As Greg Lestrade drove down the road, he spotted Bilbo Baggins standing at the bus stop, looking intently at one of the posters. He’d met Bilbo at the pub a few weeks ago when he’d been playing darts for the opposing team. It turned out Bilbo had recently moved into the area with his husband, and when he was working of evening, Bilbo would often drop into the pub for a drink after work. He and Greg started to chat if they were in the pub together, so it seemed natural for Greg to slow down and offer Bilbo a lift, which was accepted.
“What were you staring at so intently at the bus stop?” Greg asked.
“Croft House has a half price weekend coming up. I’d love to go, it would be a weekend of good food, beautiful countryside to wander in, and comfortable armchairs to sink into and read a book. However, Thorin’s away at a conference that weekend, and anyway it’s not really his thing. I could go by myself, but almost inevitably there would be singles there longing to make conversation which is the last thing I’d want to do.”
Greg thought for a minute. “When did you say it was?”
“A fortnight’s time.”
“Do you know, I rather fancy that. If we went together, we could provide each other with the necessary shield against unwelcome advances. I presume they offer single rooms?”
“Oh, yes. They market these weekends as being suitable for couples who wish to get away from it all for a few days, or for solo visitors who wish to make new friends in a relaxed atmosphere.”
“I can see why you might be concerned. Would you be interested in going together?”
“I think that will be a great idea. Would you like me to do the booking?”
“Yes. I’ll transfer the money over to you.”
Two weeks later, Greg picked Bilbo up on the Friday evening and drove down to Croft House. They were amongst the last to arrive, and so just had sufficient time to take their bags to their rooms before going down to the lounge for a pre-dinner drink.
As they entered the lounge, Bilbo said, “This is just how I imagined it, only more so. Look, is that an ocelot curled up asleep in front of the fire? And there’s a toy tiger and donkey at either end of the window seat, how lovely.”
Greg didn’t reply because he had spotted John Watson sitting in one of the armchairs. He looked at John, who silently shook his head. Greg gave a small nod and turned back to Bilbo.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I was too busy looking round the room to hear what you said.”
“Call yourself a detective inspector,” Bilbo laughed. “It wasn’t important. I was just commenting on the way the room had been set out.”
They both accepted a cocktail and wandered over to the window seat. Greg wondered why the tiger was wearing a sou’wester and the donkey had a bowler hat balanced between his ears but assumed this was part of the idiosyncratic nature of the décor.
Two minutes later the gong was sounded for dinner, and at the same moment all the lights went out.
Mouselet had been sitting behind a conveniently placed candlestick on the mantelpiece when the lights went out. She watched as most of the guests instantly leapt into action, bumped into each other and fell over the furniture. She wondered why they didn’t do the obvious thing and wait for their eyes to become accustomed to the darkness before moving, but quickly realised the chaos was what the perpetrator had counted on. It was therefore up to her, from her vantage point, to watch what was happening.
In a few minutes a number of the guests had found their mobile phones and were shining them around, often helpfully in each other’s eyes. One man had slipped out of the room, and Mouselet saw the Ocelot follow him. The small tiger and the donkey were no longer on the window seat but were sitting on the lower shelf of the drinks trolley.
An elderly man was lying face down in a bowl of oranges. Someone screamed.
The chaos which followed was worse than the initial disruption. A man, who had been sitting on the window seat, and who Mouselet had noted hadn’t moved up to that point, stood up, said he was a police inspector and ordered everyone to go into the dining room, where the staff would, he said firmly, serve dinner. He added that no-one, apart from the staff, was to leave the dining room.
Then he asked, “Is there a doctor present?”
A couple of people said they were, and the inspector turned to the one who had been sitting quietly in the corner and said, “I’d be grateful if you were to stay.”
The Ocelot returned to the lounge to find the inspector conferring with a doctor, who had confirmed the man was not dead, although the doctor was having difficulties diagnosing what had happened to him.
The Ocelot looked down as he heard a squeak, to see Mouselet holding a small bottle between her front paws. “Excuse me,” he said, “I believe you may find this of use.”
The inspector, the doctor and a man who was still sitting on the window seat all looked up somewhat startled. Finally, the doctor took the bottle from Mouselet and looked at the label.
“Well, that explains what’s wrong with this man,” the doctor said. “Although whether someone gave it to him, or whether it was self-administered, I’m not sure.”
“Oh, it was self-administered,” another voice said. The tiger bounced over, and the Ocelot noticed the inspector mutter “What on earth” and sink into one of the armchairs.
“We saw him look at his watch and deliberately take the tablets about five minutes before the gong sounded and the lights went out,” the tiger added. “I’m Tigger Holmes, by the way. And this is Eeyore Watson.”
The donkey said, “Hello!” in a rather mournful fashion. “I counted four wallets, and I think it was three purses, which went missing.”
“Yes,” the Ocelot agreed. “Most of them are in the flower beds now. Although no doubt emptied of cash. I’m the Ocelot, and this is Mouselet.”
Mouselet waved and squeaked, “Hello!”
“I’m Bilbo Baggins,” said the man on the window seat. “This is DI Greg Lestrade and I’m afraid I’ve not been introduced to the doctor.”
“John Watson,” the doctor said.
“It seems rather an elaborate ploy simply to steal the contents of a few wallets and purses,” the inspector said.
“It was all a distraction to steal some rare first editions from the library,” the Ocelot said.
“Have they succeeded?” Bilbo Baggins asked.
“They have taken some books,” the Ocelot agreed.
“However,” added Tigger Holmes, “those had already been swapped for different editions.”
“We bought them earlier,” Eeyore Watson said. “It’s amazing what you can find on Ebay. Mostly ex-library.”
“The man had to grab them by torchlight, so he couldn’t see they weren’t the versions he was expecting,” squeaked Mouselet.
“Which leaves us with one unconscious accomplice and not a lot else,” Greg Lestrade said.
“I did put a tracker on the car the thief departed in,” the Ocelot said. “Although I suspect he’ll change vehicles at some point.”
“That’s something,” John Watson said. “And there’s not a lot he can do with a case full of ex-library books. I’ve texted Sherlock and he should be along in a little while. I don’t think there’s anything much more to be done here.”
There was a general murmur of agreement and then Bilbo Baggins said, “In which case, do you think we could go and get some dinner? I, for one, am getting rather hungry.”
There was an even louder murmur of agreement, and so, leaving John Watson to wait for Sherlock, they all left the lounge.