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Chapter 3


By Tracey Hobson

Joan was relieved to close her bedroom door at the end of another long day. She glanced at the clock and saw that it was nearly 1am, she'd have to be up again in four hours, those men can certainly drink ... "I'll have to remember to buy more Whiskey tomorrow".
It was three weeks now since the massed forces of the Metropolitan police had descended on the town and she really wasn't sure why she had been attracted to the idea of running a boarding house. "How many full-English breakfasts can one woman serve, before they send her off for an eternal rest alongside the other loonies?" ... And the new maid is more trouble than she's worth ... how she secured references from the Blackpool Grosvenor, without learning the correct way to set a table and fold a bed sheet was anybody's guess, but she didn't get by working there, that was for sure. Very pretty, there was no denying that, but useless. Mind you, there weren't a lot of options in this town, the last three maids all disappeared off with their respective 'gentlemen' to live in big cities, without so much as a days notice ... three tatty notes, what sort of notice is that, not one of them had the decency to come and let her know they were leaving, but then living unmarried with some lothario isn't very decent either! I suppose it gets round that old Merriweather's a bit of a soft touch and they all start doing what they like. Well, they'll see how much of a soft touch when their money runs out and they need a job and can't get one without a reference ... "funny, I'd have expected to hear from Maria by now, but she'll turn up eventually and then she'll be sorry."
Joan decided that it was time she started to lay the foundations of a new improved Merriweather's Boarding House. Charlotte had some explaining to do ... where did that reference come from and how the hell did she expect to keep her job if she couldn't tell the difference between right and left? Slipping on her housecoat Joan set off for the maids room. "She'll pay for cleaning that Inspectors overcoat too, that'll teach her not to leave bowls of soup on the reception desk, while she chats to the local postman!"
There didn't seem to be a light on in Charlotte's room. Joan wondered if she should leave it for tonight and tackle her in the morning. She paused at the door undecided. That was when she noticed the glint of light in the pile of the carpet.
She picked up the object and discovered that it was a pendant on a chain, quite delicate, looked like real gold, unusual design ... a bit like an animals head with horns, no features or anything, smooth, but a bit like a bulls head. Joan was surprised that Charlotte could afford something like this, it was obviously expensive, but the maid was the only person who had reason to come this far down in the house, her room was the last room in the house. Then in horror Joan started to realise that what she was looking at was probably evidence that she was employing a thief ... this belongs to one of the guests and tomorrow the house is going to add to it's notoriety with a case of thieving from the guests!
That was it. No matter what the time was, Joan was going to have it out with her. This house was her livelihood and she wasn't going to have some little tramp destroy it for her. She knocked sharply on the door and called out the girl's name. No answer, Joan knocked again. Still nothing. Furious she pulled the master key from her pocket - "ignore me will you, we'll see about that!"
She pushed open the door and saw ... no-one.
Charlotte's uniform hung neatly on the hook next to her bed ... no sign of a coat ... or outdoor shoes. Joan started in amazement, she'd only said "Goodnight" to the girl fifteen minutes earlier. The room had no window ... "well, she gets it for free, she can hardly expect a sea view!" There was no way she could have got past her employers room and out of the entrance door without being noticed, years of catching guests attempting to leave without paying had proved that. Where on Earth could she be?
Joan wondered if she should wake that nice Sergeant Taylor, but what could she say? As much as she disliked the idea, she didn't really have the right to insist that her maid stayed in when she wasn't working. Providing she was on time for work in the morning (fat chance of that, going out at 1am) and didn't bring anyone back to the house or go and get herself pregnant there wasn't really much that Joan could say. But how could she have got out without being noticed? Was this the first time, or had she been doing it ever since she arrived? Who was she meeting ... Joan's memory switched for an instant to the three previous maids and she groaned. Standing here wasn't going to do any good, Joan decided to call it a night and confront the girl after breakfast (always assuming she made it to breakfast) in the morning.
Slipping the pendant in her pocket, she walked back to her room wondering what had happened to this place over the last few months? It was thirteen years since she arrived here with the late Mr Merriweather and her life had been settled - reassuringly, almost boringly, predictable for twelve and a half of those years, but the last six months had been one crisis after another. First there was the infestation, she never did find out what those creatures were, but she was extremely grateful to Mr Sutton for getting rid of them ... "considering Maria had been in the room where they were nesting, she was very calm about the whole thing". Then there were the mysterious disappearing maids, three in as many months, it gave a very bad impression of her as an employer, although none of them were a great loss to the Guest House trade. Evelyn had seemed the type, if Joan was honest, but she really hadn't expected it of Hannah. Then, of course, there was the murder ... "and they still haven't found out who that poor man was, or who should pay his bill!"
The real Kenton had proved to be rather more dashing than his deceased impostor and Joan found herself thinking that it was fortunate that they'd got the wrong man, but immediately felt guilty and asked the Lord to forgive her for such an uncharitable thought.
It had been an exhausting three weeks and Joan realised that she was probably over-reacting because she was exhausted. She wondered what that strange noise was ... she'd noticed it a lot over the last few months but couldn't recall hearing it at all over the years ... a sort of a muffled bell sound, but it didn't seem to come from anywhere, it was just there, quietly echoing around the building. Mind you, it could just have been her imagination, or that thing that Mr Phillips the Church Organist had, he hears noise all the time.
Joan closed her bedroom door and set her mind firmly on sleep. Only three and a half hours now she groaned, as her head hit the pillow.

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