Barnes drove down the carefully manicured driveway of Manton Rempville Hall, while Knowles stared at the yew hedges, which had been sheared into interesting shapes that he couldn’t quite recognise. After they’d parked, Knowles walked over to one of the hedges and pointed.
“What do you think they’re supposed to be, Barnesy, these shapes?”
Barnes looked at Knowles, who was moving his head around to try and get the right angle for a correct identification of the topiary.
“Well, Inspector, isn’t that one a mouse and this one here a hedgehog?”
“It could be a hedgehog, I suppose, but I thought it might be a crouching lion – you see there’s the mane and that’s definitely a tail…”
“Excuse me, this is private property,” said a very posh female voice, “if you don’t leave I will call the police.”
“Well, there’s no need, because we are already here, madam,” said Knowles, brandishing his identification card in the lady’s face. “I am Detective Inspector Colin Knowles and this is Detective Sergeant Rod Barnes. We are here to ask you and your family about the death that occurred in the grounds of the monastery earlier today.”
“Death, you say, is that why there were all those sirens keeping us awake at some ungodly hour this morning?”
“Those sirens were the ambulance and police cars rushing to the scene of a murder. I am sorry, but I don’t know your name.”
“The impertinence – I am Lady Bunny Johnson, if you must know, and why do those people put on their sirens when the murdered person is already dead and there’s no reason to rush?” Lady Johnson smoothed her revealing blue blouse over her figure as she almost spat out these words.
“Thank you, Lady Johnson, I do need to know your name and there is always a reason to rush to a murder scene as vital evidence can easily be lost if the police aren’t on the scene as soon as possible.”
“Really – it doesn’t seem necessary to me; perhaps they could put them on just in the afternoons?” She brushed a couple of blonde hairs behind her left ear, taking care not to get them caught in her silver earring, shaped like a unicorn.
“We’ll see about that; anyway, how many people do you have in the Hall at the moment? I would like to interview them all, please.”
“I’ll ask the butler, Fairfax, to gather the staff together in the lower library for you.”
“I would like to interview everyone in the house, staff, family, and house guests, if there are any of course.”
“You surely can’t believe that any members of the family, my family, would be involved in anything as sordid as a murder?”
“The murder was committed on a property adjacent to this Hall, last night, so I would like to eliminate every person in this Hall from my enquiries as soon as possible. So, Lady Johnson, if you please can you gather everyone in the library…”
“Which one, we have two? Upper or lower?”
“…please gather everyone in the lower library in fifteen minutes from now, so Sergeant Barnes and I can find out where everyone was last night.”
“I’ll ask Fairfax to gather the family and then he can go and get Wilkinson and Jenkins. I will ask Miss Newton to rouse everyone in the coach house.”
With that Lady Johnson had gone, leaving behind a slight scent of neroli.
“I presume that’s the coach house over there,” said Barnes, pointing to a two-storey brick building behind some topiary bushes.
As if on cue, a youngish maid wearing an apron dashed out of the front door of the Hall and headed in the direction of the building. Her auburn hair was in a bob, which swayed slightly as she hurried on her way.
“That must be Miss Newton doing as she has been bid by her boss,” growled Knowles, “and I wonder who Wilkinson and Jenkins are?”
“They sound like a firm of undertakers to me,” replied Barnes, “but presumably they’re the gardeners or the chauffeurs or one of each.”
Barnes’ phone rang and he listened intently for around a minute, while Knowles tried to work out why anyone would shape a box hedge into the shape of a box. “These people have too much leisure time and too much money,” he thought as Barnes finished his call and looked at him with a smile on his face.
“That was WPC Smythe – she has run some checks on Edward Pritchard and guess where he used to work?”
“He was a knife-grinder,” said Knowles, not expecting to be right. He didn’t like it when Barnes smiled at him; he felt like Barnes enjoyed knowing things that he didn’t.
“He might have done something similar in his role as a sub-gardener here at Manton Rempville Hall.”
“When did he stop working as a knife-grinding sub-gardener here at Manton Rempville Hall?” enquired Knowles.
“Three months ago, yesterday. He was dismissed because some money went missing from the house.”
“Really, well I wonder whether he was ever given the opportunity to deny the allegations? I don’t suppose we shall ever know, now that he’s dead.”
As he spoke, Miss Newton returned with two seventeen-year-old boys and a strikingly beautiful red-headed girl of about nineteen.
“Hello, I am Toby Johnson,” said one of the boys, shaking Barnes by the hand.
Toby was around five feet nine inches tall and was wearing a worn T-shirt and jeans. His straight black hair was cut short. He continued, “This is my friend from Harrow, Basil Fawcett, and his amazing sister Henry. She’s a stunner, isn’t she? You must be the police who want to interview us.”
“We are,” said Knowles. “I am Inspector Knowles and this is Detective Sergeant Barnes.”
“Anything of importance?” enquired Basil Fawcett, tossing his head slightly so that his brown hair fell in front of his eyes. He cleared it away from his glasses with the back of his left hand.
“It’s very important, I can assure you,” said Knowles, “and we will let you know in the fullness of time.”
“Come on, Basil,” said Henrietta Fawcett, “let’s leave the policemen to their own devices and go in to the lower library. By the way, Sergeant Barnes, my real name is Henrietta, not Henry. If you’d like to make a note of that.”
And with that the three walked into the Hall followed at an appropriate distance by Miss Newton. Barnes couldn’t help noticing how Henrietta’s red hair glinted in the faint sunlight.
Barnes had turned slightly red. Knowles looked at him and shook his head.
“Have you made a note, Sergeant?”
“No, sir, I haven’t – I had realized she was a girl.”
“I can tell, Sergeant Barnes, as I think she could too. Think of a nice ice-cold shower and you’ll be fine.”