search
date/time
Yorkshire Times
A Voice of the North
frontpagebusinessartscarslifestylefamilytravelsportsscitechnaturefictionwhatson
Duncan Johnstone
Literary Correspondent
7:00 AM 27th August 2021
fiction

James Grant And The Locked Room Mystery

James Grant was dead - at least, had he been five seconds later in getting to the pavement, he would have been. The van which had declared its owner to be a Painter, Decorator, and something else which Grant hadn't had time to see, had missed hitting him by inches. Now he sat in his office trying to regain his breath and inwardly cursing all 'white van men'! The breakfast which he had just consumed at the local 'greasy spoon' cafe was doing something strange in his stomach.

When he had recovered his equilibrium he returned to the matter that had brought him straight from his breakfast a little earlier than usual. It was the strange case of Selma Weatherby which had been brought to his attention by his old friend Detective Inspector Peter Forster who, unofficially, would sometimes refer tricky cases to him. Unbeknown to Forster, the girl's family had also contacted James. (Later they would regret having done so - but that is another story for another time.)

The problem was a tricky one. Selma Weatherby had been found shot dead in her bedroom. This, in itself, was obviously somewhat out of the ordinary, but the case was made stranger by the fact that the room in which her body was found - her bedroom - was locked and bolted from the inside and the window was also locked from the inside. Yet she had been found lying on the floor with a bullet through her heart.

Why all this locking of doors and windows, Grant had wondered. Her parents had told him that there daughter, who would have been twenty two next month, was sometimes of a very nervous disposition and would lock herself in her room when she retired for the night. Grant felt that there was something the parents weren't telling him, but he couldn't work out what it might be.

As he sat and meditated on the problem he read again a verse by Rudyard Kipling which he kept in a frame on his desk.

I keep six honest serving men
(They taught me all I know);
There names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.


At least some, and sometimes all of these questions needed to be faced in each new case.

What - It was clear what had happened. A young woman had been killed.

Why - As yet he had no idea!
When - Sometime between 9.00pm when she had gone to her room, and 10.00am the following morning when the door had been broken down and her body found.
How - By gun shot - but, how had that shot been fired when there was no sign of entry into a locked room?
Where - In the young woman's bedroom.
Who - The victim was a young woman called Selma Weatherby. But who was the perpetrator? No idea.

Thus James Grant reflected on the situation. One man who knew what was going on in the more shady side of life was Eric. If anyone could provide information, Eric was the man. And Grant and Eric were on good terms.

So it was that, half an hour later, James Grant was seated opposite the said Eric at a table in The White Boar.

"Sshs!". whispered Eric. Grant sat suitably quiet.

"Listen!" James realised that Eric was listening to an American couple sat at the next table and speaking loudly.

"Say. Do you think Richard III realty stayed here. The one that lost his horse. Maybe we'll be in the same room!" It was the woman who was speaking.

"Could be, honey", said her husband.

Eric now gave James his attention. "I love 'earing these Yanks. They'll believe anything about British history. 'Spose its cos they aven't any of their on!"

"Right, Guvnor. What can I do for you?"

Eric had heard about the mysterious death of Selma Weatherby.

"An odd bird she was, sure enough", Eric began. James was, as the saying goes, all ears.

"How 'odd'?" he asked.

"Well", continued Eric, "Her parents will have told you that she was very quiet and sensitive, wouldn't say 'boo' to a mouse. But that was only one side of her."

"There was another?"

"Oh yes. It was like she had a split personality. Did you ever see that film The Three Faces of Eve. Got Joanne Woodword in it. Cor. I sure fancied 'er. Anyway, this bird, Eve they called her, had three different personalities. One was a normal common sense young woman, one was a mouse-like creature scared of her own shadow, the third was some kind of vamp who chased any male she could get her hands on. Well, this Selma girl we're talking of - she seems to have skipped the sensible one, and just reverted from mouse to man-eater with no clear reason why."

"So how does this help me?"

"I'm coming to that. It may not be connected, but there was this girl Jenny Davis. J.J. often came in here with her husband. She was very dependent on him, and the marriage seemed a good one until this Selma bird got her hooks into her husband. Jenny found out about it - and topped herself! "

"And this Selma was responsible?"

"That's what most say."

James thanked Eric - although he wasn't sure where the information got him, and left the inn - not before leaving enough cash for Eric to get himself a few drinks.

Sheila was making tea when he got back.

"I've got a job for you", he said. "Well, both of us - but you in particular. I want to go and see Selma's parents again and see in her room. See if you notice anything I've missed. A woman's perspective, you know.

Sheila smiled. "Alright".

It didn't take them long to get to the house that Selma Weatherby had once called 'home'. It was a detached house with reasonable sized gardens back and front. The front garden consisted of a small lawn, bisected by a path to the frontier, and a privet hedge separating it from the pavement and the neighbours on either side.

They were met on the doorstep by Mr & Mrs Weatherby, who still insisted that Selma was a scared and timid young girl who would often go to bed early and lock herself in her room - not only lock, but also bolt the door.
"When did this begin? Locking herself in, I mean", James asked.

"It must have been six or seven years ago", said Mrs Weatherby. "Not long after we were married, wasn't it, Reg?"

"Oh! So you aren't her actual father , then", said James,

Mrs Weatherby answered for her husband. "No. My old man did a runner - then died. But Reg has been a good Dad to her."

Reg still said nothing.

They made no objection when Grant asked if they could see Selma's room again which, surprisingly, was on the ground floor. He suggested that the Weatherby's go and make a cup of tea while he and Sheila looked over the room.

Once the tea makers had gone to get refreshments, James and Sheila went into the bedroom that had been Selma's, and shut the door. Only when James had done this did Sheila say: "There is something about that man that gives me the creeps. The way he looks at me."

"Well. You're a very attractive young lady", replied James.

"It's more than that. Without wishing to seem immodest, men have looked at me before - but somehow he is different. He scares me."

James let it pass.

"I'm not sure what we are looking for", he said, "but let's look anyway."

He cast his eye about the room. It seemed perfectly normal to him - except for the bolt still visible on the door which had been broken down when Selma had failed to appear.

Meanwhile, Sheila rummaged among the drawers.

After a moment she called Grant over.

"This seems to confirm what Eric said about a split personality. See. On top in this draw are some rather unattractive grey cardigans and some very plain skirts. But take them out - and what do you find?"

She was as good as her word. The dowdy clothes removed, beneath were garments that very much suited the femme fatale. They were what James could only describe as "sexy" underwear and what must have been very tight fitting dresses. Also tight, low cut, sweaters. James knew why they called them sweaters - it was the men who saw them who sweated!

Also, in a small box in the corner of the draw, make-up, including bright, scarlet lipstick.

"You wouldn't think these belonged to the same woman", said Sheila.

What she said about this certainly seemed to verify what Eric had said. Two completely different women revealed in one draw of clothing!

"And look what I've found."

With his penknife he had managed to open a cupboard door. The cupboard had not only been locked, but concealed behind a chair. And inside - a set of diaries covering about ten years.

He opened the most recent one. The last entry had been written two days before her death. Nothing unusual except the phrase at the end - "Must remember to lock and bolt my door."

But what made it so strange was that, as he turned back through the pages of the diary this phrase kept on occurring - at the end of almost every entry.

"What do you make of that?"

Sheila did not respond immediately to his question. Rather she said: "Have a look at some of the early years."

"We don't have enough time now. They will be wondering what we are about. It looks as though no one knew about these diaries -so, I'm going to take them away!" Some were in school exercise books, the later ones in hard back page-a -day diaries. Grant had brought his brief case, and, packed tight, they would just fit in.

Mrs Weatherby had made tea which they felt obliged to drink as well as digesting a couple of custard cream biscuits before leaving. Mr Weatherby said nothing, but James, having been given the hint, observed him looking at Sheila. There was definitely something lascivious in his look.
Once away from the house again, Grant asked: "Did you notice anything else?"

"There was one thing - about the room - or in particular, the windows. You saw that they were the old fashioned kind, made up of several small panes. Did you notice the pattern?"

"Noughts and crosses", you mean. "Each pain had a nought and a cross - all the way across the five horizontal and six vertical panes."

"Yes. But did you see anything unusual?" Sheila was enjoying this, She had clearly noticed something he had missed. When he replied that he had not, she smiled broadly.

"The pattern on each pane is o/x, o/x - from one side to the other, right?"

"Right!"

"Well, it isn't". The second pane along in the second row from the bottom is x/o - not o/x. Does that suggest something?"

"Wow! You're not just a pretty face, Sheila!"

"Thank you, kind Sir!"

They went round to the back of the house and the garden onto which the window looked. On examination of the glass pane in question it was possible to see that it had recently been replaced.

So. Part of the mystery seemed to have been solved. The glass pane had been removed, a gun inserted in the gap had killed Selma, and the pane of glass had been replaced. But, in his hurry, the killer had not realised that he had replaced the glass upside down!

That answered the question "How?" But what about "Why?"

Something was nagging at the back of Grant's mind. Something he should have picked up on. Something he had missed. It had to do with his conversation with Eric. Yes. He had it. Eric had referred to the girl who had committed suicide as "J.J", but her name was Jenny Davis.

A return to The White Boar was required. They both went, and Eric, sitting at his usual table, gave an appreciative glance towards Sheila.
"You can bring 'er with yer anytime you like!", he observed.

Grant got straight down to business.

"You called Jenny Davis 'J.J.' Why?"

"Oh. We all called her that. Her maiden name, you see, - Jenny Jenkins."

Of course. The van that had nearly knocked him down. "Painter, Decorator and Glazier" That was the bit he'd missed. And now he recalled the name on the van too - John Jenkins! None other than the brother of Jenny Davis!

Jenkins had been very fond of his sister, and when this tart - so he thought of Selma Weatherby - had caused his sister to take her on life, he couldn't forgive her.

Case solved! A brief phone call to Detective Inspector Peter Forster. Then it was up to him to sort out the details.

But something still worried James Grant. Those diaries - and Sheila's unease in the presence of Weatherby. He flicked through the diaries once more. This reference to locking the door kept coming up. Then, in one of the earlier ones - when she must have been about fifteen - she had written: "I'm going to get a bolt on the door. He's not coming near me again." Who was "He"? Was it her father? - or rather stepfather? For now the question would have to linger at the back of Grant's mind. Yet, somehow, he knew that he had not seen the last of the Weatherbys.

Grant leant back in his chair. He had noticed a poster announcing the coming of the circus to town. He might ask Sheila if she'd like to go.

Note: The film referred to by Eric, "The Three Faces of Eve" was based on a book of the same title by the psychiatrists who treated the real Eve, Chris Costner Sizemore, who later wrote her own account in which she claimed to have experienced not three but more than twenty different personalities.