Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The Tea Leaf - Edgar Jepson and Robert Eustace

Story: The Tea Leaf
Author: Edgar Jepson & Robert Eustace
Source: Tales of Detection edited by Dorothy L. Sayers. The story is available online here.

Theme for the Month: Locked Room & Impossible Crime Stories

The two friends Arthur Kelstern & Hugh Willoughton are known for their bad temper. Hugh gets engaged to Arthur’s daughter only to cancel it a year later. And from then on it’s a downhill ride for their friendship with especially Arthur tormenting Hugh at every opportunity that he gets. They are such bitter enemies now that everyone thinks that it’s only a matter of time before one would meet an untimely end. And that end comes in peculiar circumstances in the same Turkish bath where they had met for the first time.
In spite of throwing daggers at each other at every instance they meet, they still maintain their routine of visiting the Turkish bath on a bi-weekly basis – on the same day at the same time. On this last occasion, both are seen entering the hottest room, they are heard quarreling within two minutes, Hugh comes outs of the hottest room in a foul mood and enters the Shampoo room, a few minutes later when another patron enters the hottest room Arthur is found stabbed to death.  Hugh is kept under constant observation till the police arrive and arrest him. Nobody has entered the hottest room or the shampoo room and nobody has left the bath. Seems like an open & shut case against Willoughton but the police have just one problem: there is no sign of the murder weapon! They carry out the most rigorous search; it’s not on any person, it’s not in any of the baths (even when the water is completely drained out), it’s not hidden among the clothes and it’s not found anywhere outside the bath. The autopsy shows that the fatal wound was caused by a long circular weapon (like a pencil) which would need at least a 4 inch handle to inflict such a deep and ghastly wound. The only other anomaly being the tea leaf found deep inside the wound, split exactly in half by the tip of the weapon! Arthur was known to have been in the habit of having tea after his bath without fail and the same bottle is found in front of the body with spilt tea and tea leaves jutting out from the bottle.
They decide to try Hugh in court anyway requesting the jury to discard the fact that the murder weapon wasn’t found. On the witness stand, Arthur’s daughter provides the explanation for the missing weapon and how her Father must have met his death. Though the reader might have seen the same trick being used multiple times before, it still might come as a surprise and it makes for a fascinating reading nevertheless - with a detailed scientific explanation provided for the means and principles of the murder weapon.

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