020 Orders From Above: Episode 20 ‘the master craftsman’

To read from the beginning click here: Episode 1

master craftsman.jpg

It was yet again time to visit Ham-Under-Lymfold and Nigel set off with his usual reluctance. Since that horrible meeting about Sins and Virtues, he particularly dreaded an encounter with Lorelei Dove in case the angels had succeeded in with their horrible plan.

But he had to keep a regular check on what was happening at the mill. When the angels had demanded the work be done to ridiculous deadlines, Nigel had retorted that if anyone in the building trade could start within days of asking it could only be because they were cowboys. This had been met with one of Nick’s insufferable grins, and sure enough, as Nigel had found telephone numbers and made calls from his secret behind-the-wall space in his London office, everybody but everybody had said they were available to start on the date he specified. And for very reasonable rates too. Nigel hadn’t missed how surprised they sounded by their own promises.

The old stone bridge had been widened and strengthened to make it suitable for vehicles as well as people on foot, and Nigel drove across and parked to the right of the mill, next to a white van. He could see on the dashboard two empty plastic cups stained with strong, orange-coloured tea, and a newspaper, carelessly folded to the sports pages.

Scaffolding surrounded the building, men in hard hats milled around, and a large skip was fast filling up. The clear, cold air rang with the sounds of hammering, sawing, drilling, whistling, occasional swearing and a commercial radio station that bellowed out appallingly bad local adverts after every third song.

Nigel put on his own hard hat and high-vis yellow jacket and looked up with approval at the reclaimed slate tiles that covered the roof and then strolled inside, trying not to remember the day he had stepped through the portal to the other, immaculate interior that Nick and Gabe inhabited.

He had a good look around and spoke to some of the builders, satisfied to find that all was going to plan and the work was being done to an extremely high standard. It was all going so well, in fact, he felt confident that he could get some more tradesmen lined up so there would be no hiatus in the mill’s progress.

Needing a quiet place to consult the plans and make some notes, he decided to leave his car and take a walk to the cafe.

Gwen Perkins carried over Nigel’s order of coffee and chocolate cake. On the plate was a generous slice of a rich, dark sponge, its top smothered with deep swirls of chocolate frosting. “A new recipe Glen came up with. He’s trying to come up with a name for it,” Gwen said, “It’s got chilli in it, would you believe, but I promise you, it’s absolutely divine.” She asked him if Amelia was well and if she’d be visiting the village again soon, and then, indicating his laptop and the papers he’d spread on the table, said she’d leave him in peace.

Nigel forked in a generous mouthful of the cake and almost swooned at how wonderful and delicious it tasted. He had an idea and called out to Mrs. Perkins: “Why don’t you have a little competition for someone to find a name for it?”

“What a wonderful idea! We could get a few leaflets printed and put a box here on the counter for customers to post their suggestions.”

“And maybe the prize could be a whole cake to take home?”

“Oh, Nigel, thank you! And I’ll ask Debbie to go and talk to Freddie about producing a poster or two to put in the window here and in the pub. He’s very good with computers.” Gwen looked over her shoulder to check no-one else was in earshot, then lowering her voice, confided with a wink:  “Between you and me, I think my Debbie is a bit sweet on him.”

As she bustled off to put the suggestion to Glen, Nigel switched on his laptop and called up the section dealing with the restaurant’s décor. Amelia had adored putting it all together, everything from the plaster finishes, the colour schemes, tables and chairs, soft furnishings, lighting, flooring, et cetera. The only thing she had not had any say in was the front decoration of the bar, for this was to be three panels of hand-carved ebony, designed by Nick.

Nick had provided Nigel with several detailed drawings, and he and Amelia had agreed that it was a fantastic design. Very intricate, very delicate, it took a lot of concentration, and not a little insider knowledge, to see that its four sections were actually a metaphorical depiction of The Fall, as it had been shown to Nigel on that extraordinary film. The far left section showed a host of winged and robed angels surrounded by sunbeams. The next section showed Gabriel and Lucifer standing side by side, clutching each other’s sleeve, staring down into a smoking pit. The third part was mostly a complicated pattern of loops and whorls, but, in its centre, there was a large disc, engraved with flowers. The far right section was of flames and writhing human figures being tormented by behorned imps with pitchforks.

It reminded him of those puzzles that have to be looked at in a cross-eyed way in order to see a black and white 3-D picture emerge from a mass of coloured dots, and Nigel knew that it would only take a couple of people to work out the carving and it would quickly become a major talking point which would, very probably, bring in more people who wanted to see it for themselves.

Only Uri was good enough to create such a thing, and Nigel was looking forward to seeing him to deliver the drawings as soon as he’d finished the wonderful cake. In fact, it was so wonderful he contemplated having a second slice, but his stomach was full and the teapot was empty, so he reluctantly got up to leave. As he paid Gwen Perkins she said, “We’d like to thank you for your idea, so next time Amelia is with you please come and have tea and cake on the house.”

It was drizzling with rain by the time he arrived at the old grey vicarage. Uri’s tiny cottage could only be reached through a side gate into the garden, but this was locked so Nigel knocked on the vicarage door. Hartley, wiping his hands on a striped tea towel, beamed a very warm welcome when he saw Nigel on his doorstep.

“You’re back with us, then? How are you?”

“I’m very well, thank you. Can you tell me how I can get to Uri’s place, please? The gate is locked.”

Hartley stepped away from the door and bid Nigel to come in out of the increasing rain. “Ah, well now, Uri, yes, actually he’s in the garden, tackling the rhododendrons which have gone rather wild, but Heaven knows why he wants to be out in this weather. Why don’t you go through to the kitchen and I’ll call him in. Would you like some tea?”

“Er, thank you, but I don’t want to put you to any trouble. I’ll just go and find Uri, if you’ll point the way?”

Hartley’s blue eyes twinkled. “Heavens, there’s no need for that! It’s time he had a break and you can talk to him here, in the warm and dry.” He lowered his voice, “I happen to know that Uri does not bother with heating, hardly comfortable for a chat. No, much better in here, beside my Aga.”

Nigel followed the vicar across the black and white tiled floor of the gloomy, high-ceilinged entrance hall to a very large kitchen that hadn’t been updated since about 1958. There were no fitted units, just a miscellany of cupboards and drawers and a big, very scratched pine table. The only modern thing in there, looking very conspicuous, was a huge, American-style double-door fridge. The lino on the floor was cracked and worn right through in places, it’s original sky-blue only visible in one or two spots under the table. The porcelain sink had a line of rust running down from the cold tap, and an old boiler fixed to the wall spat hot water through a long, lime-covered spout. But it was homely and the Aga threw out a welcome warmth.

Hartley gestured to him to take a chair, saying, “I think you know my niece, Lorelei? And this is her fiancé, Dr. Stephen George. I’ll just go and give Uri a call, then I’ll make a fresh pot of tea.”

Startled at coming into contact with Lorelei unprepared and so soon, Nigel took a moment to recover his wits and say hello; she didn’t look any different and he dared to hope that the angels had decided to leave her alone after all.

Hartley, having yelled at the top of his lungs to Uri, who was working somewhere deep in the bushes that lined the long garden, asked Nigel, “Have you heard about the coin?”

“The one found in the graveyard? No, I haven’t heard anything.”

“Well, it’s fantastic news! Stephen here took it to a coin expert, and it turns out be rare and worth quite a lot of money.”

“More than quite a lot, Hartley,” said Stephen, “Several thousand is the estimate.”

“Really?” said Nigel, “That’s fantastic. Does the money come to you or to the diocese?”

“Oh, to the diocese I should think, but the village church will get a large chunk of it as the coin was found here. There’s an auction fee, of course, but whatever we get it will be very welcome. The coin is going be sold in London, but not for a month or so as it’s still being examined by various other experts. Stephen has kindly offered to take us to the sale rooms and watch it go under the hammer.”

Nigel noticed that Lorelei never took her eyes from her fiancé, and Stephen George clasped her hand as if their palms were super-glued together. It was delightful to see two people so very much in love.

The handyman arrived at the door and removed his damp cloth cap, before unlacing and removing his muddy boots.

“Come on in, my good fellow, sit down with Lorelei and Stephen and get yourself warm. Here’s Mr. Hellion-Rees to see you.” As he talked, Hartley put a huge blackened kettle onto the Aga and dropped teabags into a battered metal teapot.

Uri didn’t take Nigel’s proffered hand, but held both of his up to show that they were very dirty and he needed to wash them. He scrubbed them well in the kitchen sink, and dried them on a small pink towel. Nigel surreptitiously watched him, wondering what the others would think if they were ever to discover Uri’s true identity. And Gabe’s and Nick’s, of course.

There was a smaller table to the left of the Aga, with a wheelback chair on one side and a three-legged stool on the other. On the table a game of chess was in progress. Uri studied the board as he dried his hands, then moved one of the pieces.

“Oh, Uri, not the bishop, I hoped you wouldn’t spot that!” cried Hartley, bumbling around with cups and saucers. He tipped an assortment of biscuits from a large tin onto a plate, then said to Nigel, “After tea you can use my office, if you’d like to talk in private.”

“Oh no,” protested Nigel, “that’s very kind of you, but I’m only here to ask Uri if he’ll do a piece of work for the mill, a carving designed by Nick De Angelo for the bar. I’ve brought the drawings.”

“Oh, how exciting!” said the vicar, “Have you seen everything Uri’s made since he’s been here? Bird tables, fruit bowls, walking sticks, even a garden bench, and they’re all magnificent.”

Uri gave a gracious bow of his head at the compliment. “Thank you, Hartley.” He took the drawings Nigel handed him, pulling off the elastic band holding them in a tight roll.

“Shall we make space on the table?” asked Lorelei, the first time she’d spoken since Nigel’s arrival, apart from saying hello.

Nigel glanced at her. Beside her, Stephen was helping himself to the chocolate-covered biscuits, but Lorelei didn’t so much as look at them. Surely a good sign that she hadn’t been blighted with Gluttony, Nigel thought.

Uri used their mugs to keep the corners from curling up, and they all studied the drawing.

“It’s a very intricate pattern,” observed Stephen, “and, looking at the measurements, rather big! That’ll take some doing, I should think?”

Uri suddenly laughed, a deep belly laugh that resounded off the kitchen walls. “It’s not just a pattern! Can’t any of you see what it is?”

Hartley, Lorelei and Stephen all dipped their heads for a closer inspection. After a couple of minutes of deep silence, Hartley straightened up and admitted, “Um, I’m not sure what you mean.”

“Each panel tells part of one  well-known story,” answered Uri, “And right up your street, I should say, Hartley!”

Nigel, remembering how long it had taken him to see it, watched the other three and wondered which of them would be first to recognise what the design depicted. He smiled to himself as they traced the drawings with their figures and muttered amongst themselves.

Suddenly Hartley yelped with excitement and slapped his hand on the table, making the mugs jump. “Good heavens!” he exclaimed, “You don’t see it at first, but it’s the Fall of Lucifer, isn’t it! My word, this is beautiful, just beautiful.”

Now the other two could see it as well and Lorelei exclaimed, “It takes you ages to see it, but once you do it’s so clear. That’s so clever!”

Uri drained his mug and went to the Aga to have another fill of the strong tea from the pot. Nigel could sense he was deep in thought and wondered what he thought of Nick’s design. Would he want to make it?

Hartley offered Nigel the plate of biscuits and said, “So this is for the restaurant in the mill? Oh, I’m so glad the De Angelos decided to come here, they’ve sparked new life into the place. Gabe, now, he’s a really nice chap, very pleasant indeed. He wanted to know about my ministries, you know, where I was before coming here, the history of the church, things like that, and we talked about some of the Bible stories. He’s very knowledgeable about all religions, in fact. Just like you, Uri.”

Uri merely inclined his head again in acknowledgement.

Hartley carried on, “I’m not so sure about the other one, though, that Nick. I’m a Christian man, of course, and I know I shouldn’t judge, but there’s something about him…” He trailed off, his cheeks tinged pink with embarrassment, and hurriedly turned away to pour out more biscuits.

Nigel wondered what Uri’s expression was behind his blue-lensed glasses, but his face was inscrutable as he took another gingernut and dipped it in his tea. When he’d swallowed the biscuit, he indicated the drawing and said to Nigel, “I’ll need some new tools for such delicate work.”

“That’s no problem, just tell me what you need.”

“And I like to keep myself to myself when I’m working, mind. My workshop’s private.”

Hartley said, “No-one ever disturbs you over there anyway, do they Uri?”

“True, Hartley, true. Forget I said anything.” Uri took a lump of wood and a small knife from his pocket. Within minutes, the lump had been transformed to a ballerina en pointe, her pretty head tilted to one side, her hands held delicately beneath her chin, her eyes closed in the ecstasy of the dance.

“Gosh, that’s really beautiful,” Nigel said, “my youngest niece dreams of being a ballet dancer and insists on wearing her tutu absolutely everywhere.”

“Then please take it and give it to her,” said Uri.

“Oh no, really, I didn’t mean …”

“Please, I’d be glad for your niece to have it if it will give pleasure to her.”

Nigel stammered a thank you and placed the figurine on the table so he wouldn’t forget to take it when he left. “So, I can’t think of anything else at the moment, Uri. We’ll just need to get you the tools you need, and the wood. Nick suggested ebony.”

Uri nodded, “That’d be right. I know where to get quality stuff.” He rolled up the drawings and replaced the elastic band. “I’ll leave these here for now, Hartley, if you don’t mind, and collect them when I’ve finished in the garden.”

“My dear chap, it’s absolutely pouring out there now. Why don’t you call it a day?”

“Thank you, but I’ll not stop yet. A bit of rain never did me any harm. Besides, I don’t think it’ll last.”

And as he said it, the rain stopped and a glorious rainbow arced across the sky outside the kitchen window.

Once Uri had gone, the vicar offered Nigel more tea, but Nigel said he had to be on his way. He put on his jacket and picked up the ballerina.

Hartley said, “That is an amazing little carving, isn’t it? He did one for Lorelei of a dove, for her name, of course, and it’s absolutely wonderful. I’m delighted that you’ve asked him to do The Fall of Lucifer for the restaurant, he’ll do an excellent job.”

Nigel said his goodbyes, noticing for the first time the unusual ring with a purple stone on Lorelei’s left hand. Maybe because she and Stephen George had got engaged so recently, the angels had not tried to do anything to her. Maybe they’d picked on someone else. But that thought didn’t cheer him up, not really, because it meant some other very nice person was about to have their world turned upside down. If it hadn’t been turned upside down already.

On the doorstep, he pulled up his collar and prepared to dash through the rain, but Uri was waiting for him.

“Well done, Nigel,” he said, “It wouldn’t have done for the vicar to realise that we know each other so well.”

“So you’ll start on the carving soon?”

Uri grinned, “Oh yes, and with pleasure. I’m looking forward to it.”

“Then you’d better give me a list of tools – or, I suppose it would it be better for you to go and get what you need?”

Uri laughed. “I’m an angel, Nigel, I already have everything I need. I was just pretending for Hartley’s benefit.”

“Ah, yes,” said Nigel, “speaking of Hartley, do you know if anything has been done to Lorelei? I didn’t see any sign of gluttony in there, and I was rather hoping…”

Uri laid a hand on Nigel’s shoulder, “I know what you were hoping, but I’m afraid she’s still firmly in their sights. Gabe has had a go at leading her into temptation, but failed. He’s just biding his time to have another go, but Nick is getting impatient. He hasn’t had any luck with Violet, either.” He removed his glasses and fixed Nigel with his clear grey eyes. “It will be done, Nigel, because it must be done.”

Next episode: 021 Orders From Above: Episode 21 ‘satan’s whiskers, anyone?’


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