that he committed suicide, but I can't prove it.'
'That's good,' he came back with a smile of praise, 'that's very good.'
Motioning for me to continue, I laid out my alternative theory. 'I think he was dying. His paralysis debilitated him already to the point where he could no longer effectively humiliate his wife and son. She had already found ways to return his cruelty; the books out of reach for one. At first I thought that she read to him, but there was no chair. The push-chair too was set out of reach. He was confined to that bed with her in control. He must have found out he was going to die soon and decided to blame her for his murder. With nothing handy, the only thing available to him was the ice. Over time he learned to suck down the ice to a sharp point. He then waited for her to leave, knowing she would be out for hours and acted on his plan. He thrusts the sharp ice up his nose into his brain, dying almost instantly. By the time it melts he is dead and the body does not bleed. It explains the lack of blood, the water on his face and neck, and the glass on his bed.'
'I think,' he said, 'you may have hit upon the truth.'
'But how do I prove it? How can I show it was Mr. Finch who killed himself?'
There was a long pause where I almost felt as though he would refuse. Then, apparently having decided to help, he picked up the evidence files and handed them back to me. 'Check his hands. They will be waterlogged from holding the ice. It won't be conclusive, but it will be enough to show reasonable doubt. Also, get proof he was dying. Will you be staying the night or going up to see your grandfather?' he asked, suddenly changing the subject. 'There is some supper on the stove if you want it.'
It was an unusual invitation coming from my father, who preferred to be left alone. I spent the night, hoping the visit to reveal whatever was on his mind, but we spent the evening in silence. I had an appointment with the judge at noon, giving me just enough time to stop into the morgue and check out the condition of Mr. Finch's hands and health. My father was right. The right hand showed signs of prolonged exposure to water and he would have died within a year. We had our case.
Managing to persuade the judge and CPS, Mrs. Finch was released that evening and I could take a clear win back to chambers. It felt good to have made my first case. I sat back in my chair and poured myself a glass of port, raising a glass to the direction of Eastbourne and to my father. He was not renowned for his affections, especially when it came to his family, but there were times he seemed on the verge of feeling.
As the day waned I picked up my things, finished the last dregs of my port and started for the door, just as my clerk came down the hall with a note. To my astonishment, it was from my father. Quickly tearing it open I read the contents. A sick feeling overtook me as I drew to the point of his message. He had done what I had asked. To my horror, he had done what I asked.
Your theory was nearly flawless, save for one detail. You might want to check the fingerprints on the glass. I believe you will find them to be those of Mrs. Finch alone.
We were right, but in my anxiousness to free my client, I had missed the cleverness of a murderess. She had planned it all along that I should engage my father and find the ice to have been the missing weapon. She had been methodical, right down to asking me to defend her and I fell for it. I only wonder now why my father let her go.