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The Grand Auctionby Julie Heginbotham
"Daisy will be here soon, Fatty," said Bets, walking in from the hallway, putting on her coat, and seeing that Fatty was still reading the newspaper. "Don't you think you should be getting ready?"
"It won't take me a minute to put a coat on, Bets. What's the hurry? Daisy won't mind waiting a moment or so." Fatty continued to read the paper in his hands and Bets was slightly annoyed and intrigued as to why Fatty was so engrossed. She came to peer over his shoulder and read the words: – AUCTION AT TALLY-HO HOTEL.
"Tally-Ho Hotel," she said. "We must go and have a look at that, Fatty. Daisy did write and tell me that it was being turned into an hotel by the owners quite a number of years ago. " She paused, trying to remember. "It was about fifteen years ago, I believe."
"The auction preview is on Thursday 5th," read Fatty, "and the sale starts at 11.30am on Friday 6th." Fatty rose from his chair, putting the newspaper down, and Bets picked it up to read more. The advert read:-
Bets was so engrossed in the advert, that she didn't hear Daisy coming into the room followed by Fatty, who had his coat on ready for the drive over to the nursing home where they were to visit their good friend Superintendent Jenks.
"Are you ready, Bets?" Fatty mused, in serious tones, "keeping us waiting, really!"
Bets hurriedly put the newspaper down and threw Fatty a fierce glare. "Cheek! I've been waiting around for you to get ready."
"Take no notice, Bets," smiled Daisy. "We all know how Fatty likes to wind us up." She came over to Bets and picked up the newspaper where it lay open on the chair. "Tally- Ho Auction," she read, "that sounds like one we shouldn't miss. Are you both going?"
"I think we will," smiled Bets, glancing over to Fatty and throwing him a look with which he dared not argue.
"Now that's settled, shall we go?" Fatty said, turning towards the door. "The Super will be thinking we've forgotten him."
"Of course he won't," said Daisy, firmly, following on with Bets. "He's always thrilled to see us, at whatever time of the day we go. Is Buster coming too?" she finished off, looking at Buster who was sitting by the front door, barring any exit without him.
"Yes, Buster's coming along," said Fatty, bending down to fondle the dog's ears and placing on his collar and lead. "He doesn't mind sitting in the car waiting for us, as long as he can come along."
"He'll go to sleep whilst we're in the home visiting the Super," said Bets. "He's had a good long walk this morning."
The three of them, together with Buster attached to his lead, walked across the front garden path to the side of the house where Fatty's car was parked ready for the journey to the outskirts of Cookham, to the nursing home where their good friend lived.
* * *
As Daisy had said, Superintendent Jenks was thrilled to see three of the Find-Outers, of whom he was so fond. He was sitting in a high backed chair by the window which looked out onto the large garden of the nursing home where he had lived for the last three years. He had managed to live alone since the death of his wife, six years ago, but had then decided, three years later, to let the family have the house where he and his wife had lived throughout their married life. Here he was being looked after, and everything he needed was provided.
"Lovely to see you all," he smiled, watching as they pulled up some chairs besides his. "What is happening in Peterswood at the moment? Any mysteries, you're working on, Frederick?" His elderly brows rose as he smiled at Fatty.
"I've retired, Super, remember?" Fatty had to raise his voice slightly higher than normal as the Super still found it hard to hear, even with the help of his hearing aid.
"Once in the Force, always in the Force," the Super returned. "Even at my age I like to read through the newspaper and keep abreast of what is happening in the outside world."
The others smiled at their friend. The once twinkling eyes, were now faded in colour and his tall, burly strong frame, which they had first encountered many years ago, whilst solving the Burnt Cottage Mystery, was now very fragile and slim. His hands were slightly bruised where his paper thin skin gave no protection from the odd knock. Old age wasn't something to look forward to, thought Fatty, as he smiled at the man before him, but at least he had a loving family and friends who came to visit him almost every day.
"You remember Tally-Ho House," began Bets, in a slightly raised voice, "well it's a hotel now and they're having an auction on Friday. We are planning to go along and see what bargains we can get."
"Tally-Ho House," smiled the Super, nodding his head. "Yes, I remember. The Lorenzos rented it for a while." The Super looked through the window, his head nodding slightly as he silently remembered. A far away expression took over his face and Bets looked at Fatty with some concern. Daisy was also watching the Super closely and after quickly glancing over at Bets and Fatty, patted his hand and said. "Are you feeling okay?"
The Super seemed to come out of his trance, and smiling at Daisy said, "Yes, I'm fine, Daisy – I was just remembering the Lorenzos. They were very intelligent thieves. The picture they stole is still missing."
The other three looked at each other, all thinking the same. Poor old Super, he was getting confused again. Fatty looked at him, shaking his head. "It's not missing, Super. We found it inside a rug that was hanging over the line."
"Yes, that was a good bit of detective work, Frederick. But before the Lorenzos came to Peterswood, they had also stolen another famous painting from one of those stately homes in the north and we never found that one."
Fatty looked at Bets and Daisy puzzled. This was news he had not heard before. Bets was puzzled too and said to the Super. "Are you sure? We never heard of another stolen painting. Do you think you're getting a bit confused with the one we found?"
The Super smiled at Bets, and shook his head slightly. "No, I'm not getting them mixed, Bets. They stole another painting many months before coming to Peterswood. After they had been arrested I arranged for every inch of Tally-Ho House to be checked and nothing was found. To my knowledge it has never been found." The Super looked beseechingly at Fatty. "You must try and find it, Frederick. Go to this auction, have a good look round. If anyone can find it, you can."
Fatty exchanged puzzled glances with Daisy and Bets. He had to confess to a silent bewilderment. Another painting stolen! Could it be possible that the Super was right, or was he getting totally mixed up with other cases he'd worked on throughout his lifetime with the Police.
The Super looked around at the three of them and guessed what they were thinking. With strong conviction in his voice, he said. "I'm not losing my mind, Frederick. It's true – check it. You must still have friends you can call on from your time with the Cheshire Police." He looked appealingly at Daisy and Bets – he had to get them to believe him. He rubbed his head deep in thought. "The stately home was called Hartley Hall," he suddenly remembered. "Ring them, Frederick, check it all out."
Bets heart warmed to the plea of their old friend. She didn't need convincing. She knew the Super was telling the truth. Nodding her head, she said. "Don't worry, we'll all pull together like we used to and find that stolen painting. You can trust Frederick to do his best."
The Super sighed gratefully and seemed to relax back into his chair with a quiet satisfaction. "I know you'll all do your best, and with Frederick at the lead the painting will be found at last, after so many years."
* * *
"So, is the Super getting confused, or did the Lorenzos steal a painting that was never recovered?" said Larry, looking around at the other Find-Outers, as they sat in the "Water's Edge," having lunch the following day.
Fatty had phoned Pip and Larry once he'd got back from the nursing home and had related to them all that the Super had said. A lunch-time meeting was then arranged at the "Water's Edge," so that they could discuss what they wanted to do.
"I believed him," said Bets, firmly. "He may be old and forgetful now, but that's only his short term memory. His long term memory is still very good."
Daisy nodded. "I agree with Bets. He sounded very convincing yesterday."
Fatty had been listening in silence and said, "I have to say, I do agree with you."
"So what's the next step, Fatty?" asked Pip, of their leader.
"Well, I do have a few contacts within the Force, and so I could contact them and check out a few facts," said Fatty, looking around at everyone. "The Super said the painting was stolen from Hartley Hall – one of the Stately Homes in the North. I guess I'll have to start by telephoning and finding out if anyone can remember that far back. There must be a catalogue of their paintings, past and present, in their estate offices."
"Remember, Fatty, it was well before the Lorenzos came to Peterswood, and so it will be a guessing game as to the exact date," Daisy reminded him.
"What about checking the newspaper stores on the microfiche in the library?" suggested Pip. "I know it will be difficult without a precise date, but I could give it a go. I'll just go back say six months, before the Lorenzos came to Peterswood, and take it from there."
"Well, if you don't mind doing that, Pip," said Fatty. "It will be a long and boring task. In the meantime I'll phone up a few friends still in the Force and also try and get hold of anyone from the stately home," said Fatty.
"Well, at least it's a start," said Larry. "Anyone want this last sandwich?"
Buster popped his head out from under the table, where he'd been sat quietly, taking the odd tit-bit from everyone. Fatty grinned down at his dog, fondling his silky ears, before saying. "I don't think Larry was meaning you, Buster, old chap."
"We can't let Buster go hungry," said Daisy, picking up the last sandwich and breaking off a quarter, which she handed to Fatty to pass onto Buster. "You can finish the rest, Larry," she grinned.
"Oh, thanks a lot," jibbed Larry good-humouredly. "Nice to know you'd rather feed a dog than your own brother."
Everyone grinned at Larry's doleful expression. "Helen doesn't let you starve, that's for sure," came his sister's retort.
"I'll get some more drinks," said Pip, "same again?"
A chorus of yes's followed Pip as he walked over to the bar and gave the order.
With another round of drinks before them, the Five resumed their chat over the missing painting.
"I think it would be a good idea to go over and have afternoon tea at the Tally-Ho Hotel," suggested Bets. "We could have a look around the hotel and see if any paintings look valuable."
"That's a good idea," agreed Daisy. "I went over to have tea there when it was first changed into an hotel. The Peters, who have always owned Tally-Ho, had made a really good job of the conversion. I wrote and told you about it, Bets, remember?"
Bets nodded. "When should we go?"
"I'm busy tomorrow," said Pip. "The day after will be better for me."
"That's fine for me," said Larry, looking enquiring around at the others.
"I can manage Tuesday too," said Daisy, looking at Fatty and Bets.
"Okay Tuesday it is," confirmed Fatty. "We'll go over about three. Bets and I can walk Buster first along the river and meet you all there."
"I'll drive over in the car," said Pip. "It's a bit further for me to walk, and that way, Buster can sit and wait for us in my car whilst we're having afternoon tea."
"Good idea, Pip," nodded Bets. "They may not take dogs."
"That's settled then," said Fatty. "Tuesday at three in the Tally-Ho Hotel. I'll ring my contacts up North tomorrow and see what I can find out."
"Well, I'd best be off," said Larry, standing to go. "We've got Louise, coming over this afternoon. So that's my Sunday nap gone for a burton."
"Don't be so miserable," scolded Daisy. "You should be happy to see your daughter. Is she bringing Laura?"
"Probably," returned Larry, raising his brows. "Grandchildren are much easier when they're babies."
Everyone had to laugh at Larry's expression. He wasn't fooling anyone; they all knew he loved his family and grandchildren immensely. Larry's first daughter was born when he was thirty-one, followed by his second daughter two years later, and so his two grand-children were much younger than Pip's, Fatty and Bets' grandchildren.
"I'll be over later, Larry," Daisy called to him.
"Okay, see you then," nodded Larry, "Bye everyone, see you Tuesday afternoon."
"Well we'd best go too, Fatty," said Bets. "Buster can walk off some of those sandwiches."
Buster was up and ready at hearing his name and the word 'walk'. Pip walked Daisy to her cottage, before the long walk back to the outskirts of Burnham Beeches.
* * *
The following morning saw Bets and Fatty busy with their own jobs. Whilst Fatty was in the study, looking up Hartley Hall on the internet, and phoning contacts with whom he had kept in touch from the Force, Bets decided to do a spot of house-work, finally finishing up with hanging a few washed clothes on the rotary line in the back garden. Hearing the click of the side gate and Buster's excited barking, she turned to see Daisy as she approached.
"It's good drying weather, Bets," she smiled, "especially for March. There's a bit of sun and a light breeze."
"I'll finish it off in the dryer, later on," returned Bets, continuing with her task. "The kettle is on the boil, Daisy. I won't be long."
"I'll make the tea then," said Daisy, leaving Bets to carry on and entered the kitchen, Buster following closely at her heels.
When Bets came in Daisy had prepared a pot of tea, and a few biscuits were arranged on a plate in the centre of the kitchen table. "Oh lovely," smiled Bets, sitting at the table and taking a drink of the hot tea, "just what I needed. I've not stopped all morning."
"Where's Fatty?" enquired Daisy.
"In the study," said Bets, rising from her chair, "I'd better tell him there's tea waiting for him."
Bets went into the hall and Daisy heard her shout. "Fatty, there's tea waiting in the kitchen for you."
"Coming," came the returned call.
Within minutes Fatty walked into the kitchen, saying hello to Daisy, and looking at the mug of tea waiting for him. "Just the job," he sighed, sitting at the table, "I'm almost hoarse from the calls I've made."
"So, how have you got on?" Bets enquired, with a raised brow.
"Better than I thought," Fatty smiled at Bets and Daisy.
"I looked up Hartley Hall on the internet," he began, "it's actually Hartley Hall and Gardens, and sits in 2,000 acres of park land, built in 1832 for the Spilsbury family."
"My, you have been busy," said Daisy, impressed.
Bets nodded with a smile, waiting for Fatty to carry on.
"I made a note of the estate's office and thought rather than email them, I would telephone."
"I would much prefer to speak to someone, than email them or text, wouldn't you, Daisy?" said Bets, matter of factly.
Daisy agreed with a nod. "So what did they say?"
"Firstly I explained everything to them as it stands at present, and the woman on the other end of the phone made notes, and said she'd email me back once she had spoken to the Estates Manager and had had all the records and catalogues checked. She did say that she wasn't aware of any stolen painting, but then she'd only been the secretary for the last ten years, and of course we're talking of something that may have happened over sixty years ago. A lot of the staff at that time are either retired or deceased."
"So has she emailed back yet?" enquired Bets.
"Not yet," said Fatty, taking a biscuit from the plate, and breaking off a piece to give to the eagerly awaiting Buster. "I expect it'll take her some time to look back through the records."
"I hope we hear something today," said Bets, looking at Fatty and Daisy.
"We'll just have to be patient," smiled Fatty, finishing off the plate of biscuits. "We'll walk Buster after lunch, and then hopefully we may have some news later on this afternoon."
"Even if the painting was stolen," began Daisy, "there's no guarantee that it will be in the Tally-Ho Hotel. Remember the Super said he'd sent men through Tally-Ho House like a tooth comb and came up with nothing."
Bets nodded. "There is that possibility, Daisy. I suppose if we're being honest, there's no way we'd be able to hunt around for the painting anyway."
Fatty agreed with them both. "I did think that when the Super was telling his story, but didn't want to disappoint him."
"Maybe the next time we see him he will have forgotten all about it," said Daisy, with a sigh. "It's sad to see the Super looking so frail."
Bets felt the same as Daisy, and said. "Well he has reached the grand old age of ninety-five, and so he's doing very well. Don't you think so, Fatty?"
Fatty was resting his chin on his clasped hands in silent contemplation. Bets and Daisy were watching him, and when he didn't answer Bets, she said. "You're deep in thought, Fatty."
"I've just remembered something," he said, with a surprised expression. "Do you both remember when we were solving those strange messages regarding Mr Smith at Fairlin Hall?"
"Vaguely," answered Bets and Daisy said the same.
"Well if you can remember back, when I tried to ring the Super to tell him what we were working on, I was informed that he had gone up north. I bet he was trying his best to sort out this stolen painting back then."
"I think I remember you mentioning that, Fatty," said Daisy, her face lighting up. "You were told you had to contact your local police, and that would have meant telling Mr Goon."
"That's right," nodded Fatty, "but obviously nothing came of it, and so I doubt now whether that will change."
"We can still go over to the hotel tomorrow," said Bets, rising from the table. "I'm looking forward to that. I'll just make some lunch. Do you want to stay and have something with us, Daisy?"
"Oh lovely," said Daisy, her face lighting up. "Can I help in any way?"
"Yes, you can do the washing up when we've finished," said Fatty, jovially, throwing Daisy a mischievous smile.
"No problem," Daisy returned, light heartedly, throwing Fatty a sidewards glance, "providing you don't mind the odd breakage or two."
"Touché'," grinned Fatty good humouredly.
"Game set and match." Bets grinned, shaking her head in exasperation.
* * *
Fatty and Bets returned to the White House, later that afternoon having walked Buster along the river. Whilst Bets was making a pot of tea, Fatty disappeared into the study to see if he had any returning email.
A printed off sheet of paper in his hand, he came rushing into the kitchen, his face full of excitement. "A reply from Hartley Hall," he exclaimed, almost breathless, waving the paper in his hand.
Bets eyes lit up with the same excitement, as she placed the tea on the kitchen table. "What does it say?"
"I'll read it out, it's easier," said Fatty, sitting at the table and popping on his reading glasses.
Hello Mr Trotteville, after our rather interesting conversation this morning, I started to check up on the facts which you gave me for that year. It all turns out even more interesting.
Apparently, the family back in 1925, commissioned Mr Charles Rennie Mackintosh to re-design their lounge and study. As you may be aware, he was not only a well known architect and designer but also a very talented watercolourist and was also commissioned to paint a watercolour looking at the Hall from the view of the water gardens, through the trees.
During the year you mentioned, there was a festival on, during the month of June, and a play was performed in the great hall. It was at this time that watercolour picture by Macintosh was stolen. Unfortunately, it was not insured due to an oversight, and it was never recovered.
In the records there is mention of the family being visited by a Superintendant Jenks. Although this area was out of his juristriction, he had heard of the stolen painting and associated it with a couple who had been arrested a year earlier, for the theft of another painting. The family do not expect the painting to be recovered after all this time, but appreciate your enquiry into the matter.
"So the Super was right," smiled Bets, after listening to what Fatty had read, "and what's the betting that the Lorenzos were among the actors putting on the play when the picture was stolen."
Fatty nodded his head. "I thought that too, Bets. They were actors after all. What a great cover! They must have had to spend a few days visiting the Hall for rehearsals and did their homework on where the painting was hanging and how they could go about it. Who would suspect a group of innocent actors, hired to perform a play?"
"The others will be pleased when we tell them tomorrow over tea," said Bets, pouring out two mugs from the pot. "The Super said they were very clever. I'd better ring Pip and tell him not to bother going to the library; there is no point his wasting his time now we know for certain they did steal another painting."
"I'm beginning to wonder whether they ever brought that stolen painting to Peterswood with them," said Fatty, thoughtfully. "The Superintendent's men couldn't find anything, and they obviously didn't give any information away when they were arrested disguised as the Larkins, in their old cottage."
"Maybe if we asked the owners of the hotel tomorrow, they may come up with something we've not thought about," suggested Bets.
Fatty nodded thoughtfully, "Anything's worth a try at this stage," confirmed Fatty. "Let's face it, Bets, we've nothing to lose."
* * *
"They've done a really good job turning the house into an hotel," said Bets, quite amazed at the lovely country house surroundings where they were seated, waiting for Larry and Daisy to join them.
Pip had arrived a few minutes earlier, and Buster was quite happy to sit in the rear seat of Pip's car on the soft blanket he'd laid down for Buster's comfort. They had left him curled up and ready for a snooze after his walk along the river to the Tally-Ho Hotel. Now waiting for Daisy and Larry, they were seated in comfort on the large leather chairs in the reception area, each looking at a menu presented to them by a helpful member of staff.
"Here they are," said Bets, looking up as the outside door opened and closed.
"Hello all," smiled Daisy, coming towards them unbuttoning her coat, whilst Larry looked around as he walked towards them, obviously taking in the surroundings, before saying, "Hello," to everyone.
"We thought we'd sit in the conservatory for tea," began Bets. "It has a lovely view of the garden leading down to the river. We came in that way and walked around to the front."
"That's fine," smiled Daisy, "shall we go now? We can study the menu when we've sat down."
They all agreed and followed Fatty as he walked past the reception, and down a long hallway of wooden half-panelled walls with an assortment of pictures above the panelling, all in a straight line.
"We'll take a closer look at the pictures after we've had tea," whispered Bets to Fatty, just before they entered the large conservatory. He looked down at her and nodded silently.
They chose a quiet area at the far side, in one corner, which had an uninterrupted view of the beautiful grounds and sat down on two leather settees either side of a low marble table. Larry and Daisy picked up a menu and started to read; the others had already decided.
"I think I'll have a cream tea for a change," said Daisy, looking up from the menu, and popping her glasses back into her bag, "what are you others having?"
"We're having the same," smiled Bets.
"Then I'll plump for the same," said Larry, putting the menu down and looking around for a waiter. A young gentleman caught his eye and came over to the Five and took their order.
"When we've finished tea, we'll have a walk around and take a closer look at some of the hanging pictures," said Bets, quietly, not wanting to be over heard by some of the other guests who were taking afternoon tea in the conservatory.
"Good idea, Bets," nodded Pip. "I expect they're used to people just browsing at the pictures."
"It would help if we knew what this stolen painting looked like," said Larry, despondently.
Bets looked at Fatty and grinned. "You'd better tell them the latest news."
The others looked at Fatty enquiringly. "Oh yes, what's this, keeping vital information from us?" said Larry, in jest.
Fatty repeated everything he had learned from the email sent from Hartley Hall. He had to pause half way through as two waiters came along with their order, which they placed on the low marble table. After asking if there was anything else they required, they then left the Five to enjoy their cream tea, and Fatty to continue telling the others of the latest information.
"So the Super was right," said Pip, smiling around at everyone, voicing their thoughts. "I wonder if the picture could possibly be hanging innocently on the walls."
"We'll soon find out," put forward Daisy. "We'll do as Bets suggested and take a look."
Everyone nodded, that is everyone except Fatty, who was beginning to shake his head slightly. "I don't think it will be that simple. If it were, then the Super and his men would have found it years ago."
The others looked at each other slightly down hearted. "We can at least have a look," said Larry, with conviction.
"We can surely do that," agreed Fatty, with a faint smile, "but if we find it on these walls, I'll gladly eat my hat."
"That's an over confident statement," said Larry, looking at Fatty's self-assured grin. "I'll make sure now I scrutinise every single painting on these walls."
"Be my guest and scrutinise till your heart's content," Fatty threw back, "but you won't find it. It's just a feeling I've got through years of police work."
Fatty's instinct turned out to be correct. The Five walked around the hotel after their rich cream tea and looked at every single painting displayed on the walls for the guests' pleasure.
"There's some really lovely paintings," said Bets, enjoying the walk around the Hotel and looking at every picture thoroughly, "but once again you're right, Fatty. The water colour of Hartley Hall isn't here."
Fatty smiled at everyone with a knowing gleam sparkling in his eyes. "Dare I say, brains, just brains?"
"No you can't," scolded Daisy, good-humouredly, giving him a light punch on his arm.
"So what do you suggest, we do now, old great leader?" said Pip, raising his brows. He didn't know what everyone else thought, but he was beginning to think that this mystery was going to be an unsolvable task.
Fatty looked around the lounge area and not seeing any staff, said to the others, "Follow me," as he made his way back into the reception area, and up to the reception desk.
A young woman in her early twenties looked up and smiled as the Five walked up to the desk. "I wonder if you could help us," began Fatty, smiling. "We're interested in the auction that will take place on Friday, and I believe we can view the items for sale on Thursday afternoon. " He paused for a breath and the young woman said, "That's right sir, from 2pm till 4pm."
"Is there any possibility that we'd be able to view the items for sale before the viewing date," continued Fatty, smiling at the young woman hopefully.
She smiled and shook her head. "I'm sorry sir, that's not possible. Funnily enough that's the second time today I've been asked that question."
"Really?" Fatty's brows rose enquiringly. Now that was rather suspicious, he thought to himself and a quick look at Bets by his side confirmed that she was also thinking the same thing. "Who has been asking?" Fatty suddenly heard Daisy ask.
"An American couple staying here actually," came the reply.
"The articles for auction, have they been in the family for years?" asked Pip, coming forward with his question.
The young woman nodded, "Yes sir. Everything in the sale is owned by the Peters' family, long before they turned the house into an hotel."
"I hope our inquisitiveness isn't intrusive," said Fatty, with an innocent smile of a gentleman in his seventies. "We are all local and have lived here all our lives. I remember when this hotel was just a large house. Mrs Peters rented it out when she went to America."
"That's right sir," confirmed the receptionist. "Mrs Peters' family run the hotel now, and turned the cottage in the grounds into their own accommodation."
"The Larkins used to live in that cottage," said Bets, joining in.
"Really?" the young woman smiled politely, "a bit before my time. But the cottage has been extended and modernized to accommodate the family."
"Thank you anyway," said Fatty, politely, "you've been most helpful and very patient to five local pensioners."
Fatty felt Daisy kick his leg gently, and tried not to respond in front of the receptionist.
As they said goodbye and made for the door, a couple came through from the outside, and Fatty held the door open whilst they passed through and thanked him in a strong American accent. Once outside they all grouped around Pip's car, and let Buster out from where he'd been sleeping on the back seat.
"I bet those are the Americans who've been asking about the auction," said Larry, looking at the others. They all agreed.
"I find that really strange," said Fatty, suspiciously.
"Funnily enough, she looked rather familiar," said Daisy, thoughtfully. "I wonder why – she's not local, that's for sure."
Bets was quietly thinking hard about the woman they'd just seen. With a slow shiver running along her spine, she looked around at the others, and in quiet tones said. "I think she looked very much like Mrs Gloria Lorenzo."
* * *
"It can't possibly be Mrs Lorenzo," said Pip to Bets, as they sat in the lounge of the White House.
After Bets had made her amazing statement, Fatty suggested that they had better have a chat back at the White House as they couldn't discuss the matter standing in the hotel car park. So Bets and Daisy went with Pip in his car, whilst Fatty and Larry walked back with Buster.
"I didn't say it was," said Bets, shaking her head feeling irritated. "I said she looked very much like her."
"From what I remember of Mrs Lorenzo, I agree with Bets," said Daisy, looking around at the others. "Odd I know, but maybe, just maybe there could be some connection. Let's face it – we were there because we're investigating a painting stolen by the Lorenzos which was never recovered. Then we learn that an American couple were enquiring about viewing the items before the auction, just as we had." Daisy looked at everyone knowingly, her hands opening in a gesture of invitation.
"That's right," nodded Larry. "We can't argue with that. There's more to that couple than meets the eye."
"I agree," said Fatty, seriously. "I thought it was odd when the receptionist was telling us."
"So the question is, who are they?" said Pip, with raised brows.
"This needs some working out," said Fatty, leaning forward in his chair and taking charge. "Let's try and work out who they could possibly be." Everyone looked at Fatty, hoping he had the answer. "Let's think back to the Lorenzos. When we first saw them many moons ago, they could have been middle aged, but then when you're only young yourself, all grown- ups look older than they possibly are."
"So what are you saying, Fatty" asked Bets, "that the American woman could be a daughter, or grand-daughter?"
"Yes," nodded Fatty, "it's a possibility."
"It's more likely that she would be a grand-daughter then," said Daisy. "She looked in her middle twenties, I thought."
"Yes, I'd go along with that," nodded Bets, looking at Daisy.
"So the next question is, how does the American connection come into it?" said Pip.
"Well it's all guess work again, working on the probability," said Fatty. "Once the Lorenzos had served their time in prison, they could have left Britain and gone to live in America."
"If that was the case, they weren't bothered about trying to take the stolen painting with them," said Larry, nonchalantly.
"We're working on probability again," returned Fatty, "they may have taken it out of the country, but they may not have. They could have hidden it away in Tally Ho House in a place that was never found. If they had hidden it away, that could be the reason why the American couple are here."
Everyone looked at Fatty excitedly. That could well be the answer.
"Well if we all go to the open viewing on Thursday afternoon, who knows, we may get the answers we're all looking for," said Bets, looking around at the others, her eyes gleaming with the forthcoming excitement.
* * *
A number of people were looking around the large room where the auction was going to be held the following day. The Find-Outers had split up and were checking out all the paintings that were up for auction. Bets kept looking towards the door every now and then, waiting for the American couple to enter.
In the search, Bets came upon a painting that really took her eye, and beckoned Fatty over. "I love this one, Fatty," she said, brightly, "can we come and bid on this tomorrow. It would look lovely in the hall."
The picture was an oil of Tally-Ho House, painted looking at it from the river. "It reminds me of my childhood," Bets carried on to say, "just as I remember the house. We must have it, Fatty."
"I'm not overly keen on the frame," said Fatty, putting on his glasses to scrutinize the picture, "but I expect that could be changed."
"I like it, Fatty," said Bets, with a frown, "the picture suits the frame."
Fatty peered a little more closely. "It doesn't fit it properly, Bets, and if you look closely the canvas has a little too much give in it."
"It can be re-stretched, Fatty – stop being so critical. I want it anyway."
"Okay my dear," he sighed, putting away his glasses. "We'll try our best – you'll get your painting."
Bets smiled and hugged Fatty's arm feeling so pleased. He looked down at her smiling face and gave her a wink. He had always tried never to deny Bets anything she wanted providing it fitted into their budget. The small windfall received from the jewels they had sold had propped up their bank balance nicely.
"What have you found?" said Daisy, eagerly, coming up to them both and looking at the painting.
"I want Fatty to bid on this one tomorrow," smiled Bets. "Do you like it, Daisy?"
"For a minute I'd thought you'd both found it," she said excitedly. Daisy looked closely at the picture on the wall. "It's not bad, Bets – Tally-Ho as it used to be. Where would you put it?"
"I thought the hall would be the best place," said Bets, stepping back slightly and tilting her head to view the picture again. "On the wall facing the door as you come in."
"It would need reframing though, Bets," said Daisy, looking at the picture through squinted eyes. "It looks a little odd, somehow."
"That's what I said," said Fatty, matter of factly, "but Bets likes it."
"What's happening over here?" said Larry, coming up to them with Pip, and looking at the picture the others were looking at.
"Tally-Ho house," said Pip, looking a little disappointed. "I thought we were onto something for a minute."
"We're going to bid on this tomorrow," said Bets, proudly.
"Rather you than me, Bets," scoffed Pip. "No wonder it's up for sale – the owners don't want it."
Bets threw Pip an angry look. "Well I like it, and I'm more determined now to have it."
"And so you shall," smiled Fatty, giving her a hug and throwing the others a wicked grin.
"Hey, look who's just walked in," whispered Larry, indicating the door with his eyes.
The others discreetly watched the American couple as they moved around the room, looking at the furniture and picking up various objects, before making their way to where the pictures were placed along the walls.
Fatty whispered to the others to keep an eye on where the Americans went but to keep well behind so that they wouldn't suspect they were being watched. To Bets' annoyance they stopped at her painting and seemed to take a particular interest in the oil of Tally-Ho House.
"Fatty, they're looking at my painting," she hissed. "I hope they're not going to bid against us."
Daisy looked at Bets' despondent expression and decided to take the bull by the horns, regardless of whatever Fatty's reaction would be. "Time for attack," she snapped fiercely, walking towards the couple, leaving four astonished faces behind her. Quickly, on Fatty's orders they followed behind Daisy, just in time to hear her saying. "Hello again, we met as you were just entering the hotel on Tuesday afternoon."
The couple looked at Daisy and the others as they came to stand besides her. "Of course," smiled the young woman in recognition, "there are some nice items here -we're a bit spoilt for choice."
"What have you got your eye on?" smiled Daisy, innocently.
"I like this painting," the young man at her side indicated the painting that Bets wanted. "It would be lovely to take this back home, after having stayed here."
"We remember when the hotel looked just like that," smiled Bets, sounding friendlier than she felt.
"Really?" smiled the young woman with interest lighting up her face, "You've lived here in Peterswood all your lives?"
"That's right," Daisy spoke for everyone. "We remember when Mrs Peters, the owner of Tally-Ho House, used to rent it out."
Everyone was silently watching the reaction of the couple before them, and Fatty was beginning to wish that Daisy hadn't taken matters into her own hands. This conversation could destroy what they were trying to achieve. Thankfully he saw someone beckoning to the couple, and before they could say anything else heard them say, "Excuse us both; it's been lovely to speak to you."
With that they walked casually away to another couple who were quite keen on showing them a large oak chest of drawers.
"Daisy, don't you realize you could have jeopardized the situation?" said Fatty, authoritatively.
Daisy had the grace to blush with guilt and for being rebuked by their leader. "I know," she defended herself, "but I feel we're on to such a strong lead here, Fatty. I had to take that chance."
"Yes, well in future sister dear, leave the decision making up to Fatty. He knows what he's doing," came Larry's rebuke.
Bets felt a tinge of sympathy for Daisy – after all, she did it because they were looking at her painting. "Don't let it worry you, Daisy," Bets touched her arm.
"Don't worry about me, Bets," smiled Daisy. "I'm well used to defending my own actions.
"Well, enough said," put in Pip, "let's just look forward to the auction tomorrow. I have a feeling it is going to be very interesting."
The others all nodded their agreements.
* * *
"Hurry up, Fatty, I don't want to miss the start of the auction," said Bets, panicking slightly, and looking at the catalogue she had picked up the day before, along with their registered number, from the company which was holding the auction on behalf of the hotel. "The picture I want is the fourth item for sale."
"Coming dear," said Fatty, hurrying from the study. "I just had to make an important call first." He almost tripped over Buster who was following closely at his heels, not wanting to be left behind if they were going out. "Come on then, Buster, you can sit in the car and wait for us."
They were just in time to hear the first item being auctioned, as they entered the room in the Tally-Ho Hotel, and took their seats besides the other three who were already seated and had saved them two seats.
Bets was fascinated by the speed at which the first three items had been auctioned off, and excitedly squeezed Fatty's arm as the auctioneer described the next item, the oil painting she loved. She nervously looked around, but all eyes were on the gentleman in front of the auction who was holding up the painting for everyone to see.
The bidding started with only a few takers and Bets noticed the American couple taking part. Bets drew Fatty's attention to this fact and whispered for him to put forward a bid as she didn't want to let the painting go to anyone other than herself. Suddenly she heard the auctioneer say, "Anymore bids, ladies and gentleman?" His eyes swiftly roamed the audience, "okay at ...". He stopped suddenly, and pointed over to Fatty with the hammer in his hands. "Thank you sir, we have a new bidder..." The auction carried on, Fatty now taking part, bidding against the American couple and another participant whom Bets couldn't see, no matter how much she looked around. The stakes grew higher, and Bets' hopes started to deflate as the price was creeping slowly up to their price limit. With a worried expression, Bets looked at Daisy sitting beside her. Daisy gave Bets a comforting smile and linked her arm supportively. The bidding now only included Fatty and the American couple bidding against each other, and much to Bets horror the price reached their limit, the bidding being against Fatty.
Bets looked at him horrified – she was about to loose the painting she wanted. "We must go higher," she whispered. Fatty looked at her with concern and then at the American couple who were looking in their direction. Bets saw Fatty shake his head as he looked back at the auctioneer and Bets felt she had been hit one huge blow as a nauseous feeling entered her stomach.
The auctioneer then looked around the room. "Anymore bids, ladies and gentlemen?" He then looked back at the American couple. "And so we're selling at..."
Another bid was heard towards the back of the room, and a few people could be heard taking in a long breath. The Five looked around but couldn't see the new bidder. The price went up again more slowly, until finally the Americans could be seen shaking their heads, when the bidding was against them.
"Sold," said the auctioneer, bringing down the hammer. "Could I have your number sir?" he called across the room to the new bidder, and glancing round Bets could see a raised arm showing the number 68.
"Come on, Bets dear," said Fatty, looking at Bets' disappointed face. "We'll take coffee in the lounge." He rose from his seat taking Bets arm, and the others followed them into the reception area.
"I'd rather go home," said Bets, unable to hide her feelings of utter disappointment.
"Don't worry, Bets," said Daisy, sympathetically, "Fatty tried his best, but the price got ridiculous – certainly not worth what that buyer paid for it."
"Chin up, Bets," said Larry, "Daisy's right, the picture wasn't worth it."
"It was to me," suddenly snapped Bets. "I loved it the minute I saw it and nothing anyone says is going to change that."
Bets walked towards the door to leave and left the others to follow. Daisy pulled at Fatty's arm. "She's really upset, Fatty – she set her heart on that painting."
"I'm aware of that, Daisy," whispered Fatty, "and I've always tried to deny her nothing."
Everyone crowded into Fatty's car and he drove the short distance back to the White House. The silence was electrifying. Even Buster could sense the atmosphere and laid his head on Daisy's lap as she fondled his silky ears.
* * *
Once back at the White House, Bets and Daisy began to prepare a light lunch and when complete, Bets carried a tray of five mugs filled with tea, through to the lounge, whilst Daisy carried another tray full of freshly cut sandwiches and cake. It was whilst they were placing the trays down on the low long table before the settees, that the sound of the back door opening and closing came to their ears and Buster, giving an excited bark, raced from the lounge.
"I wonder who that can be?" said Bets, puzzled, as all the five were together.
"Hello, Buster," came a familiar voice to their ears, "where is everyone?"
Five pairs of eyes looked towards the door, as a smiling, rather chubby, middle-aged man, with the same twinkling eyes as Fatty, came through to the lounge.
"Thomas," shrieked Bets, rushing over to him and giving their elder son a big hug. "Why didn't you tell me you were coming over?"
"Hello Mum," said Thomas, hugging his mother and kissing her cheek. "It's not really a social call." He looked around at everyone, smiling and saying hello. He hugged Fatty as he came across to stand by his son.
"Well this is a surprise," said Daisy, as Thomas came over to kiss her, and shake hands with Larry and Pip. "I believe congratulations are in order," she smiled, "Chief Inspector Trotteville now, so Bets tells us."
"That's right," he grinned. "I've got to keep up with Dad." He looked across at Fatty and said, "It's in the hall, Dad."
Fatty went off into the hall and came in with a large square parcel, grinning.
"I hope your intuition doesn't let me down, Dad. Otherwise, I'm going to look mighty stupid when I have to try and explain."
The others looked from Fatty to Thomas, raising enquiring brows. "Fatty, what have you been up to?" said Bets, looking at the exchanging glances from father to son.
"I think you'd all better start on your lunch first," smiled Thomas, looking exactly like Fatty did, when he was forty-four. I'll go and make myself some coffee."
"I'll make you some," said Bets, rising from the settee, but sat back down again on instruction from Thomas.
"Finish lunch, Mum. I'll make coffee."
Enjoying the light lunch and trying to get from Fatty what he'd been up to proved difficult, for he wouldn't say anything until lunch was out of the way. When finally the trays had been moved back to the kitchen, Fatty proceeded to put the parcel onto the table before them and removed the brown paper. Unfolding in front of their eyes was the oil painting that Bets loved so much and wanted.
"Fatty," squealed Bets, "it's my painting." She looked at Fatty and Thomas, who were both watching her reaction. "I don't understand," she finished off, puzzled.
"Thomas was the late bidder and won," guessed Larry, smiling at them both, with a raised brow, which brought surprised sounds and exclamations from Daisy, Pip and Bets.
"For one reason only though," said Thomas surprisingly. "Would you like to explain, Dad?"
Fatty had to grin at the surprised looks of his friends. "I believe that the stolen painting could well have been hidden within this oil painting."
"I only hope you're right," said Thomas, looking at his Dad. "I've taken quite a gamble, trusting your instinct."
Fatty smiled at his son, confidence glowing from his sparkling blue eyes. "Let's take a look then."
Turning the painting over and using some tools which Thomas had fetched from the kitchen, Fatty started to remove the painting from its gilt frame, and then very carefully extracted the pinned canvas from its wooden frame. Laying on the top of another painted canvas of the same picture was a painting that was covered with a thin almost transparent sheet of tissue paper. When Fatty lifted it away, there was the lovely watercolour of Hartley House and Gardens which had been stolen many, many years before.
Everyone drew in a breath of surprise and Fatty lifted up the painting. "It's finally seeing the light after all these years," he said, looking around at the others.
"Well done, Dad," said Thomas, proudly. "If you'll all excuse me, I've now got some calls to make." Thomas left the room, already dialling a number on his mobile phone as he walked.
"I can't believe it," said Bets, in shock, dozens of questions whirling around inside her head. "Fatty, how did you know? And how come Thomas is here about the painting?"
"Brains my dear, Bets, just brains," said Fatty, grinning with pleasure." He began to cover the watercolour and put it to one side. "This oil painting gave it away – it somehow didn't seem to fit correctly into the frame and the canvas was slightly ridged, as though it had not been stretched properly. When the American couple started to take an interest in it, my instincts and intuition just took over."
The others all looked at Fatty in amazement, hardly believing the events that had just unfolded before their eyes. "You're incredible, Fatty," said Larry, shaking his head.
"The Super will be over the moon when we tell him the painting has been found after all these years," said Daisy, imagining the look on his elderly face.
"Not to mention Hartley Hall," grinned Pip. "The painting still belongs to them."
"Thomas will take care of that for us," said Fatty, glancing to the half opened door, where the feint voice of Thomas could be heard coming from the hall as he spoke on his phone.
"How does Thomas fit into this?" said Bets, looking at Fatty inquisitively.
"I phoned Thomas late afternoon, yesterday," began Fatty, "and told him about seeing the Super, my calls to Hartley Gardens, their returned email, and the American couple from the Hotel. I also said that I suspected the painting was hidden within this oil, and that I couldn't prove it, but it was up for auction the following day." He paused for a breath, looking at the others who were silently waiting for him to carry on with his extraordinary story – all but Buster, that is, who was curled up by the fire, snoozing away. "He said he'd have a word with his superior and sort something out. So this morning he text, saying it was all in hand, he was at the Hotel and I had to bid as I would normally. I told him the price I was prepared to reach, and he said if necessary he would continue the bidding for me."
"So you knew I'd get my painting, after all," said Bets to Fatty, rather crossly. "Why didn't you say?"
"And spoil my fun?" Fatty grinned at her.
Bets had to smile, "You're incorrigible, you know that?" she scolded with a raised brow.
"So you keep telling me," he teased.
"At least Bets has got her painting," said Daisy, pleased. "In fact, she's got two."
The others had to laugh and Larry picked up the painting still attached to the wooden frame, examining it well. "This must be the original painting of Tally Ho House and the other oil, was copied from this purposely so that the watercolour could be sandwiched between them." He picked up the canvas that Fatty had taken from the wooden frame, "they're almost identical."
"Yes, it was a good hiding place for the water colour," said Fatty, "the Lorenzos must have organized all this not long after moving into Tally Ho House. My guess is that someone painted the oil on this piece of canvas from the original and then had it pinned over the original with the watercolour sandwiched between. But they didn't take into consideration that they would not be able to stretch the canvas properly as it would still have been wet with oil paint."
"Still an ingenious idea, though," said Pip, impressed.
"That's why the Super and his men couldn't find the water colour," said Larry. "A painting of Tally Ho House on the wall would just be over looked."
Thomas coming back into the lounge, with a smile on his face, had the others turning to look at him and Buster lifted his head and put it back down again.
"You look very pleased with yourself," said Fatty, amused. "I guess that means your superiors are pleased."
"They certainly are," grinned Thomas. "I'm just off to the hotel now to meet the local Police and we can question the American couple."
"Will you be calling back before you set off for home?" said Bets, hopefully.
"Of course, Mum," he nodded. "In fact if you would give me tea before I set off back, that would be great."
"Fine," smiled Bets, happily.
Thomas smiled around at the others saying goodbye and that he would see them probably some other time. "Oh and Dad," he paused by the lounge door, a huge grin spreading across his face as he looked at Fatty. "Don't forget to transfer the money you owe me for that painting."
The others had to smile, whilst Fatty said with a raised mused brow, "As if you'd let me. Go and tie up the loose ends."
* * *
The other Find-Outers couldn't wait to call on Fatty and Bets later that evening. Fatty had said when they left, just after Thomas made his departure 'to tie up the loose ends' that if they wanted to call round to hear Thomas's outcome, they could, or if they wanted to leave it to the following day, that would be fine. No one wanted to leave it for that long. They couldn't wait to hear what Thomas had reported over tea and all three of them called round at exactly eight o'clock that evening, bursting with excitement to hear how this mystery had ended.
Once everyone was relaxed with a glass of wine in their hands and Buster had calmed down after greeting everyone with his usual enthusiasm. Fatty then took his delight in telling the others all that had happened.
"So come on, Fatty, tell all," said Pip, eagerly.
"And don't leave anything out," grinned Larry.
"And be quick about it," grinned Daisy, firmly, a bright twinkle shining from her eyes.
"I think you're going to be very surprised," began Fatty, mysteriously. "Thomas caught up with the American couple at the hotel, as they don't check out until tomorrow morning, and they were interviewed by a local detective, as well as Thomas." Fatty paused and looked at three eager faces. Bets of course, had heard all this over tea. "We were right on our assumption that somehow they were connected to the Lorenzos, but that's about all."
The other three looked on amazed, "How do you mean?" asked Larry.
"The story goes that the Lorenzos only spent about 18 months behind bars for the theft of the painting we found. They then left this country, as we guessed, and settled down in America, just outside New York. Gloria Lorenzo went back to the stage full time, whilst her husband started up an antique business. She stopped work for a while to have their only daughter, and then went back on the stage. She apparently died in the early 90's.
"So is that the granddaughter, staying at the hotel?" asked Daisy, impatiently.
"Yes," Fatty nodded. "Her name's Mrs Sylvia Brooks and it turns out, her mother, Lorenzo's daughter, followed in her own mother's footsteps and went from the stage into films. She's very famous, in the States, apparently, or should I say, she was very famous. She died with cancer two months ago and that is when her daughter learned of the stolen painting which her grandmother and grandfather had stolen from Hartley Hall."
"How?" asked Pip, getting a little confused.
"There was a letter left with her mother's will. She brought it over here with her and Thomas has read it. It tells of the stolen painting, and where it was to be found. Sylvia Brooks' mother, being so famous, was appalled apparently when she learnt of her mother's past life but didn't want to say anything as it would have harmed her own career. When she realised that she had not long to live she wrote it all down in a letter to her daughter, Sylvia, asking her to go to England, find the place called Peterswood, and contact the police with her letter, so that hey could find the painting and get it back to its rightful owners."
"So why didn't they tell the police?" said Pip, questioningly, "My guess is that they thought they might find it and keep it for themselves."
The others looked at Pip thoughtfully, nodding their heads. "That's true," agreed Larry.
"Thomas did ask this question," said Fatty, "and they said that when they arrived at Peterswood and actually saw Tally-Ho House as an hotel, they thought they might do a bit of investigating first and booked in, especially as the auction was coming up. They knew which painting they had to look for, that of Tally-Ho House as it was. If by any chance it was up for auction, they hoped to buy it, find the watercolour which was inside, and then go to the police with the evidence, rather than just a letter." Fatty shrugged matter of factly.
"So we have to give them the benefit of the doubt," said Daisy, rather evasively. "They could have been speaking the truth, who knows?"
"Thomas did say that he'd learnt that once they'd been outbid for the picture, they did make enquiries as to who had purchased it," said Fatty, "but obviously no one was prepared to give out that information."
"They may have wanted to know so that they could steal it back," said Pip, with a knowing frown.
"Their explanation was they wanted to tell the buyer about the painting between and then go to the police," finished Fatty, with a raised brow.
"They could have been telling the truth," said Bets, looking around at the others. "Just because her grandmother was a thief doesn't necessarily mean that she as her off-spring would follow in her criminal activities."
"That's true," agreed Daisy, "rather selfish of her mother, though, not to say anything before now, just for the sake of her own career."
The others had to agree. "She could have contacted someone anonymously," said Larry, thoughtfully.
Fatty nodded. "True, Larry, that's something else we'll never know, but the outcome is a good one and now Hartley Hall will get its stolen watercolour back, at last."
Everyone agreed and Fatty went around and refilled everyone's empty glass.
"So where's the watercolour?" suddenly asked Pip.
"Thomas took it with him when he left," said Fatty, "it's going to be taken back personally by the police."
"That's good," said Daisy. "What will you do, Fatty, speak to Hartley Hall again?"
Fatty nodded. "I've already sent them an email, Daisy, and so no doubt once it's back safely with them, they'll email me back and let me know."
"Well at least everything has turned out well," said Larry, looking pleased. "Are the Americans free to go back home?"
"Yes, they leave tomorrow," nodded Fatty. "They've done nothing wrong."
"The Super has got his wish, Fatty – he wanted you to find the painting and you did," said Pip, smiling.
Everyone nodded and smiled. "We're going over tomorrow to see him and tell him the good news," said Bets, happily.
"And you've got the painting you wanted, Bets," smiled Daisy. "What will you do with the other one?"
"I'm going to get them both re-framed," said Bets, "and I'm going to present the other one to the Super. It can hang in his room."
Everyone thought what a lovely gesture Bets had made and said so vehemently.
"Let's have a toast then," said Pip, raising his glass and looking around at the others. "To the Super and his painting."
Everyone toasted loudly, "The Super and his painting."
"I think the last toast should go to Bets," said Fatty, smiling over at her, "for her generosity of spirit and kind gesture."
"To Bets," he said, raising his glass and smiling at her blushing face and shining twinkling eyes.
"To Bets," chorused the others and Buster raised his head from where he was curled up by a warm, log fire and gave a very small gentle 'woof'.
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