Manuel frowned as he set his glass down and attacked his steak. "Isn't that a bit soon?"
"No, Dad, it's just a short one around London and the Home Counties, but first I have a comeback slot on the Jools Holland show. It'll give me a chance to advertise my tour."
"How will you cope?"
"Easy. I'll sit on a high stool behind the mike. The show will be pre-recorded so there's no chance of my getting too tired, and Ed will be breathing down my neck just out of camera shot every minute of the recording. On tour, everyone else will do all the moving around. Erskine's managed to get all the old gang together except for two of my dancers, so I won't be working with total strangers. What's more important, Different Hats want to come and work with me again. So, what do you think, Dad'?"
Manuel gazed at him with admiration before raising his glass again. "Here's to your return to showbiz, Gypsy. I knew it would happen one day but I never thought it would happen so soon."
"Neither did I," Gypsy said happily. "And now for the other bit of news."
"And what is that?"
"You remember the block of offices beneath my London apartment being up for sale?"
"I've just bought it."
"Goodness, whatever for?"
"I had a builder look at the place about a month ago. According to his report, the place will be ideal for dance studios. The walls of the rooms are only lath and plaster partitions that can easily be removed without altering the structure of the building. We can leave the ground floor for administration purposes and turn the basement into a café style meeting place; and I'll keep the top floor apartment for when I'm working at the studios."
"I don't understand. I thought the dance studio at Chilvers was big enough for your needs?"
"Not if I'm to have a touring show that will knock the socks off all the other shows around. I'm thinking ahead, Dad, and to do that I need the space to have several teams of dancers rehearsing. In any case, I always wanted to give Shana a studio of her own; she always wanted to teach dancing, so I am calling it the Shana Royle Studios in her memory. I also have plans for Chilvers."
"Oh? And what plans are they?"
Gypsy stopped eating, laid his fork down and rested his folded arms on the edge of the table. "You remember my vow to stop kids going through what I did? I've decided to split Chilvers into two parts; one for the family and the other as a sanctuary for kids who find themselves in the same boat I was. If their parents don't understand their sexuality and kick them out, or they run away from home because no one will listen to them, they'll have a place to come and talk with people who understand. Also we need a place for rescued kids to stay in a safe and loving environment while the authorities find out where they come from and can find their parents. They can either reunite them or deal with uncooperative parents without the kids suffering the consequences. Their parents can stay with them and become a family again, or we can apply to foster or adopt them. You're already a registered foster parent and I'm in the process of becoming registered as one. But our main aim is to link up with parents who've misunderstood their kids' needs, or just don't know how to love or care for them. They need just as much help as the kids do. The grounds of Chilvers can hold several small cottages where parents and kids can get together under our umbrella. And it doesn't end there. I'm going to build a theatre there; just a small one but a place where these kids can have fun. Music is good therapy; and I want to give these kids a chance to try their hand at amateur stage. And don't forget we have our own ice-rink. At the moment, Don and Cissy have found fifty three kids across the whole of Europe, who were with me at some time in that sex slave place, and who need a place of refuge from the kind of life we had."
"Is that your goal?"
"You bet, Dad."
November 24th 2003
Chilvers was quiet as Sandy climbed the wide curving staircase to Gypsy's private suite on the first floor. He passed the dance studio, a converted and sound proofed bedroom at the rear of the house: even that was empty. His watch read nine fifteen A.M., quite early by normal standards, but not for anyone who worked with Gypsy Diaz; so where was everybody? He reached Gypsy's suite, knocked on the lounge door and walked into a room no longer sombre biscuit but a cheerful green and white.
As at the Rosscroft, Gypsy was sitting in a recliner with his back to the door and facing the window, with a small table beside it already laid with a coffee tray. The aroma implied a freshly brewed pot and two cups had already been poured. Sandy closed the door and leaned on it with a sigh. "I wish you wouldn't do that, it makes me nervous!"
"Is it my fault you've been sending out smoke signals ever since you left your hotel?" Gypsy asked from the depths of the chair.
Sandy sat down on the settee on Gypsy's left and watched him carefully as he turned the cream jug round, handle towards Sandy. Dressed in the plain black sweater and slacks, Gypsy wore when working on a dance routine, he looked even more fragile than ever. His eyes seemed larger but at least they were full of life, although the way his shoulders were slightly hunched forward indicated he was still in some pain, a week of inactivity having taken their toll. Suddenly Gypsy smiled at him. "Your concern is showing like a neon sign, why don't you switch off your mind and give me a rest?"
"There you go again! Bloody mind reader; where is everyone anyway, the place is like a morgue downstairs?"
"They're all at the studios." Gypsy lifted his cup to take a sip of coffee. "Today we start auditioning for the Christmas show and my next tour. Have you finished all your bits of business you were talking about?"
"More or less, yes."
"Good, I should have been at the studio half an hour ago but I wanted to talk to you first while we're alone. This last week has dragged by at snail's pace since I saw you at the clinic, and you've been on my mind a lot."
"Oh?" Sandy knew what was coming. "Why is that, then?"
Gypsy stared down at his coffee. "You haven't brought Trish with you?"
Sandy shook his head. "She didn't want to come."
Gypsy frowned, leaned his head back against the chair-back, and closed his eyes. "I knew it. You've had another row. Sandy I am sorry. "
Sandy shrugged his shoulders. "If you must know she's left me, gone back to 'er mam's place, she 'as, and taken Steven with her."
"It's because of me, isn't it?"
"No. Not because of you. We've been bitchin' at each other for some time now. Like Mam said, we were too young to get married, isn'it?"
"You believe that?"
"What else could it be?" Sandy watched Gypsy's eyes open slowly and focus on a point beyond him. Damn him! Minding reading again, or was he seeing things? Defensively, Sandy said, "Trish thinks success comes automatic at the end of my studies, she's just jealous because she 'ad to give up 'er career to 'ave Steven. I told 'er she was daft to think that way. There's nothin' to stop 'er goin' back to 'er studies if she wants to, we can easily afford to pay someone to look after Stevie. But no, she didn't want that. Told 'er I'd work at 'ome and look after 'im myself, I did. That didn't satisfy 'er either, doesn't know what she wants, that girl; doesn't know 'ow 'ard it is for me, I've lost count of the work I've sent out to producers and publishers We just 'ave to wait, that's all. God knows I'm doin' my best. And I do more than my share of the 'ousework, and she expects me to take over lookin' after Stevie the minute I get 'ome.
"So, when I said she 'ad to give me time to make things work, like, she packs up and comes back to England on 'er own. All this week I've been tryin' to get 'er to talk to me but she won't even answer the phone. That's why I went 'ome for a few days, to try and reason with 'er. She won't even listen to 'er mum and dad." He finished his coffee in two gulps, set his cup and saucer down and added a shade too confidently, "Right, that's my problem out in the open, what about yours?" Gypsy looked as if he was about to reply when a thought made him frown and look away, and Sandy said firmly, "look, mate, it isn't your fault, right?"
Gypsy glanced quickly at him for a second then down at his coffee. "I wish it were true, Sandy. Can't you see Trish's point of' view for once? I sent you away because it was hurting Trish, us being together, now you've come racing back the minute you hear I've taken a dive again and she feels rejected."
Sandy reached out to lay his hand on Gypsy's arm. "Look, Mate, I'm 'ere because I want to be, not because you asked, see? Trish needs time to calm down and think about things and so do I. So stop bleating like a lost sheep in a pothole and tell me. What other clues 'ave you unearthed?"
Gypsy put his coffee cup down on the tray, tipped the chair forward and rose slowly to his feet; he stretched and flexed his shoulders. "I haven't come up with anything fresh, but I've been thinking hard about what we remembered. The more I think about things, the more confused I get. I only know that whatever is happening now is what was forecast in Aida's prophecy. This isn't just an ordinary black-mail threat; it's something deeper, more sinister, and it has to do with Erica."
"Yes; she's the jewel Aida spoke of, I'm sure of it."
"But who would want to harm her or take her away from you?"
"Shana's parents for one." Gypsy walked over to a side table where a white telephone stood. Pressing a button on the intercom beside it.
"Yes, sir?" David's voice replied.
"I'm ready to leave now, David."
"Very good, sir. The car is ready at the front door."
Sandy grinned. "Still 'ave your butler eatin' out of your 'and, then?"
Gypsy grinned. "Now what would I do without Mr. Magic?"
Almost immediately, Mr. Magic made his appearance, as always immaculate in snow-white shirt, smart bow tie and black waistcoat, and impeccable vintage manner's to match. He carried a full-length black and white wool overcoat to where Gypsy stood and held it out for him to slip into.
Gypsy eyed it ruefully. "It's not me who needs warming up, David, it's my top floor bedrooms".
A hint of a smile tickled the man's mouth. "No doubt, sir, but the temperature is dropping and there is a cold front moving in from the northwest -."
"And you've had your orders from Ed. I know." Gypsy turned and slipped his arms into the coat. "Have you heard from Parkers yet?"
"Yes, sir, they telephoned half an hour ago and said they can't start work again till the end of December."
An angry frown crossed Gypsy's forehead. "Ring them back and tell them if the work isn't finished by the end of this month they can consider the contract closed. I am not having my first group of rescued kids arriving here for Christmas and sleeping in unheated rooms, and they have to be redecorated before then."
David nodded. "The problem would be to find an alternative heating firm at short notice; perhaps a little firmer pressure, sir?"
Gypsy shrugged his shoulders and moved towards the door. "I don't care what you say to them as long as the work is finished, but it might help if you told them I will book those kids into the Hilton International and send Parker's the bill before any of them sleep in those bedrooms as they are. If Parker's had done the repairs properly, they wouldn't have had to come back and patch up the mess they made in the first place. Just remind them the problem is theirs not ours." David opened the door for him and bowed slightly. "I'll get onto them straight away." To a bemused Sandy, he added, "Good morning, Mr. Roberts, your old room is ready for you, should you decide to stay."
Inside the privacy of Gypsy's chauffeur driven Mercedes, Sandy's flippant humour disappeared and he twisted round on the rear seat to face Gypsy. "Right then, let's have it, you think it's the Hines?"
Gypsy shook his head. "I am not sure. They admitted they dabbled in porno films and they did own a cottage near Northwood where they made most of them, but they had a fire at the cottage the day I ran away from Northwood, and lost the whole collection, photographic equipment, everything. I had Edward Grafton check out their story and it turned out to be true, I believe the insurance pay-out was a tidy sum."
"So, if Hine did take shots of you, someone else knew about them, stole them and burned the cottage to 'ide the crime."
Gypsy stared at him. "I hadn't thought of that, but who could it have been?"
"Brian perhaps? 'E never did forgive you for takin' Shana from 'im. Some people bear a grudge for a long time before doin' somethin' about it, isn't it?"
"Maybe it was him who's named in the prophecy, but if what I thought I dreamed was a reality, it wasn't Brian who came to my room, he is too short and skinny. My visitor was tall and very fit."
"'Ow about Jerry, then?"
"He has a moustache, this man was clean shaven and smelt of aftershave."
"He is tall enough but he has a paunch and can't run up a flight of stairs without gasping for air."
"'Ave you thought the blackmailer might be bluffin'?"
"This is no bluff, the photographs are real enough and someone has the negatives."
"Yeah, I suppose you are right. 'Ave the 'Ines asked you to go over to their label?"
"Many times and I've said no. They only want me for one thing, and it's not for making records. They can't enjoy straight sex; and it's common knowledge in the record industry, they have to have an in-between; the younger the better and strictly male. I've heard about stars who've made it to the top with Hine Records; they're anybody's for a contract. I suppose those who never made it refused their kinky offers, or failed to please them in bed."
"So what are you going to do, then?"
"I don't know yet, either way I lose."
"'Ow do you make that out?"
"If I sign with Hine, I get at least five years of being used as a teddy bear, and if I don't I risk being branded as a porno freak by the scandal magazines and Sunday newspapers. That would please Mr. and Mrs. Royle no end! I've never refused them access to Erica but every time they come over to see her, they find some excuse for wanting to take her back to the States with them; I think they would do anything to prove I am not a fit father for Erica."
"But they can't take 'er away from you!" Sandy insisted. "You 'ave a natural right to keep Erica, you've provided a good 'ome for 'er; and Ed and Jo are always around to look after 'er."
"Yeah, but for how much longer? They want to start a family of their own, but in a place of their own, which means I will have to look for someone else to look after Erica."
Sandy eyed Gypsy knowingly. "And the alternative?"
Gypsy gave him a rye smile. "I could get married, I suppose."
"Anyone in mind?"
A strange smile appeared on Gypsy's race and he looked boyishly young again. "Not yet but who knows; someone might come along one day and sweep me off my feet, if she can find a brush big enough."
"Meanin' you know somethin', and you're not sayin', right? You and your psychic mind!"
"Why not stick around, you might learn something."
Sandy laughed. "Oh, I'm stickin' around, all right, but not to see who Erica's new mum turns out to be. I'm stayin' to 'elp you sort out your mess, isn't it? What about this prophecy your great grandmother told you about? Surely that will give you some clues?"
"Of course it will," Gypsy said. "That's why we're going to the studios. That's where I left the prophecy."
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