Several things mark me out as being different from a lot of other men I know, and they’ve all got me into trouble over the years.
The first is I’ve an honest face.
Now you may think that’d be a good idea for a career tea-leaf like me, but that was what got me into this mess: if I’d looked the sort who was about to nick the crown jewels, the porter wouldn’t have let me past the desk and I’d never have got into the gaff in the first place. Mind, he’d got his nose stuck in some horror comic. I suppose that helped.
I’d spotted the guy who owned the flat at a sale at Christies. He was after a bit of ormolu I had my eye on. His bid was too rich for me.
That’s another thing about me, see, I’ve a pash for stuff like that and I had to have it. Also, I don’t like being beaten. So, I checked his physog and followed him. Now here I was about to get me the clock, without having to spend several K of my precious shares in the process.
Getting in was a breeze. The security was laughable. I’ve found it often is in places where they’ve a porter. Lulls people, you see. Inside, I was in paradise. I carry a few plastic bags in my case, together with a good-sized bin liner for such emergencies. This was definitely a bin liner job, top-notch even for Islington. Some stately homes have impressed me less.
So, I’m filling the bin bag, happy as a seagull on a sandcastle, when the doorbell goes.
Freeze. Standard procedure. No noise, means no discovery, means no spell in the nick. I don’t have a record. Spotless, that’s me and I intend to keep it that way.
The bell rings again, then silence.
I wait two minutes, give it two more before I decide I can breathe normal again and go back to what I’m doing.
Next thing I know, this classy bird strolls in.
“Cooee, Giles – it’s only me, I know I’m early, but – oh.”
I’ve found it pays to be polite. Throws people, a polite burglar.
“Well, hello. Such a good job Giles gives out keys, isn’t it? He’s never here. Actually,” she says dumping a few carrier bags of her own, “I’m glad because I thought I’d surprise him with my soufflé. It’s divine and I know he’s going to love it. I say -”
She stops babbling and looks horrified. That’s torn it. She’s registering me, and the fact that she doesn’t know me has just permeated the grey stuff. I’m getting ready for the ear-piercing shriek, but it doesn’t come.
“You’re not doing soufflé, are you? It’ll be too, too dreadful if you are. I’ve bought all the ingredients and everything.”
For some reason, she’s got me down as the flipping cook. A feather truncheon would have laid me out cold. This has to be the honest face working.
“You’re not, are you – do say you’re not.”
“No, I’m not making a soufflé.”
“Such a relief. You see, it’s part of my plan to trap him. Well, not trap exactly, but you do see what I mean, don’t you?”
“I mean, my body clock is ticking like crazy and a girl has to settle down sometime. Giles would be perfect, but he’s so fickle and I’ve been searching for some way of impressing him.”
She looks desperate as she says this and I feel sorry for the unknown Giles. I love women. In the plural. Never been my desire to be the one and only. Quite a few women of my acquaintance are like-minded these days, and that suits me just fine, but this one has got ‘Marriage’ written all over her.
“I’m so relieved,” she goes on, “to find something I can do. I’m not very good at cooking you see and I’ve been practising the soufflé for simply ages and – sherry?”
She waves two enormous glasses, should be for white wine or even beer possibly, and she fills them up using one of the bottles from a silver and crystal tantalus on the sideboard. Nice. Pity it’s full or I’d blag that on the way out. Mind, the way she’s carrying on, the sherry will be empty soon and I might try my luck.
“Cheers.” She hands me the Waterford. As she leans across, she spots the case and the bin liner and my old engine is banging so hard in my chest it nearly stops with fear, but she’s still not twigged it.
“So what are you cooking then? What delights do you have in the bin bag?” Then she claps her hands like my mate Dan’s three-year-old, and announces “Jellied eels – it is, isn’t it? Oh it is – Giles is always saying he’s going to get someone in to do authentic jellied eels. How lovely.”
So we’re both typecasting then. I’ve got her down as a brainless blonde bimbo, and she’s gathered from the half a dozen syllables I’ve uttered that I’m a Cockney. Too young for Bow Bells, but that’s where I was born. This, of course, must mean that I have to be a jellied eels/pie and mash man. Thank you, but no. Give me caviar and a decent porterhouse any day. Or venison. Now that’s what I call meat.
She’s blithering on about the eels, so to shut her up I say, “Yes, jellied eels, pie and mash, oysters and Guinness.” More clapping of hands. Then she’s waving the sherry again and I have to neck mine, or she’ll spill it all over me.
I don’t drink much as a rule, and never on the job. Leads to fumbling and on to Strangeways. Not my cup of Earl Grey. But this bird won’t take no for an answer.
“We’ll have this – by the way, what’s your name?”
“Dan,” I tell her. Well, I couldn’t give her my real name could I?
“I’m Arabella – we’ll have this and then you must go and play in the kitchen while I have a shower. Then you’ll have to move over, so I can prepare my soufflé. I do hope Giles likes my soufflé.”
She’s waving the decanter again. This woman could drink for England. They should make it an Olympic event for Team GB. I neck another glass just to keep up. She pours more, and then she picks up the bin bag – they could probably hear my heart pounding in San Francisco – and she shoves it and me into the kitchen.
“See you in a minute, darling.”
I give her five and tiptoe out.
She’s in the bathroom and I can hear the shower running.
Back to the job in hand.
There’s a small painting over the fireplace that I can’t resist and which ought to make a few quid. Some of the English silver pieces are worth a whirl too. I ignore the foreign stuff, too dangerous. I’ve never learned the hallmarks, and I might get stuck with it.
I’ve finished and I’m just on my way to the door, when the bell goes again and I have to skedaddle back to the kitchen.
“Get that will you sweetie.”
Another ring and then blow me if someone else doesn’t come wandering in.
“Giles? It’s James – are you about?”
Madam calls out from the bathroom.
“He’s not here, my love. Help yourself to a drink and so on. I won’t be long.”
“Right–oh. I’ll use the en suite and have a bath. Been a busy day. The tube was simply dreadful.”
Remind me never to get rich. Everybody comes and makes use of your facilities.
I watch through the slightly opened kitchen door as James helps himself to a drink, a good slug of whisky – the tantalus is becoming more manageable – before he trots off to the bedroom. I had a dekko through there when I arrived and I know it’s had a vile onyx and gold makeover. Good taste stops at the bathroom door apparently. Over the top and nastily repro.
By this time, I’ve decided to get out while I can, and I’m on my way when I notice the shower’s stopped, so I beetle back to the kitchen, where she comes to find me.
“Darling, you haven’t started?”
“No. Shouldn’t take long, see.”
“Super. But you will leave me time to make my soufflé, won’t you?”
“Who was the whistle?”
“Whistle? And flute – suit, right? Just James. He’s in the shower. Come and have another drink.”
I’m beginning to get nervous when she drags me back to the sitting room, and pushes me onto the sofa – very nice, Louis XVI. She’s wearing a towelling wrap, and some heady perfume, and nothing else as far as I can tell and I’ve seen that look in a woman’s eyes before.
See, I said I had an honest face, but it’s a tad unusual too.
Oh, I’ve got two eyes, a nose and mouth, same as you, but mine are arranged all funny. Remember Marty Feldman and you’re going in the right direction. The nose has been broken twice. Looks as if I’ve gone ten rounds with, with – I don’t know, any boxer you care to name. Don’t ask me to name any, I’m not into sport. Then I have a very big mouth. Generous, as they say. And nothing matches. I look like an ad for spare part surgery. No oil painting. You’d expect the ugly mug to put the women off, wouldn’t you? Not a bit of it. Maybe I get the sympathy vote.
We sit on the sofa, with more obscene measures of sherry, and she’s leaning over me and she smells like a Harrods perfume counter, and she has these huge green eyes, like pools, and things are beginning to get interesting, when the guy from the bedroom flings open the door and trots across to pour whisky. He’s got on a towelling robe and his face is covered in shaving foam.
“Don’t mind me,” he says, “Just getting a little top up.” He hardly gives us a glance before he swans back through the sitting room and is gone again.
“Bit trusting, your mate, isn’t he?” I say when I can next breathe. “Giving out all these keys.”
Me and my big mouth.
“Giles? Plain silly, if you ask me. Someone’s going to rob him blind one of these days.” She’s opening another bottle of sherry, we’ve finished the decanter, and she’s looking round the room.
I can feel the mood change. We’ve gone from warm, loving, and affectionate, to thoughtful, suspicious and accusing in the space of five seconds.
“In fact, now I think about it, there’s some stuff missing. A picture, no two, and some of the silver and the little silk rug. That dreadful ormolu clock he bought the other day has gone too. I’m going to ring the police.”
(Thank you for reading Part One. Part Two tomorrow…)