To read from the first episode click here: Episode 1
“All done, sir. We’ll be off now.”
Bemused, Nigel watched the team of workmen troop out of his office. They had been sent by his still-mysterious client to make a space where he could work on the mill project in total secrecy.
The main office looked just the same as before, as the workmen had knocked through into a void behind the wall that was big enough for the equipment he needed. The dividing wall was now covered by paper patterned with thin, multi-coloured vertical stripes that made his eyes water. Stuck up with drawing pins at each corner was a poster of a Caribbean beach scene, it’s cerulean blue sky and saffron sand clashing with the stripes behind. Nigel tentatively touched a small white seashell at the bottom left-hand corner of the poster, and a door slid soundlessly open.
Lights automatically flickered on as Nigel stepped in and looked around his secret room with a mixture of wonder and disbelief. He ran his fingers over the top of the large monitor of his new computer, excited to know that the very latest software had been installed. In the corner was a state of the art printer atop a low, steel filing cabinet suitable for storing large plans and blueprints. With all this in the tiny area, there was barely enough room for Nigel to squeeze in and sit down at the desk, but he loved it all the same.
Amelia hadn’t seen the secret room yet, but any moment she’d arrive with a bag of warm croissants and a carton of fresh milk for their morning coffee. Nigel stepped back into the main office and closed the door with another touch of the seashell.
When Amelia breezed in, her cheeks rosy from her walk in the sunshine, it wasn’t only milk she carried, for she had bought a glossy magazine. As she handed it to him, Nigel saw it was called Haut Monde. Curious, he remarked, “Not the kind of thing you usually read.”
“I saw it on the newsstand and just had to buy it. Look at the centre pages!”
Before opening it, Nigel glanced at the front cover to see what had caught Amelia’s eye. His ex-wife stared out at him from a colour photograph, beneath which, in bold, white type, was the line, Inside Exclusive: Tansy Hellion-Rees, daughter of construction magnate Hugh Wutherington-Parker, explains why she is happy to be alone again.’
“Not good news for us, is it?” said Amelia. “This must be the third millionaire Tansy’s driven away.”
Nigel sighed as he opened the magazine. “I’m beginning to wonder if we’ll ever be able to get her out of our lives.”
Resisting the urge to scribble a bushy moustache and round spectacles on Tansy’s surgery-perfect face, he quickly scanned the article. The accompanying photograph showed her sitting on a huge dark green sofa, two glossy black Labradors at her feet. Nigel recognised the room as the largest and grandest of the four reception rooms in her father’s glorious country retreat.
In fact, Tansy was sitting on the very settee where he had sat, waiting to ask her father for her hand in marriage. He found it hard to believe now that he had been so bewitched by her and unable to believe his luck that such a beautiful woman was his. If only he’d known what a cold and deceitful heart lay beneath that beautiful exterior! But of course he’d no inkling, he’d thought she was the perfect woman, and he’d downed two large tumblers of whiskey in quick succession for courage. His boss, soon to be his father-in-law, had laughed at Nigel’s slurred speech as he’d stammered how very much he loved Tansy and wanted to marry her.
Consent had been given with a hearty slap on the back, but, shortly after the wedding, it had all gone horribly wrong and Nigel had very quickly begun to wish that Tansy’s father had marched him off the premises for being a drunk. Tansy morphed practically overnight from a sweet, adoring woman into a demanding and unreasonable harpy. Too late, Nigel had discovered just how she operated, and he was but one of many men to have their fingers burned by her.
Thoroughly fed up at the unhappy memories, he threw the magazine in the waste bin. “Oh, let’s forget about her! Come and see this.”
Amelia gasped as he opened the secret door. Peering inside, she looked around and said, “This whole thing is amazing. I would never have guessed there was so much space behind this wall. It’s all very peculiar though and, I think, rather scary. Who are these people, Nigel?”
He shrugged, “My guess would be something like the British Secret Service, like you suggested, operating in the guise of a business corporation. I hope we’re doing the right thing, taking on this job.”
They hadn’t heard from the client since his visit, and when Nigel had tried to get information from the workmen while they created this new workspace for him, they’d neatly brushed him off and he’d learned nothing at all.
The phone rang then and Nigel, who was nearest, pressed the loudspeaker button.
A woman’s voice, smooth and soft as warm caramel, purred, “Good morning, Mr. Hellion-Rees, this is the de Angelo Corporation calling.”
Nigel raised an eyebrow at Amelia, who made a face at him and mouthed, “Spooky!”
“A car is on its way to collect you and Mrs Hellion-Rees, sir.”
“I- what? I mean, sorry, did you say a car? On its way?”
“Yes, sir. To bring you to your meeting here with Mr. de Angelo. We will see you soon.”
“But we don’t have a mee-”
The call was disconnected, leaving them staring at the silent phone in disbelief.
“Can you believe that?” Nigel said to Amelia. “Didn’t even bother to ask if it was convenient… Wait a minute!” He scurried to the desk diary. “Look, Amelia!”
She leaned over him and read the copper coloured writing detailing the forthcoming meeting. Just like the first mysterious appointment, this one had magically appeared in the diary.
“Well, darling, maybe we’re about to find out at last who we’re really dealing with.”
The outer door opened and closed and two seconds later a short man in the traditional uniform of a chauffeur appeared in the doorway of the office. Nigel took in the shiny-peaked hat, the navy jacket with its double row of brass buttons and the jodhpur-style trousers tucked into leather black boots and wondered – unless the de Angelo office was right round the corner, he must have been well on his way even before the phone call. It just got weirder and weirder.
The long, sleek limousine, gleaming silver-grey, looked terribly out of place in the narrow, litter-strewn street. The driver held the door open for Amelia and then walked round to open the other side for Nigel to climb into the immaculate interior and watched impassively as they made themselves comfortable and put on their seatbelts. They were soon underway, gliding smoothly into the busy London traffic. Nigel glanced at his watch and murmured to Amelia that he wondered where they were going.
The soft leather seat seemed to wrap itself round him like a comfy armchair, bringing back memories of the days he’d sometimes been chauffeured around by his mega-rich clients. The windows were so dark he could hardly see the passing sights. He recognised that they were driving slowly in heavy traffic along Bond Street, then New Bond Street with Tiffany’s, Cartier, Chanel. They turned into Conduit Street, and there, on the right, was Saville Row. He’d once thought nothing of spending a day in these streets, spending money he’d worked so hard to earn, though mostly on Tansy rather than himself. The thought depressed him, so he sat back and closed his eyes.
When he felt that the limousine was going down a steep incline a few minutes later, he peered out of the window again. They were driving down a ramp to an underground parking garage, which he assumed was beneath the icicle-like building of the website.
He grabbed his briefcase and stepped out of the car. The garage, low ceilinged and dimly lit, was vast, but this was the only vehicle in it.
“If you take the elevator over there, sir, the operator will take you to Reception.”
Nigel and Amelia did as they were told, and were soon wondering which of the two stunningly beautiful receptionists and one extremely handsome man they should approach. But the man had already noticed them and greeted them with a wide smile.
“Mr. and Mrs. Hellion-Rees, welcome to the de Angelo Corporation. If you would be good enough to take a seat over there, someone will come and collect you shortly.”
Nigel followed Amelia to one of the large red settees that were placed in clusters around the airy space, sat down and looked around with his architect’s eye: the reception area was as clean as an operating theatre, all gleaming white marble and travertine, with steel fixtures and fittings. The ceiling soared above him, criss-crossed with heavy steel beams held together by giant bolts. Spiralling light wells ensured the ultra-modern, ultra-smooth, ultra-expensive space was well lit and ventilated, and he loved it.
Expecting to have to wait a little while, Nigel looked over Amelia’s shoulder at a magazine she’d picked up, but he’d barely had time to register the title of the publication when a polite ‘Ahem’ alerted him to a man in very shiny shoes standing in front of him.
“Good morning, Mr. Hellion-Rees, Mrs. Hellion-Rees. Would you please allow me to take you to Mr. De Angelo’s office?”
Right, thought Nigel, helping Amelia up and following the man, I wonder if this will turn out to be the man I’ve already met?
He, Amelia and Shiny Shoes rode up in a silent elevator with the same silent operator, and when the doors pinged open on the 108th floor, his companion indicated that they should follow him. They walked down a very long, thickly carpeted corridor, its walls covered with huge canvasses of modern art. They turned a corner, and ahead of them was a glass wall through which he could see a very, very large and very, very smart office.
Shiny Shoes opened the door, announced Nigel and Amelia’s names, and handed them over to an elegant personal assistant even more beautiful than the receptionists. She told them her name was Sarah and asked if they wanted coffee, tea, or anything else.
“Um, coffee would be lovely, thank you,” replied Amelia, and Nigel said he’d have the same.
“Filter? Or do your prefer cappuccino, latte, machiatto, espresso? We even have Kopi Luwak, if you’d like that?”
When they both looked blank Sarah laughed and explained, “It’s also known as civet coffee. It comes from partially digested coffee cherries that are eaten and defecated by the Asian palm civet. It’s the most expensive coffee in the world and if you’d like to try it…?”
Nigel shook his head. “Oh, I think filter would be just fine for me, thank you.”
“Excellent! We have our own blend, which I’m sure you will find most enjoyable. If you’d like to go through to Mr. De Angelo’s office I shall bring it through.” She pointed to where they should go.
This space was even bigger than the one they’d just left, and was beautifully decorated in pleasing shades of blue and green. The wall facing them was floor to ceiling glass, and the stunning view, so incredibly high above London, made Nigel feel almost dizzy. But he still couldn’t get his bearings because the view was all wrong – surely he shouldn’t be able to see The Gherkin and The London Eye and The Tower Bridge? Oh yes, and over there to his left was The Shard. Impossible.
He was totally distracted by this conundrum until he noticed the outstretched hand of a man who was so like the one who had visited him in his own premises, but wasn’t.
“How do you do? I am very pleased you could both come today.”
“Um. Mr. de Angelo?” Feeling somewhat wrong-footed because of the confusing view, Nigel shook the proffered hand, and looked closely at the man’s face. Very, very similar indeed to the man who had visited his office.
“I’m Gabe. It was my brother, Nick, who came to see you at your office. He hopes to join us later. Ah, here’s the coffee. Thank you, Sarah, we’ll see to the cream and sugar ourselves.”
When Sarah had closed the door behind her Gabe grinned at Nigel and Amelia and laughed at Nigel’s grimace when asked if he’d opted for the Kopi Luwak. “We have a running bet that no-one will ever choose it.” He lifted his cup and said, “I have to tell you, it’s delicious, but I do appreciate that a drink made from beans that have passed through an animal’s intestines isn’t to everyone’s taste.” He looked from Nigel to Amelia, his eyebrows raised, “So, can I tempt you? Either of you?”
Nigel shook his head then swivelled in surprise to Amelia as she said, “I’d be willing to try it.”
“Oh, excellent! Well done you! I’ll just tell Sarah to bring you a cup.”
Gabe waited while Nigel added cream to his ordinary coffee then helped himself to a generous amount before picking up the sugar bowl and the tiny silver tongs.
“Not good for you, I know,” he said, dropping four crumbly cubes of brown sugar into his cup. “So, what do you have for us? May I call you Nigel and Amelia?”
“Oh yes, please do, Mr. de Angelo,” said Amelia.
“Excellent. And you must call me Gabe. So how’s our little project going?”
There was a short interruption as Sarah came in and handed Amelia her cup of Kopi Luwak. Gabe suggested she add cream and sugar if that was what she normally did, and he and Nigel watched carefully as she took her first sip.
“Oh!” she exclaimed after she’d smelled it and taken her first sip. “It’s delicious! It’s kind of… nutty and caramelly… chocolately. I like it!”
“Good. I shall ask Sarah to ensure you receive a bag of beans so you can make it yourself at home.” He spoke over Amelia’s protestations, “Now where were we? Ah yes, Nigel, an update if you please.”
“Ah, um. Well, um … Gabe. I believe everything is going to plan.” Nigel lined up the photographs on the table so they were facing Gabe. “The mill has been abandoned for many years, as I’m sure you know, but I think it could be restored into something quite stunning.” He pulled some plans out of his briefcase, “Here are some ideas we’ve been working on, exterior and interior.”
Gabe picked up the first couple of drawings, pencil sketches of a renovated façade, and then a colour palette for the restaurant prepared by Amelia, but Nigel had the impression he wasn’t really interested. Maybe the brother was the driving force, but there was as yet no sign of his arrival.
“These look excellent. Now, have you arranged accommodation for yourselves while you’re working there?”
“There are very comfortable rooms above the local pub. And there is a nice hotel for you in nearby Monkton Ridge, for when you come to visit.” He sipped his coffee – the most delicious he had ever tasted – and waited for a reaction. Gabe seemed to be deep in thought for a moment, then he shrugged his shoulders as if coming to some sort of private decision, and leaned forward.
“Okay, so tell me about the village. Is it very small? Remote? Is it the sort of place that gets tourists pouring in to snap thatched cottages with pretty streams running through the gardens?”
“Well, no. It’s a very pretty village and it’s close to some historic places, but any tourists would just pass through really, as there’s nothing there to encourage them to stay. The pub offers basic food, as does the café, and I think both are in need of updating and refurbishment. I think the opening of the mill as a restaurant would encourage them to do that.”
Nigel paused, waiting for Gabe to make some comment. When he didn’t speak, Amelia said, “I wonder, sir, if you can tell us what this is all about? I mean, we appreciate the work, we really do, but, well, your brother said there was a larger agenda, of global importance, and there are so many strange things going on…”
Gabe smiled at last, and his clear grey eyes sparkled with genuine amusement. “Of course you find this whole thing strange, and I don’t blame you.” He leaned back in his chair and shook his head in apology as he said, “But I can’t tell you anything more at this time, I’m sorry.”
“I see,” said Nigel, picking up his paper-thin, gold-rimmed china cup and putting it down again, “So are we ever to know what it is you are hoping to achieve there?” And, he thought to himself, please don’t let it be anything illegal.
The grin flashed again, but was quickly gone and Nigel thought, not for the first time, that Gabe De Angelo was troubled about something. It showed in his eyes. But he replied amiably enough, “You will be told, I promise you, and soon, once my brother and I have got things organised. I’m sure Nick will have told you, and so I will reiterate, you will do very well out of this. And you can rest assured that you will not be asked to do anything that is against the law.”
Nigel wondered if this man was a mind reader, but he was relieved to hear that everything was above board.
Gabe glanced at his watch. “Well, I think we’ve covered everything. Unfortunately, it seems that Nick won’t be able to join us, as he’d planned, or he’d be here by now; he’ll be sorry to have missed you. I just wanted to meet you, really, so I hope you don’t mind being dragged across London for such a short – and probably unsatisfactory – meeting, as I’m unable to enlighten you at this time.”
“Oh, well, we’re glad to have met you, and very grateful for your trust in us.”
“Good, good! Now, here’s our authorisation for you to act on our behalf. Get whatever and whomever you need. You’ll have fun with the mill, I know, and there will be no difficulties with its renovation.” He turned to Amelia. “You’re just the team we need, Amelia, your husband’s a private investigator and architect and you’re an interior designer. I hope you both enjoy yourselves.”
Amelia graciously smiled and said how thrilled they both were for the opportunity to work on such a prestigious project.
When she finished speaking Gabe rose, looking very serious as he said, “Make no mistake, please, this is a very important undertaking, and your part in it is very important. Now then, I suggest you get yourselves well established in Ham-Under-Lymfold. I think the pub is an excellent place for you to be, actually, as it’s central to the village and you’re sure to meet a lot of the locals there. When we come, my brother and I will stay at the mill.”
“But you can’t!” exclaimed Nigel, urgently pointing to the photographs again, “The mill is a complete wreck!”
“Oh, we’ll manage, don’t you worry. We’ll pitch camp there and be perfectly comfortable. You’ll see.”
He offered his hand first to Amelia and then to Nigel. The resemblance between the de Angelo brothers was remarkable, Nigel thought, but whereas one sensed that Nick had a dark and somewhat sinister side to him you would want to be careful of, Gabe seemed open and really, genuinely very pleasant.
The elegant secretary escorted Nigel and Amelia to the elevator, and told them the car was waiting in the basement garage to take them back to their office.
But Nigel wanted to see the remarkable building from the outside, so he asked the operator to stop and let them out at Reception. The little man looked uncertain, but he pressed the button when Nigel firmly asked him again. He wanted to see for himself this upside-down icicle and to know where, exactly, he was. There was a revolving door to the right as they came out of the elevator, and he guided Amelia towards it, intending to go outside.
“Oh, Mr. Hellion-Rees.” It was the receptionist who had greeted them when they arrived. He was hurrying towards them, an anxious expression on his handsome face, and Nigel had the feeling that he was trying to head him off. “I do apologise, Mr. Hellion-Rees, but the car is waiting to take you back, and it’s needed back here immediately. So, if you wouldn’t mind …” He had his hand on Nigel’s arm now, gently but firmly guiding him away from the revolving door, so Amelia had no choice but to follow.
The security guard, his mouth set in a straight, disapproving line, was standing by the elevator, holding the doors open. The little operator was cowering at the back, and once Nigel and Amelia were inside, it was the guard who leaned in and pressed the button for the basement. They had no choice but to go down to the garage.
The silver-grey limousine was no longer alone in the vast underground space, for there was a black one of the same make and model parked next to it. Nigel just knew that this was Nick De Angelo’s car, and wondered how long he had been back and why he had not made an appearance at their meeting.
They were soon settled on the soft leather seats again and on their way, but he and Amelia were even even more baffled about the whole thing than they had been before. They’d been to an office he hadn’t known existed that had an impossible view. They’d learned nothing new about the job, so still didn’t know what they were getting themselves involved in. But they had a gorgeous old mill to renovate and enough money in the bank to pay the alimony due to his ex-wife for several months to come, and that, at least, gave Nigel something to be happy about.
He patted the large bag of beans that sat on the seat between him and Amelia and she sighed, “I didn’t have the heart to tell Gabe that all we have to make coffee with is a kettle! I suppose we could always sell them!”