By Theodore Roscoe (1906-92).
Novelette (25 pages).
Found in Argosy Weekly, February 24, 1934.
Parental notice: Strong language.
"Death and horror were storming the mighty Rock of Gibraltar and striking down the garrison . . ."Dr. Jerrodby Sparrow, attempting to enjoy a relaxing ocean cruise, and his erstwhile collaborator, Sir Henry Macklington, Inspector C.I.D., must work to solve an especially messy series of murders, coming close to getting murdered themselves:
". . . there's hell to pay, Jerrodby; and there hasn't been such hell since the British stormed and captured the place under Rooke. The last time you saw me was in a morgue in America, right enough. Well, I'm in one again, here and now—in Gibraltar. And I hope to Heaven you'll help me out!" . . .
. . . Murder had struck through the Pillars of Hercules, at the strongest fortress in the world. On the frowning cliffs above the little town a colonel's wife, the colonel himself, and a major had been shot down. Scotland Yard had come, because the killing guns weren't pistols, but cannon. Also, because death had struck in daylight and had left no trail. Because blasts were fired by a hand unseen, from guns that hadn't spoken for three hundred years. . . .
. . . "There was blood," he whispered. "It was spattered all over the stones; all over the blocks on either side of the gunport; everywhere. The body was found halfway down the cliff, on an old, unused gallery far below. Blown right over the wall, by gad! Not enough left of it to put in a coffin!" . . .
. . . "Five days later, after a whirlwind investigation that led nowhere, the old commander declared it to be a case of accidental death. And then—" . . .
. . . "The man was riddled—body in tatters—chest filled with bits 'of slag iron, nails, chunks of bottle glass, and even stones. You can load those old pieces of ordnance with anything, it seems." . . .
. . . "Murder in the British army is no joke, you know." . . .
. . . "Any one within a radius of ten feet would have caught it. A fearful blast, like shrapnel. The man got a fragment through his brain.—Two minutes later, half the post was on the scene. Nobody was seen leaving the vicinity. No witnesses. Not a clue. No message on the dead man. Nothing." . . .
. . . "And this is Gibraltar—Gibraltar! The proudest stronghold under the Union Jack, smelling of murder and uproar. I tell you, Jerrodby, it's a blow at the whole Empire." . . .
. . . "You're the smartest medical examiner and the shrewdest criminologist in the business, Jerrodby Sparrow." . . .
. . . That the ancient guns of the long vanished Moors should thunder among those walls again was something to make a man look over his shoulder, even a one-eyed detective on vacation. Something to give him pause. . . .
. . . Floor, cliff wall and railing were spattered crimson, as if some prankish hand had scattered a can of red paint. Wind sweeping out of the sky played with the dead man's white hair and carried a scent of scorched metal and powder burns . . .
. . . It was like the entrance to a tomb, or the opening into a pyramid a thousand feet in the sky. . . .
. . . "How about it, Scotland Yard? Ain't it true you been sayin' it's some one those as was murdered would trust? Didn't you say it was a man they'd never be suspicious of supposin' he was standin' by the gun-breech?" . . .
. . . It was touch-and-go, with hot lead crooning in that inner dusk of the corridor. Darting around blind corners. Galloping across open stone spans. Playing hare and hounds on the crust of that towering mountain. . . .
. . . "The mind is an extremely delicate mechanism, Sir Henry. We've scarcely scratched the surface in the study of it." . . .
. . . "I can see it, all right. Harris, the young lieutenant, blundering into that scene of murder in the tent. He sees the three officers standing around the body, maybe robbing the pay money. There's the girl—his fiancee—with the red knife—his knife—in her fist. Something snaps in his brain." . . .Resources:
- Theodore Roscoe was the subject of a book that Mystery Scene magazine briefly reviewed HERE.
- Wikipedia HERE, GAD Wiki HERE, and FictionMags HERE.
Category: Still another improbable crime that depends too much on perfect timing