Michael Fitzalan Master of Disguise


Master of Disguise, Michael Fitzalan


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One: Defenestration.

The irritating beeping announces the doors are closing and with a gasp the gap closes. Mark settles himself by the single door at the end of the carriage, leaning on the cushion of the settle, looking nonchalant as he reads his book. He is tall and beefy, six foot three, he has broad shoulders, but his brown hair is hidden under a grey beanie, and he wears glasses, his clothes are nondescript, blue jeans and a navy jacket.

To him, there are only two characters travelling on the tube.

There’s him and a tall, elegantly dressed, woman seemingly oblivious to being followed who sits up straight, to avoid creasing her navy Balmain double-breasted suede dress, her Hermes bag on her lap, she looks at her beautifully manicured fingernails, admiring the crimson colour.

Her stockings are gunmetal grey, and her shoes are Jimmy Choo Romy high heels that match the blue of her dress, she has a head-turning beauty and is aware of the stares that she receives, ignoring them.

Standing by the sliding door, at the end of the carriage, Mark is a tall man, partially successfully hiding how uncomfortable he feels, as if tailing someone provides a new experience for him. Mark O’Dwyer is the master of disguise.

He is clasping a folder from a chiropractor, he is also wearing a navy waxed cotton three-quarter-length raincoat and Levi 501 jeans. Has she seen him, she shows no sign, has he made it obvious that he has been following her since she got on a Victoria Station and beforehand as she left her rented room in Little Chester Street, Belgravia. He certainly kept his distance on the ten-minute walk to the tube station.

At Green Park, the tube train stops with a shudder and a squeal of brakes, hard metal on dusty wheels, the familiar scream released by the dead man’s handle.

In seconds, she is on her feet and at the double doors in the middle of the carriage, he is already poised at the single door exit at the end of the carriage: The double doors open with a sigh, and she steps out, he deliberately waits for her to choose direction and then slips through the single door at the end of the carriage a few seconds later once he knows she is not walking towards him. She turns towards the exit, and he follows, looking intently at the back of her head and keeping three people behind. At the end of the tunnel, he takes the escalator parallel to hers and walks up five steps behind her. She is clearly in a hurry.

She is intent on passing through the barrier; he closes in, allows a woman to cut in front of him, and then follows her through the same turnstile. He sticks to her like a shadow as she strolls along the corridor. They turn left up the stairs that lead into the side street, off Piccadilly. Knowing she is using those stairs and there is only one exit, he overtakes her and waits on the pavement.

He folds the chiropractor’s folder and slips it into the bin.

He pretends to be lighting a cigarette, which involves covering the lower part of his face with two hands as he holds the lighter and protects the flame, masking his face. She walks north and he follows, side stepping as she turns into a ‘Heel Bar’. He throws the ‘prop’ cigarette into the gutter; it spins into the grate of a drain and disappears. He walks on and around the corner, flicking his mobile from his pocket.

Mark speaks into his i-phone: “Green Park, 9.14, Katia in cobblers.”

He slips off his back pack, then slips off his navy raincoat, scrunches it up and packs it in the bag, underneath he is wearing a reversible jacket, which he zips up, then takes his woollen hat off, puts it in the outside pocket of the back pack, where he swaps it for a blue cap, which he puts on.

From his inside jacket pocket, he takes out a foldaway travel bag, which he deftly unfolds and pops the backpack inside it. Looking through the glass of the café on the corner, he walks off back to the heel bar. Katia is still waiting at the counter, scrolling through her texts and emails on her i-phone. Someone has come in behind her and blocks her from view momentarily, but Mark is calm, he knows she is still in there.

He crosses to the opposite corner, using a scaffolding lorry for cover.

He takes out a travel label from his pocket, it has LHR printed on the base and ties it around one of the grips, then slips a map out of his pocket and pretends to read it, looking across to Green Park and up and down Stratton Street.

A woman approaches, as Katia moves to the door of the heel bar. Mark realises that he has not much time but also understands that the woman will block Katia’s view of him.

He allows the smartly dressed woman, to approach him, she is wearing a navy skirt and jacket, the suit is as expensive as her court shoes, which Mark estimates might cost a month’s wages for the average worker. She is pretty, which Mark appreciates, blonde hair, which has been helped to look lighter and a warm smile. She is a confident businesswoman doing her good deed for the day, helping a tourist.

Woman: Are you lost?

Mark in a Lancashire accent: I’m looking for Curzon Street.

Woman: That’s easy, just go back onto Green Park and turn left at Berkeley Street, you’re very close.

Mark: Can I cut up through here?

Woman: Even better, Stratton Street leads into Berkeley Street.

Mark: Thanks.

Making sure he keeps Katia in view, he walks slowly on the left side of Berkeley Street.

As she takes the right, he is taking in the familiar buildings as if they were new to him. She crosses to the left and he crosses to the right and he stops, pretending to admire something in the window. She walks off up the street; he stays where he is, watching as she re-crosses the street, looking right and left constantly.

Mark watches her turn into Hay Hill; then runs up the street after her. He reached the corner and walks directly across the road as if he is heading up to Berkeley Square. Then, he sees her stop and turn around, pretending to look for the street sign on the wall. He drops behind a car, pretending to search in his bag, hidden by a car on the other side of the street, but he can see her through the windows.

While hiding, Mark takes off the cap and reversing his jacket and taking the backpack out of its suitcase wrapping, stuffing the case into the backpack before putting it over his shoulder. Standing up, he turns into Hay Hill and has to walk fast as she turns into Dover Street.

He runs to the apex of the corner and catches sight of her on the opposite side of street, heading south down Dover Street. He keeps to the right-hand side of the pavement, just keeping her blonde hair in sight. She turns into a doorway, and he walks past, heading to Stafford Street. He uses the cover of a truck to stop and check she is not on the street, flips out his phone and speed dials the previous number.

Mark: She’s gone into a building in Dover Street, possibly a serviced office, I’ll text you the address; you can see who’s in there.

Moving to a doorway, Mark slips off his jacket, puts it into the backpack, slips off his blue jeans and beneath them are a pair of drainpipe charcoal grey trousers, he takes off his cap. He crosses the street and moves towards the door into which, he saw Katia disappear. While he walks across the road his fingers tap out the street number on the keypad of his i-phone and the text revealing the location of the building is sent into the ether.

There is a skip outside and he notices it, but it is too exposed, so he walks on until he finds a doorway to shelter in. Mark opens his bag and takes out a High Visibility jacket and a construction site helmet, which he slips on. From his top pocket, he flips out his phone and selects the contact from his last call to deliver an update. There is a scream, and a naked body falls into the skip outside the offices. Mark puts his telephone to his ear:

Mark: Georgia can you call an ambulance? I think Katia has just been defenestrated.

Mark runs to the street door and presses on all the buzzers, one by one; the front door finally opens, and Mark hurtles up the stairs, which have not been carpeted, his feet thud on every step, echoing around the landing. The common parts are painted in a faded magnolia, a typical example of a poorly maintained block of offices in an affluent area. Mark rushes up the stairs to confront the person who has thrown his tail out of the window. Adrenalin drives his ascent.

Two – Investigation.

The wallpaper in Georgia’s Mews house drawing room is green and white Regency stripe. The window that looks onto the cobbled road at Petersham Mews, South Kensington, offers no privacy, but the plantation blinds shield the small room from the outside world.

A modern staircase runs along the wall on the right, opposite the door, a library of books runs underneath. The three other walls are bare and two plump, plum chesterfield sofas stand opposite each other, separated by a square, glass top, steel frame.

Georgia sits opposite Mark. A classic Nordic beauty, she is obviously descended from Vikings, thick long blonde hair and piercing blue eyes. She is wearing white cotton shirt with a black knee-length skirt that clings to her lithe body and black espadrilles. Her legs are curled up under her, on the sofa.

She is holding a mug of coffee in one hand, a pen poised over a notepad on her lap in the other. She looks up at Mark after taking a sip of coffee. Mark is wearing a formal shirt from Hilditch and Key, Bengal blue stripe and shirt ties, one red on his left cuff, one green on his right. Navy suit trousers and black Loake shoes complete the look.

Georgia: Great surveillance work.

Mark: Flattery will get you everywhere.

Mark sips his coffee, holding the cup in both hands.

Georgia: So, what have we got? That is apart from a very hacked off client?

Mark: Katia’s gone; she slipped out the back window while I argued with the guy in the office. I think she spotted me as I came in so if we do find her, you’ll have to be her shadow, my cover is blown.

Georgia: Let’s hope I’m more successful than you.

Mark: You couldn’t be more cat-tier, unless you were Katia.

Georgia: Very funny, not. What about our naked lady?

Mark: She wasn’t totally naked; she was wearing high heels and stockings as well as a pearl necklace.

Georgia: Trust you to notice.

Mark: I’ve always liked jewellery.

Georgia: That’s not what I meant, and you know it. How is she?

Mark: Pretty hot, in my book, you didn’t mean that either did you?

Georgia: You are on fire this morning.

Mark: Maria has a couple of cracked ribs and a fractured wrist, bruising on the face, torso, and thighs. She was lucky that the skip was there, unlucky that it had a few paint pots amongst all the plaster and boxes.

Georgia: When can I talk to her?

She sucks on her pen thoughtfully

Mark: Maria? This morning, I’ve cleared it with the hospital and the police.

Mark reaches over and takes a swig from the coffee cup on the glass tabletop.

Georgia: What’s your spin on the whole thing?

She asks as she places the pen behind her ear.

Mark: I’m just thankful that I’m not Katia’s boyfriend, that’s all. I think she would have gone to work on him if I hadn’t burst in on them. She threw Maria out of the window, catching her with her boyfriend.

He sits back pressing his body into the sofa, pleased with his summary. He crosses his right leg over his left, relaxing into the conversation.

Georgia: What was he doing?

Mark: Having an American breakfast.

Georgia: And I know I don’t want to ask this but what is an American breakfast?

Mark: It’s a roll in bed with honey.

Georgia: You crack me up! (She shoots him a filthy look.) So, she walks in on Maria and the boyfriend they share, he is their common denominator, and Maria ‘slips’ out of a first-floor window, headfirst. What about him, will he talk?
Mark: He was not the most communicative person that I have met. I think you might have to charm him; he clearly loves ladies.

While Mark lounges on his sofa, Georgia uncurls and sit forward on her sofa, looking like a black and white cat about to pounce. Her face has become hard.

Georgia: Remind me why I employ you? I have to find and tail my client’s wife, I have to interview the last person who saw her, her lover, no doubt having to take him to supper, and then who knows what afterwards in order to get him to talk while you do what exactly?

Mark smiles his most disarming smiles, feeling the frostiness and disappointment he has felt often from other women and from other bosses. He is blushing but conceals it with a flash of his perfect white teeth. His charm has extracted him from worse scenarios, he feels confident that this is just a small storm, a cloudburst in their relationship.

Mark: Make you another cup of coffee?

He raises an ironic eyebrow.

Georgia: I don’t think I could trust you to do that.

The venom in her tone wipes the smile from his face and he mirrors her seriousness.

Mark: I will of course be tracking down Katia, running checks on Frederico before you take him out to pump him for information.

Georgia: There will be no pumping anyone, I have abstained for four years, I’ll need flowers and silk sheets, poetry, and music to seduce me, but I will find out what I can.

Mark: I’ll bear all that in mind.

Georgia: My husband employed you because, in his words, you are the master of disguise. Try and disguise the rampant lust you have for me. It is not conducive for our working relationship.

Mark: Sorry, I was staring into space, not at you, I was thinking.

Georgia: Thinking what colour my knickers are judging by the way you’re looking up my skirt. That’s one space you should never stare into.

Mark: Oh, I’m sorry.

Georgia: You’re still on trial; so just watch it! I need help here.

Mark: And you shall have it.

Mark gets up and walks around the desk, clicking on the mouse next to the ‘i-Mac’ computer. The screen comes to life, and he clicks the mouse again to get onto a webpage. The landline phone on the desk rings, he picks it up on the third ring.

Mark: Good Morning, Swayle Surveillance, how can I help you…? Yes, of course, can I have your name please; I’ll just transfer you Katia.

He punches the hold button on the phone. Raising one eyebrow and smirking, he holds the receiver for Georgia to take. She stares at him willing him to wipe the smug smile from his handsome face, wondering what had possessed her to keep on this former model who her husband raved about.

She fails to see how he adds to her operation.

Georgia, rising and crossing to the take the receiver, talks into the mouthpiece: My husband always said you were lucky. Make sure this is all recorded… (She waits for him to click on some icons on the computer before taking the caller off hold). Katia, how good to hear from you. Yes fine, you… of course, how did you get my number.., really.., I see.., absolutely…, where and when .., no trouble… Can I call you on this number if I’m running late..? Perfect.., I should be there at one.., see you then.., wonderful.., thanks for your call.

Georgia: I’m meeting her at Simpson’s.

Mark: If it’s on the first floor or above, take your parachute.

Georgia: I’m doing better than that.

Mark: A micro-light?

Georgia: Of sorts, I’m taking you, and you’re both a lightweight and you have a micro-intellect, so you’re a light-micro, I suppose.

Mark: And you’re a heavy weight in the mind stakes.

Georgia: Of course, and I have a macro-intellect.

Mark: Then why are you wearing rabbit slippers?

Georgia: To make you feel more comfortable, dummy.

Mark: Of course, how stupid of me!

Georgia: You’re true to form aren’t you?

Mark: Thanks, Georgia.

Georgia: Pleasure treasure, shall we make a move; I’ll get the car out, and you put the coffee cups in the dishwasher.

Mark: I loved your husband he always let me drive.

Georgia: Same here, I think he liked to be driven around. I, on the other hand like to be in control, if that’s okay with you?

Mark: You’re the boss. I’ll navigate.

Georgia: I’m meeting her in one hour; I want to get there without going via Nova Scotia. You change put on one of your fabulous disguises. One thing you are exceptionally good at is subterfuge and deception.

Mark: That is two things, surely?

Georgia: Two words and one concept but I don’t want to confuse you with the maths. Please, don’t call me Shirley. I think you better go as a successful media type, don’t you?

Mark: I was going to go with Wine Salesman at the bar but this way I get to put more on expenses. Indigo Levi 501’s, open pale blue Sea Island cotton shirt, with a plain charcoal double breasted Gieves and Hawkes suit jacket?
Georgia: Yes, I like that look. The Hilditch and Key shirt, I love.

Mark: Dark curly hair and a discreet moustache.

Georgia: After this morning’s debacle, I should think so. Northern Irish accent too, please.

Mark: Are you trying to blow my cover? I find that one so difficult. What about shades of ‘Playboy of the Western World’, a nice West Coast accent, say shores of Loch Cong, a soft Mayo voice.

Georgia: That one, I adore; you get changed; I’ll slip into something vaguely professional.

Mark: Your charcoal cashmere twinset and cream silk blouse with the gunmetal grey stockings and Lavender suspender belt?

Georgia: Exactly, a good choice of outfit, you should have been born a woman.

Mark: I’m just in touch with my feminine side.

Georgia: Well, stay away from my feminine backside and any other side.

Mark: You’re the boss.

Georgia: In that case, get going; scrub those cups!

Mark: Once a plongeur always a washer.

Georgia: One last thing; did you and Peter discuss clothes like this?

Mark: All the time. He loved clothes and he loved describing your outfits and he loved describing you, he loved you so much.

Georgia: Yes, we loved each other madly. I miss him so much, thank you, (she pauses to reflect, then pulls herself together abruptly,) now, let’s get going.

Three: Explanation

Simpson’s in the Strand, a traditional restaurant popular in the twentieth century with authors, politicians and plutocrats. The restaurant is wood panelled and has a hushed, sedate atmosphere, business deals and impressing clients seems to be the order of the day. Georgia and Katia sit opposite each other at a dining table draped in white linen and set for three courses. Two glasses of white wine stand on the table. Georgia has left her glass untouched. Katia’s glass, in contrast, is almost empty.

Katia: So, you work for my husband.

Georgia: I take it that your ease at finding our number stems from you going through his address book.

Katia: Actually, finding an invoice first alerted me.

Georgia: And it didn’t make you modify your behaviour?

Katia: My husband has been using agencies to follow me for years; it’s to show he cares. It’s part of the marriage contract, like flowers on an anniversary.

Georgia: And he leaves paperwork from them around for you to find.

Katia: Of course not, I have access to his computer, and I know the password, your number was at the bottom of the email.

Georgia: Well at least he had not been careless enough to print it out.

Katia: Where would the challenge be in that?

Georgia: Indeed, no challenge at all. Talking of challenges, keeping up with you has not been easy.

Katia: If I had known that someone as beautiful as you were pursuing me, then, I would have let myself be caught.
Georgia: Are you always this direct and flattering?

Katia: With you out on the town, I could slipstream.

Georgia: Sorry, slipstream? I’m out of touch on the dating scene.

Katia: When handsome men come over to chat you up; I take the leftovers, like a racer taking the vortex from the cyclist ahead.

Georgia: Is that how it works these days! I had no idea.

Katia: Generally, it works that well. I hang out near the honey spot, a girl all the men would be after and as I circle around and they circle around, we meet.

Georgia: I would have thought you were the honey spot.

Katia: You flatter me, but the really good-looking men want young women with model looks and the good-looking men are the ones that I’m after.

Georgia: And you’re married?

Katia: My husband has been having affairs since we first dated, he’s not following me out of jealously I can assure you on that score.

Georgia: Curiosity, then?

Katia: What do you think happened this morning?

Georgia: I haven’t talked to the girl who fell from the window; yet she is not ready for visitors. I know her name is Maria.

Katia: Did she fall or was she pushed?

Georgia: Let’s say she was pushed and pushed by you or Frederico.

Katia: Frederico is a gentleman, he does not throw women through windows, he’s chucked a few girlfriends in his time, and he’s been chucked, too, but not out of a speeding car or a window; he would not harm anyone.

Georgia: Okay from my perspective, and I do not know you, I would guess that Frederico was your lover, you discovered him with another woman and in a rage you threw her out, literally.

Katia: An interesting summation and perhaps that would be what my husband would like his divorce lawyer to believe. Shall I tell you what really happened?

Georgia: It would be interesting to hear your side of the story.

Katia: I appreciate that, firm and fair, I like that in a woman and, for that matter, even more in a man. Well, you’re right Maria is Federico’s, how shall I phrase it, ‘body’ friend, not a girlfriend, but not a platonic friend. I paid him a great deal of money to do something for me and he failed.

Georgia: So, you threw Maria out of the window as a warning to him. You could be arrested for attempted murder. You didn’t know there was a skip outside the building. What if she presses charges, you could go to prison.

Katia: She won’t.

Georgia: I wouldn’t be so sure.

Katia: I can, it was she who tried to throw me out of the window, and I can prove it.

Georgia: That’s truly fantastic.

Katia: I know.

Georgia: I mean; it’s pure fantasy.

Katia: Not at all, listen to my story.

Georgia: Oh, I will, it’s bound to be good.

Katia: As I said, I wanted Frederico to do something for me. I wanted him to catch my husband. So, he rigged up a web-cam in the corridor, linked to both his computer and through a modem to my computer. I have a DVD, freshly downloaded for you to see.

Georgia: That is good, very good. So, you want us to represent you?

Katia: Why would I want that? I’ve already sent a copy to my solicitor, and he has backed it up, under my instructions and sent it to my divorce barrister.

Georgia: Why, give me a copy.

Katia: Trust, you need to trust that I am telling the truth, if you are going to work for me.

Georgia: I need scarcely remind you that we are working for your husband, and you know we can’t work for you. It is a conflict of interest.

Katia: I know more than that.

Georgia: Really, tell me, I am more and more intrigued.

Katia: You are very polite, you’ve switched off your phone while you are with me, could you indulge me and turn it on again; check your text messages, as a favour, please.

Georgia: How can I refuse but something tells me you know the content of the text message?

Katia: Maybe, but it’s best if you were to read the message, after all you are the intended recipient.

Georgia slips the phone out from her bag, which is on the floor next to her. She turns it on.

The text reads: My wife has discovered your agency. It would be unrealistic to continue our contract. Consider the matter closed immediately. Your fees will be paid up until the end of the month.

Georgia: That seems a very generous offer and a clear signal that we can do business after all.
Katia: Particularly as I will be coming to your office tomorrow morning to sign the papers and I will start paying you from the fifteenth.

Georgia: I’m not sure I can take your money until your husband has stopped paying me on the thirtieth.
Katia: How tiresome that you should be so ethical.

Georgia: My reputation and that of my agency relies on it, I’m afraid, as dull as being honest seems to you.
Katia: I will have to wait then, I will be in your office in a fortnight’s time, and we can arrange that you start work for me on the first. Now, I think we should relax and have some lunch. Would you like your partner to join us?
Georgia: No thank you, I’ve already sent him home.

Katia: Good.

Georgia stands up and puts her phone into the bag, pressing the send button on her message control. She turns around, to see if Mark is still at the bar but he has gone. Thinking to herself, master of disguise and mind reader too, or perhaps the invisible man. Georgia thinks she sees a glimpse of him but cannot make it too obvious or Katia will discover her fib.

Georgia: Where are the loos in this place? Never mind, I’ll ask at the bar. You can order for me if you like, the Salmon to start and the venison to follow.

Katia: Sounds a wild choice; I’ll order a half bottle of the Nuits–St-George.

Georgia: Make it a bottle unless you have things to do this afternoon.

Katia: I’m completely and wholeheartedly free. In fact, I have suite here, just while the divorce goes through, perhaps we could have a bottle of champagne sent up and discuss my needs more.

Georgia: That sounds wonderful, I haven’t had it for so long.

Katia: Champagne?

Georgia looks askance: Of course, that’s what I meant.

Katia smiles: Of course, you did, my mistake.

Four – Observation

Wandsworth Common viewed from outside a café called ‘Common Ground’. Mark sits at a table outside. His bike is chained to the railings. The target walks by with his girlfriend and a reluctant terrier following. Mark reads a book with a cup of coffee beside him. He looks up from his book and watches the couple walk by.

Then, he gets up unlocks his bike and cycles off to the railway bridge, gets off his bike and walks over it and onto the road. Mark turns right at the lights and stops his bike outside ‘Green Locations’. He buys a ‘Big Issue’ from a vendor standing outside the supermarket and walks down to ‘Chez Bruce’ where he ties up his bike.

He notices the girlfriend with her dog now on a lead, looking into a clothes shop. Mark takes the ‘Big Issue’ back to his bike and shrugs off his backpack, unzips it, placing it on the pavement before putting the magazine inside. The target and his girlfriend watch him from outside the mews entrance.

Mark body language suggests he has heard them discussing something and unties the bike letting it drop to the ground. He picks it up and wheels it to a stand outside the bookshop, locks it and walks quickly into the bookshop heading straight to the back. Mark is watching the front window, he slips his phone from the inside pocket of his pale blue cagoule. He looks like a middle-aged walker. He punches the green button.

Mark: Just narrowly missed being confronted by our friend. He must have noticed me at the common and then became suspicious when he saw me again.

Georgia: What did you do?

Mark: I dropped the bike, made it look like it had slipped off the post. That made him hesitate and then, I walked away. I’m now in a bookshop watching the road outside.

Georgia: Okay, let’s just leave it for the time being, he might put it down to coincidence, if we’re lucky, if you follow him home, he’s bound to be suspicious. You stay there and I’ll meet you at the station in ten minutes. Make sure he doesn’t follow you.

Mark: Very funny.

Georgia: You’re a crowd that’s easily pleased.

Mark: Don’t give up your day job my Stand-Up comedienne.

Georgia: The Stand-Up and the Stand-In.

Mark: I’m just a substitute.

Georgia: A substitute, in a literary institute.

Mark: They’ve got a book here for you.

Georgia: Really?

Mark: Yes, the Gruffalo.

Georgia: Get one for yourself, surveillance for amateurs; I think The Lonely Planet does a Guide, it’s called: ‘following people without bringing attention to yourself’.

Mark: You’d be an expert on their publications, ‘The Lonely Planet’ being your world.

Georgia: Can you get me ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night?’

Mark: Because you reckon you’ve got Asperger Syndrome; that would explain a lot!

Georgia: No because I thought I saw you with your girlfriend at a very expensive restaurant last night and that was curious.

Mark: Surely that’s a case of the mongrel puppy calling the hound a pouch.

Georgia: Don’t mix metaphors it’s the pot calling the kettle black.

Mark: You are the biggest pot I know. I think I’ve found you something in the self-help section.

Georgia: I’ll strangle you if Nikita is onto us.

Mark: Promises, promises.

Georgia: I’m on the train, now; just keep an eye on things while I get there. Don’t lose anything else!

Five – Observation Conversation

It is still an overcast morning as Georgia and Mark sit on the bench outside the station. There is a triangle of common along St James’s Drive and a collection of copses. Their bench looks onto the steel fencing that surrounds the railway track.

Georgia: So, we know what the fuss is about. It’s the Hungarian double-headed Eagle. He has a statue that is worth a fortune to a private collector of Austro-Hungarian artefacts, the Hungarian government, or dealers around the world. Nikita was checking that our client didn’t know about its arrival. He suspected she might convince an interested party to pay her a commission for locating the eagle and helping to steal it.

Mark: Does no one trust anyone these days?

Georgia: He was wise to watch her; she has a thorough and forensic grip on his world. She even knew his mistress’s address and that’s why we’re here.

Mark: So, this twin-headed eagle is genuine. This all sounds like the Maltese Falcon.

Georgia: Was that recent, I don’t recall reading about it.

Mark: Come on, it’s a classic of film noir, Sam Spade trying to stop everyone killing each other over a fake.
Georgia: Now you’ve spoilt the ending. In fact, I enjoyed Dashiel Hammet’s book more. There’s not a Raymond Chandler or Hammet book that I haven’t read.

In answer to your first question, ignoring the supplementaries, I would say that, from what I have learnt, this eagle or falcon is genuine. I’ve examined its provenance and a contact in the trade has let me know that the article is on sale. We’ve put the two together and come up with our man and the eagle or falcon. The eagle has landed.

Mark: So, what now?

Georgia: I have informed our client and I await her instructions.
Mark: We’re going to steal it off him?
Georgia: We are going to reunite the object with its owner.
Mark: By stealing the aforesaid object?
Georgia: Appropriating the object.
Mark: By stealing it?
Georgia: Possession is nine tenths of the law; once it is in her grubby little paw we can discuss semantics.  

Six Consolidation – A Sorry Supper

The mews house kitchen – Mark takes a punnet of cherry tomatoes out of the fridge and tosses them into a bowl of salad on the table; picking out a solid looking one with his free hand he walks back to the sink area and the bin with the container. As he bites into the tomato, it unexpectedly explodes in his mouth, sending a jet of juice and pips onto the silver surface of the fridge freezer.

He grabs some kitchen roll from the hessian bag on the work surface but only succeeds in smearing the frontage as he wipes up the stains. Looking at the clock, he grimaces and searches for cleaning fluid or polish and wipes down the mess and throws it all away in the bin, leaving the kitchen roll and polish on the side. He looks at the clock again, looking increasingly harassed by the passage of time.

He searches for scissors mumbling the word under his breath. Taking a knife from the drawer, he takes out a packet of frozen peas, puts the knife down and tries to rip off the top but fails. Mark stabs the packet but cuts his finger. Putting the peas down, he rushes to the sink and runs his finger under the tap for a full minute; he looks again at the clock.

Wrapping his finger in a sheet of kitchen towel before opening every drawer in turn and then every cupboard, searching for a plaster. Eventually, he finds a First Aid Kit in a high up cupboard and applies a plaster before putting the kit back.

As the clock ticks on, Mark fills a saucepan and puts it on the gas hob, turning up the gas to low. He collects the peas, tosses them in and puts the rest of the pack in the freezer below the fridge. Slamming the freezer door shut, he opens the fridge and takes out some vinaigrette that is clearly homemade being in a plain glass bottle. As he walks to the salad bowl, he shakes the bottle and the top spirals off, spinning through the air and sending a shower of oil and vinegar over the kitchen floor and his head.

Mark looks at the clock and is getting more and more frustrated by each new disaster. He swears unintelligibly under his breath, but carries on manfully, taking a plate piled with red and green peppers ready for chopping from the fridge and closing the door. Two fall off the top and they roll under the table as he takes the plate to the sink, he ignores the fallen vegetables.

Becoming exasperated, he chops up the peppers and tosses them into the tomato and spinach. He is clearly feeling under pressure as he looks at the clock, yet again.

Taking a hot pan from the oven using a tea towel, he realises his mistake, noticing the oven gloves hanging by the oven. He shoves the hot pan down onto the countertop and waves his hands in the air before running them under a cold tap for one full minute.

The clock ticks closer to seven. He has five minutes before Georgia arrives. Opening the fridge again, Mark puts a bowl of sliced potatoes next to the pan and scatters the discs over the non-stick base, then returns to the fridge for another smaller bowl, pouring the sauce over the potato slices. Using the oven glove, he scoops the pan up and opens the oven door, shoving the pan in and slamming the door, all pretence of calmness has disappeared, he is desperate to get everything done and change from his grubby polo shirt and vegetable splattered jeans.

Checking the thermostat is on 200 degrees, he grabs a pan from the cupboard to his right and slips it on the biggest and hottest hob.

A melting pack of butter sits next to the hob on the side where he has not been working. Taking a sharp knife, he slices through the foil wrapper and butter to separate the pack in two, stopping the blade just above the marble countertop so he does not mark it.

In one swift movement, he picks up and unwraps the butter, letting it fall into the pan with one hand while he puts the other half back in the fridge. He turns on the extractor fan before clearing away all evidence that he was ever there, barring the pans on the hob.

Mark clears all extraneous items and loads the dishwasher before darting towards the stairs. As he passes the hob, he turns the extractor fan to the first setting; he has three minutes remaining. Remembering the peppers, he fishes them out from under the table and tosses them into the fruit bowl with the bananas, oranges and apples.

At the top of the stairs, he ignores the doorbell ringing and undoes his jeans hops to the bed and lets them fall to the ground as he falls onto the mattress.

Sitting up, he shakes them off, then rips off his polo shirt, slips on a pair of navy chinos, which are lying on the bed next to him, and slips his feet into a pair of brown suede loafers while opening up a cellophane package containing a freshly pressed and folded, laundered, plain white Egyptian cotton Hilditch and Key shirt, which he shakes out and unbuttons.

As he trots down the stairs, buttoning the shirt, he realises that blood has leaked from the plaster, and he has splotches of blood appearing at every buttonhole as he buttons it up. Too late to go upstairs again, he carries on down. The doorbell rings again, more urgently, a longer and seemingly more impatient tone, altogether.
Mark appears at the door, red-faced.

Mark: Sorry to keep you waiting.

Georgia: No trouble, I just wondered if your doorbell was working, is everything okay, I can come home later if you like?

Mark: No problems, everything is ready. It was a doddle, really.

She is aware that Mark is both unsure how to greet her and is also lying through his teeth, She ironically offers her hand to be kissed, which Mark has no choice but to take, he bows to her and kisses the back of her hand.

Georgia: Really?

Mark looks embarrassed.

Mark: Why should there be? Please come in, I hope you are hungry, I’ve brought steak, we both could do with some iron.

Georgia: Like your shirt?

Mark: Freshly pressed, I promise. Sit down; it won’t take long.

She follows him to her place at the table and he gives her a glass of red and she sits as he cooks the steaks to perfection. Within a few minutes, the Dauphinoise are in a dish on the table and the other vegetables are in bowls. The atmosphere is cool and calm as it should be.

Georgia: I appreciate you going to all this trouble to cook for me. Especially as you have been so busy today.
Mark: Absolute pleasure; no pressure.

Georgia: If you say so.

Having successfully cooked the steaks, Mark serves them expertly onto the plates and takes Georgia’s to her place mat, serving the Dauphinoise from the dish with silver, serving spoon. One by one each item is served onto her plate. All is cool, calm and collected as it should be. For a minute or two they eat in silence but make appreciative noises.

Mark: So, we have privacy and conviviality, a superb opportunity, by the way what do you think of the wine?
Georgia tries the wine.

Georgia: A little naïve in its presumption, perhaps, however the notes of liquorice and vanilla make it an appropriate partner for an aged steak.

Mark: Faint praise indeed.

Mark tries to hide his disappointment but without success.

Georgia: Seriously, it’s delicious, I promise, absolutely delicious, a Rioja Reserva is my absolute favourite, please, don’t look so crest-fallen. By the way the steak is superb, and the potatoes and salad are a triumph.

Mark perks up slightly.

Mark: Thank you, please eat, we have strawberries and cream for pudding.

Georgia: Lovely, no comments on what I am wearing then?

Mark: You look gorgeous, the cream cashmere twin set and pearls looks amazing, a brave choice with red meat and red wine, but we scheduled this supper to work on our case, it would hardly be professional to start commenting on, your amazing clothes or the smell of your perfume, which is both heady and intoxicating; the wave of your hair and the way it frames your face to make your face more beautiful than ever, nor that your body looks amazing in Belmain.

Georgia: Goodness, a couple of words would have sufficed. Your over enthusiasm has ensured I won’t be asking that again, I love your shirt, the red detailing around the buttons is very fetching and a refreshing change from your usual Hilditch and Key shirts. Don’t let it go to your head though, I do not wish to unbutton your shirt only liberate your thinking skills. Where did you get the shirt?

Mark: This is a new label, Blood and Tears, a designer called Sweeny something or other, from Dalston, I believe, a showroom in Fleet Street; they’ve just slashed their prices in fact.

Georgia: There’s using Sweeney Todd to as a clothes label, now. Well, that’s cleared that up, sounds cut and dried to me. What about the cut on your finger?

Mark: Oh, that was nothing; I caught it on my razor when I was putting it away, a schoolboy error.

Georgia: Good, as long as that’s all it is, so to business.

Mark: To business, you show me what you have, and I’ll show you what I’ve got.

Georgia: Ever the gentleman, always letting the girls go first and don’t say it; I know what the opposite of go, is? Thank you.
Mark: Of course, you do, spill the beans.
Georgia: Okay, so I’ve been approached by another Russian, you can call him Pytor.
Mark: Watch out for the wolf.
Georgia: I will, but in the meantime, I’ve been offered a three-figure sum for one of the Coptic Jars.
Mark: Great, if only we could locate just one.
Georgia: He’s told me the location, too.
Mark: He’s not going to get it for us is he?
Georgia: No, you are.
Mark has a mouthful of wine, which he squirts all over Georgia.
Mark: I’ll just get my coat and allow you to get on with damage limitation; I await your instructions.

Written by Michael Fitzalan

Michael Fitzalan’s first novel gained cult status and here are some others: Waterwitch was a hit with those who have ever sailed; two brothers battle storms and Spanish support for the Malvinas in an attempt to meet up with their girlfriends in Ibiza. They have to get from The Algarve to Ibiza, all very straightforward until engine failure and storms threaten to sink all their plans. The Taint Gallery tells the story of a modern Romeo and Juliet; the story is set in Cheslea and Fulham, not Verona, nevertheless, it is a doomed relationship. The book was shunned by big publishers for its highly charged and graphic sexual content and the small publisher who produced the book folded, copies are rare. A reprint is planned for its twentieth anniversary next year; it is still as pertinent and shocking today as it was back in 1996. Switch is an amazing mixture of Franz Kafka realism yet it reads like a Raymond Chandler thriller. Joe Ederer falls for a French girl but he is recovering from being dumped by his English girlfriend. A fish out of water in London, he chases her home only to be rejected. He hooks up with a suffocating drug addict and that is when his nightmares begin. Major Bruton’s Safari is the story of innocents abroad; a family invited to celebrate the coronation of the Kabaka of Buganda become indoctrinated into the ways of Africa. With an acerbic observer on hand, the family experience the warmth and ways of Uganda that help them to understand themselves a little better. IPG – Innocent Proven Guilty is about a teacher, Philip Hayward whose brother sold their shared flat and ran off to America with the proceeds. Philip bumps into his brother’s ex-girlfriend and she tells him his brother is back. Racing to the address she gave him, he arrives to find his brother with a knife in his back. As he leaves, his shoes leave bloody footprints and the police come looking for him. Carom – Finn McHugh and his team take on a swindler and smuggler, Didier, who is depraved in so many ways. They know he is smuggling art and drugs; he must be stopped before others take him out. The Cubans, want him dead, Finn wants to break the smuggling ring. Who will win? Remember the Fifth November – Guy Fawkes was innocent, Catesby was a broken man who brought his children up in the Anglican faith, yet Robert Cecil arranged for them to be portrayed as terrible villains. With a spy service second to none and with moles everywhere how could someone hatch a plot like this and fail to be discovered? The answer, they could not. Read the truth! One – Bullying does not go on anymore in schools. I would not bet on it. Weep as you read the terrible story of a school bully and the misery he dispenses to all the boys. Then, cheer as one of his victims takes revenge. Take a trip to a prep school in a time when kids built tree houses, danced and swung on Tarzan ropes!

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