SHEILA’S mound of bedclothes had remained untouched the day of Nancy’s departure. Sheila’s bottles beneath her bed would continue to collect dust along with her postcards to Ibiza, her snow-globes, her cheeky mugs from Great Yarmouth, her TV and her cascade of clothes over the bed-board.
Here, Nancy began by stripping Vince’s bed.
The housekeeper had done a change of sheets since Nancy’s last visit – satin of honeydew. Nancy dumped the bedclothes and several pillows in the hallway just outside his door. She added his barbells, his ledgers and his suits. Nancy found the utility room, possessed more than enough space for storage. She wheeled out his drinks trolley, his flat-screen, a laptop and his retro American mini fridge. She paused looking out of his window offering an elevated view of the pond nestling within the copse. She unfastened the opener and permitted the scent of mulched bark. With that, she unhooped his Owen Jones curtains of geometric mustard and white, and replaced them with pale blue cotton. White linen stretched over the mattress brought notions of clean driven snow. Two pillows and a navy blue blanket completed his bedding. She took down box canvas prints showing diametric designs of Frank Stella, a series of voluptuous figurines attributed to Gaston Lachaise.
Nancy noticed no nightclub shoots in his room and reasoned those on display in the foyer were for the benefit of his guests. But on a dresser, she found a small grouping in semicircular formation. A stately woman who could pass for Raquel Welch smiled for the viewer – his mother? Like the actress, she wore thick eyeliner, stressing the upward cant of her eyes, not unlike Vince’s own. Rolls of lavender converged in the distance towards an idyllic homestead, Umbria perhaps or at least Italy. Another photograph appeared to show Vince’s parents and his twenty-something self, lanky, cocky and stupidly good looking. His presumed father bore a similar carriage to his son, a greying figure, yet imposing and implying prosperity. Another family shot, back-dropped with hanging baskets of huge begonias within his childhood home, she deduced. All photos oozed sunshine, a diet of olive oil, sundried tomatoes and fruit of groves, a life Nancy could only comprehend. Nancy allowed the family shots to remain albeit with sour sentiment. He could never have known.
She entered his ensuite bathroom and caught her reflection in the cabinet mirror. A pale face gazed back. An English rose, yes, she could still be seen as a farm lass or a waitress as Kew, but her eyes had darkened with suspicion and her full mouth had grown set in a manner of one who suffered no fools. She could see why Henry and Naomi had never questioned her authority.
Beneath the sink, she found a hoard of spirits. This English rose unscrewed the cap and watched the dekuyper bottle hemorrhage its contents into the toilet pan. The smell of hops blossomed into the air; a second bottle, this time with the astringent bouquet of gin. The toilet water paled to honey. Bourbon darkened the concoction to caramel. Southern comfort resulted in no perceivable change in hue. Nancy depressed the flush system; an instant blank canvas.
Nancy placed the empty bottles into a flip-bin and pulled out the innards. The trash bag sagged in her grip as she ferried it through Vince’s bedroom.
The utility room bore now the appearance of a storage area. She inserted FF3 and locked the door. Dusk had crept upon the windows once Nancy had finished, and with it, a prickling sensation in her chest. She would have to speak to Henry again. The thought bothered her without a definable reason – his distilled glower, perhaps; his moist half-smile? Her trepidation angered her. She descended the stairs, taking solace in her smart rap and the sway of her satchel bag. In the meeting room, she caught sight of Henry’s form in the gloom still strimming the box hedge. The thing had barely altered shape in three hours. She would have to go out to him.
She cut a route through the kitchen, pausing at the recess leading into the surveillance room. Nancy took a detour. The keys glinted dully within the box. Nancy foraged for the FF keys within her pocket. Henry would soon return, expecting to see a complete set before closing the lid and locking up. She returned each key to their respective hooks. Her sights idled over the central row: G1, G2, G3, G4 and G5. And the bottom row: E1, E2 and E3.
Nancy unzipped the front pouch of her satchel bag and fished out her car keys. Sheila’s front and back door Yales hung redundantly from a secondary keyring. Her fingernails pinched, the double coil snatched within her grip. Once liberated, the keys underwent an aesthetic appraisal: staggered shafts terminating at hooped tops of tarnished brass. Doubts lurked as she held one against E2. Sheila’s offering was no match for an artifact of burnished bronze bearing the seal of an eagle’s head. Hung within the box, Sheila’s key looked more like a rusty great splinter. Nancy unhooked E1 and placed Sheila’s other key beside the first. Two dirty great splinters. Well, they were less conspicuous than one, and would not draw the eye as would vacant hooks. Nancy could only hope Henry would not notice.
She dropped E1 and E1 into her satchel bag. In time, she would discover what they unlocked.