[op_liveeditor_element data-style=””][text_block style=”style_1.png” align=”left”]“You’re a thief!”
The thief stepped forwards and replied, “Exactly. And you, madam? The mistress of the house, I presume. Or are you a thief as well?”
With a white-gloved hand Ginger Gold held the programme up in the dim light of Abbott Theatre, an older establishment on Shaftesbury Ave.
The thief was played by Angus Green, a handsome fellow, tall with a confidence that radiated from the stage. Ginger doubted his aplomb was only attributed to acting. He was young and had a determination about him. Probably new to theatre, Ginger thought—she hadn’t heard his name before.
The one-act play written by a Mr. Stuart Walker was called Sham, and Ginger’s sister-in-law, Felicia, had landed the lead female role of Clara.
“What have you taken?” Felicia’s enunciation was loud and with proper indignation. “Give it to me instantly! How dare you?” She gestured to the actor standing next to her. “Charles, take it away from him.”
Haley Higgins, Ginger’s American friend and housemate, leaned in and whispered in her Bostonian accent, “Felicia has pluck.”
Ginger agreed. On the stage and in real life, if truth be told.
Charles, according to the programme, was played by a blond man named Geordie Atkins. He was shorter and stouter than the attractive thief and a good deal older if you could go by his receding hairline.
“I dare say, old man,” Geordie Atkins said, looking uncertain yet a little amused. “You’d better clear out.”
Ambrosia, the Dowager Lady Gold and Ginger’s grandmother through marriage, had not been a great supporter of her granddaughter’s interest in theatre. “A lot of simpletons looking to escape their responsibilities,” she’d stated. Yet, in the light filtering off the stage to their seats on the balcony, Ginger saw a smile and a glint in the older woman’s eye she’d almost say was pride.
There were only four characters in the play—the fourth was a reporter who appeared near the end. A fellow in his early thirties donning a moustache and spectacles had won the part. He wore a trilby hat and an overcoat that hung sloppily over drooped shoulders. Ginger examined her programme: Matthew Haines. Felicia had talked about her fellow actors often since joining the company, and Ginger was glad to put names to faces.
In the end, Felicia’s character conned the confidence man. When the curtain dropped, Ginger sprung to her feet in applause.
The actors waited in the lobby to greet the members of the audience, who Ginger thought solemnly, were far too few in number. A jolly good number of seats had been unoccupied. Quite the shame since the performance was so charming.
“Felicia, darling!” Ginger said as she embraced her sister-in-law. “You were absolutely magnificent!”
Felicia had changed into a Jean Patou chiffon evening gown from Feather’s & Flair. It had three layers of fabric each a different shade of pink, a dropped waist cummerbund-like sash, and a lace under slip. Felicia’s dark hair was perfectly coiffed with finger waves and decorated with a jewelled headpiece. The pink on her Clara Bow lips matched her dress. Ginger thought she rivalled any film star she’d ever seen.
Felicia held Ginger’s green-eyed gaze. “Thank you, Ginger! I’m so glad you came.”
A wayward strand of red hair escaped from Ginger’s bob. When she pushed it behind her ear, her dangling Cartier Paris emerald, onyx and diamond earrings swayed. She gushed, “Wouldn’t have missed it for the world.”
Ambrosia wore a silk tangerine gown with long bell sleeves and a hemline that actually showed a bit of ankle, almost slipping the lady into the twentieth century. She allowed a quick hug from Felicia and begrudgingly admitted, “It was better than I expected, child. I do hope you have this folly out of your system now.”
Felicia’s smile lit up the lobby. “Oh, Grandmama! I’m so happy, even you cannot steal my joy tonight.”
Haley shook Felicia’s hand with a firm grip and said, “Good job, Felicia. Well done.”
Felicia introduced her fellow actors, Mr. Geordie Atkins and Mr. Matthew Haines, but her gaze and smile stayed on the man who played the thief. “And this is Mr. Angus Green.”
Angus shook each lady’s hand as he charmed Ambrosia and showered Ginger with accolades.
“It’s such an honour to meet you, Lady Gold. Felicia has told me so many great things.”
Ginger arched a brow. “Is that so, Mr. Green?”
“Indeed. I hear you’ve started your own business! Very commendable. And that a rather prestigious gala is coming up.”
Ginger laughed. “The rumours are true. Shall you be attending?”
Angus Green’s dark eyes gazed down at Felicia. “If I’m invited.”
Felicia beamed and threaded her fingers through his. “You know I’ve already invited you, silly.” They laughed, and Ginger and Haley shared a look. Felicia was clearly smitten by her colleague.
Tapping her walking stick on the burgundy theatre carpet, Ambrosia’s frown deepened, and her eyes narrowed at the public display of affection. Felicia had the sense to remove her hand from Angus’s.
“Let’s move along, Grandmother,” Ginger said before a displeasing scene could erupt. “We are holding up the queue.”
The next day, Ginger’s chauffeur Clement, a quiet, easy-going, middle-aged man from Yorkshire, drove Ginger to her Regent Street shop. The old royal blue 1913 Daimler TE 30 Cranmore Landaulet was in great shape, not having been driven much.
Though Ginger preferred driving herself, the bright side was she didn’t have to worry about parking or having to dodge puddles in the street. This was especially good news for Boss, Ginger’s black and white Boston Terrier, who sat eagerly on Ginger’s lap. Instead she could hop directly onto the pavement by the front entrance of Feathers & Flair.
“Thank you, Clement,” Ginger said as she opened the kerbside door.
“You’re welcome, madam. When should I collect you?”
“I’m not sure. I’ll ring the house when I’m ready.”
The Daimler puttered away, and Ginger strutted to the shop, one arm holding Boss and the other on her hat as she bore down against the wind.
A short line clogged up the entrance.
“I’m so sorry,” Ginger said. “Please excuse me. I’m the proprietress here.”
“Oh, Lady Gold!” a woman gushed. “I’m so excited to visit your shop. It’s the talk of the fashion district!”
“Thank you. You’re so kind.”
Ginger manoeuvred past the small crowd and made way for a few shoppers to exit. She was happy to see smiles on the women’s faces and large shopping bags in their hands. The patient customers who’d been waiting outside scurried in from the cold.
On seeing Ginger, Madame Roux hurried to her side. The manager wore a sensible but fashionable suit of lavender rayon. Her dark eyes, crinkling with deep crow’s feet at the corner, flashed with excitement. “Incroyable! Word of the gala has spread like feathers from a torn pillow!”
“This is a good problem to have, Madame Roux,” Ginger said.
Feathers & Flair had recently expanded to the second level of the stone building when the previous owner, a shoemaker, retired and closed shop. Both floors had ten-foot high creamy white ceilings and trim mouldings painted gold. The floors consisted of polished white marble tiles which glistened under the bright electric crystal lamps. A rich burgundy velvet curtain hung over the archway that divided the front room from the back area.
Before setting Boss on the floor, Ginger wiped his paws with the cotton cloth she carried for this purpose. “To your bed, Bossy,” she instructed. Boss immediately headed to the velvet curtain, pushed his nose through the seam in the middle, and disappeared.
Ginger handed Madame Roux her coat and handbag and headed up the wooden stairwell. The factory-made dresses, located on the upper floor, were always inspected—especially this latest shipment that had arrived for the gala. Several younger patrons clucked over the choices and tried on dresses for size.
“I love not having to wait for something to be made,” one of them said.
Her companion added, “And these prices won’t break the bank.”
Dorothy West, the young floor clerk, moved about with quick strides, her mouth pinched in a tight line. “Dorothy,” Ginger whispered lightly, “do remember to smile.”
The girl’s head snapped toward Ginger’s voice, staring like a nervous bird. The muscles around her small mouth twitched before straining upward. “Yes, Lady Gold. I’m just a tad nervous. Most of the high society ladies I know aren’t as nice as you, madam.”
Ginger herself had trouble with the entitlement of the elite. She smiled her encouragement. “You’ll be fine. Everyone will mellow after drinking his or her first glass of champagne. At least that’s what I’m counting on.”
The muscles in Dorothy’s face relaxed. “Thank you, madam.”
The main floor, where the haute couture designs were displayed, showed the latest samples from all the prestigious fashion houses, both in Europe and America. Ginger admired a new frock—golden sheer over a solid gold chemise. The sheer was stitched with glittery sequins and shiny thread work in Egyptian inspired designs and hung four inches lower than the chemise underneath to mid-calf. Egyptian themes had become popular in fashion and design since Howard Carter’s discovery of King Tutankhamen’s tomb in ’22, and Ginger was jolly keen about them all.
Ginger’s young designer, Emma Miller, brought more dresses out from the back room to refit the mannequins. She had a ready smile and seemed to sincerely enjoy her job.
“I’ve worked on some new designs,” she said when she saw Ginger. “I’ve sketched them on the easel.”
“I’ll have a look.” Ginger admired the young girl’s eagerness to please and saw real potential in her ideas. Emma Miller could be a big name one day, and Ginger loved that she could be a part of the designer’s success.
A sophisticated woman in a lamb’s wool cape admired the latest frocks in from New York.
“Lady Whitmore,” Ginger said, recognizing her. “Welcome to Feathers & Flair.”
“Thank you, Lady Gold. It’s not my first time in, you know.” The woman patted Ginger’s arm and leaned in conspiratorially. “Is it true Mr. Edward Molyneux is to be your guest at the opening gala?”
Ginger smiled widely. When she’d invited the famous London-born designer, she could only dream that he’d agree to leave his shop in Paris to be her guest. Not only that, he promised to reveal one of his most recent designs at the gala.
“Yes, it is. I’m very excited to have him here.”
“It’s all the talk in the society pages, even though one wouldn’t imagine such an event to be held in a dressmaker’s shop.”
“We’re not a dressmaker’s shop, Lady Whitmore,” Ginger defended. “We’re a dress shop where the finest fashions of the world can be found. It makes sense that a gala to promote them would happen here.”
“Yes, of course. I completely agree. I’ve just repeating what I’ve heard.”
Ginger smiled stiffly. She had little patience for gossipers.
Lady Whitmore patted Ginger on the arm. “Word is that royals from all over Europe are coming to London to shop for their spring wardrobe, and especially to see your shop, so don’t you spend one minute worrying about those naysayers’ rumours. Your supply is magnificent, by the way. You know the other shops are up in arms, don’t you? You’ve become major competition and in such a short time. Don’t be surprised if they send spies in as pretend shoppers. After all, the owners wouldn’t dare to enter. Imagine what people would say?”
Ginger left Lady Whitmore to browse, and soon the loquacious woman found another willing to listen to her tittle-tattle. Madame Roux approached Ginger with a customer at her side. The client wore a tan-coloured wool coat that Ginger recognized as one of Parisian designer Jean Lanvin’s collection. Tall for a woman, the customer stood straight with the best posture finishing school could produce, despite her bountiful bosom which was bound to weight the woman forward. Her ample bottom accounted for a slight waddle when she walked. She wasn’t what one would call handsome, yet the woman had a familiar look about her. A straight nose, small chin, and grey eyes, heavily made up with blue shadow and thick mascara. Her lips were a glossy red.
“This is Countess Andreea Balcescu from Romania,” Madame Roux said. “This is Lady Gold, the owner of Feathers & Flair.”
Ginger held out a gloved hand. “How do you do, Countess Balcescu. And welcome!”
The countess did not have an easy smile. Most of the aristocracy from the East were suffering from the war’s aftermath. Many were refugees of revolutions, and sometimes, their family lineage had legally and abruptly ended.
“I have heard grand things about your shop,” the countess said, her husky voice hinted at a slight accent. “I have had to leave many of my possessions behind and have great hope to replenish my spring wardrobe in London.”
“I’d most certainly be happy to help you with that. We have the latest fashions shipped in from Paris and New York and have our own fabulous designer in-house. We can produce a unique gown to your liking.”
“That is impressive.”
Ginger presented a turquoise and silver evening gown with fascinating silver embellishments draped over the bodice and light chiffon cap-sleeves. She watched as Countess Balcescu ran her fingers across the dress. Her gloved hands were large but handled the fabric delicately.
Behind them, a display of accessories crashed to the floor making everyone jump.
“Mon Dieu,” Madame Roux exclaimed. Dorothy and Emma hurried to set the display upright and replaced the handbags and scarves.
“How did that happen?” Ginger asked.
“I have no idea,” Madame Roux said. “It’s so crowded, anyone could have bumped it over.”
Or pushed it over. Ginger was reminded of Lady’s Whitmore’s warning of the other shops sending over spies. Would someone deliberately try to sabotage her event?
That was nonsense talking. The falling display was a mere accident.
The countess wasn’t impressed. “Perhaps I’ll return another time when things are less . . . hectic.”
Ginger sighed. There went a potential customer, most likely to one of her competitors. Oh well. Couldn’t be helped. These things happened.
The telephone bell rang intermittently with Madame Roux managing the calls, but this time, her manager caught her attention and waved her over.
“The telephone is for you, Lady Gold. It’s Miss Gold.”
Ginger took the receiver. Unlike the older candlestick version installed at Hartigan House, this one was a modern machine with the earpiece and receiver in one which, when not in use, rested horizontally over a boxy unit with a circular dial.
“Oh, Ginger. I think something horrible has happened.”
Ginger’s heart skipped a beat. Had something happened at home? Was Ambrosia all right? The matronly woman had a lot of tenacity, but she wasn’t getting any younger. “What is it?”
“Angus Green has gone missing!”
Ginger blinked at the news. Not at all what she was expecting. Angus Green—the handsome young actor Felicia was soft on? “What do you mean he’s missing?”
“He didn’t show up for rehearsal this afternoon and Geordie Atkins says he didn’t come home at all last night. They share a flat, you see.”
“Perhaps he tired of the theatre and left to do something new?”
“I don’t think he would do that. There are still two nights of the show remaining. He wouldn’t leave us high and dry, would he? Besides, he promised me we’d celebrate together when it ended.”
Felicia’s voice caught, and Ginger felt a wave of sympathy. “Are there any indications of foul play?”
“Geordie said his room had been roughed up. Apparently Angus is a tidy type of fellow. And now that I think of it, he did seem rather tense these last few days, like he had something on his mind.”
“Have you called the police?”
“Yes, but they’re not taking us seriously. They think Mr. Green is just a wild sort, doing his own thing. Ginger, you have to find him.”
“Mr. Haines is moneyed. He says he’ll pay you.”
Ginger sputtered, “I’m not a private investigator, Felicia.”
“But you are! You’ve solved so many mysteries since coming to England. Please Ginger, take the case.”
Ginger gaped at her sister-in-law’s plea.