“We don’t have a proper cell in our station. He’ll have to be transferred to the county nick.” Sergeant Miller said, eyeing up Donald, who stood by the Austin 7, hands clasped together at his waist, looking around like a stunned puppy. He had started to recover from the concussion of Eileen’s shoe against the back of his head whilst they had been flying back. Enough to start faking the vacant stare, anyway. Nobody trusted him, expecting him to be plotting an escape.
“And then on to London, I suspect. There are other cases I suspect he has been involved in, on top of the kidnapping and attempted larceny here.” Godfrey said.
“And the murder.” Sergeant Miller added.
“He claims he didn’t do it. Oddly enough, I think I believe him.”
“He is a confidence trickster, darling. I wouldn’t believe a word he says, either way.” Erin told Godfrey.
“True. Perhaps we will get some sort of confession from him when he’s interrogated.”
“I watched those three.” Donald declared, with a sudden burst of coherence, pointing at Toby, Eileen and Ally. “I saw his lordship sneaking to the hangar, and I got distracted from my meeting with Maude, and followed him. I saw what he did with her, and then with her.” He pointed at Eileen and then Ally as they approached. “Then I ran away when they nearly spotted me. I was late to meet her, and I thought she had gone back. Then I spotted her foot, sticking out from the trees. I don’t know. I panicked. I dragged her over and threw her in the lake. Maybe I hoped she would sink. I don’t know when I dropped the card. That was so stupid.”
Everyone had crowded around Donald, staring down at him, still suspicious.
“It has the ring of truth to it.” Toby conceded.
Eileen crossed her arms, and glared at Donald, still not convinced. “Describe exactly what you saw.” she demanded.
So he did, in great detail. Despite sounding disgusted and disapproving, he had stayed and watched right to the end, taking it all in. His prudery was undercut by the sweaty, short breathed way he described the assignation in the hangar.
“I think the concussion has been cured.” Ally said, fighting back a smile at the memories he had recovered for her.
“Well, I’m convinced. That he watched us, anyway. I don’t know whether it works as an alibi though.” Eileen added. “Where do we put him until he can be collected?”
“There are some stalls in the stables that he could go in. He couldn’t get out of them, even if he can pick locks.” Toby told her.
“A last ride in the Rolls for you.” Godfrey told Donald as he pulled their prisoner to his feet. “It will be Police vans from now on.” He opened the door for Donald, following him in. Sergeant Miller went around the car, and opened the opposite door, so that the prisoner was wedged between them on the wide seat. Clive took the driver’s seat again, and Ginge joined him in the front cab.
“We’ll take the little Austin back. So you two can drive the jalopy back.” Jiggles told Toby and Eileen. She hooked her arm inside the crook of Erin’s elbow, and they walked to the little car.
“Good Lord, this thing is tiny. I’ve seen bathing tubs that are larger.” Erin said when she was stood next to the Austin, and discovered its size wasn’t a trick of perspective.
“Well, you do have a far bigger country than we do. You have more room for fatter cars.” Jiggles joked.
The V8 Ford roared into life, with its distinctive rumble topped by the whistle of the supercharger. Erin almost looked jealous as she looked from the hot rod to the quaint little British car. With a shrug, she stepped into the Austin without opening the door.
When the cars were all in the garage, Constable Miller thought to empty Donald’s pockets before he was locked up. There were keys, a wallet, coins, and a little black address book. None of the items could help him out of the room he was to be locked in, but they could all go into evidence.
Godfrey picked up the book, and flipped through the pages. Spotting something in passing, he stopped, and worked his way back through it. He held it open, and showed everyone. ‘Marty Hunt-Smythe’ it said at the top of the page, then ‘X’, and an address. “A name for the investigation, I think.” he said.
The stall that Toby had chosen to lock Donald in had a thick, heavy, full height oak door, that bolted at top and bottom. There was a narrow barred window high up, which was too far away from the bolts for anyone on the inside to reach them. The window inside the stall was similarly narrow, barred and up high, and the stall had recently been cleared of its contents.
“Whatever is this for?” Erin asked.
“Well, according to his diaries, Grandpapa wanted to keep some big cats. I don’t know how serious he was being about it. He built this, but there were never any lions or tigers put in it.” Toby explained.
“Quite right, too. This is no place to keep a wild animal.” Eileen said. “Him, though? I think he can stay in here for a while.” She motioned for Donald to step inside, and, meekly, he complied.
“Well, that’s that sorted out.” Erin said, when the bars had gone in to lock the stall. “Now we only have to find the murderer.”
“But first, I really need breakfast. I never even had a chance to start mine before everything went wild.” Eileen said. She led the way back to the house, and everyone followed, suddenly very hungry, now that she had mentioned food.
Melissa was sat at the dining table, appearing not to have moved at all. Lynes stood several paces behind her, seemingly implacable. “Ah, good, you have returned.” she stood. “I have found something very important.”
Now, everyone could see the pile of paper on the table beside Melissa’s plate. She spidered her hand atop it, and announced, “When you all ran off like that, I did not know what to do at first. But then I decided that I had to go and have a look in his room. Donald’s room. If he ran off like that, then he had to be guilty of something. I’m sure many of you are aware of the secret compartments that almost every room in this have.”
Melissa didn’t seem about to carry on until someone acknowledged what she had said so far. Toby nodded for the group, and she continued, “I went to Donald’s room, and did a search, until I found the hidden compartment. These were in it.” She swept her hand forward, pushing the top few sheets from the pile across the table. They were all pictures of Maude, no doubt taken at the same session as the ones that Lynes had developed.
One of the pictures showed Maude in her knickers and brassiere. In the next, the cups were on the floor, and she held her breasts in her hands. She had no clothes on at all in the rest of the photographs. In one close up, she was sat on the bed with her legs spread, and her fingers holding her labia open.
“This disgusting…. Filth, was in the secret compartment. It must have something to do with his reason for killing her.” Melissa pronounced. She looked down, and a naked Maude looked back at her. She swept this one, and several under it, away as well. But this simply revealed yet more dirty pictures. She splayed her hand over this one, covering Maude’s nudity.
“I am sure they inspired someone to murder. But I don’t think Donald was the one inspired.” Toby announced. “Is that correct, Lynes.”
“It is, sir.” the butler said”
“What do you mean?” Melissa looked from Toby to Lynes, and back again. “I found these in Donald’s room.”
“I don’t believe you did. You see, after Godfrey explained his plan for the reveal at breakfast, I decided Something more needed to be done. Whilst we were having breakfast, and waiting for Donald to reveal himself, Lynes was in his room, looking for the secret compartment.” Toby explained.
“Actually, sir, I did not need to search. I know where the compartments are in almost every room.” Lynes said, his boast delivered in his usual cultured deadpan.
“Indeed. So, I asked Lynes to go through Donald’s room, particularly the compartment, and collect anything incriminating that he found. I take it you didn’t find these photographs?”
“I did not, sir. They weren’t there. I did find a small number of letters, and some documentation that should be of interest to Eileen.”
“To me?” Eileen cocked her head to one side, bemused.
“Receipts for the sale of some specialised equipment to a South American concern. I expect the numbers will be important when your father calculates how much he needs to get back from Donald.” Lynes said.
“That sounds wonderful. But not relevant just now.” Eileen forced herself not to smile at the potentially good news. She had hold of Toby’s hand, and gave it a little squeeze, telling him she would interrupt no more, and that he should go on with his line of questioning.
The brief interlude had allowed Melissa to realise what Toby was working toward. She sat down, slowly.
“I think we can understand why you would say that the photographs were in Donald’s room. But I’m more interested in where you got them from. And what you did when you discovered them. I imagine it was only a few days ago.” Toby said quietly, but firmly.
“Last week. I found them last week. I finally went into your father’s studio, to do a stock take, and see what could be got rid of. They weren’t even in the hidden compartment. they were in the bedside drawers to the little bed he slept on in there sometimes. And photographed her on, the little slut. It was like he got them out sometimes, when he wanted to….”
Melissa’s expression was set hard, anger outweighing sadness. “I truly did care for your father. I want you to know that. But the things he wanted us to do. The sexual things. Yours is a family of perverts, engaging in that sort of behaviour for anything other than breeding. But he was older than me, and I resolved myself to the occasional fumbling, and figured he could find anything more elsewhere. But he didn’t go elsewhere, did he? He had to do it with one of the staff. And take these disgusting photographs to prove it.”
A final, angry shove of the remaining photographs saw them spread out across the table top and over the floor. Nobody moved to pick them up. “I was sure she killed him, as soon as I saw these pictures. Rode him until he had a heart attack. Perhaps I should have thanked her. It did mean I was going to inherit the hall, and so much of his wealth. If only you could have been persuaded to move out. I could have made it a good, decent place again.”
“Why did you kill Maude? Because of the pictures? Or because of what happened to Papa?” Toby asked, when Melissa showed no sign of carrying on her confession.
“I was overcome with passion. With…. with anger. And it was such a strange moment. I simply had to stab her.” Melissa’s mask broke for a moment. She forced it back into place. “I could not sleep, so I was walking the halls. The ghost was crying out again, and this time there seemed to be three voices to it. It was horrible. I had picked up the knife because I was that scared by it. A part of me wanted to go to Donald’s room, to seek comfort from him. But that would have been so wrong.
“It was as there was a break in the ghost’s noises that I heard movement elsewhere. I looked down the stairs, and I saw Maude sneaking out of the front door. I was reminded of those photographs, and I felt anger at her. And curiosity about where she could be going. So I followed her.
“She was not very careful about being followed. She didn’t look back at all. I sneaked from tree to tree, finding hiding places where I could, but I swear she never looked back once. Eventually, she reached that stand of trees by the lake. Then she looked back, and saw me.”
Melissa paused, steeling herself for the next part of the confession. There was a cup of tea on the table before her, and she lifted it to take a long sip. “She said something like, ‘Ma’am, what are you doing here?’ I asked what she was doing out at that time, and she wouldn’t answer me. I asked why she had let your father take those terrible pictures of her, and she just laughed, and said that it had been fun. Then I asked if she had killed him, and she looked sad. Or sorry, I couldn’t tell. She said that it wasn’t meant to happen that way. I think she was about to start explaining, making excuses.”
Another sip of the tea provided a dramatic pause. “Then I started stabbing her. I don’t know how many times I did it, but, after one of them, the knife wouldn’t come back out again. She fell backwards into the trees, and I think I laughed. That had shown her. The wages of sin are death.
“I came to my senses quickly enough, and ran back to the house. There was surprisingly little blood on me or my clothes. I washed my hands, and rinsed my clothes. I put them in the back of a cupboard, to be put in a wash later, when nobody would think to look at any stains. And then I slept. Better than I had in a long time, I must say. It was only the next morning, when the body was found, that I felt anything like shock.”
“Or remorse.” Toby added. But Melissa showed no sign of agreeing with that. She took another sip of the tea.
“I was…. confused by the way she got into the lake, I must say. I attributed that to the ghosts.”
“Donald dragged her over and threw her in.” Toby said.
“Oh, of course. I suppose that makes sense.”
There was a long silence, finally broken by Sergeant Miller stepping forwards. “Lady Carstairs, I am going to have to take you to the station. And from their, you will have to go to the cells at the county station. I am arresting you for murder.”
“If you have to. Might I change into something more drab and hard wearing before I have to go?”
Sergeant Miller was silent for a moment as he considered the strange request. He managed to fight the urge to turn to Toby for guidance, and said, “Well, it will be a while before the van for Donald and yourself arrives. But I shall be standing right outside the room, and I will ask someone to be standing under the window, in case you think of making an escape.”
“Oh, there is no need for that. I suppose I have been caught, and I will have to pay the price. I should not have let my emotions get the better of me like that. It would have been so much better if I had simply had her dismissed, and written a very sharp letter to anyone who considered employing her afterwards.” Melissa stood, and walked to the door, closely followed by Sergeant Miller.
The room was silent for a long minute after Melissa had left. “When did you work out it was her, old chap?” Godfrey asked.
“Not until I saw the stack of photographs. I really thought that Donald had done it, right up to the point where he described what we did in the hangar so accurately. Then I was nonplussed. I thought that asking Lynes to go through his room would amount to nothing, but it turns out they helped her incriminate herself.” Toby took the nearest seat. He picked up one of the photographs, which had ended up on top of the plate before him. Looking at Maude laying on the bed, firm, naked butt cheeks sticking up in the air, and cheeky grin turned to the camera, he sighed. “Poor girl.”