Bending the evidence - 2
My wife turned to me as we stood on the deck of the small ferry, watching the village recede into the gentle drizzle.
"Well, what did you think of the house?"
"The house was alright" I said "but I'm not sure I'd like to live in a place where the previous owner was murdered!"
"Oh yes, without any doubt at all! The clock was the decisive evidence."
"How on earth does a missing clock confirm that the old man was murdered?"
"Because it showed that his electrocution was deliberate!"
"You're talking in riddles, as usual!"
We had reached the other side of the water.
"Let's drive to a cafe where we will be out of range of Mrs. G's hearing and I'll tell you what happened."
* * * * *
When we had poured the tea and buttered the scones I waited until my wife put the question again:
"What makes you think that the old man was murdered?"
"The cut wires, the absurd sentimental reason for cutting them, and of course the warped planks behind the shower head."
"This is what I think happened: The disrespectful son, fearful of being disinherited, did not entirely waste his education in forestry. He knew enough about the properties of wood to use the phenomenon known as permanent set. He repaired the bathroom, timing the project so that he would not have time to varnish the wood before leaving for Canada."
I took a napkin and got out my coloured pencils.
"Here is a section through the bathroom wall, looking down on where the shower head goes through to the cupboard." I drew the first sketch. "When the wood got wet from the shower," I pencilled in the middle sketch, " the outer layer of wood on the bathroom side tried to expand. But the dry wood behind resisted expansion and so the surface wood cells collapsed under the sideways pressure from their own expansion. "
"When the wood dried out again," I started on the third sketch, " the collapsed cells on the bathroom side shrank to a smaller size than they had started from, causing the plank to bow in, towards the cupboard behind."
"The warping gets progressively worse with repeated cycles of wetting and drying. The shower head was screwed to the middle of a plank and, notice this, connected with plastic pipe to the water supply."
"After several cycles of wetting and drying, which, according to Mrs G's report of the old man's habits, represents a reasonable length of time, the metal shower head made contact with a bared portion of the electric wire that Nathan had carefully placed just behind the shower head."
"The electric contact would be made at some time between showers, when the wood had dried out and when the plastic tube would be empty of water."
"On the next occasion that the old man had a shower, he first adjusted the water temperature by running the water from the tap, then he stepped into the bath tub, which had cracked enamel, so he was earthed to the metal of the waste pipe. Finally he operated the lever that directed the water up to the shower head. The water transmitted the voltage from the shower head down the pipe to the handle, but being soft moorland water, was not a good enough conductor to blow the fuse. "
"It did, however, blow the poor old man's weak heart."
"By the time the dear lady had come in, recovered from the horrid sight and put her hand on the water tap to turn it off, the wood had got thoroughly wet, through long irrigation from the unattended shower. The wood had straightened out again and the electrical contact was broken, otherwise she would be much less talkative today."
"The dutiful son rushed home from Canada, remembered, out loud, his father's wish about stopping the clock and was thus able to re-route the incriminating wires before the wood dried out again."
"What an amazing reconstruction!" said my wife, admiringly, "But the crime needed rather exact timing and predictable habits from the old man."
"Well, old folk are creatures of habit, aren't they? I can't understand why some people get so set in their ways."
I took a sip of tea and leaned back in my chair, comfortably aware of the effect of my sensational deduction.
The waitress came and started to gather up the teacups. My wife stopped her.
"No, please don't take them away. My husband always takes his tea cold, and exactly two cups, always."
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