A few minutes later, they were back in their den and Kate and Edward were telling the others what they had just overheard interrupting each other by objecting and correcting details. For once, nobody dared to speak or move except to ask a few questions or widen their eyes which were already as big as tennis balls. Unlike the previous meeting, Ivy was composed and seemed to be working as hard as she could. This time, it was Laura who looked shattered but she pulled herself together and told them:
“We should have expected something like that. Can you write down exactly what was said during the call while it is still fresh in your mind?”
Edward looked questioningly at Kate.
“I think we can manage if we start quickly,” he said.
During the moment of silence that followed during which Kate and Edward tried to write out the speech heard on the telephone, Michael, who no one had heard to the point that they had nearly forgotten about him, whispered:
“Well now we know it was her in the photo, not us,” then he added looking at his sister, “If that helps Ivy.”
“Michael! That is smart. Well done,” Laura exclaimed, impressed by her brother’s sudden dash of ingenuity. Michael smiled rather tiredly as though he thought that she was mocking him again. Kate intercepted that look and continued:
“Michael, it’s true. We aren’t pulling your leg. None of us thought about it. Be proud.”
At that, the small boy nodded slightly and stopped reaching down to his legs.
“Also, we need to find out what grandfather did as well as who is the blackmailer,” he continued almost shyly.
“We can always ask dad,” replied Edward, dismissing that point.
“But you said that dad doesn’t know and we can’t give Aunt Brunhilde a fright by telling her what we heard.”
“I agree, Michael,” pondered Ivy, who also seemed to consider many theories, “We could see if any of the domestics worked here at that time or know anything but that could also reveal things our aunt doesn’t want anyone to know,” the girl paused to twist her hair between her fingers thoughtfully, “And the blackmailer could hear that and discover that we are on their trail. I think we need to add it to the list like Michael said.”
“We don’t have a list.”
Edward reached into the corner where he had kept the pinboard until now and brought it out for the others to see. He continued:
“We can start with this board I found in the room we hid in. We can build a fort in this den for our investigation so that adults don’t find out what we are doing.”
Everyone agreed that that plan was a good idea and nodded enthusiastically then paused the meeting to put their fort in order. Laura and Michael where trying to cram anything lying around
“Oh!” exclaimed Ivy, “I’ll go get the Post-its and pins for the board!” She ran off hastily, almost tripping over her own feet.
Once everyone had settled down and Ivy had come back with the Post-its. Kate, having been declared president of the investigation as she was the oldest and also the first one to tell them that something was wrong, called for the first of the detective meeting. “Alright,” said Edward, after his eldest sister had introduced the meeting and passed a set of rules, “What’s first? I think we’d better start with our list of suspects then build around them with evidence.”
“That seems like a good plan. All in favour?” asked Kate and when the others all nodded she continued, “We also have to organise the pin board. Let's start with the main points in the middle and then continue from there.”
The children set to work, discussing the possible suspects and plots. The servants seemed to be only the people in the house that could have done it. Edward realised that as their Aunt and Uncle held their own business, that any of them could have wanted a pay rise.
“We’ll never manage this! We don’t even know any of them!” wailed Ivy, thumping her fist into the cushions, summarizing what every Llandy child had thought.
After staring silently at their empty pinboard for a few minutes, Kate jumped up and exclaimed:
“We can rule them out! We were in the garden or dispersed in the house so we would have seen someone coming in or one of the domestics would have seen someone snooping around.”
Relief flooded over the group as they crossed off the people from the business.
“Exactly! And how would they get here? This is the only house for 2 miles around and we didn’t hear any cars or vehicles.”
“We might have to interrogate the domestics on that too. But Mum, Dad and Uncle John weren’t here so no need to ask them that question for the knife.”
“Doesn’t that rule them out?” asked Ivy hopefully, “Because they weren’t here to put the knife?”
“Not quite. They could have put it there before going. As for the telephone call, they could have been anywhere and we didn’t see them,” replied Kate sorrowfully.
“They told me they were going on a walk and when I wanted to come they told me they would be talking about grown-up problems and didn’t want me to come,” Michael confided, “And that seems suspicious.”
“Oh I hate this!” Edward cried out, “Why are we talking about our parents as main suspects!”
“I know,” agreed Laura, “But we have to see all the angles and we’ll discuss each in turn.”
“If they did do it,” questioned Ivy, “What would be the motive? Jealousy? Money? And it doesn’t make sense that if they did do it, they would be threatening our aunt with a secret they don’t know and that is about our dad’s own father.”
“Oh! That’s interesting!” exclaimed Kate and after a short pause “They could actually know and just use it as a blind but that still doesn’t make sense. It just seems so far fetched.”
Another heavy silence settled onto their group. Each member could not imagine what it would be like to see their parents being sent to jail. It seemed impossible to even think about it.
“If we do find out that our parents did blackmail Aunt Brunhilde, should we tell the police?” wondered Laura aloud.
“Yes,” responded Edward with a heavy heart, “We would be hiding information from the police which is a criminal offence.”
“Come on, teammates,” reassured Michael who, surprisingly, had not felt flattened yet by the dark veil that might lift to reveal their parents to be blackmailers but instead tried to comfort his siblings, “There are more possibilities. It was probably not them.”
“The thing is,” Ivy said twisting her hair between her fingers, “I like everyone here. I don’t want to find that one of them is the culprit.”
“If we don’t find who it is, they might put their threat into action and the worst could happen.” Kate pointed out.
“So. Should we investigate the domestics?” asked Laura slightly impatiently and continued when all four heads were nodding, “Should we start with the butler? Blake should be in the dining room now.”
After much deliberation, they decided to send Ivy right away to interrogate Butler Blake on his doings because - as Laura had pointed out - it would be suspicious if they all arrived to ask him a few questions.
Once in the dining room, where the manservant was polishing silver, Ivy made her move whilst the others hid behind the door.
“Very sorry to disturb you Blake, but would you mind answering a few questions for us. We’re trying to find out whether anyone erm…. stole Michael’s ball.”
A smile played at the corners of Blake's mouth. Hopefully he believed that this was just a childish quarrel or them playing detectives.
“I’m happy to oblige, miss.” he replied.
“Thanks so much.” Ivy was extremely relieved “First of all, where were you this morning at 11 o’clock and this afternoon at 2? We think it must have disappeared around then.”
“Why, I was out shopping with your Mother and Father from 9:00 to sometime around 11:30. And at 2? I suppose I was probably here, polishing the cutlery. Fantastic pieces of work they are, still around from Queen Victoria’s time. And the details, look at those intricate carvings! Although they are quite a job to clean. See how each of them have their own beautiful design although the same set keeps the same patterns or a slight variation of each and...”
“Yes, yes,” interrupted Ivy, eager to discuss this new information with the others. “That will be all for now, thank you.”
“Ok, well, I hope you find your ball. I can promise that I have not taken it from him.” the butler commented, looking slightly amused.
“Pardon? Oh yes...the ball,” Ivy mumbled, momentarily forgetting that she was supposed to be asking about it, “I’m sure it’ll be somewhere in the gardens, it’s just Michael being clumsy and misplacing it like usual.”
The girl rushed outside finding her siblings hiding behind the door, unable to contain their spasms of laughter. Together, still giggling, they reached the garden and collapsed into a heap of uncontrollable hysterical giggles.