Olga Hesitated for a while before entering the small alley in Highmarsh, a suburb of Lornoirville close to the harbor and inhabited with container yards, warehouses, truck repair shops and many old apartment blocks built for the workers from textile mills and the harbor. She checked the paper in her hand to make sure the address was right. It was a very small alley flanked by dilapidated apartment blocks on both sides that threatened to cave in on her any minute. The buildings were built so close that the alley between them was very dark even at noon on a hot summer day. She found the entrance to Block D; the three storied building on her left and started climbing the rickety wooden stairs that had become concave in the middle due to wear and tear of more than five decades. The paint was flaking from the walls. As she climbed the stairs she became aware of a couple of boys in grease-stained clothes who were loitering near the entrance, following her with their eyes. A young blonde in expensive clothes was quite a rare and strange sight in that place, which somehow seemed to have been left behind in time as the rest of Lornoirville had moved on in the glittering age of new found prosperity. Olga looked around and turned left when she reached the second storey. She walked down the corridor, with balcony facing the alley she had just come through, reading the numbers above the wooden doors. There were four doors on her left and one straight ahead at the end of the corridor facing her. The first one near the staircase was number 25 and the last one, facing her, was 29. She glanced at the paper in her hand; she had to find Room No.24. She turned around and went past the staircase towards the other end of the corridor. The first door from the staircase was no.24.
There was neither a doorbell nor a knocker. Olga knocked with her fist and waited. The door was answered by a slim, petite dark haired girl in her early twenties. She was wearing a simple black knee length skirt and dark red blouse, which complemented her fair complexion. She smiled and seemed happy as if either a visitor to that place was very rare or very welcome.
“Ah…I am here to see Mr.Grimm.” Olga said peering inside.
“Hi, I am Matilda, Mr.Grimm’s assistant. Please come in.”
Matilda moved aside to let Olga pass. The room was Spartan to say the least. It was like a studio apartment from lost ages. A single room to use as a living room, bedroom and a kitchen. A small splintered wooden door near the back led to the bathroom and toilet. There was a rickety bed against the left wall. A table stood at the back right corner with a stove, some pots and plates. A small fridge was kept beside the makeshift kitchen. Near the main door was a wooden table and two chairs with worn out leather. The furniture filled the room leaving very little space to move around. The paint on the walls was in worse condition than the one on the walls outside.
“Please sit.” Matilda said pointing at a chair, “Mr.Grimm would be here soon.”
Olga sat on the chair and smiled nervously at Matilda. She was about to speak when there was a knock on the door. As Matilda opened the door, Olga turned to see an old man enter. He was a thin man of average height. He appeared to be in his sixties and stooped a little. He had dense curly white hair and a pair of round wire rimmed glasses that rested on his nose. He was wearing black flat front trousers and white dress shirt with suspenders. He was wearing a black woolen overcoat and Olga wondered why he would wear that on a summer day. He walked in slowly and closed the door behind him. Then he walked up to Olga and looked at her with Grimm expression as if studying her. Then he smiled and spoke up.
“Hello. I am Edward Grimm.” He said.
“Hello, I am Olga Vasiliev. I have come through the reference of Mr.Douglas Adams, the high court lawyer.” Olga said.
“Oh, yes Douglas, I remember him.” Mr.Grimm said as he sat on the other chair beside Olga. Matilda was sitting on the bed behind them listening in.
“So what can I do for you Miss. Vasiliev?” Mr.Grimm asked.
“I am looking to hire you to investigate a murder.” Olga said.
“Well aren’t the police investigating it already?” Mr.Grimm asked.
“Yes, they are. But given the number of unsolved murder cases with the police, I wanted to make sure that the killer is brought to book. Mr. Douglas spoke very highly of you.”
“Oh! old Doug. Never mind him. Was anyone close to you murdered?”
“She was my birth mother.” Olga said.
“Birth mother?” Mr.Grimm said raising an eyebrow.
“It’s a long story. She was an actress and unmarried when I was born so she gave me up at an orphanage. I grew up there till I was five. Then Mr and Mrs Vasiliev adopted me. I was curious about my birth mother so two months ago I went back to the orphanage to get her address. She had moved since then. But after making inquiries with the neighbors I got in touch with her friends through whom I reached her.” Olga stopped, closed her eyes and took a deep breath before she continued talking, “It wasn’t quite what I had expected. At first she did not seem very happy to see me. She was an alcoholic and unemployed for long. I gave her some money and helped her tidy her home. I used to visit her every weekend to make sure that she was okay. We were getting a little close finally and …” Olga started sobbing, “…and she was mur…murdered last week.” Olga said between tears. “Police say it was a burglary gone wrong.”
Then with force of conviction she added, “But there was nothing to steal. Why would someone want to kill a poor old woman? I don’t believe that the police could catch the killer so I am here asking for your services.”
Mr.Grimm stared at the table in front of him, absorbed in what Olga was saying. He nodded and said “Matilda.”
Matilda stood up and put her hand on Olga’s shoulder, looked her in the eyes, smiled and nodded. Olga wiped her tears and smiled back. Mr.Grimm looked at Matilda with an exasperated expression.
Matilda stopped smiling and said, “Mr.Grimm charges 200 a day and only accepts weekly payments. He will continue the investigation till he finds the murderer or you ask us to stop. He will start the investigation from coming Monday. Now I will give you a paper, write down everything you know about your mother, her address and name of the police officer investigating the case.”
Olga wrote down everything she knew about her birth mother on the paper Matilda had given her. She thanked Mr.Grimm and Matilda and left. When she left the shoddy room she felt a sense of relief and she could not point out if it was because she was out of that stuffy room or because she was glad that Mr.Grimm had taken her case. She somehow felt certain though that her mother would get justice now.