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The office was overwhelmed with the stench of Winston’s cigars. His antique scotch covered the stain that formed from the glass being placed on that same corner of the desk. The entire room was dimmed, with only the glow of a small collection of candles on the far side of the room. He had paced the room hundreds of times, pausing only to take a sip from his crystal glass. The cigar case prominently displayed on the desk had been overpowered by Winston’s anxiety. The cigars were expensive to replace, as was the scotch that was running low. The liquor cabinet behind his antique French desk had been fully stocked only a week ago. The wood paneling on the walls and the dark leather upholstery sucked the life from the air. All the furnishings were imported; French Renaissance era. He only accepted the best. The door was even imported, but this time from Italy. It hadn’t even creaked in hours, let alone opened to it’s fullest. The day had been quiet. Quiet days were awful. They were torture. These days were restless and anxiety-ridden. The man who never stops working, who never sits still, did not take well to free time. There was nothing to do, no place to put efforts towards that would improve anything. This day was useless. He continued to pace. He could feel the rush of the awkward air collide with his body. The lights flickered and buzzed. Then the dimness went to darkness, and the day worsened.
Suddenly the door was shouldered open through its tendency to resist. She looked at him with a failed attempt at a sad, hopeless expression. The arrogance was so evident, even with her façade, that he still struggled to imagine the layers she had managed to successfully subdue. Her inability to remove her focus from her patent leather shoes gave her away as a resident in the richer crevices of society. When she removed her charcoal leather gloves, she revealed another forgotten hint at her wealth. Winston had a keen eye for detail, but more specifically for wrist watches. His grandfather’s forgotten treasure appeared one day on a young Winston’s pillow and ignited a passion inside him for these small time-keepers. He braced himself as her lips began their inauthentic tremble. Winston took a sip of his Scotch, removed the last Cuban from the Baccarat cigar box on the corner of his desk, and tightened his grip slightly on the Italian leather arm of his desk chair. Even with his precautions, each rehearsed syllable she recited cut into his willpower as small blades repeatedly colliding with the skin. There had been a handful of other inquirers who had walked into this office with a false victim approach, but Winston had never seen it so severe.
She tiptoed towards the desk and eyed the nameplate, observing. She introduced herself as Ms. Adams. Not as Miss Adams or Misses Adams; no, she was Ms. Adams. She didn’t like people, especially intelligent people like Winston, to know too much about her. She was a mystery, and that’s the way she intended it to stay. However, she was an Adams. The Adams owned the sea-side mansion down in the Heights. They had an enormous amount of money that had originated in the early nineteenth century. No one knew for certain where the money came from, but there were quite a few rumors of illegal business that were drifting around town.
She impressed Winston when she started to tear up, but the contraction of her facial muscles and squinting of her eyes made it clear that Ms. Adams could have taken a better acting class. She sniffled through her imaginary fight with congestion and slowly muttered some words that were too muffled to understand.
“Ms. Adams, I’m sorry, but I am unable to make out your words when you speak so softly. Could you please speak up just a tad?” Winston requested as he played along with her act.
“I need assistance, Mr. Winston-“
“It’s just Winston. There’s no ‘Mister’,” he corrected her.
“Yes, I apologize, sir. I am begging for your help. You see, I have hired an entirely new household staff. My former cook turned out to be a prison escapee, and I didn’t want that kind of person near my daughter. I had to release him of his position. He was furious. That very day I changed the locks just as a precaution,” the amateur actress whimpered.
“Have you hired an entirely new staff just because of this one incident? And have you hired a new cook or is the position still vacant?”
“I did release all of them, yes. I couldn’t convince myself to trust them. What if they had been persuaded by the cook to overtake us? I couldn’t risk anything.”
“You seem very upset over this matter, as though it has attacked your emotions. May I ask why?”
“Well I, I don’t like, um, when I cannot trust people around my daughter. She’s very young, and she’s all I have left. I hate to think she might get hurt because of the hired staff.” She dramatically gasped air as though addressing the possibility was ripping out her heart.
“So what crime has actually occurred?” Winston just needed to get to the problem and solve it; he couldn’t stand this woman any longer. She was holding back, he could tell. She offered very little useful information.
“Well, in my bedroom I have a small, hidden compartment on the rear of my headboard. Inside was a seven piece tea set. It was adorned with $150,000 dollars worth of gold and gems. It’s a family heirloom. If my father learns of its disappearance he would disown me.”
“I see. Why exactly do you believe the previous cook is at fault for this particular theft? Did he know of the compartment?” Although it was obvious that she was spitting out lies, Winston struggled to understand why she would be lying about this. What was she going after?
“He was seen listening in on my husband’s conversations with my father on multiple occasions.”
“And did you witness this?”
“No, this was on my husband’s account,” she tried to keep a steady tone.
“So he knew of the gems then?” Winston leaned back in his seat and sipped his Scotch. One more puff of the cigar and he knew exactly what needed to be done.
Cherry Hill, New Jersey
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