Jinnie drove away from Windsor feeling quite pleased not only had they given the employment agency a massive kick up the arse, but they had also found a front of house manager for the Artisan Sandwiches business who she was certain was going to prove a major asset to the company. Turning to Alberto she asked, “Do you think I was a bit too quick in hiring Brooke as takeaway and eat-in manager? She doesn’t have a lot of experience and the only qualifications she has are GCSEs.” “Not at all,” replied Alberto, “If you hadn’t hired her, I would have. She is just the sort of person we want, bright, presentable, eager to progress, I can only see her being a huge asset to the company. Talking of assets to the company are you going to ring Ro and tell her we are on our way or shall I?”
It was Jinnie’s habit to have the radio on as background in the car whenever she drove. It was nearly always tuned to one of the national talk stations and in her Lexus she particularly liked that the way digital radio automatically found the strongest signal for the station she was tuned to saving her searching the wavelength as she moved from the area served by one transmitter to another. As they drove around the M25 she heard the presenter of the phone-in that was on say, “Some breaking news for you.”
Jinnie thumbed the volume control on the steering wheel just in time to hear the presenter say, “Reports are reaching us of a massive fire and explosions at a factory outside of Mendoza, Argentina. Satellite photos just released show a large factory and office block totally devastated by a huge fire. The Argentinians are being very secretive but have admitted that it was a defence facility and the current death toll is believed to be between three and four hundred workers. More to follow shortly as fresh reports are coming in all the time.” Alberto glanced at Jinnie and said, “I might be putting two and two together and making five, but I suspect that was an armaments factory.” Jinnie nodded sagely and said, “You could well be right,” but thought, ‘I bet that Penny is involved.’
It was Jinnie’s first visit to Manor Royal since the next three kitchens had opened and the office was noticeably busier. More desks in the open-plan office were occupied and phones were continually ringing. Ro had her office door shut but looked up as they walked in saying, “The coffee’s ready, I’ll bring it in directly.” Ro served the coffee in two bone China mugs bearing the DKL logo and web address. Alberto said, “These mugs are new, I like them.” Ro grinned and said, “I talked to some of the directors and they agreed it was good advertising. They were paid for out of the sales budget and the sales staff have a stock to give to prospective customers to remind them to talk to us.”
Jinnie asked Ro to get her coffee and join them for a short chat. Jinnie wanted to know how things were doing without speaking to all the other directors, she trusted Ro to have her ear to the ground and know what was going on. Ro told them that basically it was a happy ship, the staff appreciated the excellent working conditions and the restroom was particularly liked. The only slight moan was that the open-plan offices could be a bit noisy which was why she had started working with her office door closed. Jinnie thought for a moment and picking up her phone. She pressed the button labelled ‘Belinda’. The call was instantly answered by Melissa who said, “Good morning Mrs De Luca, I’m afraid mum’s not in the office, she is visiting a potential client and isn’t expected back until mid-afternoon.” Jinnie said, “In that case Melissa perhaps you can help me. Do you remember the job in Vauxhall to install a white noise generator?” “I remember it well,” said Melissa. Jinnie continued, “We have a bit of a background noise problem here in the HQ building I wonder if white noise generators might help?” “I’m not sure,” answered Melissa, “but I can talk to the acoustic specialist we used and find out. I am aware of another possibility, in a couple of schools we have installed sound-absorbing panels on walls and suspended from ceilings that have proved highly effective.” Jinnie said, “That’s good. I’m only in the office today until about 16:30 but you or Belinda can always ring me on my mobile. Or if the specialists need a site visit contact Ro, she can handle that. Now while we are talking, have you heard from Steven recently?”
Melissa replied, “No I haven’t heard a word from him in weeks.” Jinnie said, “I am pretty sure he is on a mission with my sister. It’s my guess they will be home in the next few days, but it’s only a guess.” “You really think so?” asked Melissa, “I hope so,” said Jinnie. Jinnie explained to Ro what she was planning and that she should not be surprised to get a request for a site visit from the acoustic specialist. Then she said, “We need to tell the directors and the staff what is happening.” Ro explained, “I have got a lunch buffet set up in the boardroom for directors and senior staff, why not brief them then? I can prepare an intranet message to go out to all the staff this afternoon.” “Do it,” said Jinnie.
The big TV was on in the boardroom and turned to Politics Daily where the main discussion was still about the forthcoming resignation of the PM. The opposition where moaning that there should be an immediate general election and the Reform Party representative said there was no precedent for that. Then the leftwing MSM representative claimed the PM was seriously ill with cancer and was quitting as he was dying. The board who had all heard the PM’s speech were laughing loudly and as Jinnie tucked into an egg and tomato sandwich on crusty white bread, she thought, ‘And I know where Nigel is going to build his retirement home and what he has planned.’
At one o’clock, Ro used the remote to change to the BBC lunchtime news. The lead story was the huge fire in Argentina where the official death toll had crept up to 322. The MoD had released several still satellite photos which had just been made available for publication. With her trained eye Jinnie spotted the roadway from the building into the vines and the scorched concrete launch pad. ‘It was a missile facility,’ thought Jinnie, ‘no wonder they took it out.’ Ro noticed Jinnie carefully studying the TV and asked, “Do you know something?” Jinnie said, “No, but I am guessing it will come out soon that it was a missile facility and a launch went wrong.”
The board agreed that noise was becoming a problem and that something needed doing. Angela, the HR director, wanted to know if the staff were going to be informed what was happening and Jinnie said she thought they should be and Ro had prepared an announcement in case the board agreed. Angela said it was important that the management should be seen to be proactive and an announcement was an excellent idea as it showed the management had the staff welfare at heart.
At about 2:30 Belinda bustled in. She was carrying a plug-in version of the white noise generator and a sample sound absorption board. She plugged the white noise machine into a power socket in Ro’s office and said, “Try that for a few days and then let us know if it works.” Then she showed them the sound panel. It was bright pink and Jinnie said, “That colour clashes awfully with our company colour scheme.” Belinda laughed and said, “That was the only sample I could find at short notice, actually it comes as standard in ten colours and can be made in any colour you require. It’s also available in lots of shapes like discs, stars, moons and squares. Melissa has arranged for the specialist to be here at ten tomorrow morning.”
Belinda then explained where she had been. She had been to No 10 and had just shook hands with the PM on his new house. The lawyers were drawing up the contract but they had agreed that Miranda and the PM’s PR team would make a joint announcement just as soon as the wording could be agreed. Jinnie said, “I wonder how long it will take for the media to associate Wright Refurbishment with DKL Limited?” Belinda said, “It’s no secret, we even put it on our vans and paperwork. I wonder who will be the first to properly read the Press release?”
The agents returned the guns, iPads and drones to their hiding places in the car and disposed of the paintball equipment into a big river as they passed over it. Once again their German documents went unchallenged at the border as they crossed into Chile. The man from the embassy met them at a roadside picnic stop outside Santiago and they swapped back to their previous car. He quickly told them that there was a change of plan and they were not flying to Panama City as Italians as this was one of the three days a week that BA operated a direct flight to Heathrow using a Boeing 787-9. He handed them British passports with their photos but not their real names and their matching tickets. Penny was a little disappointed to see that they were seated in World Traveller Plus. The agent said the false Italian passports they had intended using were going in the embassy incinerator along with the German passport, while the real British passports they had used to fly to Jamaica were going back to London in the diplomatic bag.
The embassy man told them to leave the car in the airport long stay car park, write its row and space number on the paper he gave them and to put it in a padded envelope he gave them together with the car’s ignition key. The envelope already had the name and address of someone called Ricardo written on it and postage stamps attached, all they had to do was drop it in a post box. They parked the car, locked it, noted its position, put the paperwork and the key in the envelope and sealed it. They walked the few hundred yards to the terminal and found a post box that was bright red just like in Britain.
Finding the long BA World Traveller queue they eventually made it to the desk where they hoisted their bags onto the weighing section of the baggage conveyor. The girl on the desk tapped their passports’ details into her computer’s terminal and stopped and stared at the display. She called over a supervisor and pointed at the display. The supervisor called over a porter and told him to take the three bags and for the three to follow him. The supervisor took them to the First Class check-in where there was no queue. Turning to them the supervisor said, “You must have friends in very high places as we have been instructed to upgrade you to First Class. On the 787-9 we only have eight First Class seats and only one other is occupied this afternoon. Have a great flight.”
The three were directed to an Iberia First Class lounge that BA shared and settled into comfy seats with a drink while they waited for the flight to be called. Penny looked around the almost empty lounge and whispered to Steven that she wouldn’t feel really safe until they were back on the ground in London. The lounge was silent, with departure calls on a series of screens but a girl in Iberia ground stewardess uniform approached one other man and then them. She said the flight was boarding, if they would like to follow her to the gate. The four were first to board, turning left at the aircraft door and being directed to their individual suites which were arranged in two rows of 1-2-1 seats. The other passenger was seated in 1D while the agents were in 1A, 2A and 2B. As they were settling in, the first glass of Champagne was offered, Penny asked for fresh orange juice, and then snacks arrived.
Penny explored her seat and discovered storage space everywhere, a huge TV screen, a dimming glass window, three-pin sockets, noise-cancelling headphones, various lights, a seat that converted into a bed, a foldaway table, a visitor seat, and an amenity kit that included BA pyjamas. Directly after the 15:55 takeoff, another round of Champagne arrived this time with a choice of nuts or biscuits. The plane’s captain announced that the flight was scheduled to take 14 hours 35 minutes and was due to land at Heathrow at 10:30 the next day. They would shortly be serving tea then later dinner and before landing a hot breakfast. Penny expected tea to be the normal airline fare of sandwiches and a scone with jam and cream and was rather looking forward to it.
Not having flown First Class before Penny was a little surprised when a stewardess presented her with a menu which clearly said that as a First passenger meal times didn’t apply and that she could select items from the menu at any time. Quickly scanning through the menu she alighted on the afternoon tea section and was delighted to find that she could still have the scone with cream and strawberry jam and that the crustless egg and cress sandwich in World Traveller had been upgraded. The menu offered a smoked salmon and cream cheese bagel, a brie and chilli jam seeded roll and a pastrami and piccalilli sandwich. There was also smoked salmon served with avocado, creme fraiche and a quail’s egg and various cakes including a lemon macaroon. ‘I’m going to enjoy this,’ thought Penny.
The stewardess accepted Penny’s afternoon tea order and shortly after her choices arrived, all on bone China plates and with proper metal cutlery. Even the cream and jam for her scones came in ramekins each with its own spoon. Unfolding the crisp white napkin Penny couldn’t help remembering Cunard’s afternoon tea on her honeymoon and thought how well the British served tea, the attempt on the Celebrity Apex had been a poor imitation. After tea Penny settled down to watch some TV. First came a couple of old comedy shows then she watched a Hollywood blockbuster that she had wanted to see for ages. After another couple of TV shows, Penny decided it was time for dinner so she buzzed the stewardess.
Penny decided to skip the canapés and went straight to the asparagus soup and followed it with pan-fried sea bass. For her dessert she choose a chocolate hazelnut slice and asked if she could also have a second dessert with it, vanilla bean ice cream with fresh raspberries. The stewardess said, “Of course, madam.” To her right Steven took the opportunity to order lobster tortelloni and seared fillet of beef. When the stewardess wandered off to the galley, Penny pulled Steven’s leg about always eating beef.
Following the meal Penny headed for the single First Class toilet to change into her BA pyjamas. On her return her seat had been reclined to flat and made up into bed with a pillow and duvet. A couple of coat hangers were on the bed and the door to her personal mini-wardrobe was open and waiting for her. Turning to Steven, she said, “I could get used to this.” Steven replied, “So could I,” and waved a glass of beer and a large packet of cheese and onion kettle chips in her direction.
Penny climbed into her bed and found the BBC news update for the past week on her TV. Sitting in bed she was surprised by the lead item, the announcement of the PM’s coming resignation, but it was the accompanying film that surprised her. It showed the PM on a stage making a speech in front of a background advertising DKL Limited but it was her sister standing next to the PM that surprised her so much she grunted loudly. Steven asked if she was OK. Penny said, “Yes, but I have just had two surprises, firstly the PM is going to resign and I have just seen my sister on TV.”
Penny slept better than she had ever managed on a flight before and guessed it was only the First Class stewardess and the cabin manager banging about in the galley that woke her. She took her day clothes from the wardrobe together with some of the items from the amenity pack and made for the toilet to wash and change. Refreshed and feeling more alive than she had ever felt after an overnight flight she found her bed was back as a seat and the breakfast menu was on the table in front of her.
Steven was already tucking into a plateful of scrambled eggs, sausage, bacon, sautéed mushrooms, plum tomatoes and rosti potatoes. That was too much for Penny and she settled for orange juice, cornflakes and a warm bacon roll washed down with a pot of breakfast tea. When the stewardess came to collect the empty plates Penny asked what she should do with the pyjamas and was told they were hers to keep, apparently passengers didn’t like the thought of wearing previously worn clothes and in any case it wasn’t economic to launder them!
Shortly before landing the cabin manager approached them and said, “The captain has just had a message to say that a government car will be waiting for you at the foot of the airbridge, consequently we will be deplaning you before the other First Class passenger.” Les was impressed, but it was old hat to Penny and Steven, they knew a trip to No. 10 for a debrief by the PM came next but didn’t enlighten him.
Alberto phoned Jinnie and said he had just spoken with Jos at the employment agency and she had emailed over eight CVs that she thought were worth an interview. She said she had another six who had phoned and promised a CV that day. Jinnie asked how many staff he was looking for and Alberto said, “I was thinking three for the sandwiches, two waiters or waitresses and two behind the eat-in counter. That makes seven, but it really depends on the amount of business we do – might need more.”
The next phone call said ‘number withheld’ and as usual was from the PM. After saying hello he said, “I thought I better let you know that Penny is due to land at Heathrow shortly and I have arranged for her to come straight here for a chat, you can tell her husband she will be home after lunch. I also wanted to tell you that the PR people have agreed the form of the announcement about the house and it will go out at noon. Belinda says that she has a civil contractor lined up for the groundworks who is ready to go just as soon as the building inspector gives the permission to start work. I’m sorry but you might be in for a bit of noise and disruption.”
Jinnie replied, “Thanks for letting know, I know there is no point in me asking where she has been or who she has been with, but if you are speaking to Belinda or Miranda this morning please tell them that Steven is home as Melissa has been beside herself worrying that she has been dumped.” Nigel laughed, “I really can’t answer that request, but I hear what you say. I did hear that young Steven was sweet on her and is about to quit the SAS as he has told friends that it would be unfair to have a wife if he was always away on secret missions. You will be pleased to learn I have big plans for his future and it takes Melissa and her children into consideration.”
Jinnie had Daniel’s office direct line number stored on her mobile and rang it immediately her conversation with the PM finished. Jinnie said, “I have good news for you, I can’t tell you how I know, but I have it on the very best authority that Penny will be home shortly after lunch.” “Thanks for letting me know,” he said, “I’m going to take the afternoon off and surprise her with a bottle of Champagne when she gets home.”
The next interruption for Jinnie was Lucia who asked if she could talk with her for a few minutes. The twins were having their post-lunch nap and she had brought the baby monitor with her ‘just in case’. Jinnie thought how much her English had improved since she had arrived and they had very nearly eliminated her accent. Lucia sat down and started talking, “You remember we agreed that I would work for you until it was time for me to go to university, well that time is nearly here. However, I have been thinking, if I could postpone uni for a year could I possibly stay on working for you? I have so got to love my life here and the twins are like my own children. Besides I have met a lovely boy of Italian extraction who I don’t really want to leave yet.” Jinnie smiled and said, “We would love to have you stay on, but how do your parents feel?” “They say they are happy as long as I am happy, they miss me. They are thinking of coming over for a visit and they want to meet Vincenzo.”
Jinnie thought for a moment and said, “Is Vincenzo local? There aren’t a lot of Italian families round here, I might know them.” “You probably do,” said Lucia. “His father, Guido, works at the Trattoria Trevi.” Jinnie asked, “What Guido the director and sommelier, I know him well, he has said nothing to me.” “That because he doesn’t know,” said Lucia, “his mother wants him to marry some girl back in Naples who he has never met. She is the daughter of his mother’s oldest friend and comes from a tiny village. He is worried that they might be upset.” Jinnie said, “I have known Guido for years I can’t see him forcing Vincenzo to marry someone he doesn’t know. Would you like me to have a quiet word with him, I could do it very carefully.” “I don’t know,” said Lucia, “can I talk to Vincenzo first please.” “Of course,” said Jinnie.
Not long after lunch Jinnie got another phone call. This time it was Ro. She said, “It has gone crazy here this afternoon. The PM and Wright Refurbishment have put out an announcement saying they are to build the PM’s new house and the Press have fallen on it. We have had the switchboard jammed and reception besieged, it seems that the Press has realised that Wright Refurbishment is our construction division. The big questions are where is the house to be built and do we have any drawings or images of the property. Of course we said we have no other information and referred them to No 10. My worry is they will find out that Belinda is working out of her own office and start besieging them, and if they find the site address they might cause you problems.” “Don’t worry,” said Jinnie. “Keep referring them to No 10 and I will ring the PM.”
Jinnie called the only number she had for Nigel, his old number and GCHQ put her through to his new mobile. Nigel confirmed that the Number 10 switchboard was also fielding loads of calls and was telling them they had no further information to give them. Jinnie explained that the media were after an address and drawings or an image of the new house. She added that if they gave out too much information too quickly the media would start pushing for more. They agreed to leak a tiny bit and make the media hunt for more information, that way they won’t keep asking for more. The plans and rendered images they required were already in the public domain as they were on the Barnet planning portal.
Hadley Wood was odd in that in parts it fell into the London boroughs of Barnet and Enfield and the Hertfordshire town of Potters Bar. They agreed that they could take advantage of this oddity and if it was leaked that the new house was to be in Hadley they would have to search three planning portals for a likely application and possibly a fourth Hadleigh in Essex. Hopefully there would be more than one likely application to confuse them and of course the real application was in the name of an agent, making identification even harder. Nigel suggested that a No. 10 junior should leak verbally that the house was in Hadley that way they would have no idea how it was spelt. In the meantime, Nigel said he would get Special Branch out to protect the site and the neighbours.
In Chapter 17 – The sandwich business starts trading
© WorthingGooner 2023