Jiggles and the Black Shaft – 17

Constable Miller’s head hung down, and he stared at the ground as they trudged along the lake side. It was obvious he wasn’t giving their job the concentration it required, and was simply moping.

Erin and Jiggles dropped a few steps behind him. They shared a look, and a nod, then caught up with him. One at either elbow, they each laid a hand on one of his arms. It took him a moment to notice, then he looked at the lovely ladies alongside him.

“So, it’s obvious that you knew Maude.” Jiggles said.

“Not…. well, not that well.” Constable Miller straightened his back, and pulled his shoulders straight, deciding he shouldn’t slouch so. “We…. did it. Only three times, and she told me it was all for fun, and not to get too serious about it. But she would still give me a smile, after, like, when we met. It wasn’t like she ignored me, after.”

The Constable shook his head, tutting at himself. “It’s not easy, meeting people for fun around here. There aren’t that many people, in total, and everyone knows everyone else. And it’s harder because I’m with the Police. It seems like every girl’s got a brother or a father who is doing something that might be illegal, and doesn’t want to risk me finding out. So she gets warned off. Maude. wasn’t local, and she just wanted to have fun.”

Constable Miller’s cheeks were a deep red, but there was a determined set to his jaw now. It may have been embarrassing to admit, but he felt better to have admitted to his dalliances with Maude, and to have got his grander romantic woes off his chest.

“I know that Maude liked to have her fun wherever she could find it. She said as much to me, and I…. Well, I admired that about her, I guess, even if it frustrated me that we wouldn’t…. It’s how I would like to be, if I could get past the fear of the gossips and all that.”

“It isn’t easy, is it, in a small town or the countryside? We have to travel to have our fun.” Jiggles told him. “Perhaps you could put in for a transfer?”

“I have thought about that. A lot. But I couldn’t leave the Sergeant here all on his own. I’m just a country bobby, anyway. I don’t know if I could cope with the big city. I am a hopeless case, aren’t I?” Constable Miller managed a wry little smile.

“Perhaps when you have solved this case, we can think about the best ways for you to meet more ladies and have more fun.” Erin assured him. He nodded, though it was obvious he thought they were humouring him.

“Even Maude managed to find something…. I mean, someone, not from around here, and started thinking of going steady. We didn’t speak often, even before the times we had together, but she would say hello, and sometimes pass the time of day. The last time, or maybe the second last time, that I talked with her, it was obvious she was thinking of someone else. I straight out and asked her, and she said something about meeting someone who could solve all her problems. That may not be saying that she was in love, but it sounded a little like it.” The Constable stared out across the lake for a little while, eyes not focussing on anything, as he digested his own information. “Do you think that may be relevant? To…. what happened to her?”

“It is a possibility.” Jiggles conceded. “You will have to tell the Sergeant and Godfrey about it, when we get back to them.”

The Constable winced at the thought, but nodded agreement. “My mind hasn’t been on the job, has it? I hope I haven’t missed any evidence.”

“We haven’t come that far. If we don’t find anything else on our promenade around the lake, we can go over this first little bit again.” Erin told him.

They had been sent to see if they could spot the place where Maude had gone into the lake. Godfrey had taken command of the investigation, and started handing out tasks to everyone. Jiggles and Erin had both liked this purposeful stance by him, almost to the point of being excited by it. They were going to have to have a chat later, expanding upon Erin’s thoughts of seducing him.

They went back to their evidence seeking positions, now that Constable Miller had sorted out his feelings. Jiggles walked along the edge of the shoreline, the Constable was on the path, and Erin was on the lawn beyond. She had the trickiest route, as she had to dodge around trees and bushes every so often.

There was no clear definition of what they sought, so they each had a different image of the evidence they were looking for. Jiggles expected to find footprints, or maybe drag marks, where Maude had been pushed into the lake. She had to keep reminding herself that she was simply looking for anything out of place, and to not let her imagination make her miss them.

“I think I see something, up ahead.” Constable Miller said, after a few more minutes of quiet walking. Jiggles looked at him first, then traced the direction that his outstretched arm was pointing in.

About fifty yards ahead of them, there was a mark on the path. A dark, wobbly line crossed it, and there were scuff marks in the greenery on either side. The landward marks seemed to be heading for a small copse of neatly trimmed trees.

“Let’s go and have a closer look.” Jiggles declared.

“We should make our way there at the same steady pace.” the Constable told her. “In case there are any other marks or clues on the way.”

He was correct, of course. Jiggles silently chastened herself for her overenthusiasm. She also noted, happily, that Miller was thinking clearly and methodically now, rather than moping and being distant, as he had before. Perhaps unburdening himself to her and Erin had helped him.

So they carried on walking slowly and carefully, scanning the ground ahead of them. Now, they glanced up every few steps, though, to see how much closer they were to the scrapes across the path.

As they drew nearer to the mysterious marks, it became clear that there were actually two of them. They ran almost parallel, skipping and bouncing around along the way. Jiggles was imagining feet being dragged along the ground as someone tried to move a dead body. Perhaps her imagination was getting ahead of her, but she would be surprised if the other two weren’t having similar visions.

The lines didn’t go straight across the path. Where they reached the shoreline was further away than where they left the copse. So it was Erin who found the first clue. “Oh my. That is a lot of blood.” she said, a little shock showing in the tone with which she delivered the words.

Jiggles and Constable Miller left their searches to go over and have a look at what she had found. The five trees were bunched close together, but spaced so that they allowed narrow passage between their branches. The space inside the ring of foliage might offer a space for illicit meetings, hidden from all but the nearest passers by.

Erin had crouched down, and was looking through the nearest gap, at the floor of the little space. Deeply shadowed, it was hard to make out all the details. But one thing that was clear, in amongst the leaf litter, was a ragged edged mess that was a darker red than any of the fallen foliage. It hadn’t dried completely yet, and had a sheen that hinted at stickiness that would send queasy shivers through anyone who touched it.

“Poor Maude.” Constable Williams said as he stared at the blood. He took a deep breath, and pulled himself together. “Well, I think we have found where she was killed, and where she went into the lake. Now, I think we need to leave this all as it is. The Sergeant and Mister Hardwicke and the Doctor will want to have a look.”

“Should we carry on around the lake? To see if there is anything else?” Erin asked. She didn’t like looking at the blood, but couldn’t seem to pull her gaze away from it.

“Perhaps. But let’s report this first, shall we? Which is the best way back to the house?” The Constable looked around. They had come far enough around the lake that the house had disappeared behind trees and a low rise.

“I imagine it’s that way. I can see a path that heads up to the ridge, from behind these trees.” Erin pointed.

“Would one, or both, of you mind going to the house and bringing the Sergeant and the others back? I will stay here, and perhaps do a quick survey whilst I wait.” The Constable was looking from the copse to the lake, perhaps imagining how Maude had been pulled from one to the other.

“We’ll go and get them.” Jiggles announced. She straightened, looking away from all the blood with relief at being able to break her morbid fascination. “Oh, look. What’s that?”

Constable Miller and Erin stepped closer, and followed her pointing finger. A small blue square lay on the grass, just outside the copse, a couple of feet away from where the drag marks came out. Constable Miller walked over to it, carefully stepping over the scuffs in the lawn. Kneeling down, he pulled out a pencil from his breast pocket, and used it to lift a corner of the card.

“It’s a playing card. Well, half of one, it has been torn in two. It’s the Queen of Hearts.”

“Do you think that’s a clue?” Erin asked.

“I can’t imagine how it could get here if it wasn’t part of the poor girl’s death. But I will leave the theorising upon it to more senior investigators.” Constable Miller took advantage of his new position to scan the ground from a different perspective.

“Let’s go and find the others and bring them back here.” Jiggles offered Erin her hand, and let herself be led to the path.

It wasn’t a formal route through the gardens, rather an indentation in the grass made by regular use. Not regular enough to have worn it down to the dirt, yet, but people came along it often enough to have left a mark. They followed it to the top of the small rise, and looked down at the side and rear of the house.

“This is close to the staff quarters. Maybe they didn’t just go into the Shaft for their fun little meetings.” Erin suggested.

“When it comes to people sneaking around Carstairs Hall to make love, I don’t think anything would surprise me any more.” Jiggles replied. She gave Erin’s hand a squeeze, remembering the sneaking she had done the night before.

The rough path met one of the carefully laid and tended ones, and they took this to the side of the house. Then they worked their way around to the room they knew Maude’s body had been taken to. They met Godfrey, Toby, Doctor Todd, and Sergeant Miller part way there.

“Ah, my dears. I take it you have found something?” Godfrey said, seeing Erin and Jiggles come around the corner.

“We have. Have you found anything more from the…. body.” Jiggles asked.

“Very little new. It all appears quite obvious.” Godfrey’s shrug was apologetic. “What do you have to show us?”

“We have found the scene of the crime.” Jiggles announced.

“Well, lead on.”

* * *

“Maude had an…. interesting approach to her love life.” Eileen said, writing down another name on the pad beside her. “She was very happy to take lots of lovers, and she seems to have, at least, liked them all. But she wasn’t above having them give her gifts in return for the sex.”

“That was the impression I was getting as well, until a few pages ago. It seems that, about five months ago, she met someone and fell head over heels in love with him. It’s odd, because she only refers to him as X, where she’s named everyone else.” Ally said.

“I…. No, that can’t be right. I was going to wonder whether it may be someone close to home, that she wanted to keep a secret. But she names all the local people she has slept with, and the members of staff. There was even an entry about how she showed off her cleavage in front of Toby, to see how he reacted.” The last sentence was delivered quietly. If Maude were still alive, she would be on the receiving end of icy glares. As she was dead, Eileen was trying not to think ill of her. “It says that he stared, and seemed to enjoy the view, but nothing came of it.”

“Well, the mystery of X deepens, as she met him on a trip to London. Let’s see….” Ally flicked back a few pages. “I’ve never been swept off my feet before, but X did it. We ate the finest foods and finest wines, and he took me to the theatre before we did it all night in a four poster in an expensive hotel. He said that I was worth it all, and that his employer had just made a massive profit, and he was sharing it. They’re called Matthews, Mayhew and Marston. He says they’re really big and important, but I haven’t heard of them.”

Eileen slammed her diary down on the table. “Matthews, Mayhew and Marston! They’re the ones who bankrupted my father. What was she doing fucking someone who worked for them?”

“Well, he was only introduced a short while ago. Hopefully I’ll learn more in a few pages. How did they bankrupt your father?”

“They approached him with a few orders, and seemed perfectly fine at first. He made the machinery they ordered, and they always paid within a month of being invoiced. But then they came to him with a huge order. They said it was for a South American railway, and it needed to be done as soon as possible. They paid a small amount to settle the deal, with the promise of the rest upon delivery to Brazil.

“Well, father turned over all the machines in the shop to the job. It was the biggest he had ever had. He even took on new workers. And it was finished right on schedule, put on a ship in Liverpool, and sent on its way. And when it was all delivered, Matthews, Mayhew and Marston disappeared before they could pay up. Their offices were abandoned, and the innocent staff they had employed were left in the lurch as well. It bankrupted father’s company, and put all of his workers on the dole. He tried to help them, using up most of the family’s savings, and trying to find new contracts or loans. But none of it worked, and he had to sell up. He’s got a little workshop now, just him and my brother. I asked Lord Carstairs if I could work here, and he said yes, but he expected me to get something better, as soon as possible. But then he died. Not long after I started working here.”

“Blimey.” said Ginge, as Eileen quietly fumed at the memories. “Well, I think we have found a suspect. Or, at least, a suspicious person. What would an employee of Matthews, Mayhew and Marston want with Maude? Do Matthews, Mayhew and Marston even exist, or are they this mysterious X? I shall hurry up sorting these letters, and see if there are any from him.”

Eileen couldn’t concentrate on her diary any more. She kept glancing across at Ally, as if trying to work out what her diary said, simply from the way her eyes moved as they flicked across the pages.

“Why don’t you come around to this side of the table and read over my shoulder? I think it’s safe to say that the most interesting entries are going to be in this diary.” Ally said, patting the chair next to her.

Eileen looked as if she would climb across the table to get to the chair faster. Controlling herself, she rushed around it instead, and took the place next to Ally. “Have you found out more about X? What did he want with Maude?”

“Not yet. But she has started saying that she will see him again soon. She mentions you here, look.”

“’A new girl called Ilene’ She spelt my name wrong. ‘A new girl called Ilene started today. A little naive, but a fast learner, and willing to help out. Should I tell her how Lord Toby looks at her, particularly her behind when she bends over.’ Oh, that is interesting. I didn’t think that Toby was interested in me, well, that way, until yesterday, really. Though I had hoped he was for a long time.” Eileen re-read the entry, shaking her head again at the misspelling of her name, but allowing a little smile to form. “I never thought I was naive. But, I guess, perhaps I was, compared to her.”

“Let’s see what she thinks of you after a few days, shall we?” Ally joked, turning the page.

They read silently, eyes moving in time as they scanned across the lines and digested their meanings. Occasionally, they would nod together, as well, spotting the same interesting point at the same time. Eileen, in Maude’s opinion, settled in quickly. She didn’t like talking about why she had taken the job, and was hopelessly unaware of the lustful gaze of the younger Lord Carstairs. Eileen went pink at all the signs she had missed that had been so obvious to Maude.

But, soon, the ongoing assessment of the new maid was put aside for more important matters. Maude was going to use a day off to meet with the mysterious X in a hotel a few towns over. They would spend the day pretending to be man and wife, signing in as Mr and Mrs Smith.

“I feel sorry for all the real Mr and Mrs Smiths out there.” Ginge said, when Ally read this bit out, and asked him to look for letters from around that date. “Every time they sign into a hotel, the staff must think they’re having an affair.”

“They could pretend that they were. It might make it all more fun.” Eileen joked.

“I like the way you think.” Ally teased. “Should we skip ahead to their meeting?”

“Oh, I want to. But let’s read everything that builds up to it, just in case.”

So they kept on working their way through the diary, day by day. After a few more pages, Eileen had a thought. “How long is it since she was with a man? It seemed to be two a week when I was reading the other diary. And she was keen on the Black Shaft game. I thought she was above all that, but that was just because she never did it while I was here.”

“Good question. I hadn’t spotted that, but it’s obvious now you’ve mentioned it.” Ally flipped back through the pages quickly. “No. No. No…. That’s her first time with X. There we go. Nobby again. You were right, there was no-one after she met X.”

“He must have been good. To make a girl like Maude give up all other men.” Eileen said, a touch of awe in her voice.

“Maybe he has a huge dick.” Ginge offered.

“Size isn’t everything. Or so I’ve been told.” Ally replied. “But I imagine it would help.”

Fighting the urge to skim and skip pages, Ally and Eileen carried on through the diary. They were soon rewarded with the meeting they wanted to read about. Mr and Mrs Smith booked in to their hotel, and barely left their room. Maude went into extended and graphic detail of the positions they had tried, the size of X’s manhood- which was usefully large- and the number of times she had climaxed. Far more information than she had included for any previous encounter.

“Goodness, she did enjoy herself.” Eileen mumbled, clearly flushed from what she had just read. “I would never have thought of taking it up the bum. Who would have thought it could be enjoyable.”

“Oh, it’s wonderful.” Ally and Ginge assured her, in tandem.

“I shouldn’t be surprised that adventurous types like you have tried such exotic stuff. Would you tell me how…? I wonder if Toby would…?” Eileen squirmed in her seat, and flashed a guilty grin at Ginge and Ally. “I should stop thinking about such things. We have a murder to solve. There’s more to the weekend, after all the lovemaking. What does she say next?”

Ally turned the page, away from the dirty passages. She scanned the first few lines, then started reading. “’I can deny X nothing, not even what he has asked me to do now. We had a long and serious talk before we parted, and he told me of his plans. Matthews, Mayhew and Marston is no more. He says they were never a real company, but I don’t know how that works. He has a plan to make money now. But first he needs me to seduce old Lord Carstairs. If he can get me pregnant, that will be better still. I don’t know what he plans, for after I have had the old man, but he tells me they will make us both rich, and we can be together properly then.’”

Eileen folded the edges of the pages over, working her way back until she found the date. “This is less than a fortnight before Lord Carstairs died.” she announced. “Does this mean that Maude, or X, had something to do with his death?”

“Well, Toby did say his father’s last expression looked like he was enjoying a bit of it.” Ginge said. He had separated all the letters now, and his hand lay on top of one pile. “These are all signed X. Perhaps they will tell us his side of the plot. But I want to know what happened next for Maude.”

Ally continued reading the entry. “’The old bugger is a nice chap, and well leery. I don’t think he will be so hard to seduce. I have seen the way he looks at my tits as I bend over to serve him tea. Lady Carstairs is a frigid bitch, too. The horrible unlovely uniforms was her idea. X thinks the old lord is too old to get it up any more, though. So he gave me a bottle of Spanish Fly. He says it will turn a dead man on, and has stuff in it to make him sort of drunk, as well as getting him hard. I will slip it in one of his late night drinks when I know I have the chance to be alone with him.’ I wonder if Godfrey knows someone who can analyse the contents of that bottle?”

“I wonder if the others have found anything as interesting as this.” Ginge said.

“I doubt it. We have the best job, sitting inside and reading naughty diary entries. They have to look for less obvious clues.” Ally concluded.