‘I’m the owner,’ Ben said to the yellow-jacketed policeman, ‘and we are co-organisers of the event going on here. Of course you’ve got to let us in.’
The policeman looked doubtful. ‘Wait here a moment, sir,’ he said and went over to a dark saloon where two men stood zipping themselves into blue boiler suits. All three turned and looked at Ben and Libby.
‘All right, sir.’ The constable lifted blue-and-white tape and beckoned them under. ‘Would you go inside and wait with the other people?’
Libby looked at the ambulance standing with its doors wide open, the police vehicles and what seemed like dozens of people moving slowly around the forecourt in front of the theatre. Some in uniform, some plain clothes and some boiler-suited. And two with dogs, who wagged tails and grinned, their tongues hanging out. She shivered. This was a scene from television, not Steeple Martin.
‘Come on,’ muttered Ben, taking her arm. They were ushered into the Manor, where they turned left towards the kitchen.
‘Sorry, sir,’ said the constable, ‘in here, please.’
Libby stopped. ‘No, constable,’ she said. ‘I am going into our kitchen to make tea. Has anyone been given tea? Or coffee? Or have they all been turfed out of bed and barricaded in here without anything?’
The poor constable looked even more confused, as an older, more confident constable appeared at his side.
‘Sorry, ma’am,’ the older man said. ‘You’ll have to obey the rules. In here with the others.’
‘Go and get your superior,’ said Libby, calmly turning towards the kitchen. ‘The body, about which I know nothing except that it wasn’t found in this house, will not be compromised by my making tea. Nor will any of the so-called suspects.’
Ben was already ahead of her filling the huge brown kettle. Luckily, the oil-fired Aga was still on, but, to back it up, Libby filled the electric kettle while the two hapless officers stood in the doorway. By the time trays with mugs had been prepared and the two brown betty teapots filled, the older constable had disappeared, while the younger one stood unhappily in the corridor outside the kitchen.
‘Now we’ll go into the sitting room,’ said Libby, smiling sweetly as she passed him.
There was a loud reaction to the sight of the teapots and Ben’s cafetière from the inmates of the sitting room. Another constable, obviously to set to watch these dangerous insurgents, started forward frowning, but caught sight of constable one, who shook his head hopelessly.
While serving mugs of succour, Libby and Ben tried to find out what had happened.
‘First I knew was the police at the door,’ said Hetty, taking charge of the second teapot. ‘One of them people in the huts come out and practically fell over her.’
‘Her? It’s a woman? Who?’
‘None of us know, yet. The police woke us all up and herded us in here.’ Rosie was looking resentful.
‘One of the guests?’ Libby looked at Fran.
‘We’re all here except the people from the Hoppers’ Huts, and it was one of them who found the body, so I wouldn’t think so.’
The door opened again and they all looked round. One of the men whom Libby and Ben had seen outside walked into the middle of the room.
‘Ladies and gentlemen, I’m sorry to have kept you in here for so long. As a preliminary, we just need to take your names, then you can go back to your rooms, and I’m sure your breakfast will appear as soon as possible.’ He turned to Hetty. ‘Mrs – er – Wilde –’
‘You don’t want to speak to me,’ said Hetty, loading up one of the trays. ‘Them’s the two you want.’ She nodded at Ben and Libby. ‘And her.’ She jerked her head at Lily Cooper who was on her way to the door.
‘Mrs Cooper,’ called Libby. The woman stopped.
The detective looked at Libby. ‘And you are?’
‘Libby Sarjeant. My partner Ben Wilde and I run the Manor. Lily Cooper is the organiser of this weekend break on behalf of the delegates – guests.’
Lily Cooper approached reluctantly, pulling a somewhat frivolous dressing gown more tightly around her.
‘DS Wallingford,’ the detective introduced himself. ‘If you don’t mind, I’d like to get the names of all the guests present here over the weekend, and,’ he looked at Libby, ‘the staff.’
‘All my paperwork’s in the estate office,’ said Libby. ‘Perhaps Ben could show you while I go and help Hetty with the breakfasts?’
DS Wallingford was frowning. ‘Yes, that’ll be fine,’ he said. ‘And Mrs Cooper? Have you any paperwork?’
‘Well –’ Lily hesitated. ‘Not as such. It was a very informal group. We did it all by email and phone calls and I just did the block booking. Everyone paid for themselves.’
‘But you’d have a list of all the guests?’
‘I could write one, I suppose,’ said Lily, ungraciously.
‘That would be ideal,’ said the detective. ‘Perhaps after you’re dressed?’ He turned to Ben. ‘Would it disturb you too much if I borrowed your office for a while this morning? Or is there somewhere else I could use?’
Ben shook his head. ‘Much the best place,’ he said. ‘There’s an individual phone line in there if you need it, and the wifi works better in there than in the rest of the house.’
Wallingford was frowning again. He looked at Libby. ‘Sarjeant,’ he said slowly. ‘Why does that ring a bell?’
Libby’s heart actually lurched. ‘I don’t know, I’m afraid,’ she said. ‘I don’t think we’ve met.’
‘No reason why we should,’ said Wallingford, still looking pensive.