The first address was the home of an extremely elderly couple. They must have been in their eighties and they both came to the door, peering up at me myopically. I made out I was representing the Church of Latter Day Saints and had to suppress a smile at their matching expressions of horror. They declined to talk to me, politely but firmly, and closed the door before I could argue. At the second address no one was home, but it didn’t seem a likely place for a chambermaid to live. It was an imposing mansion in a tree-lined avenue full of similarly resplendent dwellings, located in the only really moneyed district of the town. A wide drive curved past a pristine lawn bordered by smart box-hedges. The house itself loomed importantly, the many windows frowning down at me in appalled indignation that I should dare to disturb the raked gravel of the drive. No one who lived here would need to work as a chambermaid at a hotel, but I nevertheless allowed the doorbell to echo through the house for a full minute before turning away.
I thought no one was home at the third address either. I knocked and rang the bell to no effect. It seemed the likeliest place of the three, a small rundown bungalow, the path to the door clogged with tired-looking weeds. Only maybe she had no phone. Maybe someone else paid the phone bills, someone with a different last name. I was about to leave when the door opened a crack, the chain jangling as it caught. I couldn’t see much of the person behind the door, only a pale cheek and one anxious eye, a glimpse of greasy blonde hair straggling over a lined brow.
“What do you want?”
“Hi,” I said as cheerfully and reassuringly as I could, wondering if I’d interrupted some kind of domestic row. “Ms. Eleanor Gordon?”
It’s Miss,” she corrected me quietly. “Sorry, what do you want? I’m not buying anything.”
“I’m not selling anything,” I said. “Maybe you can help me is all. I can pay for information.” I thought the door twitched a little at this news, the eye blinked.
“Information about what?”
“My name is Thomas Farrelly. I’m a private investigator. I’ve been hired by the family of Edward Sennet…” I didn’t get any further. The chain jerked again and she slammed the door.
I knelt and called through the letter-box. “Miss Gordon? Eleanor? I just want to talk to you. A few minutes. I’ll pay you for your time. Miss Gordon? Please?” I might as well have been talking to myself. Jesus, I thought. She was scared. I remembered the anxious eye, the smell of stale sweat, the smell of fear that had emanated from her. Through the letter-box I thought I heard a sob, choked-off. “Please?”
She’d left her job. Why? I’d thought perhaps it was only the shock of meeting with a corpse – that maybe she’d tried but couldn’t get it out of her head. Had decided, after a struggle, that she couldn’t go back. I’d expected a nervous person, timid even, but not to meet with such fear. To have the door slammed in my face at just the mention of a name. Why hadn’t the police picked that up? Unless it was because of something that happened later. A week later? Say the day before she decided never to show up for work again?
I walked a little way up the street and stopped. There was nothing, just the rows of shabby houses in their small patches of ground. No useful coffee-shop or bus-stop where I could loiter and watch her front door.