The Mystery Of Anna Grace – Episode 01

There could be nowhere colder, Charlie decided, than a railway station platform on a cold Monday morning in January.

She pulled her scarf tighter around her before it could blow away in the icy wind. Her suitcase sat beside her.

Was this the right decision? Charlie still wasn’t sure.

“Best foot forward.” That was her grandmother’s favourite phrase.

Just thinking this gave Charlie some courage. She tried to focus on the day ahead.

The advert had been so small that Charlie had nearly missed it in the Situations Vacant column of the paper.

Marketing Assistant, Anna Grace Country House Hotel.

Intrigued, Charlie had e-mailed for an application form. The salary quoted had been modest, but when she checked the job criteria, she felt a flutter of excitement as it sounded like the sort of job she would enjoy.

Just then, the train pulled in and Charlie got on, glad that the Monday morning commuters were waiting on the opposite platform.

Anna Grace was an out-of-the-way place, but the name had stuck in Charlie’s mind because her grandmother had worked there when she was a young woman.

“There was a tea shop when old Mr Graystone was alive. Best job I ever had,” her grandmother had often said.

Charlie settled herself into her seat and allowed her mind to drift as the train sped on its way to Anna Grace.

As the office blocks and industrial estates gave way to fields and cattle, Charlie thought of the story her grandmother had told her.

The Georgian house had been built by the first Mr Graystone, and named after his wife, Anna, who had been a French silk weaver’s daughter. In time, the name was shortened from Anna Graystone to Anna Grace.

The butterflies in Charlie’s stomach would not be stilled. Her mother had texted to wish her good luck but still, it was a new job, a new venture.

Charlie got out the Anna Grace brochure from her bag. It was out of date, the photos were gloomy and Charlie had put together some ideas to make the old house look and sound more appealing to guests.

“Oh, how lovely. Anna Grace! We stayed there on our honeymoon!” the lady opposite said, well wrapped up in a purple fleece.

“I’m starting a job there,” Charlie said with more confidence than she felt.

“Good for you. It was the nicest place – very romantic. Mr Graystone was a real gentleman. Didn’t matter if you were a dustman or a duchess, he’d treat you just the same.”

“It was the son who interviewed me,” Charlie said, accepting one of the woman’s homemade pieces of flapjack she had produced from a plastic box.

The job interview had not been at all romantic, Charlie remembered. It had taken place not in Anna Grace itself, but in an office block in London where Robin Graystone, the eldest son and current owner of Anna Grace, worked.

Robin Graystone had inherited the unruly dark hair of the Graystones, but not, it seemed, any of the legendary Graystone charm.

Charlie, who started by explaining that she was Charlotte but was called Charlie, didn’t help matters by tripping in her new high-heeled boots and nearly careering into Robin, whose face looked as if it would crack if he smiled.

Robin was flanked by a woman who introduced herself curtly as “Harriet Redley, Anna Grace Public Relations Consultant”.

Harriet’s tailored black shift dress and jacket looked expensive and wouldn’t be much use, Charlie thought, in a big, draughty country house.

The interview had started off with questions about Charlie’s previous jobs, working for a university events team then for a hotel chain.

Robin Graystone insisted on calling her “Miss McLaughlin” throughout the interview and, when Charlie was in full flow, outlining her copywriting experience, he interrupted her.

“What would you do, Miss McLaughlin, if the power suddenly cut out and you have a house full of guests and a full dining-room?”

Charlie thought for a moment, determined not to let this rather imperious pair fluster her.

“I’d light candles and tell the guests to imagine what Anna Grace would have been like one hundred and fifty years ago. Then I’d tell them how the house got its name.”

For the first time, Robin Graystone smiled, a great, wide smile that lit up his whole face.

“Events organisation is more than just spinning a few romantic tales. How many conferences have you organised in the past?” Harriet snapped.

Charlie told Robin and Harriet about organising conferences for everyone from church organists to financial analysts.

“We’ll let you know,” Robin Graystone said.

He handed Charlie back her portfolio, and to Charlie’s surprise helped her on with her coat as she picked up her handbag and tried to make her exit more dignified than her entrance.

Charlie had walked back to the Tube station, assuming she hadn’t got the job, when her mobile sang from her handbag:

“He’d like to offer you the job,” Harriet said. “We’ll see you on Monday.”

Abigail Phillips

Abbie is the newest member of the fiction team at the "Friend." She loves how varied the role is - every day is different and there is always a new story to read. She is keen to work closely with established writers and discover new writers, too.