For my Familiarise Friday slot I'm taking the opportunity to let you meet the three main characters in my mystery thriller - TOPAZ EYES.
The plot for Topaz Eyes is based around a fictitious family tree which I loved creating. To make the plot deeper, and have more twist and turns, I made the matriarch of the family a Dutch woman, Geertje Hoogeveen, from Amsterdam. The family tree 'begins' with the marriage of Geertje in the late 1870s. Designing the family tree and making the ancestral 'bits' fit was a fine exercise in patience. I even loved discovering that something, or some date, wasn't feasible which meant a bit of sleuthing to make changes for it to 'work'. The plot is a complicated one and by designing the ancestral tree it meant that most of the character names can be traced - though there are a few secondary characters who do not appear on the diagram.
Up till this point in the story, the third generation cousins from the family tree of Geertje Hoogeveen have never met. Mystery shrouds the invitations to go to Heidelberg - invitations issued by one of the cousins named Jensen Amsel. Jensen is the cousin who has the belief that an amazing legacy is hidden somewhere in extended family possessions. Keira Drummond has also been asked to go to Heidelberg, though she hasn't a clue why. It's been years since she was a student at Heidelberg University but she just can't resist the lure of returning to the fabulous city.
.....the conversation was interrupted by the arrival of two men. One man Keira didn’t know. The other was… familiar. The older of the men offered his hand in introduction.
“Miss Drummond. I’m very pleased to meet you. I’m Jensen Amsel.” His words broke off as he wheeled around to introduce the second man. “This is Teun Zeger. Teun has come from California to be with us, and he is the third special guest I invited here tonight.” As Jensen Amsel pumped her hand in welcome, her gaze strayed to the other man.
The American from Steingasse. He was another of Jensen Amsel’s special guests? Was that why he’d also seemed edgy earlier on Steingasse? Maybe he’d been feeling as vulnerable as she had about the mysterious summons. Heat pooled in her cheeks. What a stupid idiot she’d been.
Teun Zeger’s cool tones assailed her – nothing like his honeyed warmth of the afternoon – his expression forbidding and now distinctly unfriendly. He appeared to be completely ignoring the fact they’d already met, his gaze flashing to Zaan, and then back to her. There was none of his former interest; his mouth tightened as though with distaste. Maybe she had been right to flee him that afternoon, but she couldn’t now.
His handshake was brief. Despite his disconnection, her palm tingled from the brief contact. A frisson of awareness started again, trickling down her spine and, in spite of his antipathy, the same desirous warmth of the afternoon pooled low in her torso. She hoped her face didn’t appear as flushed as she felt. Though speaking was difficult in the face of his brusque delivery, courtesy ruled her response. And, like him, she chose to ignore their earlier interaction. “Hello, Mr. Zeger.”
After a quick introduction to Zaan, who regarded Teun Zeger with undisguised curiosity, Herr Amsel ushered them through the gallery. “I’m so pleased you have all accepted my invitation. If we may talk first, you will be very welcome to browse around the exhibits afterwards?”
An unnecessary question, since they all trooped after Herr Amsel anyway; eager to get on with whatever they were there for. He led them through a door at the back into a small office and indicated three chairs which sat lined up, ready and waiting for them. Teun Zeger politely stood aside to allow Keira to take the middle chair, though didn’t acknowledge her nod of thanks, his focus on Zaan sliding onto the chair at her other side.
When all were seated, Jensen Amsel began. “At least one of you has an idea why I’ve asked you all to come, although I don’t believe the other two have any idea at all. Is that correct, Meneer De Raad?”
Keira picked up Zaan’s chuckle as he answered.
“Wasting no time?”
Jensen’s smile was appreciative, the tiniest nod of acknowledgement moving his head at Zaan’s statement. “Indeed. There’s no point in being discreet any more, Meneer De Raad. Your identities have all been verified by my lawyer this afternoon, so, if no-one has any objections, we’ll use our first names? It’ll make things easier.”
Keira had no objection. Since there were no howls of protest, Jensen continued.
“Zaan can confirm, I collect many types of artwork. Currently, I want to bring together a complete set of associated objects. I have one article, but I believe all three of you either have missing items from the collection, or have access to them. What I’d like is to amass the set, in its entirety, with your help.”
Keira studied Jensen as he clicked his fingers; not a becoming trait, something she always found annoying – even a bit repellent. Somewhere around forty-five, Jensen emanated poise. Polished to the nth degree, this included his bleached-white teeth. Honey-hued, manicured hair had not a short strand out of place, his heavy cologne permeating the air in the small room. Though quite tall, Jensen’s height didn’t measure up to either of the other two men present. What he projected a lot of was money, self-possession… and purpose.
Regardless of his appearance, Keira didn’t believe she had anything this man could possibly want.
Teun Zeger leaned forward in the chair, bracing his palms on his knees. His fingers curled around his kneecaps, demonstrating something of the same disquiet she’d sensed had been his problem on Steingasse, but now, she was sure she was the target of his annoyance as well. Snapped words, and sidelong glances, bore out her evaluation of his mood.
“Would you ditch the mystery, Jensen, and just enlighten me as to what you think I have that interests you? And tell me why you couldn’t have asked for it in the letter you sent to me? I came here of my own free will – granted – but I’m not hanging around any longer if you’re going to drag this out, for I’m damned sure I’ve no idea what you’re referring to.”
Jensen’s reply lacked emotion, his face a blank screen, his gaze focused on Teun as Keira regarded the by-play.
“Teun. It may come as a surprise to you, but you actually know more about this invitation than Keira. At least you knew from my letter I had something of family interest you might be glad to take back to the USA with you. Keira had no such suggestion made to her.”
Tension rose in the room, which didn’t only radiate from Teun.
Keira sat uneasy, also unwilling to be in the dark any longer. “Would you please explain why you think I may have something you want, Herr Amsel?” She found herself reluctant to use his first name, considering the antagonism now mounting.
“All in good time, Keira. And please call me Jensen. I don’t set out to be anyone’s enemy. I believe each of you can provide access to items belonging to the collection. All the pieces are likely to vary in monetary value but, viewed as a complete entity, it will make an impressive display. It’s a historic set… and unique.”