The Postman Rings Once

By Hy Conrad

Sergeant Wilson found the letter and envelope torn up and crammed into the bottom of a wastebasket. Reassembling it while wearing plastic gloves proved difficult.

“It’s from Henry Liggit’s lawyer,” he finally said, looking up from the jigsaw-like puzzle. “It outlines Mr. Liggit’s proposed new will, disinheriting his three nephews and leaving everything to charity.”

Sherman stood behind the sergeant, peering over his shoulder. “What do you think?” Wilson asked him.

“Hmm. It doesn’t take a Sherman Holmes,” said Sherman Holmes, “to suspect that Mr. Liggit’s suicide wasn’t really a suicide.”

“My thoughts exactly,” the officer agreed.

Sherman and the sergeant were in Henry Liggit’s library, just yards from where the millionaire lay slumped in his chair with a gun in his hand and a hole in his head.

“Our first job, my dear Wilson, will be determining which devoted nephew opened Liggit’s mail and discovered the threat to his inheritance.” With that, Sherman led the way into the front hall where the nervous nephews stood waiting.

All three nephews lived in the Liggit house; all three had been at home at the time of the shot. None, or so they swore, had the least idea Uncle Henry had been about to cut them out of his will.

“Uncle Henry had been depressed,” said Nigel, the eldest, in mournful tones. He was sipping a martini and Sherman suspected it wasn’t his first of the day. “I spent all afternoon at home. About three P.M. I walked into the front hall. I was checking the mail on that side table when I heard the gunshot.”

Sherman observed a few pieces of mail on the table. “When did the mail arrive, my good fellows?”

Gerald, the youngest nephew, raised his hand. “When I got home around 2:30, the mail was already on the hall floor. I walked right across it before noticing. I picked it up and put it on the hall table.”

“Did you check through it?”

Gerald nodded. “Yes, but there was nothing for me. I went straight out to the garden and sat by the pool. I, too, heard the gunshot. Around three, as Nigel said.”

“I looked through the mail,” volunteered the middle nephew, Thomas. “I’d just got home from a trip. I put my bags down in the hall, sorted through, and found a letter for me. I put it in my pocket, then went up to my room.”

“What time was this?”

“Ten minutes to three, or thereabouts. I was unpacking when I heard the shot.”

“Is the letter still in your pocket?”

With some hesitation, Thomas reached into his jacket and produced the unopened envelope. Sherman noticed a faint shoe print, a water ring, and a curious return address. “It’s from a bill collector,” Thomas confessed. “I’ve got a cash flow problem.”

“Can anyone verify your arrival at the house at 2:50?”

“I can,” said Gerald. “You can see the driveway from poolside. Thomas’s car pulled in about ten minutes before poor Uncle killed himself.”

“Yes,” said Sherman. “We’ll talk about suicide in a minute. Did any of you notice a letter addressed to your uncle from his lawyer?”

The nephews all shook their heads.

“Then that settles it,” said Sherman. “One of you is lying. One of you knew about your uncle’s plans to change his will and killed him before he could do it.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” said Nigel.

“Join the club,” laughed Sergeant Wilson. “I don’t know what he’s talking about half the time, either. But he’s usually right.”




“If it wasn’t suicide,” said Thomas, “then any one of us could have killed him. No one has a good alibi.”

“True,” Wilson agreed and turned to Sherman Holmes.

“True,” Sherman agreed. “But…” And he raised a pudgy finger. “Only one of you lied about when you checked the mail.” He lowered the finger, pointing it at Nigel Liggit. “You, Nigel, actually entered the front hall between 2:30 and 2:50. You steamed open the letter and read its frightening contents. You got rid of the letter — a bad job, I must say — then loaded your uncle’s gun and tracked him down.”

“Bravo,” Nigel said with a sneer. “But you could make up a similar story about either one of my brothers.”

Sherman smiled. “Let’s see Thomas’s letter from that bill collector.” Thomas pulled it from his pocket and handed it over. “Notice the shoe print?”

“That’s mine,” said Gerald, “from when I came in and stepped on the mail.”

“And the water ring? Where did that come from?”

“Not from me,” said Thomas. “My hands were full of luggage. I went right upstairs and unpacked.”

Sherman turned to face Nigel and his incriminating martini. “When you checked the mail, you put your glass on top of Thomas’s letter. That means you didn’t check it at three p.m., but earlier — between the time of Gerald’s shoe print and Thomas’s removal of the bill collector’s letter.”