The British Maid

By Hy Conrad

It was a spring afternoon when Sherman Holmes’s sixth sense led him down Main Street, and then left into an alley. Quickly, he realized he was approaching the rear of his favorite restaurant, The British Maid. “Good. As soon as I solve whatever bit of crime is waiting for me here, I’ll make a reservation.”

But when Sherman took in the scene in front of him, his heart fell. “No British Maid tonight,” he thought. For there in the alley, directly behind the restaurant’s service door, lay the body of Henry Bull, owner and chef. The knife was still in his stomach, imbedded up to its hilt and surrounded by a wet patch of crimson.

Three men stood over the deceased. Sherman knew them all. “Afternoon, my good fellows.”

“Mr. Holmes,” they said in near-unison.

“I told you he’d show up,” said one of them to the others. “He’s famous for turning up at murder scenes.”

Sherman nodded. “Did anyone touch the body?”

“No,” said Garth, the headwaiter. “We were just coming to work. We all got here within a minute of each other and this is what we found. It looks like a mugging to me.”

I called the police on my cell phone,” said Hugo, the prep chef. “They should be here any minute.”

Sherman bent down to examine the body. “Did that knife come from the restaurant kitchen?”

“Why, yes,” said the third man, bending over to see. Joshua was the bread and pastry chef—best in the city, in Sherman’s opinion. “All our knives have those identical black handles.”

“So, Henry Bull’s assailant must have been in the kitchen before the attack.”

“It looks that way,” said Hugo. “I check the equipment every night before leaving. Last night that short paring knife was in the rack with the others. Whoever killed the boss must have been inside the restaurant today.”

Garth frowned. “Or maybe Henry was inside and heard a noise out here. Maybe he grabbed a knife, came outside and caught a burglar trying to break in.”

Sherman pulled a magnifying glass from his pocket and approached the kitchen door. He saw no signs of forced entry and no pick marks around the lock. “Did all of you get along with Mr. Bull?”

The three men exchanged glances. “You’re asking if one of us had a reason to kill him,” said Joshua. “Maybe one of us did.”

“Josh!” Garth seemed upset by the chefs lack of discre­tion. “Mr. Holmes, you have to understand. Restaurants all have a little thievery. Steaks disappear from the freezer; friends get free drinks at the bar. An owner expects that. But Henry suspected some major stealing—grand larceny, according to him. Several employees have keys to The British Maid, including each of us. Henry thought this thief might be coming in early and doctoring the books to cover up his crime.”

“That’s probably what happened,” said Joshua. “Henry caught the thief in the act. They argued and fought and probably continued the fight out here.” He paused as the sound of sirens grew in the distance.

“Yes,” said Sherman. “I suppose you’re right.” He was no longer worried about the crime. That part had been easy. What he was worried about now were his future dinners. Would The British Maid be able to survive without its owner—and without one of its key employees? He certainly hoped so.

Who killed Henry Bull?

What pointed Sherman to the killer?

Sergeant Wilson stopped in his tracks. “How did you get here before me?” he growled. “If I didn’t know better, I’d say you were Capital City’s biggest criminal.”

The sergeant turned to his men and barked a series of commands. The officers put on gloves and fanned out over the scene. “You’ve taken me to this restaurant, Holmes. Is that the owner?”

“Owner and chef. Unfortunately, the establishment might not be able to survive without Henry Bull and his prep chef.”

“Prep…? Don’t tell me there were two murders?”

“No, just one. The prep chef, Hugo, is the killer.”

“How do you know that?”

“Look at the knife in the victim.” Sherman paused while the sergeant did as he was told. “Does it have a long blade or a short one? Is it a paring knife or something else, like a steak knife?”

“How should I know? The blade’s in the victim.”

“Exactly. And yet Hugo knew which knife it was—a short paring knife.”

Wilson thought it over and then shook his head. “Maybe Hugo saw which knife was missing.”

“No. All three suspects said they’d just arrived. And all the knives have exactly the same handles. Like it or not, Hugo’s your man.”