Mistletoe and murder, p.9
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       Mistletoe and Murder, p.9

           Robin Stevens
 
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  ‘Yes,’ said Bertie. ‘He loved playing tricks on people – especially his brother Donald. See here, can the girls go? They’ve nothing to do with this.’

  ‘In a moment,’ said PC Cross, holding up his hands. ‘I want to speak to everyone first – I want the fullest possible picture of what happened. Miss Price, explain to me about the telephone.’ He turned to Amanda and stared at her.

  ‘Someone on this staircase telephoned me to say that there had been an accident,’ said Amanda. ‘That’s why the three of us are here.’

  ‘Who was it?’

  ‘I don’t know, but they said they did it from the coinbox phone, downstairs,’ said Amanda. ‘I don’t see why this is important!’

  ‘Well—’ PC Cross began, but at that moment there were voices from the archway downstairs. I could hear Michael Butler, and Donald, and another man. But I could also hear—

  ‘Good grief!’ said Bertie. ‘Whatever is Aunt E doing here?’

  7

  Feet came storming up the stairs, and then we were face to face with Aunt Eustacia. She was in a rage. ‘There you are!’ she cried, her chin jutting and her eyes looking as though they might bore holes straight through us all. ‘Price! I told you to look after them. And you have led them to the scene of a death!’

  Behind her appeared a tall, rather bony-looking old man in a cap and gown. We had seen him at dinner on Sunday night, I realized – this was the Master of Maudlin. ‘Eustacia,’ he said, ‘I am so sorry, I had no idea there were women in the college.’

  ‘Apologies accepted, Master,’ said Aunt Eustacia. ‘Price, explain yourself immediately.’

  ‘I was telephoned,’ said Amanda doggedly. It seemed to be her answer to everything – and every time she said it, I thought even more what an odd story it was. ‘I decided it was best to keep them with me.’

  ‘Did you indeed!’ cried Aunt Eustacia. ‘A most foolish decision, Price. Really, I expected better from you. I hope you feel quite ashamed of yourself.’

  ‘I’m sorry, Miss Mountfitchet,’ said Amanda, looking as though she wanted to cry again. ‘But I was called. I thought it might have been Bertie who was hurt, so I brought the two girls.’

  ‘We’re quite all right, Aunt Eustacia,’ said Daisy. ‘Really we are! Don’t worry about us.’

  Aunt Eustacia fixed her with a piercing gaze. ‘It is my job to worry about you, Daisy Wells,’ she said. ‘And it is your job to make sure that I have no cause for it. Now, I must ask you and Miss Wong to accompany me and Miss Price back to St Lucy’s at once.’

  ‘Aunt Eustacia!’ cried Daisy. ‘Wait. I can’t leave Bertie!’

  ‘You most certainly can,’ said Aunt Eustacia.

  ‘Miss Wells,’ said the Master. ‘You ought not to be here at all. This is a Maudlin matter. It is a Maudlin student who has died in the most terrible circumstances, and it is up to us to deal with the situation. I have been reliably informed, also, that Mr Butler requested that you remove yourself from Maudlin College yesterday, and you have not yet been formally readmitted. Please leave at once. Officer, thank you for attending so quickly. I hope your investigation will not take long?’

  ‘You are most welcome, Master,’ said PC Cross politely. ‘It does seem straightforward, but there are certain things I want to understand. If I could just ask Miss Price—’

  ‘I’m afraid Miss Price is coming back with me,’ said Aunt Eustacia. ‘She can have had nothing to do with the death. I wish you all the best in your search for the truth. Master, I bid you good morning.’

  She put one thin but firm hand on my shoulder and the other on Daisy’s, got us both behind Amanda and rushed all three of us down the staircase like a wave breaking. We were powerless to stop her, and so was PC Cross, although I saw his face as we left, and knew that he was still curious about Amanda. I could tell that he was very methodical, and I had the uncomfortable feeling that we would not be rid of him easily.

  ‘Aunt Eustacia!’ said Daisy. ‘Must we go back to St Lucy’s?’

  ‘Most certainly!’ said Aunt Eustacia. ‘Where else were you expecting to go, Daisy?’

  Daisy was silent.

  ‘Anyway, it is almost breakfast time,’ said Aunt Eustacia. ‘Change out of your night things, and then I expect to see you in the refectory, good as gold. Is that clear?’

  ‘Yes, Aunt Eustacia,’ said Daisy politely. ‘Absolutely, Aunt Eustacia.’

  But as we crossed the bridge again she turned and winked at me, and I knew that Daisy’s plans involved much more than breakfast.

  8

  ‘What are you doing?’ asked Amanda. We were in the refectory, so early that water for tea was still being boiled and the toast was pale from being heated on a barely lit range.

  ‘Making my final Christmas list, of course,’ said Daisy. ‘D’you want to see?’

  As Daisy would say, people are beautifully predictable – give them the chance to see anything, and they lose interest in it at once.

  ‘No fear,’ said Amanda. ‘You really want to go Christmas shopping again today?’

  ‘It’ll take our minds off things,’ said Daisy. ‘I’m sure Aunt Eustacia will approve. And it’s the perfect cover for you to go and do some more on your essays.’

  ‘Done,’ said Amanda at once.

  ‘Anyway,’ said Daisy. ‘The list. Do you mind?’

  Amanda moved back to the other side of the refectory to bury herself in the book she was reading, and Daisy immediately whispered in my ear, ‘As you may have realized, the list is only a cover! We must go out into Cambridge to see if we can find any more clues. But first we must have a detective meeting, to discuss the important developments in the case. A murder has been committed. And it’s not even the right victim!’

  ‘I know!’ I whispered back. ‘How could it be Chummy who died? It should have been Donald – he’s the heir, and he was the one who was hurt in the other attempts. Unless – do you think it’s true, what Bertie said? That Chummy set up the fishing line, and then tripped over it himself by mistake?’

  ‘Well,’ said Daisy, ‘it is the most obvious explanation.’

  ‘And you think it’s true?’ I asked.

  ‘No!’ said Daisy. ‘Not for one moment. Who trips over their own trap? That would be idiotic, and Chummy did not seem like an utter idiot. But there’s another, better reason why I don’t think Chummy set up the fishing line.’

  ‘What is it?’ I asked.

  ‘We searched Chummy’s rooms yesterday afternoon, and we went through his things. We saw that he had fishing line, just like the one used in the trap, but we also saw something else: that jacket of Donald’s that he was sewing up. And that tells me something. Chummy was planning a prank yesterday – but one that was nothing to do with fishing line. The line itself was left quite carelessly at the bottom of his wardrobe, as though he was not planning to use it. The jacket was a joke designed to irritate Donald, but not designed to murder him – unlike the fishing line, which most certainly was. And here’s something else: why would Chummy spend time sewing up the jacket if he had been planning on killing Donald that very evening? It’s not logical.’ Daisy shook her head. ‘No, Hazel, I believe we can rule out the idea that Chummy set that trap – and that makes for a very interesting theory that has just occurred to me. We assumed, didn’t we, that Chummy was behind both the silly pranks against Donald and the more serious attacks?’

  I nodded.

  ‘Well, what if Chummy was playing the silly pranks, but was not the attacker? What if someone was using his pranks as cover for their more dangerous attempts – the ice bucket, the poisoned port, the pond, and finally the fishing-line trap? If so, there are two possibilities. Either Donald was behind those attacks but allowed himself to be caught in his own traps to throw everyone off the scent until his final attack on Chummy last night – this is unlikely, but not impossible. Or else there is a third party, someone else on the staircase, who is both cunning and ruthless, and who was determined to get Chummy, no m
atter who else was hurt accidentally along the way. Witness what happened to Donald.’

  ‘You think that Chummy could have been the target all along?’ I asked. ‘Even though Donald was the one who fell foul of all the pranks up to now? Even though Donald is the rich one?’

  ‘Well, he isn’t rich yet,’ said Daisy. ‘And even so, no one else apart from Chummy would stand to get any money if he died. Chummy, on the other hand – well, you’ve seen it. Chummy might have been popular throughout Cambridge, but most of staircase nine hated him. His own brother most of all.’

  ‘We did find fishing line in Donald’s rooms as well as Chummy’s!’ I said. ‘He could have set the trap. But … what if it was one of the others?’

  ‘D’you know, it’s interesting,’ said Daisy. ‘Think of all those previous attempts – not the pranks, I mean. Apart from the door incident, Donald wasn’t alone for any of them, was he? Bertie, Chummy, Alfred and Donald were climbing together when the rock fell, and we were all at the party where they drank the mistletoe. Lots of people were in the quad when Donald fell in the pond, as well. We thought it was most likely that the attempts were made by Chummy against Donald, but now Chummy is dead, I think we have to realize that we were looking at the case wrong all along. Yes, Hazel – I think we must accept that Chummy was always the target. And the attacker finally got the correct victim last night!’

  I thought about what she’d said: how several people had been present for so many of the attacks. ‘It could be anyone in the college then!’ I said. ‘Anyone in Cambridge!’

  ‘That’s not true,’ said Daisy. ‘Some of the other attempts, yes. But because they’ve carried on into the hols, we know that it must be someone at Maudlin, now, this Christmas. And last night narrows things down very tightly indeed. We know from our run-ins with Perkins that he guards the entrance to Maudlin carefully, and locks up the main gate at eleven at night, and we also know that’s when Michael Butler locks the door to staircase nine. We heard the doctor mention that Chummy fell just after two o’clock. Let’s say 2:05. If Moss is telling the truth about when he went to bed, we know that the trap was set after 12:30, which means that the only people who could have set it between 12:30 and 2:00 were the people who live on staircase nine. So – Donald, Alfred, Michael, Moss – and, I suppose, Perkins, because he has the keys to the college.’

  ‘And Bertie,’ I said.

  ‘Hazel!’

  ‘I know he wouldn’t do it!’ I said. ‘Of course he wouldn’t. But we still have to rule him out.’

  Daisy glared at me. ‘Really, Hazel,’ she said. ‘How could you even think it?’

  But I heard from the tone of her voice that she was concerned as well. It was not a long list to put Bertie on – and he had acted oddly when we’d asked where he had been last night. Why?

  9

  ‘To go on to the better suspects,’ said Daisy, glaring at me, ‘Donald is of course a very strong one. He hated Chummy and, more importantly, he was quite controlled by him. You heard their conversations about the party. Donald was afraid that Chummy would bully him into giving over his money – we know that he wanted to buy the mine, but who knows whether he would have been able to go through with it with Chummy still alive? We saw that he had fishing line in his rooms, and he has been present for all the pranks. As we’ve already said, it could be that becoming the victim of them was just a cover, to make it seem as though he could have nothing to do with them. After all, he did survive them!’

  I thought about Donald struggling in the pond, and was not sure. It did seem a terrible gamble.

  ‘Alfred hated Chummy too,’ I said. ‘Chummy was horrid to him because he’s not English, and Alfred might have wanted to punish him for it because Michael Butler wouldn’t. He’s a climber, so he’s probably got fishing line as well, and he’s been there for all the pranks.’

  ‘Yes. And Alfred behaved suspiciously after Chummy’s fall. Michael had to call him back out of his rooms. Why should he step away from the scene like that, unless he had something to hide?’

  ‘What about Moss?’ I asked. I felt the detective side of my brain ticking. ‘His room’s on the top floor, next to Donald and Chummy’s. He was on the spot!’

  ‘His motive is less obvious at first examination, but we did see him act suspiciously. He was trying to destroy evidence!’ Daisy said. ‘Yes, Moss jumped into my head at once. And Michael Butler too – no motive yet, but he was there. And although he’s not a climber, he has access to everyone’s rooms. He might have been able to borrow some fishing line from someone without them noticing. We can’t rule him out! Do we have anything else to mention?’

  ‘Perkins,’ I said. ‘He doesn’t seem likely, but he would have had keys – we need to rule him out at least. And we know that Amanda can’t have done the murder. She wasn’t on staircase nine last night. But … wasn’t it strange, the story she told? It doesn’t fit. I didn’t hear a call, did you? And no one here’s admitting to calling her.’

  I glanced over at Amanda to make sure she was not listening. But she was safely lost in her book. I had been worrying about the story of the call since Amanda first mentioned it. So many things were wrong about it. Amanda was clever. Why would she not question the caller and ask who it was, or call the operator back to discover whether the call really had come from Maudlin?

  ‘Oh, absolutely, Hazel!’ said Daisy. ‘I smell a rat as well! Why would anyone on staircase nine apart from Bertie want Amanda on the scene, anyway? Or—’

  ‘Or was she just lying?’ I finished for her.

  Daisy nodded. ‘Or was she just lying? After all, we didn’t hear her answer a call! Hazel, I think you need to add her to the suspect list. Something’s going on with her that we must uncover. And why was she suddenly upset Chummy was dead? She never liked him beforehand.’ She smiled grimly. ‘I do believe we’re nearly done. We have our list of suspicious persons. Now all we need to decide is how we go about detecting. There are some leads we can follow in Cambridge itself – the fishing line, for example – but what we really need to do is get back inside Maudlin. But how? We’ve only just been warned away, by the Master no less.’

  ‘I think I’ve got an idea,’ I said slowly. ‘I’ll write up our suspect list … but then we need to go and see the Junior Pinkertons.’

  1

  There were carollers singing beside King’s College Chapel as we passed, their breath smoking with the song. Christmas was everywhere – in the bright shop windows, in the parcels done up with string, the Christmas trees and boughs of holly, the sides of ham and poor drooping geese being carried home on shoulders and bicycles by bright-cheeked passers-by. I felt full of secrets and nerves as we pushed through the crowds. It all seemed so bright and exciting, but something dreadful and mysterious had happened only a few streets away. Would we be able to solve the case?

  Amanda had come out of St Lucy’s with us, pretending that she was chaperoning us before peeling away to go … wherever it was she went, to write her essays. We were left to our own devices.

  A man and a woman bickered over a long list, and a little girl dragged on her mother’s hand. ‘Elsie, if you carry on like this, Father Christmas won’t give you any presents!’ cried the woman crossly. ‘Really! It’s Christmas Eve! You shouldn’t be so naughty!’

  ‘I don’t know why people behave as though Christmas is happy,’ said Daisy to me as we passed them. ‘Really, it’s the most dreadful time of the year for families.’ I glanced at her, wondering whether this was her way of telling me that she was still worried about Bertie being a suspect. But she looked away at the carollers, and would not meet my eye.

  Perhaps it was only that she was still unsure about working with the Junior Pinkertons. Daisy had been very reluctant to agree to my plan. ‘But we’re so far ahead!’ she said. ‘We can’t work together, Hazel, not after we’ve been there at the scene of the crime, and discovered so many important pieces of evidence! If we carry on, we’ll be able to prove that we really are
the best society! Have you forgotten that we have a bet?’

  ‘We had a bet, but now Chummy’s dead, everything’s changed. The case is more important. We’re investigating a murder and we need them, Daisy. We can’t get back into Maudlin, at least not immediately. But the boys will be less conspicuous. They can creep in and look around while we’re following leads outside the college.’

  ‘I am a perfect spy. I always blend in,’ muttered Daisy, but I could tell that she did see my point. ‘I could get in, I know it! Oh, bother it, all right. But I insist on still being in charge of the investigation!’

  ‘Of course,’ I said. Privately, I was not at all sure that George would agree to that, but I decided that we would deal with the problem later. The first order of business was to get Daisy to St John’s College.

  It was just past ten in the morning when we stood outside St John’s porter’s lodge. We looked at each other, and then Daisy knocked. A porter opened the door – not moustachioed Mr Perkins, but a skinny old man with a large beard, wearing a bowler hat.

  ‘May I help you?’ he asked.

  ‘We’d like to see Mr Mukherjee and Mr Arcady,’ said Daisy. ‘Mr Mukherjee the younger, I mean.’

  ‘What do you want with them?’ asked the porter suspiciously.

  ‘We’d like to wish them Merry Christmas, of course,’ said Daisy. ‘We’ve got a Christmas card for them.’

  ‘Humph,’ said the porter, and he withdrew with a snap of the door.

  I was not sure whether he would take our message, but five minutes later the door opened again and Alexander and George tumbled out.

  They both looked as though they had dressed hastily, but while Alexander’s shirt collar was askew and his hair was chaos, George was immaculate. He had something like Daisy’s talent for wearing clothes – he looked so proper, I almost did not notice the colour of his skin. I saw that it was a trick he had taught himself to fit in, just as I had learned to be don’t-care at Deepdean. He glanced between us curiously, while next to him Alexander yawned and smiled. I thought he was smiling at me, until I saw his eyes shift to Daisy and his smile grow. I looked down at my feet.

 
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