Can you solve this mini-mystery?


By Herschel Cozine

Horace Montague shared his home with a sister, Carrie, a nephew, Philip, and three servants. Carrie sat on the edge of the couch, stiff-backed, her hands folded in her lap. She clutched a white handkerchief in her right hand, and dabbed at her eyes from time to time.

Philip stood with his back to the room, looking blankly out the window.

Myrna sat in a chair by the fireplace. The chauffeur, who had introduced himself to Olson as Andrew, to stood next to her. Miles, the butler, had withdrawn after assuring Olson he would be available for questioning.

"The body is in the den." Philip said. He led Olson to a small, plushly carpeted room. The door to the room hung from one hinge. The rest of the room, Montague's private den, appeared to be in order. Olson scanned the den with a policeman's eye, finally settling on the legs and feet that protruded from behind a large oak desk.

Olson stepped around the desk. The body of a gray haired man lay on its back with a letter opener protruding from the chest. Except for a brandy glass, overturned on the floor next to the body, there was no sign of a struggle.

Olson turned his attention to the door. "What happened to it?" he asked.

"We had to break it open to get in," Philip said. "It was locked from the inside."

"Locked?" Olson rubbed his forehead. He surveyed the room carefully. The door was the only way in and out of the room. There was a window behind the desk, but it was locked, and barred.

Olson grunted. He tapped the wall, looking for a hidden entrance, but found nothing. He returned to the library.

"Who found the — Mr. Montague?" he asked.

Philip raised his hand. "I did."

"Tell me about it," Olson said.

"It's pretty much the way you see it."

"What I see," Olson replied, "is a dead man with a letter opener in his chest lying in a room that was locked from the inside. I think there's a lot more to this than what I see. Who was in the room with your uncle this evening?"

"No one," Philip said. "Uncle Horace was a creature of habit. Each evening, at precisely seven o'clock he took a glass of brandy, retired to his den, and locked the door. At precisely eight o'clock he would come out and join us here in the library until eight-thirty, at which time he would retire for the night."

"And that was his routine this evening as well?" Olson asked.

Philip nodded. "Except he didn't come out at eight."

Olson frowned thoughtfully. "What did you do then?"

"I called to him through the door," Philip said. "But there was no answer." He combed his thin mustache with his fingers. "I became concerned. He had a bad heart. I was afraid he may have suffered a heart attack. I tried to open the door. When I couldn't, I called for Andrew to bring an ax and break the door down." He touched the sleeve where his right arm should be. The arm was missing. "As you can see, I'm not able to swing an ax."

"Isn't there a spare key?'

Philip laughed hollowly. "You don't know my uncle. He was passionate about his privacy. He wouldn't stand for another key being out of his possession."

Olson looked toward Andrew, standing stiffly, like a soldier at attention, his impassive face revealing no show of emotion. "Tell me what you did when you were requested to break into Mr. Montague's den."

"I took an ax from the garage and ran to the house," Andrew said. "Mr. Ashley was struggling with the door. He ordered me to break the lock."

"I could see Uncle Horace's feet sticking out from behind the desk from the door," Philip said.

"And you?" Olson said to Andrew.

Andrew nodded. "I was right behind Mr. Ashley," he said. "I could see that Mr. Montague was lying behind the desk, and I started over to help. But Mr. Ashley told me to get Miles to call 911 for an ambulance."

"Why an ambulance when it was obvious he was dead?" Olson asked.

"From the doorway you couldn't see anything more than Mr. Montague's legs," Philip said. "As soon as I saw he was dead I called for Andrew to forget the ambulance and call the police."

"Was the door left unattended at any time after you entered the den?"

Carrie spoke up. "No. I was here all the time. I would have seen anyone leave or enter."

"Secret passages? Are the bars on the window removable?"

"No," Philip said.

Olson sighed. A locked room murder, or so it seemed. But he was certain he knew who killed Montague.


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