Chapter 1

I have only self-edited this chapter, and it is not professionally edited for errors and the like. The working tile of the book is going to change. As you can see, this is work in progress.

Please read and comment—thank you.

08:43 Monday, 3rd August 2015
Sometimes a moderate shock is a positive emotion. Well, perhaps not a shock, but at least somewhat of a change. For instance, my recent months resembled a monotony of insurance and marriage cases. Routine, improved only by a stray cat surveillance case, but that’s another story. A change was in order and a case without an insurance agency or a married partner trying to find their cheating spouse.
Dressed in a dark blue suit and light blue tie with my black leather shoes. The appointment was with Mrs Dobyfoster; the current owner of a Bucklebury estate in West Berkshire worth over twenty-million pounds.
I researched the Dobyfoster family history and learned she’s a widow with five daughters and one son. The Dobyfosters have a partnership with a clothes designer outlet in Paris, France. Parked my two-year-old white Ford Fiesta opposite the front door. An abundance of green bushes lived on the walls of the house. The branches followed wires, guiding their growth around the windows. Ten steps led to the front door, and I stepped up them two at a time. Reached the top and pressed the doorbell.
Half a minute passed, but the door opened presenting a woman in a black knee-length dress including a white-collar. A maid perchance?
“Welcome to Bucklebury House. How can we help you?” asked the woman.
“I’m Blake Logan, here to meet Mrs Dobyfoster at nine o’clock.”
A grin replaced her questioning gaze. “Please come in,” she said and opened the door wider. “You’re fifteen minutes early, but I’ll show you to Mrs Dobyfoster’s business assistant.” The lady escorted me through a laminate floored corridor to an office room containing another woman behind a desk in conversation on a telephone. My escort pointed at a stainless steel tubular artwork imitating a seat, and I parked myself. It felt comfortable as perching on pebble-stone riddled concrete steps. The maid twisted and exited the office.
A younger woman appeared. This one, I’d say in her early twenties, from the red t-shirt and denim shorts showing bare legs and feet. The young woman presented an enormous grin and developed a quizzical expression.
“Who are you?”
“I’m a veterinary surgeon. One cow here requires work.” Tilted my head sidewards. “Maybe.”
“You don’t look like a vet.”
“We clean up well for meetings don’t we!”
She spoke near my face and wore darker red hair than my own and hers styled in a Fantasy Princess hairstyle. Where mine’s also red but a bedhead hairstyle. Grinned at her, and she beamed back with a gaze in her eye, suggesting charm. She offered a parting wink and twisted, striding from the room.
I listened to this half of the assistant’s conversation. The phone conversation suggested a member of staff who hadn’t arrived for work. She’d asked the reason for their absence and what they were doing today.
“You’ll be back tomorrow for security? Hope the emergency dentist can help you with your broken teeth. Thanks for letting us know… Hmm… D’accord. I’ll see you tomorrow. Au revoir Greg.” She replaced the cordless phone into its charging module and wrote a sentence in a huge book and peered towards me. Raised from my stainless steel perch, and we introduced ourselves. This woman served as Mrs Dobyfoster’s business assistant. Naomi Lefèvre who spoke choppy English, but as a monolingual British person I’ve no problem as my French is basic. Her long brown hair, brown eyes and adorable tanned skin tone made me suspect she’d emigrated from the south of France.
She strode around her desk, heading for an adjoining room. A pen dropped, and I spotted it bounce on the floor and roll beneath the table. Naomi didn’t appear to notice, so leaned downward and raised my voice, “Excuse me. You’ve dropped your pen, and it bounced under the desk.” Pointed to the pen’s location, “It’s under there.”
Naomi stopped and twisted towards me, placing a palm over her mouth. “Oh oui, suis-je bête, always dropping stuff. Merci.”
We both bent downwards to retrieve the pen, and our heads knocked together. I inhaled her perfume; a marvellous smell and our eyes met. I raised away and apologised. She offered more excuses and shifted away, knocking twice on the two-door room before entering.
Organised my notebook for the imminent meeting, I heard the assistant reopen the door to the room, gesturing her arm outwards.
“Come and meet with Madame Dobyfoster.”
“Yes, of course.” I raised from the uncomfortable seat and followed her into a large living-room.
Naomi introduced me by name and role, then stepped backwards, leaving the room and closing the door in front of herself.
The older lady didn’t move while sitting in a wheelchair, and her legs were in casts. In her lap sat a miniature dog; a Papillon which resembled a miniature version of Lassie, the famous Rough Collie dog. She asked me to sit upon the long leather sofa opposite her and a coffee table. The dog barked at me and hopped off her knee onto the couch where I sat. I offered my hand for the dog to smell, and she licked my fingers with her tongue.
“Ophelia, come back here,” shouted Mrs Dobyfoster as she clapped her hands. The dog turned to face its owner and leapt off the sofa and back onto her knees. “When I hire a private detective, they do what I want, ok? What do you charge per day?”
“Depends on what you wish me to do.”
“Why should you care, as private detectives do many dirty jobs, don’t you? Anything I want you to do as I’m paying for your time!”
“How did you find my contact details?”
“A longtime friend here in Berkshire supplied your details, and he works for a large insurance company for whom you had worked.”
“I require an eight-hundred pounds retainer from individuals I don’t know because they might not live long.”
A frown showed on her face. “Do any of your clients die?”
Stared at her and said, “Not if they treat me with respect and understanding.”
A grin spread across her face. “Okay, eight-hundred pounds.” Placed her hands around Ophelia’s body. “Mr Logan, tell me about yourself as I understand you’ve completed investigative work for an insurance company.”
“I’m thirty-three years of age and started at a university with the Royal Navy. Moved my way up to sub-lieutenant of a frigate. The ship suffered a fire killing half the crew members, and I received third-degree burns myself and resigned.”
A pout appeared on Mrs Dobyfoster’s face, and she reached for a coffee cup. Ophelia didn’t understand the movement and attempted to leap off her knees, but halted after a hand grasped her collar.
“I moved house to Thatcham working for Pine Investigations Ltd. helping them discover false claims.” As the steel chair had imprinted itself into my back-side, I needed to adjust my sitting position. “I’ve completed my two thousand hours of assisted investigatory work. Picked up a private investigator’s licence and have run my own business for three years.”
Mrs Dobyfoster’s eyes rolled and began chronic coughing for half a minute. The dog stood twisting its head, staring at the owner. Her shoulder-length white hair contained remnants of faded curls. She presented pale white skin; dressed in a thick blue buttoned cardigan and a dark blue skirt. Both legs wore plaster casts displaying her red toenail polished toes.
The older lady glanced at Ophelia, and towards me. “Ok, Mr Logan, forgive my cough.” Mrs Dobyfoster reached over to the coffee table for the syrup and spooned the medicine into her mouth.
“Don’t worry, I understand Mrs Dobyfoster.”
“You may call me Wendy as I’m sure we’ll come to appreciate each other.”
“Thank you, and I’m Blake.”
“I’ve brought you here because I’ve had a South African Krugerrand gold coin stolen and I’m sure who’s removed the coin. She’s in a relationship with my daughter so I don’t want anybody arrested.” Pulling a face, she coughed.
“So they live here, on your estate in Bucklebury House?”
“Not together, yet my youngest daughter Justine stays here and is in a relationship with an older woman who lives in Reading—Margaret Simpson. She has a betting habit on horses and loses, so suffers a debt.”
“So?”
“I sure she stole the coin to fund the betting.”
“Must speak with Margaret and Justine for more information.”
Mrs Dobyfoster raised her voice in response, “Well, I don’t think it’s our Jussy! That bloody Simpson took the coin and I want it back. I’m so glad lesbians find it tougher to marry than a heterosexual couple.”
“You understand I’m not opposed to differing sexualities,” I said and glared her in the eye.
“Can I trust you to help my daughter?” Wendy asked, adding a cough.
“Yes, I’m professional in my job and respect all my clients.” Relaxed back into the chair and gave a huge sigh. “Do you have a photograph of Justine and Margaret Simpson?”
“Oh, a picture—I have one here.” She reached across to a desk drawer and slid it open. Moved folders around and found a picture. “There’s them both, and Jussy’s on the right.”
“The other lady must be Margaret Simpson?” I felt sick as I recalled the woman from an earlier case, but didn’t identify her as Margaret Simpson, but as Lisbeth Jones.
Wendy answered, “Yes, it’s not a well-focused photo, but acceptable, and only two people in the picture.”
Enquired further, so I hadn’t confused the identity. “Do you have any closer photos?”
“We’ve several and I’ll ask Naomi to bring in the laptop as we’ve more digital photos on the web.” She pressed a button. “You recognise Margaret?”
My expression might 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.”
She coughed again, hard. Thought she was choking, but placed her handkerchief to her mouth and stopped. Swung my right leg over my knee. “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 meetings outside their marriage. Expected the case to come to life as Lisbeth was inventive and exciting with her behaviour. Although, she hadn’t completed unlawful actions while under my surveillance.
Wendy continued, “You recognise this Margaret?”
“Need a clearer photo as people often mistake photos for other people.”
Seconds later Naomi the assistant knocked on the door and entered the living room.
“Can you bring the laptop so I can show Mr Logan the holiday photos of our Jussy and that Simpson?”
Naomi grinned and stepped backwards into the office, and within thirty seconds she returned to the room and handed Wendy a fifteen-inch sized laptop.
The screen lit up as she raised the lid. While using the mouse pad, Wendy said, “I’ll find the photos so you can view Margaret better.” She turned the laptop around in my direction. “There… A clearer and closer picture of Margaret.” She screwed her face up and held the handkerchief to her lips, into which she coughed and spit.
Stared closer at the laptop photo and thought it was Lisbeth Jones, but needed more information as I haven’t seen her in three years. “Ah, my mistake. It’s not who I thought.”
“All right, do your checking on this bloody Simpson. As I’m sure she’s taken the coin.”
“Okay, I’ll work on your matters.”
“Mr Logan, may I examine at your detective licence and what might you want for your daily salary?”
“Yes.” I reached into my jacket 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 eighty-five pence per mile.”
“Oh, expensive—what expenses? I need an expert to make this matter settled.”
“Don’t worry, as I’ve a large force at my disposal.” Smiled and adjusted my seat for more comfort. “I work alone, but you can hire private investigators at lower prices. I’m one woman working on one case at a time and don’t work twenty-four hours a day. Occasionally I bend several laws, but they’ll always be bent in my client’s favour. I do my best for my clients. Expenses come up every so often, so I’ll have receipts and an itemised printout for your approval. But, if Margaret Simpson hasn’t stolen the coin, so my contract ends, and it’s the Police’s job.”
My mobile phone picked this moment to chirp a text message. It was; ‘Need the camera back. I hope you haven’t broken it as it’s expensive—Carla.’ “Sorry, received a text, but I’ll respond to it later.” Replaced the phone to my pocket and continued. “Wendy, does your daughter have any money of her own? I’m not familiar with your family, so could you advise me?”
“My four youngest 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.”
A large grin appeared on my face at the thought of horse riding.
She 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, and that’s my family.”
“A large family, a son and five daughters.”
Wendy continued with her displeasure. “Jussy who still lives here is starting a restaurant with this Simpson in Reading town centre. Have my suspicions in the restaurant as it will be an Italian food place. My husband, George, died because of a car crash seven years ago now.”
“Thank you for the summary. Can you supply me more information on the coin?”
“Late last week the jeweller who sold us the coin phoned me, and he’s called Christopher Hall-Brooks at Harveys the jewellers. He asked if I’d consider selling the coin. It’s unusual to have a jeweller phone and ask to purchase jewellery. Told him no and ended the phone call. After the call, I asked one of my security officers to inspect the coin and they reported it missing. Mr Logan, bring back my Krugerrand coin, and safeguard Justine, won’t you?”
“Okay, I’ll find your coin, but do you have an address for the jewellers?”
“My assistant, Naomi can supply you the details.” Wendy presented half a grin. “Thank you, Mr Logan.”
“Are the jewellery and coin fittings locked, and who gains access?”
“Our 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 the keys for the estate in a key-lock cupboard.”
“Who has access?”
“The key-lock cupboard has the keys for the 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 guard is Gregory Mathews, but he’s absent at this point.”
“Okay, may I see the showroom and the estate key-lock cupboard?”
“I could have my maid show you the room upstairs and the cupboard.”
This case differs from my usual insurance surveillance or marriage partners going off the rails. Part of me expected meeting this Margaret whom I’m sure is Lisbeth Jones, but she won’t recognise me as we never met. I only performed surveillance on her for the husband.

 

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