As the Bentley sailed along the boulevard towards the Hotel Majestic I turned in my seat, slid aside the glass partition that divided myself and the chauffeur from the back of the car and addressed Felicity who sat alone in the midst of the plush rear seat.
“You know, I’m not sure this plan is going to work out after all,” I told her, determined to make one last effort to extricate myself before it was too late. “Thing is, I’ve been in the casino every night this week and some of the hotel guests are bound to have seen me. Don’t you think they might suspect something if I suddenly show up in such a different role?”
Felicity pursed her lips and gazed sourly at me for a moment or two. “I don’t think so,” she finally declared. “Whatever you were to them before you’re a simple lady’s maid now. So long as you play your part correctly nobody will take a blind bit of notice of you.” And then, as if to prove that she was having no trouble adjusting to her own role as my wealthy employer, she instructed me by way of a dismissive little gesture to close the partition again.
The annoying thing was that she was absolutely right. When the Bentley pulled up at the hotel entrance a small army of porters and doormen sallied forth but their attention was primarily fixed on the rich woman in the back with the power to dispense tips. And the other guests milling around the hotel lobby may have looked on with interest as the newcomer made her way to the reception desk but nobody spared the poor little maid trailing in her wake a first, never mind a second, glance.
At least the lack of attention enabled me to enjoy a good gawp at the target of our visit whilst Felicity completed the formalities of check-in. The Dirwali rubies were housed in a vast glass case situated in a commanding spot opposite a plush seating area. I’m not all that much of a jewellery girl myself (I prefer gifts of a more practical nature like wine and chocolate) but even I was momentarily dazzled by the vibrant colour of the stones as they glittered beneath the lights of the lobby. Less dazzling but no less notable were the two security guards in distinctive red jackets whose sobering presence either side of the case only served to emphasise the scale of the challenge ahead.
Once the register had been signed the deputy manager himself insisted on showing Felicity up to her room. I followed in the wake of the three porters who had been designated to shift the small mountain of suitcases that Felicity had felt were necessary props for her role. By the time we finally reached Room 210, a second floor suite comprising bedroom, bathroom and sitting room, we found the deputy manager eagerly running through the various amenities to a largely unimpressed-looking Felicity.
“And where is my maid to sleep?” Felicity imperiously demanded, cutting him off in full flow.
“We have a room set aside for her on the fifth floor,” replied the deputy manager. “The rooms up there are plain but comfortable.”
“That seems rather distant,” complained Felicity. “I am accustomed to having her on hand at all times.”
“There is a direct telephone link between the two rooms,” explained the deputy manager. “Your maid can be easily summoned at any hour of the day or night.”
“Well, I suppose that will have to do,” Felicity grudgingly conceded. “Though usually I prefer to keep my staff on a tighter rein. Give them an inch and they take a mile has always been my experience.”
“Of course madame, I completely understand,” said the deputy manager with a sickeningly sycophantic smile.
Feeling that it might be considered a touch out of character, I somehow resisted the urge to stick two fingers up at the pair of them in response. Instead I picked up a bag and retreated to the bathroom to set out a few things. I was busy rearranging the towels when a sharp cry drew me back to the bedroom. I returned to find Felicity standing beside the enormous king-sized bed and shaking her head vehemently.
“No, no, this just won’t do,” she was telling the deputy manager. “The way this room is laid out the morning sunlight is going to fall directly onto my face. I just couldn’t bear it.”
“Ah but if madame will permit me to demonstrate,” said the deputy manager, darting to the window. “The drapes are most effective…”
As he busied himself with the drapes Felicity threw me a quick questioning glance. I responded with a discreet nod.
“Oh no, that won’t do. I can’t bear heavy curtains,” Felicity snapped at the deputy manager. “You had better find me another room on the other side of the hotel.”
“But if madame moves to the other side of the hotel she will not be able to enjoy the magnificent sea view,” the deputy manager deferentially pointed out.
“Madame would rather do without a sea view than have her complexion completely ruined by the end of her stay,” Felicity haughtily retorted.
“Of course madame.” The deputy manager bowed apologetically. “If you would please wait just one moment I will see what we have available.”
And so the porters were summoned back, the luggage loaded up once more and the whole carnival eventually decamped to Room 205, another suite just across the corridor. After a prolonged inspection of the facilities Felicity finally declared herself satisfied and the deputy manager, no doubt to his great relief, left us to unpack.
Given that most of the suitcases were filled with nothing more than old newspapers and sacks of flour there wasn’t in fact all that much to unpack but it still took some time as Felicity was very careful about maintaining appearances. I couldn’t help but admire her attention to detail as she set about distributing the few possessions she had so that the façade of idle wealth would not be easily penetrated by any passing chambermaid or unexpected visitor. Only when everything was laid out precisely to her satisfaction did she finally declare herself ready to head down to the pool for a spot of sunbathing.
The bathing area was one of the prime features of the Hotel Majestic. It made proud boast of its large seawater swimming pool, which was fed directly from the Mediterranean Sea via a specially constructed channel. Alongside stood two smaller freshwater pools and between them was a row of individual bathing cabins reserved exclusively for the hotel’s most valued guests. Felicity made a careful inspection of her allotted cabin before selecting her spot on the sun terrace. Playing the part of devoted maid I faffed diligently around until she had all the necessary sun creams, drinks and magazines laid out around her and her sun shade was set at just the right angle.
“Right, I think it’s time you set off on your little errands,” Felicity finally announced, handing me the bathing cabin key. “You can come back to collect my things at five.”
I bobbed a rather sarcastic little curtsy in response but Felicity, reclining back on her sun lounger, gave no indication of having even noticed.
Stepping away from her side, I took a long slow look around the terrace. I’d already spotted Sid and Michael when we first came outside, sipping a couple of cold beers at a poolside table and looking for all the world like a pair of idle chancers eyeing up the holiday talent. I took a deep breath and made my approach.
Considering it was my first attempt at anything like it, I think I carried off the required manoeuvre with some style. First, I casually caught Sid’s eye as I sauntered back to the hotel. “Fancy a drink sweetheart?” he asked with a suggestive smile.
Regarding the pair of them with the air of a woman genuinely tempted, I paused by their table just long enough to surreptitiously slip the bathing cabin key beneath a napkin before sadly shaking my head. “Sorry, I’m a bit busy right now,” I regretfully declined.
“Some other time perhaps,” said Sid and, with rueful smiles all round, I went on my way.
The second of my duties that afternoon seemed a little more daunting. I had been tasked with infiltrating the ‘below stairs’ section of the hotel, those backstage areas where the staff went about their daily business unseen and unnoticed by the guests. “As a servant of one of the guests you’ll be expected to make use of the facilities so you shouldn’t have any trouble,” Sid had advised. “On the first day just try and make yourself familiar with the hotel layout – find out where the staff get changed, where they take their breaks, where they keep their belongings. Hang out for a bit – try and make a few friends.”
All of which sounds quite simple in theory but proved rather nerve-wracking in practice. I don’t consider myself a particularly shy person but it’s one thing to casually strike up a conversation with someone you don’t know when nothing is at stake and quite another to feel that the outcome of a multi-million pound heist hinges upon your ability to ingratiate yourself with a bunch of strangers. Supposing the hotel staff were too busy to bother with nosey outsiders? Supposing they shunned me as an interfering interloper? Supposing I wound up being chased out of the kitchens by an irate chef with a frying pan?
In the end I needn’t have worried. The hotel staff were naturally very busy but they were also, on the whole, a pretty friendly bunch. I soon discovered that the best way to insinuate myself into their ranks was to regale them with a few choice stories about the demanding behaviour of my employer. There’s nothing hotel staff like better, it seems, than to swap tales about impossible guests. There’s nothing particularly snobbish or envious about this gossip, it simply offers a common point of professional interest, like the way mechanics might discuss the reliability of various engines or office workers might bond over the temperamental nature of the photocopier.
Anyway, the result was that after a few hours of shared gripes I felt right at home in the staff-only areas of the Hotel Majestic. I had grasped the layout of the kitchens, the laundry and the locker rooms and I now felt quite at home in the large bare common room where the staff took their all too infrequent breaks. And, just to make sure that I had the perfect excuse for returning the next day, I ended by making a date for the following afternoon with Eduardo, a handsome Neapolitan waiter with a shock of dark curly hair and a delicious Italian accent.
At about a quarter to five, aware that I had an appointment to ‘accidentally’ bump into Michael on the sun terrace so that he might return the bathing cabin key that he and Sid should by now have copied, I took my leave. I was heading down a service corridor towards a rear exit when I noticed two figures blocking the doorway ahead. It was only as I drew closer that I recognised them as Morrie and Artie Minkel, the two young rivals for the Dirwali rubies Sid had pointed out the previous morning.
My first instinct was to turn and run. Recalling Sid’s warning about them I couldn’t help but see a sinister aspect to their sudden appearance in this deserted spot. But the corridor was long and narrow – they must certainly have seen me coming and could easily give chase. Then I noted again the extreme youth of the pair and so, resolving not to be intimidated by a couple of boyband rejects, I continued resolutely forwards.
My determination carried me right up to the twins but as they showed no inclination to move I was obliged to come to a slightly faltering halt directly before them. They were dressed in sharp suits like a pair of junior 1930s gangsters. After an awkward pause the one on the right tipped his hat and gave me a lazy grin. “Hi there,” he said.
Emboldened by the sight of the few wisps of downy hair on his upper lip which he appeared to be trying to cultivate into some kind of moustache, I determined to take up a brisk, no-nonsense manner. “Now look here, you needn’t think you can intimidate me,” I began firmly.
“Intimidate you?” responded the lad in a tone of exaggerated innocence. “Why on earth would we want to intimidate you? We’re just trying to be friendly. Ain’t that right Art?”
His brother, who appeared to have given up on nature and drawn his own moustache on with a pencil, gave a slight shrug by way of agreement.
“Alright, let’s not pretend,” I tried again. “I know who you are and you clearly know who I am. But just because we’re both here for the same prize there’s no need for things to turn nasty.”
“And what prize is that?” asked Morrie, still with the same air of mild amusement.
“The Dirwali rubies,” I replied impatiently, “and the seat on the Promethean Circle that goes with them.”
“Nah, you got us all wrong lady,” insisted Morrie. “Alright, so we might have taken a quick look at the proposition but, to be honest, it don’t hold much appeal for us. Those jewels are gonna be far too hot to fence and as for the Promethean Circle… Well, hanging out with a bunch of dull old farts like that just ain’t our scene, is it Art?”
Art offered up another shrug by way of confirmation.
“So what are you still hanging around for?” I asked suspiciously.
“Well, as it happens, while we were checking out the Dirwali rubies my brother here had his breath taken away by another kind of jewel entirely, didn’t you Art?”
Art gave an especially sullen shrug and stared at the floor.
“What kind of jewel?” I asked, somewhat confused.
“The fair Felicity Fortescue,” declared Morrie.
“Felicity!” I exclaimed.
“And then you show up, making a rare pair of jewels if you don’t mind me saying,” Morrie went on. “So I was thinking maybe we could team up for a double date sometime soon.”
The idea was so preposterous that my first reaction was to laugh out loud.
“Aww, now don’t be like that,” returned Morrie with a wounded air. “I’ll bet you me and my brother could show you a real good time.”
“Oh for heaven’s sake, we’re old enough to be your mothers!” I instinctively retorted. This might not be quite literally true in my case but I suspected it couldn’t be far off when it came to Felicity.
“That don’t bother us none, do it Art? We like a lady with experience,” said Morrie, offering up a lecherous smile that might have been quite hideous on an older man but somehow, due to his age, just seemed faintly ridiculous.
“Oh brother!” I muttered.
“So, whaddya say?” continued Morrie, unperturbed. “Tomorrow night, dinner at L’Escargot? Then maybe a bit of gambling at the casino, a little dancing, maybe a moonlit stroll along the beach…?”
“Look, it’s a very tempting offer, but both Felicity and I are already spoken for,” I said, reaching for a language I thought they might easily understand.
“What – old Sid?” replied Morrie. “I suppose he’s a decent enough guy but we don’t reckon he’s quite classy enough for a lady like Felicity Fortescue, do we Art?” Another shrug from Art. “And that guy you got hanging around might look slick enough but I can guarantee I can show you a better time.”
I sighed heavily. “I’m sorry but the answer is still no,” I said firmly. “Now would you please stand aside so I can get by? I’ve got things to do.”
Morrie held his ground for a moment longer, regarding me with a disappointed smile, before he eventually nodded to his brother and they both stepped aside just enough to allow me to pass between them. “Think it over babe,” he drawled as I went through. “You won’t regret it.”
I didn’t hesitate, look back or acknowledge his comment in any way but simply marched resolutely through the doorway and out onto the terrace. As soon as I was out in the sunshine I resolved to keep an eye out for the Minkel twins in future and do whatever was necessary to steer well clear of them. Because frankly this heist promised to be tricky enough without having to worry about the unwanted attentions of a couple of teenage Don Juans into the bargain.
To be continued…