The Crime Readers' Association

The Joke, by Trevor D’Silva

It was Wednesday morning. The high-pitched trill of my mobile woke me from a fog of dreams. Groggily, and wiping the grit from my eyes, I answered.


“Mr Hawkins?” The sombre tone doing more to wake me than a dousing of cold water.


“My name is Inspector Lawrence Crosbie. I’m afraid I have some upsetting news regarding your aunt, Myrtle Hawkins. I’d be grateful if you could attend me at your earliest convenience…”

After packing a small bag, I took a taxi to London’s Victoria Train Station and bought my ticket for Bradford Village where Aunt Myrtle, my late father’s older sister, lived. As the train sped out of London, even though I was dismayed, it was a relief to leave that smog-filled city and head to the English countryside.

I emerged from the taxi, my breath fogging in the cold damp air. A crowd of curious onlookers were gathered outside of the modest-sized Victorian home, drawn by the presence of forensics vans and police tape.

“I’m the nephew of Myrtle Hawkins,” I said to the constable who eyed me curiously as I walked up to the front gate with my bag.

“Go right in, sir. The inspector’s been expecting you.”

I found Inspector Crosbie standing in the kitchen staring at a particular spot on the floor, a mystified look on his face. I introduced myself and he condoled with me, explaining that Aunt Myrtle had been discovered dead in her bathtub by her maid, Christine, the previous evening. Christine worked part time for Aunt Myrtle, cleaning the house and doing some gardening.

The inspector led me upstairs to the bathroom; I felt a guilty pang of relief that Aunt Myrtle’s body had already been taken away, transfered ready for autopsy. Forensics investigators had combed through the bathroom but could see nothing unwonted except for a bloodstain on the wall where the bathtub was attached.

“Christine mentioned that your aunt was upset the last time she saw her on Sunday afternoon. Forensics think she died that night. They found a remnant of soap on the bottom of the tub. She probably slipped on that as she stood up, hitting her head on the wall, rendering her unconscious, and drowned as she sank into the tub.”

I sadly nodded my head and said, “She’d been having trouble with her memory for quite some time. The last time I saw her was two weeks ago at Christmas; she’d forgotten to turn on the oven to roast the lamb. I asked her to visit her doctor. Poor Aunt Myrtle was very fond of soaking herself in the tub with her bath oils and salts. At least she died doing what she liked best.”




It seemed the entire village was present to pay their last respects at the funeral, two days later. Aunt Myrtle had been a familiar sight around the village streets, particularly in the committees of her beloved church.

My sister, Jeanette, her husband, Archie, and their three children, travelled up from London. Nobody could understand why she married Archie; he was a walking nightmare. The man was a slob, unreliable and couldn’t keep a job. He very seldom told the truth, and his offensive sense of humour had upset most who knew him. He was insufferable. Aunt Myrtle couldn’t stand Archie and had never forgiven Jeanette for marrying him. Their children, unfortunately, took after their father – whiny and rude.

Jeanette had thought once that moving to Bradford Village would be better for her family. With rent prices in London skyrocketing and Archie not having consistent employment, life was a struggle. She had asked Aunt Myrtle once if they could move in with her but the old woman, who prized her independence, had firmly replied, “Over my dead body”. Besides, with me being childless, Aunt Myrtle had promised to make me her primary beneficiary – I was her godson and favourite.

After the funeral, the solicitor read the will. As expected, I inherited Aunt Myrtle’s house and most of her money and assets – making me a rich man. Jeanette and her family were left a small legacy but, according to them, it wasn’t enough and they stormed back to London in a huff.




I moved to Bradford Village a few days later. Getting out of London and my cramped flat was such a relief. No more cars honking or people shouting, and no more pollution, which made me gag every time I went outside. I was miles away from all that and this house was only for me. Even though I was a hit with the ladies, I relished my independence and was a confirmed bachelor. Thanks to the internet, my job could be performed remotely. Therefore, I could work from the comfort of my new home without having to step into the office.

I parked my car – a black convertible – outside the house. I valued it as if it were a child. I couldn’t trust people in London not to deface or vandalise it; so I’d paid a premium to park it safely inside the building’s garage with its limited number of parking spaces. Now I could proudly park it in the open. Bradford’s inhabitants were known to be honest and upright, and the only trouble were the usual drunken pub brawls.

Everything in the house reflected Aunt Myrtle’s life. The pictures on the living room wall proved she had been a prominent London socialite in the 50s and 60s, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Princess Margaret and Antony Armstrong-Jones, and the Beatles. She was like the Auntie Mame of the family – progressive and independent. But her house, which she had inherited after one of her husbands died of a heart attack, was still stuck in the past. So I began redoing the interior of the house to suit my taste. I converted the smallest bedroom into my office and gave the rest of the house a much-needed facelift. Once finished, a euphoric feeling of satisfaction zipped through me like electricity whenever I looked around – this house, which I’d coveted for a long time, was finally and completely mine.

I enjoyed a pint of beer and started frequenting the local village pub. People recognised me as Aunt Myrtle’s nephew and very soon I became part of the local crowd. I was a very happy chappy and life was good.

One day, Inspector Crosbie dropped in for a drink and recognised me. We began talking until it was closing time and I offered to drive him home. He marvelled at my car when he saw it, but noticed the headlight on the right looked newer than its counterpart. I explained to him that my car had once been hit by an unknown person and I got the headlight fixed. After all, nobody gives a tuppence about others in the bustling metropolis of London. He agreed with me as he got in, and I drove him home.




Life went on pleasantly until I had an unexpected visit from Jeanette and her husband. I wasn’t happy to see them, especially that idiot husband of hers. Nevertheless, they’re family and so I reluctantly let them in. It was the same story, however – Archie had lost his job and they had no money to pay the rent or to buy food for the children. Aunt Myrtle had given them money in the past and they expected me now to do the same. Other than her children, I was Jeanette’s only living blood relative; so who else could she turn to? Begrudgingly, I wrote them a cheque and sternly told Archie, like Aunt Myrtle had done many times before, that he needed to get his act together since charity from me would not always be forthcoming. He nodded like a schoolboy getting a tongue-lashing from the headmaster. But I knew it would fall on deaf ears.

“Looks a lot different from when Aunt Myrtle owned the place,” said Jeanette, gazing sadly around the newly decorated living room.

“And?” I asked.

“Just that there’s no evidence she ever lived here,” Jeanette said, sipping her tea. “Not one picture of her or any objects she had in here… they’re all gone.”

I smiled. “Jeanette, the place needs to look like I’m living here. Everything had to go. I couldn’t bear to see her pictures; they made me sad. I’m sure you would’ve done the same thing if you’d inherited the house.”

“What do you mean?” Jeanette asked, perplexed.

“I mean, if Aunt Myrtle had bequeathed you this house instead of me, you would’ve wanted it to look like you owned the place, not reflective of someone who used to live here or of a bygone era.”

“Aunt Myrtle leaving me this house? You must be joking.” She laughed. “You know she would never have done that.”

“But Archie told me that the last time you visited her, she felt sorry for you and promised to change her will making you the primary beneficiary because you needed the house and money more than me since you have a family.”

Jeanette turned to Archie with a questioning look and asked, “Archie, dear, is that true?”

Archie rubbed his forehead, slowly smiled and then began laughing. “Yes, dear. I met our dear Charlie at the supermarket and we began talking. I told him we’d come here on New Year’s Day to see Aunt Myrtle and she was so touched that she promised to change her will favouring you and that she was going to contact her solicitor that coming Monday… It was just a silly joke,” he said, laughing loudly.

“Oh, Charlie, you silly boy… You know how Archie likes to joke. We all know that you were Aunt Myrtle’s favourite and she’d never change her will…” Her smile vanished as she stared at me. “Oh, Charlie, you’re pale as a ghost. Are you ill?”

My blood ran cold. Archie had explained that it was all a silly joke – I couldn’t believe it. I kept replaying that conversation I had with Archie at the supermarket. Shaking my head, I got up and felt the blood rushing to my head as rage built within me. I yelled at them to leave and never contact me again.

Jeanette looked hurt, but I didn’t care. I just wanted them gone. She stuttered, imploring me to tell her what was wrong. I once again bellowed at them to leave. They got up and scurried out the front door. I heard their car start and drive away.

I crumpled into the chair, cold sweat pricking at my brow. It was one of Archie’s dumb jokes, which I had taken seriously. The walls closed in on me with a sickening sense of claustrophobia. In an instant, this house, my beloved sanctuary, was now my prison.

It was me.

I’d killed Aunt Myrtle.

I’d heard of people in their dotage changing their wills on a whim, later surprising their relatives. That is also why I had stripped the house of anything that belonged to her – I didn’t want to be reminded that I was a cold-blooded killer.

Hurling my teacup into the fireplace, I rose and slowly lurched towards the staircase. With each agonising step up, my knees buckled, hands gripping the bannister for support as if I were holding my sanity together. My head spun as I collapsed on my bed, wishing that this was all a bad dream. Sleep eventually came, but it was only a temporary relief – when I awoke the next morning, remorse hit me once again like a lightning bolt.

I wanted to flee the house, but returning to London wasn’t an option. And so I remained, battling the shame within. I rarely ventured out of the house after, except to take long walks in the dark, lest someone noticed the guilt on my face. Over time, I slowly convinced myself that it was a mercy killing, since Aunt Myrtle was getting forgetful and probably getting dementia. So I’d spared her the agony of becoming a vegetable.




Approximately three weeks after Jeanette and Archie’s visit, a car pulled up in front of the house. Inspector Crosbie greeted me warmly as he entered and told me that the chaps at the pub were worried about me. I replied brusquely, claiming I’d been unwell, but he ignored me and began telling me a strange tale. A few days before, while driving to London, he felt that his car wasn’t properly balanced. On checking, he discovered a flat tyre. Consulting his smartphone, he located a mechanic close by and his car was towed to Bennett’s Garage. He paused, raising his eyebrows at me. I flushed and hoarsely said, “Then…”

The mechanic, Mr Bennett, was a garrulous man who told the inspector that, on a rainy night in early January, he had repaired the broken headlight of a black convertible. The driver told him that he accidently hit a pine tree while driving in the rain. He paid cash and drove away in a hurry. Mr Bennett remembered the car because it wasn’t something he usually gets to fix.

Inspector Crosbie knew that I owned a black convertible and decided to investigate. He contacted the London Police and the only records they had were of me complaining about my noisy neighbours. Nothing about a broken headlight. Even my former mechanic in London had no record of fixing my car’s broken headlight.

He then interviewed Archie and Jeanette who told him about the falling out we’d had, and the reason why. He obtained Aunt Myrtle’s mobile records, which revealed that her last call had been to yours truly.

My heart pounded as I tried to remain calm. He spoke on his phone and then two constables entered through my front door. One of them produced three plastic bags and my eyes widened as I recognised their contents. The first bag contained a purple cloth, the other a torch and the third a plastic grocery bag.

As Inspector Crosbie began postulating how I’d murdered Aunt Myrtle, I could see it playing in front of me like a movie. I couldn’t help admiring his intelligence as he spoke because he’d figured out how I’d killed my aunt.

After speaking to Archie at the supermarket that Sunday, I went home feeling depressed. A while later, Aunt Myrtle telephoned, asking me to come over that very evening because she had something very important to tell me. I knew it was my chance.

I decided not to take the train, because I wanted to get away quickly. So I drove to Bradford Village and parked two miles away amongst a copse of pine trees. Being evergreens, they would efficiently hide my car in the darkness. As I walked to Bradford Village, the winter darkness had already set in and there was a slight drizzle, making the streets almost deserted.

Aunt Myrtle had been glad to see me, although she appeared perturbed. She took me into the kitchen and poured me some tea. I’d asked for the sugar and, as she headed to the kitchen cabinet, I took the torch from my jacket and hit her on the back of the head with the handle. I only heard a whimper as her body collapsed on the floor. I checked her pulse and she was still alive. Good! Now I could stage the scene for her accident in the bathtub. I went upstairs, filled the bathtub, and added bath salts and oils. I also dropped the soap in to make the scene convincing.

Her wound was bleeding when I went back to the kitchen, but she was still alive. I wrapped the purple dishcloth around her head and then slowly lifted and carried her upstairs to the bathroom. After undressing her, I pressed her head against the wall where the bathtub was attached to make it look like she had hit her head there. Satisfied that there was enough blood to convince the police, I slowly lay her into the tub and watched her sink as bubbles appeared on the surface through the break in the foam. I waited patiently until they disappeared, knowing for certain she was dead. My inheritance was now secure.

I then went back into the kitchen and used the same purple dish cloth to clean the blood from the floor. A plastic bag from the local supermarket was lying on the kitchen counter. I put the towel and the torch into it and left the house through the back door.

I’d spent many summers in this village as a child and knew the area well. So I backtracked to where my car was parked. The drizzle now turned into a heavy downpour, which was fine because any footprints would be washed away. There was a pond next to the pine trees, and I threw the plastic bag, along with its contents, into the pond. Satisfied, I got into the car to drive home, but the car skidded due to the wet earth and hit the tree in front of it. Cursing my bad luck, I got out and found that the headlight on the right was damaged. I couldn’t risk driving back to London in this rain – I would have a hard time explaining why I was driving with one working headlight if a copper stopped me. So I used my smartphone, found the closest mechanic open that Sunday evening, and drove to Bennett’s Garage. After the headlight was fixed, I paid in cash and drove back to London.

Inspector Crosbie told me he knew exactly where I’d hidden my car, as they were the only clump of pine trees in the area. He then took a plastic packet from his jacket containing the glass pieces which were once part of my convertible’s headlight. He’d found them where my car had hit the pine tree. He’d had the pond dredged, which revealed the plastic bag and its grisly contents. There was some hair still sticking to the torch, which had been forensically determined to belong to Aunt Myrtle.

As the constable was handcuffing me, I enquired what had aroused his suspicion that Aunt Myrtle had been murdered. Inspector Crosbie told me that he’d been puzzled at the section of the kitchen floor, which was cleaner than the rest, and asked Christine about it. She did not know, but noticed that the purple dish cloth, which she had handled that Sunday afternoon, was missing; Aunt Myrtle had three of them – all different colours. Inspector Crosbie had painstakingly gone through the dustbin and there was no sign of it, so he knew that something was wrong.

What he told me next hit me like a gigantic tidal wave. Aunt Myrtle had visited her doctor after Christmas, complaining of a migraine and being forgetful. The doctor had discovered a tumour in her brain. After conducting tests, he broke the news to her on the Friday before she died that she had terminal brain cancer and only six months to live – that was probably the important news she wanted to give me.

As I was being led to the car, I turned and gazed at the house one last time. A surge of regret engulfed me. If only I’d been patient, Aunt Myrtle would’ve told me about her impending death and spared me the trouble of having to kill her. Now, because of my rashness, the house I’d longed to live in would go to Jeanette, her uncouth husband and their three whining brats – all because I fell for Archie’s joke.


Find out more about author Trevor D’Silva here.


View all stories

Join the CRA

Joining the CRA is FREE. There are no lengthy forms to fill out and we need nothing but your email. You will receive a regular newsletter but no spam.