The London Eye, London
WE WAIT UNTIL WE CAN get a near empty capsule on the London Eye. The other riders are an Indian family, papa, mama and three younger kids, all girls, who speak to each other in hush tones as they glance at Poppy and I. Though I can smell their collective body odor, that is the least of my worries. Once we start on our thirty minute spiral journey, we stare outside to the twinkling lights of the city. Up to this time we trade idle chit chat about the weather and other mundane matters. “I don’t want to come across as sounding bitter, but did you see this one coming?”
“I am absolutely shocked as you are. I mean, I read it in the papers first. I didn’t even get a phone call, an e-mail. And when I rang her, it goes straight to voicemail. This isn’t like Lesley. This is not the woman I raised, the child I love. Something is going on and I want to know why.” The timbre in her voice tells me she is not kidding.
Gripping the guard rail, I see the lights of Parliament lit up the area around it. It made me think of that poem again, Remember, remember the fifth of November. This evening Poppy is dressed in a dark pants suit and light colored blouse with her simple pearl necklace. For some reason, with her hair pulled up, she seems older than she is, the sagging flesh, the deep wrinkles. There is just a hint of perfume from her that floats around the air conditioned environment. A couple of the Indian girls laugh out loud at something they see. Because they are speaking in Hindi, I do not know what they are discussing.
“Jonathan, I have to ask you a rather frank question. Is there anything that happened between you and Lesley that possibly facilitated this … engagement?”
“I racked my brain thinking of what it could be, but as far as I am concerned, we were getting along well. I mean, I had bought a ring and all.”
“You did?” she says with a bright smile that matches her sparkling eyes. “Did you give it to her?” I tell her that I lost it after the purchase. “Oh dear, that’s terrible. I wish you would have given it to her before all this mess happened.” She stares outside. “The view is so pretty. Makes one remember it’s the largest city in Europe. Why did Sir ‘I-have-a-title-and-you-don’t’ resign suddenly from the BNP?””
“You think this engagement is the reason?”
“Who knows?” she replies, distracted.
“Well, he must be one heck of an actor, as this was no hint of this when we spoke, and he is such a braggart that he would have dropped hints.”
“Yes, I agree. Something like this he would have not been able to keep to himself. He would have told someone through a slight way. He is no gentleman, that one is. Kisses and tells, he will. He’ll probably sell her out to some tabloid in the future. No sense of honor.” Then she adds under her breath, which shows how she really feels emotionally, “Bloody degenerate.”
“Look, mommy, look!” one of the little Indian girls says, sounding excited.
Poppy turns back to me. “He is in serious debt, his flat has a lien, his bank accounts frozen, debt collectors on him. His title did not mean he did not have pay back what he owes.” Her steely resolve emits. “This is why I think that cad had designs on our Lesley. Rather appalling that he messes with married women and hookers before he asks Lesley to be his wife. Surely she knows that about him. God knows what diseases he carries. I will insist he get a drug screen. I can’t believe a disgusting, loathsome individual like that is marrying my niece, my child!”
Her claws are out. “Sir ‘I-have-a-title-and-you-don’t’ marries Lesley and all his financial problems fade away? Between you and I, this is why I find this sudden engagement so suspicious, a bit too convenient, a bit dodgy.” Poppy shakes her head, looks back outside to the night.
“I think what hurts the most, is that she never told me she was not happy with me. I know her manners were impeccable but this one matter, well, I would think she would have sat me down and said it wasn’t working out and that maybe we could be friends, prepare me for this abrupt circumstance. I mean, I’ve broken up with other women before, but this takes the cake.”
“Did you ever tell her that?”
“That you loved her?” I am silent. That is my answer. “Jon, these things she needed to hear.” The capsule door open and we step off.
“I went back into the charity’s books this week. I wanted to check up on the auditors who gave the all clear, wanted to see if they followed up. It pains me to say this. I don’t think they followed up.” I pause before I add, “There are several transactions in the millions of pounds, totaling about fifteen million altogether. Are you aware of any donor or organization giving substantial sums to the charity recently?”
“Not that I am aware of. I’m sure Lesley would know. What is it?”
“That money was readily dispersed to an Islamic charity for refugees and is now gone off the books. It could be nothing, perhaps a wealthy Saudi sheik gave it and it wasn’t reported. But that’s a lot of money to come and go so quickly. Why wouldn’t the donor go directly to that Islamic charity? Why did it go through Lesley’s charity instead, especially now after what they were accused of earlier? Surely this will raise eyebrows in any future audit. These will be public records eventually and the media will pounce all over this story.”
“That is odd indeed. I will need to ask her about it since I’m on the board.” Poppy assures me she will get back to me after she speaks to Lesley as she disappears up the walk to where her chauffeur is waiting.
“Heeeyyyyy Joe!” The Tiger says out loud when I tell him it’s me. I give him quickly the rundown and the name of the Islamic charity and tell him to do his thing, add it to the list I had already given him as I want to know how that money got dispensed and for what. He says he is on it. I remind him he is out of time.
THE CONVERSATIONAL NOISE IS LOUD only because the place is packed with family members upon family members and whoever they bring in with them. It is basically standing room only, a hot day and the people prefer the air conditioner inside but the jam packed individuals creates a heat unto themselves. Dr. Patel asks me to come to his home as they are celebrating one of his grandchildren’s birthday. It is buzzing with activity as the honoree and the rest of his seven year old compatriots run about the place, dart between legs and outside in endless energy.
The three-story flat is tastefully decorated with all possible furnishings that reflect that genteel English upbringing that the owners do not have but aspire to, though there are those items that reflect Indian culture. I am constantly being introduced to someone as I am the only non-family member here. After meeting everyone possible, I eventually slide back into a corner, munch on some unknown greasy appetizers, listen along to tangents of Hindi-laced conversations that I do not understand and survey my surroundings.
Along with the constant movement, there is a collision of odors, perfumes, colognes, spicy foods, breath, body and the clanging of multi-colored jewelry that some women wear in excess. Noticing the various brown skin colors, both dark and light and in-between, the saris reflect the owner, some ornate and some simple with every color apparent but a flat red and a dull gold being the most common.
An fatter, older woman with a double chin and her hair pulled back with a touch of gray in it comes up to me and asks me how is it that I arrive here from America and where is my girlfriend that I must have because I am such a handsome young man. When I tell her that I have no gal in my life, she nods her head in understanding and then loudly calls for someone by name waving her hand forward. A young lady appears and she is introduced to me. The conversation is awkward and this evident set-up is not really what I need right now. But I play along as I eat my cake.
My new friend is a research chemist in the Midlands whose grandparents come from Mumbai. She is proud to be assimilated into English culture and says this several times. Her English is clipped, almost overly conscious about it. The tiny gold pin in her nose the only jewelry she wears that complements her dark ovular eyes and skin patina.
She is tiny, not even five foot and I tower over her. Because of the conversational din, I do not get her name, but she hears mine. Asking me what I do, both mother and child listen intently to me. I tell them I am an accountant who works for Dr. Patel. Oh, I was one of those accountants, the ones that live on the road, have no time for a wife and children. Apparently this is not what they want to hear and they make excuses to leave and I smiled as they go away, another candidate shot down as I was not up to par. C’est la vie.
Dr. Patel walks over to me, leaning on his constant cane, nods his head to follow him and I do, holding on to my small paper plate with pink cake and melting vanilla ice cream. In the large garden behind the building, other children were playing, shouting gleefully, their echoes filtering off the bricked construction. Gobbling down the last of my food, Dr. Patel goes on at length about whether the gift his wife gave was adequate.
It is a little geology set. Somehow in this day and age of video games and distracting attention spans, he did not think studying rocks would be the thing any seven year old would want to do. “Having a good time?” he asks, sitting on a small bench, leaning on his cane, looking up at me, his eyes behind his thick glasses studying me.
“I see there are some interested women in your new single status.” I try to demur with something but he looks at me and smiles and knows that I am doing that. Who can out play a psychiatrist? Putting both hands on his cane in front of him, he says, “Jonathan, I wanted to speak to you outside the office and just discuss some things. Our pop star client is very excited about your advice that you’ve been giving his financial advisors.”
“You mean you talked to him? Wow, I haven’t even talked to him.”
“Yes, I did. He said it was him, though I don’t know. I don’t listen to his type of music, don’t know what he sounds like. I listen to Bach and Beethoven. Anyway, he says he wants to follow your advice and wants you in charge of this whole financial matter.” He pauses before he adds, “Can you do it? Can you take this on and conclude this case? You’ll be gone over the pond for the whole summer.”
“Depending on what can trip us up legally, I believe I can do it.”
“I am glad to hear that, very glad, Jon. He is paying us a lot of money, I mean a lot of money to do this for him. I know this is not really our arena. This is more of an investment banker and tax attorney strategy, but we do have resources at Goldman Sachs, others on Wall Street that can help guide us here, if they do not get involved and take it over.”
“Well, with my guidance and theirs, they will have to run with this as I am not a licensed security broker either. This can open us up to liability if it came to that and this pop star is not shy about bringing out his legal guns.”
Dr. Patel nods his head slightly. “I hear you, Jon. This will no doubt be a learning curve for all of us. But it’s just another tool in your arsenal for later use and possibly for services we can begin offering to our clientale.” He pauses for dramatic affect, before he says, “So I guess O’Reilly is behind us?”
I look at him, knowing what he means. “O’Reilly is just a failed case I have now let go of. I take it you want me to leave immediately, the red eye?”
He smiles with thin lips. “Yes, we have become familiar with each others habits, haven’t we? It is not my business to get into my employees personal affairs, Jon. But I think in regards to you, you’re a special case.” I wonder where this is going. He seems conflicted. “It’s just that … well, you’re a grown man, a professional, and I know how much Lady Lesley meant to you. But I tell you as I would tell my own sons that these things, they are to be accepted in life. It comes with life, that’s all.”
“I hear what you’re saying, doc. I really appreciate the concern.”
“These things, well, they are not easily discussed and I wanted us to share that privately, without any disturbance.” He goes on to discuss his garden and the flowers that failed to sprout this season. There is something in the potting that he must have done wrong. But there is always next year. He touches at his head for a bit. “Oh… I’m okay… just a sign of aging. Been having these intense headaches that started recently.”
“Doc, there’s another case I have on the horizon for when I get back.” I remember what Oona has been telling me about this mystery that is so hush hush. “What do you know about this case called Öbergemau?”
His bushy eyebrows turn up.