Episode One: And so it ends
Updated: May 28
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Saturday 13th June
"Nous voilà Madame. Profitez de votre séjour."
The Taxi Driver looked over his shoulder, expecting a tip and the Woman obliged most generously. To say that he was shocked would be an understatement as most clients at Les Liens are not that forthcoming, ‘maybe this one is a fluke’, he thought.
The Woman twisted her legs and gracefully removed herself from the car in the way that is taught at Swiss finishing schools. From this The Taxi Driver knew that she was definitely not like the other clients at this club; this one had old money, not like the nouveau riche he usually dropped off with their ludicrously expensive designer luggage. He handed over her simple but well-made suitcase and watched as she walked up the lavender lined path and went in through those shiny double doors. He often wondered what went on behind those doors, what secrets they hid.
The bonnet of his car was hot as he perched on it and lit a cigarette, taking a quick break before driving off back to Marseille airport to pick up his next client. He had been here so many times before – well, on the drive that is – but he was always impressed by this place. Les Liens has at its heart a large chateau dating from the late 1800s - not full of fairy tale towers, spires and turrets, but an elegant, symmetrical honey coloured building with plentiful white shuttered windows across three floors. Right at the centre, with four windows either side and just up six red-carpeted steps is the main entrance; double dark wooden doors, each with a half panel window that sparkled in the afternoon sun, and perfectly polished brass handles. Not that the handles were ever needed in that place – as soon as anyone approached the doors, they swung open by themselves. Above the doors there was an ornate piece of stonework featuring a semi-clad man and woman either side of a shield decorated with a shoal of fish. The chateau's first owners had been part of the Marseille fishing industry, and this crest served as a reminder of how they made their fortune. The Taxi Driver was still not sure if those doors were automatic or if there was a doorman on the other side, always positioned there in case someone wanted to go in. Maybe one day he would find out. The gravel crunched underfoot as he stubbed out his cigarette. As he drove away down the cypress-lined avenue he knew that he would be back there in just a few hours.
She always found the scent of the lavender as it brushed against her on that path comforting; Les Liens was her happy place, a home away from home. As the doors swung open she was embraced by the comforting perfume of lilies, mahogany and fresh coffee. The reception was empty apart from a lady in the seating area in the corner of the room, rapidly scribbling in an old notebook. The Woman walked up to the reception desk to collect her room key. “Welcome back, Madame. Your usual room is waiting for you, would you like assistance with your luggage?”, asked Anna, the receptionist.
“No, thank you. I can manage. Has he left?”
“Yes, Madame. He has left.”
The club’s General Manager, Amelia Marshall, then appeared at the door behind reception. “Good afternoon, Madame. Nice to see you again so soon. Has Anna arranged everything for you?”, she asked. “Yes, thank you. Can you reserve my usual table for 8 o'clock, please? It will just be for one”, said The Woman and she turned and headed to her room.
“Anna, have you got that list I asked for? I said I wanted it this morning, not at five o’clock in the afternoon”, said Amelia, her annoyance obvious.
“Yes, of course. Here it is.”
“Good. I can start my work now that you have done your's.
“Yes, Amelia. Sorry.”
Amelia took the paper from Anna’s hand and started to go back in her office. She turned back to Anna.
“Oh, and Anna … “
“Merci. I know I can always rely on you.”
They smiled; although Anna could be annoying at times, she did always do her job, even if it was sometimes later than needed. “So, how was your date?”, asked Amelia. Anna looked quizzical, pretending to not know what her boss was talking about.
“Last night, wasn’t it? A little bird told me. Anyone I know?”
“No, I don’t think so. Just a boy from the village.”
“Well, just be careful … but have fun too.”
Amelia closed the door behind her, slumping back against it and sighing. It had been a tough day. She headed to the filing cabinet and unlocked the bottom drawer, sliding it open to reveal her secret drinks cabinet. Pouring herself a large gin and tonic she knew that it would be frowned upon, but who would ever find out, and besides, she felt she deserved this. She sat back in her chair, sipping on the G&T and letting its calming influence take effect. Amelia kept a tidy office, her compact desk was immaculate – her laptop, a printer and a small bunch of flowers. On the wall next to the window there hung a photograph of her parents. It seemed a lifetime ago since the day that was taken on a sunny day in Brighton, long before she moved to Marseille after graduating. She stared at the photo, remembering the last time she saw them, five years ago. They had wanted to visit so Amelia made all the arrangements, checking them into the best suite in the club’s hotel, booking golf lessons for them and that fateful boat trip. If only she could go back and change things, but that is never possible.
The shrill ring from her mobile stirred Amelia from her memories. As she saw the caller’s name on the screen her heart dropped. “Good afternoon, Pierre. What can I do for you?”, she asked.
“Have you done what I asked?”
“I’m working on it, Pierre. It’s not easy.”
“Well, that’s why I pay you generously, Amelia.”
The breeze was cooling on her face as she stepped onto the patio. In the distance, just above the umbrella pines that separated the course and the sea, the sun was slowly setting, creating a watery pallet of pink, orange, purple and blue. Amelia loved this sight and the stillness that it brought to her mind, like stepping into a Monet - a rest from the constant to-do lists, client requests and staff gossip. This was her favourite part of the day; she worked long hours, often from first thing in the morning until ten or eleven o’clock at night, but she didn’t mind as she didn’t have anything else to do other than go home to her apartment which now felt so empty after Claude had left. He was not the first to leave, but he was possibly the one who’s leaving hurt the most. They had been together for almost a year when he broke up with her and moved out. Things were good for a while; they enjoyed each other’s company, laughed at each other’s stories, shared jokes about their different national cuisines. She had even stayed with his parents in Cannes. They had been happy, but eventually he tired of her. Maybe one day she would find the right person, someone who could deal with her long workdays and the limited attention she could give to a relationship. ‘Maybe’, she thought, ‘for the right person I would leave this behind’.
“Amelia, a guest would like to speak to you.”
“I’ll be there in a few minutes, Sylvia. Keep him amused for me.”
Asking Sylvia to keep anyone amused was amusing to Amelia; she wasn’t sure that the Maître d’hôtel had a funny bone in her body. She took a moment, breathing in the last light of the day, a final moment of peace, before stepping back inside.
The glass felt good in her hand as she poured the gin. This had been a long, difficult week and now there were only a few more hours until she could finish her shift and head back to the apartment. A day at the beach was sounding good, maybe a good book and then a trip into the town and a pastry and coffee at her favourite café. She wondered whether she might be brave enough to approach that tall, handsome man she had been eyeing from a safe distance. Les Liens had always attracted the wealthy and all their foibles, but this week had been on a totally new level of absurdity. Still, as soon as the sales spreadsheet for Pierre was updated, she could hand over responsibility for the club to Sylvia, even if it would only be for one day.
Amelia regretted picking up her phone when it rang. She had already told the caller that there was it was out of her control, but they just would not accept it, ranting at her, telling her she had to take action or action would be taken against her. Amelia could do nothing but repeat that there was nothing she could do.
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Now move on to 'Episode Two: Private investigations'.
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