"Baker, Tremlett and Smythe."
"I'm thinking of buying a property on Mile End Road."
"I'll put you through to the department that handles East London."
There was a click on the end of the line. Would whoever picked up the phone ever discover they had been randomly selected to be the messenger and shouldn't later be blamed when the earthquake erupted? "Gary Hall. How can I help you?"
"Mr. Hall, my name is Sir Nicholas Moncrieff and I wonder"-slowly, very slowly-"if I've got the right man."
"Tell me what it is you need, sir, and I'll see if I can help."
"There's a property for sale in Mile End Road that I'd like to buy, but I don't want to deal directly with the vendor's estate agent."
"I understand, sir. You can be assured of my discretion." I hope not, thought Danny.
"What number in Mile End Road is it?"
"One four three," Danny replied. "It's a garage- Wilson 's garage."
"Who are the vendor's agents?"
"Douglas Allen Spiro."
"I'll have a word with my opposite number there and find out all the details," said Hall, "then give you a bell back."
"I'll be in your area later today," said Danny. "Perhaps you could join me for a coffee?"
"Of course, Sir Nicholas. Where would you like to meet?"
Danny could only think of one place he'd ever been to that was anywhere near Baker, Tremlett and Smythe's offices. "The Dorchester," he said. "Shall we say twelve o'clock?"
"I'll see you there at twelve, Sir Nicholas."
Danny remained seated at his desk. He put three ticks on a long list in front of him, but he still needed several other players to be in place before midday if he was going to be ready for Mr. Hall. The phone on his desk began to ring. Danny picked it up.
"Good morning, Sir Nicholas," said a voice. "I manage the bank's property desk in London."
Big Al drove Danny to Park Lane, and drew up outside the terrace entrance of the Dorchester just after eleven thirty. A doorman walked down the steps and opened the back door of the car. Danny stepped out.
"My name is Sir Nicholas Moncrieff," he said as he walked up the steps. "I'm expecting a guest to join me around twelve-a Mr. Hall. Could you tell him I'll be in the lounge?" He took out his wallet and handed the doorman a ten-pound note.
"I certainly will, sir," said the doorman, raising his top hat.
"And your name is?" asked Danny.
"Thank you, George," said Danny, and walked through the revolving doors and into the hotel.
He paused in the lobby, and introduced himself to the head concierge. After a short conversation with Walter, he parted with another ten-pound note.
On Walter's advice, Danny made his way to the lounge and waited for the maitre d' to return to his post. This time Danny took a ten-pound note out of his wallet before he'd made his request.
"Why don't I put you in one of our more private alcoves, Sir Nicholas? I'll see that Mr. Hall is brought across to you the moment he arrives. Would you care for anything while you're waiting?"
"A copy of The Times and a hot chocolate," said Danny.
"Of course, Sir Nicholas."
"And your name is?" asked Danny.
George, Walter and Mario had unwittingly become members of his team, at a cost of thirty pounds. Danny turned to the business section of The Times to check on his investments while he waited for the innocent Mr. Hall to appear. At two minutes to twelve, Mario was standing by his side. "Sir Nicholas, your guest has arrived."
"Thank you, Mario," Danny said as if he were a regular customer.
"It's a pleasure to meet you, Sir Nicholas," said Hall as he took the seat opposite Danny.
"What would you like to drink, Mr. Hall?" said Danny.
"Just a coffee, thank you."
"A coffee and my usual, please, Mario."
"Of course, Sir Nicholas."
The young man who had joined Danny was dressed in a beige suit, green shirt and a yellow tie. Gary Hall would never have been offered for a position at the Banque de Coubertin. He opened his briefcase and took out a file. "I think I have all the information you require, Sir Nicholas," said Hall, flicking open the cover. "Number one hundred and forty-three Mile End Road -used to be a garage, owned by a Mr. George Wilson, who died recently." The blood drained from Danny's face as he realized just how far the ramifications of Bernie's death had extended; a single incident that had changed so many lives.
"Are you feeling all right, Sir Nicholas?" asked Hall, looking genuinely concerned.
"Yes, I'm fine, just fine," said Danny, quickly recovering. "You were saying?" he added as a waiter placed a hot chocolate in front of him.
"After Mr. Wilson retired, the business was carried on for a couple of years under a man called..." Hall referred to his file, though Danny could have told him. "Trevor Sutton. But during that time the company ran up considerable debts, so the owner decided to cut her losses and put it up for sale."
"Yes, the site is now owned"-he once again checked his file-"by a Miss Elizabeth Wilson, the daughter of the previous owner."
"What's the asking price?" said Danny.
"The site is approximately five thousand square feet, but if you are considering making an offer, I could do a survey and confirm the exact measurements." 4,789 square feet, Danny could have told him. "There's a pawnshop on one side, and a Turkish carpet warehouse on the other."
"What's the asking price?" repeated Danny.
"Oh, yes, sorry. Two hundred thousand, including fixtures and fittings, but I'm fairly confident you could pick it up for a hundred and fifty. There hasn't been much interest shown in the property, and there's a far more successful garage trading on the other side of the road."
"I can't afford to waste any time haggling," said Danny, "so listen carefully. I'm prepared to pay the asking price, and I also want you to approach the owners of the pawnshop and the carpet warehouse, as I intend to make an offer for their properties."
"Yes, of course, Sir Nicholas," said Hall writing down his every word. He hesitated for a moment. "I'll need a deposit of twenty thousand pounds before we can proceed."
"By the time you get back to your office, Mr. Hall, two hundred thousand pounds will have been deposited in your client account." Hall didn't look convinced, but managed a thin smile. "As soon as you know about the other two properties, call me."
"Yes, Sir Nicholas."
"And I must make one thing clear," said Danny. "The owner must never find out who she is dealing with."
"You can rely on my discretion, Sir Nicholas."
"I hope so," said Danny, "because I found I couldn't rely on the discretion of the last company I dealt with, and that's how they lost my business."
"I understand," said Hall. "How do I get in touch with you?" Danny took out his wallet and handed him a freshly minted embossed card. "And finally, may I ask, Sir Nicholas, which solicitors will be representing you in this transaction?"