The scattering of the rain on the gum leaves was the only sound that broke the silence. The wallabies and kangaroos were hiding in whatever shelter they could find, the birds cuddled up in their nests, silent. The only disturbance was the swish of a skirt and the light footsteps of a young woman carefully making her way along the ridge. The descent was steep, and the slightest slip would send her sliding down into the gully below. Beautiful enough, filled with ferns and moss on the rocks, shining with the wet, but the beauty hid its treachery, and its hazards.
The girl made her way over to a fallen tree and picked off some of the soft green lichen growing on it. She gathered a small handful this way and placed it in the little basket she was carrying, being careful not to squish the delicate foliage. She did not take it all, choosing only the largest patches and leaving the smaller ones for another day. Extricating herself from the decaying branches amongst which she was standing she moved towards the middle of the clearing.
It was a rather large open space completely surrounded by trees, with the alluring gully bordering the northern side, downhill to open farmland on the east and thickly forested scrub mountain country to the south and west, and north beyond the gully. The area was pocketed with gullies and clearings such as this, little patched of sun side by side with pockets of rainforest amongst the timber.
The woman’s wispy blonde hair was curling in the drizzle, her clothes were slowly soaking until soon she would be chilled to the bone, but it didn’t seem to worry her. Another tree, choosing some more lichen to place gently in the basket. Going quietly about her business, she stooped. In her hand she held two things. The first was a rock of white quarts, but with thin green lines running through it. In the sun it would sparkle like diamonds, especially once she had cleaned it up a bit. She put that in her basket with her other finds. The second was a bullet shell. It was still shiny, albeit a bit wet, and it had been lying on top of the grass. So it was newly fired, but why, and by whom, and what at? She was on private property, and any hunters would have had to arrange it before hand as the gate was locked and they couldn’t have got in otherwise. More than that, she knew that no one on the property used bullets like these. She mulled it over in her head for a moment then pocketed the shell before continuing on.
She hadn’t gone ten paces when a sudden groaning noise startled her. She froze; her heart racing. There it was again. It was coming from the gully. She picked up her skirt and carefully made her way towards the edge of the clearing.
The rain couldn’t mask the gunshot that rang out. The birds that had been roosting silently flew up squawking into the air then settled back down again. A solitary kangaroo bounded across the clearing and into the mountainside. Now she was worried. Someone with a gun was firing right next to her and she didn’t know who or why or at what, but she got the feeling they weren’t hunting the grey kangaroos.
Despite her common sense’s protests, she walked silently over to the gully and lay down on the edge looking down. Horrified, she nearly screamed; she knew now what the groaning noise had come from.
There was a man lying sprawled on the gully floor. One bullet whole could be seen through his stomach, dried blood surrounding the whole. A second went through his head, seeping blood. Face drained of all colour, the girl slid her way down to have a closer look. Next to the body was another shell. She took the first out of her pocket and compared them. A perfect match.
Katharine was staring out the window watching the landscape flash by as the train rocked back and forth on the line. She wasn’t nervous to be coming home, just a little apprehensive. After all, it was the first time she had been home since she discovered the murdered man. She had gone straight to the police, and of course there was an investigation. The consensus was murder by an unknown person, for an unknown reason. One would assume this would mean a more depth inquiry, but actually it had rather been hushed us, no one seemed to want to know. This was intriguing in it’s own right, but coupled with the murder itself it was downright tantalising for an inquisitive young mind such as Katharine’s. She sighed. Going to Sydney for a holiday had seemed a good idea at the time, and in the circumstances no one had objected to her doing so, but now she was restless. She had never been able to resist trying to unravel any mystery or riddle placed before her, and here was the biggest, most confusing riddle of all. She wanted to know the truth. Who was this man the police called John David Bryant? Why was he murdered? Who murdered him? What was he doing in a gully far out in the middle of nowhere in a private property? How did the murderer know where to find him? It was infuriatingly mystifying.
It was while Katharine was pondering these questions the door of her compartment slid open. Startled out of her thoughts, she looked up to see a middle aged gentleman at the door.
“Do you mind awfully if I join you?” He swept his hat off to reveal a balding head, and what hair was left at the edges was longish, curly, and may have been messy only it was quite obvious he had combed it carefully. It was black with greying tinges, his face lined with happiness and yet serious at the same time. He had piercing blue eyes that seemed to twinkle with amusement or joy when he looed at her and his smile was comforting. He spoke with courtesy and the faintest accent that was hard to distinguish as from one particular location or another except that it was European. This much Katharine noticed in barely a second and she warmed towards him immediately. She smiled and nodded politely before turning back to the window. The gentleman closed the door and sat down opposite Katharine. She looked at him and he smiled before glancing over the front cover of the newspaper he had brought with him. One article in particular caught his interest, reading it thoroughly and quickly, with the look of a man who has found a challenge and wants to pursue it with all haste. Here is another such as I, thought Katharine. A murder such as this would pose as great a riddle to him as it does to me, and I’m sure he wouldn’t be one to shirk at finding out.
She had almost forgotten he was there when he folded the paper and put it down on the seat beside him.
“Have you read about this murder, but of course you have. It’s been all over the papers has it not?”
Ah, so that is what he was reading, thought Katharine. Should I tell him?? Yes, I think I will.
“I’ve done more than read about it” she spoke quietly, still slightly disquieted when speaking about what she had found. “It was I who discovered the body just after it was murdered.”
“Oh then you must be Miss Katharine Philips! I am Juan Arthur Hercule. Of mixed European parentage, as you may see.”
“Sounds rather like Agatha Christie. You could be Hercule Poirot and I can be the young woman who tags along saying ridiculous things at the most inappropriate times and generally hampering your progress.”
“Ah but I am not quite as fastidious as our dear fictitious detective, though I may share his name.”
“But every bit as genius, I daresay” a smile played at her lips. She was enjoying this banter with the interesting Juan Hercule.
“Not quite, but I will admit I’ve solved my share of murders in my time”
“Oh, you’re a detective? “
“I am, or rather, I was. I’m retired now”
“Sounds very exciting”
“Not at all. I’m really rather bored and find myself in need of constant stimulation.”
He smiled mischievously and Katharine immediately knew that if anyone could help solve this mystery, it was the man sitting opposite her.
She cleared her throat “well,” she paused, not quite sure how to put her thought into words, “As a matter of fact just before you came in I was wondering if it would be at all practical to try and solve it myself, as the police have as good as put it on the shelf never to be looked at again, but I would need…”
“Help?” He raised an eyebrow conspiratorially and winked. Katharine laughed.
“Yes. Know of any retired detectives looking for something to do?”
“At your service “he said, as he made a funny little bow.
“Oh we’re going to have such fun, Mr Hercule.”
“Please, call me Arthur. No one has ever called me Juan apart from my Grandmother but she is long gone now.”
She smiled. “Okay Arthur, but then you must call me Kate.”
“My pleasure, Kate”
“Where are you headed?”
“The next stop. I’m on holiday and thought I’d book a room in a hotel and see some of the countryside. I hear marvellous things of this area.”
“A hotel! But you’ll never get a room! We have plenty of spare rooms, come and stay with us.”
“I really don’t feel I should impose on the hospitality of someone I met but half an hour ago, conspirators though we may be.”
“All the more reason to accept my offer. It will save you money and we can get to know each other whilst we… work. Besides,” Kate added, “I simply wont take no for an answer.”
“Well if you insist…”
“All right, I’ll take you up on your offer. But I’ll only stay as long as it takes so solve this mystery.”
“Deal.” She held out a gloved hand and Arthur took it in his. His grip was as firm and determined as hers as they shook hands.
This is just a little snippet of something I wrote quite a while ago while I was taking a break from my usual romance scribblings. I never ended up writing anything else on this, though one day hopefully I’ll think up what may happen next. Please excuse any spelling or grammatical errors that I missed during editing.