A young woman with brown hair and hazel eyes answered the door. She was slender, and tan as well, I noted. The niece, then. She had allegedly spent a number of years running wild over in the States before her father had brought her back home.
I smiled. "Inspector Bradstreet." I introduced myself. She didn't return the smile, but then, why would she? I was here on business.
The girl's uncle had been murdered.
"Come in." She said, he voice low, a slight American accent still coloring her speech in spite of the fact that she had spent the last few years back in London. "May I take your coat and hat?" She asked as she let me in.
"Thank you." I said as I handed them over. She took them and hung them up, then led me through the house to the room where her uncle had been found dead.
Two men stood in the hall, outside the closed door, speaking quietly. When the young woman did not announce me, I cleared my throat and stepped forward. "Inspector Bradstreet." I introduced myself once more. "Mr. Southhall?" I guessed, turning to the older of the two men.
"Yes. Thank you for coming, Inspector." Southhall replied, reaching forward to shake my hand. "I cannot say it is a pleasure to meet you."
"Of course not, given the circumstances of our meeting." I agreed with what was not enough of a laugh to be considered inappropriate.
"You've met my daughter, Melissa." Southhall nodded towards the young woman. "This," he turned to his companion, "is Gregory Watson. He is a guest here; he has been with us for a few weeks now."
"I know a Watson." I told the man as he shook my hand. "A doctor. John Watson."
"No relation, I'm afraid." Watson replied with an easy shrug. "He's the one that publishes those stories though, isn't he?"
"The detective stories, yes." I agreed, then turned my attention back to the reason I had come. "The murdered man?" I reminded them gently.
"My brother." Southhall explained. "He was found in his room this morning, dead." He gestured towards the closed door. "No one has been in since then."
"Good." I said, opening the door myself; neither Southhall nor Watson seemed interested in doing so.
The victim was lying face down on the floor in the middle of the room. The carpet was stained with blood near the upper part of the man's body.
I examined the room. There was no sign of a forced entry, and no sign of a struggle. The murderer was likely someone in the household then, and they had caught the man completely by surprise.
I knelt by the body and turned it over. The man's throat had been cut; he had died quickly. There were no other signs of violence on his person.
I looked around the room again. The murder weapon was nowhere to be found. Whoever had killed Southhall's brother had taken it with them. Of course, the knife could easily have been taken from the kitchen, used to kill the man, then cleaned and returned to the kitchen afterward.
I turned to see both the Southhalls and Watson standing in the doorway, watching. Southhall looked pale and understandably upset; Watson and Southhall's daughter, however, seemed unbothered by the fact that they were standing no too far from a corpse.
I led the three away from the room, and turned to the Constable who had by now made it here and was waiting in the hall for orders.
"They can go ahead and move the body out when they arrive, Smith." I told him.
"Very good, sir." Smith replied, and stepped into the room to keep an eye on things.
I returned my attention to Southhall, who had retreated with his daughter and his guest to the sitting room. I followed them, and waited for the man to regain his composure.
"When was the last time you saw your brother alive, Mr. Southhall?" I asked, keeping my tone calm and relaxed.
"Last night." Southhall replied, pouring himself a drink. "He went up to bed around ten-thirty."
"And when was he found dead?" I asked, when it became apparent the man was not going to continue without prompting.
"He didn't come down for breakfast." Southhall explained. "We are all rather early risers here, and my brother was especially so. He was also a very punctual man; for him to be late for anything, even breakfast, was unheard of. I sent Melissa up to check on him. She returned a few minutes later, alone, and informed us that my brother was dead. I did not want to believe it, so of course I went up myself, and Gregory joined me. When we saw it was true, that he was dead, I closed the door and sent for Scotland Yard."
I nodded as he finished. "Who was here last night, Mr. Southhall? In the house?"
Southhall thought for a moment. "The three of us, of course." He said slowly. "The housekeeper was as well, and the cook. They both stay with us; have since we hired them upon our return to London four years ago."
"I'd like to speak with them, if you don't mind." I said.
"Certainly." Southhall agreed. "Miss Jacobs, our cook, will be in the kitchen, of course. Melissa will show you the way."
The woman was silent as she led me from the sitting room and back towards the kitchen.
She had not seemed all that upset at the sight of the dead man upstairs, even if she had been the one to find him this morning. The fact that instead of screaming when she had found her uncle dead she had calmly gone downstairs and informed her father and his guest of the news was odd as well.
The thought occurred to me that it was possible she had killed him herself when she had gone upstairs to allegedly check on him.
But why? It was no more than idle speculation for now. If nothing else, there was no motive.
We reached the stiflingly hot kitchen. Miss Southhall wordlessly gestured for the cook to come over.
"Miss Jacobs?" I asked as the thin, older woman wiped her hands on her apron and came to join us. Miss Southhall exchanged a glance with the cook, then took over the vegetables the cook had been chopping.
"Yes, sir?" The woman acknowledged, a trifle nervously.
"I am Inspector Bradstreet. Scotland Yard." I told her. "I am here in regards to the death of Mr. Adam Southhall. Do you mind if I ask you a few questions?"
"What would you like to know, Inspector?" The woman asked, looking me over critically.
"You and the housekeeper both stay here, at the house?" I asked.
"Yes, sir." The cook answered with a nod. "We have since Mr. Southhall and his daughter returned from the States. We worked for the Missus, before she died and he left London with his daughter. I think Mr. Southhall wanted to have a woman's touch in the girl's life, after those wild years oversea."
Bent over the vegetables, the woman in question smiled tolerantly but did not comment on the speculation. She did not even seem to mind that she was being talked about while still in the room.
"Would you consider yourselves a part of the family, then?" I asked.
Miss Jacobs laughed. "I wouldn't go quite that far, but we are certainly treated well here, and rather fond of the young Miss. Her mother was good to us as well." She added.
"And the brother?" I asked. "Adam Southhall?"
"He was a good man." Miss Jacobs assured me. "He kept to himself a lot, but I can't think of anyone who would want to do him harm."
"He got along well with the rest of the family, then?"
"Adam Southhall and his brother were close." Miss Jacobs said solemnly. "Melissa was rather attached to him as well."
"Neither seemed particularly overwrought, if you'll forgive my saying so." I lowered my voice as I spoke, but Miss Southhall looked my way anyway. Still, she said nothing in defense of either her father or herself.
Miss Jacobs shrugged. "The Southhalls never were the type to put their emotions up on display for strangers to see. You're here, and Mr. Watson isn't family yet."
My ears pricked up at that last word. "Yet?" I echoed.
"He's set on marrying Melissa." The old cook replied. She looked surprised that I didn't already know. "And Mr. Southhall approves of the idea." She continued. "That's why the gentleman is here."
Perhaps it was my imagination, but for a second it seemed as if Miss Southhall, a frown on her face, might speak up. Then she went back to working, and the frown had disappeared as if it had never been there.
"And what did her uncle think of the proposed marriage?" I asked, fishing for more information. I was looking for anything that might make this case a little clearer.
"He said it would be a wise match." Miss Jacobs replied.
"And Miss Southhall? Did she seemed pleased with the idea?" I was gambling on the fact that the lady in question had not involved herself so far and that the cook would answer honestly in spite of the former's presence.
I was correct. The cook shook her head. "She told her father she would not marry him. I believe she and her uncle discussed the matter often."
"Discussed? Argued?" I suggested. Miss Jacobs shook her head once more. "They did not agree, but I would not go so far as to say they argued with each other."
I nodded. Then a thought occurred to me. "Were there any knives missing from the kitchen this morning?"
The woman again shook her head. "Not as I noticed, Inspector."
"And if one had been missing…" I trailed off.
"I most certainly would have noticed." The cook finished firmly.
"Thank you for your time." I smiled as I thanked the woman. Then I turned to Miss Southhall. "I would like to speak with the housekeeper now, if you don't mind."
Miss Southhall nodded and led the way out of the kitchen.
I learned nothing new from Miss Larson, the housekeeper. So far I didn't have much to go on. Adam Southhall had been murdered, his throat cut. It had likely been someone who was a member of the household, though the only person who had been at odds with the man was young Miss Southhall, and no one was of the belief that their disagreement had been anything serious. The knife was still missing, and had not been taken from the kitchen.
It was of course possible that the whole household was involved and covering for the actual murderer, but that theory was even less likely than the idea that the niece had done it.
It was a pretty little problem, and I was nowhere near solving it.
Disclaimer: Sherlock and the boys do not belong to me.