CHAPTER 1 EXCERPT
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"Your wife isn't being unfaithful, Mr. Pattison." Mrs. Ginger Gold, also known as Lady Gold, produced photographs taken with her new camera. "She's been visiting her grandmother at St. Olave's Hospital."
"Well, ain't that a kettle of fish." Mr. Pattison, a slender middle-aged man with a soft belly and thinning hair, clearly was insecure with his younger wife. "The old bat never approved of our marriage. It was a nasty affair with harsh words spoken between us. She vowed never to speak to Mrs. Pattison again, and I'd forbidden the wife from further communication."
"It seems Mrs. Pattison wanted to set things right between them before her grandmother passes away. I hope you will go easy on her, Mr. Pattison. In my opinion, it shows a quality of character."
Mr. Pattison sighed. "I suppose you're right. It's certainly preferable to the alternative. Thank you for your exemplary service, Lady Gold."
Ginger accepted her payment and wished Mr. Pattison a good day. The spring weather—typically dreary and damp— offered a rare showing of the sun. Ginger enjoyed a drive through the streets of London in her new ivory Crossley motorcar. Her black and white Boston terrier slept on the soft red leather of the passenger seat, his ears pointing to the roof when Ginger opened the door.
"Another case solved, Bossy," she said as she slid in. "This private investigative work is going swimmingly."
Ginger had officially taken on the role of private investigator two months previously. Her first case had been a murder, and she was glad the ones that had kept her busy these last few weeks were far less serious. Domestic issues, lost items, missing persons. So far she had solved every one and in good time. Ginger acknowledged that working for the British secret service during the Great War had trained her well for such tasks.
Ginger arrived at St. George's Church just as her good friend, Reverend Oliver Hill, returned from a stroll through the parish gardens. The young vicar, a tall, lanky fellow with a ready smile, was only thirty-three. He jogged to the Crossley in order to open Ginger's door. His blue-green eyes sparkled as he greeted her. "Ginger, hello!"
Ginger placed her gloved hand in his and allowed him to assist her out of the motorcar. "Good afternoon, Oliver."
"So nice to see you," Oliver said with obvious joy. In the sun, his red hair rivalled Ginger’s. "What brings you to St. George's?"
"I'm hoping you can give me a bit of advice."
"I'd be delighted to try. Would you like to come in for tea? I believe Mrs. Davies has a pot ready."
"That would be splendid." Ginger called for her little dog. "You don't mind if Boss joins us?"
"Of course not. Boss is always welcome here."
St. George's Church, City of London, was an eighteenth-century structure built of limestone. It had a medium-sized chapel with a square tower instead of a steeple, an attached hall with a kitchen and other small rooms used for various purposes. Oliver, a bachelor, lived in the vicarage next door to the church. Ginger hadn't been inside Oliver's private quarters, but she expected they would be sparsely decorated and tidy, if she could go by Oliver's manners.
They walked along a stone path towards a side entrance through a small garden of cornflowers, yellow roses and red gerbera daisies.
"I dare say," Oliver said, looking skywards, "it's nice enough to have tea outdoors. At least until those clouds roll in."
"I know Boss is happy about the arrangement."
Oliver gave Mrs. Davies, the church's robust secretary and general manager, instructions and helped her to prepare a table outside. Oliver covered it with a white embroidered cloth and the church secretary added a vase of colourful tulips.
"They're lovely," Ginger said as she claimed a chair. Boss scampered blissfully across the garden and back, stopping to spin in a couple of circles, before tiring out and reclining at Ginger's feet.
Oliver laughed at the pup. "Poor thing doesn't have a tail to chase."
Mrs. Davies returned with a hot pot of tea accompanied by fresh crumpets.
"Those smell wonderful!" Ginger said.
"I baked them just this morning, madam."
"I can pour, Mrs. Davies," Oliver said kindly. Mrs. Davies nodded and returned to the kitchen.
Ginger sipped her tea, then said, "Any progress on your assignment?" Ginger's brow jumped as her lips tugged into a smile. Oliver's single status, while normally not an issue for most priests, had become a point of concern for the diocese as it had come to their attention that the single women in the parish were quite distracted. The recommendation, therefore, was for Oliver to find a wife and to do it soon.
Oliver smirked as he set his teacup down. "Well, there is a girl I'm fond of."
"Oh?" Ginger didn't want to pry so was curious. She hoped Oliver would confide in her. Waiting a moment, she let the silence between them prompt him. To her delight, he made her a confidante.
"Her name’s Mary Blythe. She works as a receptionist for a dentist. She's nice."
"Of course, she's more than nice. She's kind, good with children, and a good baker."
Ginger lowered her chin and stared at her friend. "I'm not sensing a certain jeune amour. Are you sure she's the one?"
"I think so. I like her."
"But are you in love with her?"
"I'm sure that will grow with time. She'd be a very suitable vicar's wife."
Ginger held in the raspberry that formed at her lips.
"I'm not about to confirm anything yet," Oliver continued. "We're hardly courting."
"My advice is not to rush your decision," Ginger said gravely. "As you know, the sacrament of marriage isn't something to be taken lightly. The rest of your life could be a really long time."
"Yes, you are correct. I just wish the diocese would put their noses somewhere else. Maybe there is another I've yet to notice. Pray for me, Ginger, if you think of it. The whole matter is quite distressing if one dwells on it too much."
"Of course." Ginger slathered butter onto a crumpet and took a bite. "Delicious. Mrs. Davies is a master."
"I agree most heartily," Oliver said, wiping crumbs off his chin. "I'm blessed to have her at St. Georges. Anyway, enough about me. You said you'd like advice about something. How can I help?"
"Marvin Elliot will be in prison for a long time, and I'm not entirely sure how to help young Scout."
Ginger had met the orphan cousins Marvin and Scout Elliot on the SS Rosa when she crossed from Boston to England the previous summer. They both worked in steerage, and Scout had taken care of Boss in the kennels. Ginger had taken a shine to the cousins and once in England, often gave them small jobs to help them out financially— after all, they were too proud to accept charity. Unfortunately, Marvin had got involved with the wrong people, and Ginger had stepped in as Scout's guardian.
"I meant to ask about how the lad is faring in your care." Oliver's expression grew serious. "Forgive me."
Ginger waved the apology off. "He's doing well for the most part. Does his chores with fervour, loves Boss and my new mare, Goldmine. The tutor says he's doing well with his studies. He's very keen on doing his very best and to please everyone."
"I'm not seeing the problem."
"That is the problem. He's only eleven yet sometimes he walks around like he's an old man with slumped shoulders, watery eyes. Marvin's criminal activities and incarceration weigh heavily on him."
"I see," Oliver said. "Perhaps he needs someone to talk to."
Ginger agreed. "I tell him all the time he can speak to me about Marvin, but he always shakes his head."
"He might need a man to bring it out of him. After all, he's lost the one man left in his life."
Ginger sipped her tea and considered Oliver's point. "You might be right. You don't mind seeing him?"
"Of course not! I miss the young lad. Under your tutelage, I believe he's going to grow into a fine and upright man."
Ginger smiled at this. "I hope so."
Ginger and Oliver arranged a time suitable to them both, and Ginger promised to get Clement to bring Scout over.
“Before I forget,” Oliver said, “our choir is in need of new members.” He grinned, “Preferably ones who can carry a tune. You have a lovely voice, Ginger. Would you consider joining?”
Ginger actually lived in the parish of Kensington, but she’d been making the journey to St. George’s on Sunday mornings ever since she and the vicar had struck up a friendship over the charity they’d started together. The Child Wellness Project had been set up to help children like Scout by providing meals and clothing and general aid.
“I do miss singing in a church choir,” Ginger said. “It’s been years. So, yes. I’d love to join.”
Oliver slapped his thighs. “Splendid!”
A telephone call came in for Oliver, so Ginger said her goodbyes and called for Boss to follow her to the Crossley.
Before starting the engine, Ginger checked her image in the rearview mirror. She smoothed out her red bob, re-enforcing the curls that looped under her high cheekbones, and straightened her mint-green turban hat. She fished through her handbag, retrieving her tangerine-blossom lipstick, applied the colour and smacked her lips together. Satisfied, she adjusted the mirror to its proper position.
If Ginger were simply returning home to Hartigan House, she wouldn't have bothered, but she was heading to Mayfair to see Basil Reed.
Her heart fluttered.