Chapter 1

Please read and comment—thank you.

08:57 Monday, 3rd August 2015

Sometimes a moderate shock is a positive emotion. Well, perhaps not a shock, but at least some change. For instance, my recent months followed the boredom of insurance and marriage cases. An interesting variation was in order, such as a case without an insurance firm or a married partner tracking their cheating spouse.

I dressed formally—a dark blue suit and red tie with my black leather shoes for my appointment with Mr Dobyfoster. To use his full title, as they’d awarded him an Order of the British Empire in 1988, Mr William Dobyfoster, O.B.E. He owns a sizable Bucklebury estate in West Berkshire worth over twenty-million pounds.

Before my arrival, I’d researched the Dobyfoster family history and learned he’s a widower with five daughters and one son. The Dobyfosters have a partnership with a clothes designer company in Paris, France.

I stood in his living-room. The older man, sitting in a wheelchair, didn’t move and his legs were in casts. In his lap was a miniature dog; a Papillon which resembled a small version of Lassie, the famous Rough Collie dog. Mr Dobyfoster directed me to sit upon the four seat leather sofa opposite him and a glass topped coffee table. The dog barked at me and hopped off his knee onto the couch beside me. The tiny dog sniffed my hand, growled, and licked my fingers. Spiky pearl white teeth were visible.

“Ophelia, back here,” yelled Mr Dobyfoster as he clapped his hands. The Papillon spun to stare at her owner and leapt from the sofa onto his knees. Mr Dobyfoster’s face scowled. “I’ve worked in London and Paris in fashion designing for twenty-eight,” and he raised his hand and pointed a pale white bony index finger at me. “Point-three years. And, in that time I’ve developed immense business sense and the recognition for financial signs of failure.”

Point-three of a year?… Interesting, it can’t be months, as there’s twelve months a year. Neither weeks, as there’s fifty-two weeks. So it must be days, so three-hundred and sixty-five point-two-five days in a year, including leap years. Naught point-three of a year is one-hundred and nine-point five-seven-five days. Wow, impressive, as he’s minute perfect.

“When I hire a private detective, they work for me, okay! What do you charge per day?”

“My charges reflect what you wish me to do, as there’s time, mileage for driving and receipted expenses. But, how did you find my contact details?”

“A long-time friend here in West Berkshire supplied your details, as he works for the same insurance company for whom you worked, three years ago.”

“An eight-hundred pounds retainer I expect from clients.”

A frown appeared on his wrinkly face. “That’s a fair cost, I guess, but I hope you’ll find quick answers to my questions?”

“I’m used to varying conditions in my working cases, and I’ll find your answers and present them in a final full case report.”

A smirk spread across his face. “Okay, eight-hundred pounds.” He cupped his hands around Ophelia’s body. “Mr Logan, tell me about yourself as I realise you’ve completed investigative work for an insurance company.”

“Castleford in Yorkshire is my hometown, but I started work at the University of Portsmouth, with the Royal Navy. After six years I rose my way to sub-lieutenant on board a frigate. The ship suffered a fire, killing a quarter of its crew, and I received third-degree burns myself. After recovery and managing a team to figure out the cause, I resigned.”

A pout appeared on Mr Dobyfoster’s face, and he reached for a coffee cup. Ophelia attempted to leap off his knees, but halted after her owner’s hand grasped the collar.

“Employment forced me to move house to Thatcham to work for Pine Investigations Ltd. as you know, helping them detect false insurance claims.”

Sitting uncomfortably, I adjusted my seating position. “I’ve completed my two thousand hours of assisted investigatory work and picked up a private investigator’s licence. My business in Newbury has been running for three years.”

Mr Dobyfoster’s eyes rolled, and he began chronic coughing while both legs in plaster casts struck together, exposing his short toes. The dog stood twisting her head, staring at her owner. The receding silver hair of Mr Dobyfoster contained remnants of a faded quiff. He presented fairly healthy pink skin; dressed in a thick red and blue squared wool shirt and baggy shorts.

The old man glanced at Ophelia and stared back towards me. “Mr Logan, forgive my cough as I’m allergic to something around here.” He reached over to the coffee table for the bottle of Bailey’s Original Irish Cream and poured two shots’ worth into his coffee cup.

“Don’t worry, I understand, Mr Dobyfoster.”

“You may call me William as I’m positive we’ll grow to recognise each other.”

“Thank you, and I’m Blake.”

William Dobyfoster reclined in his seat and cupped hold of Ophelia’s miniature body. “I’ve brought you here because last Tuesday my 1968 Krugerrand gold coin disappeared, and I demand its return.”

“Ah, you’ll find the police helpful for robberies.”

“That’s my issue, as there were no break-ins or alarms triggered. On contact with the police they suggested it must have been one of my family members or house staff.”

“Don’t you have surveillance cameras in your large home?”

“We do, out on the grounds, but inside our home is too personal for my tastes.”

“Okay, how many house staff do you have, and do all your children still live here?”

“In terms of my children, my youngest daughter, Jussy and Rich, my son, still live with me.”

“Is there a prominent suspect?”

“I have an idea. It’s only an assumption, but my assumptions are more than likely wrong every single time.” Mr Dobyfoster wore an old style aviator spectacles with thick glass lenses, and he straightened them and peered at me. “My daughter is in a relationship with another woman, but I just demand my coin’s return,” he said, and sipped his alcoholic coffee.

“So they live here in Bucklebury House?” I asked, and swung my pointed index finger around.

Mr Dobyfoster replaced his coffee cup on the table. “Not together, as Justine stays here,” he said, and lowered his eyebrows. “With a dowdy trollop, named Margaret Simpson, who lives in Reading. She’s addicted to betting on horses and loses, landing herself in debt, most of the time.”

“So?” I asked and scribbled the names in my notepad.

“Well, I’m positive she stole the coin to fund the wagering.”

“Haven’t you spoken with her as it’s been over a weekend?”

“Yesterday I called for a family discussion and no one knew anything concerning the missing coin. Jussy and Simpson are absent for many weekends, I’m sure drinking and betting their money away.”

“The best course of action, in this case, is for me to speak with Margaret and Justine for further intel.”

Mr Dobyfoster raised his voice in response, “That bloody Simpson took my coin and I want it back.” He slammed his fist into the wheelchair’s arm. “The thought of my daughter adding a lesbian marriage to our family tree is unforgivable.”

Ophelia stood in William’s lap, gazing upwards at her owner and twisting her head sideways.

“You understand, I’m not opposed to differing sexualities,” I said and glared him in the eye.

“Very well. Can I trust you to support our Jussy?”

“Yes, I play a professional role in my career and respect my client’s privacy,” I announced. “Do you have a photograph of Justine and Margaret?”

“Yes, Justine stays in the house at present. A picture—I have one here somewhere.” He reached across to a desk drawer and slid it open, moving folders around, and located a photograph. “There’s the two girls, and our Jussy’s on the right.”

Justine wore hair in a tomboy classic style, a darker red than mine. “The other lady must be Margaret Simpson?” My stomach turned over as I recalled the woman from an earlier case, but I didn’t know her as Margaret Simpson, but as Lisbeth Jones.

“Yes, it’s not a well-focused photo. Anyway, only my daughter and Margaret are in the frame.”

“Do you have any closer focused photos?”

“We’ve several digital photos on the web.” He pressed a blue button on the desktop. “Why, you recognise this Simpson?”

My expression must have shown the fact I recognised her. “How old is this photo?”

“It’s from late last year. The two girls flew abroad on holiday together.” He coughed again, hard, and I thought he was choking, however he placed his handkerchief over his mouth and spat.

“It’s a year old?” If Margaret were Lisbeth Jones, the same Lisbeth with whom I’d conducted surveillance, and my client suspected she’d maintained illicit relations outside their marriage, I expected the case to be colourful, as Lisbeth was a complex woman. Although she hadn’t committed unlawful actions or indulged in any extra-marital affairs while under my surveillance.

William continued, “You recognise that bleeding Simpson. Up to no good, was she?”

“I need a clearer photo, as people often mistake photos for other people.”

Seconds later, a tanned woman in a business suit knocked on the door and entered the living-room.

“Will you bring me the laptop so I can show Mr Logan the holiday photos of our Jussy and that Simpson?”

“Au oui,” she said and nodded her head as she stepped backwards, closing both doors. Within thirty seconds, she returned and handed William a fifteen-inch laptop.

The screen lit as he raised the lid. While using the mouse pad, he said, “I’ll find the photos so you may view Margaret better.” He twisted the laptop around in my direction. “There… a closer picture of that Simpson.” He screwed his face up and held a handkerchief to his lips, into which he coughed.

I stared closer at the laptop photo and recognised Lisbeth Jones, but needed more intelligence as I hadn’t seen her in two-and-a-half years. “Ah, my mistake. Sorry, it’s not who I thought.”

“All right, do your checking on this ruddy Simpson, as I’m sure she’s removed the coin.”

“Okay, I’ll work on your matters.”

“Oh, by the way Mr Logan, may I study your detective licence, and what might you want for your daily salary?”

“Yes, certainly.” I reached into my jacket inner pocket and handed over my licence. “I’ve a rate of eighty-five pounds an hour for a minimum of five hours, also any expenses incurred. My car is ninety-five pence per mile.”

“That’s expensive—and what expenses? I need an expert on this matter to have it settled without the media.”

“Don’t worry, I’ve plenty of understanding at my disposal.” I grinned and adjusted my seating position again.

“You can hire multiple private investigators at lower prices, because I work alone, one case at a time, and don’t work twenty-four hours a day. On the odd occasion,” I tilted my head, “my clients receive my full support and a few favours I may provide. I try my best for my clients. Expenses pop up every so often, so I’ll keep receipts complete with an itemised printout for your approval at the end of my services.”

“Make sure you grab my coin from that Simpson.”

“But, if Margaret Simpson hasn’t stolen your coin, it may be another close member of your family, or estate staff.”

My mobile picked this moment to chirp a text message. Reaching into my jacket pocket, I discovered it read; ‘I need the camera returned by the weekend. Hope you haven’t broken it. It’s expensive—Kiara.’ “Sorry, it’s a text, but I’ll respond to it later.” I replaced the phone into my pocket. “William, does your daughter earn any money of her own? I’m not familiar with your family, so could you explain?”

“My four younger daughters receive an allowance. The oldest one lives in London with her husband and no-longer requires the aid. Only Jussy and my son live here, and Rich is in Reading giving horse riding lessons.”

An enormous grin must have appeared on my face at the thought of horse riding.

He glared at me. “The allowance is a backup for any unusual expense. Richard’s my only son, and he’s thirty years old.”

“Horses are fun, and I enjoy horse riding too.”

“Quite,” he rubbed his knees, “and that’s my children.”

“A large family, one son and five daughters.”

William’s frown returned. “Jussy who still lives here is starting a restaurant business with this Simpson in Reading town centre. I have my suspicions it’ll be an Italian-style restaurant. My wife, Georgina, died in a car crash seven years ago.”

“Thank you for the summary. Can you furnish me with more information on the coin?”

“Friday last week I contacted the jeweller, Christopher Hall-Brooks, who sold us the coin and owns Harveys the Jewellers. He assisted us, a few years ago, with acquiring the jewellery including display furniture. During the call he said he’d recently spoken with the seller of a coin, but he didn’t purchase it.” William sipped his coffee. His expression became puzzled. “It’s odd how he received a seller of the coin a day after mine went missing. Please find my Krugerrand coin, and safeguard our Jussy, won’t you?”

“Okay, I’ll find your coin, but do you have addresses for your family, staff members and the jewellers?”

“Naomi, my business assistant can provide you the details.” William offered an unconvincing smile. “Thank you, Mr Logan.”

“Are the jewellery fittings locked, and who gains access?”

“Our primary security guard isn’t on site at the moment. There’s a showroom upstairs where I keep the jewellery in wooden display frames on the wall and the coins in display drawers. The room’s locked, as are the drawers, with a separate key. We keep keys for the full estate in a key-lock cupboard.”

“Who gains access?”

“The cupboard carries the keys for the entire estate, so all staff members and my family have access.”

“Who’s the chief security guard on site?”

“We have three guards over the twenty-four hours of a day. This morning’s chief guard is Gregory Mathews, but he’s absent at this point. Both of us fell off horses, and I broke my legs, but he broke his front teeth.”

“That’s bad luck, so may I visit the showroom and the estate key-lock cupboard?”

“I’ll have my maid show you the room upstairs and the key locker.”

This case differed from my usual insurance surveillance or marriage partners going off the rails, type. Part of me expected meeting this Margaret, who I felt sure was Lisbeth Jones. She won’t recognise me as we had never met in person. Mobile surveillance over a month’s duration had supplied my client with his requirements.

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