Elgie at the end of Time. Part 1
It wasn’t all glamorous. In fact, the Detective was starting to realise that pretty much none of it was. She was getting bored of trailing unfaithful husbands and shoplifters and wishing she had never taken on to do all the jobs that an actual private detective in the 1920s might actually take. Much of it was grubby and very often she wouldn’t even have the heart to conclude the case. In fact, when it came to shoplifters, she had deliberately let a few go. It had been a steep learning curve, but society in 2328 worked so well for everybody that many of them had forgotten how awful things had been before. They travelled through time role-playing rather than exploring and learning, but like others who had travelled to eras before the Dark Energy Rift of 2227, she realised that being a tourist was not a neutral act. But how to pay the bills? The rent on the office wasn’t cheap, even though it doubled as home for herself and Elgie. In any case, she decided that this was the very last case she would take protecting rich people’s property.
So here she was, disguised as a member of the domestic staff of Hollybrook House pretending to dust the hundreds of clocks and watches that lined the shelves and walls and filled the display cabinets and drawers in Lord and Lady Effinwell’s famous ‘Timepiece Treasure Trove’. The first thing that struck her was the silence. None of the clocks were ticking. On inquiring she was told that if the timepieces where to be wound up every day it would take a whole host of servants to do it and by the time they had finished they would have gone mad with the noise of hundreds of clocks tick-tocking. So, she wasn’t to touch anything.
Her purpose was in fact not to clean– she’d been dusting for hours out of boredom and the place was immaculate – but to deter anyone from entering uninvited. Why the Effinwells would hold a three-day shooting party (that was something else she was starting to find distasteful) and Easter soiree and invite all and sundry to a house boasting the biggest private timepiece collection in Britain when there was an unidentified watch thief in high society, she was at a loss to explain. It seemed that whatever their internal squabbles, the rich would put on a united front rather than involve the police and courts. It would be too sordid. Yet there were specialist thieves of all sorts amongst the bored and always-mildly-inebriated aristocracy. If caught, they were likely to be ostracised or even have to leave the country, but there was no sign outside of these elite social groups that anything was wrong. To reduce the scandal even further, the hosts of parties such as this would hire discreet private detectives to foil the thieves, and hopefully also to expose them to their peers.
However, in the case of the Effingwells, to actually lock the door to the to the Trove, let alone the cabinets and drawers displaying rare and expensive watches, would indicate that there was a lack of trust involved. This simply would not do either. This was why Deidre had been dressed as a maid that morning, shown upstairs to the huge room in which the collection was kept, and instructed not to leave the room under any circumstances. There had been an oversight here. Not only was Deidre incredibly hungry by the time the smell of a pheasant supper reached the upstairs landing, but she really needed a wee.
So, when Lady Billerton-Whych, dressed as an Easter egg, cautiously opened the door and found Deidre within, duster in hand, the detective gave her a bit of a start when she rushed past her into the corridor hissing conspiratorially,
“Wait for me to get back. I won’t be long, but there’s a watch thief about and I’m supposed to be guarding this lot”.
It wasn’t until she returned she realised her mistake. Of course, Lady Billerton-Whych was gone and one of the cases stood open. Except that nothing had been taken, even if the watches were no longer in neat rows but somewhat disarranged. And one of them was open and had been wound up and was ticking loudly; Lady Billerton-Whych had been disturbed in the act of stealing it. But even so, the room was not empty…