Minerva Ch. 03 of 10byDenham_Forrest©
By Denham Forrest, The Wanderer
Minerva chapter 03
A little later that day I was sitting in the west conservatory, accompanied by Jack Blake, reading a book. Jack is one of the two, long-term residential guests of the Cliff Head that I knew well, and actually liked.
Jack Blake is an extremely well dressed gentleman of indeterminate age. Nearly all the staff, variously referred to him -- behind his back - as Blakey, the Colonel, the Major or sometimes even the General. At the time I had no idea which rank he'd actually held in the army, if any. At one time I kind-a had it figured that Captain or even Admiral, would have fitted him better. Or should I say, would have been nearest to correctly describing his one time profession. When the old boy did, very vaguely touch upon his military exploits in conversation. All right, sometimes there was the odd hint that he'd been romantically involved on occasion as well. But it appeared to me, that it was always the great ports or harbour towns and cities of the world that he mentioned.
He most definitely was a man of means. An almost inexhaustible bank account is required by anyone who actually lives "full time" in the Cliff Head Hotel. Strangely, the old bugger shared the characteristic with Kylie of talking a lot, but giving out almost nothing in the way of personal information about themselves, at the same time. Well, he would mention both military and sexual exploits, but when it came to Jack, one can never tell if he is telling the truth, or pulling your leg.
Like the only other guest who befriended me, Jack had obviously been married numerous times, because he referred to his ex or deceased spouses by numbers, i.e. first, fourth or fifth wife, etc. Christ, the old bugger must have got around a bit; he referred to his last wife -- who'd apparently passed away the year before I first met him - as "The seventh Mrs Blake."
"Ah, I see the gin palace has returned." Jack said disturbing me from my book.
Looking out to the bay, I noticed that damned great motor cruiser was back again.
"Yeah, some yacht!"
"Bloody great toy, useless in a following sea!" Jack added. Lending further weight to my theory that he'd had a nautical past.
Then the old boy returned to reading his newspaper.
The yacht had anchored in roughly the same area of the bay that it had done previously. I noted that the crew lowered a launch, and a rib, into the water and secured them both alongside.
Then there was hardly any movement aboard that I could discern, until around seven o'clock. About a dozen or so people appeared on deck and were transported to the shore in the two small craft. I was pleased to note that I could make out Kylie amongst them.
But I pretended as best I could, not to be looking or even notice the party when they eventually arrived on the large paved area at the top of the cliff stairs.
That was until I saw that Kylie was slyly looking my way, out of the corner of my eye. I have no idea why I furtively nodded to her, without, I hoped, apparently raising my eyes from my book. But I could just make her lips curling at the edges and the almost imperceptible nod she returned.
To be honest, I wasn't sure why I was playing the clandestine game with her, after all Kylie had blatantly joined me for breakfast the morning before. But then again, I'm an early riser -- well I was in those days -- and I took breakfast very early as well. There had hardly been anyone else in the dining room for breakfast that morning. Definitely no one from the party Kylie was with anyway, and she'd kind-of rushed me out for that walk along the cliffs.
Yeah, I got the impression that for some reason, possibly the one Aunt G had mentioned, Kylie wanted to keep our relationship -- if that's what you could call it -- um... well clandestine! But then again, I had to take into account that Kylie could have just been playing silly, little girl games with me.
After the party had entered the hotel and gone directly into the small private dining room that I assumed they'd booked for dinner that evening. Blakey commented, "She's very pretty isn't she?"
"Who is?" I asked, feigning ignorance.
"Oh come on my-boy, that pretty young thing who's been making eyes at you all week."
"I only met her yesterday, Jack." I replied, slightly flustered that Blakey had seen our covert signals.
"You disappoint me, young man! That young woman couldn't take her eyes off you at dinner three nights ago."
"You're winding me up, Jack."
"No young man, I never joke where affairs of the heart are concerned. And I'm very disheartened; as I'm sure she would be if she ever finds out, that you were not aware of her presence that evening. I really thought you were a little more observant than that Gil. What's more, I do believe that the young lady in question has designs on you."
"We've passed the time of day."
I tried to play down the fact that I'd been well and truly hooked by the girl. But Jack could obviously read me like a book.
"A bit of an understatement if you ask me. Breakfast and a rather extended walk along the cliffs?" He commented.
It wasn't really a question, more a statement that he was well aware of Kylie and my movements.
I looked across at the old boy, to find him smiling back at me.
"I didn't!" I replied, smiling.
"I know, but I wasn't the only one watching; I thought you should know."
"I appreciate your concern Mr Blake." I told him.
"Some people don't play by the rules young man; might I suggest that you watch your back. I can't be sure, but I do believe that there are some people who would prefer that you two hadn't run into each other on those stairs yesterday."
"Jack, is there something that you know, but I don't?"
"Probably lots of things young man; but regretfully nothing concerning that young lady in particular. What I do know is, I've seen a very similar situation before and when I got a little too close, I got my fingers burnt."
"I'm not with you, what kind of a situation?"
"The young lady, much to her own displeasure, is surrounded by security, young man. The whole party is, if you look close enough. That gin palace out there in the bay spells obscene quantities of cash. No disrespect to yourself intended, but I very much doubt that you match up to the young lady's parents expectations of a suitable suitor for her."
"She's an orphan."
"That may well be, but it could be an even more dangerous situation. Her guardians expectations as a suitor..."
"Dangerous?" I interrupted Blakey.
"Off course. People with that kind of money will do just about anything to keep it in their own hands, or control. Have you any idea, what the young woman's worth?"
"No, it never crossed my mind."
"Well, I'd say it's crossed someone else's mind young man, you just watch your back."
"I think you're exaggerating a little, Mr Blake!"
"We'll see; you just watch yourself in the meantime young man! I know what I'm talking about, I've been where you're standing right now, more than once in my life!"
Figuring the old man Blakey was losing his marbles a little, I let the conversation wane after that, and went back to my book for a little while. But a little later I realised that I was feeling hungry myself; lunch had consisted of a pint of bitter that day.
To save changing... Yeah, the Cliff Head was very formal when it came to the evening meal; I decided to eat in the staff dining room that evening.
Joke or what? The staff dining room was situated down in the bowels of the earth, directly under the private dining room Kylie and His Lordship's party were using. It served many and varied purposes for the staff; break room, rest lounge and general eating room.
I collected my meal from the kitchen myself, the staff were busy dashing around with the guest's meals; I didn't want to add to their burden unnecessarily.
The only other person eating in the staff room was Jimmy, the bellboy on duty. Jimmy wasn't his real name I'm sure; he was Portuguese, probably with an unpronounceable name or it might have been that all the bellboys at the Cliff Head were always called Jimmy. On reflection, I could never recall a bellboy at the Hotel, with any other name.
Anyway, I tapped Jimmy for any information he had on his Lordship and his party; but he knew even less than I did. It struck me as very odd, that a large party of people could have stayed at the hotel several times previously, without anyone -- especially the staff -- really knowing much about them.
However it appeared that Jimmy knew a hell of a lot about that damned great yacht out in the bay. Don't ask me, Jimmy must be a boat freak or something. He informed me that a Middle Eastern businessman or sheik owned the yacht. Jimmy did tell me the guy's name, but I really can't recall it now; it's immaterial anyway. However the yacht spent most of its time out on charter but that gave me little idea of who had actually chartered the damn thing.
Jimmy could tell me everything about the boat itself; its exact dimensions, how fast it was, its cruising range at different speeds, and even how many guests could be accommodated. Not that any of that information was of much use or concern to me. But I let Jimmy waffle on just in case he came up with anything useful; he didn't!
Sticking my head around the Palm Court door on my way to the bar after my meal, I was surprised to see that his Lordship's party had ensconced itself in there following their meal. Some of them were even dancing.
That discovery led to me dashing up to my room to change into something that would meet the Palm Courts evening dress code. Yeah, I figured that I'd ask Kylie for a dance or two.
Back in the Palm Court, I joined Mr Blake who was in his usual early evening position, perched on a stool at the end of the bar. Later when Mrs Grace Leavie made an appearance, Jack Blake would join her at one of the tables.
Grace Leavie was the only other resident guest, who I'd made friends with, or really liked. I do believe she'd had as many husbands as Mr Blake had had wives; but she was more liable to chatter on about them in detail than Blakey was. She, like Kylie, had been bestowed with a title, Lady Leavie; but via one of her spouses. She'd not inherited from her father, as Lady Minerva had. Somewhat surprisingly and unlike most of the other guests at the Cliff Head, Grace preferred her friends not to use her title.
Mind you, Aunt G made sure that all the staff did address Grace as Lady Leavie, and that had led to some interesting, and entertaining, confrontations between the two women. You could never call them bosom buddies, although they were always impeccably -- although often with a touch of humour in their voices -- over-polite to each other. Sometimes, I got the impression that it was some kind of joke, or game the two women were playing.
Anyway, Grace and Jack Blake seemed to hit it off together. Although it was a slightly odd relationship, and that's assuming it actually was a relationship. Almost the only time they were together was at the dining table and later in the evenings in the Palm Court, where Mr Blake would always sit with Grace; and on occasions they would dance together.
Oh, and one night a week when they played cards with some other resident guests in the library.
I do believe, well I know actually, that the two of them went off on trips to London to go to the theatre etc. a few times a year, where they were in the habit of staying at the Ritz. I know this, because I ran into them one evening in the West End and they invited the young lady I was escorting and myself, back there to have dinner with them the following evening.
I honestly do think they were attempting to play matchmaker between the young woman and me. Although they only knew me from the Cliff Head, they sang my praises all evening; I actually found myself getting a little embarrassed. Although it did work wonders for my ego, and worked even greater wonders for my relationship with that particular young lady. But as they say, it weren't meant to be, and only lasted a few very energetic weeks.
However, I don't think Jack and Grace had, what one could describe as a romantic relationship, themselves. They kind-a acted like brother and sister as far as I could make out; for a very long time I thought they were siblings.
Where was I? Oh yeah, I'd just joined Jack and Grace in the Palm Court.
Well, I had hardly sat down when Grace enquired whether I was going to ask Kylie to dance with me. It was pretty obvious to me that the two of them had been discussing Kylie and myself.
"That was the general plan Grace." I replied. "But I'm not sure that's too good an idea now."
"Why ever not?" Grace asked.
"She definitely saw me come in; but she appears to be avoiding eye contact with me since."
It was true Kylie had briefly made eye contact with me as I'd entered the Palm Court; but after the briefest of half smiles, her face had taken on a serious expression and she looked away again. By the time I'd joined Grace and Jack, Kylie was sitting amongst her party -- who all seemed to be very pleased about something -- with a very unhappy expression on her face.
Every so often, someone in the party would speak to her and she'd give a brief little smile as she replied. It might have been wishful thinking but from where I was sitting, Kylie looked like she was very unhappy about something.
"Oh she's probably a little bit shy; go for it, whilst you've got the opportunity Gil." Grace insisted.
"Not so fast Gracie; you're interfering again old girl." Jack interrupted her. "No disrespect or offence intended to the lad. But I think Gracie, you'll find that JG is persona non gratis with most of that crowd."
"Oh come Jack, that snobby attitude went out with the larks." Grace replied laughing.
"Maybe for you Gracie girl; but there are still some who think they're the chosen people. But besides, I'm not so sure that it is snobbery; I believe that there's a lot of money sitting over there at that table, and they intend to keep it in the family."
"Oh, I never thought of that." Grace replied. "But surely they can't object to the two youngsters dancing together, this is 1999, we're almost in a new centenary. Go on lad, go for it!" Grace added with a grin.
I had been undecided what to do and Grace's encouragement had "almost" made up my mind for me. "Damn it, how could anyone object to me asking Kylie to dance?" I thought.
But as I went to rise from my seat, a pair of eyes caught mine. I can't put my finger on why, but they stopped me dead in my tracks.
They were the eyes of the guy who'd been stood at the top of the cliff steps after my first encounter with Kylie. I'd thought at the time that he was the uncle Kylie had mentioned. It was as our eyes met, that I realised that he couldn't be. I don't know whether it was the expression in those eyes or his body language, but something implied to me that he was probably Kylie's bodyguard.
Anyway, as I'd begun to rise, our eyes had met for an instant and he gave an almost imperceptible shake of his head. Even at that range I could see that his eyes had an unexpectedly friendly look about them; as I sat back down his head nodded almost as imperceptibly as it had shaken.
"What stopped you Gil?" Grace asked.
"I think someone just told him that the timing wasn't right!" Jack replied on my behalf.
Obviously Jack had seen the guy's covert message as well.
"Who is he, do you know?" I asked Jack.
"Not sure son, seems to be a flunky, or he could be a security man. He's always around somewhere when your young lady's about. Anyway watch him, I do believe that when it is safe to dance with her, he'll give you the nod."
"I'm sorry Jack, you've lost me. Why would you say safe for Gil to dance with the girl and why would that man advise him when it was?"
"We think he's her bodyguard Grace."
"What difference would that make?" Grace asked.
"From my experience, older bodyguards tend to bond somewhat with their charges Grace, and become something like a father figure to them; especially when their charges are as pretty as that young lady. That's of course assuming the their charge isn't a right little madam; which, I'm pretty convinced, that particular young lady isn't.
"I should imagine that they've built up a mutual understanding between them by now. She appeared to be able to slip away from him very easily this morning. But then, he still kept a very wary eye on JG and her when they went for a walk along the cliffs."
"I don't understand what you're trying to say Jack." Grace said.
"Grace, we... I suspect that man has been hired to make sure that the young lady doesn't get involved with, or even meet anyone her family doesn't want her too. But she and her minder have come to an understanding and when she wants to do her own thing, she slips the leash. He on the other hand, is better at his job than he chooses to show; so whilst he lets her slip away, he still takes his job as her protector seriously."
"Oh, so you mean that he lets her think she's slipped away from him, when actually she hasn't!"
"Near enough Grace, but I believe he just averts his eyes when he thinks she wants him to. Now who's this, she's dancing with, any idea JG?"
I looked up to see that Kylie was on the floor dancing with the young man who'd been sitting beside her. He was not exactly grinning like a Cheshire cat, more like, smirking like he was the cat who'd got the cream.
"No idea Mr Blake. But I think he maybe the guy who Kylie went to meet on the yacht yesterday. Fabian, something or the other."
"Well from the expressions on the rest of the parties faces, I'd say that he's their chosen suitor and your main rival for young Kylie's affections me lad!"
"You think she's attracted to him?"
"No, my boy I don't! I think she's attracted to you. But I do believe you'll find that her family consider him the ideal husband for her."
"She had that faraway look in her eye when she was watching you at dinner the evening she arrived Gilmore. Although I gather from what Jack tells me, that you didn't even notice her.
"By the way young man, it's not very good etiquette to read a book whilst you're eating your evening meal. I'm sure your dear departed mother would have been horrified." Grace admonished me.
"Sorry Grace, but to be honest I hadn't noticed the sudden up-turn in the quality of the scenery around here." I replied smiling.
Grace gave me one of her mocking disapproval looks in return.
If it wasn't bad enough that Aunt Gertrude, came down heavy on me all the time. Gracie was always reminding me of my manners as well, but maybe, with a little more tolerance and humour than my aunt. I could never be quite sure whether Grace was pulling my leg actually. Mind you, I made a point of never arguing or talking back to Grace; well, not on serious subjects anyway.
I did get the nod from the guy eventually, not that I saw it; I was talking with Grace at the time and Jack suddenly nudged me.
"Go for it lad, her suitor has hit the ablutions."
I could sense the hostility emanating from almost everyone at that table as I neared their table, Kylie, who had watched me approach out of the corner of her eye, and although feigning surprise at my request, was almost on her feet before I'd finished inviting her to dance.
I think one old boy, who I now believe is her uncle what's-'is-name, you know her guardian or whatever. Well, I think he tried to object, but Kylie and I were long gone, before he'd said more than two words.
"You're a very busy lady Kylie, dashing around all the time; I hardly get to see you." I said, as I took her in my arms and we began to glide around the floor.