“What is she doing?”
Gregory Sinclair III turned at his desk so that his back faced the visitor. “Nothing Mr. Tyrellyon, sir.” He whispered into the intercom. He glanced over his shoulder at the form sat absolutely still on the long low sofa beside the large bay window framing a breathtaking view of Monte Carlo’s yacht packed pier. “She hasn’t moved since she got here.”
There was an exclamation of disappointment. “Fine! Wait five minutes and let her in.”
“Very good, Mr. Tyrellyon.”
Gregory took his finger off the intercom and faced his chair forward. He tried to ignore her, he really did. But it wasn’t long before his eyes were drawn back to the woman sitting across his office.
Just earlier this morning, Mr. Tyrellyon had told him to await a visitor. A Mr. V. Moreau. It had been a grave aggravation to find standing before his desk a woman of admirable height and military bearing. Ms. Virginie Moreau. Mr. Tyrellyon hadn’t been much amused either. He’d faked a meeting he didn’t have and kept her waiting for, Gregory glanced at his watch, two hours and seventeen minutes. Eighteen minutes.
She had responded politely to his offer of a seat, to his suggestion that she wait. In fact, she had barely spoken at all. A name and a time of appointment. A thank you to his arm indicating the sofa. She had sat, straight-backed and utterly still for two hours. She hadn’t once looked out the window at her elbow. Her eyes stared straight ahead, as though she had retreated to a far distance and only left her body to keep her appointment.
Gregory nearly shivered. She was an unnerving presence. She seemed very much there, even when he looked down at the papers on his desk, she seemed to loom over him physically. He glanced up in a bit of a panic to find her still sitting silently across the room.
Should he send her in early? Surely she was Mr. Tyrellyon’s problem. Why should he be saddled with her… presence? He glanced at his watch. He could send her in in two minutes. That wasn’t too long to wait, not after the two gruelling hours he’d just borne in silence.
He finally rose and walked up to her. “Ms. Moreau.” Expressionless chocolate brown eyes turned to meet his. “Mr. Tyrellyon will see you now.”
If she noticed that no person claiming an earlier appointment had left the office, she didn’t comment. Merely rose and followed Gregory to the thick wooden doors he threw open.
The doors closed behind her and there was a second of silence as the two occupants of the room studied each other.
“Ah! Ms. Moreau.” John Tyrellyon rose from his seat with the typical reserved good cheer of an English nobleman of a certain age. His tall fit physic bespoke of the activity of his earlier years, while the cane he leant heavily on reaffirmed his present age. His hair was snow white, as was the sleek moustache he wore above his thin lips. His handshake was firm.
So was hers.
“Please, have a seat.” He gestured to a plush leather armchair facing his desk and limped towards an elaborate mini bar set in the corner. “Will you have anything to drink?”
“No, thank you.”
“Ah, of course. Never while on duty and all that, I suppose?”
She looked at him in silence.
“Well-” John cleared his throat. “I, on the other hand, can refuse myself nothing.” He turned his back to his visitor as he poured himself a generous measure of scotch.
He was aware of her eyes following him as he sank with a sigh into his chair and swirled the glass thoughtfully. “I think I’ll be straightforward with you. You seem like the kind to appreciate it.”
“I would.” She inclined her head.
“Here’s the thing, Ms. Moreau, this is damned awkward, but you see the fact of the matter is that… well-” He sat forward, leaning his elbows on his desk and meeting her eyes earnestly. “We were expecting a man.” He paused to let that sink in. A moment or two passed pointlessly until he realized that she was waiting for him to continue. “I know these are modern times, and equality is the status quo. But everyone will admit that there are just some things that only a man can do. I hope you won’t take any offence when I say that we won’t be able to hire you.”
“May I ask why?”
The level husky voice suited her. Calm, collected. It threw John for a second.
“You aren’t what I’m looking for.”
“So far all you’ve said is that I’m not a man. Is that the only prerequisite for the job?”
“Have you seen my CV?”
“You…have…a… I didn’t think you’d have one.”
“Of course I do. This is a job interview after all.” She reached into the leather attaché at her side and pulled free a little stack of stapled papers.
John took the impressive pile rather unwillingly.
“I understand that I was recommended to you by Mr. A-”
John glanced up. “That’s right.”
“You were honest with me. Do you permit me the same luxury?”
“Mr. A- has briefed me on the basics of the assignment. Trust me when I say that I am the best person you’ll find for this job.” She held up a hand to stop him when John opened his mouth to dissent. “Two minutes, that’s all I ask. Take a look at my CV, call my reference. You’ve got nothing to lose.”
With a loud and resigned sigh, John subsided back into his chair to have a read of the CV. It wasn’t easy to focus when he could feel those steady eyes boring into his face, but after several moments, the typed words began to sink it. The list of achievements, skills and commendations were ridiculously impressive. The names jotted so casually under ‘References’ nearly boggled his mind.
She smiled when he finally looked up again. He knew that she knew that she’d won.
“I need you too, Mr. Tyrellyon. I need this money very badly indeed. I promise you I’ll do everything necessary to get it.”
John leaned back to study her. Her steady gaze, which a second ago had seemed unnerving, seemed something else too now. Reassuring, perhaps? Capable?
“I’m going to need some time to think this over.” He said finally.
“That’s absolutely fine.” She stood.
Watching her, he was suddenly struck by an idea. “I never trust a man until I’ve drunk with him.” He declared loudly, suddenly and somewhat falsely. “I’m having a bit of a bash on my yacht tonight, why don’t you come along?”
She looked ready to decline.
“Consider it an obligatory part of the interview.”
“Very well.” She didn’t look either pleased or displeased, and her voice was perfectly neutral. “I need to know where it is, what time I should arrive and if there’s a dress code?”
John decided he was going to enjoy this evening very much indeed. He was a sporting man; why not make a sport of it?
“Gregory will fill you in on all the particulars.”
“See you this evening.”
“À bientôt .” John smiled as the doors closed behind her. He walked to the French windows running along one side of his office and stood appreciating the view. If he strained his eyes, or forced himself to wear the ridiculous glasses his hateful optician had prescribed, he could make out the sleek lines of his luxury yacht.
The Iron Lady winked at him in the glittered sunlight, his pride and joy. He would have winked back but at the moment an elderly couple was walking past on the street beyond his balcony and he didn’t much want to look like a maniac or, worse, a pervert.
He thought of the beautiful scroll lying in its velvet bed within its ostentatious mahogany box. The 75th Annual International Scavenger Hunt was to begin again as it always did on the seventh of June. He had competed in that race every year since his father had handed over to him on his thirtieth birthday the coveted signet ring that was the entry ticket.
John looked down at the gold and ruby ring that encircled his pinkie finger. Yes, it was a little effeminate by today’s standards, but he could still remember a time when it was the most fabulous accessory known to mankind. A tiny gold snake entwined around a scroll sat at the heart of a ruby set within an intricate gold band. Lovely.
He had won sometimes and he had lost others, as was the way with life, but now he was getting on in years. He had never married, had no son of his own to pass the ring onto. It had become more and more important to win over the past few years. To – Yes, to regain some sort of glory for his family name. It might be a ridiculously old fashioned point of view, but there it was. That was how he felt. All the other contestants had married, had children to take their places and now there had been some powerful new adversaries over the past decade. The most dangerous of those being that damnable, insufferable Argentine buffoon Hugo Vidal. Vidal had won the past two years running. John’s time was running out, and now with this damn gimp hip-
He hobbled back to his desk and took a long swig of his scotch. He couldn’t fight his doctors any longer. This would have been his last year anyway, but now, having broken his hip while climbing out of the hot tub- it really had been a blow, and that stupid insipid Cha-cha or whatever her name was had been of no help whatsoever. Anyway, what was done was done. The end result being that he couldn’t even compete, last year had been his last. If only he’d known… Well, no matter. He still intended to win that honour in his family’s name. Only, he’d be electing a champion, as it were, to do the battle for him. There was nothing in the rules against it. When his good friend A- had recommended a chap he’d met while visiting the French Foreign Legion in La Réunion, he’d been surer than ever of his cunning plan. But now Mr. Moreau had become Ms. Still, he had to admit, if her CV was anything to go by, she seemed more than up to the task at hand.
He couldn’t risk it that was all. He just couldn’t. Not when so much was at stake. He’d simply have to ask A- for another name.
John pressed the intercom. “Gregory?”
“Yes, Mr. Tyrellyon?”
“Get me A- on the line, will you?”
“Of course, sir.”
He waited impatiently, sipping in short, sharp bursts from his glass. He leapt at the phone when it finally rang.
“For Gods sake, Tyrellyon! Do you know what time it is in Myanmar?”
That brought him up short. “Myanmar? What on earth are you doing there? Thought you were in Bordeaux.”
“Em, change of plan, old chap. Anyway, I’m up now. Whadya want?”
“Listen here A-; I don’t appreciate your planning games with me. I just met Moreau.”
“And? And? She’s a woman, damn it. What do you mean by sending me a woman? You know I need the best.”
“Well she is the best.”
“Listen to me, Tyrellyon. I am in deadly earnest. She. Is. The. Best. By God! You haven’t offended her have you?”
“No…” John felt a frisson of discomfort go down his spine. “Why?”
A-‘s voice was derisive. “You did read her CV?”
Understanding dawned. “Er- yes. I quite understand… Anyway, I’m not one to cause offence.” He ignored the quiet snicker that sounded on the other side of the line. “Quite the opposite, actually, I invited her to a little soiree I’m having this evening.”
“Why, for Gods sake?”
“The woman’s a robot A-. I couldn’t build any sort of rapport with her. If she’s to work for me, and that’s a big if, we’re going to have a very close relationship. I’ll need to be able to like her. To trust her.”
“Don’t give me that rot.” A- snorted. “You mean to make a game at her expense.”
“Wrong. You’re so very wrong. I want to see if she’s game. You have to admit, she’ll need to be.”
“Very well.” There was a long resigned sigh. “You do what you think you must. Just remember what she is and tread carefully. But one last word on the subject-”
“Have I ever led you astray?”
“Then trust me now. Hire her.” The line went dead.
John hung up and groaned as he sank into his chair.
“I suppose I have no choice.”