THE ARRANGER STORIES
The River Mist
by Crystal Jones
Ricollegandosi a una lunga tradizione storica, letteraria e cinematografica che,
a partire da Robin Hood, vede come protagonisti eroi che operano al di fuori
della legge, Crystal Jones mette in scena in questa sua nuova serie Lady Sylvia
e i suoi amici, tutti cittadini al di sopra di ogni sospetto, che segretamente
organizzano furti d'arte. A beneficio di loro stessi, ovviamente, ma anche con
un forte senso di solidarietà verso i più deboli. Impossibile? Leggete per
smiled as Lady Sylvia arrived. “Sylvia, I’m so glad you could make it! Can I get
you something to drink?”
please, Ian. You know perfectly well I’d never miss an opportunity to help my
smiled when he heard Lady Sylvia’s voice whose rich tones reminded him of the
happy to know that we have spent the money that was raised at Christmas on new
equipment for our Children’s Hospital!”
Ian! But I’m sure that you’re already planning to find more funds for something
else!” said Lady Sylvia picking up an appetiser. She was in her late forties – nobody knew her exact age - but was still
an attractive woman, not so much beautiful in the modern sense of perfect
plastic features, but she managed to fill a room with her friendly smile and
blushed slightly. “Well, we do have an urgent problem. It seems that
there are structural problems in the Baxter Ward – you know, where
we treat very seriously ill children, but…”
funds!” broke in Lady Sylvia. “I’ll see what I can do!”
Lady Sylvia was
known as a very humane and generous person. Her husband, Lord Reginald, had
been lost to her to pneumonia but she deliberately filled her days always having
something interesting or worthwhile to do. Her visits to London were weekly –
she never missed a première of a good play or musical, but also loved her country
estate with its horses, squirrels and rabbits.
were members of the LHCN Let’s Help Children Now charity which held their
meetings at the Children’s Hospital. Most members knew one another and Lady
Sylvia was happy to be there to find out about the latest plans for the
hospital. A cocktail party was arranged there every few months or so and Sir Ian
was always very happy when new members came along for the first time but now he
wanted to speak to an old friend.
Would you like to pop into my office for a moment – I’ve got something to show
you!” asked Sir Ian.
go!” replied Lady Sylvia wondering what on earth Sir Ian was being so mysterious
opened the door of his office and invited Lady Sylvia to sit down.
“You know we
have quite a number of anonymous benefactors, but there is one who is… well,
rather special. May I show you the record of her latest contribution?”
gazed at the sum seemingly bewildered, “Oh, yes. Thirty thousand pounds – Thelma
Argento. Is she Italian?”
smiled knowingly, “Oh yes, it’s possible – that is, no-one knows who she is or
has ever met her. She’s not in the telephone directory either – all we know is
that her cheques are always honoured!”
“Well, if she
sends you another cheque let’s hope it’ll be honoured too!” exclaimed Lady
“I’m sure it
will be! It’s just that I can’t thank her enough. Do you think I will ever meet
her, Sylvia – or perhaps I have already!”
you have. You never can tell, can you?”
“By the way
Sylvia, ‘Argento’ is Italian for silver, I believe.”
Shall we get back to the party, Ian?” said Lady Sylvia getting up from her
Sylvia got ready for bed that night she mused, “So Sir Ian seems to have guessed
that I am Thelma Argento - but he certainly doesn’t know that I am The
rang for her butler. “Alex,” she said, turning down her CD of jazz of the
thirties. “I have a little job for you.”
officially Lady Sylvia’s butler but this was only an excuse for his presence in
the mansion where he had his own apartments on the second floor in the east
wing, including a laboratory for developing his unique inventions and a huge
wardrobe of clothes for his manifold disguises.
Alex used to work for a film company as a make-up artist but went on to become a
special effects and prosthetics designer capable of supplying a whole range of
realistic monsters for science fiction films and television programmes. In time
he had developed his own special techniques which took the art of disguise onto
a new level of perfection. Working for Lady Sylvia, he sometimes acted as her
butler in front of visitors, which he didn’t mind doing at all as this gave him
the perfect façade he needed.
waited until the maid had left the room and then continued, “Pierre Amsang has
just telephoned me. The Lucrezia Borgia casket has resurfaced!”
Lucrezia Borgia casket?
very one. That is, the one in her famous portrait! It’s up for auction next
Tuesday at ten o’clock, it’s the first item on the list!”
auction… but where has it resurfaced from?” replied the astonished Alex.”
legitimate antique dealer, a certain Alfred Cooper-Browne who died in a road
accident a week or so ago!”
of him! But how is it he had the casket?” asked Alex.
he was a friend of Fahmu Ishmail’s!” replied Lady Sylvia.
gentleman who stole the casket from us!” exclaimed Alex.
seems that when Pierre Amsang and Fahmu Ishmail, not to mention us, snatched the
casket two months’ ago, while it was being transported to the Moscow museum for
an exhibition and substituted it with a perfect copy you took months to make in
your laboratory, our friend Fahmu contracted a gang to steal it from us.”
“Then it is
true that he was at the bottom of everything!” Alex pointed out.
“Yes, as we
thought! As you know, Ishmail is an antique dealer with no antique shop and I
imagine that fearing that if he kept it at his house, even in a safe, we would
pay a little visit to his home…”
“In fact we did burgle his home and even opened up his guaranteed
burglar-proof safe but the casket wasn’t there. We thought that he might have
put it in a security box in the bank or something!”
Sylvia commented, “I imagine he may have thought twice about that. If the bank
had been broken into, the robbers might have opened his security box and
discovered the casket – or the police afterwards! The safest place to hide
something is where there are similar things – in an antique shop!”
so-and-so!” remarked Alex.
crafty, as destiny took a hand in ruining his plans. Ishmail’s
friend died suddenly and apparently our
ex-partner has no documentary evidence that the casket was his, so everything is
going to be sold at auction – of course, the casket is being advertised
in the catalogue as a copy!” explained Lady Sylvia.
“So we go and
bid for it like everybody else?”
Amsang will go to the auction and act for us as well. As we know it’s the real
McCoy, whilst the others think it’s just a copy, it shouldn’t be any problem at
all but...” Lady Sylvia hesitated.
problem is Ishmail, isn’t it?” said Alex.
“Yes. We have to find a way of stopping him from arriving at the auction in time
so that Pierre Amsang can bid for the casket without having a rival bidder who
also knows how much it’s really worth. Alex, this time it seems we have the
opportunity of getting our own back on Ishmail.”
Now it was
time for Alex to do his homework. He drove to Mr. Ishmail’s out-of-town
residence and studied the ‘geography’ carefully. He knew that their former
friend lived alone in a beautifully refurbished Tudor-style house with a small
garden in front and a garage where he kept his 1935 Grand Mercedes.
discovered that Ishmail had a cleaning lady every Monday, Wednesday and Friday,
which meant that on Tuesday, the day of the auction, Ishmail would be alone in
The next Tuesday
morning Alex “borrowed” a van from a car park in a busy town centre. He then
drove to the village where Mr. Ishmail lived and parked the van a few yards away
from the entrance of his garage.
Alex had transformed his appearance into a much younger man with black hair
pulled back in a ponytail who was wearing the very latest jeans and expensive
As he saw the
garage door sliding up he prepared himself. Just as Mr. Ishmail came out of his
garage in his Mercedes, Alex moved forward blocking the entrance to the house
with the van.
“Can you move
that van – I can’t get out?” bawled the very rich Mr. Ishmail,
getting out of his vintage Mercedes,
who was used to ordering people around and looked very
anxiously at his watch.
Alex got out
of the van. “Are you talking to me?” he replied in a
very posh accent.
“Yes I am.
Move your van at once - I’ve got a very important meeting to go to!” Mr. Ishmail
kept looking at his watch.
im-portant meet-ing?” continued Alex raising his eyebrows and smiling at Mr.
Ishmail ironically. “If you ask me politely – very politely – I might!”
got time for this – I’m calling the police…” The exasperated Mr. Ishmail pulled
his mobile out of his pocket and started dialling a number but Alex leaned over
the gate and snatched his mobile away from him.
very interesting - a gold-plated version of the very one I’ve just bought! Very
nice – expensive though!”
“How dare you
– give me my mobile back immediately!” shouted Mr. Ishmail, now torn between
wanting two things at the same time, his mobile and going to the auction.
“You’re a bit of a show-off – aren’t you?” Alex took a couple of steps back and
suddenly threw the mobile up in the air saying “Hooray!” and then caught
it like a juggler.
you arrested,” retorted Mr. Ishmail who was getting very red in the face by now.
“Go on then!
That’ll be an interesting experience. Have you ever been arrested?”
began to look very tense, “Are you mad? What is it you want – do you want
singing in falsetto, “Money, money, money….” and danced around on the pavement
in front of the gate.
began to fear the man in front of him was a madman and spoke in a very nervous
high pitched voice, “Look, I’ve really got to go now, I’ll give you my watch if
you move your van immediately,” he said taking off his expensive watch and
offering it to Alex.
for me. All you need to say is sorry!”
had already passed and time was getting short for Mr. Ishmail.
But his difficult character continued to get in his
saying sorry to you or anybody else!” he said aggressively and opened the garden
gate with his remote control as though he had finally decided to do something
his finger at him like a schoolteacher, “Oh, you naughty boy! You get angry when
you can’t get your own way. Ok, you win, here’s your mobile!”
was astonished at this sudden change of heart. Alex went to give it back to
Fahmu who held his hand out to receive it but at the last minute Alex threw it
over the gate into a bed of roses surrounded by long
grass in the garden in front of the house.
“I’m sure a
bit of lawn-mowing wouldn’t go amiss!” Alex joked. “Anyway I’m late, I can’t let
you keep me any longer. Bye bye.”
turned round, got into the van and drove away while Mr. Ishmail was looking
frantically for his gold-plated mobile amongst the thorns.
When Alex was out of
sight, he parked the van in a side turning and walked back to the main road down
which Mr. Ishmail was bound to drive along, as it was the quickest route to the
motorway. There were signs up saying ‘Road Works Ahead - No cars allowed.’ Alex
made sure no one was around, picked the signs up and hid them behind a tree.
A couple of
minutes later Fahmu was driving his Grand Mercedes along, free at last to go to
the auction. He even began whistling his favourite tune to himself when he
suddenly realised that there was a barrier up across the road and a policeman
waving at him to stop.
read, sir – or are you just deliberately ignoring the road works signs at the
beginning of the road?” the constable asked him acidly.
works signs are you talking about?” replied Mr. Ishmail very defensively. “There
then if you will reverse your car back twenty yards or so we’ll both have a look
to see if you’re right!”
Alex, in the
mean time, had replaced the missing signs.
policeman and Fahmu arrived at the beginning of the road the antiquarian began
to protest that the signs weren’t there a few minutes ago.
“Well, if you
say you can’t see that there are road works signs there, I seriously
question your eyesight and ability to drive. Sir, can I have your driving
meantime Alex had returned to the van. He then drove back to the car park where
its owner had originally left it, carefully wiping any
part of the van he might have touched, for good measure, even though he had worn
gloves all the time. Finally Alex pulled out a carefully prepared
envelope from his pocket with a hundred pounds in it and left it in the glove
compartment to repay the unknown owner for the “rental” of his vehicle.
Ishmail finally got to his destination he was perspiring freely as it was
already five minutes to ten! The auction house was a
tall Edwardian building with rows of windows making it look rather forbidding.
An elegant young lady wearing a dark navy-blue suit was waiting for him at the
door. Can I help you sir?” she asked him, and when he told her he was looking
for the Cooper-Browne jewellery collection she said she would accompany him
there herself. Mr. Ishmail was so full of his own importance that he didn’t
doubt she had been laid on especially by the auction organisers.
turned to go leftwards, Fahmu pointed to the display board on the wall which
said that the Cooper-Browne collection was on the second floor. The young lady
replied, “That’s the Cooper-Browne collection of books – didn’t you say
you were interested in the jewellery?”
anxiously at his watch, Mr. Ishmail was barely polite when he said, “Yes, yes –
take me there as quickly as possible – there’s something on auction which I’ve
been after for years. It’s the only one of its type and I can’t afford to miss
buying it! I’m already late!” April, the young lady, walked the anxious client
along a corridor which lead to an even longer corridor which never seemed to
end. The antiquarian was getting more and more bad-tempered every minute.
earth are you taking me? You don’t seem to understand! I haven’t got time to
waste – I must get to the auction immediately!”
“Yes sir. I’m
taking you there!” They rushed along even more corridors until Mr. Ishmail could
bear it no longer, “What’s this infernal labyrinth you’re taking me through now?
You’re making me loose a unique opportunity!”
Don’t worry! We’ll be there in a jiffy. Now down these steps and we’ll get to
the lift!” However the steps let to yet another long corridor on the left. When
they reached the end of it, they discovered there was a barrier with a note
stuck onto it saying ‘No Entrance!’
“Oh, what a
nuisance, we’ll have to go back to the stairs and turn right…!” April started to
muttered angrily to himself in his mother tongue, too breathless to complain to
patient for a moment sir – we’re arriving – look - we’ve nearly reached the lift
- ah, there it is!” April said triumphantly.
As the lift
door opened, Mr. Ishmail was just going to get inside when he exclaimed with a
horrified expression on his face, “What sort of a lift do you think this is?
It’s full of bits of string and cardboard!”
“Yes I know,
it’s a service lift because the other lift isn’t working due to flooding in the
no!” said Mr. Ishmail pushing April’s hand out of the way, “let me press
the button otherwise we’ll never get there!”
for Mr. Ishmail the button he had pressed was for one floor down and they ended
up in the warehouse!
Miss… just leave me alone and I’ll get there on my own!” replied
Mr. Ishmail looking around in desperation.
April got out
of the lift and thought it a good opportunity to do as he said and disappear
completely, so she hid behind a huge pile of cartons. As soon as the lift door
closed again, she made her way out of the building and telephoned Monsieur
Amsang’s secretary, who was also Pierre Amsang’s daughter.
auction going, Sophie?” April asked.
replied excitedly, “It’s all over, April! Mr. Nasty turned up just as the
auctioneer slammed down his gavel for the last time! He looked really pitiful!”
“And did you
manage to buy the casket?”
”Yes, we did! None of the other bidders seemed to know that it’s worth a fortune
and it went for only three thousand eight hundred pounds!”
April then phoned Lady Sylvia to tell her the good news.
Ishmail Fahmu had one of his worst evenings ever realising how cleverly he had
been set up whilst Lady Sylvia, Alex, April, Pierre
Amsang and Sophie all dined together in an exclusive French restaurant in
Chelsea and celebrated their triumph with several bottles of the best champagne
until the early hours. Alex made the others laugh at the antics he had had to
get up to to prevent their former partner from attending the auction. However,
Lady Sylvia noticed that Pierre Amsang was deep in thought as he pulled on his
moustache repetitively. Whenever he did this, she knew he had something up his
sleeve. She wondered what it might be… was he about to propose a new venture?
Back at her
mansion next day, Lady Sylvia opened a secret drawer in her escritoire where she
kept her signet ring and a silver candlestick. She lit the candle, poured some
drops of hot wax onto a sheet of paper, then
pressed her signet ring onto it.
Now in the middle of the sheet there was the letter A,
which stood for The Arranger, with a Latin inscription written around it:
semper victor, always victorious. Then she addressed an envelope to
Fahmu Ishmail, folded the sheet of paper carefully and put it inside. After this
Lady Sylvia wrote out a cheque to The Children’s Hospital with a lot of noughts
on it, signing herself Thelma Argento.
Borgia casket was sold by Pierre Amsang the very next day to a rich private
collector with interests in the software industry, for which he received a seven
figure sum. Naturally, half of the money went to Lady Sylvia. The Arranger had