Chapter 9 - Bees and wasps

“As I told the inspector, I came into the room when I heard Molly – Miss Dudgen – cry out. I rushed in to see a dark, ghostly figure, a giant spirit with great wings and black rags, pointing at her. Then Miss Dudgen clutched at herself and died. I had the police contacted as soon as I had regained my wits.” Mrs Lively was quite beautiful, though there was something pointed about her, and she seemed irritated at being questioned again, particularly by a pair of investigators not even in their teenage years.
The lady of the house was seated on an ornate sofa in a large, light parlour, to which she had retired after leaving the scene of the crime. I sat opposite, while Trelawny drooped nearby. Hemlock paced, agitatedly.
“And was the window open?” Hemlock asked.
“I’ve no idea. I hadn’t been in the room that day.”
“And how did you feel, when you saw Miss Dudgen?”
“Shocked. Horrified. I think I shrieked for help and, when Chalmers arrived, he led me away and the other staff dealt with... everything.” Mrs Lively’s hands worried at a silk handkerchief on her lap. Suddenly, her hands flew up to her face and she sobbed, once. “Poor Molly!”
Inspector Trelawny immediately moved to comfort her, despite the obvious wedding ring on her hand. He was so quick I’d barely begun to move to comfort her myself and he was there.
Hemlock was staring intently at a small picture in a frame above the fireplace of the large, airy living room. It was a picture of two men standing side-by-side in a small laboratory, surrounded by springs and wiring and coils. One of them held a small device of some kind, though the photo was too blurry to make out what.
“Is this Mr Lively?”
“Yes, that’s Anthony,” Mrs Lively replied.
“With Nikola Tesla?” Hemlock asked.
“Why… Yes.” Mrs Lively replied, seeming as surprised as I by Hemlock recognizing the eccentric and unconventional inventor.
“So, Mr Lively knows Tesla then. He is a scientist as well?”
“Yes, Anthony is a scientist and inventor of a new kind of light bulb.”
Hemlock turned her back to the fireplace, “Working with electricity I presume, given his associations?”
Mrs Lively nodded. A sharp, curt motion. “Quite so.”
“And Mister Tesla is a business associate? They seem to be familiar with one another.”
“They… were business partners and friends for a time yes.”
“Oh? What happened?”
Mrs Lively did not seem to appreciate this line of questioning but, after a brief pause, she replied, “They disagreed over some scientific point or other. Mr Tesla could not see Anthony’s genius, lacked his vision.”
“And this disagreement ended the friendship?”
“I wouldn't have said they were ever friends, not really,” replied Miss Lively flatly.
Hemlock’s face was unreadable. “Tell me, Miss Lively. Was anyone else involved in the business with Tesla? An inventor of the name of Bantam, for instance?”
“This has nothing to do with poor Molly Dudgen!” Mrs Lively cried out suddenly, bringing her handkerchief to her face once more.
Hemlock looked intently at Miss Lively.
“You’re quite right, my apologies. I just have one further question: What was stolen?”
“Hemlock,” I whispered, “the poor woman is clearly distraught. Give her a moment.”
Hemlock continued, unperturbed. “Apologies, Mrs Lively, but could you please tell me what was stolen?”
“Stolen?” the lady dabbed at her eyes with the handkerchief. “Why, nothing.”
Trelawny also looked askance at us. “Indeed, a ghost could hardly be expected to carry anything away.” He stepped closer and added, conspiratorially, “And nothing was taken from the restaurant where this strange figure struck before.”
“You’re quite right inspector, I must have been mistaken.”
I was shocked. Hemlock, admitting she was wrong about something? I couldn’t help but be suspicious.
“Well, if there’s nothing further to ask Mrs Lively, we should take our leave.”
Hemlock nodded. “I quite agree, though I’d appreciate one last look at the body if possible.”
“Fine,” the inspector replied. “With your leave, Mrs Lively?”
“Of course, Inspector, thank you. And, if you are done, please can you have the body removed? I cannot sleep knowing it is in the house.”
“Of course, madam. I’ll have it removed within the hour.”
We left Mrs Lively and returned to the body. Hemlock knelt down over Miss Dudgen and began to gently run her hands over the corpse’s hands and wrists, then around the face and neck. Then back to the hands again.
I waited, not wanting to interrupt Hemlock when she was clearly concentrating, her eyes half-closed.
Suddenly, they snapped open and she smiled in what I would say was grim satisfaction. She held on to one of the maid’s wrists and reached into an inside pocket of her coat. Pulling out a pair of tweezers, she held the wrist close to her face and plucked at the cold skin. She held up the tweezers and looked at me, a triumphant glint in her large green eyes.
“What have you got there?” I asked.
“As I suspected all along,” Hemlock replied, glancing at Trelawny, “it’s a sting.”
“What sort of sting? What do you mean?” I said.
“I believe it’s the sting of the creature that is responsible for the death of Miss Dudgen.” Hemlock removed a small glass vial and dropped the sting inside before sealing it with a cork stopper. Then she crouched down and slid her hands beneath the corpse. “Edward, help me please.”
Very reluctantly, I knelt down beside Hemlock and placed my hands on the body, carefully avoiding any bare flesh. I could feel my face twisted in a grimace.
“Eddie, I need you to just roll her a little, so I can feel underneath her, all right?”
I couldn’t bring myself to draw the breath to reply, so I nodded once and heaved.
Miss Dudgen was considerably heavier to move than I thought. I struggled to lift her, but succeeded only in shuffling her an inch away from us.
“Again, but this time try to actually lift her please, Eddie.”
“She’s surprisingly hea—”
“Now, Eddie!”
I heaved. The body shifted and rose ever so slightly.
Hemlock slid her hands under the corpse, moving them around.
“Hurry,” I grunted.
“Got it!” Hemlock exclaimed, snatching her hands back as I lost my hold on Miss Dudgen. The corpse slumped back and I half-leapt, half-jumped backwards.
“What did you get?” I asked, staring at my hands and then at Miss Dudgen. “And I need to wash my hands. Right now.”
“The sting of the creature that killed this woman,” said Hemlock, “belonged to a bee. It’s a bee sting.”
Trelawny snorted. “Preposterous notion, Miss Jones. Bees don’t kill people. Murderers with knives and bludgeons kill people. Besides which, the witness clearly reports a spectral figure, not a bee.”
“Nevertheless, Inspector. A bee killed her. Or, more likely, several.”
Trelawny tugged at the corners of his mouth. “Is the London Metropolitan Police Force to apprehend a swarm of bees, Miss Jones? Or a hive perhaps? I knew I shouldn’t have agreed to let two children anywhere near this investigation. Miss Dudgen expired due to natural causes, linked to an inexplicable vision or nervous episode of some kind. Unless you can prove otherwise and find me evidence of a murder, I will be closing this case, and that of Professor Bantam.”
“Inspector,” pleaded Hemlock. “If you give us just a little time, I will find your murderer. I’d very much like to have some time to examine and consider various aspects of this case. If you don’t mind, I’d like to take the glass jar,” she indicated the jar holding open the window.
The Inspector sighed. “Fine. I suppose that would be acceptable,” he replied, sounding somewhat glum. “I will expect a report from you within the week. With leads. One week, Jones.”
“That’s prepos –” I spluttered.
“Absolutely. I’ll have an idea as to the murderer, or the sort of person you should consider might be the murderer, within three days.”
“Three days, Hemlock? There’s no way – ”
“Three days,” Hemlock said firmly.
“Very well, Miss Jones. I will expect to hear from you then. For now, I’ll ask you to leave so I can have this body removed.”
Hemlock retrieved the jar from the window, and I noticed her drop what looked very much like a slightly squashed, dead bee in to it, before secreting the jar in a pocket.
We removed ourselves from the room, closing the door behind us. Mrs Lively drifted in to the hall. Her expression was cold, though I attributed this to a cool demeanour to cover nerves and the horror of witnessing someone die.
Trelawny addressed the lady of the house. “We’ll be taking our leave now, madam. I’ll be sending men round to… ah… see to...”
Her smile was tight, forced. “Thank you, Inspector.”
I stepped up and extended my hand. “My sincerest condolences, Mrs Lively. I assure you that Miss Jones and I will do our utmost to discover what happened to poor Miss Dudgen.”
She shook my hand. “I’m quite sure that you will, Master Whitlow,” Mrs Lively replied, accentuating certain words to suggest she was very much relying on me.
I blushed and cleared my throat. “Ahem, yes, well. Good day, Mrs Lively.”
Hemlock stepped forward to shake Mrs Lively’s hand. Mrs Lively did not return the gesture. She looked Hemlock in the eye and simply said, “Good day, Miss Jones.” She turned to her butler. “Chalmers, see Miss Jones and these gentlemen out please.”
 Hemlock led the way, clumping out in to the early dusk. The inspector headed for the still waiting cab.
“I can tell the driver to take you back to Baker Street.”
“No need, thank you, Inspector. Edward and I can walk, it isn’t far.”
“Very well. Three days then.”
“Three days,” Hemlock confirmed.
Trelawny raised two fingers to his brow as if to tip an imaginary hat at me, before getting into the cab. With a crack of his whip, the driver set the horses in to motion and we were left on the pavement opposite Regents Park.
“Poor Mrs Lively,” I sighed.
Hemlock snorted. “Hardly.”
I rounded on Hemlock, genuinely offended on Mrs Lively’s behalf. “The poor woman witnessed one of her staff murdered before her eyes by a ghost! I think, in those circumstances, she was calm, composed and quite charming! Now stop being so, so... Hemlock! Ugh!” I threw my arms in the air in dismay and began storming off in the direction of Baker Street.
“You’d be quite right, Eddie,” Hemlock said, just loud enough for me to hear over the sound of my own umbrage.
I stopped. “I am? I mean, yes I am right!”
Hemlock joined me. “No, Eddie. You would be right.”
“I can’t be bothered with your silly games, Hemlock. A woman died and for some utterly inexplicable reason you are being –” I was in full flow now.
“You would be right, Eddie, if Mrs Lively wasn’t an accomplice.”
“ – unbelievably cattywhatnow?”
“I would have said she was rather waspish about the entire thing, wouldn’t you?”
“Well, perhaps a little terse, yes. But, that doesn’t make her an accomplice, Hemlock!”
“No, her lying does.” She held up a hand to forestall any protest on my part. “Firstly, she conveniently broke down precisely when I mentioned Mr Bantam, a man we already know was working with Mr Lively.”
“It sounded to me like she only knew Tesla,” I began.
“Secondly,” she continued, ignoring me, “She said that nothing was taken. However, it is abundantly clear that something was taken from the mantelpiece. The absence of any dust was a giveaway.”
“Perhaps she simply didn’t clean?”
“There wasn’t a great deal of dust anywhere, but there was a clear mark on that mantelpiece.”
“She might not have noticed?”
I all but withered under Hemlock’s look. “The Lady of the House? Not notice when something kept in pride of place on a mantelpiece goes missing?”
I conceded the point with a gracious wince. “So, why would she kill her own maid?”
“That,” Hemlock raised one finger to the sky, “is the next mystery to demystify.”

****

Back in the apartment and Hemlock wasted no time in fetching her ridiculous goggles and examining the bee. She removed a large dusty almanac of exotic animals and insects from a shelf and held the bee up against various pictures. I, finally, ate a slice of cake.
I was considering my second slice when Hemlock sat upright and removed the goggles.
“Mystery solved?” I asked.
“I believe so, yes. Though it leads to further questions.”
“So, what have you learnt?”
“It’s a bee, but not like any bee I’ve seen before.” She pointed at several different species of bee in her huge book. “It looks like someone took two bees to make a mongrel bee. A very aggressive, toxic, mongrel bee.”
“Toxic as in deadly?” I asked.
“Yes. Their sting can be fatal,” she said.
“Dying from a bee sting? Extraordinary!”
“Not as extraordinary as you might think. Tribes in South America are wary of the bees there because they are known to kill. But, I’d hardly call killer bees a guaranteed method of murder.”
“Seems a bit risky to me,” I said. “Relying on a bee, or even several, to kill someone. Even if it’s some rare, deadly bee.”
“Not rare. New. A completely new species, sharing attributes of two different bees.”
“Right.” Hemlock had lost me. This sounded suspiciously like science. Worse than that, it sounded theoretical. I was to learn that Hemlock and theoretical anything would often be closely linked.
I continued. “But, even with new killer bees...” I was dubious. Murder by bee seemed unreliable, let alone ridiculous and impractical. Why not simply kill them in a traditional manner?
“Why not simply kill them in a traditional manner?” Hemlock asked aloud.
“What?”
“I said ‘Why not simply murder them –”
“No, I heard,” I interrupted. “It’s just... I was just thinking that.”
Hemlock looked surprised. “You were? Of course you were! I knew that. And, I think I might have an answer – A doctor in Austria has been researching unexpected reactions to particular foods or other stimuli. He hasn’t made his findings public, but I believe that he’s calling it an allergy.”
“What?”
“Some people have reactions to pollen, or bee stings, or a certain food. It can be a rash, or watering eyes, or a severe reaction that results in death.”
She looked at me expectantly.
I pondered. “So, Miss Dudgen had an allergy to bees?”
“Exactly,” said Hemlock. “One or two stings, even from these hybrid bees, would hurt and annoy you or me, but it would be more than enough to kill poor Molly Dugden. If you released just a few of these bees in her presence you'd be as sure to kill her as If you'd stabbed her in the back.”
“And Professor Bantam in the Fern Restaurant...?”
“The soup had an unusual ingredient: peanuts. I suspect Professor Bantam had a life-threatening, indeed deadly, allergy to peanuts.”
“Of course!” I exclaimed. “That’s why you tasted the soup and questioned that little fellow about the ingredients. Very clever, Hemlock.”
She smiled at me with genuine pleasure. My stomach rumbled oddly. I chose to ignore it. “So, mystery solved. Should I send a message to Inspector Trelawny?”
Her smile faltered. “Don’t be absurd, Eddie. We know only the agents of death in these two murders. What of the mysterious Angel of Death? What about the murderer? Who sent the bees? Who poisoned Professor Bantam? And, what links these two murders beyond the extraordinary method of death? We have barely begun to unravel the complex mysteries of this case!”

“The complex mysteries?” I said. “Gosh.”

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