To read from the first episode click here: Episode 1
“Oh, look, the watercress in my sandwich is absolutely wilting. Why are we out here in this heat? It’s much more comfortable inside.” Gabe looked at his brother when there was no response. “Nick! I said,-”
“I heard you! Why don’t you go back inside, then?” Nick, irritated, flapped his hand. “Scurry back to your air-conditioning. You’re such a wimp, Gabe! Even in winter you moan that it’s too hot for you.”
“And it’s never hot enough for you, is it? Even the fires of Hell-” Gabe’s whingeing was interrupted by the appearance of a short man in the dark green uniform of a company messenger scurrying towards them.
“You’d think,” Nick grumbled so the little man was sure to hear him, “that they’d at least let us have lunch in peace.”
Gabe tutted at Nick and beckoned the man over. “Hello, Herbert, what’s up?”
Herbert, eyes darting nervously to Nick, removed his cap and smoothed one small hand over the thin ginger strands so carefully combed from ear to ear over his shiny bald pate. He bowed slightly to Gabe and said, “Your presence is required on the top floor.”
“Both of us?”
“Both of you, yes, sir. Um… immediately?”
“OK,” said Gabe, “We’ll be along in two ticks, Herbert, there’s no need to wait.”
Herbert rammed his cap back on and scurried away.
Frowning, Gabe packed up the half-finished sandwiches. “We haven’t been summoned like that for ages. What have you been up to, Nick?”
“Me? Why assume it’s me?”
“Because it always is! It’s what you do!”
“Well, yes, but it’s what I’m supposed to do; trouble is my business. The more trouble I get involved in, the better my performance, you know that. And my figures have been exceptional this month. No, it must be something you’ve done.”
Gabe thought his brother might be right, but couldn’t for the life of him think what transgression he might have made. He said, “My figures are good too. My team has been working flat out, I really can’t think why he wants to see us.”
Nick tutted. “We’ll find out soon enough, won’t we. Let’s go before he gets impatient and sends another of his minions out to fetch us.”
The brothers hurried across the lush grass of the private garden and into their office building, an edifice of glass and steel that was taller and more architecturally magnificent than any other building around it. They strolled through a short, dimly lit corridor and pushed through a pair of heavy doors that led into the rear of a cool, bright, air-conditioned reception area. As they crossed the gleaming floor, Gabe saw Nick give a sly wink to the three beautiful young receptionists who sat behind the vast croissant-shaped desk. To a woman, they all simpered and patted their hair. One even giggled and Gabe rolled his eyes. If he, Gabe, smiled at a woman, she just wanted to pat him affectionately on the cheek and straighten his tie. He couldn’t understand it. He was just as handsome, with the same dark curly hair and grey eyes as his brother, they were the same height and build, they both dressed very smartly indeed. And yet …
The security guard rose from his chair and gave a faultless salute to the peaked brim of his cap then rushed ahead to summon the elevator for them.
The doors slid open with a quiet swoosh. The operator inside clicked his heels and stood to attention by the polished brass panel, chest proudly out and forefinger poised, ready to press the required button. Before entering, Nick muttered quite audibly about the necessity of having quite so many uniformed employees and Gabe, speaking over him, said they were going to the top floor.
As they ascended, Gabe tried to keep his anxiety at bay, but a summons to see the Head of Global Operations, affectionately known as The Boss, was rare, and it usually meant a ticking off about something. He racked his brain, trying to think of anything that he might have done wrong. Next to him, Nick was impassive, giving the outward impression that he wasn’t worried. But Gabe knew his brother, knew that he was afraid of nothing and nobody … except spiders and The Boss.
The doors opened and The Boss, grave-faced, was waiting for them. This was really serious, then.
“Well,” he said, putting one hand on Nick’s shoulder and the other on Gabe’s, “It’s big news, boys. The DISC has been found.”
He led the way through wide, silent corridors to a vast office with floor to ceiling windows, a trembling Gabe and grinning Nick at his heels. His personal assistant rushed to open the door into a private inner room, flicking a switch before withdrawing so that wall and table lamps flickered on as the three men entered, giving the room a soft, creamy glow.
Gabe swallowed hard. Rare as it was to be in The Boss’s office, even more rare was to be shown into this inner sanctum. The rest of the building was sleek and modern, all very 21st century, but this room … well, this was like stepping back into a gentleman’s private library within the walls of a grand house circa the Edwardian era. It was an intimate, windowless space that contained a huge bookcase filled with leather-bound books tooled in gold, an exquisitely carved coffee table, and two large sofas covered in dark red crushed velvet set either side it. In the centre of the table was a tray set with coffee pot, cups and saucers, milk jug and a silver platter of cream cakes, which in a normal situation would have made Gabe’s mouth water. But this situation wasn’t normal and his appetite, usually hearty, had totally deserted him. Suddenly feeling boneless, he sank into the cushions of the sofa nearest the door.
Nick came over and sat close beside him. “Gabe? Come on, bro, you must have been prepared for this?”
Gabe, putting as much distance between himself and Nick as the sofa allowed, replied, “Yes, of course, but it’s … it’s too soon.”
“Too soon? Oh come on now, that’s hardly reasonable, is it?”
The Boss interrupted. “Let’s not get into a quarrel. Gabe, I know you never wanted this day to come, but it has. The DISC has been found and the agreement must be honoured. This is the biggest event in our history since … well, since the very beginning of our history.”
Nick spoke, his voice steady, though Gabe could feel his brother’s body vibrating with excitement, “When was it found? How?”
“It was discovered last week, in a vil-”
Nick interrupted, “Last week! Why are we only hearing about it now?”
“Because my team needed time to investigate and to develop a strategy so that we can set The Plan in motion.”
“So where was it found?” Nick demanded.
The Boss glared at him. “If you’d let me speak I shall tell you! It was dug up in a village churchyard, by the gravedigger preparing for a burial. I had Uri on the spot within minutes and he’s now hidden in plain sight to keep an eye on the proceedings.”
“And where is the DISC now?” Nick, all hyped up, had leapt to his feet and was pacing up and down, filling the small room with his excitement.
“The vicar has it in his safe. No-one has paid much attention to it, they’ve been too busy with the funeral; the deceased was a very popular member of the village. We need to retrieve it, obviously, but for now it’s well protected and they’ll never discover what it is. What’s important now is that The Plan is put into action as soon as possible.”
Gabe looked imploringly at his brother, “I know how long you’ve been waiting for this, longing for this, but … but, Nick … I just don’t think I’m ready!”
Nick spun on his heels to confront Gabe, and his voice was sharp, bitter, when he replied, “I can tell you to a nanosecond how long I’ve been waiting, and we’ll just have to get you ready.” He closed his eyes and clenched his fists, visibly reining in his impatience. When he spoke again, his voice was soft, cajoling, “Now, come on, bro.” He glanced at The Boss, eliciting his support, “Orders from above and all that, eh? You signed up to this, so…”
“Yes, yes,” The Boss agreed, “Let’s get on with it, shall we?” He picked up a remote control and a map of the world appeared on the smooth white wall opposite the door. A few more clicks and it narrowed to one particular country, and then zoomed in further to one particular county.
“Wiltshire,” he said, as he continued to zoom in, “in England. And this is the village where the DISC is.” There were a few photos of typical village scenes – a pub, a green, a row of thatched cottages, a church. “Fortunately for us it’s a real backwater. As I’ve said, Uri is already in position there and reports he’s good to go. My scouts have checked the place out and they’ve come up with a cover to get you in, retrieve the DISC, fulfil your obligations according to the Plan, and get out with no-one the wiser.”
Gabe, dismayed by how far along things already were, could only whisper, “What do Nick and I have to do?”
“You know what we have to do, Gabe!” cried Nick, his eyes blazing with fury and frustration. “We have to implement The Plan!”
With a click the picture changed to an old, very dilapidated building and The Boss continued, “Nick is right, Gabe. But we have never known when and how the DISC would be found, so you both need a way to actually implement The Plan to suit the time and circumstances we now find ourselves in. Here’s what we’ve come up with. He pointed to the picture on the wall. “You are to buy this old water mill under the pretext of doing it up and turning it into a restaurant. This will allow you to come and go without arousing suspicion.”
He switched off the slide show. “Nick, we’ve been through your list of suggested witnesses, and I believe we have selected the perfect candidate.” He placed a photograph on the coffee table, a headshot of a handsome but worried-looking man in his thirties.
Gabe had known about the requirement for a Witness if the Plan was ever to be executed, but not that Nick had been actively looking for one. He’d been feeling well and truly put out by proceedings already, but now he felt… even more well and truly put out!
Nick rubbed his hands together, very smug. “Oh yes! I like this one, he’s just ripe for the picking! And there’s no need to glower at me like that, Gabe. Unlike you, I’ve always made sure I’d be ready for this day.”
The Boss produced a sheet of paper and scanned the closely typed lines on it, saying “To fill you in, Gabe, Nigel Hellion-Rees is an intelligent, honest, decent man trapped by a punitive divorce settlement. He’s an architect, but thanks to his influential and very rich ex-father-in-law he cannot get work in that field and is currently working as a private investigator, a job he hates. He deeply loves his current wife, is about to become a father, and he desperately needs a helping hand to get his life back on track. That will be his reward for being our Witness.”
Nick interjected, “I’ll go and see him, shall I? Get the ball rolling?”
“Yes, of course, the sooner the better.” He put the typed sheet and the photograph into an orange manilla folder, thick with other sheets of paper, and handed it to Nick. “The full strategy is in here. You will tell Hellion-Rees to purchase the mill on your behalf and draw up the plans for its conversion. He will then project-manage the build, and observe you two as you initiate The Plan.” The Boss, his brows lowered, looked from Nick to Gabe and back again. “I leave it up to you to decide the right time to inform him of what it is he is witnessing and what his role will be when it’s all done. Just be careful how you do it.”
Gabe looked at the folder in Nick’s hands, his eyes blurring as he read the large white label on the front with despair. He couldn’t believe it, but this was really happening and he had no choice but to acquiesce. As Nick had said, he had signed up to The Plan a long time ago, and just like Nick, he knew it inside out and back to front. It’s just that he’d never thought they’d ever actually have to implement it. His whole body slumped and he had to swallow hard as he felt ridiculously near to tears.
Nick, on the other hand, was quivering with joyous expectation. He poured himself a cup of coffee and added milk and three sugars. Then he selected the largest, squashiest éclair and licked the cream from its middle before devouring it in two large bites.
There were times when Gabe really, really disliked his brother, and this was one of them. Thanks to The Plan, Nick was about to get everything he wanted, while he, poor old Gabe, felt like he was going to Hell in a handcart.
Which wasn’t too far from the truth, actually.
Episode 5: Nigel gets a new client