The Simmonds’ paid a visit to the police house, where Sergeant McPherson courteously addressed Piccolo, as was his manner, as ‘Ma’am’ as though she had some rank. A telegram awaited the Inspector – it was from Lady Bessingham formally inviting them to spend Christmas at the Hall. They were to arrive on the 24th (a week hence) and depart on the 26th. Not long, but obviously regarded as long enough for their task. At least it wouldn’t be an interminable stay Simmonds thought, immediately telephoning through an acceptance in response to the RSVP. He wondered what they were letting themselves in for.
Simmonds had no idea how many pairs of shoes Piccolo possessed, but apparently it was not sufficient. They entered the shop and soon Piccolo was trying on various styles. ‘Edith was of a mind that the conversations she overheard all related to separate secrets’ Piccolo said, continuing a discussion they had begun enroute.
‘So there are three secrets’ Simmonds proffered.
‘Or one or two. Logically you can’t rule those combinations out … I do like the buckle on these. What do you think?.
‘So one or two or three secrets are the subject of Lady B’s blackmail?’ asked Simmonds, omitting to comment on the shoes as he had no real opinion on ladies footwear (and if he did he would probably keep it to himself unless he knew it accorded with that of his dear wife).
Piccolo tried on another. ‘Are we going back to The Lynn after this weekend?’ she asked.
‘I thought not. No point really. Let’s stay on here until we have to leave for the Hall’.
‘Splendid’ said Piccolo. ‘Then I can get on with some work … Such a cute little heel, don’t you think so darling? … Should we be taking presents for the Howards? It is Christmas after all and we are their guests’.
‘Good question’ said Simmonds. ‘It never crossed my mind. Perhaps some wine?. Champagne?. Bet they have a cellar full of the good stuff though. I’ll telephone the vintners and ask their advice; they know I’m a philistine on these matters’. Piccolo smiled in agreement.
‘This could be a bit of an adventure’ said Piccolo. Simmonds worried it could be a dangerous one. Piccolo beckoned to the assistant ‘Thank you’ she said. ‘I’ll take both pairs’.