It was a bright summer day yet the tears flowed freely from her dark and stormy eyes.
“How could they?” she moaned, “Why take the portrait?”
Her sobs were caught in a white silk handkerchief. The letters JM were embroidered exquisitely in the exposed corner with fine, tiny stitches.
Mrs. Juliette Melrose was herself fine, tiny and exquisite. She was dressed in silk and cashmere across the desk from my khaki and cotton twill.
When Velma showed Mrs. Melrose in I had been catching up on some need zzz’s. The rhythmic tapping of Velma’s Italian leather clad foot had brought me back to the here and now. Her hand firmly planted on her ample hip and her green eyes slapping me into action with every flash, was as good a wake-up call as cold water in the face.
“Mrs. Melrose,” I started, “please tell me exactly what happened.”
The sobs stopped and after a few sniffles into the already saturated silk she began.
“Roman and I were at our weekly bridge party,” she stated. “Every Tuesday, 7:00p.m. at the VanGoughs. We got home at 10:00p.m. Everything seemed normal until we went into the library for a nightcap. The portrait over the mantle was gone.”
The tears were threatening an encore.
“What portrait and how much is it worth?”
She looked at me as one would an ignorant child. “It’s priceless, of course,” she said with a huff. “It’s our wedding photo.”
“A photo?” I sneered sarcastically. “I thought you were talking about some priceless painting. I don’t see how I can help. Surely, the photographer who shot your wedding has negatives.”
“No, that’s the problem! Henry and Henry Photographers burned to the ground last year. All twenty-five years of our family celebrations disappeared in that fire!” The tears returned for their much-anticipated encore. Velma produced a tissue to replace the soggy silk.
“Mac,” Velma said with force, “You can at least go out to the Melrose place and look around.”
Defeated once more by a teary woman and a bossy secretary, I agreed to go.
Ten days and numerous interviews later I was ready to reveal to Mrs. Melrose the truth behind the missing portrait. I arranged to meet her at The Painted Stork. I seldom entered such posh establishments but decided to splurge this once with the ample expense account she had given me. I was seated discretely in a corner when she arrived.
“Mr. Kniphe,” she outstretched her perfectly manicured hand. I didn’t know weather to kiss or shake it. I decided prudently to shake it.
“I can’t tell you how pleased I was to receive your call. My anniversary is coming soon and I want my wedding portrait back. Where is it?” She looked around as if, like Father Christmas, I was hiding it from her.
“Mrs. Melrose, please sit down.”
With the slightest hint of a pout, she sat.
“My investigation has been interesting, to say the least. Your children, Millicent and Major, were very helpful. Henry, of Henry and Henry Photographers filled in a few of the missing pieces. The house staff, I must admit were the least helpful and your husband, Roman was completely uninformed as to anything useful to the enquiry at hand.”
I paused, looked at my watch and noted the time was 7:55 p.m. “I must ask you about your silk handkerchief.”
“My handkerchief?” She looked befuddled.
“The one you had in my office. It was embroidered with the initials JM. What do the initials stand for?”
“It was my wedding handkerchief. JM stood for ‘just married’. I brought it that day to comfort me. Whatever does it have to do with my missing portrait?”
“Do you have it now?” I asked.
She retrieved it out of her Burberry bag.
I looked at her confused face and decided to spill the beans.
“The butler did it.”
“Not James! But why?”
I noticed the clock now read 8:00 p.m.
“Come with me, Mrs. Melrose.”
We walked toward the back of the restaurant.
“Behind this door all will be revealed.”
I stepped back and let her go first.
“Surprise! Happy Anniversary!”
The room was filled with family and friends. In the center, on either side of a freshly painted wedding portrait, were Roman, Millicent and Major Melrose.
The handkerchief went to work as Juliette joined her family.
I smiled to myself. Another mystery solved by Mac Kniphe Investigators.
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