Author’s Note: Because of a number of unforeseen circumstances, the publication of my next book, A Deception in Denmark, will be delayed until late next winter or early spring. Therefore to keep my readers interested, here is a snippet of how Elspeth Duff got hired by Lord Kennington.
At the Kennington Beverley Hills
Elspeth Duff turned toward her ex-client and ‘Hollywood friend’.
“I can’t possibly!” she said, letting her American accent slip at Irene Butler’s suggestion.
She called this type of acquaintance a ‘Hollywood friend’ because they tended to be people who followed the rich and famous. But Irene had been steadfast when Elspeth had walked out on her husband, Alistair Craig, and sought temporary refuge at Irene’s home in Pasadena.
“Now don’t turn parsimonious on me, Elspeth. I will pay for it.”
“No, no, you needn’t. I’m not short of funds.”
“Paying all that money for a hotel room strikes at the heart of my Scottish soul. How much did you say it was a night?”
“Dollars? That’s outrageous! How could any hotel room be worth that much?”
“I insist to go and see. Right now, you need to pamper yourself—big time. Aren’t you worth it?”
“I don’t feel worth much right now. I need time to gather myself together and figure out what next in my life. I‘ve planned to leave Alistair for a long time, but I thought more about the actual event than what I should do afterwards.”
“Then staying a week at a Kennington hotel will sooth you and give you time to make some plans. You’ll love it.”
Elspeth looked askance at Irene.
“I really do insist!” Irene said. Her eyes were fierce under her rhinestone-studded glasses.
The Kennington Beverley Hills was not what Elspeth had expected. Housed in an early twentieth century Art Deco building, its understated glamour was the antithesis of the ultra-modern hotels of the day. She felt she had stepped back seventy-five years into the Roaring Twenties, but when shown her room, she found all the luxuries and conveniences of the late twentieth century subtly hidden.
Irene fussed. “Now you see what I mean.”
“But . . .”
“No buts. I’ll pick you up next week.”
Elspeth had left almost all she owned at her Hollywood home of twenty-three years. She had departed with her a hastily-packed suitcase with essential clothing, accessories, and cosmetics and had driven her old BMW convertible to Irene’s, but left it there when she began her week at the Kennington Beverly Hills hotel. Elspeth had resented the car ever since Alistair brought it home for her, as she knew it had previously been given to him by a star who had once been coached by him and may have had a closer relationship. He had become renowned as a fight and weapons film choreographer, although Elspeth considered that his success had consumed him to the detriment and final dissolution of their marriage.
She showered and changed and, deciding on an early dinner, made her way down to the lobby of the hotel. She ordered a sherry from the waiter from the bar and found a seat where she could watch the comings and goings of people checking in and out. Her eye caught a man who looked out of place, even though this conservative hotel was in Southern California, where being outré was the norm. He was dressed in a suit of European cut and his hair was styled in the Italian way, although when he spoke to the receptionist, he sounded Arabic or Iranian.
One of the men behind the concierge’s desk, left his position and came up to the man.
“May I be of service?”
“No, I’m fine.”
“May I help you find something?”
“No, please, leave me alone.”
Elspeth saw small beads of sweat forming on the man’s brow. He made a dash for the front door. Odd, she thought, but soon put the incident out of her mind and watched the procession of finely dressed people flow through the lobby. She already felt bored with all the luxury surrounding her and needed something to occupy her attention.
When Elspeth entered the dining room, she asked for a quiet table. She read through the menu displaying sumptuous British and Continental food, with a small section devoted to American specialities. Choosing her dinner and putting her menu a side, she was surprised when she spied the man she had seen in the lobby eating a table across the dining room. How had he returned to the hotel so quickly? She had not seen him come in the front door. His companion was a woman of a certain age, who looked uneasy at his company. Elspeth could not hear their conversation, but their body language spoke of wrongdoing. Elspeth had been trained in detection and recognised their awkward posturing as they spoke.
She could not take her eyes from the unlikely couple across the room. The woman was the grandmotherly type with tightly curled thinning white hair and arthritic hands, and he was dark-haired and olive-skinned with a prominent nose on which were perched trendy wireless glasses. He ate in the European style and she in the American one. They finished their meal in silence. He rose with a slight bow. She swallowed visibly and pushed a small black purse across the table. At her gesture, he looked about, possible to see if he was being watch. Elspeth lowered her eyes to avoid his gaze, but when she looked up, he and the purse were both gone. The woman rose shortly afterwards and, using her cane, made her way to the lobby and the lift. Elspeth followed, slipping into the lift just as the doors were closing.
“Lovely hotel, isn’t it,” Elspeth said in her native Queen’s English.
The woman frowned.
“Do you stay here often?”
She did not answer, but clutched her handbag protectively to her body, as if needing it as a shield to protect herself.
I hardly look like a miscreant, Elspeth thought. Her clothes were exquisite and classical in cut, her main vanity being her tailored attire. She looked the part of a well-bred British woman, which she was despite her many years in California.
The doors parted and Elspeth got off at her floor. The woman stood silently, glaring at Elspeth before rising to a level above.
The woman did not appear at dinner the next day, but on the following one, she was sitting at the same table she had occupied two nights before. She rose and indicated to the waiter that she would return shortly. After she had gone, another man, this one distinctly middle-eastern, rose from a table nearby. Unlike the first man he did not sit down at the woman’s table, but merely took the envelope which the woman had placed beside her cutlery and tucked it under his robes. He evaded the waiter and then was gone. The woman returned to her table, smiled when she saw the envelope was missing and picked up her menu.
A variation on this theme followed the next day as well. The woman was edgy each time. To Elspeth’s trained eye, some sort of skulduggery was happening. Blackmail? Rich women who stayed at upscale hotels were prone to this. But how could she prove it. Because she had been trained as a private eye, she decided to find out what was behind the mysterious exchanges in the dining room. Surveillance might prove productive.
The next morning, Elspeth found a chair in the lobby and waited for the woman, who appeared an hour later. Glancing in both directions, she came out of the lift carrying what looked like a hatbox, a strange object in the mid-nineteen nineties. Elspeth remained seated, hidden behind the morning Los Angeles Times. When the woman slipped outside, Elspeth put down the paper and followed her. She stayed well behind but within visual distance. The woman stopped several times and looked round. To remain unnoticed, Elspeth once took unusual interest a flyer displayed on a restaurant door and another time patted a passing dog while smiling at the owner. The woman hurried on and crossed the street as the crosswalk signal had turned red. Elspeth saw the woman go in a doorway midway down the street beyond, but its sign, if it had one, was obscured by another. Elspeth had no choice but to hasten once the traffic light changed in her favour and try to find the woman, but she had disappeared. Elspeth found a bench nearby to wait for the woman to emerge from one of the shops, but she did not.
Resigned, Elspeth returned to the hotel and resumed reading the newspaper. A half hour later, the woman walked into the hotel but was not carrying the hatbox. She went to the desk and asked if anything had been left for her. The receptionist handed her a package in a UPS box.
“This came for you.”
“There wasn’t one yesterday, like there always is,” the receptionist said.
“I know. It’s all right.”
She tucked the package under her arm and took the elevator.
Elspeth’s interest was now more peaked than before. She returned to the street and slowly went from shop to shop, doorway to doorway. Then she saw it. A small sign offering cash for gold and jewellery. The woman must have sold whatever was in the hatbox! And one of the men would return that night for the money, minus the woman’s percentage of course. The woman must be aiding in a laundering money scheme. The goods, some of which were being delivered by the parcel service, must have been of great value if she could afford to stay at the Kennington Beverley Hills, and no one would suspect her because of her age and demeanour.
After watching the woman for two more days, Elspeth went to the manager of the hotel to report the crime being committed on their premises. Lord Kennington called her the following Monday, gave his grateful thanks and told her he had an opening on his security staff. Would she consider it?
She flew to London several days later, her future now opening to her.