The Cup Bearer
After showing Trumble to the only comfortable armchair in the room, Manuel sat down on the bed, his brain working overtime as a glimmer of an idea began to materialise. "I'm afraid my search for a house may be a bit premature, Mr Tumble. I have to produce an income sufficient to buy a place first so your visit may not be wasted. You once expressed an interest in coming out of retirement if the right performer came along, but as Gypsy's plans have been halted, if only temporarily, perhaps you would be interested in extending my own career."
Edward had done some research on the retired manager since his appearance at Barney's music club. Edward had not revealed all he had found out about him but had referred to the fact that he had an impressive track record and was responsible for the rise of several well-known artists in the easy listening world. Edward did tell him the man had one characteristic that showed whether or not he was interested in a potential client. If his cigar, which he was never known to light except on special occasions, was in his mouth, he was interested; and adding up figures in his head. If he waved it around and struck a pose, he had found gold. Manuel felt a wave of relief as Trumble reached into an inner pocket and brought out a cigar. He turned it over a couple of times before removing the wrapper. After nipping the end off, he placed it carefully between his lips. "I thought you were already a bone fide concert buff."
"On the continent, I am; and in the States but here in the UK I'm hardly known, and I don't want to travel too far while Gypsy needs me. Can you help?"
"What are you looking for?"
"Concerts, guest appearances with other entertainers; I would consider anything within reason."
"How about making some albums? Most entertainers sell their own CD's at each venue. It all adds to the income."
"I'm quite prepared to explore all outlets, Mr Tumble."
"Call me Erskine and I might say yes. How is the lad, by the way?"
"He's had a bad time."
"So I heard."
"Might I ask who told you about Gypsy?" Manuel asked him, anxious that Trumble had heard the right story and not some tittle-tattle off the press.
Trumble put a finger to the side of his nose. "A very good source, Mr. Lupino, a person who is reliable but wishes to remain anonymous for the moment. The person in question expressed a wish to invest quite a substantial sum in the lad's future. Now, what kind of place are you looking for?"
Manuel sighed, not knowing where to begin. "I need a place where I can create an environment that will keep Gypsy fully occupied while it offers the security required by the police bail. He has a certain amount of memory loss; mostly to do with his past, and it makes him brood a lot. He often slips into fits of depression and self-pity. The other day I found him staring at himself in the bathroom mirror. He asked me how he got the scars. I hadn't the heart to tell him so I said I would tell him one day, when he was better. Sherbourne says he wants Gypsy to remember things on his own and without too much prompting. For the moment I want him to be happy in his ignorance. That is why I need to buy a place that will accommodate all the talents he has. It will have to include a rehearsal room with a decent sound system, a gym and enough space to build a half size skating rink. I also need to provide a schoolroom for Lucia and a home for the rest of the Gomez family. Gypsy is only out on bail because the Rosscroft is a secure unit. The place I buy will have to be just as secure, otherwise he will be taken to a young offenders unit and I don't think he will survive that. It's not just the purchase of the place I'm thinking about. I'll need people to help me look after him, to help him relearn his skills. He'll need a dance teacher, a skating coach, and at least two minders working twelve hour shifts to satisfy the police bail conditions. All this will take money I have no chance of raising fast enough just through my concert work. Unfortunately Gypsy needs help now, not months in the future."
"And just what are your plans for your son?"
"I intend to make him what he always wanted to be, a world class entertainer."
"You're looking at five years plus before any investment starts to pay you back."
"That's another reason why I'm asking if you can help."
"You'll need domestic staff to run the place, of course."
"That's the problem; domestic staff do not work for pennies. I'm able to teach Gypsy music and guitar and he has a long way to go before he can play well again. I would like to see him play his flute as well but a tutor would prove too expensive at the moment."
"Especially round these parts."
"Quite." Manuel replied sadly.
Erskine removed the cigar from his mouth, held it a few inches from his face and studied it carefully. "Your son can be put on the back burner for a while, at least till his date with the man in the wig is over. As for you, I have the clout to make things happen. Give me a few days to make some contacts and put some kind of package together. In the meantime, I'd like you to have a look at a place owned by the person who told me about Gypsy's problems. If you have a couple of hours free, why don't we go and have a look at it?
Ten minutes later Manuel was in the passenger seat of a very comfortable Mercedes, being driven through country lanes while Erskine explained that one of the estate agents Manuel had visited was a friend of his. "The owner of this house didn't want the house to fall into the hands of just anyone, so she asked Jimmy not to advertise it too much, relying on word of mouth to a few discerning buyers." Erskine suddenly swung the car up a narrow lane that ended a few yards on at a rather ornate double gate in need of a coat of paint, and set in a high stone wall. Erskine got out of the car and pressed a button on the left hand gatepost. As he got back in the car, the gates swung open. "That means David has already arrived."
"He used to be the butler here and he's still on call as the key holder. He looks the place over occasionally and deals with any small repairs as the owner's representative. Anything bigger than he can handle, he gets in touch with me. It saves the owner the long journey down from her home in the north. The place is up for sale because she can't cope with a large place anymore. She lives with her widowed daughter now."
The drive snaked gently between shrubberies grown wild. Through the gaps between the bushes, Manuel spied lawns and flowerbeds, and beyond them rolling meadow and more trees. Then he gasped in surprise at the size of the house that suddenly came into view. It was a sprawl of Georgian, Victorian, and Edwardian architecture, each addition rendered and painted to blend in with the stonework of the original. It looked sadly in need of outside renovation.
"Welcome to Chilvers," Erskine said as he parked the car in front of a huge carved front door.
"I can't afford anything this grand."
Erskine shrugged his wide shoulders and opened the car door. "It won't hurt to look, now would it?"
Manuel followed him up the eight steps, aware of the door being slowly opened by someone inside the hall. A young man in black waistcoat and bow tie bowed slightly. "Good morning, sir. It's nice to see you again."
"Morning, David." Erskine led Manuel into the hall. "We'll have coffee in the music room in twenty minutes."
David stepped to one side to allow Manuel a full view of the highly polished parquet floored hall and the grand curving staircase rising on the left to the curved balcony above. Erskine led the way towards a corridor leading off the hall to the right. Half an hour later, Manuel sat in the music room sipping coffee with Erskine. He had seen everything, the three spacious but comfortable ground floor lounges, the book lined study, the music room with its white grand piano and French windows leading out onto a patio and rear gardens, a large but disused conservatory and the twelve lavishly furnished bedrooms above. He had peeped into the well-organised kitchen and staff facilities and had a quick view of what used to be stables but now used as an eight-vehicle garage and ancillary workshops. Everything had been well kept and to be sold fully furnished. But the place that surprised him the most was the basement where he had been shown a small swimming pool and a fully equipped recording studio. The place was just what he wanted but how on earth was he going to afford it? The market value of it was set at three million pounds-plus but the owner wanted a quick sale and was apparently only asking two million for it; the price to include one hundred acres of valuable land surrounding the immediate gardens, the extensive gardens being enclosed by an eight-foot high boundary wall. An added bonus was the excellent security facilities which included CCTV cameras controlled from the same small room near the front door from where David had opened the gates.
"Well?" Erskine broke into his thoughts.
"It certainly is a beautiful place." Manuel shook his head. "If I had the money I would buy it tomorrow but I have to be realistic. I couldn't afford a place so grand."
"I thought you'd say that but you must admit it's worth every penny."
"I suppose I could sell off some of the land."
Erskine shook his head. "I think not. The owner stipulates that the land be kept with the house. It's valuable, I know, but the owner is rather sentimental about it and added the clause to make sure the estate is kept as it was when the first house was built in 1641 with money bestowed by a grateful monarch. In 1789 it caught fire and a new one, which now forms this central portion, was built. Various generations have enlarged it and added the gables you saw as we came up the drive. I didn't show you the west wing because the upper floor holds all the stuff the owner doesn't want to sell. At the moment she has nowhere to store it. With the services of a good architect, the ground floor could be made into a nice skating rink."
Manuel's heart sank as this dream place looked like slipping from his grasp. "It's the very place I was thinking of, and the idea is very tempting, I wouldn't know how to pay for it."
"Rent it, with an option to buy when you have the capital."
Manuel stared at Erskine. "Do you think the owner would agree?"
"I'm sure she would. The trend these days is for smaller houses, and places like these are hard to sell except to wealthy pop stars and footballers. I know the owner personally; she'll be glad to have someone living here and keeping it ship shape rather than leaving it to fall into decay. It's been on the market for near on two years already."
"How much would the owner want in rent?"
"How much can you afford?"
Manuel noticed that the cigar was on the move. "How much work can you find me?" He said it knowing it would be almost impossible to raise the capital, which was a pity because he couldn't have found a more perfect place.
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