Murder, Maybe

"Ah, Mr. Gnomes. So good of you to come. You, too, Dr. Whatson."

The police official moved aside to usher the famed detective and his companion into the ornate reception chamber of Elmstream Hall.

"Nice to see you again, Inspector Leclod," Watson murmured.

"Skip the formalities," Gnomes snapped. "You must have a good reason for summoning me out here from my cozy digs in London. Another murder case that's too much for the limited deductive powers of Scotland Yard, I presume."

"We can't be sure until the autopsy is performed," Inspector Leclod said, leading the way down a long corridor. "But suspicions are naturally aroused when a man in the prime of life and robust health dies so abruptly. You were acquainted with Lord Flapjowl, I understand."

"Somewhat. He was a minor player in the Pussycat of the Baskervilles Mystery, which I solved with my usual astute aplomb."

They reached the dining room and Gnomes' keen gaze instantly took in the scene. At the head of the table a middle-aged man sat with his head thrown back, staring blankly at the ceiling. On a settee nearby reposed a beautiful younger woman, dabbing her pale blue eyes with a lace hanky. Beside her stood a handsome man of about her age wearing servant's livery.

"Lady Svelteshape, Mr. Curlock Gnomes and Dr. What Whatson," Inspector Leclod said.

"Please accept our condolences on the loss of your husband," Whatson said.

"Thank you for your kind consideration." The Lady's voice was deep and throaty.

"And this is Studly, the butler," Leclod completed the introductions.

"Ah, yes, there's always a butler," Gnomes smiled knowingly.

"Sir?" Studly looked puzzled.

"Never mind. I'll get to you in good time. Now, if your Ladyship will give us the details of the, um, unfortunate occurrence?"

"There's not much to tell. We were having tea and I gave him a scone slathered with oleomargarine, his favorite. He seemed to be enjoying it when…" Her voice broke and she smothered a sob with her hanky.

"Not oleomargarine; butter," Gnomes mused. "My sharp olfactory nerves can detect the difference even at this distance. The tea was served by the butler, no doubt. A perfect opportunity for him to slip poison into his Lordship's cup."

"Sir, I must protest!" Studly cried.

"Really, Gnomes, aren't you being a bit precipitous?" Whatson interjected.

"Rather bad form to make such an early accusation." the inspector concurred.

"Not at all. Haven't you heard the expression 'the butler did it?' I've investigated dozens of these manor house murders and the guilty party always turns out to be the trusted servant whom everyone thinks is above suspicion. Didn't you notice the secret looks between him and the Lady? Obviously, they became lovers behind her husband's back and decided to get rid of him so that she could inherit his wealth."

"That's not true!" Lady Svelteshape insisted.

"Well, it is true that we were having an affair," Studly confessed. "But I couldn't have done what you allege because I spent the day several miles from here, visiting my mother. I didn't return until after tea time."

Inspector Leclod nodded. "I checked it out. His mother confirms his alibi."

"I don't care," Gnomes pouted. "I'm positive the butler did it and I'll prove it."

"No, you won't," Whatson said.

"Oh, be quiet. You know I'm the brilliant sleuth who is never wrong. You are just the doltish sidekick I keep around to admire my genius."

"Not this time. Remember, I'm a medical doctor. During the past several months I've been treating Lord Flapjowl for a severe allergy to dairy products. For him to ingest milk in any form would have been fatal."

"Good heavens, Whatson!" Gnomes exclaimed. "You can't mean that--?"

"Yes, Gnomes," Whatson smiled triumphantly. "The butter did it."

(Epilogue: Lady Svelteshape was prosecuted for manslaughter. But when she appeared before an all-male jury wearing a skintight sheath dress, she was promptly acquitted. She and Studly then eloped to the French Riviera where they lived happily ever after, until his old servant habits caused him to make the bed--with a pretty mademoiselle in it. Whereupon her Ladyship discovered that he had a severe allergy to bullets fired at close range.)