“Where is Maid Adelheit, Mummy?” asked Michael, as innocently as he could manage.
“I don’t know, darling,” replied their mother, “But now you have to go to bed. Tomorrow, you can find her.”
Edward and Michael were lying in their beds, in the same room as always. Next door were Ivy, Laura and Kate. The rooms, apart from the fact that the girls’ room was slightly bigger, were very similar with the same beds, old fashioned but very comfortable, same wardrobes, the sturdy kind that looked like it could stand through centuries, and the same desks, overlooking the garden. There was also a connecting door, an idea of Uncle John when he had said that they could form a secret group. So far, the connecting door had only been used to scare each other during the night or waking each other up by jumping on the beds. Now, they were going to use it for what it had been placed for.
After waiting for the adults to have gone to bed, the boys silently crept out of their beds, slid into their dressing gowns and tiptoed into the girls’ room. Just as they had planned, the girls were already sitting up and getting the pinboard out from under Laura’s bed. They had sneaked it into the house after dinner as they had decided to hold another meeting so as to have a plan of action by the next day.
“So we’ve interviewed Blake and Helen,” said Kate, ticking them off her fingers as she spoke, “So we have still got Maid Adelheit, Finlay, Claudette, Uncle John, Mum, Dad and possibly Aunt Brunhilde.”
“It will be harder to interview Uncle John and Aunt Brunhilde because they know what is happening,” Ivy pointed out.
“And Mum and Dad know us best so we’ll also have to be careful,” added Edward.
“So what do you think? Can we rule Helen out?” asked Michael.
Laura shook her head vigorously.
“No. Her speech was incomplete.”
“She didn’t seem to want to tell where she was and she looked very uncomfortable.”
For now, nothing was crossed out from their list of suspects. With a sigh, Ivy leant back on her bed.
“It seems like we’re not getting anywhere! In my books, they interrogate a few people, inspect a few rooms and figure it out after a short recreation!”
“But we are not book characters,” said Kate patting her on the shoulder, “And I promise we’ll find the solution to this. Ok?”
“And we can become book characters if you write about us,” Edward winked at his sister, “You can’t break your promise you made to your friends.”
“I don’t even know where to start!”
“We’ll see. But for now we have more important problems,” continued Kate, “We need a list of suspects and questions to ask.”
“Ivy made a good point too,” Laura added, “We’ll have to do a recreation.”
Kate got up to get a notepad from her desk. As she smoothed the pages out she asked:
“What should we call this investigation?”
“The Blackmail of Aunt Brunhilde?” suggested Michael.
“Oh! I have a better idea!” cried the eldest.
At the top of the first page she wrote:
Blackmail at Dandelion Estate.
An investigation by the Llandy children.
Chairwoman: Kate Llandy
Assistant chairman: Edward Llandy
Secretary: Laura Llandy
Treasurer: Ivy Llandy
Spy: Michael Llandy
The last point had been decided as he was the smallest which made him better at sneaking around and hiding. Edward had been convinced to be assistant chairman when it had been pointed out he was the eldest after Laura - with her quick, neat handwriting - had been appointed Secretary. Ivy who already collected everything was the ideal candidate for the job.
Kate passed the notebook to Laura for her to record their discussion. Laura started scribbling furiously all of their past theories whilst the others poured over their list of suspects. The silence was broken by a yawn from Michael immediately followed by Ivy. The clock indicated 11.48 pm, nearly midnight.
“Come one. We’re nearly done. Have you finished Laura?” Kate asked. Laura responded with a sleepy nod. “Good. Who should we question first and what should we ask?”
“Maid Adelheit? That’s what we planned wasn’t it?”
Ivy yawned again, “We could ask her if she was feeling ill after lunch.”
Edward nodded as Laura wrote it down.
“As well as similar questions we asked the others.”
Laura was shaking out her hand. Cramps were growing from holding her pen. She showed the others what she had written:
Brought Mum and Dad to do some shopping in town. (9.00 - 11.30)
Was polishing cutlery in the dining room. (2.00)
Has been the Butler at Dandelion Estate for nearly 40 years.
Did not seem twitchy or guilty.
Cannot be ruled out yet.
What is his pay?
Is he unhappy with his job?
Does he know something about Grandfather? (He was here when Grandfather lived here.)
Cleaning the house all morning.
Washing the dishes after lunch. (1.00)
She will not tell us where she was during the afternoon. (After 1.00)
Has been Maid at Dandelion Estate for 3 years.
Was very twitchy and uncomfortable.
Seems to be hiding something.
Was she really cleaning the dishes after lunch? (Usually Maid Adelheit’s job.)
Is she paid well?
What is she hiding?
Plan of Action:
Interrogate Maid Adelheit:
Was she ill after lunch?
Where was she during the day?
Is she well paid?
How long has she been here?
Interrogate Gardner Finlay
Interrogate Cook Claudette
Interrogate Uncle John
Interrogate Aunt Brunhilde
Find out what Grandfather did
Stage a recreation
Find the blackmailer!
Everyone sighed as they stared at point 10. It seemed unlikely they would even reach a theory of who could be the culprit. Laura was properly yawning now too as Kate felt her eyelids droop. She reached for her phone. 1.32 am.
“We need to go to bed or we’ll be tired all day,” she declared between yawns.
No-one had to be told twice and they switched the lights off and dragged themselves off to bed. The exhaustion felt electric in the air but it did not weigh down on them as much as the feeling of helplessness that had descended on them after their unproductive meeting.
As Kate listened to Michael’s soft sobbing from next door, she understood perfectly what was at stake. What would happen if anything was revealed? How much trust in the family would it destroy? She vowed in the dark. She would find the culprit whatever it took.