Note by the author: “This short story was originally written in the Spring of 2012 as part of an assignment for a ‘Poetics of Murder’ university class. Many thanks to my professor and classmates as well as all my favourite crime authors, particularly Edgar Allan Poe and Agatha Christie, for their inspiration. All rights belong to rootsnwingz.”
Mr. Colin Brown was a retired detective who regarded himself as a true English gentleman. Therefore, as usual, on the morning of the 11th of November 1970, he got ready for his weekly appointment at the renowned “Bernard’s Gentlemen’s Barbershop” and walked out of his flat and into the gloomy London weather.
It was a typical English morning; gray and rainy, but this was not a hindrance to a real Londoner like Mr. Brown. Being a man of impressive stature, he admittedly stood out as he walked confidently with measured strides, holding his massive umbrella above his head. His mind was preoccupied elsewhere as he walked past the endless crowds of people on the busy streets, but at the same time, he was also acutely and almost subconsciously attentive to the details of his surroundings and the unfamiliar faces of the strangers passing him by.
Even in his retirement he struggled to rid himself of the habits he used to count on in order to make a living. Observing, thinking, interpreting and imagining were all fundamental and vital to his sense of identity, to his entire existence. However, due to his retirement, his skills had been going to waste and he would often catch his mind making pointless observations, imagining all sorts of farfetched scenarios. He despised the feeling of having become useless and was doing everything he could to ignore it. In reality, he was depressed because he felt that most of his life was behind him and that he had nothing more to offer the world. But that had to remain his own secret for, in the eyes of the rest of the world, he was the remarkably polite and elderly gentleman happily enjoying his much-deserved retirement.
Andre Mizelas, one of London’s leading hairdressers, had moved from Athens, Greece to London and in pursuit of success and recognition founded “Bernard’s Gentlemen’s Barbershop” in 1952 in Knightsbridge, known as the city’s ultra rich and expensive district. By 1958 he had become the official hairdresser to the Court and owner of a successful chain of beauty salons. He accomplished this due to his hard work and undeniable talent surely, but his climb to the top of the pyramid would have been impossible were it not for his wit, charm and effectiveness in meeting and befriending members of England’s nobility and, in general, society’s richest people. He had gotten rid of his Greek last name and always introduced himself as Andre Bernard.
Mr. Brown had been a client of Mr. Bernard since before his retirement and, over the years, they had a developed a fondness for one another. Mr. Brown would often confide to him the frustrations of his work, whereas Mr. Bernard would proudly boast about how he had attended some extravagant party or his common affairs with women of high social standing. Although rather different from each other, they very much enjoyed and looked forward to sharing stories from their strikingly dissimilar lives. However, on that day, Mr. Bernard did not greet him with his usual big grin, but instead, was looking noticeably troubled. Mr. Brown took a seat and asked his friend: “What’s the matter Andre?”
“Something terrible has happened Colin. I have fallen in love.”
Mr. Brown knew not whether to laugh or look concerned. “Hold on. What do you mean? How can that be a bad thing?”
“It’s not just any woman, it’s the Duchess of York!”
At that moment the phone started ringing in Mr. Bernard’s office and he got up and rushed to go answer the call. He was whispering and talking very fast on the phone and as it was in the other room, Mr. Brown could not quite make out what was being said. What was audible to him though was the following: “Yes, my darling. Do not worry yourself, love, everything will be all right. There is nothing they can do to stop us.” Mr. Bernard put down the telephone and grabbed the keys from his desk. Mr. Brown stood up and jokingly remarked: “I have to say Andre, I did not expect this from a notorious Casanova such as yourself.” He did not look the slightest bit amused; instead he looked up at Mr. Brown and said in a voice full of panic: “My dear friend I am afraid that I will have to cancel our appointment today, I am caught up in the filthiest of messes. I really need your help but right now I have to run and deal with an urgent matter. How about you meet me here in the afternoon, say around tea time?” With those words he ran out to the street and into his flashy red convertible.
That afternoon, Mr. Brown returned to the barbershop but found the place completely locked up, even the shutters were down. Having nothing else to do and not knowing what to make of the day’s strange occurrences, he decided to walk back to the comfort and warmth of his flat. The following morning, when the papers arrived, Mr. Brown was utterly shocked and dismayed to read on the Times’ front page that his dear friend had been shot twice in the head in broad daylight while driving through Hyde Park. Mr. Bernard had made it clear to Mr. Brown that he was in distress and may have even already been aware that he was in danger before the murder happened. “That explains why he needed my help,” thought Mr. Brown, “He knew his life was at risk and tried to get me to help, but I let him down.”
It was these feelings of regret and guilt that urged Mr. Brown to go to the local police station and report Mr. Bernard’s strange behavior on the morning of his murder. He made this decision reluctantly because he viewed Britain’s police force with contempt and had little faith in their ability of solving crimes, let alone crimes as mysterious as this one. When he told the police officer responsible for the case what Mr. Bernard had said and done the day before, the officer stared blankly at him for a while and then asked Mr. Brown: “And what was the nature of your relationship with the victim, sir?”
Mr. Brown patiently and politely endured a series of futile questions. At some point, the policeman even hinted that Mr. Brown was himself implicated in the murder. Mr. Brown became furious and stormed out of the station. “Soon they’ll want to interrogate me as a suspect!” he thought to himself. At that moment he decided to take matters into his own hands and engage in some digging of his own.
He bought every tabloid of the past two weeks until he found the one he was looking for. “Scandal! Andre Bernard arrested completely drunk with the Duchess of York disturbing the peace a couple miles outside the Duchess’ property in York”, read the headline. Mr. Brown smiled for two reasons. First, Mr. Bernard’s provocative actions always entertained him immensely. And second, he had just had an epiphany. He had remembered that the Duchess of York was to be engaged to the Prince of England, part of an arranged marriage in order to unify two powerful families. The true circumstances of the murder suddenly became crystal clear to Mr. Brown.
Mr. Bernard and the Duchess of York had fallen in love with each other. Their romance risked becoming public with the alcohol scandal. This had serious potential of wrecking the plans to marry the Duchess to the Prince. Thus the only way to mend the situation was to make sure Mr. Bernard was out of the picture. The people behind the murder were indubitably those who needed the arranged marriage to happen as planned at any cost. This left only two possibilities. The families of the Duchess of York and the Royal Family itself were the two parties who would certainly make a financial profit out of the marriage. However, it would be insane to accuse either of these families of conspiracy to murder Mr. Bernard. They were, simply put, too powerful and murder accusations against them would not be taken seriously.
Mr. Brown had solved the mystery but could not do anything about it and thus felt paralyzed. He had read in the paper that the police were interrogating “the highest social circles”, but he doubted that they would reach the same conclusion as he had. Even if someone in the police force did indeed discover evidence that the Royal Family or the Duke of York were responsible for the homicide, what would they do about it? Nothing and neither could he.
This is why he had retired in the first place. The system tends to fail to deliver justice and the real criminals get away with it while innocents often suffer for the crimes of others. He had no doubt in his mind that the police under pressure from “The Crown” would frame this whole murder on someone who had nothing to do with it. He despised that those with money and power were above the system and he hated that because of their status, any crime they committed was irreproachable.
Well, Mr. Brown had finally had enough. Even after all of the crimes he had helped the police solve and prevent, in spite of his priceless contribution to British society, now that his friend had been killed and he knew who had done it, no policeman would believe him or consider helping him, especially without real proof. He was too weak and impatient to see this one through. He sat down in front of his old typewriter and wrote his final words. “I tried.”
Consumed by depression and hopelessness, Mr. Brown then pointed the barrel of his revolver to his mouth and pulled the trigger ending his own life.