by Crystal Jones
Daisy was sitting at her office table trying to do her accounts.
The office door was open as she was expecting the gas man to come. Hearing
footsteps, Daisy looked up and saw a big, wide man at the entrance. “Miss
Hamilton please?” This oak of a man was clearly a foreigner. His clothes were
worn badly as though their occupant had slept in them. His accent sounded harsh
“Yes, can I help you?”
The oak slouched in, sat down opposite Daisy and looked at her
from his half-opened eyes which studied her constantly. “I hear you are a very
bright lady and that you can be trusted.”
He spoke these words as though they were at the same time a
statement and a question. Daisy didn’t know how to reply and decided just to nod
“I’ll tell you about my little problem. Here is your initial fee
- I think a hundred pounds will do for the present. I work for the Russian
Embassy and what I have to say must not get back there. My name is IIich Zubkov.
You can check that by telephoning me at the embassy this evening, but only
pretending to be an acquaintance, of course.”
“Can you please tell me your problem first. I can’t accept to
help you without knowing what it entails,” Daisy was trying to take time as she
felt rather overwhelmed by this man’s strong personality and physique.
The oak shut his eyes completely for a minute. He was used to
giving orders and being obeyed without question. He decided to make an effort to
appear more courteous to an English woman. “My wife has disappeared.” The
atmosphere was electric. “She went out shopping in the morning, two days ago,
and hasn’t come back since. I have heard no news at all from her.”
Daisy got up ostensibly to make some instant coffee, but it was
really to be able to study her client better.
“Mr. Zubkov, have you informed the police?” said the private eye as she switched
on the kettle which was on top of a bookcase behind the Russian, near the door.
“In my position it would be intolerable. If, for example, she has
run away with another man, I would be, I think you English say, the laughing
stock of the embassy. I spoke only unofficially to an old friend of mine,
Detective-Inspector Singleton, who made his own discreet inquiries as to whether
she had been in an accident or taken to hospital. He told me that he thought
there might be a private reason for my wife’s behaviour and suggested I should
come to you.”
“I see. Well Mr. Zubkov, I shall have to ask you some pretty
personal questions,” Daisy watched the man’s back stiffening and poured out the
boiling water into the cups.
“Miss Hamilton, I am here and I am in your hands.” Daisy thought
that probably the oak had never pronounced these words before. “I will tell you
anything you want to know. Let me anticipate some of your questions. I have no
knowledge of another man, and in fact I can’t tell you anything at all about why
my wife has disappeared.”
He paused for a moment. “And yes, - I love her very much and
want her back.”
Daisy had returned to her seat after giving Mr. Zubkov his
instant coffee. Since he was an abrupt man, Daisy felt free to ask him: “And you
have no other women?”
“No.” The oak was beginning to crack and his lower lip quivered.
“Good. Now, please give me a description of your wife.”
“Yes, this is a photo of her. You can keep it, Miss Hamilton.”
Daisy saw the image of a pretty intelligent-looking woman of about forty.
“What sort of a person is she? Does she work?”
“Well, first of all her name is Valentina, of course she is much
younger than me but we have been happily married for eighteen years. She is the
daughter of a Russian diplomat and an able linguist - not at all like myself.
She studied languages at school in Moscow and perfected them by going abroad.
She speaks English and French perfectly, she reads German and a couple of
Slavonic languages. In fact she helps out at the embassy with translations."
“Have you any children?”
“Yes, we have two daughters who do well at school back home in
Russia. I telephoned them to make sure my wife’s disappearance had nothing to do
with them, but they both assured me that they were perfectly ok.”
Daisy was finishing her black coffee sip by sip. She had taken in
everything she had heard and was trying to work things out.
“I think this,” she summarised, “you are sincere in what you say
and have no idea why this all happened. But you have given me absolutely no
elements to understand why your wife should disappear suddenly with no
The oak loosened his tie and waited for Daisy to continue.
“So the best thing to do is to reflect if anything she has said
recently seemed strange and report it back to me - for all we know she might
have already walked into the embassy while you were coming here.”
The oak seemed temporarily relieved. “Miss Hamilton, you are just
as Detective-Inspector Singleton described. You have given me no false hopes. I
will go back to the embassy and do what you have suggested. I think she hasn't
returned yet, otherwise my secretary would have called me on my mobile. I told
her a lie about my wife visiting friends in Scotland.”
“Mr. Zubkov, if you have any news for me please call me
immediately, day or night.”
During the night when burglars do their work, Daisy was woken up
by her mobile phone. “Zubkov speaking, Miss Hamilton. My wife has come back but
refuses to tell me what happened. I asked her about her disappearance and she
burst into tears and refused to answer any questions. Miss Hamilton, I’m
terrified that she may leave me again if I insist too much in questioning her.”
“Mr. Zubkov, I’m glad your wife has come back, but, as you say,
she may take flight again if you upset her. Let me think...” Daisy rubbed her
eyes and blinked. “I could try following her if you like, but you must help me
by telling me when she is going out.”
“That’s quite difficult, as she is a pretty active person, but I
think my wife is going to the dentist’s this afternoon at four o’clock. She
probably will keep the appointment as she has trouble with a wisdom tooth.”
“All right then, give me the address and phone number of the
dentist and I’ll see what I can do.”
Daisy had been accepted for an appointment at the dentist’s for
six o’clock. When she arrived early at three-thirty the receptionist was very
surprised and told her she must wait a long time. Daisy assured her she didn’t
mind, settled down in a huge armchair and nearly fell asleep. After about twenty
minutes, the door opened and the receptionist showed in a very pretty lady of
about forty. “Mrs. Zubkov, please make yourself comfortable. There are some
magazines on the table if you want something to read.”
Daisy pretended to be sleepy, this part wasn’t difficult, and
observed Valentina Zubkov from her armchair. She was fair-haired, beautifully
slim and elegantly dressed, very unlike her husband. She wore make-up which only
enhanced her fascinating slightly slanting emerald -coloured eyes.
Mrs. Zubkov stared at the floor as if lost in thought, then
pulled out a newspaper cutting from her bag and read it over and over again.
When the receptionist returned she put the newspaper cutting away quickly as
though she were guilty of something, and then followed the receptionist into the
As soon as Daisy was left alone, she slipped out down the stairs
into the street. She walked until she turned the corner, pulled off her
earrings, got out a black velvet bow on a slide, pulled her hair back into a bun
and put on a pair of glasses. It was a disguise Daisy often used. She then took
off her reversible mac, pulled it inside out and put it on again. As a finishing
touch, she hid her shoulder bag into a plastic shopper she had kept in her
pocket. By now her appearance had completely changed. Daisy prepared to wait for
a long time in the doorway of a shop which had closed.
It was a full hour before Valentina the mysterious walked out of
the dentist’s down the steps and out of the gate. She seemed in a dream and
wandered off in the direction of the High Street. She looked in shop windows but
didn’t seem interested in what she saw. As she came across a teashop, she went
in and ordered tea and cucumber sandwiches. Daisy followed Valentina discreetly
into the teashop and sat down behind her, and ordered a plate of cakes and tea.
The guilty lady pulled out the newspaper cutting once more from her bag and
stared at it again. Daisy quickly pulled a small camera out of her bag
encircling it with the white chiffon scarf she had been wearing, saw that nobody
was looking at her, stood up for a couple of seconds and took a photograph of
the newspaper cutting.
After a while Mrs. Zubkov left the teashop and walked back to the
embassy with Daisy following behind. As Mrs. Zubkov disappeared behind the
embassy gate, Daisy decided the most important thing she could do was to get a
train home and knock up her good friend Dirk, who was a photographer.
“Dirk, sorry to bother you so late but could you possibly do me a
rush job. There’s an important photograph here that I need developed as quickly
“It’s a bit late Daisy, but as it’s for you, I’ll bring it round
to your office as soon as possible.”
An hour later Dirk arrived at Daisy’s office with an envelope. “I
had to enlarge it - now the words printed in the cutting are perfectly visible.”
Daisy opened the envelope and at last read what was written in
the newspaper article. It announced the untimely death of Lord Reginald
Fitzgerald, and that the funeral was fixed for Monday the sixth of October - the
very day Valentina disappeared!
Daisy looked through some newspapers which had been left in her
office by forgetful clients to find out more about Lord Fitzgerald. “There it
is!” she said to herself. ‘Lord Reginald Fitzgerald died in a riding accident.
He had been married for twenty-six years.’ There was also a picture of his son
Paul Valentine Fitzgerald, a young man with longish fair hair, of about twenty.
He was a fairly good-looking youth - and there was something about his eyes...
“Mr. Zubkov, Daisy speaking. I think I have the solution. Can you
come and see me?” Daisy could sense the tension at the other end of the line.
“I’ll be there as soon as I can. Goodbye.”
Daisy was still eating her Chinese takeaway meal when Mr. Zubkov
The oak rather fell onto the chair in Daisy’s office. His face
looked strained but he said nothing and sat waiting for Daisy to report her
“Mr. Zubkov, I’ll tell you a story, maybe some of it’s true,
maybe not. When I get to the end of it, you will judge for yourself.” The oak
just stared at Daisy.
“About twenty years ago a clever young Russian girl, wishing to
perfect her knowledge of English, came over here and met an attractive and
intelligent man, a member of the aristocracy, a Lord in fact. Unfortunately the
man was already married, so when the Russian girl became pregnant she had only
two choices: to undergo a termination, or have the baby secretly and then have
it adopted immediately after. In that period of history, a Lord having an affair
with a Russian diplomat’s daughter would have caused a lot of trouble had it
been made public.”
The oak seemed paralysed. Daisy went on: “The young woman chose
to have the baby in England secretly with the help of the Lord, she was very
slim and her pregnancy didn’t show much. After the birth of the baby, the girl
signed some papers to permit an immediate adoption and returned to her own
Now let’s come up to modern times. One day this Lord dies and
there is a picture of his son in the newspaper. The son’s name is the masculine
version of her own. The young man’s slanting eyes look just like her very own.
She must find out if he is her long-lost son. Did the Englishman adopt his own
child? After all he had no children with his wife and maybe this had been his
only opportunity to have the son he desired so much.
So Valentina goes to the funeral and realises that the young Paul
Valentine Fitzgerald looks very like herself, and that he must be her son. The
son she thought she would never be able to find or see again - or admit to.”
Daisy handed the photocopy of the newspaper article to Mr. Zubkov. He stared at
it, still in great tension, then he took to breathing more regularly and looked
“Please give me a glass of water, Miss Hamilton.” The Russian
drank thirstily. “Valentina must have suffered a lot, but she could have told
me. Many girls have made the same mistake.”
Mr. Zubkov thought for a few moments. “I will be frank with you
yet again Miss Hamilton. I imagined the worst, that she had met a much younger
man,” Mr. Zubkov looked down at his clothes, “an attractive and smarter man.” He
cleared his throat, “What happened before my wife and I met, has nothing to do
with me. I am willing to help her in any way, now and always. I will tell her
this one day.”
“But I hope you are not going to tell her you employed a private
detective to spy on her...”
“No, certainly not, Miss Hamilton. I will say nothing to my wife
until she comes and confides in me. I know my appearance and manner is rather
imposing but I’m a little different to what people would imagine.”
Daisy was quite moved.
“Thank you Miss Hamilton, I will always remember your kindness.”
The oak took Daisy’s hand and kissed it, then disappeared out into the darkness
of the night.
Months later, Daisy was sorting through society magazines trying
to find out more about a new client of hers, when she came across an article
about a magnificent reception given by the Russian embassy and a list of
illustrious guests. One guest in particular Daisy found very interesting: Lord
Paul Valentine Fitzgerald. There was also a picture of Mr. and Mrs. Zubkov
smiling and talking to the young green-eyed Lord.