Part I is here
Part II is here
I waited on the periphery of the living area in anticipation that both Chloe and McCavity would re-join the group. Five minutes later they were still absent, and the remaining guests were showing signs of restlessness. Dolores was still doing the washing up in the kitchen. 'Ladies and gents', I eventually announced. 'I'm afraid that we are missing two members of our troupe. The rules of Pictionary clearly state that the teams must remain intact all the way through the game, otherwise the outcome is ruled null and void. If you'll just entertain yourselves for a couple of minutes, I'll go and find them.'
I made this up of course, as I've read the rules of the popular drawing game many times. But as I've already mentioned, I hate to break a game up part-way through. My determination to find the missing team members had caused me to form a white lie, but, as I set of in search of the missing couple, I immediately regretted what I had said. What would happen, for example, if the vet checked the rules himself, and found out that I had been lying? It's not like I have a solid reputation within the village after the events of previous months. All my guests had only shown up at the insistence and persuasion of Dolores, who said she was trying to 'rehabilitate me into village life'. Another unsettling episode, so close to Christmas, was not something I relished.
I first of all turned right out of the living area, in the direction of the bedrooms. For those of you who don't know (which is the vast majority, I suspect), the Institute consists of series of linked pre-fabricated rooms, each of which can be dissasembled and transported at short notice to another location. The living area occupies the central portion of the construction, with the laboratories and offices in modules to one side, and bedrooms, bathroom and kitchen down the other side. Here, for the first time, I reveal the layout of the Institute in sketch format (not to scale).
Please note 1) that not all rooms and partitions are shown, and that 2) the art studio and exhibition centre lies in a separate building. This is where I produce and exhibit the art work that can be previewed on the McCrumble Art Gallery pages
You can use the diagram to help you visualise my search. First, as mentioned, I proceeded towards the bedrooms. There was no-one in either bedroom 1, 2 or 3. The ensuite bathroom was clear, as was the spare room and the second bathroom. Satisfied that the domestic quarters were unoccupied by the missing couple, I then proceeded back along the main axis of the Institute. The guests watched as I moved past the living area and towards the meeting room. I smiled and waved at them, but they didn't respond. Two guests, I noticed, were wearing coats.
I quickened my pace.
The meeting room was empty. The doors to lab 1 were locked and the lights were off, but I knew that McCavity had a key, so I couldn't exclude the possibility that they were inside. A quick sweep of the lab confirmed it was empty, so I proceeded into lab2. Clear. Office - clear. This just left the store cupboard. Pressing my ear to the door, I could hear nothing. But light was spilling out from underneath the door, which meant someone had been inside. For a moment I wondered whether to simply barge in as if I was looking for something and had not an inkling that someone was inside. But there was nothing in the store cupboard that I needed, so I decided to knock instead.
Still no reply.
No sound either. All that was left for me to do was open the door. If they were hiding inside, it would be pretty obvious what they were doing, and the embarrassment would be on them. But, when I opened the door and peeked inside, the cupboard was empty. In fact, the only sign that anything had been disturbed recently was a open pack of of test-tubes on the floor (on seeing these I made a mental note to admonish my technician for not replacing them in their designated shelf.)
I was now thoroughly confused. I had been looking out the Institute windows as I moved around, and hadn't seen either Chloe or McCavity anywhere outside. My thorough search of the Institute had drawn a blank. There was only one place left to search - The Art Studio and Exhibition centre.
Rather than risking the staring eyes of my guests in the living area, I took a short cut through the emergency exit next to the store cupboard. It was getting dark by now, so I knew that I wouldn't be seen as I trotted towards the art studio. When I reached the building a minute later, I first noticed that the entrance door was slightly ajar. I then noticed from shadows of the window frames on the grass that there was a weak light source somewhere inside. I pressed my face to the glass, but could see nothing.
Rather than risking a potentially embarrassing entrance through the front door, I walked round the the door to my studio. It was locked, but I always carry my keys so gaining access was no problem. Once inside, I moved quickly to the internal door and opened it just enough that I could see inside the studio.
There was someone there!
It was McCavity!
He was standing in the middle of the exhibition area holding a bottle of wine in one hand and a paintbrush in the other. I couldn't see past him, so I moved out of the office and stood a little further inside the exhibition area. Display boards partly obscured my view, but I could see what appeared to be the form of a woman, reclining on the couch in the centre of the exhibition space. She was making a sound, not unlike the braying of a new-born calf.
My curiostity piqued, I moved further forward. There was just one more display board to navigate. What greeted my eyes as I leant round the edge was something quite unexpected.
Chloe, the tight-jean wearing, hair tossing, sloppy kissing brunette, who thought I was a ghost hunter of some repute, was lying on the couch wearing nothing but a red santa-hat. In her right hand was one of the test-tubes missing from the box in the store room. What she was doing with the test-tube was...well, I'll leave that to your imagination.
McCavity, for his part in this bizarre spectacle, was painting her as she lay, er, panting. His brush flew over the canvas, and I guessed from the wild strokes that he was less interested in the quality of his artwork than the behaviour of his model.
I must have watched them for no more than a few...er, seconds, trying to work out what to do for the best and to avoid any embarassment, when I heard the familiar whirring noise of the security camera. I had the camera installed when the Art Studio was constructed, as it is often left unattended. Any movement within the studio is captured on film and images are transmitted back to some monitors in the....
Oh no. The sudden realisation of what was happening hit me like a sidewinder slamming into a wall of jelly. I staggered backwards as I saw the camera turning in my direction. All I could do was cover my face with my arms and retreat into the studio. I must have stayed there for five minutes, hiding under a desk, before I plucked up enough strength to evacuate myself from the building.
My only hope was that the guests were still in the living area. Any of them leaving whilst I was in the studio would have walked right past the monitor. I had to think fast....