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M.I.T.: Haunted House: Dead by Northumbrian

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Motive and Opportunity

‘I’d like to interview the suspects now, Joe,’ said Bobbie as they descended to the library.

‘Fine, but I want to sit in on the interviews,’ Inspector Jackson demanded.

‘Okay,’ said Bobbie hastily, attempting to cut off any objection from her colleagues. She succeeded. Susan glowered unhappily, but did not contradict her. Bobbie was relieved. Jackson seemed to be a reasonable man, and there was nothing to be gained by annoying him.

They continued downstairs in silence. Inspector Joe Jackson pushed open the door to the library and looked around at the eight individuals still sitting there. Archie Dark had jumped visibly when they entered. He was by far the most nervous of the television people. He was pale, shaking and sweating profusely.

Next to Archie, the dark-haired cameraman, Bill Kenny, sat impassively, his arms folded. ‘I didn’t kill anyone,’ Kenny announced abruptly.

‘What makes you think that it’s murder?’ Bobbie demanded. She watched with interest as everyone exchanged glances.

‘If she wasn’t murdered, why are we all still here?’ the prune-faced man asked.

‘It’s Mr Sidney, isn’t it?’ enquired Bobbie.

‘That’s me, darlin’.’ The man jerked his head forwards in a curt confirmatory nod.

‘Well, Mr Sidney, the doctor has not yet determined a cause of death. Until she does, then the death is suspicious.’ Bobbie looked meaningfully around the room.

‘And you’re the suspects,’ Inspector Jackson added.

‘Is there somewhere we can conduct interviews, Inspector?’ Bobbie asked. Jackson shrugged.

‘My office is the first door on the right on the guest corridor,’ Oswald Striggiday volunteered, pointing to the only other door from the library. ‘You can use it; if it will help resolve this quickly.’

‘Thank you,’ said Bobbie. ‘Lead on, Mr Striggiday, We’ll start with you.’

Striggiday led them from the library into a wood-panelled corridor which ended at a fire door. There were eight other doors leading from the corridor, four on either side. Striggiday led them through the first door on the right.

Rather than enter the room, Susan broke away from the group and strode rapidly down the corridor.

‘I just want to check this fire door,’ she announced, marching along to the door at the far end.

Striggiday looked startled, but ignored her sudden departure and led them into a large and very old fashioned office. The walls were panelled in the Tudor style and the wood had been thickly varnished. The walls were so dark a brown as to almost be black. Although the varnish reflected light from the central chandelier, the room was gloomy. To the left of the door was an old mahogany table with a red leather top. Six matching chairs surrounded it. To the right, under a high and narrow diamond-pane which was the only window in the room, a matching mahogany and red-leather desk and chair stood prominent and proud. The well-worn chair showed signs of many years of use. The computer sitting on one side of the desk was the only indication that they had not stepped back in time more than fifty years.

Striggiday strode toward the chair behind his desk, but Bobbie intercepted him and guided him to the meeting table instead. She seated him on one side and arranged the chairs so that she and Jackson were facing him. Bobbie was still rearranging the chairs when Susan arrived back.

‘The fire door has not been opened for over six months,’ the blonde witch announced.

Bobbie nodded and accepted Susan’s word. Susan had used some magic test, no doubt. The slender blonde witch sat down at one end of the table, facing Lavender. Striggiday was facing two police officers and was flanked by two witches.

‘Thank you, Mr Striggiday, this will make an excellent interview room,’ Bobbie began. ‘Can you tell us how well you knew Miss Anncart?’

‘Hardly at all,’ Striggiday began. ‘I’d discussed filming with Jim, Mr Sidney, but I didn’t meet anyone else until yesterday.’

‘You would not describe your relationship with her as intimate?’ Bobbie asked.

The colour fell from Striggiday’s face, and he nervously cracked his knuckles.

‘Her perfume is on your bed. We could smell it,’ Bobbie added. ‘You slept with her. Did you kill her?’

‘I - I,’ Striggiday sat in silence. ‘I refuse to speak without my lawyer present.’

‘Yer not under arrest, Striggiday,’ Joe Jackson said.

‘Inspector Jackson is right: this isn’t a formal interview, Mr Striggiday,’ Bobbie said. ‘You can refuse to say anything, if you wish.’

‘Of course, if you refuse to talk we can arrest you, handcuff you, take you to the local nick, and question you under caution. By the time we’ve done the paperwork and we’re ready to talk to you, we should have the test results,’ said Jackson.

‘This is simply a friendly chat, an interview with a potential witness,’ Bobbie added. ‘You aren’t being recorded, so nothing you say will be admissible in court, unless you agree to sign a statement.’

Striggiday’s face creased in indecision.

‘Starting out with a lie wasn’t very clever,’ said Lavender mildly.

Bobbie glanced across to Lavender and quietened the witch. Lavender was impatient, but Bobbie wanted to allow Striggiday to worry for a few moments. Soon, she saw the decision in his eyes. He sighed.

‘We were in my room for about half an hour, from half-past four. I didn’t kill her. She was alive when she left my room. I - we - it - we - she - it was her idea. She - suggested that we get together. She was an attractive young woman, and we - spent some time together - this afternoon.’ Striggiday looked at his interrogators. ‘It’s not a crime!’

‘No, it isn’t,’ said Bobbie. Susan sat in pinch-faced disapproval, but said nothing.

‘Afterwards, she asked me to take her up to the pearl room at the top of the tower. She wanted to see the pearl before anyone else. I refused. She - tried to persuade me, but I said no. We argued, and I threatened not to let the crew see it during the broadcast. I should never have agreed to let this lot film me opening the chest.’ Striggiday shook his head sadly.

Susan and Lavender were both about to interrupt, but Inspector Jackson’s presence made them cautious, and Bobbie managed to silence them with a warning look.

‘I wouldn’t change my mind, so she left,’ Striggiday continued. ‘I found a clean shirt, changed, and then I went downstairs myself. I passed the young guy with glasses on the stairs. He was carrying a lot of gear which he set up outside my bedroom. They’d decided that my room would be where they found the green lady. I wanted them to use the room above, but mine looked better, apparently.’

‘Where they found the Green Lady? You mean they planned where they would find a ghost before the programme had begun?’ Susan asked curiously.

‘They planned everything in advance; they even planned how they’d move from one place to another during the ad-breaks. They didn’t leave anything to chance.’

‘Apart from a suspicious death,’ observed Lavender.

‘What did you do after you’d … finished,’ Bobbie asked.

‘I’d agreed to discuss some financial matters with Jim Sidney at five o’clock. When I came downstairs I met Jim in here. I’d agreed to let him use this room for a conference call to London and he was already here when I arrived. We talked, and I went down for a meal with the rest of the crew. Helena wasn’t there. She was the only one not to go to the restaurant. She stayed in her room because she didn’t want to eat…’

‘Did she tell you that?’ Bobbie asked.

‘No, apparently she spoke to that plump woman, the sound engineer. I forget her name.’

‘Hattie Coates,’ Inspector Jackson supplied the name from his notebook.

‘Yes, that’s her,’ said Striggiday gratefully. ‘Hattie knocked on Helena’s door before they went for their meal, and Helena told her that she wasn’t hungry, that she was watching her figure. Ask her. Hattie told all of us, while we were eating.’

‘So, what happened after the meal?’ asked Bobbie.

‘We came back upstairs together. I let everyone back into the library; I’d locked up when we left. Jim and I came back here, into this office, and continued our meeting. When we finished, he left. I tried to do some work. This hotel doesn’t run itself,’ he said. ‘But I was interrupted.

‘I got a call from reception because Jim was demanding to see our security tapes from the front door. He was trying to find Helena. I walked down to reception and sorted it out. Jim and I watched the tapes, which showed that Helena hadn’t left the hotel. We came back up here together. Then I went into makeup, because Jim insisted. Helena was supposed to be interviewing me, in the pearl room, during the third part of the programme. I came out at quarter to eight, not long before they went on air.’ Striggiday stopped and looked sadly at his questioners. ‘This was supposed to bring me more business,’ he mumbled.

‘It probably will,’ said Inspector Jackson acidly.

‘So, you last saw Helena when you left her in your room?’ Bobbie asked.

‘No, she left first. I told you,’ said Striggiday.

‘And you were never alone after that?’ Bobbie asked.

‘I was alone in my room for a few minutes after she’d gone, and again after Jim left. That would have been a little before seven. But, like I said, Jim went downstairs and began to pester the reception staff, asking for the security video. Reception phoned me at about twenty past seven.’

‘Seven twenty-one, I got Tyson to check,’ said Inspector Jackson. Striggiday nodded gratefully.

‘The only way out of this wing is through the library,’ he continued. ‘When I went downstairs, the library was busy. Bill and Simon and Hattie were all setting up their equipment. I met Jim, and we fast-forwarded through the security tapes together. We came back up here, that would have been a little after half past. Jim was in a foul mood.’

‘Did Helena take her handbag with her when she left your room?’ Susan asked.

Striggiday looked puzzled. ‘Of course she did, it was some designer label. She made a fuss about it. I should’ve been impressed, I think, but I’d never heard of the make. I think she said that it was Moo-moo?’

Susan and Bobbie exchanged a glance. Bobbie wondered how she could explain the concept of designer labels.

‘Thank you, Mr Striggiday,’ said Bobbie. ‘That will be all, for now. Lavender would you mind taking Mr Striggiday back to the library. We’ll speak to Jim Sidney, next, please.’

Lavender stared at Bobbie for a moment. The curly-haired witch didn’t quite wink, and her expression changed from surprise to one of polite obedience. ‘Yes, Inspector Beadle,’ she said demurely. Bobbie was certain that Lavender had understood: she would ask Striggiday about the pearl.

Bobbie watched as Lavender looked innocently into Striggiday’s face, said, ‘Come with me, please,’ and escorted the hotel owner from his own office.

Lavender could be annoying, but she loved make-believe. If one of the team needed to be the secretary, or the junior, or the vamp, or the idiot, or anything, Lavender was always happy to play the role. Susan had her strengths too. She was hard working, extremely thorough, and frighteningly well-prepared, but Susan was always Susan, she couldn’t be anyone else.

‘It weren’t ‘im,’ Joe Jackson observed after Striggiday and Lavender left. ‘She died around five o’clock; he certainly ‘ad opportunity. He could’ve killed her in his room and carried her upstairs, or taken her up to see this pearl and killed her there. The timing fits. But he’s got no motive.’

‘You’re probably right,’ agreed Bobbie.

Their discussions were interrupted by the arrival of Lavender with Jim Sidney.

‘Here’s the next suspect, Inspector Beadle,’ said Lavender when she returned. She escorted the prune-faced man to the vacant chair and motioned him to sit.

‘Suspect?’ Jim queried the description. He held out his hands, palms uppermost, and smiled. His expression made even more lines appear on his already wrinkled face, turning what had been valleys of flesh into canyons. ‘Now then, now then! We’ll have none of this –suspect” nonsense. I liked Helena. She was going to be a star. Why on earth would I want to kill her?’

‘When was the last time you saw Miss Anncart?’ Bobbie began.

‘She sent me a text at…’ Jim Sidney pulled out his mobile phone and checked ‘… seven eighteen, –gon 4 wk n grnds bk soon”. Course, she was lyin’, she never left the hotel. Silly cow…’

Susan glared at him.

‘…That’s a term of endearment, honest, darlin’,’ he added. He held up his phone and showed the message to Bobbie and Joe.

‘When was the last time you saw Miss Anncart?’ Bobbie repeated her question.

‘Ah, sorry, darlin’, my mistake. D’you reckon that somebody else sent the text?’ he asked.

Bobbie gave him what she hoped was an inscrutable smile.

‘We were all together for the pre-programme briefing at quarter to four. Me, Val, Archie, Helena, Simon, Bill, Ruby, and Hattie were all in the library. We finished just before half past. Then we all went back to our rooms to prepare. The technical crew needed to get their stuff sorted, and Val, Helena and Archie had scripts to read,’ Jim explained.

‘Scripts? I thought this was a live show,’ said Bobbie.

Jim reached across the table and patted Bobbie’s hand sympathetically. ‘Bless you, darlin’, there’s live, and there’s live. We need a script. Let’s face it. Ghosts don’t float through the walls and make arrangements with you before the broadcast.’

‘They do if you ask them nicely,’ said Lavender. ‘But there are no ghosts here; I’d know if there were.’

‘You a psychic, darlin’?’ Jim asked. ‘You’re a good looking girl, and we’ve got a vacancy.’

‘Sorry,’ said Lavender, giving Jim a sultry smile. ‘I make it a rule never to work for anyone who calls me darlin’. I wouldn’t call Inspector Beadle that, either, if I were you.’

Jim looked at from one woman to the other, then turned to Susan and tried his smile on her. ‘I like the cool professional image, too,’ he said. ‘The hair bun helps.’

Susan remained silent and impassive.

There was an element of roguish charm about Jim Sidney, Bobbie thought. There was a constant twinkle in his eye as if nothing, not even the death of a member of his crew, was really serious. But he was sharp, too. He deliberately looked to the three young women, trying to charm them, and only then did he look at other man in the room.

‘Special Branch, eh?’ Jim asked Inspector Jackson, nodding towards Bobbie. ‘Remind me why this lot are here. I’ve forgotten.’

‘You haven’t forgotten, because I haven’t told you,’ Joe said. Jim Sidney grinned and gave an –it was worth a try” shrug.

‘What were your movements after the meeting?’ Bobbie asked.

‘I cleared up in here and followed Val back to our room. She was reading the script. I picked up my laptop and papers, then came back here, into this room. I needed to make a video-conference call to London, and Ozzie said I could do it here.’

‘Ozzie?’ Susan asked.

‘Mr Striggiday, blondie. First name Oswald, gets called Ozzie.’ Jim spoke slowly, in a tone which even a five-year-old would have recognised as disparaging. ‘Anyway, Val doesn’t like me hanging around her before a show. Plus, she was really bloody annoyed with me ‘cos I’d agreed to let Helena do the intro. Ruby was in here when I got back. She was looking for Ozzie, flapping about something, some make-up problem. I wasn’t paying attention. I told Ruby to sort it out herself.’

‘Where was she?’ Bobbie asked.

‘At the desk, sitting in Ozzie’s big red chair,’ said Jim, turning and looking over his shoulder at the desk. ‘She said she was looking for a diary, to try to find out where he’d gone. But she’s always poking her nose where it isn’t wanted. You want to know what’s been going on, ask Ruby. She knows all our secrets. Everyone confides in the make-up artist; they’re stuck in her chair while they’re getting ready and they tell her things they really shouldn’t.’

‘Was she surprised to see you?’ Bobbie asked.

‘Yeah! She scarpered pretty quick when I arrived. She picked up her make-up bag and left.’

‘And how long were you in here?’ enquired Joe.

‘About half an hour. I was talking to London, you can check. And I was still here when Ozzie came back. He’d been up to his room to change his shirt ‘cause Bill didn’t like it. It was the wrong colour for the cameras. Me and Ozzie had a bit of a meeting. He thought he could use photos of Val in his hotel publicity leaflets; I told him he couldn’t. We’d paid him top dollar to film here, and I said that was all the free publicity he was getting. I’m Val’s husband, producer, manager and agent. I make damn sure that she gets paid for everything she does. We were discussing terms for a photo deal when the call came up that our food was being served. We always eat early before a show.

‘We went to the restaurant, ate and came back. Ozzie let us back in again.’

‘The door was locked?’ asked Bobbie.

‘Yeah, me an’ Ozzie were last ones out on the way down and I checked it. You can’t be too careful. Last season someone nicked Jim’s steady-cam just before broadcast. What a bloody nightmare that was! Anyway, after the meal - bloody awful by the way, don’t eat here - me an’ him came back here and finished our meeting. By then, the crew were setting up in the library. We must’ve finished just after quarter past, ‘cos I was on my way back to my room when Helena sent her text. I was bloody furious! I went straight downstairs and spoke to the reception staff. I wanted them to find Helena, but they said that she hadn’t gone out. I asked to see the security tapes, but they wouldn’t let me. Bloody jobsworths! I argued with them until, Ozzie came and sorted it out. They were right. Helena hadn’t left! Me and Ozzie came back up together, again, and then it was action stations! We were all busy.’

‘One final thing, Mr Sidney, can you give me Miss Anncart’s mobile phone number?’ asked Bobbie.

Jim did so, and Bobbie made a careful note of it.

‘Thank you, that will be all for now. You can see yourself out.’

Jim Sidney nodded and stood. ‘I don’t suppose you’d let us film you working?’ he asked. ‘It’d be nice to get something from this.’

‘What do you think?’ enquired Bobbie.

‘I think it was worth askin’, darlin’.’ Jim grinned, winked, and left.

‘He’s not exactly grieving, is he?’ observed Susan, her lips a thin disapproving line. ‘What an unpleasant man.’

‘He’s a chancer,’ Lavender observed. ‘He’s more interested in how to replace her than how she died. I still think that Ozzie is more likely. What do you think, Joe?’

‘I think you three know more than you’re telling, and I know you’re thinking the same as me!’ said Joe. ‘We need to find Anncart’s mobile phone. It wasn’t on the body, so where the hell is it? You’re late thinking about the number, Bobbie. I got it earlier, from Ryman, and I tried phoning it. But, wherever it is, it’s switched off.’

‘She didn’t have anything with her,’ said Susan thoughtfully. ‘No handbag, no phone, not even her room key.’

‘Bugger!’ said Joe. ‘Yer right!’

‘I think that we should talk to Jim’s wife, next. Will you collect her, please, Lavender?’ Bobbie asked.

‘Okay, boss.’ Lavender grinned.

Valerie Mallory was a professional broadcaster, and it showed in her statement. She calmly and quickly listed her movements after the pre-broadcast meeting. She had gone to the room she was sharing with her husband. He had come with her to collect his laptop. She had spent the next three-quarters of an hour reading her script, because it was her job to hold the show together and someone had to lead the others through it. She had eaten a –frankly appalling” meal, returned to her room and stayed there rereading the script, including Helena’s parts, for another three quarters of an hour.

She’d finally received her make-up call at quarter to seven. Makeup had taken much longer than it should have done because of Ruby’s anxious prattling about Helena. When she left Ruby’s room, it had been half-past seven, and she had then gone to the library to agree shots and angles with Bill.

‘And that’s it,’ she concluded.

‘So, you don’t have an alibi. You were alone in your room,’ observed Bobbie.

‘I am Valerie Mallory,’ Valerie reminded her with the assurance of someone use to being treated with a degree of deference. ‘I’m certain that you watched me when you were a little girl, Inspector. I’m not a killer. Why would I murder that jumped-up little strumpet? Because she was trying to steal my job? I’ll be honest with you, Bobbie. Can I call you Bobbie?’

Bobbie nodded.

‘Well, Bobbie, I was annoyed when Jim told me that he was going to let her open the show. I was going to have a word with her. So, after Jim left to make his conference call, I knocked on her door. She didn’t answer. I went back to my room and phoned hers. She was not there. When I realised that she’d gone off somewhere, I assumed that she’d found a man. She brought a scruffy young layabout into her room when we were in Stoves Castle last Saturday. Jim went mad. I thought that she’d probably found herself a man here too, but that this time she’d gone to his room, so that Jim wouldn’t find out.’

Out of the corner of her eye, Bobbie saw Inspector Jackson twitch.

Valerie laughed. ‘She did!’ Valerie squealed delightedly. ‘Well, that proves my innocence. My suspicions were correct. She was having it off with some bloke instead of preparing for the show. I knew she’d be unprepared, and I was looking forward to seeing her make a fool of herself on live television. Anchoring a live programme isn’t easy, especially when you’re more interested in finding a bloke than reading a script. I would have torn her to shreds!’ Valerie finished smugly.

‘Literally?’ Lavender asked.

Valerie dismissed the question with a wave of her well-manicured hand.

‘Of course not … Lavender, isn’t it? Making Helena look like a fool on live television would have been so much more satisfying,’ said Valerie. ‘And, my dear girl, I can tell that you know it would. I’ll bet you’ve unleashed the bitch on a few occasions.’

‘I do it regularly,’ Lavender admitted.

‘Besides, I’ve done crime shows,’ said Valerie. ‘I presented Thiefwatch for a few years. If I was going to kill someone, I’d be certain that I had an alibi. So, are we finished?’

Bobbie and Joe simply nodded. Valerie Mallory stood, smiled politely, and left.

‘She seems to think that we should know her and like her,’ observed Susan.

‘That was Valerie Mallory,’ said Joe.

‘It was,’ Bobbie agreed.

‘Did you ever bake her chocolate Easter cake? My mam went mad with me when I tried.’ Joe grinned.

Bobbie laughed, ‘Yes, I…’

Susan cleared her throat noisily.

‘She used to present the world’s longest-running children’s television show,’ Bobbie explained. ‘Joe and I grew up with her.’

‘How is it possible that you don’t know who she is?’ asked Joe curiously.

‘We have interviews to conduct. Let’s have Archie Dark in next, please. Do you mind, Lavender?’ asked Bobbie hastily, trying to divert Joe from asking any more awkward questions.

‘Not at all.’ Lavender grinned. ‘How do you want me to play him? I could be the gullible believer, ask him to try to reach out to the other side and ask the victim whodunit.’

‘Try it, if you want,’ said Bobbie.

Lavender nodded and left. Joe tried to return to the subject of Valerie Mallory, but Bobbie managed to divert him back onto the crime.

‘She does have opportunity, Joe,’ Bobbie reminded him.

‘Yeah, but, like she said, she’s not stupid. If she’d planned it, she’d have given herself an alibi. And she’s a professional; she wouldn’t have interrupted the show, either,’ said Joe.

‘That’s a very good point,’ Bobbie agreed. ‘She’s a –show must go on” person. She’d have waited until they were off-air. Really, it’s a stupid time to kill someone. Perhaps it was an accident or unplanned.’

The door opened, and Joe’s reply remained unspoken.

‘The spirits don’t work in that way, my dear girl,’ Archie was saying. ‘You can’t simply call them up and ask for an answer. You must wait patiently and listen carefully, and be grateful for any snippets you get. The orb told me, you know. I foretold the tragic death of a young woman.’ Archie Dark sobbed dramatically. Lavender nodded understandingly. She had linked her arm through his and was staring at him in admiration. She escorted him to the chair Valerie had recently vacated and fussily helped him to sit.

‘The –orb” is plastic and batteries, and broken; I saw it,’ Bobbie observed. ‘But you still managed to predict her death. How did you know she was dead? Did you kill her?’

‘I, er, I…’ Archie turned pale, and his chins began to tremble. Bobbie was astonished by the reaction her rather flippant question had achieved. She’d almost dismissed dithery old Archie Dark as a suspect the moment he’d entered the room.

Lavender reached across and squeezed the elderly man’s hand. ‘We simply want to find out how she died, and who killed her, Archie,’ she said. His lower lip drooped, and he began to cry.

‘It was me!’ said Archie. ‘I did it. I didn’t mean too; I only wanted to make her uncomfortable, I didn’t mean to kill her.’

‘You!’ Inspector Jackson snorted in disbelief. ‘How?’

With tears in his eyes, Archie reached into his jacket pocket. He pulled out two items. The first, which he almost threw onto the table, was a wax doll with single hair wrapped around its head. A pin was sticking through the doll’s chest. The second, which he retained in his hand, was an ancient iron key. He stared at the key as though he’d never seen it before, and then absent-mindedly dropped it back into his pocket.

Susan pulled on a black leather glove, carefully picked up the wax doll from the table and examined it. Bobbie watched the blonde witch as she reached inside her coat with her free hand, held onto her wand, and silently cast a spell. Archie meanwhile was wailing and moaning in an extravagant display of remorse.

‘Are you really admitting to killing Helena Anncart by sticking a pin in a voodoo doll?’ asked Bobbie incredulously.

Archie nodded and shed even more tears. ‘I didn’t mean to do it,’ he sobbed. ‘I just wanted her to get ill. Jim wants rid of me. Helena told me; she said Jim wanted a young and sexy psychic, not a - not a - a fat old has-been of a queen. I thought that if she was ill, if she did badly - so I made the doll - I stuck in the pin, and now she’s dead!’ He slumped forwards, put his head in his hands, and wailed.

Lavender stood and walked behind him. She glanced at Susan, who shook her head. Lavender placed her hands on Archie’s shoulders.

‘You didn’t kill her, Archie,’ Lavender spoke softly.

‘Not with this doll; it isn’t at all magical,’ Susan said.

‘And anyway, you need intent,’ said Lavender. ‘In order to kill someone with magic, you need to really mean it, to really want them dead. You can’t kill someone if all you want is to give them an upset stomach.’

Archie Dark raised his tear-stained face and stared at Lavender.

‘We’re experts, Archie,’ Lavender assured him. ‘You can’t have killed her with that doll.’

Joe Jackson was becoming annoyed; Bobbie nudged him. ‘They know what they’re doing,’ she whispered. ‘Give them a chance.’

It took several minutes, and a shot of whisky from Striggiday’s drinks cabinet, before Lavender managed to calm Archie down. She slowly coaxed out his story.

After the pre-broadcast meeting finished at four thirty, Archie Dark had been in his room. While there he’d made the Helena doll. Archie admitted that he had stabbed the doll with a pin until he felt better. It was obvious that this was something he’d done before. Further careful and wide-eyed questioning by Lavender led to him revealing that he’d apparently made several –Jim” dolls over the years. This, however, was the first time that any doll had worked.

Like Valerie, Archie said that he had been reading his script, and had not left his room until Hattie had called him for the meal. When they returned at six o’clock, he’d gone straight into make-up. After make-up, he went back to his room to read the script, and he’d stayed there until just after quarter past seven, when Hattie had reminded him that it was time to prepare. He’d followed her along to the library.

Bobbie thanked him, assured him that they would tell no one about the doll and told him that he could leave.

‘What’s the key for?’ she asked conversationally as he stood.

‘Key?’ Archie remembered and, puzzled, fished it back out from his pocket. ‘I’ve never seen it before,’ he said. ‘I’ve no idea how it got into my pocket. It’s very old, isn’t it?’

Bobbie watched him carefully, she was aware that Inspector Jackson was doing the same. Archie’s confusion certainly seemed genuine.

‘May I?’ requested Bobbie. Archie handed her the key. ‘It’s definitely not yours?’

Archie shook his head and shrugged. ‘No. I’ve no idea how it got into my pocket.’

‘Can I keep it?’ Bobbie asked.

‘Of course, it isn’t mine. Can I go, now?’ begged Archie.

‘Yes, go straight back to the library, and don’t say anything about the interview,’ Bobbie ordered, passing the key to Susan. ‘We may need to speak to you again.’ Archie’s face fell.

‘You aren’t in any trouble, Archie,’ Lavender assured him as she ushered him out and closed the door. ‘Make your own way back. We need to discuss something.’

‘This is the key to the pearl chest,’ announced Susan. ‘We need to find out whether the pearl has been stolen.’

‘He gave it up very easily,’ observed Lavender.

‘Either he’s a bloody good actor, or someone planted it on him,’ said Joe. ‘What was all that voodoo nonsense?

‘It was voodoo nonsense,’ said Susan sharply. ‘We regularly deal with people who believe in ghosts and magic, Inspector. We’re used to their strange beliefs.’

‘The girls who believe in tragically romantic vampire nonsense are the worst,’ Lavender added. ‘I’m sure that you won’t be surprised to discover that it’s impossible for Archie to have killed Helena by sticking a pin into a wax doll he’s made,’ said Lavender, her eyes twinkling. ‘Our method’s might be a little unorthodox, Joe, but we got what we needed from him, didn’t we? Poor old sod. Still, perhaps making an effigy of someone who annoys us, and sticking pins in it, might do us all good, eh Susan? I’ll even give you one of my hairs if you like.’

Susan Bones laughed.
Chapter Endnotes: Thanks once again to Chante' for her beta work.