The Hamilton home was an elegant Georgian style house on a small development named “The Coppice” in one of the nicest suburbs of the town. She imagined that the builders would have described the houses as “Executive Homes in an Exclusive Area” in their advertising material. The road was wide and tree-lined with neat grass verges and large driveways, proclaiming the residents as well-heeled and successful. Mrs Coombes always enjoyed the walk there from the busier area where she lived, as it seemed like an oasis of calm and peace, and she could admire the green leafiness and the bird song as she went along.
Mrs Hamilton was usually there to let her in, and they would exchange a few words about her work for the day, and then Mrs Coombes would set about her tasks. She worked quietly and efficiently, and knew instinctively what needed doing. She did not encourage conversation, and did not require the radio or a chatty tea-break with her employer. Mrs Hamilton thought her an absolute god-send, as she had remarked more than once to her husband.
She was also impressed by Mrs Coombes’ appearance. She didn’t exactly wear a uniform, but was always smartly dressed in black trousers and a white shirt, and did not appear to require an overall or apron while working. Mrs Hamilton felt that this set exactly the right tone for this sort of house and a young modern family.
At her interview a few months back, Mrs Coombes had described herself as offering part-time housekeeping. She would tidy and clean as required, but should not be expected to scrub floors or do other rough work. She was available for two four-hour sessions a week on a Tuesday and Thursday morning and might be available for occasional babysitting on some evenings. This seemed perfect to Mrs Hamilton, who was desperate for someone to help keep the house looking good, and to give her time off from the children now and again. Edith was five, and at school now, so there was just 3 year old Toby at home.
Everything seemed to be working out perfectly. Clothes were always clean and in the right place, carpets hoovered, dust controlled, and bathrooms sparkling. Mrs Coombes achieved miracles it seemed, and it left Mrs Hamilton free to take Toby to Nursery or out shopping knowing that she would return to a perfect home. Mr Hamilton was very appreciative also, as he liked to be able to entertain clients and colleagues at home quite often and to create a good impression. Mrs Coombes gathered that he did something impressive in banking, and had not enquired further. The only information that she had volunteered about herself was that she was a widow, and lived alone.
Mrs Coombes was a born organiser, and seemed to enjoy housework. In fact her favourite job was taking care of the master bedroom, as Mrs Hamilton in particular was rather careless with her belongings, and seemed incapable of putting things in the correct places. It was satisfying to hang her beautiful clothes on the rails in the dressing room and fold her soft sweaters neatly. The dressing table was always covered in bits of jewellery and abandoned silk scarves or perfume bottles that needed tidying away. One morning Mrs Hamilton was in a panic about a necklace that she had worn the evening before, a special anniversary gift from her husband. She was sure that she had left it on the dressing table when she went to bed, but it had gone. Mrs Coombes found it on the floor at the back, and was pronounced “a treasure.” Another time, a valuable ring went missing from the jewellery box in the dressing room, and Mrs Hamilton had asked her rather pointedly whether she had any idea what might have happened to it. Mrs Coombes led her to the playroom and pointed out a cardboard box in the corner labelled Pirets Treshur in red crayon. It contained strings of beads, a pretty brooch, and the missing ruby ring that Mrs Hamilton had inherited from her Grandmother. Her red-faced employer insisted that she had not for a moment thought that Mrs Coombes had been responsible for its disappearance, but knew that she was terribly good at tracking things down. Those children were very naughty and would get a good talking to later.
Just a couple of weeks later, Mrs Hamilton announced on a Tuesday morning that with the half-term holiday coming up, it had been decided that the family would fly out to Spain at the weekend to stay in their villa near Marbella, as Mr Hamilton needed a break from his office. Apologies for the short notice, but to make up for it Mrs Coombes could take that week off with pay, as she would not be needed, and she replied that this would suit her very well, as she wanted to visit her sister. It was agreed that on Thursday she would help her employer with assembling the family belongings and packing the suitcases so that they would be ready to leave on Friday afternoon. This duly took place, and then Mrs Coombes wished them a happy holiday, and set off into the town, walking briskly.
Home was a bedsitting room with bathroom, which had served its purpose very well. Her suitcase was almost packed, and she changed quickly into a smart dress and jacket, and applied her make-up. She loosened her hair from the neat chignon that she wore for work, and brushed it down around her shoulders. Then she carefully removed all signs of her occupation from the room, leaving it as bare, neat and tidy as when she had arrived. She checked her handbag for passport and cash, and before packing her coat she removed from the pocket a paper bag of mint sweets. Fishing underneath them she drew out a heavy diamond bracelet, that she had discovered on one of her searches, in a box under some old papers in the Hamilton house. It was 1920s style, and looked valuable. She knew about these things, having relieved employers of seemingly unwanted treasures during the past few years in a number of different countries.
Now Stella Weston put the bracelet into a pouch in her bag where it joined some other jewellery, and went down the stairs, and out into the waiting taxi. Her flight would be departing in a few hours, and she was bound for Amsterdam where she had a friend who would find a market for her latest collection. All in all it had been a highly successful few months.