فصل 02

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فصل 02

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CHAPTER TWO

Something Is Missing

Jonathan! Yes, Jonathan! Elvira remembered that last time in Cambridge when he’d invited her to the May Ball at St. John’s College. She’d had no idea what it would be like. Her brother, Giles, had simply said that a friend of his needed a female - “female!” - to accompany him. But it had turned out to be a very fun evening, the atmosphere, the lawns, and everything! Lots of dancing, even more champagne and so many young men (well, boys, really) and women (or were they just females?) - plus a few older ones (real men and women!) - celebrating the end of their studies and the glorious perspective of what the future held. Oh, how they’d talked and speculated about becoming Masters of the Universe with some investment bank or other - or, failing that, well, at least the Prime Minister! We’re made for life - the world is at our feet! They’d danced and joked and made witty remarks and everything had been so romantic. No, one moment, not quite as romantic as Jonathan had hoped, but at least he’d behaved like a gentleman. And now? A telephone call after 12 years? Elvira was curious to discover what Jonathan really wanted.

She rang the bell. A crackle on the intercom, “Hello, who’s there?” The voice was the one she remembered. Deep, even fruity, with those perfectly modulated vowels and intonation that signified private education and family wealth originating from some forebear who had made his fortune in India, Africa or wherever. Who cares? Elvira pushed open the door and marched up to the third floor, her crocodile leather boots resounding on the steps of the art-deco staircase. He hasn’t changed, has he! Money oozing out of his… Elvira! Stop this now! But why had he rung up for an appointment? Questions - memories - and more questions. We’ll soon find out! The front door was open.

“Elvira! My God, you look better than ever…!”

“Jonathan, how are you, darling?” The hypocrisy dripped off her tongue, as she offered her cheeks for the ritual peck. Christ, she thought, I did this almost every week only twelve or so years ago, just to get invited to a cocktail party or an evening out at the Garden House Hotel. But I’ve moved on - I’ve found my niche in life - I’m a successful investigator in the insurance business. Despite being a female!

Jonathan, as suave as ever, swept her into the flat, which was exquisitely decorated. Low lighting, a few interesting prints and lithographs. She liked the coloring. Pastel shades that reminded one of Tuscany or the South of France. Things fitted! Jonathan obviously had taste. Several doors were closed, but they could, possibly, lead into other rooms that harbored more vistas and treasures. Let’s wait and see! Notting Hill, the seedy, run-down district which in the late fifties had witnessed such awful riots, had certainly come up in the world.

“Jon, what a marvelous flat!” Elvira winced at her hypocrisy. “It’s absolutely stunning.” The word “absolutely” was split into four syllables and breathed rather than spoken. Elvira had learned, at a fairly early age, what was expected of her.

Jonathan put a finger to his lips, ushered her into the living room and pointed to an armchair.

“Take a seat, Elvira. And stop pretending that Cambridge and all that rubbish still means anything. I think, since then, we’ve both grown up a little. By the way, how’s Giles doing?”

“Oh, Giles!” sighed Elvira. “He’s been all over the place. Middle East, Far East, Venezuela, West Africa - you name it, he’s been there. But that’s what happens if all you want to do in life is find oil. The last time I saw him must have been about four years ago. Some big joint venture with a Russian company. He sends an email every Christmas, though.”

Jonathan gestured again towards the armchair.

“Can I get you a drink, by the way - it’s awfully good of you to come at such short notice.”

“I could murder a gin and tonic - with lots of ice, if you’ve got any.”

Of course he’d have plenty of ice. Jonathan was the sort of person who had plenty of everything. Elvira had heard somewhere or other that Jonathan - Jon - had come into a fortune after his parents had died. Hadn’t there been a car crash? Some awful accident, anyway.

Jonathan brought the drinks and sat down.

“And what about you, Elvira? What have you been up to since we last saw each other? Giles said you’d gone into insurance - that’s how I managed to trace you. Quite a fluke, actually.”

Elvira checked for a moment. Her landline was ex-directory and her mobile number was known only to a handful of friends. How had he found her? Save that for later!

“Well, after you and Giles had gone down, I decided to apply for a secretarial course in Cambridge. That May Ball you invited me to made quite an impression, you know - in more ways than one.”

Jonathan nodded slowly, as he remembered his rather brash suggestion that they should go back to his room and change into something a little more comfortable.

“Yes, I’m sorry about that. It was a little over the top - after all, we’d only just met. Let’s just say that I got carried away by the…”

“…atmosphere?” suggested Elvira. “Oh, no need to apologize, Jon. I just happened to have led a fairly sheltered existence - but let bygones be bygones. When I finished my course, I came to London, temped for a while and then struck it lucky. Redfearns was looking for a personal assistant for their insurance claims boss and I managed to fit the bill. Actually, I think it was my boots that impressed him at the interview.”

Elvira pointed to the crocodile leather boots she was wearing, as she slowly revolved her right foot.

“Yes,” drawled Jonathan. “It’s quite obvious that boots and insurance go together like a horse and carriage.”

Elvira looked a little perplexed.

“I’m not quite sure I get that, Jon. Anyway, when Mr Brown had stopped staring at my legs, I simply told him that these boots were made for working, not walking - and he gave me the job on the spot. And now, darling”, Elvira drew out the word and flicked her long, red hair back for theatrical effect, “now, I’m working as an investigator for Redfearns Insurance Inc.”

Jonathan stood up, raised his glass and said in a very pompous tone, “Well, Ms Elliot. Allow me to congratulate you on your meteoric success - and myself on having contacted exactly the right person for the job!”

They both clinked their glasses. He’s quite ironic, thought Elvira. She’s quite bright, thought Jonathan. He sat down again and suddenly became more serious.

“Now, let me tell you about my circumstances and why I contacted you.”

After half an hour, Jonathan had told Elvira everything about his time since Cambridge. How he had drifted into interior design, how he had set up a company advising the “good and the great” on property acquisition, the right areas to buy property, and how his parents had died in an awful traffic accident on the M1. He had inherited “a good deal of money” and his business was thriving. Recently, his great aunt, Mary Bruton, had died. She’d been the younger sister of his grandmother, married to Charles Bruton, a successful businessman. They had lived in Challingstead, had had no children and so he, Jonathan, was the sole beneficiary of Mary Bruton’s will. He had attended the funeral, had talked to the vicar, a Reverend Jenkins, and Mrs Smith, the house-help. The vicar had shown him a beautifully illustrated German bible that Mrs Bruton had donated to the church. So far, so good.

“Yes, but Jon,” said Elvira, having accepted another gin and tonic. “What’s all this got to do with me?”

Jonathan went into another room, returning with a bulky file. He retrieved one document and waved it in front of Elvira.

“This is an inventory of several books, first editions, old manuscripts and so on, that had been in the Bruton family for years.”

Elvira felt a faint twitching of her nose. He wants me to value them. He wants to find out what the insurance premium will be. Not my department, I’m afraid!

“Jon, you really need some advice from our values. I can put you in touch with a real expert.”

“No, Elvira! That’s not the actual problem, although I do need to know how much they’re worth. You see, these books and manuscripts are missing! I’ve been through everything with Mrs Smith. She even remembers where the books were kept! The cabinet was open, the keys were in the lock - but the books and so on weren’t. There’s something very odd about the whole thing.”

Elvira felt her nose twitching again, a little more than before. Could Mrs Smith have “appropriated” the books after Mary Bruton died? Or the vicar - what was his name again - Jenkins?

“Jon, remind me. How did your aunt die?”

“She fell down the stairs. Mrs Smith found her the day after. The death certificate states that her neck was broken. Died instantly.”

“And you inspected the house and belongings shortly afterwards?”

Jonathan nodded. “Yup”, he said, “I had a big project on, so I couldn’t travel down to Challingstead Hall until a few days later. Let’s see, the funeral was 1Oth April and we did the inventory the following weekend, 19th April.”

“But surely you don’t suspect Mrs Smith or the vicar of stealing!” Jonathan dismissed the suggestion with a wave of the hand. “Impossible. I’m absolutely sure that Mrs Smith can be relied upon. If she’d wanted to steal anything from the house she could have taken it any time. She’s had the keys for the last few years - and the vicar? Why would he show me the bible that Aunt Mary had donated to the church? A thief doesn’t draw suspicion on himself deliberately, does he?” Elvira frowned. There was indeed something odd. She drew a deep breath, inspected her boots at length and then made a suggestion. “Jon, I know someone who can solve this problem - but he’s not from my company. He’s from another company located near Whitehall.” Jonathan looked at her, almost in the same way that he had done twelve years or so before. Half-expectantly, half-hopefully.

“I knew you’d come up with something, Elvira. What’s his name?” Elvira wriggled a little in the armchair, looked out the window and said, perhaps a little too dramatically, “Hudson. Inspector James Hudson of Scotland Yard.”

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