The Ashford Stone residence was less palatial than Amy had expected. It was a large house in a neighbourhood of the city from a time when ‘middle class’ had meant more than being comfortable enough to live in a small house that one could call ones own in thirty years, as long as no ones job got out-sourced into a developing nation.
It was a house with ambition. Enough space to house a family set in the middle of grounds large enough to let the kids play and roam while leaving enough space to one day maybe house a pool when the kids had grown up.
Franklin had insisted of taking Amy there personally. He did not want to take any risks. On the way there Amy had started considering if he was pretty enough to forgive him his disappointing lack of depth. When ever she was starting to get exasperated, she looked at him and got distracted by something.
He was now leading the way, now that he was back on familiar territory he had regained some very attractive confidence. He opened the door for her inviting her in.
If the house did not advertise the wealth of its owner on the out side it certainly would not start to do so on the inside. It was far to refine for that sort of vulgarity. It was a warm comfortable place full of wooden furniture and earth colours creating a deeply comfortable atmosphere. The place radiate a elf assured wealth that did not need to prove itself to anyone only worried to cater to its owners needs.
Franklin led Amy into a small library that his all of its walls behind hardwood shelves filled with leather bound books. There were big leather chairs arranged in a semi circle around a fire place. The room smelled of winter evenings spent reading.
“Please take a seat.” Said Franklin. “I will go and find Hellen.” As he was about to leave the room he hesitated and turned around. “Can I fix you something to drink?” he asked.
“I wouldn’t say no to a single malt.” Amy said not letting a situation like this slip from her.
“Of course.” He returned into the room. Opened a small cabinet filled with crystal decanters and tumblers, pouring her a drink. He gave her glass with a polite smile that could have gotten away with murder.
Amy wondered who would want to kill that man. There did not seem to be much going on behind the facade, because quit frankly there was no need to and in his simple way he was quite charming. But seeing how he was about to marry one of the wealthiest women of the country who also had a reputation for doing the most outrageous things on a whim, she could already see a malevolent form of worry and of course the old classic greed as the main motivators to get rid of old woman Ashford Stone’s newest conquest.
There were a few things not quite adding up, like the idea that swapping out a bottle with a sports drink for one that looked the same but was filled with cleaning fluid would ever be mistaken for an accident… But either Mr. Franklin was fond of mixing his own cleaning supplies in his own discarded bottles or he was just adorably naive.
It did mean that the would be murderer was probably driven by a base passion and was thinking he or she were way more clever than they actually were. Amy took a sip from her single malt. It was shockingly good. Even if this case turned out to be nothing but false alarm and adorable paranoia it was already worth it just for the drink. And he connections. Just getting to know Mrs. Ashford Stone would open quite few doors for Amy. Should she be doomed to be working more cuckold jobs she could at least quadruple her daily rates.
While Amy was slowly drifting away from her case to her daydreams the lady of he hose arrived.
Hellen Ashford Stone had once been a renowned beauty when she had been young and since then she had fought tooth and nail to keep as much of it as possible. Old age and her had been waging a constant war and so far Mrs. Ashford Stone was keeping an upper hand. She was lithe. But not in the way most other people her age were, mostly because their bodies were slowly being carried away by the constant flow of time. This was a body that had been kept in check by iron discipline. She was wearing a long evening dress, in the middle of the afternoon, that hugged a figure that many twenty year olds would have killed for and while her face marked by age and had a its share of wrinkles each crease and fold was there to amplify the expression of her face. A face dominated by two sapphire eyes that were completely clear and piercing.
She did not so much enter the room as take the stage.
Franklin followed her a step behind her.
Hellen Ashford stone shook Amy’s hand magnanimously. “My dear Mrs. Anderson, how kind of you to come to the aid of my dearest Chris.” She turned to Franklin and caressed his cheek with the tips of her fingers. “Isn’t that right my darling?”
“Yes dear.” He said his eyes full of adoration.
“Please could you make us some coffee dear? I have had such an exhausting morning it would appear that the city would stop moving if not for advising everyone on what to do.”
Franklin’s brow furrowed slightly. “Yes of course my dear. I am sorry I was not here to help you.”
“Don’t be silly my love. Someone is trying to hurt you and we can’t have that, now can we?”
He just smiled. As he left Hellen Ashton Stone drifted into the armchair opposite to Amy’s like autumn’s most vain leaf. Once the door to the library had closed her demeanour frosted over. The slightly overworked diva turned into the empress of a global business conglomerate.
“So, Mrs. Anderson, what has my darling told you so far?” she asked.
Amy was impressed by the ease with which Ashton Stone had shifted roles. “Only that he suspects that someone is trying to kill him.” Amy said. “I asked him who might see him as a threat or an enemy or a threat. But he could think of no one.”
Hellen Ashton Stone’s expression was softened by a brief smile. “Of course he doesn’t. He is such an innocent soul.” She shook her head. “But you and I both know very well that no one gets to a position such as mine without making enemies. I try to avoid it.” She shrugged. “In the end it is unavoidable though. And while I very much doubt that Chris has made any enemies, I don’t think that he is quite capable of doing so. There are enough people who would try to hurt me. My children have grown up in this world and are old enough to take care of themselves. And I have not given my heart to anyone outside of my family for a very long time. Now the Chris is has entered my life there are people who are bound to be tempted to go after what they think of a weakness. This is, of course, utterly unacceptable. So please be so kind and do not only see this as a request from my dearest Chris but also from myself. I am not only very interested in who is out there for my love but also in those who I may falsely consider my allies or god forbid my friends.”
Amy took another, deeper sip from her single malt. This case was quickly growing into the kind of case she had always dreamt of. “I understand.” She said. Before Ashton Stone could start speaking again she added, “I also understand that this is something just between us that I need not worry anyone else with. For all intents and purposes I am working for Christopher Franklin and no one else.”
Another thin smile deigned to grace Hellen Ashton Stone’s face, predatory but meant as a sign of respect. She just nodded.
The door was opened by Franklin concentrating on a serving try laden with porcelain cups. The moment he entered the room Ashton Stone melted back into her previous exhausted persona. “Thank you Chris, you are saving my life.” Franklin just smiled warmly at her.
“I was not sure if you wanted a coffee too,” he said turning to Amy. “So I just made a big pot of coffee for all of us. May I serve you a cup?”
“No thanks.” Said Amy saluting him with her tumbler.
“We were about to talk about Mrs. Anderson’s salary, my dear. Please let me cover this expense for you.” Said Hellen Ashton Stone.
“But Hellen,” he protested, “this is my life. I can’t possibly accept that from you.”
“And what could be more precious to me than your life my love?” she asked. “Also do you have any idea what a good detective costs?”
Franklin hesitated for a moment. “No?”
“I pay my consultants a daily fee of 1500 pounds a day.” She said her eyes hardening for a split second casting a meaningful glance towards Amy, who had to use work very hard to keep her business face in place after being confronted by such numbers. She took another sip of her single malt.
Franklin blanched, he opened his mouth, but Ashton Stone shushed him by placing her finger onto of his lips.
“See my love? And Mrs. Anderson is not some run of the mill consultant but a professional criminal investigator.” Franklin closed his mouth again and looked at Amy again with increased awe. It seemed that he, like Amy was not used to the price ranges that Ashton Stone frequented on a daily basis. “And did I not teach you not to think in categories of money but in those of quality?” she said now sounding like a slightly disappointed mother..
“Yes.” Franklin said.
“So as per our agreement I shall pay you a retainer of 2500 pounds a day, Mrs Anderson. Plus expenses of course. I will tell one of my people to get you a credit card for that which you can use for it. Is that agreeable?”
Amy drank the last bit of her single malt while taking a deep mental breath. “Yes.” She said not realising that she had just walked into a gilded trap.a