Doyle pulled up and consulted the map again. Cowley had said it was a large place; he couldn't possibly miss it. Well, so far he seemed to have missed it twice already.
Starting off once more he spotted what looked like a farm track and getting desperate, he turned into it. Within just a few yards the track opened out onto a wider road and became a spectacular driveway to a large manor house, presumably the one he was seeking, although without any sort of name plaque he was still guessing.
Ah, there was a police car parked discreetly to the far side of the drive; this had to be it. He pulled up alongside the Panda and opened the file Cowley had given him to check the details, wondering if he should wait for Bodie.
This was going to be a tricky one; he didn't get on well with the 'upper classes' at the best of times and Doyle could have done with his partner's presence if only for moral support. They were supposed to be having a rare weekend off - he'd planned to do Christmas shopping - but when he'd asked Cowley why he had to drive down alone and why Bodie hadn't also been dragged out of his cosy bed at 7.30 a.m. on that freezing Saturday December morning, Cowley had been evasive. There had been a half-promise that Bodie would join him, but Doyle wasn't holding his breath. By the time Cowley had located his partner, Doyle would have wrapped this up and be halfway back to London.
The file told him little that Cowley hadn't already imparted. Lord Appleton's son the Honourable Bertrand Fox was having a festive house party and a call had been made to the local police just after six about a dead girl, possibly murdered. Given who was holding the party and who the dead girl was Cowley had been contacted, and here Doyle was.
Well, no sense in sitting in the car getting cold. Hugging his jacket around him and wishing that today he'd chosen to wear something other than his scruffiest jeans, Doyle headed for the front door. The bellpull was iron and old and as the loud jangling noise it made faded away to silence Doyle fished out his ID, preparing to hold it out like a shield.
He was just wondering if anyone was going to open the door or if he should ring again, when he heard the sound of a bolt being drawn and the door opened.
It was a butler, of course. Doyle held out his card, before he could get dismissed. "Doyle, CI5. Here about the dead girl."
There was a short silent pause, during which the butler managed to convey that although they might have a dead girl on the premises, and that CI5 might be a special department, Doyle was a policeman and policemen did not enter large stately homes through the front door, especially not scruffy policemen. However, the butler was too well-bred to mention such a thing, and opened the door wider. "Please come in, sir."
The door was closed behind him with a dull heavy clunk and for a moment reminded Doyle of a cell door. He might never get out again! Mind you, as prisons went this was a bit plush.
"I'll inform the young master of your arrival, sir."
The young master? Doyle thought all that went out years ago; these people lived on a different planet. Left waiting in the magnificent hallway Doyle felt about three feet tall but fortunately the butler returned very quickly. "Would you walk this way?"
Suppressing a smirk, Doyle followed him along the hall and was shown into the library. "Master Bertrand will be with you imminently, sir. He is just finishing breakfast."
Typical. No doubt Master Bertrand had partaken of a splendid five-course breakfast while Doyle hadn't even managed a slice of toast. At least the library had a good fire, and Doyle made good use of it to defrost himself, expecting 'imminently' to mean at least half an hour.
The young man who bounded vigorously through the door after just a few minutes was probably about twenty-five; the sort of good-looking chinless wonder Doyle saw frequently around London. "Oh, Mr Doyle, isn't it? Good of you to come."
As though he'd been invited to dinner, Doyle thought. "Mr Fox. I understand the dead girl was staying with you?"
"One of the party, yes. Why don't we go up to the room? I think the police surgeon is still there; you'll probably want to talk to him." Without waiting for Doyle's agreement he turned and left the room and Doyle followed. The surgeon would make a lot more sense than he was probably going to get from Bertrand Fox, who seemed not to be worried by a suspicious death in the house.
Having guided Doyle upstairs to the bedroom, Fox began to make excuses to leave him. "I have guests to see to; things to organise."
"Mr Fox, I must ask you to ensure that none of your guests leave. I will need to talk to them all."
"Oh, none of them will do that; after all, we have the fancy dress ball tonight." Doyle watched Fox go in bemusement. Obviously none of the guests were bothered about a death in the house either.
He identified himself to the copper standing by the door, and went in. The doctor was just tidying up. "CID?"
"CI5. I've been sent down from London because the girl's someone important."
The doctor nodded, and indicated the bedside table. "Well, as far as I can see she died of a heroin overdose. Probably around three this morning. The hypo and packet of what's left of the drug are there; from the positioning, I would say accidental death - or possibly suicide - rather than murder, there's nothing to suggest she was held down while the drug was injected for instance, and clear signs that she was a regular user."
Doyle could see the track marks on her arms himself. "You haven't touched anything?"
"I know better than that. The only other person who's been in here was the police photographer; he was just leaving when I arrived. I officially checked life was extinguished and that was it. Harris - that's the butler - put one of the footmen in front of the door until the police got here, so the room's just as it was when she was discovered. It was one of the maids who found her, she apparently ran screaming from the room and woke all the guests up." The doctor seemed to find their early morning wakening amusing. "I gather most of them hadn't gone to bed until the early hours anyway."
Doyle grinned. "How the other half live. OK, thanks for your help."
"Will you be shipping her back to London for the PM, if she's important?"
"Probably, but that's not my department. We'll let you know if we need you."
Once the doctor had gone, Doyle closed the door and studied the scene. As the doctor had said, the girl had been shooting up; the hypo, still half-full, lay beside her arm and there was no extra bruising to the skin. She was still fully-dressed and nothing seemed to have been disturbed, and Doyle was inclined to agree with the accidental death verdict. He needed to search the room properly, but decided to check-in with Cowley first to keep him informed.
Heading for the stairs, Doyle heard a door open beside him. An arm thrown around his chest pinioned his arms down and a hand over his mouth prevented him from shouting out as he was dragged backwards into the room and the door shut behind them. He immediately lashed out with his right foot, and was released as his assailant staggered backwards. "Bloody 'ell, sunshine, knock it off!"
Doyle spun round and faced him. "What... how... Bodie? What the hell is going on?" As his partner scowled at him, rubbing his damaged shin, Doyle realised that the bedroom Bodie had dragged him into was occupied, and the overnight bag and clothes he could see were his partner's. "You're staying here?"
"Yep." Bodie grinned. "Long story, but I needed to speak to you alone before you saw me."
"But - does Cowley know you're here?"
"Of course. How else do you think he knew about the death?"
"He told me the locals had called it in..."
"They think they did. Anyway, what did you think?"
"Think?" Doyle dragged his mind back to his reason for being there. "The doctor thought accidental, possibly suicide. Not murder."
"Mmm. I managed a quick look before the footman was installed and that's what it looked like to me as well. Did you search the room yet?"
"I was going to call in first. Why, have you?"
"Not properly. But I did spot a black briefcase under the bed which is very unlikely to belong to Alicia, and from what I saw I think you should check that first."
Doyle was still trying to grasp the how and why of Bodie being there. "No, first you can tell me why you're here. Does Cowley have you undercover, looking for drugs or something? Did you know her?"
"Not that well. Look, we need to do this properly. I know Bertie and was here as a guest - he doesn't know exactly what I do, by the way - but the best way to handle this is for me to pretend not to know you and stay with the party. That way, if anyone lets anything drop I'll be in a position to pick up on it."
"Doyle, just play along. Search the room then go downstairs and go through the routine. Get Harris to fix you up with somewhere that you can question the guests, and I'll be your first witness. Then we can talk properly."
Bundled out of the door, Doyle sighed. Bodie was impossible in this mood; the only way to get anything out of him was to follow instructions. Although his first action would be to go and call in...
"Doyle, sir. Just calling in to apprise you of the latest."
"And? Have you seen the girl?"
"Looks like accidental death. There's no sign of a struggle which might indicate murder."
"Good. Less messy, at least. I've organised for her body to be collected and transported back to London. I've broken the news to her father and he has a tame doctor waiting to do the post mortem."
"OK, sooner the better. Although the Honourable Bertrand doesn't seem too bothered."
"I understand it's quite a large party. Have you seen anyone yet?"
"As in, someone we both know?" Doyle could have sworn he heard Cowley chuckle. "Yes sir. I have. I'll be interviewing all the guests shortly."
"OK. Keep me informed." Was Cowley laughing as he hung up? Doyle scowled at the phone, and headed back upstairs. Get the room searched and then he'd 'interview' Bodie and find out exactly how much he knew...
The briefcase wasn't locked, and wasn't even clasped shut. Doyle lifted the lid carefully and realised why Bodie had called Cowley in. The case was full of small packets of white powder and it didn't take a detective to guess it was heroin. The death involved more than just a careless user.
He closed the case properly and slid it further back under the bed; probably the safest place just at the moment. Checking around the rest of the room Doyle could see why Bodie had said the briefcase was out of place. Alicia Kavanagh was a deb and the rest of her luggage was by Gucci. The small vanity case on the dressing-table was open, and several small empty packets and spare hypodermics were inside. It looked like she'd exhausted her normal supply and turned to the case under the bed.
Was it a straight case of overdose then? Doyle went back to stand by the bed. The open packet was still more than half full; if Alicia hadn't taken that much there was every chance the heroin was contaminated. This could turn into a manslaughter case. It was time he talked to Bodie.
The butler had appeared the instant Doyle reached the hall, saving Doyle the problem of how to find him. "Harris, isn't it? I need a room to question the guests."
"Master Bertrand said I should put the library at your disposal, sir."
"Good, that'll do fine." Doyle wasn't used to all this bowing and scraping. "There's no need to keeping 'sirring' me."
Harris inclined his head in a superior manner. "Can I assist in any way?"
"I should speak to the maid who found the body first, and anyone else who went in the room."
"The maid is in the Housekeepers Room which you will find just beyond the door at the end of the corridor. There was just the one guest who reached the room before me; a Mr Bodie."
"OK, perhaps you could find him for me and ask him to come to the library in about half hour?" Doyle doubted the maid would be able to tell him much and was keen to hear Bodie's side of things.
"Very well, sir."
Harris seemed incapable of not adding 'sir' to the end of his sentences. Shrugging, Doyle followed the corridor through the green baize door at the end and found himself in a much more down-to-earth environment. A door to the left stood open and he tapped on the way in, recognising that the woman in the smart dress had to be the housekeeper, and the young girl with a tear-stained face the maid he was looking for.
"I'm Ray Doyle, with the Police. I need to ask you a few questions about this morning."
"Nancy Kingswood." The older woman introduced herself. "Sharon is very upset by the experience."
"Miss Kingswood." Acknowledging her, Doyle sat at the table next to Sharon. "I just need to know what you saw, and whether you touched anything."
"No, I didn't. I was too upset. It was my turn to get the breakfast things ready so I was up early and on my way down to the kitchen. As I passed, I saw the door to Miss Kavanagh's room was open and the bedside light was on. I thought it a bit unusual because none of them are usually awake until gone nine, and then I realised that she was laying on top of the covers and I wondered if she was ill. So I went in."
"And you realised she was dead?"
"Not at first, not from the doorway. I called and she didn't respond so I went closer..." She gulped. "I didn't touch anything, I swear. I was so shocked I just ran from the room, I couldn't help screaming..."
"That's all right. Did you know Miss Kavanagh? Had she stayed here before?"
The housekeeper answered him. "Once or twice. Not top drawer, the family are New Money."
And not approved of by the staff, Doyle deduced. "OK. That'll do for now, I might need to ask a few more questions later."
"We'll be here."
Returning to the library, Doyle was relieved to find Bodie already ensconced, and shut the door firmly behind him. "So, spill. How and why? I thought you were spending the weekend with a girl."
"I am, sort of. Look, I met Bertie at a club, nearly a year ago. He's not quite as ineffectual as he seems, anyway we hit it off and always have a few drinks if we happen to bump into each other. Couple of weeks ago he asked me to make up the numbers on the party here when one of his friends had an accident and wouldn't be able to make it."
"Wouldn't have thought an upper-class party would have been your sort of thing."
"It's only a couple of days." Bodie smirked. "Besides, I've had my eye on one of Bertie's lovely lady friends and so far haven't got anywhere with her. I thought this weekend might advance things."
"But that was before someone died."
"Yeah. But there's still time."
"Is no one bothered about that dead girl upstairs? Your friend Bertie said no one would leave because you'd still got some ball tonight."
"Well, she's not one of the main group, as far as I can tell. Most of Bertie's friends were at school with him, and the rest of the girls all know each other. Alicia is a hanger-on, no class but tolerated because she had money."
"New money, the housekeeper called it. So are you just being tolerated?"
"Just what are you implying, Raymond?" Bodie assumed his haughty tone, before grinning. "Nah, they know I don't have any money, and I don't pretend to be anything than what I am. Except, of course, they don't know what I am."
Trying to follow that sentence was too much like hard work for Doyle. "So what do they think you are?"
"A civil servant working for the Home Office, so all my work is hush-hush and I can't talk about it. It's a useful excuse and the air of mystery seems to go down well with the girls."
"So Mr Mysterious, Harris told me you were the only guest who got into Alicia's room before he arrived."
"My room is closest, that's all. And I suppose I'm more accustomed to instant alertness when women start screaming than most people, especially as most of them had a few too many drinks last night. I checked Alicia's pulse just to make sure, then saw the hypo. She might be 'new money' but she's still the daughter of an important man, and when I saw the briefcase I knew we needed more than local plod. I told Harris to have the room secured and called Cowley."
"And Harris just takes orders from you?"
"He had me sussed as soon as I arrived yesterday. Knows ex-army when he sees it."
"Mmm." Doyle nodded ruefully. "He had me sussed in seconds as well. I'm just a scruffy policeman."
Bodie laughed. "If you will go around dressed in cast-offs..."
"When Cowley dragged me out of bed this morning the last thing I expected was to be on show. I thought he'd be sending me out to cover that warehouse stakeout."
"So, it could have been worse than coming here then."
"Possibly. Listen, if that girl isn't really one of the in-crowd and not that popular, how did she get invited?"
"Wangled it out of Bertie in a weak moment, he told me. I think it had something to do with several bottles of champagne. And he's more upset than you might think. I spoke to him at breakfast and told him she'd probably died of an overdose, and he's worried. I know there are a lot of the rich young things doing it but he doesn't touch drugs, and as far as I'm aware neither do any of the others here. I didn't see anything doing the rounds last night, not even grass."
"So what was Alicia doing with that amount of heroin? Is it possible she thought she could buy her way into being accepted?"
"If she did, then she was dafter than I thought - even if any of them are using, that's a heck of a lot up there; far too much for this party. It's more like a dealer's supply, and I'd be very surprised if she was dealing; far too empty-headed."
"Keeping it for a dealer? Someone using her to carry it around?"
"Far more likely. I'm not sure I'd've trusted her with anything that important, but maybe that's what they were banking on; that no one would suspect her."
"So, why does she have it here? Could one of the other guests be a dealer?"
"If they are, they're hiding it well. Everyone was shocked when they heard what happened, but I was watching them and couldn't see any sign of worry about the goods."
Bodie shrugged. "I haven't seen enough of them to know. Still unlikely though; from what I saw of her, staff are just faceless beings who did her bidding."
"I'll ask your friend that question; he might have some idea."
"You'd do better to ask Harris; nothing happens in this house that he doesn't know about. Of course, there's one way to find out if someone in the house wants the heroin - wait and find out if they come after it."
"Set a trap?"
"Quickest route, if you ask me. Look, you haven't called in forensics yet, have you?"
"Not yet. Cowley's sending someone down to collect the body but he's left everything else up to me. I was going to contact the locals - we need to test the heroin; Alicia could have overdosed but it struck me that it might be contaminated."
"OK, what about this? I'm not sure you'll get anything from any of the other guests, but go through the motions of interviewing at least some of them. Let them know that the room will be sealed until forensics can be done tomorrow; make them think the briefcase hasn't been discovered."
"And lie in wait tonight?"
"You got it." Bodie grinned. "It's the fancy dress ball tonight. The place will be full of odd-looking characters."
"Some of them will be, I expect, but it's not obligatory. You won't have any trouble recognising me, sunshine."
"And what should I be looking out for?"
Bodie just grinned wider. "Wait and see..."
It had been a tedious morning; the sort that Doyle thought he'd left behind at the Met. He'd duly interviewed the butler, who knew nothing about Alicia or any connection she might have made with the staff, who were all long-serving and loyal.
Bertrand Fox was, as Bodie had said, worried. He'd related every last thing he knew about Alicia - most of which wasn't complimentary; Doyle gathered she was a little tramp - and that he knew she was a user. He hadn't particularly wanted her to come for the weekend but once he'd inadvertently issued the invitation, he couldn't retract. He confided to Doyle that he'd especially asked that chap Bodie along because he was something to do with the government, and he thought if Alicia had caused any, ah, problems, Bodie might know what to do. Not that he'd imagined this sort of problem, of course...
Bodie knew exactly what to do, Doyle thought, but Bertie had no idea he'd already done it.
After that, he'd spoken to the guests who seemed to have known Alicia best, but that wasn't saying much. She wasn't well-liked; a hanger-on, as Bodie had said. She slept around to try to make herself popular but as far as Doyle could tell, the fact that her father had made money rather than inherited it meant she'd never be accepted.
Another poor little rich girl, blowing herself away on heroin. Wasn't the first he'd come across, probably wouldn't be the last.
He'd asked Bertie to have all the guests gathered in one place after lunch so he could speak to them. As Harris showed him into the Drawing Room, Doyle wished he'd not bothered.
Twenty or so yuppies, all elegantly dressed, waited on his every word. Doyle went from feeling like Poirot calling everyone together to Columbo in his raincoat in just a few seconds. Having Bodie sitting at the back smirking at him didn't help one little bit.
"I, uh, just wanted to thank you all for remaining here."
"Why darling, why should we go? We have our ball tonight," one of the girls interrupted him, causing a ripple of laughter amongst the others.
"Uh, yes. Well, Miss Kavanagh's body will be removed shortly, but we won't be clearing the room until tomorrow, so must ask all of you not to go in there."
Another girl, mousy-looking, squeaked nervously. "I shouldn't want to. Heavens, do you think she'll haunt it?"
Bodie rolled his eyes and pulled a face at him, and Doyle choked back a laugh. "I'll be here this afternoon, so if anyone thinks of anything else about Miss Kavanagh, please let me know."
Hurrying from the room, Doyle heard the group dissolve into laughter and cringed. Hopefully they weren't laughing at him but he wasn't under any illusions; he stood out like the proverbial sore thumb around here...
After the private ambulance had departed with Alicia's body, Doyle had tracked down Bodie again, who unhelpfully was playing croquet on the lawn with some of the girls. Making sure Bodie saw him, Doyle lurked on the edge of the gardens and eventually his partner came over.
"You got anything?"
"Couple of phone numbers."
Doyle grinned. "Of course, but do you have anything on the case?"
"After your little chat there was some discussion about Alicia, but nothing we didn't already know. Within ten minutes they were all discussing tonight's little event and had forgotten about her. But the hook's baited - "
"And we just wait and see if someone bites?"
"Bound to. There'll be lots going on tonight, plenty of opportunity for someone to slip in." Bodie smiled at the girls walking across the lawn towards them. "Nice..."
Doyle followed his gaze. Nice they might be, but they were out of his league.
"Bodie, come and play another game of croquet. You're the only one who knows the rules."
"I'm wanted, mate. Catch you later."
Surrounded by females, Doyle watched his partner walk away. One of the girls looked back over her shoulder and smiled straight at him, and Doyle smiled back. It was nice to know that Bodie didn't have it all his own way.
Based on Bodie's assertion that Harris knew everything that went on in the house Doyle decided to take the butler into his confidence, and organising the trap suddenly became very easy.
Doyle had intended to lock himself into the room to wait, but Harris suggested he hide instead in the large wardrobe in the corridor outside. "With the door just slightly ajar you'll be able to see if anyone approaches the room and arrest them if they enter the room."
Clambering in to test the wardrobe for size, Doyle was relieved to find it as spacious as the external measurements suggested. He'd need to get in there fairly early in order to create the impression that he'd gone and left the room unattended and getting cramp wouldn't help. Neither would the fact that he was starving; his stomach rumbled and echoed loudly around the cavity.
"That won't do, sir, I can hear that out here. Come down to the kitchen with me."
By four-thirty, Doyle was installed in his wardrobe, torch by his side. Dusk was falling and the corridor was already quite dark but he didn't expect anything to happen for a few hours yet; as Bodie had said, if someone was going to try and break into the room, they'd do it when everyone else was busy at the ball.
The cook had fed him so well Doyle was worried he was going to fall asleep from the inactivity. She'd also made him up some sandwiches and a small flask of coffee, not that he could actually see to pour it.
There were some comings and goings over the next couple of hours; through the gap Doyle saw several of the guests come past in their day clothes, and a while later return in their fancy dress. It was a strange assortment; some had gone for flamboyant historical costumes, while others were wearing animal suits. All very bizarre.
Harris had briefed him on the evening's schedule; they were starting with a buffet before the ball got underway. Doyle had also discovered that several people from the neighbourhood had been invited for the evening.
Hearing footsteps, Doyle peered out again. The pirate who was approaching looked familiar; and he stopped and tapped lightly at the door to Alicia's room. "Doyle?"
Assuming the coast was clear, Doyle gave a soft whistle and pushed the door open another half inch. "Over here."
"Oh, I like your room. I was going to suggest they found you an attic to sleep in, but that's much more suitable."
"I like your costume," Doyle retorted. "Where's your parrot?"
"Ar, Jim-lad." Bodie bowed, pushing the sword at his waist to one side. "Back in the room. I couldn't get it to stay upright, and I'm not performing that Monty Python sketch all evening. Listen, Bertie told me he'd invited other people along this evening."
"So I gather from Harris. Means we've got more suspects than just those staying here."
"I'll suss them out if possible. Although I could be busy with Lydia; she was very encouraging this afternoon over the croquet..."
"Oi, keep your mind on the job. I might need you up here in a hurry, so no trying to pot balls on the croquet lawn tonight."
"No boss. Enjoy your evening..."
Enjoy. Doyle had been on some odd stakeouts in his time, but this probably beat them all. Several times he saw people passing but that was all they did and time crawled.
The luminous hands on his watch proclaimed it to be nearly nine-thirty when Doyle suddenly realised the lights had gone out in the corridor. Opening the door slightly, he listened. The music had stopped downstairs - what was going on? There were some sounds of laughter, so obviously nothing bad. Fifteen minutes had passed when he heard someone coming up the stairs - a woman by the sound of it, he could hear long skirts rustling against the floorboards.
Pulling the door to, he retreated to the back of the wardrobe - only to find she pulled the door open and swiftly stepped in with him.
"Found you, Bertie! I knew you'd be in one of these old wardrobes!"
"Um..." It was too dark for her to see him, but she obviously knew Bertie very well, since just that one syllable was enough for her to realise her mistake. Instead of recoiling, she pressed closer, running her hands over him.
"Oh, it's Mr Doyle... I thought you'd gone."
"Uh, no. I'm, er..."
"Lying in wait?" She was sharp. Doyle was at a distinct disadvantage and wished he could see her. "We're playing sardines. Bertie went off to hide."
Hell, what if half the party turned up and wanted to get in his wardrobe? This wasn't such a bright idea after all.
"Of course, he tried to throw everyone off the scent by leaving the house; they'll all be searching the stables for ages before they come back in here."
It was incumbent on him to say something. "Oh, er, good."
"Gives us plenty of time."
"Well, I found you. We have this special little rule when we play sardines, you see. First one in gets to do what they want..."
Her next move left Doyle in no doubt about what she meant, and he stifled a hysterical laugh. He was stuck in a wardrobe, about to get raped by an unknown deb in fancy dress. Bodie would never believe him. "I don't think you should..."
"Are you sure...?" Her voice was already muffled as she slid to her knees, hands working at his zip. "I think you should just relax, darling..."
Pinned against the back of the wardrobe Doyle gripped at the sides for balance as his cock was pulled out - just her touch and the novelty of the occasion had him hard already - and closed his eyes in exquisite torture, moaning as the girl slid her tongue along his length. "Christ..."
He heard her give a little laugh before she sucked him in, hands gripping his buttocks, agile tongue working at the tip of his cock. He gasped again, knowing he should stop her. What if their suspect turned up now? If everyone was out of the house looking for Bertie, it was the ideal time...
She sucked him in hard and Doyle lost coherent thought, everything centred on that warm mouth and tongue doing indescribably wicked but astoundingly wonderful things to him...
It was inevitable that he wouldn't last long. Instinct made him clamp his mouth shut on a yell as his hips jerked violently in orgasm, and it was a few seconds before the fact that the girl was now standing up impinged on him.
"Lovely, darling. Shame you're only here for the one night..."
"I really should be going. If the others have found Bertie they'll be wondering where I am..."
"What's your name?" Doyle still couldn't see her, but didn't want the encounter to be entirely anonymous.
Her giggle was infectious. "Tonight, darling, I'm Anne Boleyn." There was a brief silhouette as she pushed the door open and in another rustle of skirts she was gone.
It was still dark in the corridor; Doyle eased himself away while peering out. The door to Alicia's room was undisturbed, and distracted as he'd been Doyle thought he would have heard if anyone had tried to break in. Head still spinning with the extraordinary memory of Anne and on suddenly weak knees, Doyle sat down in the wardrobe. Crikey. Bodie wouldn't believe it.
At least it had woken him up. He was just debating whether to try and pour some of the coffee when he heard footsteps again, softer this time; there was no sound of material so it couldn't be Anne returning. Could it be Bodie, coming to check on him?
From his lower position, Doyle saw a silhouette of the approaching guest and knew it wasn't his partner in the ridiculously ostentatious pirate hat; this person was wearing one of those animal costumes he'd seen earlier. They slowed, pausing to check over their shoulder and Doyle held his breath. This had to be who they were after.
Satisfied that he was unobserved, the 'animal' tried the door handle, apparently unperturbed when it didn't open. It was too dark for Doyle to see what was happening, but he remained bent over the handle and a few seconds later Doyle heard a click. Whoever it was, he was proficient with a lock-pick.
The door opened and the intruder slid inside, and Doyle caught the flash of torchlight just as the door closed; he wasn't going to risk putting the light on. Doyle levered himself silently to his feet and stepped out of his hiding place. It would take a few minutes for him to locate the briefcase but nowhere near long enough for Doyle to find Bodie, particularly if everyone was outside trying to find Bertie or playing sardines.
No, he was on his own with this one. Should be easy enough; wait until the door opened and snap on his torch to blind the thief, order them to surrender.
That was the idea, anyway. Listening carefully, Doyle heard drawers and cupboards being opened and closed, then a scraping noise and the sound of the catches on the briefcase. Bracing himself, Doyle tensed his finger on the pushbutton of the torch as the door opened...
"Hold it right there!" His bright torch beam illuminated the animal - he just had time to identify it as a lion - before the briefcase was thrown at him, knocking the torch from his hand. Scrabbling for grip in his costumed feet the lion attempted to run for the stairs, and flailing in the dark Doyle leapt in approximately the right direction and grabbed - and seized his tail...
Which promptly ripped off... Fortunately for Doyle the stop/start momentum had caught the lion out and rather than managing to run he slipped and crashed to the floor. Doyle was onto him in a split second, wondering if it was possible to get handcuffs around the wrist of a fully-grown lion; but the struggle wasn't over yet as his opponent thrashed under him, kicking and resisting. Finally pinning him down, Doyle drew in a deep breath...
Next moment, the lights flooded on and Bodie was bounding along the corridor towards them. "Got him, sunshine?"
Blinking in the sudden light, Doyle nodded. "He picked the lock and came out with the briefcase." Together, they hauled the now subdued and moth eaten-looking lion to his feet and pulled off the animal head.
"He's one of the visitors," Bodie confirmed. "I was suspicious about him, he was avoiding chatting to people and didn't want to join in the games. He gave me the slip around the garden which is why I was on my way up..."
"Who put the lights on?" Bertie rounded the top of the stairs. "Quite spoils the game, y'know... Oh, I say..."
Doyle shut the door of the Panda car and watched it pull away before returning to the house. Bertie had identified their drug-stealer as a new neighbour who had been to a few previous parties and would have known Alicia. Tomorrow they'd question him; tonight, Bodie wanted to get on with the party and Bertie had invited Doyle to join them...
Bodie was waiting for him in the hall. "Wanted to make sure you didn't disappear."
Doyle glanced down at himself; scruffy jeans now sporting a huge rip across one knee following the struggle. "I'm hardly dressed for a party, Bodie. Even fancy dress."
"Oh, come on. We deserve a celebration."
Reluctantly, Doyle allowed himself to be drawn into the large reception room, full of guests in mostly resplendent costumes. "I really think I should go..."
Refusing to listen, Bodie shoved a drink in his hand. "Get that down you. Some of these girls won't know you're not a real guest; you can always pretend you've come as a tramp."
Doyle was only half-listening; across the room he'd caught sight of the girl who had smiled at him that afternoon.
"Of course, you've had a busy day; hiding in your wardrobe and tackling a lion... All you needed was a witch, and you'd have had the hat-trick." Bodie sniggered at his own joke. "Oh, there's Lydia..."
The girl was in the sort of Tudor headdress and costume that Doyle remembered from the history books and as she looked across and smiled at him, he realised that Bodie was looking in the same direction as he was. He also remembered that Anne Boleyn was reputed to be a witch.
Bodie would never believe what had happened, but perhaps, in the circumstances, it would be better not to tell him anyway. The girl glided across the room and held out her hand to him, drawing him forward to stand under the mistletoe.
Holding his face in her hands, she kissed him softly. "Decided to join the party?"
"I was persuaded..." Doyle slid his arms around her slim waist. "Can a tramp be allowed to kiss the Queen of England?"
"You have our permission," she giggled. Doyle crushed her tightly to him and forced her lips apart with his tongue, kissing her hard. When he released her, her smile promised much more. "Merry Christmas, Mr Doyle..."