Chaos At Christmas – Episode 36

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Ferelith gazed at the ground. She wasn’t sure what she was supposed to be seeing. “Doesn’t it seem odd to you?” Geraint said. “Why would the window have been opened by someone unless it was to pass the phones and the charger out? Yet there are no marks on the ground at all.”

They were looking at the cloakroom window from the outside of the hotel. A line of pretty Wintersweet shrubs edged the path perhaps half a metre from the wall. Ferelith could see what Geraint meant.

The ground between the shrubs and the wall was fairly damp and remnants of the artificial snow were scattered about it. If someone had stood there to collect the charger and the stolen phones then they would surely have left footmarks of some sort. But the artificial snow looked undisturbed.

“Might the window have been opened so that a message could have been passed to someone?” she suggested.

Geraint’s face wrinkled in uncertainty. “Why take that risk? They must have known that opening the window would have raised an alarm.”

“Perhaps the plan was to hand the phones out the window and leave that way but then something stopped them?”

Geraint nodded. “That’s possible. Maybe there were guests wandering about outside getting a breath of fresh air after the party.”

Ferelith frowned. “But that means that the thieves would have had to get the phones out of the hotel through the reception area. And there were people everywhere. A stranger would have been noticed.”

Unless it wasn’t a stranger,

Geraint muttered.

Ferelith looked at him miserably. “Do you really think the phones might have been stolen by a member of staff or a guest?”

But Geraint didn’t look convinced. “I’m not sure. Why would they do it? We know all the people that work here at the Manor; they’re committed to their jobs. And the guests already have GroupChat phones of their own given to them by Lyle.”

“According to Franklyn, GroupChat’s business rivals might have been prepared to pay a small fortune to get their hands on the new phones prior to the big launch. That could have overcome some people’s scruples. And then there’s the CCTV footage that was wiped from the system. That suggests an inside job.”

She let out a groan of frustration.

We’re getting nowhere with this. We need to change our approach.

She glanced about. They were round the side of the hotel and there was no one to be seen. She moved closer to Geraint. “Perhaps if you give me a kiss then that will help,” she murmured. He started to laugh but was quickly cut off. After a while, Ferelith found herself wondering vaguely if it counted as one kiss when it went on for so long but other thoughts got in the way and she didn’t come to any conclusion. Eventually, and reluctantly, they moved apart. “Did it help?” Geraint asked with a grin.

She nodded. “I feel a lot better for it.”

He kissed her again, gently and briefly. “Me too.”

But then she grimaced. “Though it hasn’t got us any further forward with the investigation.” She slipped a hand under his arm. “Let’s go back inside and make a timeline of what happened. Perhaps that will get things a bit clearer in our heads.”

“Good idea.”

They found Holly and Bree sitting together at the top of the steps outside the hotel. “Hi, girls,” Ferelith said with a smile. “Merry Christmas.”

“Merry Christmas, Ferelith; Merry Christmas, Geraint,” they replied in unison. Holly’s eyes twinkled as she saw the two of them arm in arm. “I hope all your Christmas wishes are coming true?”

Despite herself, Ferelith felt a blush warming her cheeks. “They are, as it happens. What are you two up to?”

“We’re waiting for the police,” Bree said eagerly.

Ferelith’s eyes widened. “The police?”

“To investigate the disappearance of the phones. We fancy joining the police ourselves one day.”

“I thought you were going to become DJ Klaws’s drummer? With Holly on bass guitar?”

Bree shrugged. “We can do that at the weekends and on bank holidays. But for now, we want to see how the police do their investigation. Maybe we’ll be able to provide them with vital pieces of evidence to trap the culprits.”

It was the penguins!

Holly cried. “They planned the whole thing.” The girls collapsed into a giggling huddle of penguin noises.

But Ferelith was shaking her head. “You’re out of luck, I’m afraid. The police aren’t being told about the theft. A GroupChat security officer is going to carry out an investigation, though he won’t be arriving until tomorrow.”

Holly gazed at her in surprise. “So nobody is looking into what happened?”

Ferelith smiled at Geraint. “As it happens, the two of us are on the case. We’re seeing what we can find out about it.”

“Not that we’ve turned up very much so far,” Geraint said ruefully.

“We think it happened last night around the time when the party finished. The phones seem to have disappeared when everyone was milling around. I don’t suppose you two saw anything?”

Holly and Bree looked at each other and shook their heads. “Not really; we were too taken up with our presents,” Holly said. “I got a mini photo-printer. It’s amazing.”

“And I got eight silver earrings based on the planets,” Bree added. She swung her head. “I’m wearing Saturn and Jupiter today.”

Ferelith gazed at the earrings and felt just a twinge of jealousy that she hadn’t been born one of Lyle’s relations. “You are two very lucky girls. But if you do remember anything significant then find us and let us know.”

“We will,” they retorted.

In the security room, Ferelith and Geraint tried to sort out a timeline of events with Geraint typing out the details on the computer keyboard. Though it was hard for him. He could only use one hand as Ferelith was holding tightly onto the other. That slowed them down quite a bit but, having taken his hand, Ferelith was finding that she had lost the power to let go of it.

“I left the party with Dandy Barham at 10.13pm,” she said. “I remember because I looked at the clock above reception to check the time. And Dandy said that the charger and the phones were still in the cloakroom when he went there to change out of his costume.”

Geraint typed the information out slowly. “So what happened then?”

Sorting out the timeline did help. There was a clear order of events from Lyle’s announcement at the start of the party that all the phones needed to be plugged into the charger to Franklyn’s discovery of the phones’ disappearance which happened at 10.41pm. Ferelith looked at the screen and shook her head. “There’s one thing that I don’t understand. Nobody knew until the party began that Lyle was going to make an announcement about the phones and insist that they were all plugged into the charger.”

Geraint nodded slowly. “So it’s hard to see how taking the phones could have been planned beforehand?” He looked at her with a troubled expression. “I can’t think of any explanation other than that it was an inside job decided on the spur of the moment.”

Ferelith nodded slowly. “It’s beginning to look like that to me.”

To be continued…

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