"Where's John?" Brian asked, throwing a nervous glance at the door of the tastefully furnished sitting room. "Why is he always so damned late?"
"I'm here," John called from the stairwell. He rushed into the room panting, fastening the top buttons of his shirt as ran through the door and nearly tripping over his untied shoe laces.
Inspector Maurice Travertine tapped his foot impatiently against the lush Persian carpet. "Is he the last of the lot, Mr. Epstein?" he asked as he checked his watch.
"Yes, yes, all of my boys are present and accounted for now," Brian insisted.
"Tell me again which one is which," commanded the detective.
"I'm John," said John, his voice muffled as he bent down to tie his shoe.
"I'm Paul," Paul yawned.
"I'm George," George stated disinterestedly. He picked up the teapot sitting on the table beside him and poured the last dregs of the morning's fresh brew into his empty cup.
"Damn, no tea left for me?" John cursed.
"You should have shown up earlier," Ringo chided him. He turned towards the policeman. "I'm Ringo."
"Yes, I guessed as much," Maurice replied. "The nose."
Ringo rolled his eyes and attempted to hide his scowl. "Mine's not much bigger than John's, you know."
"That's enough, lads," Brian interrupted. "Please, Inspector Travertine. Tell us what you have to say."
The policeman cleared his throat. "Well, it's a sorry business that I have to relate. This morning, I received a call from this manor's butler, Thomas Harrow, informing me that one of the footmen had been found dead on the kitchen floor by a scullery maid when she entered the room to prepare breakfast."
"Which footman?" Paul asked.
The policeman raised his eyebrows. "So you know them by name?"
George coughed nervously. "Well, they introduced themselves to us, you know, when we arrived here yesterday afternoon."
"That seems unusual," Maurice said. He reached into the pocket of his jacket and pulled out a small notepad and pencil. "Typically, the staff of a well-run manor house maintain a respectable distance from the guests."
"Lord and Lady Toppleton are not in residence at the moment," Brian pointed out. "So the servants, perhaps, felt a little more free to break with protocol."
"The two footmen wanted us to autograph copies of our latest album for them," John interjected. "So we personalized them, you know. To Neville, from me. To Roger, from Paul."
"Ah," Maurice said. "So that's how you made the two footmen's acquaintance?"
"Of course," Ringo replied. "How else would we know them?"
The inspector closed his notebook with a slap and bore his eyes into Ringo. "I spoke with the deceased's next of kin earlier this morning, after I responded to the call and before I shipped the body off to the coroner's office. The footman's sister, Nigela Spragg, informed me that her late brother Roger knew all four of you Beatles personally."
Ringo shrugged. "Then you were misinformed. I never met the bloke until yesterday."
"But you knew him," Maurice said, turning towards Paul. "He was your classmate at the Liverpool Institute."
Paul squirmed uncomfortably in his chair. "Yeah, that's right. We went to school together. But we weren't friends. He was actually a year ahead of me."
"You dated Nigela," Maurice continued, pointing accusingly at Paul. "She told me that you were quite the pair for a while when you were both in high school."
"For a very short while," Paul corrected him. "Honestly, I hardly knew the young lady."
"That's not what she told me," the detective countered.
Paul shrugged. "She fancied me more than I fancied her."
Maurice harrumphed angrily, then turned towards George. "I believe you also knew Roger Spragg," he announced.
George sipped the last of his tea while he considered his response. He slowly rested his china cup in its matching saucer, then met the inspector's eyes. "Yes, that's right. I also went to the Liverpool Institute. I was a year behind Paul."
"You didn't like Roger Spragg," the policeman added.
"No, I didn't," George answered, squaring his shoulders. "He was a right prick. A bully who got his jollies out of terrorizing the first form students."
"He hurt you when you were young?" Maurice proposed.
"Not very badly," George replied. "My older brothers Harry and Pete put the wanker in his place."
"Ah-ha!" Maurice exclaimed. He turned sharply on his heels and addressed John. "You met Mr. Spragg more recently, I believe. Last year, in fact, according to his sister. Roger Spragg snapped a photo of you, and you got into a shouting match with the man."
John shrugged. "It irritates me when fans take my picture without asking first. It's rude."
"So that's it then?" the inspector challenged. "You were simply taking him to task for his lack of good manners? You weren't angry because he photographed you leaving a well-known brothel in a dodgy part of London?"
"It doesn't matter where I was, or where I am," John insisted. "I still prefer fans to ask first before they take my picture."
"You paid Mr. Spragg a considerable sum of money for those photographs, didn't you, Mr. Epstein?" Maurice said, turning towards Brian. "And an even larger sum for the negatives?"
Brian struggled to mask the irritation in his eyes. "Yes, I did," he admitted. "I hate to succumb to blackmail, but I'm the manager of this band, and part of my job is to protect these lads' reputations. I also felt compelled to shield John's wife from the distress those photographs would surely have caused her."
"What a gentleman you are," Maurice said with a sneer. He turned around and faced Ringo. "You were the last man to join this band, weren't you?"
"Yeah, that's right," Ringo agreed.
"You used to play drums for a group called 'Rory Storm and the Hurricanes' before you became a Beatle," Maurice added.
Ringo tapped his finger absent-mindedly against the wooden armrest of his chair. "That's common knowledge," he muttered.
"You had a regular gig playing at a holiday camp in Skegness when you were in that band, didn't you?"
"Mm-hmm," Ringo said. "Butlins. We played there a number of times."
"You dated a girl named Mary Agnes while you were performing at Butlins, didn't you?"
Ringo flinched. "Did I? I've forgotten. It couldn't have been a very serious romance."
"Were you aware that Mary Agnes was engaged to Mr. Scragg while you were, shall we say, 'courting' her?"
Ringo laughed nervously. "Honestly, I hardly remember the bird. It was just a little summer fling."
"Jog your memory, if you will, Mr. Starr," commanded the policeman. "Perhaps you remember a tall man with blonde hair showing up after one of your concerts and warning you to stay away from his fiancé."
"Well, you know, everyone looks tall to me," Ringo chuckled awkwardly. "And a lot of blokes get jealous of us musicians, and our 'way with women.' But I meant what I said earlier. I have no recollection of ever having met Roger Scragg until yesterday. If he came to see me at Butlins, he didn't leave much of an impression."
"I believe at least one of you isn't telling the truth," the inspector said. "In fact, I…"
"Yoo-hoo, Vera! Are you there, Vera?" called the quavering voice of an elderly woman. The six men fell silent as a white-haired woman wearing a hopelessly out-of-date purple dress walked into the sitting room and promptly sneezed.
"Oh dear, please excuse me, gentlemen," the lady said. She pulled a delicately embroidered handkerchief out of her pocket book and blew her nose with a noise that sounded like a coughing cat. Then she folded her hanky, placed it back in her bag and smiled sweetly. "I'm looking for my dear friend, Vera Fubbs. She's the House Manager of this estate. Have you seen her?"
"Ma'am, if you don't mind, we're rather busy," groused Inspector Travertine. "I'm interviewing these gentlemen."
"Oh my stars, how wonderful!" the woman exclaimed. "Why, you look like a detective from a murder mystery show that I saw once on the telly!"
"He is a detective," George pointed out bluntly.
"And we seem to be embroiled in a murder mystery," John added disinterestedly, stretching out his arms and stifling a yawn. "Or at least a case of suspicious death."
"Oh, you don't say!" the woman gasped. "How dreadfully exciting! Vera and I both love playing sleuth. Perhaps I might offer my assistance to you all? My name is Jane Marple, and I've helped my good friend Sir Henry Clithering solve a case or two, here and there. He's the retired Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, you know. Though he still likes to get his hands dirty every once in a while, investigating a particularly juicy crime."
"Thank you, Mrs. Marple, but no," Maurice stated firmly. "I am quite capable of handling this investigation myself."
"Oh, don't be such a killjoy," Paul said. He stood up from his chair and offered the old woman his seat. "This kind lady has offered us her services. We would be doing Mrs. Marple a disservice if we refused her outright before hearing what she has to say."
"Actually, it's Miss Marple," Jane said, locking eyes with Paul. She giggled as she sat down. "These eyes of mine may be growing old, but they still appreciate the sight of a handsome lad like you."
Paul laughed. John groaned.
Maurice flushed red in the face. "Miss Marple, I must ask you to leave immediately. I am in the middle of discussing a very discrete case, and I…"
"Who died?" she asked. "Don't tell me it was Neville Fernsby, that sweet little footman with the red hair? I do so like him."
"No, it was the other footman, Roger Scragg," John informed her. "The tall, blonde one. The maid found his body on the kitchen floor this morning."
"Good," Jane replied, scooting back in her chair. "He was a nasty piece of work. I won't miss him."
"You knew him?" Maurice said, approaching his unexpected guest warily.
"Well, I met him," she replied. "I'm good friends with Vera Fubbs, you see, who manages this estate. We often meet up for tea on Wednesday mornings. That's why I'm here, in fact, to have a cuppa with Vera, and catch up on the last week's gossip."
"The housekeeper isn't here today, ma'am," Brian apologized. "I made arrangements with your friend last month for my boys and I to spend a few days here between their concerts in Bournemouth and Scarborough, but she was called away shortly after we arrived yesterday afternoon. Her niece in Ipswich telephoned to say she had given birth a few weeks early, and Mrs. Fubbs left immediately to help care for her niece's two older children while their mother is in hospital."
"Oh how marvelous!" Jane exclaimed, clapping her hands in delight. "Little Doris had her baby! Tell me, was it a boy or a girl?"
Maurice cleared his throat. "That question can wait, Miss Marple. Please! I am conducting an investigation."
"Into the death of that horrid Roger Scragg. Yes, yes, do go on," Jane said. She repositioned herself in her chair, straightened her pocketbook on her lap and focused her bright blue eyes on the inspector.
He released a sad sigh. "Right then. So tell me, Miss Marple, why did you dislike Mr. Scragg?"
"Well, he was boorish and impertinent!" she replied. "I've overheard him making ill-mannered remarks almost every time I've visited Vera lately for our Wednesday teas."
"And how many times has that been?" Maurice continued.
"Oh, only a few, I suppose," Jane replied. "He hasn't been working here very long. But those meetings left a strong impression on me. I strongly suggested to Vera that she sack the man, but she didn't want to bother. Roger was only scheduled to work here for the summer season, you see, to help with the tourists on their National Trust excursions. He was planning to return to Liverpool after Michaelmas to start another job. So Vera said it would be easier to just suffer through his indiscretions as best as she could, and avoid the unpleasantness of confronting and sacking him."
"I see," Maurice said.
"So you're saying Roger Scragg had a way of cheesing people off then, did he?" asked John.
Maurice threw him an icy stare. "I'm leading this inquiry, Mr. Lennon, thank you very much."
"Mr. Lennon?" Jane interrupted. She raised her eyebrows in astonishment. "Are you, perchance, Mr. Paul Lennon of that popular music group I've heard so much about? Ooh, what's your band's name again? I know I've seen you on telly. Oh, yes, I remember now, The Rolling Five!"
John smirked. "Close, Miss M, very close. Yes, I'm in a popular band that's appeared on the telly several times. And these are my bandmates. John McCartney, Ringo Harrison, and George Starr. And that gent in the tie is my manager, Mr. Brendan Epstone."
"Brian Epstein," Brian said, casting John an admonishing look as he walked over to Miss Marple to shake hands.
"Ooh, how thrilling!" Jane chirped, shaking Brian's hand enthusiastically and smiling flirtatiously at Paul. "Vera mentioned to me that she'd rented the house out to a group of pop stars for a few days this month, though I'd forgotten when you were supposed to arrive."
She turned her face towards Maurice. "Funny thing, Inspector, that new footman of hers – the one you said just met an untimely death – he seemed particularly interested in this band's arrival. Vera told me he was quite insistent that he be scheduled to work the days that they were here."
She looked back at Brian and smiled thoughtfully. "Vera was planning to give some of her staff a short holiday to coincide with your band's visit, since there were so few members in your party. But everyone wanted to stay and meet your lads. Particularly Mr. Scragg, which Vera found odd."
"Why did she find that odd?" Maurice asked
"Well, you know," Jane replied, turning her gaze back at Maurice. "The maids are pretty young girls, so naturally they wanted to meet these handsome young gentlemen in Mr. Epstein's coterie. But Roger Scragg was even more insistent upon staying than they were. He refused to take this week off, even though it was his turn on the roster. Now the Master of this house, Lord Toppleton, is always looking for ways to cut corners, and he doesn't like paying his seasonal workers to show up on days when they aren't needed. So Vera had some words with Roger about the matter. But she told me afterwards that there was no arguing with him. He would work this week, and that was that! Insubordination, I said it was. Though I'm not his supervisor, of course, so I couldn't castigate the man personally. God rest his soul."
"Mmm," mumbled the detective. "Well, thank you for your input, Miss Marbles."
"It's Miss Marple," Paul corrected him. He winked at Jane. "Oh, and by the way, my bandmate was having you on earlier. I'm Paul McCartney and he's John Lennon."
"Right," John agreed with an impish grin. "Sorry about that, love. I was just having a bit of a larf."
"Apology accepted," Jane said. She looked at George. "Might I trouble you for a spot of tea? I see the silver service is by your side."
"The pot is empty," George replied.
"Well then, what do you say we repair to the kitchen, and I brew up a fresh pot for everyone?" Jane suggested.
"A capital idea!" Ringo laughed. "Then we can check out the scene of the possible crime."
"I'd prefer to keep the kitchen cordoned off for the time being," Maurice protested.
"Is Mr. Scragg's body still there?" Jane asked.
"No, Inspector Travertine informed us that he's shipped it off to the coroner's office for examination already," Brian answered.
"And have your men finished dusting for fingerprints?" Jane asked, staring pointedly at Maurice.
"Well, yes, but…" he stammered.
"Excellent!" Jane exclaimed. "Then the kitchen is ready for use again. Lord Toppleton would be quite upset to know that the service of his guests was in any way compromised by police interference. Perhaps you might do me the honor of escorting me into the kitchen, Mr. McCartney?"
Paul smiled and offered her his arm.
"Now wait just one moment!" shouted Maurice. "I'm in charge of this investigation."
"Pish posh," Jane replied. "My good friend Sir Henry Clithering always lets me conduct my own investigations. Call him if you'd like, Inspector Travertine. I'm confident that he will back me up."
Jane stood up from her chair with remarkable agility for such a seemingly old woman, and marched into the kitchen at a rapid clip, keeping a firm grip on Paul's elbow and practically dragging him along. The other men in the room followed closely at her heels.
"This is most irregular!" Maurice protested as he struggled to keep pace.
"Oh dear, would you look at that?" Jane groused when she saw the chalk drawing of a man's body marked on the wooden floor by the kitchen's back door. "I do hope that chalk doesn't leave a stain."
"The blood will probably be harder to wash up," George pointed out.
"I disagree," Jane said. She tiptoed to the edge of the chalk silhouette and examined the floor. "It would seem that someone has already cleaned up the bulk of it. See that little swirling pattern on the right corner of that wooden plank? That's a wiping mark."
Maurice looked over her shoulder. "I hadn't noticed that before," he admitted. "Though there remains a bloodstain where Mr. Scragg's head lay on the floor."
"How do you suppose he died?" Jane asked, standing up to her full height, tightening her grasp on her pocketbook and eyeing the detective innocently.
"Well, obviously he was struck on the head!" Maurice replied. "There was quite a bit of dried blood caked in his hair."
"Hhmm, pity I couldn't see that myself," Jane murmured. She examined the floor by the door once more. "That sheen! It looks like some cooking oil has been spilled by the doorway. Or some other slippery substance, perhaps."
"Yes, you're right!" Ringo agreed immediately. "Maybe the wanker slipped and fell, then hit his head on something?"
"Like that Aga?" Paul suggested. He pointed to the large metal stove standing behind the chalk outline. "Have your men checked the corners and handles of the oven for blood marks, Inspector Travertine?"
Maurice's eyes bore into Paul accusingly. "What makes you ask that, Mr. McCartney?" he challenged.
"Um, well, I just thought that maybe…" Paul stammered.
"It does seem plausible, doesn't it?" John proposed. "That Roger Scragg slipped on that oil Miss Marple detected, then fell and hit his head on the Aga? It could explain how he died so suddenly."
"It could," Jane agreed. "Though that wouldn't explain the mud marks on the bottom of the doorjamb."
"Mud marks?" Ringo repeated sheepishly. "I don't see any traces of mud on that doorjamb, do you?"
John eyed George and Ringo reproachfully. "I would have thought that whoever was responsible for cleaning this area would have done a better job."
George sneered back at him. "Yes, I suppose you would have thought that, John. But I suspect the people tasked with cleaning this kitchen might have been feeling underappreciated, and tired of having to always deal with other people's messes."
"What did you eat for dinner last night?" Jane asked Paul, ignoring John and George's squabble.
Paul looked back at her with a confused expression. "Let me see if I can remember. Roast beef, I think it was. With boiled potatoes and vegetables."
"And for pudding?" she continued.
"Um, I'm really not sure. Do you remember?" Paul asked John nervously.
"We just had ice cream," John answered matter-of-factly. "Strawberry and vanilla."
"Then why do you suppose there was that slick on the floor?" Jane asked. "The cook wouldn't have needed to pull out her flask of cooking oil to prepare any of those dishes."
Ringo looked dumbly at his shoes. "Perhaps it was a leftover spill from lunchtime?"
"Or brekkie?" George piped in.
Jane left George and Ringo's proposals unanswered. "Well, I promised I'd make tea, now, didn't I?" she said instead as she walked to the pantry. She pulled out a Fortnum and Mason tin of loose Darjeeling leaves, then walked to the sink. "Could somebody please hand me that kettle so I might fill it with water?"
Brian stepped around the chalk drawing so he could reach the teakettle, then walked to the kitchen sink and handed it to Jane.
"Thank you, Mr. E," she said. She filled the kettle, then opened the drawer beside the sink. "Oh, my giddy aunt!" she exclaimed. "The tea towels! They're all missing!"
George's eyes darted anxiously between John and Ringo. "Perhaps it's wash day?"
"No, no," Jane insisted. "I've known Vera for years, and she always does her kitchen laundry on Thursdays. Someone has taken all the tea towels from this drawer!"
Maurice approached her and examined the empty drawer. "You're quite certain this is where your friend Mrs. Fubbs stored her tea towels, Miss Marple?"
"I am indeed," Jane insisted. She rested the teakettle on the counter and put her hands to her waist, assuming the posture of a child acting out the first line of the nursery rhyme, 'I'm a Little Teapot.' She looked back and forth between the men, then marched back to the chalk silhouette. "This swirling pattern on the floor…perhaps that was caused when someone was wiping up a mess with some tea towels. And then there's the matter of the mud on the doorjamb to consider."
She looked up and faced the men. "There's only one thing for it. We must go outside."
Before anyone could protest, Jane had opened up the back door. She examined the stone slab resting outside the house and smiled in triumph. "Just as I suspected! Somebody dragged something through this doorway!"
"How can you tell?" Paul asked sheepishly.
Jane pointed to the doormat resting on the edge of the step. "That mat's been moved. It should be lying right in front of the door, so that people entering the kitchen could wipe their feet on it first. But more importantly, look at that!"
She pointed to a serpentine pattern of flattened grass running across the lawn from the east wing of the manor house. "Those are quite clearly drag marks."
"Good golly, Miss Marple, you're right!" Maurice exclaimed.
Brian and the Beatles fell suspiciously silent.
"Let's see where they lead!" Jane proposed.
"But wouldn't that be tampering with evidence?" John blurted out. "Perhaps we should wait for a team of constables to come and look this over? We could drink our tea first."
"I'm an Inspector," Maurice pointed out. "We don't need any constables."
"It looks like rain," George protested. "I really think we ought to wait."
"For the storm to pass. Yes, righto! That's a good idea!" agreed Paul.
"The drag marks might be gone after the rain," Jane replied. "Let's explore!"
"Christ," Ringo mumbled under his breath. "We're all in for it now."
"What did you say?" Maurice asked, arching his right eyebrow.
"He said, 'We're all in for helping you now in any way that we can'," Brian interpreted.
Maurice eyed Brian suspiciously, then looked back at the yard and noticed that Jane had already started marching ahead. "Miss Marple, wait! We must be careful not to tamper with the marks!"
She ignored him and followed the serpentine path to the small stone patio resting on the edge of the building's east wing. She stopped in front of a set of French doors covered with a wooden trellis.
"The trail ends here!" she proclaimed. Then she started examining the trellis. "Someone was climbing this recently. There are clumps of fresh dirt still clinging to some of the slats."
"Someone was bleeding here recently also," Maurice announced. "I see bloodstains in the grout between these slate stones."
Ringo and George approached him warily. "How can you be sure it's blood?" George asked.
"Yeah. George has a point. It might be something else," Ringo agreed.
"I'll ring the station and have them send out our chemical expert, PC 31," Maurice replied. "He has a kit that can test these stains for the presence of hemoglobin."
John looked up at the ominous grey sky. "You might just be wasting his time, Inspector. Once those clouds open up, the rain will probably wash that stained grout clean."
"Hmm, pity," Paul said. "For the inspector, I mean. Lucky break for the gardener, though. It'll save him a bit of scrubbing work."
"Yes, I imagine it will," Brian agreed.
Maurice turned towards Brian, his face flushed with anger. "Mr. Epstein, I suspect that you and your quartet of musical miscreants know more about this case than you are letting on. Furthermore, I am quite convinced that one or more of you was a witness to Roger Scragg's death, and deliberately tampered with the evidence to hide your part in a probable murder."
"Murder?" said Ringo, feigning shock. He lifted his hands to his neck and opened his eyes wide.
"Ghastly business," George added. He stole a nervous glance at John and Paul, then looked down and stared at his shoes.
"Don't be rash, Inspector Travertine," Brian pleaded. "I'm sure a logical explanation exists that can explain this odd collection of clues. You needn't jump to conclusions so quickly and accuse my boys of…"
"I did it," announced a high-pitched woman's voice.
The crowd on the patio all turned to face the source of the interruption.
"No, Hazel, no," John pleaded.
A short, dark-haired woman in a maid's uniformed stepped onto the patio through the French doors. She was followed by a group of three other maids and two men dressed in livery.
"What did you do?" Maurice asked the woman.
"I killed Roger last night," Hazel announced. She shrugged off John's attempt to hold her hand and walked towards the inspector. "But I didn't mean to. It was an accident."
"Explain yourself immediately, young lady!" Maurice demanded. "Or else I shall be forced to…"
"I'm sure it was an accident, my dear," Jane interrupted. "Otherwise, you wouldn't be admitting your role to us so freely. Now Miss…what is your name, lamb?"
"Hazel Shrimstock," the maid answered.
"What a lovely name," Jane replied. "I have a good friend named Hazel who chairs the Floral Committee at my parish church in St. Mary Mead. Now, Hazel, why don't you take a deep breath and get everything off your chest."
Hazel sighed. She gazed longingly at John, then turned her face back towards Miss Marple and the inspector. "Last night I…he…" she began hesitantly. She drew in a deep breath, closed her eyes, then spoke more clearly. "Last night Roger Scragg tried to force himself on me. So I pushed him away. He fell. There, on those stones at the edge of the patio. That's where he fell, and…and…he hit his head. Quite hard, I fear, because he started to bleed. And then…" She hid her face in her hands and started to sob.
John hastened to her side and wrapped his arm around her shoulder. "Don't cry, love. It's over now. I'm sure Miss Marple believes you when you said you didn't mean to hurt that bloody bastard. And I'm sure that pretty little policeman does too."
"Don't be so sure about that," Maurice barked. "Even if what this girl says is true, it doesn't explain how Roger Scragg's body ended up in the kitchen."
John flashed Brian a resigned look, then turned towards the inspector. "That's where I came in. You see, Miss Shrimstock and I were taking a walk last night after dinner. The moon was full and the sky was clear, so we could see quite well in the dark. And when we approached this patio, we saw a person standing atop the terrace. He seemed to be snapping photographs through a window. We watched him for a bit, wondering if he was a reporter who'd snuck onto the property to pester me and my mates. But then Hazel recognized him. She knew it was Roger up there on the terrace, taking pictures of…"
"I told John to run," Hazel interrupted. "I didn't want Roger to catch us together and snap any compromising photos of the two of us to sell to the papers. John's married, you see."
"Yes, I see," Maurice said with a sneer. "I see exactly."
"We weren't doing anything, the two of us," John blustered. "Just taking a bleedin' walk, that's all."
"Well, anyway, as John was running away, Roger looked down and saw me," Hazel continued. "He spied John as well, and started climbing down the terrace in a right hurry. But by the time he reached the ground, John was out of sight. Or out of the reach of Roger's camera flash, in any case. So Roger started cursing, and called John a rash of bad names. Then he grabbed me and started to laugh. He said he had…he said he'd just taken some pictures of Mr. Epstein that would fetch a much higher price on Fleet Street than any photos he might have snapped of John and me. And then…and then…"
"Take another deep breath, lamb," Jane said encouragingly.
Hazel nodded and collected her thoughts, then looked up at the inspector. "Then Roger grabbed me and started groping me. He shoved his tongue in my mouth. I tried to tear myself away, but he was holding on to me too tightly. So I squirmed a little in his grasp, and managed to place both of my hands on his chest. And then, with all the strength I could muster, I pushed him. I…I was surprised that I was able to push him away, because he was such a tall man. But somehow I did. He staggered back a few steps and stared at me. The moonlight was shining directly on him, and he had the most ghastly expression on his face. It seemed like he was standing there, his face all twisted and horrid, for minutes and minutes, but it must have just been for a second or so. I really couldn't tell. You know how time stands still when you're frightened. But anyway, he fell down. He fell hard, like I said, against those patio stones. I stared at him in disbelief for a long moment. And then I saw a trickle of blood streaming from his head, glistening in the moonlight, and I started to scream."
John drew Hazel a little closer to his side. "So I came back then, to see what was the matter."
"And I looked out my window, to see what was the matter," added Brian.
"And we three ran out of the building to see what was the matter," Paul said, pointing to himself, George and Ringo.
"And we came running out as well," said a tall, slim woman dressed in a maid's uniform. "Hazel was shaking so badly, she couldn't tell us what happened at first. But we guessed it, of course."
"Roger had made rude passes at all of us girls," a second maid said. "Many times. He couldn't keep his bloody hands to himself when he thought no-one was looking."
"I was glad to see him lying there, lifeless on the ground," a third maid added. "He was a thoroughly nasty man. If I had been as strong as Hazel, I would have done the same thing to him weeks ago."
"We all hated him," said a red-haired man dressed in livery. "We were counting the days until Michaelmas, when he was scheduled to leave."
Maurice tut-tutted and shook his head. "Well, I'll say this for you lot. You certainly present a unified front."
"Roger had wicked plans up his sleeves," added Thomas Harrow, the butler. "He told me once in passing that he was set upon ruining the Beatles, because each of them had caused him so much personal distress when they were younger and still living in Liverpool."
"That's a lie," John interrupted. "I never even met the bloke until the day he snapped my photo when I was stepping out of a…well, until after I was famous, anyway."
"I wonder why he came to work here in the first place?" Jane asked. "Or why Lord Toppleton hired him? A man so thoroughly disliked could not have had very good references."
"Roger could be ingratiating, even obsequious when he saw fit," the red-headed footman pointed out. "And he was rather good looking. I think the guests generally liked him. I know they often tipped him. More than they tipped me, anyway."
"And he fit our last footman's uniform precisely, without any alterations necessary," Thomas added. "So that obviously pleased his Lordship. I don't mean to speak ill of my employer, but he is rather tight with his purse."
"I can second that statement," Jane said. She turned towards Maurice. "Vera often complains to me about the small housekeeping budget she has to make do with."
Maurice rolled his eyes. "Nobody has addressed the missing piece in this puzzle, I'd like to remind you lot. How did Roger Scragg's body get into the kitchen?"
"Well, we brought him there, of course," John said. "Paul and George and Ringo and I each took one of his limbs, and we dragged him through the grass into the house. Then George and Ringo set to work cleaning up the mess we'd made with the blood and mud and loose blades of grass, while Paul and I rearranged the area around the dead body in the kitchen to make it look like an accident."
"Right," Paul agreed. "We poured some olive oil on the floor by Roger's feet, then made some scuffmarks with our own shoes to make it appear that he had slipped. Then we wiped a little of Roger's blood on the corners of the Aga, to make it look like he had struck his head on that."
"Why ever did you go to so much trouble?" Maurice asked. "Surely if what Miss Schrimstock says is true, then a proper police investigation would have cleared her of any charges."
John squeezed Hazel a little closer. "I didn't want Hazel to be questioned. For her sake, as much as for my own."
"John is married, you see," Brian pointed out.
Maurice rolled his eyes. "Is he really now? I hadn't heard."
"And we also didn't want anyone to know that Brian…" George began. Then he froze up and fell silent.
"That Brian what?" Maurice asked.
"Oh, just that, you know, Brian…well…" Paul stammered. "He's been under a lot of pressure lately, and we thought that if we could take care of this scandal ourselves, then we could save him a bit of bother."
"A bit of bother!?" Maurice exclaimed. "Why, this is an outrage! A man is dead, and all you lot could think about was…"
A flash of lightning lit up the sky. A loud clap of thunder followed almost immediately in its wake.
"I think that storm has finally arrived," Jane said. "Perhaps we should step inside the house."
"An excellent proposal," Brian said nervously.
The two male servants positioned themselves by the French doors while the rest of the party walked into the East Wing's drawing room. Thomas brushed his hand against Brian's as he stepped inside. Brian threw a nervous glance at the butler. Thomas slipped a roll of film into Brian's coat pocket and winked, then dashed into the room to fetch the ringing telephone, leaving the footman to latch the doors shut.
"It's for you, Inspector Travertine," Thomas announced, holding the receiver towards the policeman.
Maurice smoothed the front of his suit with his hands, then approached the proffered telephone. "Yes, it is," he spoke into the receiver. "I see…Yes…Indeed…Is that so?...How surprising…Are you quite certain?…Well, then…That does seems to settle the matter, doesn't it?...Thank you…Yes, I'll be back at the station shortly and we can discuss it more then. Good day."
He hung up the phone, then examined the assembly of curious faces gathered around him. He coughed to clear his throat, then turned towards Hazel.
"Miss Schrimstock, I believe you may have overestimated your strength," he began. "You did not push Mr. Scragg to his death. He died from cardiac arrest. The coroner just completed his examination of the corpse. Roger Scragg's heart was enlarged and his aorta badly misshapen. He suffered a fatal heart attack last night, before he fell and hit his head. The coroner actually found it surprising that the unfortunate man had lived for as long as he did. In my own considered opinion, it was the bloke's climbing up and down that terrace at such a speed that ultimately did him in, not your forceful protestations of his unwanted affections."
"Oh," Hazel said. Her face went white and she started to fall backwards. John caught her in his arms and led her to the closest chair.
Maurice turned towards Brian. "This new information doesn't let your boys entirely off the hook. They freely admitted to me just now that they tampered with evidence."
"Evidence of what?" Jane Marple interrupted, casting a challenging glare at the inspector. "The only crimes committed last night were Mr. Scragg invading Mr. Epstein's privacy by taking photographs of him through the window above the terrace, and Mr. Scragg's attempted rape of Miss Shrimstock. I don't see how these four lovely young gentlemen did any harm to anyone by moving Mr. Scragg's body into the house after he died, away from the foxes that come out at night."
"Well, that is an issue that must be weighed further," Maurice countered.
"I certainly would appreciate it if you could keep this matter under wraps, Inspector Travertine," Brian proposed. "My boys might look like miscreant musicians to you, but they've actually done quite a lot of good for Britain's economy. And the Queen Mother took quite a shine to them when they spoke with her after their appearance at the Royal Variety Ball. I wouldn't want to give Her Royal Highness any cause for disappointment."
Maurice eyed Brian warily. "No, I don't suppose you would now, would you?"
Jane Marple took a step closer to the detective and held out her hand. "It has been a pleasure meeting you, Inspector Travertine. I will be sure to put in a good word on your behalf the next time I speak to my dear friend Sir Henry Clithering, the retired Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police. He still has a hand in some of the promotions on the Force, I believe."
Maurice shook her hand reluctantly.
"Shall I ring Lord Toppleton's chauffeur, so he might take you back to the station?" Thomas proposed. "Or did you drive here yourself?"
"You all seem to be in a great hurry to get rid of me," Maurice noted.
"Well, it's just that we're very hungry," Jane explained. She took Maurice's left elbow in her right hand and guided him to the hallway leading out of the room before letting him go. "And I still need to brew up that pot of tea I promised to make for these nice lads. Thank you so much for all of your help."
Thomas jogged ahead so he could lead the policeman to the car park in front of the manor house.
Jane turned to face the Beatles and Brian as soon as Maurice stepped out of the room. "Now tell me, Paul, just who did you write that song 'And I Love Her' for? Do you have a girlfriend? Or are you free to take some tea with me?"
Inspired by Agatha Christie's Miss Marple mysteries.