It was the twelfth day of Christmas...
The Great Detective sat back in his wing back chair. He reached out with the poker and prodded at the remnants of the fire in the grate. A stream of sparks sputtered from the last of the logs and spiralled away up the chimney and out into the night.
He turned to the assembled audience who were stood waiting on his every word. The Inspector was there too, looking on with the same bored expression that always accompanied these affairs. He was tired of turning up to have the whole thing explained to him. He'd have liked to solve a case on his own just for once.
"I expect that you are all wondering why I have brought you here together," the Great Detective began. The Inspector found it hard not to yawn. The butler looked uncomfortable, he wasn't wondering at all. He'd been at too many of these things and they had often turned out badly for him. The rest of the group leant forward expectantly. Presumably someone was feigning interest and was, in fact, concerned that their crimes had been detected.
"Now, you may recall this all appears to have started with a very simple robbery at the Garden Centre." The Great Detective picked up his enormous meerschaum pipe, stuffed the bowl with a large pinch of tobacco, and lit it blowing a stream of blue smoke across the room. "Why anyone should seek to steal an ornamental fruit tree was a puzzle for the local constabulary especially as it was not a case of simple shop lifting. They were, of course, worried by the violent attack on the young woman working there. She had been seized, bound, gagged and rolled up in a bale of chicken wire. But it was only after the events at the pet shop that Scotland Yard were called in." He took another suck on his pipe and nodded to the Inspector. "Who in turn were good enough to consult me."
"Luckily I had just completed my monograph on 'Varieties Of English Pear Trees And Their Cultivation'. Kew Gardens have been very helpful but it has nevertheless been a challenge. Why would someone steal a plant costing a few pounds at most even if it was a rather good Bartlett? And why did they not steal another? Surely they knew that cross pollination is essential for successful fruiting? My botanical knowledge was however only the starting point; the next stage of this case was to tax my understanding of zoology."
Sensing that some of his audience were becoming restless he pressed on.
"As I was saying it was after the pet shop robbery that I was called in. The pet shop robbery was particularly disturbing. The three women that were serving there were rounded up and forced into the store room by masked assailants. All three were bound with dog leashes and gagged by having rubber bones tied across their mouths. They were then forced into the cages left vacant by the theft of the stock. Though why anyone should want a partridge, two turtle doves, three French hens, and four calling birds was still a mystery at this stage. Even after the girls were interviewed the police had little to go on, although apparently a man had been in to the shop the previous day enquiring about various sorts of poultry which he had in mind as a Christmas present for his 'true love'. It was that remark that first led me to suspect that there was something obsessive about whoever was involved."
The Inspector looked at his watch. The Great Detective picked up the glass of port kindly poured for him by the butler. He held it to the light of the fire. It shone with the deep, dark, red of rubies. The sight seemed to trigger his next line of thought. "Then of course there was the jewellery shop. It is not unusual you may think for jewellery shops to be robbed. Especially at this time of year when there are often so many fine items stocked for gifts. We were very fortunate that Jenson's Jewellers have a closed circuit television camera system installed. From the tapes we were able to observe the robbery in progress. The interesting thing here, however, is not what was taken but what was not taken!"
The Great Detective flourished his meerschaum but was disappointed by the lack of response of the family and staff.
"Huummph," he went on. "What was not taken was most of the stock. The manager, three assistants and two customers were herded into the strong room and three masked individuals then proceeded to ransack the shop. A very careful inventory taken after the robbery revealed that the only things missing were five gold rings. The robbers ignored diamonds, expensive watches and a vast quantity of other jewels. All that they took were these five, very simple golden bands, certainly not of any great value. They could have taken far more valuable items from the necks of the customers."
The butler leant forward with the decanter of port and refilled the Great Detective's glass. He nodded his thanks.
"It was after that our attention was directed to the farm. Now as you know Halfpenny Hill Dairy Farm is quite isolated. We think it was that fact that attracted our villains. I interviewed one of the farm hands who saw what happened. His attention was attracted by a great deal of squawking coming from the pen where the farm was keeping some geese in readiness for Christmas. Apparently there were six of them, one the family planned to have for their own Christmas dinner; the others were destined for sale in the village. Our witness saw three men rounding up the geese and putting them into crates. They even gathered up the eggs that the poor creatures had laid, He was about to challenge them when he saw that they were carrying shotguns. Unfortunately he could not get to the house and the telephone, otherwise we might have apprehended them in the course of the robbery as their next target proved far from easy."
"Swans, as you will know, are not the easiest of birds to handle. Coaxing seven of them from off a lake is a challenge at best, although our robbers appeared to have some way of attracting them to shore. Well, what with the honking of the geese and the flapping of the swans, the robbers had to take a great deal of time rounding up the swans and driving them across the farm yard into the back of a truck. It was only after they had succeeded in getting the birds into the truck that two of the men headed off towards the cow shed while the other stayed behind to guard the truck."
The Great Detective puffed again on his pipe. "Well, you can imagine our man's astonishment at what he saw next. Eight girls were marched out of the cow shed at gun point. All of the farm's milk maids had their hands up and were pushed towards the truck by these villains. They were herded into the truck and driven off. It was only then that the farmhand was able to call us. Unfortunately the police did not succeed in spotting the truck." The Great Detective looked critically at the Inspector. The Inspector looked embarrassed. "As a result of confusion over the call, the police thought that the caller had said that eight milk shakes had been stolen. As a result a considerable effort was put into catching and interrogating a number of milk men who were otherwise going about their quite legitimate business. In the confusion our quarry escaped."
"It was unfortunate that the police failed to intercept this truck as this was just the first of a series of mass abductions. You, Colonel Mustard and you Miss Scarlett were, I understand, at believe, at Bodleigh Hall on the occasion of the next of these crimes."
"I hope you are not implying that I have any knowledge of this, Sir," Colonel Mustard bridled. "Or indeed that my relationship with Miss Scarlett is anything other than one that any doting uncle might have with his young niece."
Miss Scarlett gave a giggle which did nothing to support the Colonel's last remark, but the Great Detective ignored the Colonel's interjection and continued. "So the good folk at Bodleigh Hall were enjoying their new Year's eve festivities. Lord and Lady Bodleigh's ball had attracted most of the county set and there was considerable distress when a group of armed and masked men burst into the ball room. The men were scandalised, the women terrified. Everyone assumed that it was some sort of robbery. The gang forced all the guests to sit on the floor and then made the women get up, strip off their dresses and dance in their underwear. After that the man who appeared to be leading the gang pointed out nine of them. These were tied up and led away. The sobs of the remaining women and the anger of the men gave way to disbelief as the gang forced the men to engage in a game of leapfrog. You must be asking yourself, as we did, what manner of criminals are these? This time the leader pointed to ten of the men and they were taken away at gun point too. But the madness didn't stop there!"
The Inspector was finding it hard to see where things were going. The Butler was feeling relieved. So far he had an alibi for all of these occurrences. Perhaps he wouldn't be led away in handcuffs after all.