This excerpt is from the book entitled The Black Hill Hotel Mystery an English Murder Mystery book set in the winter countryside, starring two policemen who have been working together for a few years and get along well.
“Inspector Knowles? I am glad you’re here. I am Annette and I co-own the hotel.”
“Who is Mr Wooster and why would the receptionist be so concerned regarding his whereabouts?” asked Knowles.
“He didn’t arrive last night, Inspector, he was supposed to be sleeping in the room, which was illegally accessed.”
“OK, first things, where is the rear entrance?”
“Fifty yards in that direction,” said Annette pointing to the left.
“Thank you, Linda, go down the other side of the hotel and meet me there. Take some pictures of those tracks and any others you find. Put your ruler in the pictures for scale. Thank you, Linda. Annette, please don’t let your guests leave until I have spoken to them.”
“Well, the Bensons have already left for the day and are heading down to Frisby Magna for a walk along the river. Miss Baxter hasn’t appeared yet.”
“Right, well please wake her from her slumbers and tell her to have some breakie. Please ask the other guests not to leave. I will see you by the back door in a few minutes.”
Knowles stomped along and checked for other tracks, but there seemed to be none. He kept as close to the hotel as possible, so as to try and preserve the snow on the footpath, just in case he had missed something. He reached the back of the hotel and saw the garage with around 18 inches of snow on the top. Linda was already at the back door.
“Two sets of tracks – down this side sir, both heading in the same direction, and no return tracks, both the same size, and might even be the same boot, but one set started under the window of the room right at the front of the hotel on this side. The tracks continue towards the stile, but have been obliterated by two sets of larger walking boots, which leave deeper tracks.”
“The Bensons,” muttered Knowles, “let’s follow them to the stile.”
They walked to the stile, noticing that the smaller, lighter tracks were still present in a couple of places. They looked on the wooden steps and saw another track. Heading over the stile the Benson boots went left, but it seemed the lighter tracks went right for around twenty yards before stopping dead. There was a clear view of the river from here.
“This is bizarre,” said Smythe, “do they go back over the wall here then?”
Knowles examined the snow on the wall and it looked to be the same height as the rest and was not densely packed, which would have been the case if someone had pressed snow on top of the wall to disguise their escape.
“Let’s go this way and see whether they’ve gone this way; you know walked backwards in their tracks and then headed in this direction,” said Knowles pointing to the woods.
The snow was falling steadily now and some ravens cawed in the woods ahead. The two of them walked in the field away from the Benson’s tracks staring at the wall, but no one had clambered over it and disturbed the snow. Suddenly, they saw a gap in the wall and dashed to look for tracks – there were none. Due to drifting, the snow was about four feet deep behind the wall, but there were no traces of someone disturbing the pristine whiteness.
Up ahead the wall ended and the woods began with some undergrowth appearing and then some wild rhododendron bushes. Knowles walked across the vegetation and looked for some sign of footwear. It was Smythe who first saw something.
“There, there’s something in the snow, sir, it’s a track, it’s a wellington boot print.” She took out the ruler and measured the size – it was the same size.
“Let’s follow – what’s the betting it comes out on the road,” said Knowles. “Take a snap or two, Linda, for the family album.”
They followed the tracks, now just in a single-line, back to the hotel.
“OK, this is strange indeed,” said Knowles, “let’s go inside and warm up.” They headed to the back door, where they found Annette Verdun looking a little worried.
“Can we come in?” asked Smythe.
“Yes, of course, and here’s some slippers for you.”
“Is there something wrong, Annette?” asked Knowles.
“Yes, there is, Miss Baxter in Room 4 is not in her room and not in the hotel at all. She’s missing. We’ve been up since 6:30 and nobody has left since that time.”
“Is Room 4 the one at the front of the hotel on the left as you face it from the road?” asked Smythe.
“No, that’s Room 3 where Aneurin James is, Room 4 is the one next door to that.”
“And the next question is – who has had their wallet stolen?”
“That would be Mr James,” replied Annette.
“Please ask him to come and see us in, oh where is best?” enquired Knowles.
“The Lounge is probably the nicest,” said Annette.