Mistletoe and murder, p.18
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       Mistletoe and Murder, p.18

           Robin Stevens
 
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  ‘Bertie didn’t put us up to anything!’ Daisy burst out before she could stop herself. ‘We were tidying the grate, and we found it. You ought to have a woman about, this room really isn’t clean.’

  Michael turned to me. ‘Give it here,’ he said. ‘Come on. I don’t need anyone to tidy up after me.’

  ‘Of course you do!’ said Daisy, playing for time. ‘Look around! There’s dust and dirt everywhere. The sofa, the grate, the windowsill. Even on your coat!’

  And as she said that, something fell into place in my head. I remembered the marks Alexander had found on the windowsill of James Monmouth’s rooms. I thought of how dirty climbers’ shoes and coats became – how dirty Amanda’s coat had been. And I looked at Michael. Thirty was not so old for a grown-up. He might still be able to climb. And what had he said on the day before Chummy was murdered? ‘At least it’ll all be over on the twenty-fifth.’ At that moment I knew that whether or not it seemed possible that Michael was the murderer, it had to be true. All the evidence was here.

  ‘Daisy!’ I said frantically, stepping back from Michael.

  ‘Hazel,’ said Daisy. ‘Quick!’

  I knew exactly what she meant. I turned and threw the Bible at her. I am not a good throw at the best of times – things tend to go soaring into the air and then flop down a few feet away from me. All my games mistresses despair over it. But this time my throw was true. The Bible shot from my hands into Daisy’s.

  As soon as her hands clasped about it she was on the move. She took two running steps towards the window and leaped up onto its frame. We had left the window open when we stepped away from it, and I was glad of that now.

  For a moment Daisy balanced on the sill, and then she jumped forward again and landed with a thump in the snow of the dons’ garden.

  ‘Hi!’ cried Michael. ‘Where are you going?’

  He shoved past me to the window, and I backed away.

  ‘She’s going up the drainpipe,’ I said. ‘She’s going to take the Bible and drop it onto Maudlin’s roof. You’ll never get it then.’

  It was a guess – but the sort that was easy to make. I knew Daisy. I knew exactly what she would do.

  ‘She is not!’ cried Michael – and in a flash he was up on the sill as well, leaping out of the window and throwing himself at the pipe.

  He was a climber, after all.

  8

  I rushed forwards, heart thumping, to crane out of the window. Daisy has spent many years putting me in danger for the sake of the Detective Society (or at least, so it feels) but now, for once, she had decided to save me by throwing herself in harm’s way, and I found myself desperately wishing that she had not.

  I could see her climbing up the pipe, gripping with knees and fingers like a monkey. She is good, and fast – but so was Michael. His arms were stronger, and I could see him gaining on her. The few seconds’ lead she’d had was rapidly shrinking. The pipe rattled and clanked. Of course, that was the noise Amanda had heard on the night of Chummy’s death. Michael might have gone up it carefully, but while he hurried back down to James’s rooms, after he had surprised Chummy, he would have had to go too quickly to be quiet. It was another thing I ought to have realized.

  ‘Come back!’ hissed Michael. ‘Come back here!’

  He was so quiet that it made me tremble. I knew that he did not want to be heard, and that meant that he hoped to catch Daisy without anyone knowing. I wanted her to shout too, but she did not make a noise – and then I realized that she had the Bible clamped in her teeth.

  So I began to yell.

  ‘HURRY!’ I shouted. ‘GO ON, DAISY! HE’S CATCHING UP!’

  I was terribly afraid that I was being too quiet. Just as in bad dreams, my voice sounded smaller than it ought – but then a head popped out of the window just above me. It was Bertie.

  ‘I say!’ he called down. ‘What’s up?’

  I pointed. ‘Daisy!’ I gasped. ‘Michael!’

  I could not explain. I wanted to run up the staircase to them, but at the same time I did not want to move. Michael reached out a hand and grabbed at Daisy’s foot. He missed. Then he tried again.

  ‘I say!’ called Bertie. ‘Be careful! What— Butler, what are you doing? Careful, that’s my sister!’

  It must have been awfully strange for him, seeing Michael Butler climbing, just like us seeing a mistress suddenly doing a handstand. That was what Chummy must have felt too, when he looked out of his window and saw Michael there: utter shock and horror. Once he had tried the window, and it had stuck, he would have gone running out of his rooms in a state of outrage. Michael knew about the essays, and now Michael was looking in through his window. He would have wanted to have it out with him at once – he would not have been expecting the trap at all.

  ‘BERTIE!’ I shouted, and at last the terror I felt came through in my voice. Bertie looked down at me, and I saw him understand.

  ‘SQUASHY!’ he cried. He almost swung out of his window too, but then he checked himself. I realized what he had – that the drainpipe might not take all three. It was creaking more and more.

  Michael swung at Daisy again. This time his hand caught her foot. She kicked out at him, and he let go, cursing. They were more than three quarters of the way up now, their figures receding in the dark. I could only make out her white socks, and flashes of his white dress shirt. Daisy must have used that moment to gain a few more inches, because she seemed to edge out of reach. It maddened Michael, and at last he lost all self-control.

  ‘COME HERE!’ he bellowed, and he swung furiously, letting go of the pipe with his arms, so he was merely clinging on with his legs.

  I saw Daisy’s socks kick out again, hard. She was only hanging on by her arms, she must have been, and for a moment she swung out wide, perilously close to dropping.

  ‘Stop that!’ Bertie shouted, leaning out of his window, and he swiped at Michael.

  Then Michael Butler gave a yell, one without any words in it. His arms cartwheeled – and then, like a stone, he fell.

  1

  He did not make much noise when he hit the ground. The snow covered him up like a blanket. I jumped out of the open window and into the dons’ garden.

  I stumbled, and felt the cold rise up my legs. Then I was running – slowly again, the way I do in dreams. The snow clumped around my shoes, heavy as mud. Although snow looks so light and lovely, in the dark of that night it did not feel that way at all.

  I was there beside Michael first. He had fallen forwards, on to his front, and he had missed the bushes at the base of the building – he was lying in a flat, wide patch of snow. His leg was at a horrid angle. He reminded me of the snow angels that Daisy and Bertie had made last year, when it snowed at Fallingford on Boxing Day.

  ‘Mr Butler?’ I whispered. ‘Mr Butler?’

  I put out my hand, and suddenly I was back at Deepdean again, in the Gym. I had thought that evening dark, but this was darker. If Michael was dead, what would that mean for Daisy and Bertie? Would they be to blame?

  But then Michael Butler groaned. ‘Help me!’ he said. ‘My leg!’

  ‘Don’t move!’ I said. ‘They’re coming. It’ll be all right.’

  I did not know who was coming. I only hoped someone was. It was fearfully strange and backwards, to be sitting in the snow comforting a murderer, but there seemed nothing else to be done.

  I felt a hand on my shoulder. It was Bertie, and Daisy was next to him.

  ‘I hope you’re hurting!’ said Bertie angrily to Michael, squeezing Daisy tightly to him. ‘You almost killed my sister, you cad!’

  ‘I was quite all right!’ said Daisy. ‘Bertie, stop exaggerating. Ow!’

  I saw that there was a scratch on her leg, bleeding into her sock. ‘Are you sure you’re all right?’ I whispered.

  Daisy glanced at Bertie and then leaned down to me. ‘He nearly caught me,’ she whispered back. ‘Hazel, it wasn’t very nice. But don’t tell Bertie that. He worries.’

  ‘Here,
’ said Bertie to Michael. ‘What were you doing?’

  ‘He killed Chummy and Donald!’ said Daisy. ‘He’s the one who’s been setting all the traps, so he could inherit their money. He’s their cousin – a secret one!’

  ‘What?’ cried Bertie, wheeling round to gape at us both. ‘Not really?’

  ‘Of course!’ said Daisy. ‘Hazel worked it out first, actually. Which is odd, because usually no one can beat me at detection. Here, Michael – or Henry, or whatever your name is. Did you always know who you were, or did you only work it out when you found the Bible?’

  Michael groaned again, but this time I got the impression that he was putting it on.

  ‘Answer her!’ said Bertie. ‘Or I shall kick you.’

  ‘I shan’t,’ said Michael. ‘I’m not going to say anything.’

  ‘I don’t think he did know,’ said Daisy. ‘I think it was a surprise. But once he’d worked it out … well, I suppose he got the idea of pranks from Chummy.’ I could see Daisy recovering, becoming Daisy again. ‘He hoped that if both deaths looked like accidents – a fall down the stairs and a poisoning – he’d get away with it. But he reckoned without us! We’ve got the wood, and the poison label, and the Bible. We’ve got him!’

  ‘Hello? Are you all right?’ called a voice, and George and Alexander came panting up to us.

  ‘What happened?’ asked George. ‘Here, what’s Michael doing on the ground?’

  ‘He fell,’ said Daisy. ‘He was chasing me. He can climb – he’s the murderer!’

  ‘Well, why’s Hazel sitting in the snow?’ asked Alexander, above me. ‘Come on—’

  I felt arms around my shoulders, and I was pulled to my feet in a rush. I buried my face in Alexander’s coat. I love Alexander, I thought before I could stop myself. Then I almost drowned with embarrassment. How stupid of me, when I knew he never would love me back. What a silly, Hazel-ish thing to think. I could feel the tears leaking out of my eyes, smearing the good wool of his coat, and I was dreadfully embarrassed. I was glad it was so dark. But there had been a moment when I thought that Daisy might die. And I could not have borne that.

  People were shouting all around me. Moss and Mr Perkins had arrived, and Alfred, and PC Cross must have been called back, because he was there with the doctor, who had just arrived to examine Donald’s body.

  Then I was being led away, through the snow. I was suddenly somewhere much lighter, and there was a cup of tea in my hands, and someone was saying, ‘Hazel? Hazel?’

  2

  I blinked, and looked up. I was in Bertie’s rooms, sitting on the sofa in front of a roaring fire. The lamps were lit, and the candles on the Christmas tree were burning. They made the tinsel glitter, the fronds of it floating gently, like fur or feathers. It all looked wonderfully festive. I glanced at the clock ticking on the mantelpiece, and saw that it was one o’clock in the morning. It was Christmas Day, I remembered. Christmas, in Cambridge, with snow on the ground – and two murders at Maudlin.

  Alexander was sitting on one side of me, and George on the other, and Daisy was kneeling in front of me, peering into my face.

  ‘Hazel!’ said Daisy. ‘Buck up! You’re quite all right. Now, come on. Don’t you want to tell everyone about how we solved the case?’

  ‘Is Michael all right?’ I asked thickly.

  ‘Quite all right,’ said George. ‘Apart from a broken leg and broken ribs. He’s been carted off to hospital, with PC Cross’s sergeant guarding him. He won’t get away!’

  There were quite a lot of other people in the room, I saw now. There was Bertie, propped up against the mantelpiece, and Amanda, slumped in Bertie’s desk chair. Amanda might be fierce, and bitter, but she had tried to go back to Maudlin when she thought Bertie was in danger – she would have put herself in harm’s way for him, and I knew that made her a good person. Alfred was slouching on the other side of the sofa, and beside the fireplace (beginning to blaze up, Moss had just finished lighting it, and was still kneeling next to it, brushing off his hands) stood PC Cross.

  His round, pink face was frowning in distress, and he was clutching his official notebook as though it was the last thing keeping him afloat in a storm.

  ‘I’ve never had a murder case before,’ he said, to no one in particular. ‘It’s quite a joke, at the station. Never at the right place at the right time.’

  I thought that whatever talent PC Cross had, Daisy and I had quite the opposite. These days, we never seemed to be able to go anywhere without finding a body there to meet us.

  ‘Well, you’re making up for it now,’ said Alfred.

  I looked at him, and wondered whether he knew how close he had come to being accused. Then I saw a twitch at the side of his mouth, and knew that he did. I hoped he would be all right, now that there was no Chummy to torment him.

  ‘I don’t understand,’ said PC Cross, and he swung his gaze around all of us. ‘I don’t understand. What happened? How did Mr Butler end up hurt as well? What was he doing climbing buildings in the middle of the night?’

  Daisy opened her mouth. So did Bertie.

  ‘He was trying to get away,’ he said, before she could say a word. ‘I think he was trying to escape over the roofs. But his hands must have slipped in the cold. It’s icy, you know.’

  There was a pause.

  ‘Yes,’ said Daisy. ‘Hazel and I went into his room because we were playing hide-and-seek, to take our mind off things, you know. But while we were hiding, we found something quite odd: a bit of a label from a chemist’s, and a Bible that had Mr Butler’s name in it, and Chummy’s, and Donald’s. They were all related to each other! We were still looking at it when Michael came in. He got awfully upset. Then he seized the Bible from Hazel and dived out of the window.’

  ‘Related?’ repeated PC Cross.

  ‘Yes!’ said Daisy. ‘Michael was their cousin.’

  She said it so innocently – it really did sound almost as though she had only come across the information by mistake. For all that we are older now, Daisy is still just as good as she ever was at sounding like a silly little girl.

  PC Cross frowned. There was a pause.

  ‘Goodness!’ said George. ‘Michael killed Chummy and Donald so he would inherit their money!’

  PC Cross’s mouth opened, and I could see understanding dawn across his face. Daisy and George winked at each other, very slightly.

  ‘He set up the trap for Chummy!’ said Alexander, jumping in to help. ‘He must have been setting all the traps – the dangerous ones, I mean. We didn’t know he could climb. But he must have set the fishing line by climbing up the pipe after Chummy had gone out that evening. That was why no one heard any feet on the stairs, of course!’

  Moss gasped. ‘I knew I hadn’t heard anyone climbing the stairs!’ he said. ‘Just someone on the landing. I couldn’t understand it – I thought it had to be Mr Donald. Oh, poor boy!’

  I felt terribly sorry for him. He really had been fond of Donald.

  ‘And he could have climbed up the pipe again to leave that cake outside Donald’s rooms yesterday afternoon, after we’d all gone,’ Alexander went on. ‘While it was getting dark, so no one would see him.’

  ‘I hear it’s quite easy to get cyanide,’ said Daisy. ‘Er. I mean. Not that I know. All you have to do is go into a chemist’s and say you need to poison wasps. If you went round all of the chemists’ in Cambridge I bet you’d find one who recognized Michael. In fact, I saw one the other day that matches the label we found. What was it called, Hazel? Bocking’s?’

  ‘Miss Wells,’ said PC Cross. ‘Rest assured that I shall be making a tour of Cambridge chemists’ as soon as it is light, even if it is Christmas Day. Give me that label, will you?’

  ‘What’s going to happen to Michael?’ I asked.

  ‘If the evidence does stack up, he will stand trial,’ said PC Cross. ‘Don’t you worry, Miss Wong. We’ll get our man. Do you know, I wonder whether … I thought the other officers were mocking me, about never being
at a death. But perhaps they were only jealous. This murder business … it isn’t a very nice thing, is it?’

  ‘No,’ I said, and for a moment I did not feel grown up at all. ‘It isn’t.’

  3

  PC Cross left the room, and Moss went with him. The rest of us all sat around and stared at the flames of the fire and the candles on the Christmas tree. We were quiet, at first. Then we began to talk.

  ‘So,’ said Bertie. ‘Butler was a climber. I ought to have guessed, really. Some of the dons are, or they were, in their student days. But he seemed so grown up!’

  ‘Daisy and Hazel worked it out, really,’ said George. Alexander smiled at me and my insides lit up at the sight.

  ‘It was all of us!’ I said. ‘We worked together.’

  ‘Worked together?’ asked Bertie. ‘Squashy! Have you been playing games again?’

  ‘Of course we have,’ said Daisy. ‘Treasure hunts and so on. It is Christmas!’

  ‘You are awful,’ said Bertie. ‘You shouldn’t play games, Squashy. Not with death. It’s – it’s not funny.’ He leaned slightly towards her, so that their shoulders were just touching, and then he brushed her hand with his. ‘But I’m glad you’re all right,’ he said. ‘I told you I’d look after you, didn’t I?’

  ‘I don’t need looking after!’ said Daisy. ‘You are silly, Squinty.’ She took his hand, and squeezed it with hers. They seemed closer than they had ever been, and I thought that for some families, Christmas was a nice time of year after all.

  ‘So, Michael set the pranks as well?’ asked Amanda. She looked tired, but less cross than I had ever seen her. Some of the tension had lifted from her shoulders, and I saw how nervous she had been about being mixed up in Chummy’s death. ‘I really did think it was Chummy!’

  ‘Yes!’ said Daisy, turning away from Bertie. ‘He did them all – I mean, all the dangerous things, in the last few weeks. You see, we realized that it didn’t make sense if the target was only one person. But when you realize that the culprit didn’t care who was hurt, then it works perfectly. Chummy had been pranking Donald in a harmless way all term, and that’s where Michael must have got the idea from. Of course, I don’t know everything, but I can guess.

 
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