Simmonds purchased a large pin-board, pins, blank index cards, and string from a stationery store on the High Street. Back at the hotel he and Piccolo began to assemble a case chart. Questions outnumbered facts. Simmonds spoke with the hotel manager (thin, bespectacled, and prematurely balding) to get a better picture of Eric and Agnes. Apparently they were ‘stepping out together’. There was no complaint about their work, but neither were ‘settled’ – a not uncommon state of affairs for staff in hospitality the manager explained dolefully ruing the ‘good old days’ of vocational service. There had been a few instances of items missing from guests’ rooms and Agnes, along with others, had been suspected, but nothing had been proven and no negative remark placed against her name. Generally they were both ‘unremarkable’ said the manager with a dismissive tone. He was a snob and Simmonds had taken an almost instant dislike to him.
‘So there’s really nothing to suggest either way that they are lying or telling the truth’ Simmonds told Piccolo as they sat taking coffee in the hotel’s conservatory.
‘Pretty crucial point to decide on’ said Piccolo. She paused, then: ‘Now what was it you said about the van?’
‘Vans. There are two, and they are never locked when on the premises and the keys are always left in the ignition’
‘So anyone could have taken it?’ stated Piccolo.
‘And there are no fingerprints other than those of the regular drivers and we have ruled them out. Would have been simple for someone else to wear gloves of course’ said Simmonds.
‘Well it was never going to be that easy’ said Piccolo. Another pause. ‘Has everyone at the party been interviewed?’
‘Those we know of. Uniform have been taking statements. Bound to be some we’ve missed though. We don’t have a comprehensive list of attendees after all’
‘And definitely no one saw Margaret leave?’
‘No. Again not something you’d expect people to look out for. A crowded room, lots of noise, music, dancing, comings and goings. The perfect cover’
There were macaroons, Piccolo’s favourite, she delicately took one and bit it. Simmonds sipped his coffee which was a little bitter for his liking. It was a moment of calm before the storm.