Chapter 37 – Catching Up – Modern Day
The person standing before him was the woman in his dream.
“Hello, can I help you?” The lady said with a smile, as she looked first at Jason then the SUV in the driveway. “Are you lost?”
“Er no, no!” Jason feebly replied, still shaken by her appearance. She was indeed the real-life version of the waif in his dream, although her hair was much longer, shinier and she was absolutely stunning. The lady was probably in her late thirties, early forties but very young and athletic looking, dressed in office clothes consisting of a dark jacket, skirt and cream-colored blouse. She was about the same height as Jason and as her beautiful dark eyes met his, the images of his dream came flowing back, melting his insides as he tried to reply to her. “No of course not, no, my name is Jason, Jason Clifford.”
“Well, Mr. Jason Clifford, if you are not lost, what can I do for you?” The lady repeated her question, albeit still, with that friendly smile.
“Ah yes, well, I’m trying to trace a Lady Ashdene.” Jason stammered.
“I’m afraid Lady Ashdene passed away some time ago, 1944 to be exact.” The lady stated. Jason’s response was to slap himself on the forehead.
“Yes, yes, I am aware of her demise, sorry, this is not going to plan,” Jason began, deciding the best thing to do right now was not to look at the lady. “I’m trying to trace Lady Ashdene’s descendants and as this was the last known address that I have I thought I would ask here.”
“Well yes, you’ve come to the right place.” The lady replied, “I am Lady Ashdene’s granddaughter, and for the third time Mr. Clifford, what can I do for you?” The lady was not upset as she appeared to be enjoying Jason’s bumbling attempts at communicating with her.
“You are?” Jason said.
“Yes, I am, I just told you that!” The lady replied.
“Then I think I may have something that belongs to you,” Jason said. Now the lady looked a little skeptical and once more glanced over to the four faces peering at her from the SUV. Jason meanwhile pulled from his pocket a copy of the photograph they had found online when they were searching through the paper’s archives.
“Is this your grandmother?” Jason asked as he pointed at the lady in the cutting.
“Yes, that’s her, I have the original. Where did you get this from and what could you possibly have that you claim can be mine?” The lady said, now intrigued.
“That necklace,” Jason replied, pointing at the photograph. “I have it. I recovered it from the St. Louis Streamer.” The lady’s smile disappeared and for a moment Jason thought he had struck a nerve and that he was about to be asked to leave the premises.
“Well, you’d better come in then.” The lady said as she stepped back and opened the door wider. “Would your friends like to come in and join you?”
“They would be delighted.” Jason smiled and waved to the others to come in.
Jason stood by the door and introduced each one of them as they entered.
“This is Chuck,” Jason said.
“Caroline Ashdene.” The lady replied as Chuck shyly shook her hand and gave a slight bow.
“Archie,” Jason said.
“Hi, Archie.” The lady said.
“Pleased to meet you ma’am,” Archie said as he too shook her hand and lingered a little longer on the hold than would have been customary.
“This is Bill,” Jason said.
“Hello, Bill.” The lady said. Bill just nodded his head and gave a light shake of her hand.
“And finally, Dexter,” Jason said.
“Come in Dexter, pleased to meet you.” The lady said.
“Likewise,” Dexter said.
“Why don’t you all go through to the sitting room and I will put on some coffee.” The lady said as she directed them to a door on their left. She followed them in to retrieve something from a credenza, but as she went to pull the drawer it wouldn’t open.
“Damn, the lock has got stuck again,” Caroline said.
“Here, let me take a look.” Dexter offered as he stepped forward already with one of his many lock-picking tools in his hand. Within seconds he had picked the lock, so he pulled open the drawer a fraction and stepped back. As he walked away, Caroline thanked him then reached into the drawer to extract something from it which she secreted in an inside pocket of her jacket before leaving to prepare the coffee.
The room was expertly decorated, resplendent with leather seats and expensive artifacts. There were numerous photographs distributed amongst the walls and on top of bureaus and sideboards. Jason noticed a few pictures of Lady Ashdene with a young boy which he assumed to be Caroline’s father. The others were also marveling at the contents of the room and Dexter nodded at Jason with wide eyes as if to say, ’there’s money here’.
It wasn’t long before Caroline returned with a trolley containing a carafe of coffee and a tray containing various types of cakes and cookies, much to the delight of the elder statesmen of the group.
“Sorry, I wasn’t expecting company,” Caroline offered apologetically, “so this is all I have available.” She needn’t have worried, clumsy hands had already begun to reach out for the goodies.
“So, you said you have recovered my grandmother’s jewelry,” Caroline said skeptically. “Do you have it with you?”
“Er no, I don’t,” Jason replied, which made Caroline even more skeptical, she was beginning to think this was all some sort of scam.
“So, after some 70 years, during which there have been numerous searches and theories put forward regarding the disappearance of the boat, you, a complete stranger turns up on my doorstep claiming to have found my grandmother’s necklace, but you don’t actually have it with you. Have I got that right?” Caroline asked with some authority.
“Yes, that’s correct,” Jason replied gingerly.
“So why should I believe you and what do you want from me?” Caroline asked.
“I don’t want anything from you,” Jason replied, looking surprised, and was about to continue before Caroline verbally attacked him again.
“I better warn you, I am an experienced lawyer. A Harvard graduate worked in corporate law in New York for fifteen years. Don’t try and intimidate me, you will be sadly disappointed.” Caroline told the group and by now if there was anyone who was intimidated it was Jason who was now looking at her like a scolded puppy.
“I think you had better explain everything from the beginning,” Dexter said, slowly and quietly, trying to add a little reason to the conversation. The others couldn’t say anything because their mouths were too full of goodies. Caroline merely stared at Jason, he took a deep breath and related the series of events that had brought them to this point, although he omitted the bit about his dream, that was just his secret. Jason told her of his theory and even told her about the F.B.I. investigation, which he knew he shouldn’t have done. Once he had finished, she looked at him for a minute then pulled a cell-phone from her pocket, scrolled down her contact list and dialed a number. As soon as the recipient replied she walked out of the room and the men could hear her talking but not what she was actually saying. After a minute she returned.
“Well, this is truly an incredible theory, although you have no photographs or any evidence to support your findings,” Caroline said as she paced backward and forward in the room. “You do not have the necklace. Furthermore, I have just spoken to a contact of mine and he has told me he can’t find any reference to an agent Redmond in the F.B.I. nor is he aware of any investigation being carried out along the Mississippi. One of you obviously has safe-cracking skills,” she said, pointing her head towards Dexter. “You’re obviously the smooth talker,” directing her attention back to Jason. By this time her pacing had brought her to the long sliding doors that faced a beautiful, well-manicured ornamental garden. At this point, she reached into the pocket of her jacket and pulled out a gun. Then, pointing to the front door with some vehemence with one hand while aiming the gun at Jason with the other she added, “I don’t know what kind of scam you are trying to pull here but I think you had all better leave. Now.”