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.
Up ahead were the flashing lights indicating the road ahead was closed. In the days before the cuts, a lowly PC would have caught a cold out here, asking people if they really wanted to go up a 1 in 5.5 slope in a vehicle with bald tyres and whether a safer route couldn’t be found? Nowadays, the flashing lights saved money, if not lives, without anyone catching a cold.
Knowles followed the road and engaged second gear – the snow was up to the front bumper but the tyres were gripping road surface and so the Landrover made slow progress up towards the horizon. The snow poles were worth their weight in gold as the road twisted around the hill, inexorably gaining height. At one point, Knowles saw a figure standing on a rocky outcrop to the right of the road, but he kept his eyes on the poles. In the rearview mirror the river merged into the countryside and became lost behind the falling flakes. Knowles knew he had to keep going now as a hill start in this weather would be utterly impossible. In another ten seconds, he was around the final bend and the lights of the hotel were ahead. Knowles parked his vehicle in a spot by a wall where the snow wasn’t collecting because of eddying winds.
He clambered into the back and put on his wellingtons before gathering the phone and his bag together. He closed all the doors and locked his petrol cap in place before walking towards the hotel. The snow was over the top of his wellies in places. Knowles looked into the woods and about two hundred yards away he saw a small shed he’d not previously seen. He’d go and take a look later, when he was less encumbered and could hold a torch. The wind was blowing and he could smell the cold. All he could hear was the weather; even the owls were staying warm in their tree burrows this afternoon.
Knowles saw a figure silhouetted in the curtains of Room 7 and some snatches of conversation from Room 2 as he arrived at the entrance. The welcome mat was rolled up under the bench. Knowles knocked and the door was opened by Wendy Hoxton.
“Inspector Knowles, we weren’t expecting you to make it here, the snow brought down the telephone lines and we’re on the generator at the moment.”
“Thank you, Wendy, can I come in, it’s a bit cold out here.”
“Of course, sorry,” said Wendy and opened the door for Knowles who took of his wellingtons and put them under the bench.
Andrew Croft approached the Inspector and asked him whether he’d like a warming brandy. Knowles gave a thumbs-up and then asked the co-owner whether he could borrow the dining room to interview the guests for about an hour.
Knowles put the satellite phone and his bag on top of the hotel safe behind reception and looked at the hotel register. He gladly accepted the brandy proffered.
“Inspector, you can use the dining room until 6:30 – we have to set it up for dinner from that time onwards.”
“That should be long enough; 75 minutes should be plenty of time. Are all the staff and guests here?”
“You want to interview the staff as well as the guests?” Andrew was a little taken aback.
“Oh, indeed I do, it would be unfair to leave anyone out, wouldn’t it? I can’t be seen to be favouring anyone at the expense of anyone else, can I?”
“I suppose not, it might look like inadvertent finger pointing.”
“That’s right, I am glad you understand, so you wouldn’t mind being first then, followed by the chefs and then Wendy and then Roger? If you could let them know that would be great. I will see you and Annette in the dining room in five minutes. Oh, did Miss Baxter return?”
“She did – at noon; she said she woke early and decided to go for a long walk. She hopped out of her window instead of using either the front or back door like most people would.”
“Did she say why she did that?”
“So as not to wake anyone up, apparently.”
“What time was this?”
“She said 6:15 a.m.”
“She’s obviously a keen walker, nearly six hours in the snow, any idea where she went?”
“Down by the river, I think” replied Andrew, realising he didn’t ask nearly enough questions.
“Right, well as long as she turns up for our little interview in the dining room then I will find out from her myself. ” Knowles jotted down the names of the staff and guests on a piece of paper and handed it to Andrew.
“Please pass this around to your staff and guests; let them know they will all be interviewed in the fulness of time.”
Andrew looked at the names and headed to The Lounge where he knew almost everyone was sitting having a late afternoon drink.
Knowles took the opportunity to go over the information in his notebook one more time. There were some interesting questions for people to answer.