Due to being involved with the opening of two new Connolly House Projects, Louisa Calleray had not necessarily been paying as close attention to the drift of invoices that passed across her desk almost every day. The New Year had brought a large number of new bills to her and now, by the light of a solitary desk lamp, Louisa examined another invoice for cleaning products. A memory stirred.
“Goodness!” she exclaimed to the empty room.
She rose to her feet and approached the ugly-but-necessary filing cabinet in one corner of the room. A few minutes of rifling through various folders produced a sheaf of near-identical papers. Louisa carried them to her desk and sat down heavily.
“Oh! This is bad. This is very bad.” she sighed resignedly.
Louisa Calleray spent the next hour comparing, checking, calculating and making notes before finally laying down her pen and leaning back in her chair.
“A thief!” she said aloud.
She sat upright and spoke to the photograph of her husband.
“I have a thief in my midst, darling. Unfortunately I think I know exactly who it is and I am devastated. I would have trusted this person with my life, truly I would have.”
For several long moments the longing and need to have her husband there with her was physically painful. Louisa squeezed her eyes tightly shut, but she could not prevent her tears from falling. She had not felt as betrayed for many, many years as she did at that moment.
Sylvia Urquhart was a mother figure; short and plump with a head of unruly grey hair, a ready smile and a loud cackle of a laugh, she loved children and they adored her. She had a kind word for everybody and she was trusted and respected by everybody who met her. Nobody knew that Sylvia Urquhart had a serious gambling habit and that she was in debt to the tune of almost one thousand pounds.
Louisa had first encountered Sylvia Urquhart as a fellow-volunteer at the Saint Thomas the Apostle during the war. She had been a domestic volunteer then, and a very good one at that. When the first Connolly House Project had taken off Louisa had enlisted Daniel Merchant to use his contacts to try and locate the woman, which he had done within days of Louisa asking.
When offered the post of Housekeeper to the Project, Urquhart had accepted on the spot. Louisa had not questioned the alacrity with which the offer was accepted so pleased was she that another important cog in the machine that was becoming the Connolly House Project had fallen neatly into place. Only now, all these years down the line, was she having cause to question her naivety.
Taking full advantage of that aspect of her new employer - coupled with the authority Louisa had entrusted to her - and with her gambling debts mounting steeper by the day, Urquhart had begun to steal from the Project within days of taking up her post. She had been doing so every week ever since even though her gambling debts had long since been paid off. It had become a supplementary source of income that she found hard to surrender.
Louisa had requested that Bernard Penney be in attendance at the meeting she had requested with Sylvia Urquhart. She felt a male presence might preclude any possibility of nastiness or violence from the woman.
She denied everything. She lied. She told Louisa that she had got it all wrong, that she was mistaken and that there had to be another explanation. She even managed to shed a few crocodile tears, but to no avail. Louisa stood firm and showed Sylvia the irrefutable evidence of her wrongdoing: the altered accounts, her signature on numerous invoices; the false receipts and much more. Only then did Urquhart realise and accept that the game was up.
“Bernard, please call the police” she asked her friend.
“Oh, please don’t do that, Louisa. Mrs. Calleray. They’ll send me to prison, so they will!” Urquhart cried, genuine panic in her voice.
“I am afraid that is the consequence of theft. When you are caught you get punished.” Louisa said sternly. “What else would you have me do? What would you do if you were standing in my position?”
Chastened, Urquhart gave no reply and cast her eyes to the floor. This time when she cried they were genuine tears, albeit tears of self-pity.
The officer who attended Bernard Penny’s call was young and fresh-faced and far too handsome to be wearing a serge-blue uniform Louisa thought as she outlined the case against her former employee.
“You’ll pay for this, you rich bitch!” Urquhart screamed as she was led away in handcuffs. “Just you wait, madam-bloody-Calleray. You’ll pay!!”
“That was undignified.” Bernard Penney commented drily.
In spite of herself, Louisa smiled.
“Not the most pleasant thing I have ever done. That was very unpleasant.”
“You did the right thing, Louisa. The woman’s been robbing you blind for years. Serves her right.”
“What will happen to her, do you think?”
“Not so many years ago she would have been hanged,” Penney said, “but she’ll probably get sent to Holloway for a decent long spell, I reckon.”
“Goodness. I am glad I didn’t know that before I confronted her. I am not so sure that I would have been able to go ahead if I thought I would be condemning her to death!”
“As I said, you did the right thing. She’s going to get whatever’s coming to her. Good riddance, that how I feel about her!” The vehemence in Penney’s voice demonstrated just how angry he was over what had happened. Louisa was delighted that he was there for her.
“It’s over and done with. We’ll leave it up to the legal system to bring this horrible matter to its conclusion.” Louisa said.
“Amen to that.” was Bernard Penney’s final comment.
The knock on the door was delivered with authority and confidence. Louisa answered it herself, after ensuring the security chain was in place beforehand. She still worried herself that had she not let Monica Duarte’s husband into the house that evening her husband would not have been murdered so callously.
“Can I help you?” she asked the figure who had his back to the door.
“Mrs. Calleray? Louisa?” the man asked. Doffing his hat in a dying gentlemanly manner.
“Mayor Jellis!” Louisa said. “Please do come in.” she said as she released the security chain and opened the door wide.
Jellis followed his hostess into her study and sat in the offered chair. Tea was arranged and subsequently delivered by a young girl of fifteen years who clearly adored her employer if the euphoric expression in her acned face was any indication. Jellis was not slow to notice.
“You have a loyal staff who adore you” he told Louisa. “Well, barring the odd bad penny.” he added.
Sylvia Urquhart’s arrest had made the local newspapers, putting the unwanted spotlight back onto Louisa and the Project.
“I treat them well, I hope, Mayor Jellis.”
“Oliver, please.” Jellis said.
“Oliver it is, then.” Louisa smiled.
“I saw the way that young lass looked at you. She clearly adores you.” Said as a statement of fact not a conversational gambit.
“Emily? She is still young and impressionable. She’s a dear, though.” Louisa said, her affection for the girl in question evident in her every word.
“In a sense, it is that affection people hold for you that has brought me to your door, Louisa.” Jellis said.
“Really? How so?” Louisa asked.
“I come with a proposition for you.” Jellis told her.
To be continued...