“’And the Beckworth-Ellington collection of Plymouth porcelain I gift to my friend and companion Cedric Harper of 22 Green Lane, Harpenshaw, in acknowledgement of the care and attention he has shown to me over the past weeks,’ is the final bequest Mrs Ellington made. As always these are sad occasions and as named testator it is my duty to now lodge this will and testament with the county clerk.” He scraped back his chair, stood up and left the room leaving only the family members, some of the servants, and myself, Cedric Harper, a grinning Cedric Harper, in the room.
For a few seconds – it felt like minutes – the place was as quiet as a monastery cell. That is apart from the unsuppressed sniffling of Martha Huggings, housemaid to the recently dear departed Mrs Evelyn Burlington Ellington of Beckworth House in Surrey, and assuming she remained in the same profession, one of the richest housemaids ever known.
Then, pandemonium! The two sons of the deceased leapt to their feet snarling and snapping at me like wild animals.
“You, you, bastard, you swine,” said Hamilton, the older of the two. He threw a punch. I ducked.
“I’m calling the police. They’ll throw away the key,” said Michael. He tried to land a haymaker. I dived.
Fortunately I’ve learnt how to take care of myself. The School of Life has taught me a few good things and I know how to face down a couple of chinless aristos without much trouble. But the last thing I was intending to do was get into any scrap that would involve calling the men in blue, so I did what any responsible person in my position would do, and scarpered.
Later that day, over a pint of beer and a tumbler of cheap sweet sherry, Mrs Huggins and I discussed my fee for ensuring she was included in the will and testament and how she could transfer the my share of her take directly to my Swiss bank account. “Never had so much money in all my life,” she muttered, “And I’m already having to give it away.”
“Come now, Mrs H, it is what we agreed and five thousand isn’t too much. Leaves you with thirty for yourself. Not too bad, eh. Not too bad for making one simple little introduction.”
“Well, I don’t understand, Mr Harper. What’s in it for you? Just a bunch of little statues and some jugs and vases? Hardly worth the trouble.”
I winked at her, “I’m a plain and modest man, Mrs H. Live simply and within my means. No luxuries for me.”
Not long afterwards, I found my way to my usual table at La Gavroche, ordered the finest bottle of red on the list and sat back to relax. Another job done. All nice and clean. Too easy sometimes – identify a sick but rich dowager and move in on her. With a little bit of help from the help.
The next day the van would arrive at Beckworth House to collect the pieces and from there take them straight to Archie Sparrow’s warehouse on the Three Colts Lane for valuation and preparation for the market. “There’ll be international buyers this time – some pieces far too expensive for locals,” I mused, “Guggenheim will be up for a few of these.”
It was two days later that Archie broke the news that the pieces – all of them – were plaster replicas – excellent workmanship – but replicas nonetheless. And it was only hours after that that I learnt from the cook at Beckworth House that Mrs Huggins had disappeared in the middle of the night. As had the butler. No notes, no forwarding addresses. “A mystery,” said the cook.
The strange thing was that they found several large sacks of white powder in the butler’s rooms. It seemed to be plaster of paris.
Just how dishonest can people get!