44 Scotland Street: The Czechess

Illustration by Iain McIntosh

Illustration by Iain McIntosh

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VOLUME 10, episode 33: Pat looked at Matthew over the top of her mug of tea. “I feel so disloyal,” she said.

“Talking about your father? Is that what makes you feel disloyal?”

She nodded. “We don’t like to criticise our parents to others; somehow it seems so wrong.”

Matthew thought about this. He knew a number of people who found fault in their parents – on occasion, serious fault. There were others, of course, who would never do this – who elevated their parents to some sort of pedestal and who would never face up even to the most obvious defects in character. Presumably, as in all human affairs there would be a via media – an attitude of charity that was not blind to parental shortcomings but that was discreet about them, and understanding too.

“I don’t think you should reproach yourself,” Matthew reassured her. “And if you can’t talk about your parents reasonably objectively, then you may not be able to help them.”

Pat seemed to take comfort from this. “I do want to help him,” she said. “It’s probably too late, but I really would like to help him.”

“Why not tell me?” said Matthew.

Pat was silent for a few moments. Then she said, “That woman is after his money. It’s glaringly obvious and the only person who can’t see it is my ­father.”

Matthew frowned. “Are you sure? Just because she may be younger than he is doesn’t mean that she’s a gold-digger. There are plenty of people who fall in love with older people who …”

“ … who have more money than they have.”

“Not just that,” said Matthew. “Some of them may not be interested in money at all.”

Pat made a face. “Highly unlikely.”

Matthew shrugged. “You’re being very cynical.”

“I’m being realistic,” said Pat. “Look at those ads you see in the lonely hearts column.”

“Which ones?”

“The ones that make it crystal clear,” answered Pat. “Inadvertently, of course. Young woman (27) seeks male friend. Age not an issue. Well, you know what responses that’ll get: late middle-aged men who don’t see the trap they’re walking into.” She paused. “I saw one the other day placed by a young man of 22 looking for a male friend over sixty, preferably with a house abroad and a yacht. How transparent can you get? And if I were that guy with the yacht I’d be careful about falling into the sea. And careful about signing a new will.”

Matthew looked incredulous. “Surely not.”

“Well, why else would he put in an ad like that?”

Matthew shrugged again. “People are looking for different things. Emotional security. A substitute parent. All sorts of things.”

“Including money,” said Pat.

“Maybe.” He paused. “Have you got any evidence that this women …”

“She’s called Anichka,” said Pat. “Although I can hardly bring myself to utter the name.”

“Have you got any evidence that Anichka’s interested in your father’s money? The fact that she’s Eastern ­European doesn’t automatically mean that she’s out to improve her financial situation. A lot of these marriages to foreign women work very well because people love one another. It happens, you know.”

Pat was dismissive. “I know what she’s like because that’s all she talks about. Money. What things cost. All the time.”

She gave Matthew some examples. “She reads The Scotsman property supplement every Thursday. I’ve seen her. And I’ve picked the paper up afterwards and she will have circled the ads for any houses that are at all like my father’s. And she underlines the price. That’s so that she knows what ours will be worth – she’s watching the price.”

“Perhaps she’s thinking of moving.”

“No, they aren’t thinking of that. My father told me that she loves his place and is looking forward to living there. And here’s another example. She had his pictures valued, and some of the furniture too. I came across the valuation report.”

“Perhaps it was for insurance. People do that, you know. You have to make sure you’re not under-insured.”

She brushed this off. “No, it wasn’t for insurance. And there’s another thing. My father goes to a bank where you still have a bank manager who looks after you. I happen to know his manager, ­because he happens to be my godfather. And he came to see me. He was very ­embarrassed, and a bit furtive too. He said that he really shouldn’t talk to me about it, but he felt that he had to. He said my father had given Anichka signing rights on his deposit account and money was being transferred out of it and sent to the Czech Republic and to some account in Toronto. He said that quite a bit of money had gone.”

Matthew winced. “Oh,” he said. “That doesn’t sound very good.”

“No,” said Pat.

“Have you talked to him?”

This seemed to trigger a painful memory. “Yes, I did. And he said that he was very disappointed in me for being so suspicious. He said that Anichka was not at all materialistic. I said then why did she take such an interest in the price of everything. And he said that he thought this was because she was trying to get used to this country and it was important to know what things cost if you were to understand a place.”

“Oh really!”

“Exactly.”

Matthew sighed. “I don’t think there’s much you can do. Unless …”

“Yes?”

“Unless you set some sort of trap.”

The possibility appealed to Pat. “A ­financial trap?”

Matthew shook his head. “No, a honey trap.”

Pat was hesitant. “A honey trap?”

Matthew looked a bit sheepish. “I feel a bit embarrassed to suggest this,” he said. “But it has to be considered. What if he were to find that she had a thing for another man. Would the scales fall from his eyes?”

Pat considered this. “I suppose it would show that she wasn’t really interested in him.”

“Yes.”

“But how do you arrange a honey trap?”

“You bait it with the most irresistible man you can find. The man tries to tempt her. She falls for him and you make sure you get the evidence. Bingo!”

Matthew could hardly believe that he was actually suggesting this, and neither could Pat – at first. It was reckless; it was absurd; it was dangerous. But as they thought about it, they realised that it was exactly what they needed to do. And they both realised, almost at the same time, who was the obvious bait.

“Bruce?” said Matthew tentatively.

“I was just thinking of him,” said Pat.

“Synchronicity,” said Matthew. “It happens all the time.” He paused. “Of course, it’s neutral. Bad ideas no doubt occur together in much the same way as good.”

“Have you changed your mind?”

“No. Bruce is ideal. He’ll love it. It’s just the assignment for somebody like him.”

Pat looked doubtful. “I don’t think we should do it.”

“No, we probably shouldn’t,” said Matthew. “But shouldn’t doesn’t mean shan’t. And …” He was looking at her intently. “And come on, Pat, this is a … this is a rescue.”

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