Yorkshire Times
Weekend Edition
Duncan Johnstone
Literary Correspondent
9:09 AM 20th August 2021

The James Grant Files - Introducing The Team

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The sign on the door read "JAMES GRANT - PRIVATE INVESTIGATOR". Inside, in a chair with his feet on the desk, sat the Grant himself. He was a man approaching forty, a little over six foot tall with dark brown hair and occasionally bespectacled; he believed that they gave him a certain gravitas which he hoped might inspire confidence in some of his potential clients.

Beyond the office, in which he was currently seated, was another room for more private conversations. And on the floor above, his flat, consisting of sitting room, kitchen, bathroom and one bedroom. Quite sufficient for a bachelor of fairly limited means.

Miss Barclay and James Grant
Miss Barclay and James Grant
Grant had set up in business about a year earlier. Initially there had been a number of matrimonial cases. The woman who thought her husband was having an affair with her best friend. The man whose wife told him she was having a Girl's Night In with her old school chum - but when an emergency had occurred in the home and he had phoned the friend he was told that she had not seen his wife for months! He didn't like these 'investigations'. Often he felt more sympathy for the person he was investigating than for his client. But, worse than that, although the work was quite easy - just follow and watch, he didn't like it. It made him feel dirty, a Peeping Tom, a voyeur. And so he had resolved not to take on any such cases in future. The resolve had been made some months ago, and he had kept to it. From now on it would only the be more interesting and more satisfying commissions that he would accept.

After going solo so far he was now in the position to be able to employ a secretary. At this moment we find him re-reading the letter of application from a Miss Sheila Barclay. He had placed an advertisement in the local paper a week ago and had received three replies. The first from someone who, from her letter, seemed to be completely illiterate. He cast this straight into the waste bin. The second was from a Miss Dovecote whom he had interviewed yesterday. Her qualifications seemed good on paper, but when she appeared in person he knew at once that he would never be able to work with her. He needed someone flexible - and also someone who would not try to dominate him! He thanked Miss Dovecote for coming and promised a reply in due course.

The third applicant, Miss Barclay, again according to her letter, had good shorthand and typing standards and was clearly literate and intelligent. But it was the P.S. at the end of her letter that had attracted him. She had written -

"P.S. I can also make tea or coffee". She sounded like someone he could work with.

She was due to call in about half an hour. While he waited he reflected upon the other members of what he liked to think of as his 'team'. It was in no sense an official team, but rather a couple of people he knew he could rely on in a tight corner, or for useful information.

The first was Peter Foster. James and Peter's friendship went back a long way. They had first become friends at Primary School, had gone on together through the rest of their schooling, and ended up at Oxford University - though in different colleges. Having obtained good degrees they both went into industry. But, in time, both tired of it. Peter joined the police Force, and with his degree and a natural aptitude for the work he gained fast promotion and was now a Detective Inspector. James had stayed in his job in the City a little longer, but had finally left and begun the more precarious task of setting up his own Private Investigations Agency. But the two friends had continued to keep in touch.

From time to time Peter had helped with information on the basis of "I didn't tell you that!" And that was important and sometimes essential for James. Peter would make discreet enquiries on his friend's behalf - subject to some limitations, of course. For his part, James would pass on information he might get in his more unofficial capacity. It turned out to be mutually useful.

The second was a man very much on the other side of the law. No one was quite sure what Eric's second name was. He was said to answer to Smith, Brown or Jones or - as far as Grant knew - Rumplestiltskin. When not out on a 'job' he was usually to be found at the White Boar Inn. Eric was not a particularly big man, but he was fit. One story said that he had once been middleweight boxing champion for Southern England. True or not, you wouldn't want to mix it with him. But he was only violent when necessary, and he had a part friendship, part business relationship with James Grant.

No one talked about the 'jobs' on which Eric was sometimes engaged, usually at night and in secret. The truth was that he was a thief (among other things). But he was a crook with a conscience. He would never mug an old lady and steal her handbag. He wouldn't steal from anyone he knew to be poor. The front door wide open and no one around - if the occupant was not wealthy, Eric would not be tempted. He saw himself as a sort of Robin Hood - stealing from the rich. However the second aspect of Robin's activities - giving to the poor - he seemed to have forgotten about, unless the Landlord of The White Boar could be considered to be among the needy!

The White Boar was in itself a place of interest - or so it claimed, for beneath the sign was a message proclaiming that "Richard III stayed here." Not, reflected Grant the first time he saw it, in this particular building, which was scarcely more than thirty years old - despite the mock Tudor beams. But it was, he thought, just about possible that an Inn of earlier vintage may have occupied the same site. Anyway, the Landlord insisted, the main purpose was to encourage American visitors who were, he reckoned, not too hot on English history.

Peter and Eric were two very different men but James knew that he could rely on both of them.

And now, perhaps, a woman was about to be added to the 'team'.

The time for her arrival and interview had come and, sure enough, right on time, came a knock at the door.

"Enter", he called. And she did!

Grant reached for his spectacles - the better to see the lovely vision that had just entered his office.

She was beautiful! About 5ft 2ins with eyes - not of blue - but brown; and the kind of figure that, if you passed her in the street, you wouldn't be able to resist the temptation to look back over your shoulder. Grant was not the kind of man who spent his time "standing on the corner watching all the girls go by", but he would have stood a long time on any corner to watch this particular girl pass by.

The interview quickly established that her intellectual and practical qualities equalled, almost, her personal beauty. It would not be long before she would prove them. Grant offered her the job straight away - and she accepted by making two cups if coffee! The 'team' was complete.

Grant took up a file on his desk. It had been passed to him by Peter Foster who wondered if he might help. The police had not been able to explain how a young woman had been killed in a room which had been locked from the inside and into which no means of entry could be discovered.

Unbeknown to Peter, Grant had also been engaged by the woman's family. This would be his next case.

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