It was nearly 7p.m. and I was running down Bow Street on route to the Covent Garden underground, where I would meet my date for the evening. I was late, for no apparent reason at all, and as I approached what felt like fifty miles an hour I regretted wearing my stupidly high heels and summer dress.
As I passed the Fielding Hotel, I crashed into a man on his way out. To say that I went flying is an understatement. It was as though it happened in slow motion: the first thing that went down was that my bag released itself from my shoulder, turned on its head and threw up all the contents onto the street; my right shoe slid off my foot and hit said person on the head – followed by me grabbing onto the first thing I could, tearing off the arm of their jacket in the process. And yet, even after all that, I fell flat on my face – still holding the torn-off arm.
I’m fairly certain I’ve looked more elegant.
For a moment I just lay there, in shock, trying to figure out if I was still in one piece. Before long, a pair of black shoes appeared in front of me, followed by a man kneeling before me and offering me his hand.
‘You alright?’ he asked as I let him help me up. ‘Allow me,’ he chuckled, knelt down again and put my shoe back on my foot. As he stood back up, we finally saw eye-to-eye. It was difficult to tell his age. Certainly in his late 40s, at least. He was overall broad without being overweight, his hair was greying and he was wearing big glasses that looked like something out of the 60s.
‘I’m so… so sorry about your jacket,’ I muttered in horror and meekly handed him the black sleeve. He was wearing a white shirt underneath. ‘I’ll replace it!’
‘Never mind the jacket,’ his deep, velvet voice assured me. ‘Are you alright?’ he repeated.
‘Superb,’ I responded as I looked down myself. My right knee and ditto arm looked like they belonged to a 10-year-old that liked running down hills in the summer. Before I knew it, he was back on his hands and knees, putting my mobile phone, two pens, note pad, digital voice recorder, a packet of Extra gum and antihistamines back into my bag. I thanked my own good sense that I’d put the condoms in the pocket with a zipper. ‘Thank you, you didn’t have to do that,’ I offered as he handed it back to me.
‘You’re a journalist?’
‘What gave me away?’ I grinned.
‘Well, you’re no doubt late to meet someone and I need to change my jacket,’ he smiled. ‘It was nice… running into you.’
Without much further ado he went back into the Fielding Hotel and I decided to text my date and inform him that I was running late. So to speak. Then I walked the last three minutes to the Covent Garden underground station, arriving fashionably late at 7:12p.m. to the obvious question: “What the hell happened to you?”
As I turned up for work Monday morning, half an hour late, the first person I met was Sandy. We both worked on the entertainment section of the newspaper where she basically did the celebrity gossip and I did, well, real news. She made no excuses for her taste for gossip and I no excuse for my distaste for it. Together we were a formidable team, even though she was 47 and I was 30.
‘How was your date?’ she asked and handed me a cup of tea.
‘Who? Oh, he’s 32 and still lives with his mother.’
‘Say no more. Did you hear about Drake Neville?’
‘You’re kidding, right? Well, I suppose he may be a bit vintage for you. He’s a highly intellectual singer/songwriter who had some hits in the 80s and early 90s, went on to acting in some HBO TV-series in the US, did a degree in law and was going to appear at the Old Vic from Saturday.’
‘That’s an eclectic CV. Was?’
‘Nobody knows where he is. He never showed up for a sitzprobe on Friday evening and they couldn’t reach him on his mobile either on Saturday or Sunday so a colleague went to his hotel room yesterday and found signs of a struggle, apparently. There were torn-up clothing, his glasses were broken and the way the furniture was arranged suggested something had happened.’
‘How odd… So he’s doing “My Fair Lady”, I presume?’
‘Yes, he was going to be Higgins.’
‘He may still be Higgins.’
We both sat down with the rest of our colleagues to hear today’s brief by the editor. Our colleagues were mainly men in their 50s, except for the editor in chief who was a woman – though she was of ditto age as the men, and behaved more of a man than they did. They were all afraid of her because she had more balls. This taken into consideration, it surprised us all to see Carole really distressed. Carole McKenna never got distraught.
‘You’ve probably all heard about Drake Neville by now. We will make this case a top priority. Katie, you will focus only on this case. Go out, talk to colleagues, trace his steps, talk to the hotel and report back to me. Use your investigative skills for something useful,’ she said as she walked slowly towards me, her voice shaking. ‘We will find… this man. Do you hear me?’
‘Sure thing,’ I stated, not actually daring to point out that my actual journalistic skills were more in the regions of reviewing plays, operas and musicals. Maybe do the odd quickie of an interview with an actor or singer, but that was usually the extent to which my skills were required to stretch. Now I was suddenly going to be thrown into an investigation?
‘Why her?’ Stuart Summer asked from the opposite side of the table. She quickly turned her head and sent him a glare that made him cower ever so slightly in his seat.
‘Because,’ she spat and left the room.
‘Thanks, that explains it,’ he mumbled sarcastically as we all got up and sauntered back to our computers. I eyed Sandy and she sent me a look that told me she knew what this was all about. As we sat down and booted up our laptops she moved her chair closer to me and demonstrably looked around to make sure nobody was paying attention.
‘Carole had a monster crush on Drake Neville after a brief meeting in New York in the late 80s when he was playing some club. Apparently they met afterwards, had talked a bit and he had kissed her goodnight.’
‘So he was a stud, then?’
‘Yes, back then. He’s getting on a bit now but he was quite a charmer. He had one of those voices that could make devils cry, both when he sang and when he spoke. I can’t believe you haven’t heard of him!’
‘I’m really bad with names, but I’ll probably recognise him when I see a picture. Will you find one while I get another cuppa?’
As I returned to our desk she had Youtube up on her screen.
‘This is from a private gig he did last year, seemingly. That voice…’ she muttered. I stopped behind her back and leaned over her shoulder to get a closer look. I nearly dropped my cup as the camera zoomed in on his face – as I realised that Drake Neville the man who had introduced himself to me as Daniel three days before.