I was travelling north to attend the wedding of my eldest daughter. I had rushed to catch the train but fortunately it was not crowded and I easily found a carriage and a seat by the window. Opposite sat an elderly gentleman whom I was sure would not disturb me. Unfortunately I hadn’t had time to buy a good murder mystery from Smiths to read on the journey, but I contented myself with the fact that it was a nice evening and I would be able to enjoy the scenery. Shortly after we left Euston the gentleman leant forward and asked,
—Aren’t you Professor Memi, the famous detective?
—Yes. Yes, I am.
—I thought so. I like the way you solved the case of the missing hospital.
—Yes, that was very clever of me, I replied, modestly.
He smiled. —Do you think you could solve any case that was presented to you?
—Well, I don’t know about any. But I doubt there are many cases that are beyond my powers of deduction.
—Would you like to hear about the disappearance of my wife?
—If you wish to tell me, I would certainly be willing to listen.
—Well, my wife and I had been married for 37 years, or 38, I can’t remember exactly. Memory plays tricks on you when you’re old. We were looking forward to going to Greece on holiday – it had long been a dream of hers to visit Greece – she was a bit of an amateur historian – when suddenly she disappeared. Have you ever been to Greece? All our friends had been and couldn’t recommended it enough.
—You say she disappeared?
—And do you know where she was? He paused, and looked at me inquisitively. —In the garden, buried, dead.
—My goodness! What happened?
—You’re the detective. Can’t you guess?
—I need to know facts before I can deduce a probable solution.
—Of course. Well, I’ll tell you. On the morning of the day before we were going off on our hols, I had an argument with Myra, that’s my wife. Do you know for the life of me I can’t remember what it was about now. I’m sure it was something minor, some trivial thing, like she gave me a cup with a chip in it and I said, Have you got a cup that hasn’t got a chip and she said, If you want one wash it yourself and I said, Haven’t you got any clean cups and she said, No.
Well, that was enough for us to start cursing and swearing at each other. We often argued. Always over trivial things, you know things that didn’t matter. We used to argue so bad the neighbours complained and banged on the walls. So there we were arguing about I don’t know what, and she slipped and fell and knocked herself out. So I said Joan…
—I thought you said her name was Myra?
—Oh, yes, Myra, you’re absolutely right. Joan was my first wife, died in mysterious circumstances.
—Fell off a cliff. Police said she could have been pushed, but they didn’t have any proof. Or she might have jumped. But probably she just fell. So… where was I, yes, Myra was lying on the floor unconscious. So I phoned an ambulance. Obviously I loved her even though we argued, and I wanted to do all I could to help her. I switched on the computer to see what it said about people who were unconscious. I thought it better to look it up because at first, when I saw her lying on the floor, I thought of throwing cold water over her, you know like you see in films, but then I thought what if the films are wrong, because I saw a film where a woman, Katherine Heigl, I think, burned her hand and her husband put butter on it, but if you had tried that in real life you would have done more harm than good, because the butter will melt on the heat and in effect cook the burnt flesh. Imagine that! So I thought maybe it would be the same for throwing water over someone who was unconscious. So that’s why the thought of looking on the computer. But just as I got the thing working, it’s a very old computer and I’m not really the fastest computer geek, if you know what I mean, the ambulance arrived and they rang the doorbell, so I went to let them in to take them through to the kitchen because I’d been in the living room which is where the computer is, and when I got to the kitchen to show them where my wife was, she’d gone.
—No sign of her. Nothing. Well, as you can imagine, the ambulancemen were furious. They’d come all the way over and there was no one there and nothing for them to do. I told them she must have come round and wandered outside and got lost, but they didn’t think it was very likely. Then the police arrived and I told them what happened, and they got an officer with a dog and the dog sniffed around but couldn’t find anything. Well, I think it found a dead cat, but it didn’t find my wife, which was the important thing, because that’s what it was looking for. Strange, eh?
—But I thought you said she‘d been buried in the garden?
—Oh yes. No, that was years later. I’d sold the house and married for the third time. A happy marriage with two lovely children. You should see my children, you would be so envious. And the new owner wanted to have a pool built in the garden, which I thought was a shame because it was a beautiful garden, but I suppose some people care more about swimming than flowers. And when the builders were digging they found a skeleton. What do you think of that? A skeleton in the garden. And it was later identified as my ex-wife. Obviously I was questioned about it, being her ex-husband and all, but there was little I could say to help them. There was no evidence at all to show what had happened. Strange, don’t you think? Do you know, it may sound odd, but I’m sure for a time I was a suspect in some way. My wife had an insurance policy, you see, and all the money came to me.
He leant closer to whisper, though there was no one else to listen. —I do believe the police suspected foul play.
—The police are like that, I said. —They see murder in every death. But of course real life isn’t a detective story.
—That’s very true.
—You say there were no clues as to what had happened?
—Was there anyone else in her life at that time?
—Actually there was. I’m pretty sure she was having an affair with a colleague from work.
—Ah. Perhaps, after the argument she had with you, she decided to leave you for her lover, if you don’t mind me using that term?
—Not at all.
—And she went off to meet him, and on her way through the garden she tripped… Was was there a freshly dug hole?
—I do believe there was.
—That’s it then. Still in shock after her fall in the kitchen she wandered outside, fell into a hole, knocked herself out again, and the hole gradually got filled in with the wind and the rain and the weather.
—I’d never’ve thought of that.
—Elementary my dear…
—And my first wife? Any idea what could have happened to her?
—Was she a solitary sort?
—She wasn’t fond of parties.
—Ah, she enjoyed her own company, eh? Wandering along the cliff, looking out to sea, and a sudden gust of wind carried her over the edge. Was it a windy day?
—I do believe it was.
—Some women are often thin and frail. Was she?
—I always said she didn’t eat enough to feed a sparrow.
—That’s it then. She wandered too close to the edge and a sudden gust of wind carried her to her unfortunate demise.
—Poor Joan. That must be it.
The train slowed and the wheels screeched.
—Goodness, it’s my station, he exclaimed. —I must dash.
As he retrieved his case from the overhead rack, he said, —Many thanks for solving those mysteries. It feels like a weight has been taken from me.
—No trouble at all, I replied. —I enjoy exercising my power of deduction. It’s what keeps me young, I think.
He shook my hand and left the train. On the platform he turned and waved. I stood and opened the top window. —May I send my best wishes to your family. At least now you’re happily married.
—Was, he replied. —She disappeared.
—Oh! I’m so sorry.
He shrugged, turned and left the station. I sat and pondered. Poor fellow, a third wife to disappear. The train pulled out. How unfortunate some people are.
But I felt content that I had at least solved two mysteries, which would, I was sure, help him find some solace.