The Locked Room

There has been murder in my life right from its inception. Exactly forty-five seconds after I was born, my brother James killed my mother. I was the first twin, but I was also indefatigably the first twin. Thus, my life has unravelled inexorably to this moment- as a Locked Room mystery.

This is my confession.

I understand the consequences. The only perfect crime can be one that no one even knows occurred. In this respect too I will lose, I understand this. But I continue nevertheless. I confess this now, as time is short and to meet my maker with this on my conscience is unfathomable.

Two things must be taken into account at this stage. Twenty-eight percent of victims know their murderer. A startlingly high percentage. And physically identical twins are not psychologically identical.

Compare and contrast.

Whilst James struggled through the expensive boarding school, on which our father squandered the family inheritance, I, Henry,

soared. James loitered, lingered and followed me, but in every way was my poorer shadow. He knew it too and made no effort to compensate, seemingly celebrating his inferiority. Father too never forgave him, understandably perhaps, for the death of his wife, our mother.

Later, the real world served only to magnify the difference in our capabilities. I rose quickly and triumphantly through the ranks of a reputable law firm, stepping onto the political stage as was expected from a man of my standing. James however remained pent up in his own inadequacies, blaming me for his recurring failures. He revelled in insufficiency, falling into the opium dens of China Town and associating with women of ill repute with a predictable ease. Whilst this could potentially cause embarrassment for a man of my position, his invisibility worked in my favour and he existed no more tangibly than the fog settling daily over the city.

Most people view twins as two halves of the same person, but I always highlighted his position as the younger sibling and therefore weaker, inferior. And he seemed more than happy to live with this definition, intent on seeing it out to its logical

conclusion. It is true that at this stage I, Henry, paid no mind to any feelings of jealousy or anger that James must have been experiencing, nor did it concern me the self-perpetuating effect this would have on his abortion of a life.

When father died, coughing red blood, the segregation was complete and the only link between us was severed. For many years we had no contact. I continued to prosper, taking my seat in the House, my business investments repeatedly coming to fruition as if with the kiss of the divine. My only regret being that I never married, had no children, so that with me the family name would fade from the lips of history.

Two brothers. One invisible, forgotten, trawling the bottom layer of society. One visibly successful, a man of means and reputation. Both equally alone. One in the gutter, the other, a rattle around a Mayfair home. I took no pride in the gap between us, it was what it was. The argument stands that one existed only as the failings of the other, but there was no gloating in the distance; the world simply began to forget that James existed at all.

This careful balance, James almost living my sin for me

continued for many years, ostensibly to this day, despite his disappearance twenty years ago. At the time the few people who cared at all assumed that he had fallen foul to one of his many criminal acquaintances; a resurrectionist, a loan shark or the like. Indeed, this is still the publicly accepted turn of events, up until now only I have ever known differently. It is something of an unspoken tragedy in the circles through which I slide. I feel the pity in their gaze for the brother whom I lost. Until now this has been as the Locked Room, where the perpetrator of the crime has vanished into thin air, leaving the sin impossible and unsolvable.

Forgive my illusory talk, I intend not to use smoke and mirrors, for too many years this has been all there is.

Imagine instead two brothers. One powerful and successful. One barely human in his activities and moral compass. A late night, the pounding of knuckles wakes Henry from a comfortable sleep. At the doorstep his brother, broken, crying, pleads for forgiveness. Henry allows James to enter, bathes him, dresses him and feeds him. By the flicker of candlelight they appear as the same. How thin the layer of respectability, barely a patina.

The dissimilarity between them narrowed by the scrub of soap and the drape of fabric.

Imagine the differences between these brothers honed further to the finest point, until all that is left is sibling rivalry and jealousy of the material. Then that line too is blurred by words and fists, a lifetime of covetousness and finally the weight of metal.

Imagine the following morning when the housekeeper awakens Henry and prepares his food, finding him surly and pensive. A mood that will hold him in its thrall for many years.

Even now, as I await the end, I struggle to define myself. The boundaries have gone and I am no longer Henry as much as James as much as Henry. It is true that I have the trappings of a successful life, denied to me for many years, but more was lost than my brother as I lowered his weighted body into the cold, poison embrace of the Thames. Henry’s achievements may belong to me as completely as his financial security, but the weaknesses of James are still there too and they haunt me even now as I recant this tale.

The Locked Room. In which it is impossible for the murderer to have left the scene of the crime. Unless of course, he looked identical to the victim.