The days were slipping through their fingers like the marbles they used to race down the stairs in their old house. Nothing was coming out of all the research they did about the house and domestics and Uncle John's unfinished sentence did not help to appease the unrest that was growing in the children who found it harder and harder to sit down and concentrate on their lessons. These had been made into longer and longer sessions as lockdown progressed and it was surer and surer that schools would be closed for a long time. Between this, daily chores, walks, family time and occasional homework, meetings to sort out their mystery case were impossible. The only solution to this were more late night meetings. After three days of finding no time to organise their facts, this was what they decided to do although reluctant at the prospect of staying up very late. The days were exhausting as they were already and the less sleep they had, the more frustrated they were.
“Ugh! I wish I could have a robot to do this for me!” moaned Edward.
“Same! This is so hard!” agreed Laura.
“What is your lesson on?” asked Kate, “I can possibly help you.”
Edward sighed, “Balancing these equations. I don’t understand anything!”
The work was also getting harder due to the lack of explanations and the impossibility to ask questions. The days were also getting hotter which did not help either and the nights in their bedrooms under the roof were getting so stuffy and hot that it was very difficult to find any small amount of sleep that lurked at Dandelion Estate. The adults too seemed to be deprived of sleep.
“Can we stop now?” asked Ivy after three hours of intense work. Her vision had started to blur from having to stare at her sheet of maths problems.
“I can’t take it anymore, either!” declared Michael, “I know how to add! But having to do ten pages of additions below a hundred is very annoying!”
Kate looked up from her papers, “I wish we could but we can’t. We’re not finished.”
“But we can have a break right?”
“Sure but we have a case to uncover,” replied Laura.
Edward who had been silent until now warned, “We won’t have enough time. We should do that tonight and concentrate on our work first.”
Everyone sighed and went back to their work. The silence was complete apart from the occasional grunt or the flipping of pages. Nobody wanted to stay up tonight but it was the only way. The rest of the day went by both very slowly and very quickly. The dinner was the hardest part as they all sat fidgeting through the endless conversation about the pandemic. Finally, the adults stood up to let the children take everything out to the kitchen. The Llandy children trudged back and forth from the table to the kitchen dragging their feet. They were about to sneak upstairs when their mum called up to them:
“Children! What are you doing? Don’t you want to read with us in the living room?”
“No thank you!” called Kate down the stairs, “We are very tired and we’d like to go to bed!”
Before their mother could say anything else, they rushed to the girls’ room and set up their meeting. Then they crept into bed, pretended to be asleep and waited for the adults to fall asleep.
At eleven o’clock, Edward, who had been keeping close watch on his alarm clock, whispered to Michael,
“Go and see if the parents are sleeping. If they catch you, tell them you had a bad nightmare.”
Michael nodded and slid out of the room. A few moments later, he joined Edward again and murmured that everyone seemed to be sleeping. The older brother then got out of bed and knocked on the girls’ door and, when Ivy opened the door and beckoned them in, gathered around the pinboard which they had previously propped up against the desk.
Kate opened the meeting and Laura read out the notes about the past days’ events. She had been writing them down as they had waited for the boys to come in.
“So,” she began, “Where shall I start? Blake or Uncle John?”
“Blake,” decided Kate.
“Ok. Well we met him on the way down to the sitting room and he wasn’t wearing his uniform. We later learnt from Uncle John that he is retiring after 39 years of service. Our aunt and uncle have given him a cottage which means they are on good terms with each other. But we also discovered that he is going to continue to work until Uncle John finds another butler. Could that be to continue the blackmail until he gets what he wants?”
“No!” cried Ivy, “If he’s retiring, why would he demand a pay rise since he isn’t going to work anymore? He’s also been given a cottage and has always been friends with Uncle and Aunt so why would he want to expose that secret which seems so terrible?”
Edward seemed to understand, “So he can be ruled out! I hate to admit it but sometimes you’re a tiny bit clever,” he told his younger sister. She beamed at him.
A whoop of delight made its way around the circle making everyone forget the late hour and days wasted.
“Only six suspects left!” said Laura after crossing out Butler Blake’s name with obvious satisfaction, “Helen, Finlay, Adelheit, Claudette, Mum and Dad.”
“Right, let’s not get over ourselves,” said Kate, reminding everyone that this was a secret meeting and they had to be as quiet as possible, “The meeting is not over and we still have plenty of suspects left. Can you read out the notes about Uncle John please Laura?”
Laura nodded and flicked through her notebook until she found what she was looking for.
“So, we have already ruled him out since he wasn’t here and the crime doesn’t fit with him since he can’t demand a pay rise.”
“But Mum and Dad can’t either, can they?” demanded Michael.
“No but it could be a cover up for wanting more money. Look Michael, we’ll talk over this after we talk to them, ok?” said Laura, tired of discussions like this which never led to much and always left them with a feeling of desperation, “Uncle John has also lost his keys and we are 99.9% sure that they were stolen to access Brunhilde’s room.” She looked around and added, “This is also a point against Uncle John being the culprit since he wouldn’t have faked losing his keys and he seems genuinely annoyed at not having them.”
“How does this help us though?” demanded Michael, “This just complicates matters!”
“But does it though? This means that we could try asking people if they’ve seen Uncle John’s keys and watch their reaction!” suggested Edward, “That way if they have them, we can watch them more carefully to catch them out!”
Kate pondered that idea for a short instant then declared, “I think that’s great thinking! We can ask everyone if they’ve seen his keys. We can just say Uncle John has sent us to look for them.”
Laura yawned and asked, “Does this conclude our meeting then?”
“No! Wait!” cried Ivy, “We forgot about Maid Helen!”
“What about her?” wondered Edward, already half-asleep. Everyone was dozing off, eyes semi-closed with fatigue.
“Well, she seems rather angry or embarrassed when Uncle John hadher fetch all those things.”
Kate asked, “So you think she would have decided all that extra work she is doing should be paid more?”
“Yes! I think she’s the most obvious suspect!” siad Ivy as decidedly as she could between yawns.
“We’ll have to think about tomorrow but we need proper rest if we are to investigate,” Laura told them and then remembered something, “Plus, it’s the weekend! We’ll have more time! What do you think?”
She looked around at the circle to find Michael and Edward, who no one had heard in a long time, sleeping, propped up against each other.
“I think we should sleep,” said Kate.
Ivy nodded and as soon as she’d agreed she fell into a deep sleep laying down on the floor, not having the effort of getting into her bed. Not having the urge to wake them up, the eldest smiled at each other and imitated their siblings. If someone happened to look through the girls’ bedroom door that night, they would have found the five Llandy children sleeping higgledy-piggledy on the floor, for the first time, dreaming dreams that, for once, involved no blackmail but only affection and support.