Mystery at the Old Light

A Jonathan Creek Mystery by Paul Smith.

Based on the characters created by David Renwick. No copyright infringement is intended. Please note this story contains a fairly rude word that's critical to the plot. Sorry.

Part one: A case of self-defence?

Maddy Magellan awoke from a lovely dream to the sound of a ringing telephone. On her list of favourite things to be woken by, it was near the bottom, just above the sound of sporadic gunfire. She rolled over, still clutching a Jonathanesque pillow in a warm embrace and made a grab for the 'phone. It clattered to the floor, leaving her holding the handset.

She slid back beneath the duvet and growled, "Unless someone's died, I may have to hang up on you."

"It's me, Barry", said the familiar voice of her publisher in his smooth Scots tones.

"Oh hi Barry. What time is it?" she replied with a tinge of disappointment, and yawned.

"It's eleven o'clock. I'm sorry Mad, did I wake you?"

"Only a little," said Maddy, yawning again.

"I know it's Sunday but I had to call you. I've got something here which is right up your particular alley."

Her journalistic interest engaged, Maddy re-emerged from her duvet cocoon. "Someone has died then?" It wasn't that she had a morbid fascination, she just knew bodies sold books.

"I know most murders are committed by the spouse of the victim, but this one's got some dubious circumstances that may be of interest. I just got a 'phone call from the solicitor for the accused. He's not actually been charged with anything yet but it sounds like it's only a matter of time. Of course I immediately thought of you." Barry gave a chuckle.

"Thanks, I think", Maddy said with a half smile. "It's getting that way, isn't it? Call the police, call the pathologist and then call that girl who investigates wrongful arrests and judicial blunders."

Barry became more serious. "It's is more of a 'call that girl who works with that guy who solves impossible murders' case, this time."

Maddy sighed and drew back into the hot hollow of her bed again, like a podgy tortoise. "Oh. It's one of those? Whatever happened to evidence tampering and institutionalised brutality?"

"It's the advent of modern police practices, Maddy. Law enforcement fashions change".

"The art of 'fitting-up' is a dying one", she agreed, whilst extracting a renegade Twix from beneath her pillow. She looked at it curiously for a moment and popped it on the bedside table for safekeeping.

"Could you both be at the offices by two?" Barry asked.

Maddy nodded, then, waking up a little more said, "I'll have to give Jonathan a call, but assume we'll make it unless I call you back, ok?"

"Thanks Maddy. I knew I could depend on you." With that, Barry was gone.

Jonathan had been up for three hours when Maddy called minutes later. He'd spent a restless night pondering how to produce a live squid from a top hat without the intervention of the RSPCA. The prospects weren't looking good. He'd have to tell Adam to stick with doves or rabbits, and that was going to go down like earwax flavoured ice cream.

The 'phone rang and JC rolled across his bed, away from the squidy sketches he'd been toying with in his workbook, to answer it.

"Jonathan Creek", he said, almost expecting it to be Adam after a cephalopod/millinery interface update. Except, of course, at this hour Klaus would still be dead to the world after another fabulous Saturday night out with a mob of show business chums.

"Hi Jonathan, it's Maddy"

He felt a moment of relief before suspicion overtook him. "Is it another revenge motivated grizzly murder involving severed toes?"

"I don't know all the details", said Maddy, honestly for once. "But two in the same month would be stretching it a bit, wouldn't it? Barry just called me and asked if we could both be at his offices by two. How are you fixed today?"

"I'm a bit busy actually" tried Jonathan, glancing at his notebook and pulling a face.

"I recognise that tone. Creative conjurors block, or something, you call it?" She knew him too well.

JC realised he was caught. He could bluff it out for a bit but Maddy would still turn up at his windmill with her old Volvo in a few hours and lure him away from his proper, paying work. Instead he collapsed like a house of cards to the gust of her will. Again. Seeking to justify his actions to himself he said, "Perhaps I could do with a change of scenery and some fresh air might get my brain working again. My head feels like it's packed with sawdust at the moment. I've been locked up in here for two weeks coming up with stuff for Adams new show and I've started to get cabin fever. I've gone all fishy eyed and pale."

Maddy considered this for a moment but pressed on without comment. "I'll pick you up at half twelve, ok?"

"One thing", said Jonathan quickly, "This case you're working on. Promise me it doesn't involve sea creatures."

It took more than odd questions to phase an old pro like Maddy. "Well, you know my promises, Jonathan. All I'll say is, as far as I know, it doesn't involve any. Good enough?"

"Good enough." He sucked his teeth in thought. "In that case, I'll be waiting for you," said Jonathan, visibly relaxing. He hung up and returned to his workbook to attack it with a rubber.

That afternoon, Barry Opper greeted them with cups of coffee at the offices of his publishing firm. Before long they were sat discussing the call Barry had received that morning.

"So you're saying", said Maddy, trying to get her head around the story, "That this guy-"

"Malcolm Berrie", interjected Jonathan.

"-Malcolm Berrie", continued Maddy, "woke up this morning, went down stairs, cooked some breakfast, ate it and then opened the front door to discover the body of his estranged wife impaled on the railings outside?"

"Exactly", said Barry. "That's the story he told the police when he called them. He's got no explanation to how she got there, and he says hadn't seen her for over a month."

"He could just be lying?" ventured Maddy. "Perhaps she turned up there last night, they had a fight over the CD collection and he threw her out of the window onto the spikes?"

"That was my first thought as well", agreed the publisher. "It would make sense, except for a few points which Berrie is sticking to like a limpet."

Jonathan blanched.

Barry continued. "He swears that he spoke to his wife last night on the 'phone to try to patch things up between them."

"And so she came round to talk and he shoved her out the window." Maddy had got an idea into her head and wasn't keen to let go.

"She was in Australia Maddy. On an archaeological dig."

Jonathan produced a notepad and pen from a cavernous duffel coat pocket. "What time was that?" he asked.

Barry checked his own notes. "Ten o'clock last night."

"And she was discovered at what time this morning?" Jonathan jotted the times down.

"Six. He phoned for the police and an ambulance immediately. Berrie seems to be one of those people who survives on five hours sleep a night."

Maddy shuddered at the very thought. "It doesn't add up though, does it? What's the flying time from Oz to here, Jonathan?"

"At least twenty hours, usually more. Plus an hour re-fuelling stop somewhere. Anyway, it's totally impossible to get back here in eight hours."

"The International Date Line!" cried Maddy excitedly as an idea popped into her mind.

Barry and Jonathan both looked at her in surprise.

"Eight hours is eight hours", said Jonathan as kindly as he could. "The International Date Line wouldn't make any difference. It's a tricky one isn't it? One thing it's not is time travel."

Someone else may have deflated, but Maddy was hard to puncture.

"You see why I wanted you to drag Jonathan here", said Barry to the writer. "Either Malcolm is telling a ridiculously bad concocted tale, or else it's something very…" He broke off, shaking his head, unsure of what the alternative could be other than 'odd'.

Maddy stood up with a new air of authority. "Could you give us a copy of your notes?" she asked Barry.

"Surely" replied the Scotsman, also standing. "And I've got some directions to his house somewhere here for you too."

Jonathan stayed sitting quietly on his leather armchair as the other two busied themselves photocopying notes and comparing thoughts. He was already peeling the mystery with the sharp knife of his mind. It gave him a slightly constipated look.

The dog-eared Volvo that Maddy habitually drove complained with the sound of grinding cogs as Maddy tried to find a gear ratio called second-and-a-half.

"You have driven before?" asked, rhetorically, a nervous looking Jonathan from the passengers' seat. Joyfully, for once they were going slowly, caught in traffic.

"Do you want to have a go instead?" snapped Maddy. She hated driving with Jonathan in the car. He made her tense in a way no other passenger did, for reasons she'd never admitted to herself. She was in a bad mood anyway, regardless of the jam, because she'd just remembered the Twix she'd left on her bedside table. It was calling to her.

JC opened his mouth to say he'd be happy to give it a try but Maddy just carried on. "Why don't you just shut up, Jonathan, and read the damned map? We're almost off the motorway and I don't know where to go from here."

Jonathan peered at the motoring atlas. "What's the village we're aiming for called again?"

Maddy looked at the hastily written notes sitting across her knees. "Fairfield-on-sea. It's just up the coast from Dungeness."

JC closed the book with a snap of disgust and glared at its cover. "Why is the only atlas you own a 1958 edition of the AA illustrated road book of England and Wales, with gazetteer and itineraries? There's not a single motorway on it."

Maddy protested in the books defence. "Be careful of that, it's a collector's item. It'll be valuable one day."

"Yes", agreed Jonathan, looking ahead. "By the time we get to Fairfield-on-sea at this rate."

Maddy pulled up behind a caravan, blue lights flashing in the distance ahead of them. Unable to stay faithful to her Twix, she liberated a packet of crisps and a banana from her door pocket and tucked in. Noticing Jonathan's lopsided smile of amusement she felt the need to respond. "What's that look for? These are emergency rations for just such a situation as this". She waved the banana at the windscreen to indicate the traffic jam.

To avoid a food based argument Jonathan wisely switched subjects. "Did you say you've heard of this Malcolm Berrie before?"

"Mmmm yesh", said Maddy around the banana, and swallowed. "He's an author. He wrote that book about the ascent of man. All missing links and, err, Darwinian progression."

Jonathan didn't recognise it. "I guess I haven't kept up with my anthropological reading."

"You must have seen it in the shops though? Picture of a monkey smoking a cigarette on the cover? They said he did for human evolution what Hawking did for theoretical physics."

Jonathan, although intellectually gifted, was more focused towards books with titles like 'Levitation techniques explored'.

"Anyway", continued Maddy, "Barry said Malcolm been receiving threats from some American ultra conservative religious group about his work. 'Thy blasphemy shall not go unpunished' type of stuff. So a few months ago he had some extra security put in. There's a video camera that records everyone who comes to the door and some stuff inside the place too. That might give us a few clues."

An hour later they passed through the sleepy seaside village of Fairfield-on-sea, with its neat row of eight chalets and single brightly coloured ice-cream vendor. Maddy was looking at the directions on her knees more than she was watching the road, which left Jonathan quietly terrified, in turn infuriating her more, which made her driving worse, which….

"Oh you read them out then", she snapped, handing the page over in a huff to a relieved Creek, who received it with gratitude.

He studied it for a moment. "It's a mile further on away from Dungeness and left down what looks like a farm track."

Correctly guessed, the poorly surfaced road was sign-posted 'To Dancers End Farm', and Maddy swung her car into it with vigour, scattering gravel everywhere. The farmyard came and went with Jonathan reassuring her all the way that they were still on the right route. Tarmac gave way to potholed gravel, well tufted with grass. Maddy was just about to insist on a look at the directions for herself and a row when they rounded a corner cresting a hillock and saw beneath them, standing defiantly close to the cliffs edge, Malcolm Berries foreboding country home. Sometimes the human mind will add-in the missing elements from a given scene. In this situation Jonathan could have sworn he heard the music from The Exorcist.

The lighthouse was nearly twice as old as Jonathan's own lofty home. It stood on a narrow headland at the lonely end of a wide bay, like a full stop in the landscape. As they drove closer Maddy and Jonathan could make out two police Land Rovers and the owners' Toyota parked at its salt-spray and wind swept foot. They half hid an ominous white tent that covered a section of five-foot tall iron railings. Individual policemen could be made out, purposefully milling around like people-trying-to-look-busy everywhere. They stopped what they were almost doing and watched suspiciously as the Volvo approached. Blue and white striped Police cordon tape fluttered noisily like gay bunting in the wind, in sharp contrast to the menacing scene it surrounded.

With a final crunch of gravel under radial, Maddy pulled up and they both got out to meet the officer in charge, who swooped out of the Lighthouses front door towards them like an attacking falcon. In a lilting welsh accent he said, "No Press, thank you. No one has a statement to make or a sum for exclusive rights to negotiate."

Maddy was taken aback for a moment. Not everyone in authority recognised her most innocent of smiles as that of journalist scum so quickly.

The Detective Inspector took one look at Jonathan and said, "And you're at the wrong end of the bay. The RSPB sanctuary is three miles that way. If you go back to Fairfield and carry on through-"

Maddy interrupted him. "We're here at the request of Malcolm Berrie and his legal representative. I'm Madeline Magellan and this", she indicated her shabby companion, "is Jonathan Creek."

"Hi", said Jonathan awkwardly and pulled an apologetic smile.

The Policeman changed tack like a champion yachtsman. "You're not how I imagined you, Miss Magellan." He made it sound like a compliment. "Welcome to the Old Light, as it's known in these parts." He extended a hand towards Jonathan with a disarming smile. "I'm Detective Inspector Titney. No laughing please. I'm sure it's wonderful to have you both here. I'm aware of your past work and", he paused, as if to pick his phrase with care, "considerable talents."

Releasing Jonathan's hand he turned back to Maddy. "I'm sorry I pounced on you just then. We've had a few ghoulish sight seekers sticking their noses where they're not required and it's got me overreacting. You wouldn't think so many people would be walking near a remote spot like this, would you? I suppose you'd like to see the body? We're just about ready to move her."

He led them towards the tent of white plastic sheets that covered the first twenty feet of railings to the right of the gateway itself. The detective stopped and turned to them both. "Are you going to be ok with this? She's not in the prettiest of shapes."

Jonathan nodded and so did Maddy, less convincingly.

Inside the tent the light was harsh and white, the summer sun through the plastic still bright at four in the afternoon. The section of black painted wrought iron fence that intersected the woman ran from the stone pillar of the gateway to an iron supporting upright, cemented into the foot high wall at the fences base. Inside the railings was a well-manicured lawn, outside was the gravel of the parking area that fronted onto the building. The police had used a cutting disk to saw through the circular uprights of the fence so now all that was supporting the body was the flat plate of metal which ran horizontally about eight inches below the spiked tips of the fence. Iron filings from the sawing had stuck to the slick of blood that covered the fence and gave the scene a rather jolly looking glittery effect. The corpse had been an attractive woman of about five and a half feet in height. She was in her early thirties or late twenties, dyed blonde hair now matted with blood where a spike had penetrated her skull. In all she had landed face down on nine spikes, leaving both arms and one leg hanging limply down. Her nylon-covered foot was missing the shoe that had apparently fallen off on impact and was lying on the grass close by. The other leg was pinned by a skewer through her thigh. The speed of her fall had been enough to slide her all the way down the points and hard up against the horizontal plate. She was, as the DI had claimed, not in the prettiest of shapes.

Maddy gave the, "Hwuggphf!" of someone about to vomit and fled the tent. Jonathan, rolling his eyes, lifted the woman's hand and looked closely at the nails.

DI Titney joined him after asking one of the other officers to fetch some water and check that Miss Magellan was ok.

"No sign of a struggle. No tell-tail sliver of flesh caught under a nail or the killers' name written in blood, and I've got to say Mr. Berrie doesn't strike me as the murderous type. No, if the rest of the circumstances weren't so strange I'd say she got here all by herself. Either slipped or jumped from the viewing platform." He paused. "The pathologist says she must have died instantly", he added, as if to lessen the impact of what had happened. "But we'll get a full autopsy done when we get her back to Hastings, for a fuller picture."

"Strange circumstances?" asked Jonathan, catching up. "You mean the telephone call Berrie says he made to his wife in Australia last night?"

"That, and the rest." replied the policeman, ushering Jonathan away. "We tried to pull her off the spikes, but we can't shift her, so we've had to cut through the fence instead. They're just about to finish off so we'd better get out of their way."

Outside he continued. "Mister Berrie claims that before he went to bed at about midnight last night he took a look outside and the fence was bodiless. He says he closed the front door, the only door, and locked and bolted it on the inside. Which would preclude the possibility that Mrs Berrie entered the house after he was asleep and did that to herself, one way or another."

Jonathan disagreed. "Not really. It just means she didn't enter by the front door."

The DI hovered over the thought for a moment and turned to look at the stark tower. "The windows are all tiny slit affairs and I don't see any hundred foot long ladders lying around, Mr Creek. Perhaps you're thinking helicopter? Or airship?" The sound of a grinder started behind them as walked away from the building back towards where Maddy sat in her car, watching them. There was a shriek of metal in pain as the police began cutting again.

Maddy had been listening to the conversation through the Volvos open window. "Perhaps she was already inside, hiding, when he closed and locked the door?" she suggested over the noise to them.

"It seems unlikely but it's something we've considered. I'm not sure if you've noticed the video camera by the door? Berrie installed it a few months ago as a part of a security system he had put in after he'd received some threats. I've got a man reviewing the tape inside now."

"We heard", said Maddy, getting out of the car. "Stroppy American creationists putting the 'fun' back into fundamentalism."

"Are you alright?" asked Jonathan with genuine concern. Maddy looked slightly pale and shaken by what she'd seen. You could say 'green around the gills'. But that would be sad.

"I just needed some fresh air and a little sit down". She smiled back at him, warmed by his consideration. Although not a trait she was blessed with herself, she appreciated it in others.

A large man in his forties appeared at the open door of the lighthouse. A playful head of grey hair topped his friendly features, but he looked tired and distressed. "Are you Madeline Magellan?" he shouted to them over the sound of cutting.

The DI glanced at the newcomer with a look of distrust. "Malcolm Berrie. No known previous convictions, questioned under caution but released pending further enquires", he said conspiratorially to Maddy and JC, by way of a police-style introduction.

The interior of the lighthouse was a rabbit warren of odd shaped rooms and steep flights of steps. It had been extensively re-modelled since being decommissioned in the early seventies. Jonathan scrutinised the heavy wooden door and three-foot thick walls. He appeared satisfied all was as it should be. Then, as the four of them climbed upward, Malcolm went over much of what they already knew. In the kitchen on the second floor, he pointed to the telephone on the kitchen table and said, "I was sitting just there when I called her. I think I know my own wife's voice, although convincing the police is proving difficult. They imagine I'm mistaken, or lying, don't you?" He aimed his last observation directly at DI Titney.

The copper remained unmoved and rolled out a well-rehearsed line. "We're continuing with our investigation, Mr Berrie. It would be wrong of me to comment on specifics at this time."

Maddy walked over to the 'phone and pressed redial. "We've already done that", commented the officer. Seconds later a woman's voice on the other end of the line said, "Good Morning, Muloorina hotel. How may I help you?", in what passed for a posh accent in Australia.

"Good morning", said Maddy, in what passed for a polite way. "Could you tell me if you have a Mrs Berrie from England staying with you at the moment?"

"Oh", said the woman, "You're from the British police too? I told you guys she left with the rest of her team last night. They're working on a dig up at Platypus Spit, the old Aboriginal burial site. It's about six hours by Toyota from here so we've sent the local ranger to find her and tell her she's dead. I don't know how she'll take the news."

"Ok, thanks very much for the information", said Maddy.

"No worries", said the woman, unable to resist becoming racially stereotyped, and hung up.

The lounge was on the third floor. A young policeman was watching the television from the sofa as a video whirred away. A black and white picture, broken by noise bars, jumped on the screen. The view was of the empty ground directly in front of the buildings only door. Suddenly the door swung instantly open, a grey haired man, Malcolm Berrie, stepped out at ten times normal speed, seemed shocked, ran forward out of the frame and ran back into the house almost immediately. The time displayed at the bottom of the screen, 06:09, the date 07-03-00. The officer used a remote control to stop the tape, rewound it and pressed pause as his Inspector appeared at the top of the stairs. Berrie, Creek and Maddy followed him in, one by one. "Perfect timing sir", said the younger policeman smugly. "I rather think this tape holds some very telling evidence."

"Well then. You'd better press play", the DI responded gravely.

Now running at normal speed, the video showed the door opening, Berrie appeared, stood stock still for a moment in shock, dashed out of shot towards the gate, and within ten seconds sprinted the best he could back inside, leaving the door wide open. The policeman paused the tape with a triumphant flick of the wrist.

"Just as I've described it fifty times", said Malcolm, indignantly. "I came out, saw her, ran out, realised she was in a terrible state and ran back into the house to call an ambulance on the 'phone by the door. And then you chaps, for all the good it's done." he added sourly.

The DI seemed angry. "If that's so, mister Berrie, why did you leave this doctored tape in the machine downstairs for us to find? What was there on the real tape you didn't want us to see? Or perhaps there is no real tape? Perhaps you turned off that camera last night because you knew it'd show something you didn't want witnessed?"

"What on Earth are you talking about? That's the tape I put in the machine to record last night! I, I-" stuttered Berrie, angry and confused. He began to quietly sob.

Titney pointed at the still image on the screen. "That tape is four months old. March, Mister Berrie. March."

Jonathan, who'd been trying to interrupt, finally managed to get a word in edgeways. "July."

Everyone in the room swivelled to look at him. He shrugged off the unhappy glowers of the policemen and continued. "I noticed on the way in that the camera had the name 'Opticorp' stamped on it. They're an American firm that makes all kinds of small video equipment. You might remember that tiny radio-pen-cam thing of Adams, Maddy? That's one of theirs."

"What's your point?" asked the DI, crossly.

"The point is, that", he pointed at the date, "doesn't say the seventh of March, it says the third of July. Today's date. The Americans just swap the first two numbers around."

"Why?" asked the not-too-bright policeman on the sofa.

Jonathan looked at him. "I don't know. They call pavements 'sidewalks', spell colour without a 'u' and you have to remember to ask for an 'eraser'. I suppose they just like to be different. My parents live in Philadelphia and send me video postcards sometimes. I've noticed the date thing before."

The policemen had a quick hushed conversation before they both headed back downstairs, the hot looking DI treating Jonathan to a special glare as he passed.

Creek wandered the room as Maddy made soothing noises to Berrie on the sofa. Malcolm was either a fine actor somehow missed by the RSC, Jonathan told himself as he poked at the rooms objet d'art, or a genuine grieving widower. Grief didn't mean he hadn't killed his wife, but it did suggest he hadn't wanted her dead. So what does that tell us, JC mused, an accident? He was inspecting an ancient human skull being used as a paperweight when a couple of photos of Malcolm and his wife, Catherine, particularly caught his eye. For a separated couple they were laughing and smiling a lot. They were waving at the camera, standing outside a large Victorian house, complete with basement. Another picture showed Malcolm outside the same house handing a key to a similar looking shorter man as he stepped out of a big van. The house was across the end of a road, where either side newer homes had been built. Something in the picture, other than Malcolm himself, looked terribly familiar, but Jonathan just couldn't see it. "Where's this?" he asked as he handed the framed pictures to Berrie.

"Err", he started, hesitantly. "That's where Kate and I used to live just up the road in Ashford". He gave a wet sniff. "And that one's me and my younger brother, Clive. He bought the place off of us in about eighty-eight or nine when he split from his own wife and we moved up here".

"He still lives locally then?" asked Maddy, to which Malcolm nodded in affirmation.

Maddy continued, "I'm surprised he's not here to offer some comfort himself."

"Oh, we're not very close," said Berrie with a trace of sorrow in his voice. "He's not been up here for six months or more, though we talk on the phone. He owns an international artwork transportation business and travels all over the world. I think he's in Canada at the moment, delivering something huge, expensive and beautiful to the Montreal Museum of Modern Art."

Maddy continued with her subtle interview. "I'm told your wife and you were separated?"

"She moved out a couple of months ago. She has- um, had, a thing in her bonnet about these letters I've been receiving from some damn Yank cranks. It'd been eating away at her for months. She was convinced we'd wake up one morning to find two hundred of them waiting outside for us with a huge human sacrificial pyre made from wicker. I told her she was being silly. I even bought that camera and an alarm system for the house to make her feel more secure but it was no good." He began sobbing again at the memory, so Jonathan carefully replaced the pictures and waved Maddy out of the room to follow him.

"Speaking of the police, you've made a friend there", joked Maddy a few minutes later as they climbed a ladder towards the Lighthouses viewing platform. It ran all the way around the lighthouse just below the lamp room itself.

"Professional pride never likes a swift kick in the goolies. Especially from someone who looks like a twitcher", agreed Jonathan, trying not to look up at Maddy above him. Although she was wearing trousers, viewed from below, her bottom looked like it could kill.

"I've never seen a copper go that shade before", said Maddy conversationally. "As red as a Lobster."

JC gave a tut. "Didn't you promise me a totally sea creature free day?"

"Actually, I didn't. Why are you so crabby? Are you feeling eel? Have you pulled a mussel?"

Jonathan assumed that somewhere at her flat Maddy had a weighty volume called 'The Big Book of Puns". If it existed, he would use all his remarkable skills to find and burn it.

Maddy reached the top of the ladder and swung the heavy hatch open. She clambered out into the bright light, blinking against the sun. Jonathan followed her onto the exposed platform. To their right was the octagonal greenhouse of the lamp itself, disused now and shielded behind huge rotatable lenses. To their left, white railings, well streaked with rust, separated them from sixty feet of fresh air. They both lent out to look down on the white tent being dismantled beneath them as one of the Land Rovers was driven away.

"You know", said Jonathan. "It's only just struck me, but don't those railings look a long way away from the foot of the tower from up here?"

Maddy gazed down. "I see what you mean". She looked back to Jonathan's honest face, "But I don't see what you mean, if you know what I mean?"

Jonathan enlightened her. "If she was out here and just slipped or was pushed over the edge wouldn't she'd fall straight down into the garden?" He picked a small stone up off of the platforms edge and tossed it lightly into space. They watched it fall and land about ten feet short of the fence.

"So she jumped?" hazarded Maddy.

Jonathan ripped his eyes away from the railing points below and walked across to stare off across the Strait of Dover. "How far can you jump from a standing start?" he asked.

Maddy appeared at his shoulder. "About five or six feet I suppose. It's been a while since I last measured my standing jumps. You know how it is. I've been meaning to get round to it but it's so hard to find the time these days, what with my busy career and jet-set lifestyle."

With a test rattle of the platforms own substantial railings Jonathan gave a non-committal "Hmmm". He continued to circle the tower as Maddy followed him.

"And this fence would stop her running and leaping to her death, wouldn't it?" said Maddy, echoing JC's own unspoken thoughts. "You're not even sure she was ever up here, are you?"

"I assumed she must have been, but the more I look at it, the less likely it sounds. There is more than one way to end up on the top of that fence after all. Plus, of course, we still have the problem of the whole Australia thing. It's just not possible to get back here that fast, so either Mrs Berrie on the phone was a fake…. " He paused a while to think and watch the seabirds. They flocked to this stretch of the south coast for the RSPB sanctuary, with all the free gourmet food and five-star roosting with on-suite bathing facilities it offered.

Maddy was lost in her own thoughts too. The sun was playing on the waves of the English Channel in a very pleasing way, twinkling like a million stars. Seagulls were crying and turning in the updraft from the cliffs. A cooling sea breeze brushed the whole calming scene. Her earlier anger washed away, Maddy turned to Jonathan with eyes full of mischief. She was about to suggest they join the sixty-foot high club when a larger bird appeared amongst the gulls. It was green and black, slightly smaller than the similar looking Cormorant.

Jonathan pointed to it, oblivious to Maddys amorous interlude, and said, "Isn't that a Shag?"

She turned away in disgust and frustration. "Chance would be a fine thing", she muttered to herself and made a beeline for the hatchway down. The man, clearly, was trying to drive her berserk by playing hard-to-get. Well, if that was what he wanted, that was what he was going to get. Two could play that game. At least for short periods.

Malcolm Berrie was waiting for them at the foot of the ladder, holding two cups of tea. "I'm so sorry. With all that's been going on I completely forgot to thank you earlier. I'm so glad you could come to try and help, Miss Magellan. When I asked James, err, Rollingson, my solicitor, to contact your publishers I had no idea you'd be able to get here so soon."

Maddy stepped back onto the concrete floor and turned to Malcolm. "Thank you, Mister Berrie. Or can I call you Malcolm? I always like to get stuck in straight away. Get right to the point of things." She realised what she was saying as Malcolms face began to crease. She mumbled her apologies and made a dash for the stairs, but was stopped when a cup of tea was thrust at her.

Malcolm looked up at Jonathan, now descending the ladder himself, and patronised him a little. "And I owe you, young man, my thanks too. I was impressed how you dealt with my houseguests downstairs. I called the police so they could piece together how this terrible thing happened to my wife", his lower lip began to wobble again. "But instead they just seem to want to ask me the same daft questions over and over again". He was close to tears again.

Maddy tried to comfort him. In her best reassuring and calming tones she said, "I suppose they just don't like the answers you're giving, Malcolm. You know the police. They get one version of events into their heads and they hate to get pushed off track". All three made their way down some flights of steps back towards the utilised levels of the lighthouse.

As they passed the open door to Malcolms bedroom they were surprised to see the DI on his hands and knees, rummaging in the bottom of a fitted cupboard. Of course, all the cupboards were fitted in the lighthouse, since the walls were curved.

The DI reappeared holding a running shoe. "We do have a warrant to make a search," he said in explanation. "Did this belong to your wife, Mr. Berrie?"

"Yes, it's one she left behind when she moved out. If you look hard enough you'll find another one just like it". Malcolms' voice was tinged with regret.

"Don't get funny with me now just because you've got your crime fighting duo. For the moment I'm just looking for yes and no answers from you, ok?"

"It's probably best not to argue", whispered Maddy with about 20% more sense and 40% more tact than was usual for her. She manoeuvred Malcolm away down towards his study.

Jonathan remained, hovering on the landing, curious as to what the Inspector was inspecting.

"Oh come in", barked the DI. "I'm in no mood to play silly buggers. You want to know what fascination Mrs. Berries shoes hold for me. Frankly I'd like your view on this as well. You may have embarrassed me in-front of a junior officer over that videotape date thing", he spat the words out, "but that's far preferable to me embarrassing myself in-front my superiors. I'm not too proud a man to admit that." He produced the shoe that was found in the garden. It was sealed inside a clear evidence bag. He tossed it over to Jonathan as he stood up. "Tell me what this shoe says to you."

Jonathan held it up to his ear in an ill-fated effort to lighten the atmosphere, then, catching the less-than-amused expression on the policeman's face, he began to turn it over in his hands, looking at it very carefully through the plastic bag.

"It's a woman's high-heeled evening shoe", he began, stating the obvious. "Size four, in remarkably good condition." He poured closer over the stiletto in surprise. "No, actually in perfect condition. It looks unworn, except there's a dark brown mark from a foot inside."

"And this one?" The DI passed Jonathan the shoe he'd just liberated from the deepest recesses of the closet.

Again JC turned the shoe over in his hands, pausing for a moment to study a detail a little more closely. "It's a woman's training style shoe, in, and I'm sure this is pivotal, size six. Well worn and still in need of an Odour-Eater"

"Put the two together and what do you have?"

Creek held a very different shoe in each hand. "A woman with one leg three inches shorter and a foot two sizes smaller than the other, who jogs on the spot a lot but only with the good leg? I know it's far-fetched but it has the unmistakable ring of truth to it, wouldn't you say?"

The DI marched Jonathan into Malcolms overflowing study. Jonathan's own workroom often looked to the unaided eye like it had been at ground zero of a meteor strike, but of course there was a very special form of order in the chaos on his desk. Berries room, on the other hand, looked as if it had been arranged by whirlwind and tidied by earthquake. Again almost certainly the study had its own specific brand of order, but it would have taken a team of scientists years of, err, study, to discover it. Ape skulls seemed to be pressed into service as bookends to files, fat and overflowing with paper. Jonathan joined Maddy and Malcolm amongst the silent mayhem.

The DI faced them all. "Two questions, Mister Berrie. Firstly, do you recognise this as one of your wife's shoes?" He held out the black shoe found in the garden for the man to see.

"I don't think so. It's not really her style. A bit too 'tarty'. She never was one for overly impractical footwear."

"Thank you. Secondly, what shoe size does your wife take?"

"She took a size five-and-a-half to six, depending where she was shopping."

"Took, Mister Berrie?"

"Yes, took. What kind of game are you playing?" Berrie was becoming distressed again.

Jonathan put a hand on the older mans shoulder. "I think Detective Inspector Titney has some good news for you."

"Indeed I do. I suspect, Mister Berrie, that the woman you found on your fence this morning was not your wife."

Jonathan was carrying a thick file as Maddy and he climbed back aboard her Volvo and waved their goodbyes to Malcolm, who seemed like a new man, before crunching away off down the road-cum-farm track.

"What the hell did you make of all that?" pondered Maddy, flicking the cars headlights on against the gathering dusk.

"I thought it was all quite obvious", said Jonathan.

"You've got to be kidding!" exploded Maddy.

"Yes", agreed Creek, unable to keep the pretence up for long. "I'm going to need a bit of time on this one. I can see a facet of something here, something very clever. I'm just not quite sure what fits where or why yet. It's like a dropped tea plate. Lots of unlikely shaped pointy bits which when correctly arranged together make a sensible, circular, whole."

"You do talk some nonsense sometimes." observed Maddy. "I noticed a little hotel in Fairfield-on-sea as we drove through it", she ventured in hope. "We can stay down here while we work on this. I need to write up my notes why they're still fresh in my mind. And you, " she added, looking at his pale face, "still look like you could use the sea air and a stiff drink."

"Ok", agreed JC, too distracted by the mystery to argue. "What am I missing?" he mused.

The hotel was a friendly, family-run establishment. The chatty barmaid eventually left the two of them sitting like an old married couple in the quiet bar, sipping their drinks and finishing something from the bar food menu.

Maddy was talking. Jonathan wasn't surprised. "Detective Inspector Titney said he'd call me on my mobile with the results of the facsimile-wife's autopsy tomorrow. It's amazing what someone's stomach contents can tell you about what they were doing before they died."

"Thanks Maddy", said Jonathan sourly, suddenly loosing interest in his chips.

"Don't you want those?" Maddy pounced on the plate before he could reply like a vulture onto the carcass of an antelope. She began feeding but didn't let it stop her talking. "So how's this shaping up in that curly topped head of yours? I think we share the feeling Malcolm is as straight as a die, but that doesn't tell us who killed a woman who is the spitting image his wife and stuck her on his railings. Or how. Or why…. Or is Mr. Smarty-pants going to prove Malcolm murdered his wife's evil long-lost twin sister, using a box of tissues and a spanner, to cover up his involvement with illegal, neo-nazi genetic experiments?"

Jonathan sat back and fixed her with his most playful look. "Evil twins? You've got a great imagination Maddy, no wonder you're a journalist. No, not a spanner, but perhaps a hammer?"

Maddy was intrigued. "A hammer? You think she was killed by a bash to the head and just got draped on the spikes to cover up the cause of death? I guess that would explain how she got there. While we're on the subject of covering up, why are you still wearing the damn duffel coat? It's the middle of summer, Jonathan. Aren't you boiling to death in there?"

"She wasn't just draped on the spikes, though, was she? She had more holes than this pepper pot." replied JC, selectively. He picked up the condiment to illustrate. "It wouldn't look convincing unless she was properly impaled. So how's this for an idea? Her body was carefully positioned and then, sorry, this is a bit sick, she was, err, tapped into position with a big hammer. You'd need to use a lump of wood or something to spread the impact, to avoid leaving any tell-tail marks on her back."

"That is sick", agreed Maddy, now pushing the last of the chips away too. "Why'd you have to come up with a nauseating thing like that? You know I get squeamish".

"It's not very good but it's the only explanation I can think of at the moment", said Jonathan. "We know she didn't fall from the lighthouse, so what other alternatives are there? I suppose what the DI said about helicopters or blimps could just about be done with a bit of careful aiming, but how do you practice a thing like that? If the plan is to dispose of a body, why not just drop it out to sea? No." he said, shaking his head, "It's no coincidence that she was found there. That woman was specifically outside that building for a reason. But what could it be?"

Maddy was nodding, projecting Jonathan's line of reasoning as she continued. "What's the motive, given the girl was never going to pass as the real Mrs Berrie for very long, you mean? It was a remarkably striking resemblance but it wouldn't hold up under close, calm scrutiny. Her fingerprints won't match any in the lighthouse, we know her shoe-size was wrong, then there are dental records… The list goes on. Plus the real Mrs. Berrie is bound to reappear".

Their meal finished Maddy and Jonathan headed for their rooms, plural. Just as Creek was about to disappear behind the old wooden door of his room for the night, Maddy noticed a 5p-sized spot of something on his duffel coat. "What's that?" she asked, pointing to the black mark.

Jonathan lifted the corner of his coat to his face to get a clear look. "It's just paint", he said dismissively. "I must have brushed against something wet. Damn. Oh well, I'll try a dab of thinners when I get home. Night Maddy." He gave a yawn to press the point home.

"Goodnight Jonathan", said Maddy, suddenly cross with herself for vowing to remain aloof and hard-to-get. There were times, numerous ones, when she played hard-to-get with the very clear intention of getting gotten in the end. This clearly was one of those times and Jonathan should have the decency to act accordingly. She needed some hot duffel action.

He gave her a last weak smile and disappeared behind his door.

Maddy turned on her heel and stalked off to her own room in high dudgeon.

As he undressed for bed, Jonathan noticed the folder he'd been given to scrutinise by Malcolm again. He opened it and began to read the abusive letters it contained. They were all addressed to Malcolm Berrie and propertied to be from The Brotherhood of the Living Saviour. The envelopes were postmarked Utah. From what Creek had been told the American authorities had never tracked down the organisation to ask them, politely, to stop. One particular missive drew Jonathan's attention:

…The evil words in the abhorrent book you have written are the very words of Satan himself. You are no better than the maggots that live on the festering bodies of the souls that dwell beside him in Hades. You are a mindless immoral wanker, just like those who believe the filthy lies you peddle. Your time to join him is at hand...

"That's very odd", said Jonathan to himself, reading the passage for a second time.

The next morning dawned as bright and summery as the last, and as Malcolm opened his front door to the world he was glad to find it wasn't spoilt this time by a bloody body on his railings. He looked with dismay at the ugly bite out of them, made when the police cut a section away to remove the corpse. Although he felt a respectable level of pity for the poor unfortunate woman concerned, he was no longer weighed down with grief for his wife. The firm hope that she was still alive, albeit in Australia, put a bounce in his step as he went to look for the roof rack for his car. The sooner his life was back to normal the happier he'd be, and the first step was to fix the damned fence.

Maddy awoke to the cry of gulls. When she realised she was hugging her pillow again she tossed it roughly aside. Meanwhile Jonathan was cleaning his teeth and pulling his eyes open as he inspected his face in the mirror. He was definitely looking better. The coastal life agreed with him, he decided. Two weeks cooped up in his windmill devising new tricks had made him pasty. Pastier. He wasn't cut out to be a hermit, he told himself. (Or, indeed, any kind of crab, his droll and treacherous sub-conscious added for him)

At over a hearty breakfast at the hotel, Maddy blagged a large scale Ordnance Survey map from a rambling fellow diner. They craned over it, studying the area around the lighthouse. There was the farm, the winding access road, Fairfield-on-sea and the nuclear power station at Dungeness. After a ten-minute discussion about the likelihood of the involvement of BNFL, which saw them no closer to making sense of the thing, Maddy handed the map back to a small bearded man with a bobble hat. He was thankful.

"So what's the plan for today?" asked Maddy, giving the impression to Jonathan that he was somehow in-charge.

"I thought we might take another look around Malcolms place", said JC, buttering his toast. He made the point of always eating the crusts, which explained much. "I know I'm missing something. Something I saw in that house. You know me. We'll just have to spend the day waiting for my lock to turn and something to click. What I need is a key".

Maddy understood what he meant. "A quick walk along the seafront to wake us up and then we'll go, ok? We can go to the rock-pools and look for starfish if you like. Oops, sorry".

When Malcolm opened his front door twenty minutes after returning from his shopping trip, his intrepid postman had been. Amongst the Readers Digest unmissable offers and other postal flotsam was a letter in a plain white envelope postmarked Dover, the address typed. Malcolm gave his hands a good wipe before he opened it at his kitchen table and read inside:

Malcolm, Kate is alive and well. I am sorry you have been caused such pain. A friend.

The letter was typed and gave no obvious clue as to who had sent it. He turned it over in his hands, initially unsure what to do. A moment later Malcolm was calling Maddys mobile number. Sadly the Orange answer-phone service couldn't help him so he left a quick summary, hung up and telephoned the number DI Titney had pressed on him.

Half an hour later, both cars arrived at the turning to the Dancers End Farm at the same time but from different directions. In a crash it would have been hard to say which car would have come off worse. What the police Land Rover gained on weight, Maddys Volvo gained on proven indestructibility. As it was, DI Titney saw Maddys look of determination and broke to let her cut in front of him. Both cars drew up together in front of the lighthouse in a shower of gravel. In the race to get to the front door the policeman won track position and led the field home. While they waited for Malcolm to attend to their knocking, Jonathan glanced at the railings and noticed with some surprise that they were whole again. Something went click.

Malcolm showed the three in and handed the DI the note, which he accepted with a pair of tweezers, plastic evidence bag at the ready. They carried on up to the kitchen for better light and comfy seats, and to closer inspect their new prize.

"Well, this is a very interesting piece", said Titney, sounding like an escapee from The Antiques Road Show.

Maddy peered over his shoulder, something she could do only because the DI was sitting down, and said, "It's a bit over-familiar, isn't it? Why not write 'your wife', 'Mrs. Berrie' or even 'Catherine?' It's all a bit fishy". She gave JC a look which said 'sorry' but didn't really mean it.

Jonathan disregarded her pseudo-funny comment. "I think you've hit the nail on the head, Maddy. Perhaps someone made a bit of a mistake with this. Let's piece it together. It's obviously someone who knew the Berries first names, and that Catherine got called Kate".

"It's someone who's worried about Malcolm? Perhaps thought he might, err, do something to hurt himself?" tried Maddy.

The DI continued, "Typed by someone who wanted to disguise his or her handwriting."

"Yes", agreed Creek. "But perhaps that's so Malcolm could have written it himself".

Malcolms turned on Jonathan, "How can you sit there and say that? I-" His voice trailed off as he became too angry to speak. He began to positively glow incandescently with rage.

Jonathan was shocked and quickly explained. "Sorry! Sorry. That's not what I meant at all. I just thought a note like that could be looked on as suspiciously vague. Which may be the nucleus of this whole thing…."

You could see it in his eyes. It was like watching someone do one of those hidden 3D pictures that were popular a few years ago for the first time. His eyes glazed as an image loomed at him from out of the scramble of colours and shapes in his mind.

He gave a huge smile at the bemused faces of the three others in the room and dashed off upstairs, hair bobbing and coat flapping. "I'll just be a moment," he called back to them. "I've got to check something." The sound of light rummaging drifted down from above…

Maddy, Malcolm and the DI returned quickly to firmer conversational ground.

"So now we know the woman on the fence wasn't Kate, who the hell was she?" asked a bemused Maddy. Jonathan's odd behaviour must be ignored, she told herself.

"That bit is easy," said the DI. "Her fingerprints matched some the Metropolitan boys have on file. She'd been in quite a bit of trouble with the law in the past. Three convictions for-"

"Don't tell me," said Jonathan as he returned down the stairs. "Soliciting?"

The Policeman continued unperturbed. "Yes that's right. She was Jenny Annette Amberghast. She worked as a prostitute in and around Rochester. How did you know?"

Maddy gave Jonathan a suspicious look. It had suddenly occurred to her that the reason they'd never really sparkled in bed together was that she didn't have a tariff of charges or a professionals extensive repertoire. The thought had her mind working in peculiar ways.

Jonathan caught her look and deciphered the first half of it. "No, no. Nothing like that. It's just something you said", addressing Malcolm, "about her tarty shoes. I thought tarty was just about the right word. As it happens it's the shoes which were the key to this whole thing."

"Yes, we know", said Maddy. "The girl on the fence, err, Jenny, was a size four but Catherine takes a size six."

"No, it wasn't that", continued Creek, warming to his audience and subject matter. "But there's more, isn't there Inspector?" He faced the copper. "She'd dyed her hair to get it as close to Catherine's shade of blonde as she could. I noticed a hint of dark roots yesterday. It's only a suggestion of something but it got my mind working in the right general direction."

"Where is this leading, Mister Creek?" asked the DI.

"When you factor in the repair I noticed on the way in that you've done to your railings, Malcolm, and the infamous missing episode of 'Mork and Mindy' a little thing like that starts to seem like a meaningful point on the graph."

Maddy, Malcolm and DI Titney all looked at him as if he was as mad as the product of an unholy union between Charles Manson and a Red Setter.

"If you add the clue of this spot of paint I got on my Duffel yesterday," he held up the corner of his coat for inspection, "and then consider this picture". He held the framed shot that he'd brought downstairs of Malcolm and his brother across his chest. "Then your most recent letter starts to look more than a little significant. It is, in fact, the key to this whole sorry affair"

Malcolm gawped at the picture. "What on Earth does any of this mean? What am I looking for in there?"

Jonathan pointed at the house, or more particularly the railings that separated the pit in front of the basements windows from the rest of the world.

Whodunit? And How? And why? It all makes sense when you read:
Mystery at the Old Light Part two: The nuts and bolts of the crime

Paul Smith. February 2000 E-mail me: