Nancy stalked through the foyer, passing the oak desk and found herself within a meeting room. Terracotta floor tiles glimmered at the foot of a large recessed fireplace fashioned from, she reckoned, the stones of the original chapel. In the centre, two leather corner suites enclosed a glass coffee table. Nancy half-expected to see ropes skirting the walled areas. But no, she was free to gaze at and to touch modern art credited to weird names such as de Kooning, Chagall and Albers. Brash colours, knotted figures and symbols. She didn’t like them perhaps because she didn’t understand.
Through an Edwardian-style window, she spotted Henry strimming a box hedge. A hiss of air caused Nancy to turn. The pinnied housekeeper drew a cloth in large sweeps across the glass top. A student perhaps or a traveler paying for board. She busied in her task taking pains not to engage. Nancy could see herself in the housekeeper: young and unaware. He had tracked his finger along her arms, her waist, at her throat. At the crease, Nancy, it’s all about the crease.
Nancy broke the spell. ‘Er…excuse me.
The housekeeper’s jade eyes flicked towards her in surprise.
‘I don’t mean to disturb you. I’m Mr. Jonas’ nurse. Do you happen to know where the keys are kept?’
The housekeeper gazed upon her from a cloud of guilt. She reminded Nancy of a bird. ‘The keys?…er...’
The cosmopolitan cadence; French, Nancy decided. Nancy attempted to put her at ease with a small smile. ‘I’m rearranging Mr. Jonas’ room. My name is Nora Clements. I am the appointed nurse here.’
The housekeeper’s mirroring smile emerged bemused. ‘I am Naomi Siddoux.’ She pointed to a door adjacent to the fireplace. ‘The keys…they are in the kitchen, beneath the pantry. The box is usually locked but I think Henry has left it open while he does the lawns.’
Nancy nodded. ‘Naomi, do you work on daily shifts?’
Naomi straightened herself. ‘Weekdays, yes. Judith does the laundry on Fridays.’
Nancy adopted a tone she would have believed herself. ‘You may be aware that Mr. Jonas will be away in a few days time. He has left it to me to oversee things here, so you might as well take a week or so off. I would like you to convey this message to Judith.’
Naomi’s finely-shaped brows lifted. ‘Oh.’
‘Once you have finished your task here, you may as well go home.’
Naomi’s expression brightened as the news sunk in. ‘Yes, thank you, Nora…Miss. Clements.’
‘Please, it’s Nora. Have a lovely weekend.’
Naomi’s dusting hand geared up a notch on resuming her task. ‘Yes. You too, Miss…Nora.’
Nancy took a tour into the kitchen and remembered she had left her satchel bag upstairs. A spacious square room bearing a grand chimneybreast and lintel forming the reverse side of the meeting room’s fireplace, the kitchen would have suited any celebrity chef. A large circular window overlooked lawns sloping to a pond nestled within a copse. Distressed pine chairs enclosed a block of Venetian marble with overhead hob. Cabinets boasted wine, spices and condiments of every description. A Rayburn stove provided a warm glow for the occupant of a nearby rocker.
Nancy strode across the oak floor to find a recess on the other side of the chimneybreast. She glanced at the window just in time to see Henry move to the rear of the box hedge with his strimmer.
A grey metallic box hung from a panel. Her fingers did a meander of the bronze cuts; FF room 1, FF room 2, FF room 3 and FF room 4. First Floor? Nancy unhooked all four keys and put them in her pocket. An overhead utility light buzzed on; motion-sensored, likely.
Before her, the passage opened out into a wide nook. A fisheye view of Lime Tree Drive lit up the gloom. Next to it, a patch of grass at the foot of the Vince’s mighty gates. A view of a Lakestone garage and lastly the lawns looking down to the copse completed a two-by-two grid composite image. Nancy approached the monitor presenting these four views. Nancy could picture herself within the upper left waiting, her satchel bag swinging at her side and cogitating over tea and biscuits. Amy must have been spinning on her swivel seat at the sight.
On the wall facing the desk, she noticed a security panel bearing a grid of numbers and a speakerphone. Nancy tracked the raised buttons with her index finger which came to rest upon a silver square. She guessed the button would either open the gates or open communications with the person outside. Either way, she couldn’t determine yet. All four views appeared motionless, which was what Amy no doubt preferred. A star-shaped green button drew her eye: ‘gate override/ gate automatic.’ Her brows drew together at this obscurity and the tip of her index finger did a few circuits before depressing. A red light came on. Nancy quickly depressed and the red light went off.
Within a palpitation surge, her hands grew hot. She unfastened the top button of her mandarin collar which suddenly felt tight. She closed her eyes and took a breath. An afterimage of the four-square composite pressed upon her eyeballs. On the lower right, she saw the huge Cycloptic bin-liner resting upon Vince’s lawn waiting to take her back to the night side of the train station. She shouldn’t be here. Vince had not recognized her. She shouldn’t be here. She could no longer recognize herself. Nancy pushed the chair from beneath her and a whimper escaped from deep within her throat.
To her right, she noticed a door. In desperation, she stepped towards it, simultaneously depressing the handle. A cool breeze wafted over her face on finding herself back in Vince’s foyer. She stepped through and allowed the door to drift back towards its moorings and clicking shut. No doubt, Amy would have taken this access point beneath Vince’s stairs in her surveillance duties.
Nancy straightened her collar and walked towards the foot of the stairs. She could see herself pressing that little green button when it suited her. Nancy ascended the stairs once again. She returned to Vince’s door. FF2 had turned out to be the missing piece. She entered Vince’s room.