“Now, this is a problem that I can solve.” Ginge announced, staring down at the engine parts under the SE5. “We’ll have it all back together in no time.”
“The magic hands of Ginge will fix it.” Ally joked.
“Only if he shows me how as he does it. Eileen added. “But, before that, I found something in my room. I think it belonged to Lord Carstairs. Old Lord Carstairs.” She held up the book she had been, ineffectually, hiding behind her back all the way from the house.
Toby took the hardbound notebook, and turned it over in his hands. “This looks older than anything of Papa’s. It may even be Grandpapa’s. In fact, this may be the one I was reminded of when Erin and Jiggles mentioned that they had found the old gazebo. You found this in your room?”
“I thought there might be a hidden compartment in my room, like there was in Maude’s. So I had a look when I went to change. And I found that book. There’s a marker in it. I read a little of it….” Eileen went her adorable shade of red again.
“Was it interesting?” Ally asked.
Eileen went her adorable shade of pink, and grinned. “Very interesting.”
Toby had found the marker, and opened the book to it. He read a few lines, and his eyebrows raised. “Yes, this is the passage I was thinking of. Grandpapa celebrated his marriage to Grandmama in a rather interesting way, didn’t he?”
“Is it a Carstairs family tradition?” Eileen asked, pretending to be coy.
“I think Grandpapa wanted it to be. I don’t know whether Papa and Mama did it. Or Papa and Melissa. I don’t think I want to know whether they did.” Now it was Toby’s turn to blush.
Ally and Ginge looked at each other, and shrugged. Maybe they would find out what this was all about later, though they could guess at the general subject, if not the specific details. “Do you think Maude put it there?” Ally asked. “As a hint of some sort?”
Toby and Eileen stared at each other, mouths agape, cheeks getting ever redder. Well, I, erm….” Toby mumbled.
“It was an interesting entry, wasn’t it?” Eileen smiled at him. “I was…. Intrigued by it.”
“Should we talk about it later?”
Yes. Let’s. But we should fix the aeroplane first. That is why we’re here, after all.”
“It is. Sorry for the delay, Ginge. How can we help?”
As they already knew most of the story from Maude’s diaries, Jiggles, Erin, and Godfrey were going through her letters. Godfrey had laid claim to the juicy details of X’s correspondence, leaving all Maude’s other lovers to Erin and Jiggles. He noted date, postmark, and anything else that seemed relevant or interesting, about each missive. He had liberated a stack of filing cards from a cabinet, and put the notes for each letter on a separate one. Later, they could be sorted into order, and cross-referenced against Maude’s diaries to look for connections.
Jiggles and Erin were making similar notes about their stack of letters. They couldn’t take their job as seriously, though, certain that any revelation would come from Godfrey’s collection. Every so often, they would find something saucy to show each other, and giggle about it. They did wonder whether this was respectful towards the dead woman, but Maude had inspired some grand, and silly, declarations from her lovers.
“This X must have been quite a man, to turn a girl who could have any of these guys.” Erin commented.
“Well hung, and very talented, according to her diary. And very clever, too. We at the, erm, Ministry, make a study of psychological manipulation. So we can more easily spot it when it is being done to our people, of course.” Godfrey said.
“Of course.” Jiggles humoured him.
“Yes. And, well, I’m seeing some of the hallmarks of it in these letters. Perhaps I’m just being suspicious, but I think that her lover was playing a game with her, leading her towards what he wanted, as part of a grander plan.”
“Killing old Lord Carstairs with sex?” Erin asked.
“Or perhaps just seducing him, as her diary said. Whatever the long term plan, obviously he didn’t share it with Maude. But, remember, he was involved, in some way, with bankrupting Eileen’s father. I’m certain we are dealing with a con man here. A rather clever one.” Godfrey carefully folded the letter he had just read, and put it back in its envelope.
They read on, in near silence, punctuated only by the occasional giggle, until Godfrey had reached the last of the letters from X. “Aha!” he exclaimed.
“A clue?” asked Jiggles.
“Something that will tell you his identity?” Erin added.
“An explanation. You will remember that we found a torn playing card, by the, erm, scene?”
“The Queen of Hearts.” Erin said.
“Listen to this. ‘I have a new plan now, and you can help fulfil it, despite the earlier setback. An associate of mine will be on the Carstairs grounds next Friday night. Meet him in the ring of trees, by the lake, that you told me about, at midnight. So you can be absolutely sure of his identity, he will have the other half of this card.’ There is no torn card in the envelope. She would have taken it with her, I presume. And that was the scrap we found earlier. Or that part belongs to her mystery visitor.”
“X is certainly heading to the top of the wanted list, isn’t he?” Erin said. “If only we had some clue as to who he is.”
“But Maude was meeting someone he knew, not him. Unless it was a bluff to throw us off the trail, and he was the one who was waiting for her in the copse last night. No, that can’t be right. Either way, the murderer may still be close by. Maybe even in the house.” Jiggles reasoned.
All three of them jumped when the door opened- they had got themselves so wound up. Lynes’ step faltered for the briefest of moments. He hadn’t expected such a reaction to his arrival. Composure recovered, he entered, carrying a tray of paper. As he neared the table, it became obvious that he was delivering the just developed photographs of the murder scene.
“The photographs are still a little wet, and some of them may be sticky. They are separated by tissue, and I would recommend laying them out on the table after viewing them, so they can finish drying completely.” Lynes said, as he put the tray down between Godfrey and Erin.
The topmost picture was not of the copse at all. It depicted a very different kind of bush. The tight curls of pubic hair formed a rough triangle, pointing down to the lips of a woman’s sex. “Is that…?” Erin guessed.
“Maude, Miss Erin. Yes. The other photographs show…. more of her.”
Godfrey peeled the close up crotch from the top of the pile, followed by the tissue separating it from the next image. This photograph was a full body, and full frontal, image of Maude, standing in the nude before a section of the house’s oak panelling. “These were the already exposed images on the small camera?” Godfrey asked, as he handed the first photograph to Erin. She gave it an appreciative once over, then passed it to Jiggles, who laid it out on the table to carry on drying.
“Yes, sir. I felt it appropriate to include them, as they may be important in some way. Yet….”
“Well, there were only the five pictures. I would have expected Lord Carstairs to take more. He once used a whole two rolls of film photographing one rose. To only take five pictures of Maude….”
“I see.” Godfrey handed the photograph to Erin, and peeled the tissue from the next one. This showed Maude stretched out on a bed, shapely buttocks pushed up to catch the light from a window, a sly smile on her face as she stared at the lens. “And you couldn’t find any other prints?”
“No sir. Now, Lord Carstairs could develop photographs himself, easily. He only asked for my help to speed the process up. So, if he took other photographs, I am sure they would have been developed. But, once I knew what the subject of these ones were, I searched in his storage drawers, and found no matching ones.”
“This is Carstairs Hall. Likely they are in a hidden compartment somewhere.” Erin said, breaking from her appreciation of Maude’s posterior, and passing the photograph to Jiggles.
“Should I look in the master bedroom for them, do you think? I know where the compartments are in the top floor study, and the dark room, and they were in neither of those.” Lynes asked.
“Is Lady Carstairs not using the master bedroom?” Godfrey wondered.
“She may be, at present. I confess, I have not seen her since the body was discovered. Or our other guest, either.”
“The mysterious Donald.” Erin looked from Godfrey to Jiggles, and voiced what all three were suddenly thinking. “You don’t suppose he is mister X’s inside man, do you?”
“I have to admit, I took a very quick dislike to him, and have been suspicious of him since I hear Toby’s misgivings about his presence. His foolish comments about the German situation over dinner did nothing for my opinion of him, either. As well as playing snooker last night, I also put a call in to the office, asking them to find out what they can about him, and to get the information to me as soon as possible. I’m expecting a call, or a telegram, perhaps even a package, any time today.”
“He is rather moving in on Melissa, isn’t he? He arrived a couple of days ago. She calls him her emotional advisor, whatever that means.” Erin said. Godfrey had handed her the last two images of Maude. One was another full nude, whilst the other was taken from closer in, from behind, as she bent over. With her buttocks arching together at the top of the photograph, the tight hole of her arse was plainly visible, and, below it, the lips of her sex, pouting open ever so slightly with clear excitement. Erin bit her bottom lip as she stared at this picture for longer than she ought, mind drifting.
Lynes hovered behind Erin and Jiggles. His gaze had also dropped to the photographs, and he studied them almost as intently as Erin. Dragging himself away from them, he stepped back, and forced his gaze toward Godfrey. “I can search the master bedroom when Lady Carstairs has vacated it, sir. If you wish. I believe I know where the secret compartment is in that room.”
“Thank you, Lynes. But I think we should leave that for now. We may yet need to do a search of every room in the house. We can get to it then.” Godfrey picked the image that was now atop the pile, and studied it. It showed a close up of the grass outside the copse, marked where Maude’s body had been dragged across it. “These are very good looking photographs, Lynes, perfectly focussed. You have a talent with the camera.”
“Thank you sir. Lord Carstairs taught me well. If that is all, I would like to check on the rest of the staff, to see how they are coping.”
“Yes, thank you. And thank you for all your help today.”
“Simply doing my duty, sir.” Lynes gave the slightest of bows, turned, and left the room.
Godfrey stood, and started distributing the photographs of the copse around the table. As well as letting them finish their drying, he was using the opportunity to arrange them into a grand overview of the scene.
Jiggles waited until she heard Lynes’ steps on the stairway, then leant forward and quietly asked, “Are you sure we should have let him hear our thoughts on the matter like that?”
“You suspect Lynes?” Erin asked.
“Well, he is one of the people we do not have an alibi for last night for yet.”
“You think the butler did it?”
“When you put it like that, it does sound silly, doesn’t it? But, maybe, just in case….”
“My dear, you don’t have a verified alibi for my location last night. But you’re letting me take the lead in this investigation.” Godfrey pointed out. “But, if you have doubts about Lynes, I will happily hear you out.”
“I suppose you are a suspicious, cloak and dagger type, aren’t you. Maybe we shouldn’t trust you.” Erin joked.
“I have no reason not to trust Lynes. But being in a house where a murder has been committed. Two murders, perhaps, depending upon how you interpret the death of old Lord Carstairs. Well, it does make one a touch suspicious. I will trust you, as well, but I think Erin and I need to keep a very close watch on you from now on.” Jiggles announced. Her knee nudged Erin’s under the table, a subtle hint that she was implying something more than simply keeping an eye on Godfrey.
Godfrey looked at Jiggles with suspicion, trying to judge how serious she was being. Then Erin stepped in, to clarify matters. “I think we will have to debrief him later. Just to be sure.”
“It will have to be a very thorough debriefing. We will both need to have a go on…. I mean at him.” Jiggles’ smile told Godfrey what he should be looking forward to.
“I suppose I will have an alibi then, if anything happens tonight.” he said.
“That depends upon how much of the night you last.” Erin teased.
“Indeed. Well, that is something we should discuss later, don’t you think? Shall we get on with the investigation?”