Navya Kaipur sat in the staffroom -- a sizeable former kitchen that now housed a few scruffy couches, a fridge, lockers, and other “essentials” that Mr. Leybourne, owner of Willow Cross (who had, as of today, found himself at the centre of a scandal that would keep most of Staffordshire gossiping for weeks) had provided thinking that they would keep his workers satisfied. A coffee maker. A water cooler. An old ghettoblaster. A dish of faded potpourri that was probably older than she was.
While Willow Cross’ public areas were meticulously maintained, scrubbed, and polished by its overworked and underappreciated staff, the employees shared a neglected and rather shabby private space.
However, that didn’t mean it was underused. The spa colleagues -- largely female -- congregated there during breaks, and had to pass through the space to reach the utility room which housed washing machines, dryers, and the massive linen closet where spare bedding lived. And everyone had to help with the laundry: it was an enormous job. Leybourne had insisted that a commercial housekeeping service would be too costly, so he’d invested in three industrial-sized washers and dryers that were in constant use from morning till night. At the end of every shift, at least eight pairs of hands attacked mountains of clean tablecloths, napkins, sheets from the spa, pillowcases, sheets, and duvet covers.
Navya was currently sitting - collapsing, really - in an antique upholstered chair that once lived in the library, and trying to come to terms with what had turned out to be an insane weekend. She’d found herself in the middle of a mystery that concluded with a promotion she knew she could handle but was in no way anticipating. She sipped the tea she’d made for herself and was mustering up the energy to go home when Joyce and Samantha -- two of the housekeepers -- burst through the doors with a rolling basket full of bed linen and a welter of complaints.
The two women staggering with the weight of a room’s worth of pillowcases, duvets, sheets, towels and valances had worked at Willow Cross longer than almost anyone else. Both local villagers, Joyce--good natured, if prone to unsolicited advice--was entertained enough by the antics of the guests and staff, whereas Sam had worked at Willow Cross since she was 15 and made no secret of her desire to see the big world outside. Despite this, she’d hated every second of her single visit to London, confiding to Joyce that it was “overwhelming, overpriced and over fookin’ rated.” Navya liked them both, although they were strictly workmates.
At 55, Joyce had been in charge of Willow Cross’ linen cupboard so long she probably remembered when the staffroom pot pourri still smelled of lavender instead of dust. Sam, 30 years her junior, told anyone who’d listen that unlike Joyce, she was getting the fook out of Staffordshire as soon as she’d saved the train fare, and found the deposit for a flat, a decent job, a man, and a home for her seven rabbits. In other words, she’d be stripping beds, gossiping about the guests and cackling away with Joyce until the latter went to the great laundry room in the sky. Or at least, until Leybourne found a company mad (or desperate) enough to take on the housekeeping contract.
“Bloody hell, Navya! Congratulations, pet!”
Navya accepted Sam’s hug, as weary as she felt. “Thanks. Bit sudden. Haven’t a clue where to begin.”
“I always knew that Lillian was a sneaky little cow,” Joyce chimed in. “What a bloody mess. I’m hoping we’ll find a way to sort this. Can’t afford to be out of a job.” She frowned. “Not after all the bloody graft we’ve put in.”
Navya agreed. They had worked hard for the past few years to rescue Willow Cross, a local landmark and--more importantly--the biggest employer in their part of rural Staffs, from what appeared to be imminent death. Lillian had been talented, although no one liked the favouritism, and most of the staff felt greatly underappreciated. Navya knew Leybourne was far more interested in horses than people: he hardly knew their names, much less anything about his staff’s family circumstances or outside interests.
“We’ll be fine,” she said positively.
“Well, if anyone can manage this place properly, it’s you, love,” said Joyce. “You’ve got a good head on your shoulders. About time that silly bugger Leybourne took notice.”
“That’s nice of you. Thanks.”
“You’d better start by getting personal with the masseuses,” advised Sam cheekily. “You know. Test them out, get first-hand knowledge of, um, their hands. I hear James gives a really good toe job,” she mock-whispered.
The two ladies wheeled the laundry basket into the utility room and Navya took another sip of tea. The washer began to fill.
“God, I hate the fookin’ honeymoon suite,” said Sam. “We might as well bin these.”
“Blooming heck. It’s worse than I thought.”
“What is that? It’s on the pillow, too.”
“I’m not sure you want to know.”
“Oil? Bloody hell. It’s oil. What were they doing? Making a plate of chips up there?”
Navya’s eyebrows shot up. She wasn’t sure if she wanted to hear the rest of the conversation, but it was too late. Her interest was piqued.
“Shush now. Honeymooning couples are always a bit creative.”
“This isn’t creative, Joyce! This is obscene! This sheet is stuck to the pillow. God, I need gloves.”
A chuckle from Joyce. “Let’s just go through this whole pile.” There was the sound of the entire contents of the laundry basket hitting the floor, and the rustling of fabric. “Might have to spot treat these pillows.”
“I hate my job.”
“Me too, but it’s the only one we’ve got. Whoops, here’s some more. Might as well strip all the pillows, dear. This one’s fooked.”
“We’re going to have to do these twice.”
“Three times. Boil wash. With bleach.”
They were silent for a moment, when Sam’s voice cut through the sound of the washer filling.
“Oh my God! He must have gone off at least six times! And this is just one sheet - they went through three sets! One man couldn’t possibly do that in a weekend.”
Joyce laughed, loud and hearty. “One couldn’t. But two could! I’ll bet you a fiver we have had our first gay couple consummating their marriage. That would explain the abundance of oil. And the abundance of, um, semen. Whatever would the old fart upstairs think?”
“Probably nothing, unless they were doing it with a donkey. Then he might want to join in. Actually, there’s so much on these sheets they might as well have been. I’m surprised the ceiling’s still clean. It’s like an explosion in a sperm bank…”
“Maybe they were making up for lost time.”
“Bloody hell. Wait - did I see them?” Her voice took on a devious tone. “Were they fit?”
“Navya!” Sam marched out of the laundry room holding a sheet by her thumb and forefinger. It trailed behind her like a soiled wedding veil. “Who the fook was in the honeymoon suite this weekend?”
Navya did her best to look innocent. She shrugged her shoulders. “Didn’t really pay attention. Sorry.”
“Well, I’m binning this. Even if I could get the, you know what, off , that oil’s never coming out. Disgusting.”
“I know nothing,” Navya laughed.
Joyce popped her head into the staffroom as Sam stuffed the sheet into a bin bag. “This one’s got chocolate. And strawberry juice…. and perhaps (sniff)... champagne.” She disappeared back into the laundry room.
Sam groaned. “Fookin’ hell love, I hope it’s only chocolate.”
Navya felt her face heat. It appeared that whatever John Watson had referred to as “complicated” when she first met him Friday was apparently no longer complicated. It would only be a matter of time before the rest of the staff realised exactly who stayed in the honeymoon suite, and when they heard this juicy bit of gossip…
“That detective, Sherlock Holmes,” continued Sam as she twisted the top of the bag containing the offending sheets closed, “was here the whole time and you didn’t tell anyone! First a murder investigation, now a gay sex orgy.”
Joyce came in with an armful of clean napkins and dumped them on the table. “There. Two loads for all that. I can’t believe Sherlock Holmes was here the entire time. I’ve heard he’s nothing like Mr. Holmes. His brother, that is. The one with a stick up his arse. Holmes Junior is said to be brilliant too, but rude and nosy with it. His friend, though, Dr. Watson? Now he’s right nice. I’ve read his thing on the internet. ”
“Did you see them?” asked Sam.
“No. You? Nav?”
“I met them.” Navya grabbed a few napkins and folded, the action automatic now. “Dr. Watson was very polite. Kind. Fit.” She smiled. “And Mr. Holmes was…” She paused to find the right word. “Intense. Very observant.” And just imagining the two of them getting it on is making me feel a bit light-headed, she didn’t add.
“Well, if he were here now, I’d ask him who ruined the bed in the honeymoon suite. Whoever they were probably broke the bed springs too, for all I know. He’d know right away. Probably enjoy embarrassing someone, too.”
“Oh hush, Sam,” chided Joyce. “Love is love. I’m proud that old bed saw some real action. Whoever it was, I hope they come back and enjoy themselves. As for mysteries, though, I’m fine with Willow Cross remaining famous for nothing more scandalous than our spa and service.”
Navya tried not to think of Sherlock and John “enjoying themselves” and sighed. “Maybe a bit of a scandal is what this place needed, after all. Reception says the phone’s been ringing off the hook with new bookings all afternoon. Who knows?”
Joyce finished a stack of napkins, patted her lap, and stood up. “Well, ladies, I’m off. Got a grandson to babysit tonight. Don’t worry, Navya. This whole mess, well, you’ll see. It will all come out in the wash.”
Navya eyed the black bag full of linen, soiled with what was actually three orgasms’ (apiece) worth of Holmes/Watson DNA, a significant amount of sweat, a place where Sherlock had drooled in his sleep and another where he had drooled while not asleep, and three-quarters of a 250ml bottle of edible massage oil.
“Don’t count on it,” said Sam.