Murder on Vacation

Since Sherman didn’t have a job, he didn’t much bother with vacations. But this summer, the amateur detective decided to leave the crime of Capital City in the hands of the police and drove himself to the seaside resort of Brighton, where he traded in his tweed frock coat for a tweed bathing suit.

He had just checked into his hotel room and was enjoying the ocean view from his balcony when he noticed a chip broken out of the top edge of the stone railing. A second later, he saw a sliver of yellow police tape caught in the balcony door. “What happened here?” he asked the bellhop. The boy put down the luggage and smiled. “We had a murder,” he said, still excited by the recent event. “On this exact balcony. Unsolved—so far.”

Sherman tipped the boy, brought him a soft drink from the mini-bar, then sat him down and demanded a full accounting.

Mary McDill, a middle-aged widow, had stayed here for two weeks and, during that time, fell madly in love with Sonny Arbor, the resort’s tennis pro.

“They were together all the time,” the bellhop confided, “until towards the end. That’s when he dumped her for another guest, one with more money, so they say. Ms. McDill became unbalanced and caused a few scenes. So one day, Sonny was having lunch with Ms. Rubinski; that’s the other woman. Ms. McDill came up to their table and started yelling, saying how she knew things, how she was going to the police and ruin Sonny’s life the way he ruined hers.”

That afternoon Mary McDill sent Sonny a threatening note, telling him to come to her room at six p.m. At a few minutes after six, a maid knocked on Ms. McDill’s door, hoping to turn down the bed and leave a mint. She heard shouts coming from inside. A woman’s voice was screaming, “No, Sonny, no! Don’t shoot!” Then there was a single gunshot.

The frightened maid ran off. When she returned with Security, they found Mary McDill’s body alone on the balcony, a bullet hole in her head.

“Why is the case unsolved?” asked Sherman. “It seems pretty clear…”

“Sonny Arbor had an alibi,” the bellhop chuckled. “At six p.m., he was stuck in traffic on the coast road. People from the hotel recognized him in his convertible.”

Sherman was intrigued. “Tell me about the physical evidence.”

The victim, he learned, had been shot from about a foot away and the gun thrown off the balcony and into the sea. The killer then tied a weight around the gun butt with a six-foot length of rope. It was recovered the next morning in the water under the balcony.

“The only other piece of evidence was a handkerchief with bits of gunpowder on it. Guess where they found it.” Sherman didn’t even try.

“On that balcony down there.” The bellhop pointed to a balcony one floor down and one room over. “That was Sonya Rubinski’s room.”

“The other woman.” Sherman appreciated the coinci­dence. “And what’s her alibi?”

“A maid was working on that floor. A few seconds after the shot, Ms. Rubinski came out of her room and asked her what the noise was.”

“I see.” Sherman stared down at the waves lapping the pylons that supported this end of the hotel.

“A stumper, huh?” the bellhop said. “The victim calls out a name. Could be Sonny or maybe Sonya. Yet both suspects have alibis.”

“Not a stumper,” Sherman said with a happy sigh. “Any student of my great-great grandfather’s work would know the answer.”

Who killed Mary McDill?

How was the crime committed?

SOLUTION

The bellhop had to ask. “Who was your great-great grandfather?”

“Just the world’s greatest detective,” Sherman answered modestly. “But even I know enough to ask a few questions, like why tie a rock around the gun? Did the killer really need a rock to make it sink? And why use a handkerchief? True, the gun would produce gunshot residue, but washing your hands would have easily eliminated that evidence.

“And most important.” He walked out onto the balcony. “What caused this nick in the stone railing? The answer, of course, is the gun. Mary McDill draped the rope and the weight over the balcony. After she shot herself, the weight pulled the gun over the railing and into the sea, damaging the stone edge as it went.”

“You’re saying Ms. McDill killed herself?”

“She did. She meant to lure Sonny to her room at six o’clock.  As soon as she heard the knock on her door, she screamed out his name and shot herself. She’d planned for him to get caught on the scene. But he’d gotten caught in traffic instead. As for the handkerchief, she used it to protect her hand from the tell­tale residue.”

“And the handkerchief just floated down to the other balcony?”

“Yes. I recommend ‘The Problem of Thor Bridge’ for your reading enjoyment. That’s the case my great-great grandfather solved.”