There on the wall, hung the most marvelous painting that Inspector Clarke had ever seen. The colors were alive with life, a jubilant expression of passion and joy. The detail and brushwork were clearly the work of a master. He was no art enthusiast, but even his eyes could appreciate the skill displayed in the creation of this portrait.
Given the handsome features, muscular build, and disarming smile of the man featured in the painting, he could surmise that this was the likeness of the victim and the owner of this home. Mr. Gray was renowned for his good looks and infamous to the women of London. A painting of this quality would certainly have been very expensive to commission. That could mean that the victim's wealth had not been exaggerated and certainly provided a motive for either kidnapping or murder.
He made a few notes regarding the appearance and stature of Mr. Gray before reluctantly averting his gaze and once more considering the crime scene. Suddenly, something caught his eye near the window. He moved over for a closer examination. There between the jagged glass and bent metal appeared to be a small clump of dark gray hair. The hair was matted and thick. He leaned in closer.
"Ugh, and foul smelling."
Inspector Clarke carefully removed an embroidered white handkerchief from his pocket and brought it to his nose and mouth. The cluster of hair smelled of death and decay. It could have originated from a man, perhaps hair that continued to grow on a corpse even after death.
Inspector Clarke had found it helpful to assist various doctors as they examined corpses during the course of an inquest. He had drawn several detailed drawings of the human anatomy while assisting in multiple dissections. The deceased human body could give so many clues about the last few moments of life. He found the process of rigor mortis fascinating. As he grew more experienced in murder cases, he found he could roughly estimate how long ago death had occurred depending on the state of contraction of the muscles and level of decomposition of the body.
Suddenly, there was a knock at the entryway to the room and Constable Mcdonaugh stepped into the room.
"The perimeter has been set, sir. And there is a Lord Crawley here to see you."
Inspector Clarke frowned. "I thought I said no visitors?"
The constable paused for a moment, unsure if he had made the wrong decision. "He says he knows the victim and has come on a matter of some importance."
Inspector Clarke sighed. It was clear the constable had meant to do the right thing. "Very well, send him in."
The constable dipped his head quickly and exited the room. A moment later, a tall man with short black hair and a thin mustache entered. He wore a finely cut jacket and trousers that had seen some wear. It had once been expensive clothing but was now on the verge of becoming threadbare. It seemed that Lord Crawley had fallen on hard times.
The man smiled and gave a slight nod. "Ah, you must be Detective Inspector Clarke."
"At your service. A pleasure to make your acquaintance, Lord Crawley. I understand the victim was known to you?"
"Yes, Mr. Gray and I were once very close and had a number of business dealings together."
"That was some time ago and I have since had some rather bad luck that has kept me preoccupied. However, we did occasionally run into one another at certain establishments."
"What sort of establishments?"
"Err, I don't see how that is relevant. If you must know we both shared an affinity for a particular imported whiskey that can only be found in certain exclusive clubs."
"Tell me, my Lord, did you run into Mr. Gray on the night he was attacked?"
"As a matter of fact, I did. But I remained at the club while Mr. Gray returned home around midnight, as was his custom. He was quite peculiar about not being long away from home."
"There are witnesses who can corroborate this?"
"Yes of course."
"Are you aware of anyone who might have wished Mr. Gray harm?"
Lord Crawley paused for a moment as if considering his reply. "A man of his notoriety and wealth naturally makes enemies. There have also been rumors of his involvement with several married women."
"I see. And what is the matter of importance that you have come about?"
"Well, naturally I was quite concerned to hear of Mr. Gray's fate and wanted to offer my assistance in any way possible."
"That's quite considerate of you."
"Yes. I was wondering if Mr. Gray left a will of any kind behind or perhaps an accounting of debts which he owed?"
"Ah, I see the nature of your concern. But no, nothing of that sort has been discovered yet."
"I fear you have misjudged me, Inspector. I am sure those documents will become known in time. It is a small matter. Certainly, full effort must be made to bringing his killer to justice."
"Rest assured that is my singular purpose. However, I am not fully convinced that he was murdered."
"What do you mean? The man has disappeared without a trace leaving behind a bloody knife in a locked room. The papers have been going on about it for nearly a week now."
"I wouldn't put so much stock in everything you read. The papers spend far too much time on sensationalism and very little on fact or science."
Lord Crawley took a few steps forward and paused. "If I may?"
Inspector Clarke inclined his head as he intently observed the other man's movements.
Lord Crawley carefully looked around. He made sure to avoid contact with all items in the room. He simply peered at everything around him as though creating a sketch of the scene in his head. His gaze finally came to rest on the portrait that hung on the back wall.
"So, this is the painting he so loved. I can see the beauty in it and why it was his most valued possession."
The Inspector moved closer. "Is there some significance to this painting?"
Lord Crawley removed a letter from his coat. "That is why I have come, Inspector. I have a letter here from one of Mr. Gray's closest friends, the Lady Helena Rivera, formerly Lady Helena Wotton."
"Lady Helena? That name seems familiar to me."
"Yes, she has been writing you for days. She would have come herself, but the weather has weakened her constitution somewhat and she asked that I come in her place."
"Ah, now I remember. Lady Helena requested that any paintings found in the locked room be given to her care for safe keeping?"
"That is correct."
"Well, tell Lady Helena that she is mad if she thinks I will release evidence to her during an active inquest."
"How is a painting evidence? The portrait is however, the greatest work of the artist Sage Holdsworth. She was also close friends with Lady Helena. The two were business partners and as the only surviving partner, ownership of the painting now reverts to her. She demands her property be returned at once. She intends to exhibit the work in a gallery as a tribute to both of her deceased friends."
"Once the inquest is concluded the legality of these claims can be proven and the painting will be released to the proper owner."
"She thought you might say that." Lord Crawley reached again into his coat and produced a second letter.
"What is this?"
"A letter from Chief Inspector Williamson requesting that you comply with her demand."
"Let me guess. Lady Helena is also friends with the Chief Inspector?"
"Undoubtedly. She has far reaching connections to be sure."
"Very well, you may remove the painting. But I caution Lady Helena that this matter will be raised again. I may need to examine it again and interview her myself."
"As you say, Inspector. We are happy to cooperate."
It was only about an hour after Lord Crawley had wrapped up the painting and taken it away, when Inspector Clarke heard yelling outside, punctuated by gunfire.