Dangerous to know, and absolutely deadly to name

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The Independent Online
There is a prize in America called the Eleventh Hour Award, given each year to the best ending of a new crime novel. This year's winner is the last two pages of 'Not I, Not You', by J F Ellenbray, and I am proud to bring you the winning entry . . .

'IT WAS obvious to me early on,' said Arthur Schutt, looking round the faces in the library, 'that the person responsible for the murders was highly ingenious, highly ruthless and quite unprincipled. That did not fit any of the known suspects. Any of you, in fact.'

Schutt looked at the kind, puzzled face of Mrs Wertenbaum. The blank, moronic face of Edgar J Wertenbaum III. The bewigged and powdered face of Charles II, in a portrait, looking quite uninterested in the proceedings.

Schutt ticked off the reasons why nobody in the room could have been the killer. He then explained why none of those present could have thought of hiring the killer. He then started ticking off the reasons which had led to the identity of the hired murderer.

'You see,' he said, 'the average killer likes to keep to the same method each time. But all these murders were done in a completely different manner. There was only one person it could be. And that was . . .'

Schutt never completed his sentence. From the shadows came a swish, and a moment later an arrow was embedded in his chest. He was dead before he could put bloodstains on the carpet.

'I HAVE brought you back to the library to hear the outcome of our investigations,' said Inspector Jackstaff, 'because in a very real sense the library played a very important part in the murder of Arthur Schutt, and in those of the earlier victims. Schutt was murdered because he knew who the murderer was. And because the murderer knew he knew. I don't think Schutt realised quite what a risk he was running by gathering you together for the traditional unveiling of the guilty person. I am quite aware of those risks. I have had the premises searched. I have had you searched. We have found nothing. Yet I am still wearing a bullet-proof vest, and other protection. That is how much respect I show for the killer. Whose name, by the way, is . . .'

At this point the huge chandelier above Jackstaff's head fell and crushed him to death . . .

'THIS was a serial killing with a difference,' said Chief Inspector Ernest Simpson. 'The victims of most serial killers are not known to each other. But this time there was a common link. Anyone who knew the identity of the murderer, or was likely to, was bumped off in turn. I may say that there was not a general rush in the police force to be the next to take this case on after the murder of our respected colleague Don Jackstaff, as it seemed likely that whoever brought the murderer to book would also be done away with at the very moment he announced the murderer's identity.

'That is why I have gone to the rather extreme lengths of addressing you on closed circuit television. I prefer to take no risks.'

It was true. Simpson could only be seen on a bank of TV screens, which the assembled company were watching.

'If I address you from a closed studio,' said Simpson, 'with nobody else present except a fixed camera, it is because we have found we are dealing with a murderer who is quite capable of rising to the highest challenge . . .'

At this point someone screamed. Simpson had stopped talking. His expression was changing. Then he pitched forward on to the desk at which he was sitting. The camera, unmoving, just caught the top of his head. He looked very dead.

This was the first time the award had gone to a denouement in which the killer was never actually revealed. When the Eleventh Hour people called on the winner, J F Ellenbray, to present the prize, they intended to ask him, privately, who the murderer really was, although they felt that a writer as experienced as Ellenbray would not be likely to tell them. Unfortunately, they never got the chance to ask him. He was lying dead at his desk. He had recently been shot.