Oscar picked the correct of the two identical doors which led
from the sitting room, and found himself in a bathroom like none he had seen
before. A large, round bath dominated the room, on a platform in the centre,
with wood panelling around the edge. It had a headrest on one side with a small
screen opposite it, so one could watch television whilst in the tub, he
assumed. The taps were at the side, so that they wouldn’t get in the way of the
bather’s head or feet. As Oscar moved into the room, he turned to the left and
found a stack of neatly-folded, fluffy, white towels on a three-tiered heated towel
rail. He set his wash bag on the floor next to the towel rail, then
straightened up to survey the rest of the room. At the far side was a square
sink, backed by a section of tan-coloured mosaic tiles. Next to this, Oscar
noticed a curtain. Again, he felt a little uncomfortable being so nosey but
this was a very curious place and it intrigued him. He hesitated only a second
longer before navigating his way around the bath to the clean, white curtain on
the other side of the room. The curtain was cleverly hiding… he would first
have described it as a shower cubicle but it was more like wet room, with space
for a family of four to all stand on the wooden slatted mat in the centre. Oscar
correctly guessed that behind the door in the far corner of the room, he would
find the toilet. What he did not guess was that there would also be a sink in
there, a fresh supply of hand towels, a wide selection of soaps and lotions,
and an automatic flush.
This was all a bit too much for poor Oscar, the man who lived
alone in a thirty-year-old house in need of repair. Somehow he came to the
conclusion that the best thing was to have a nice, relaxing bath, where he
could soak away his worries.
As the bath was filling, Oscar experimented with the knobs
and buttons next to the taps. One released scented bubble bath in with the
water. By the time he’d realised what it was, it was too late to stop it so he
accepted the fact that he was now going to have a bubble bath. Once in the
bath, put his head on the cushiony-soft headrest, which was perfectly
positioned to support him as he leant back and stretched out his limbs in the
spacious, circular tub, completely hidden by pretty-smelling bubbles.
Oscar tried to rationalise what had happened over the last
twenty-four hours, and what was happening to him now. It was difficult.
Thinking warmer water might help, he sat up a bit to find a temperature
control. The button he stumbled upon did not adjust the temperature but Oscar
lay back as soothing, ethereal music reached his ears. He wasn’t sure where it
was coming from, but he didn’t care. He didn’t care about anything now. He
tried to, but it didn’t work. He tried to think about the journey he should
have had home. He tried to think about his house, surrounded by armed guards.
He tried to think about his office, now a pile of rubble. But he couldn’t. He
even tried to think about how he should probably have called his mother. But
even that didn’t interrupt the heavenly relaxation he was now experiencing.
reappeared wearing a smart, black, knee-length dress with a white
cardigan thrown over the top. She'd plonked an alice-band on top of
her hair, which was down around her shoulders. In her arms she
carried a multi-coloured folder bulging with pages.
be back before lunch,” she called to Oscar. “Make yourself at
home.” And with that, she stuck her feet into a pair of flip-flops
that were conveniently by the door, and left.
sat for a while, not moving, not thinking. Then he got up to make
himself some coffee. On his way to the coffee machine, he caught
sight of his reflection in one of the windows (the one that was
showing a dark street in the snow) and saw that he still had the
blindfold on his head. He pulled it off and tossed it onto the sofa.
Oscar was disappointed to see the limited choices he was presented
with on the screen on the front of the machine: tea, coffee,
chocolate, fruit, other. Oh well, he thought, better a
generic cup of coffee than nothing at all.
He touched 'coffee'. The other words faded out and the word 'coffee'
moved to the top of the screen. Then an array of further choices
animated their way onto the screen. He could choose not only the type
of drink he wanted – espresso, americano, latte, cappuccino, etc. –
but also the country of origin of the beans, how he wanted the beans
to have been roasted, whether he wanted syrup, how much milk or sugar
he wanted, the temperature he wanted the water to be heated to. The
only button missing was whether he wanted a biscuit for dipping. At
the bottom there was a star and the word 'favourites'. He touched
this to see what Delta had programmed in. 'Skinny latte with a shot
of caramel' was the only option. He winced: that would be far too
sweet! He pressed back and opted for a double-shot black americano
made with heavy roasted beans from Guatemala. That would wake him up.
he sipped his drink, he wandered about the room. He was intrigued but
cautious. He didn't know when Delta would be back, only that it would
be before lunch, and he didn't want to be caught nosing around her
scanned the bookshelves. There were titles he recognised, like The
Lord of the Rings, Harry
Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy,
and some he didn't, like Wooing the White School,
Ready for Red School
and Yearning for Yellow School.
Delta had mentioned something about colours and schools; these books
must be related to that.
the corner was a very old-looking mahogany desk, with shiny handles
on the drawers and a leather top. A computer keyboard was on the
desk; behind it sat a computer screen. Oscar peered at it: the
screen, with its mahogany frame, looked as though it were part of the
desk. He reached out and touched the top of it. The screen started to
move: it sank down into the desk and a lid fit itself onto the slot
it had disappeared through, completely hiding it from view. Now there
was just a keyboard looking out of place on an antique desk.
desk was the only clear surface. The coffee table, windowsills,
bookshelves and the other desk all had an assortment of items
scattered over them haphazardly: the tablet PC and the mp3 player
Oscar had spotted earlier, a few books, coasters, magazines,
printouts of webpages, a few ornaments. The place certainly looked
the opposite wall from the door out of the apartment were two
windows. One showed the dark, snowy street Oscar had seen his
reflection in; the other a bright, cool day in a large, green park.
Oscar moved closer to the latter. He judged it to be mid-morning by
the height of the sun in the sky. The grassy lawn was about three
storeys below the window, with a path close to the building. There
were a few people walking along paths which led from one side to the
other, round a pond and over to the play area with no children in it.
A man sat on a bench under a tree reading a book. He was wearing a
scarf and hat and gloves so it must have been cold out there.
the other window, the Victorian Christmas-card-like scene looked to
be only one floor below, which made Oscar feel a little
disorientated. He knew to trust the other window because he knew it
was mid-morning and not the middle of the night, but this view did
look very real. He considered opening the window to see what would
happen, but he didn't want to risk getting snow inside.
coffee and tour of the room complete, Oscar sat down once again on
his sofa-cum-bed. He set his mug on the coffee table in front of him,
on a spare coaster between a DVD case and a puzzle book. He checked
his phone: no messages, emails or missed calls. He wondered what to
do with his freedom. Having a shower and changing into
clean clothes might be a good start,
he said to himself. Having just returned from a trip abroad, he
fortunately had a suitcase full of clothes and toiletries to hand.
Being a very organised person, he was fortunate enough to have a
spare change of clean clothes as he always packed extra just in case.
Just in case of what?
he'd sometimes asked himself. Just in case of kidnapping by
young woman and imprisonment in luxury apartment.
He smiled to himself: this certainly was a situation he hadn't banked
on getting into.
coughed, then heard a shriek. He opened his eyes. All he could see
was a white cushion. He was sleeping on Delta Foxtrot's sofa. He must
have turned over in the night so that he was now facing the cushions.
whispering was coming from a short distance away. Oscar closed his
eyes and pretended to still be a asleep while he strained to hear
what was being said.
how did you get him up here?” someone asked.
the lift,” a sleepy voice replied. It was Delta's.
how did you get past security?”
came in through the shop.”
knows the way in through the shop.”
must have been the room they'd wound a weaving path through the
previous night, the one that smelt of books and soap. A secret
entrance into... wherever it was they were. Oscar wondered if he
should get up quietly and sneak out. He could leave without anyone
else knowing he'd been here.
no way he can stay here without anyone finding him,” the unfamiliar
voice said. So that idea was out the window.
it'll be fine,” Delta said. There was a rustling sound. Perhaps she
was getting out of bed. “I'll speak to Amelia.”
Lady Amelia,” the other voice said sternly. She'd forgotten
to whisper: Oscar had heard her loud and clear.
was movement nearby. Oscar kept his eyes shut tight and didn't dare
move. He wished he weren't here.
Delta said sweetly, suddenly right next to him. Oscar jumped and sat
up, almost falling off the sofa but saving himself just in time.
Fortunately, that gave the impression that he'd just woken up. “Good
morning,” she added.
good morning.” He nodded and remained seated.
the other person said from behind Oscar. He turned his head to see
her, which gave him the opportunity to see the room he was in. It
reminded him of a hotel suite from a brochure he'd seen on one of his
business trips. He was in a fairly large and sumptuously decorated
sitting room. The carpet, as he had experienced through only his feet
the night before, looked very fluffy. There were two sofas, both
white, both very squishy. In his sweep across the room as he turned
his head, he caught sight of a widescreen TV, an antique bookcase
which covered one wall (full of books, with a ladder for reaching the
higher shelves) and a state-of-the-art coffee maker in one corner.
The person his eyes met when he finally made it all the way round,
twisting in his seat so he could see, was a nervous-looking maid. She
wore a black dress with white collar and white pinny, and comfortable
black shoes. Her hair was pulled severely back from her face and she
was wringing her hands in front of her. Oscar missed most of her
conversation with Delta whilst reacting to the rest of the room. Was
this really where Delta lived? He glanced up at the ceiling: it was
white with patterns around the walls and a beautiful, golden
centre-piece where the light (almost a chandelier) was fitted. When
he thought about it, the widescreen TV seemed out of place in the
stately-home style décor of the rest of the room. Then he realised
that this wasn't the only technology: screens and devices littered
the many surfaces. The coffee machine in the corner sported a colour
touch-screen; two windows showed different weather, so one must be
screen; a tablet PC and an mp3 player resided on the desk by one of
the windows. Oscar wasn't sure what to make of it all. Delta seemed
to be extremely rich. Why, then, were Delta and the maid talking
about whether he was allowed to be here? And who was Lady Amelia? The
way he saw it, Delta owned this place, the maid worked for her and
Delta could do whatever she wanted.
Oscar tuned in to the conversation again, the maid said, “What I
really came up here for was because you're late for your debrief.”
snorted. “But that's not until half past—”
past nine,” the maid finished her sentence. She still looked very
tense. “I make it...” she checked her watch. “Nine
Delta and Oscar both said at the same time. Oscar dived for his phone
as Delta rushed from the room. The maid threw up her hands then left
by another door.
grabbed his phone from his coat pocket and speed-dialled the office,
tapping his leg nervously with his free hand. The line went dead.
That was strange. There were three lines in to the office and an
answer phone. It should connect to something. He tried his direct
line in case there was someone near his desk who could pick it up. It
wasn't the first time the phone line into the office had been
interrupted. One time there had been roadworks outside their building
and a workman had cut through the wrong cable. But there weren't any
roadworks going on at the moment. He opened his contacts and thought
about who to call. Marcus would be best: he did almost the same job
as Oscar so he would understand what the meeting was about but not
have the authority to discipline him for being late today.
thanked his lucky stars as the phone started to ring.
what's going on?” Oscar could sense the panic in Marcus's voice.
was hoping you could tell me,” Oscar said. “I haven't been able
to get to work yet and when I rang in the line just went dead. Could
you get a message to—”
stop talking! The office burnt down.”
Oscar leant back on the sofa, sinking into the impossibly-soft
cushions. “So the meeting...” he trailed off.
off,” Marcus said shortly. “There will be no presentation or
meeting today for sure. We're not sure what happened. All I know is
the building is just a pile of rubble. We're in Costa up the road
waiting for more information. It's crazy, people with laptops and
phones everywhere. Where are you?”
didn't answer straight away. How could he say he didn't know where he
was? That would sound stupid. “My flight was delayed,” he said
let us know when you're back and we can fill you in.”
Marcus. Bye.” Oscar put the phone down next to him and didn't move.
Partly because he couldn't – the sofa was so soft it was going to
take some effort to get up. That wasn't his top priority right now,
though. First his home and now his office. What was he going to lose