NANCY pulled up behind the Hawthorne hedge. Today, she had donned a black overcoat and leather ankle boots with fleece lining. A scarf provided further insulation against the chill during a possible wait.
She had packed a flask of tea, biscuits and ham sandwiches. The Cheap Sleep Hostel permitted the use of a spacious but dour kitchen with steel tops. Burroughs had advised her to place any food in a named Tupperware box but could not guarantee someone might not steal it. She was pleased to find her bread, ham, butter and digestives in the fridge when she had returned from breakfast.
Her first night at the Cheap Sleep had seen little of its namesake. The radiators rattled and the bed was hard. The bunk felt no more hers even with her addition of new sheets and pillowcases.
Nancy pressed the buzzer. Today she took cautious hope. With Amy out of the picture, things might pan out differently. The place remained pap-free. According to a snippet in today’s Daily Mail, Vince still languished in hospital but would soon be flown out to a private clinic in Switzerland. A reporter had taken his chances outside Vince’s Knightsbridge apartment without a sighting. Speculations have begun to abound on conspiracy theories. Had the crash been planned? Had someone messed with the brakes? Who was responsible? Could it be family, the government, the secret service? A simple blowout would seem to provide journalists extra things to write about. Still, this digression had worked in Nancy’s favour. The Retreat in the backwoods of Warwickshire had grown increasingly overlooked in the public eye.
Nancy adopted the stance of yesterday: her feet planted upon a patch of grass overlooked by the cameras and both hands grasping the handle of her satchel bag. No whirring pierced the air this time, but then, the cameras didn’t have to pan to spot her. At the head of the driveway, a green land rover partially obscured the porchway. She lifted her chin for the benefit of whoever received the feed. Her purpose here would remain plain; the manner by which she occupied the space outside Vince’s gates could only mean one thing. A mechanism behind the intercom system clicked. The gates hummed on its transit though a ninety-degree arc. Nancy’s lower lip fell; a small frown gathered. She remembered the cameras and stilled her expression. She was a guest here after all; she had a job to do. Nancy transferred the handle of her bag to her right hand and let it swing at her side.
Today, the row of elms to her right did not look upon her as an intruder; the soles of her boots pounded the gravel; the chapel entrance approached as though expecting this guest. Her long black coat had almost taken flight as she strode onto the Lakeland slabs. She straightened her scarf as she clopped towards the door.
On the oak panels she had the choice of a pulley or a large knocker. She went for neither and rapped her knuckles against the oak. Nothing on the reverse side of that door would tease out one Sheila’s daughter of Weaver’s Street who did not know her father’s name. Her tiny but implacable smile came easily, not to be dislodged by anything the Retreat could throw at her. The oak front gave an inch before the gap widened. Mr. Beatnik of the Aaron jumper gazed at her with his angelic blue eyes. Nancy found her words immediately. ‘Good morning, I’m Nora Clements, Mr. Jonas’ nurse. You may remember me from the other day.’
Mr. Beatnik’s wheaty brows drew together in a frown. ‘Yeah, I remember you.’ Small pupils did a flick over her attire and seemed to make an evaluation. ‘He ain’t here; gone to London on a meeting with some accountant.’
Beatnik’s informality grated. He had a faint cockney twang American actors might adopt in an effort to sound British.
‘That’s okay,’ Nancy said and flashed a copy badge. ‘I’m here to rearrange Mr. Jonas’ room. Amy took the day off and left it to me.’
Beatnik gave a small, slow nod. ‘Oh, right.’
An awkward silence. ‘And you are…’
‘Oh, I’m Henry Cavendish, the groundskeeper.’ His moist lips turned up at one corner.
Amy had evidently excluded a mere groundskeeper from the news a charlatan was at large tricking her way into Vince’s bedroom. ‘May I come in?’ Nancy asked.‘Er…yeah, sure.’ Henry pulled the door wider and stood aside.
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