Stephen Charles winced at the aching in his bones and popped two Codeine tablets into his mouth, swallowing them whole with a chaser of single espresso. The coffee was good and strong, the way he liked it, and he savoured the jolt to his brain as the caffeine kicked in, nullifying the effects of the strong painkiller on his senses.
He could clearly remember when the pain had first started in his childhood, his wealthy parents taking him from one expert to another to try and diagnose his condition. Finally a consultant in Harley Street had confirmed their worst fears, a degenerative condition that would age him before his time and likely leave him dead within ten years. His Mother had tried to wrap him in cotton wool but his Father had turned away from him, perhaps the sorrow was too much. His life as a normal boy had stopped that day and his new life as a survivor had begun.
And yet here I am, he thought, thirty years later; a modern miracle. A wry smile almost played across his lips but there were other matters to attend to. Putting his fine bone china coffee cup back on its matching saucer and resting them on the table in front of him he rose from the antique wing backed chair that was placed rather incongruously in the middle of the warehouse. Checking the time on his pocket watch he replaced it in the pocket of his waistcoat and picked up his cane. The metal tip tap-tapped on the ground as he walked towards one of the small rooms at the side of the warehouse that had been knocked together by a team of builders at his request and turned into a small single story apartment, complete with a bathroom, bedroom and living room. Fully furnished it was almost impossible to tell from the inside that you were actually in a beautifully designed prison cell. Unless of course you counted not being able to leave.
Stephen nodded to one of the two armed men who flanked the only remaining door in the rooms and he immediately unlocked and opened it. Stephen stepped into the living room and found Alexandria’s mother, Perla, sitting on the small sofa, her hands crossed on her lap, staring straight at him with a level gaze. This was not a woman to be trifled with, Stephen noted with humour.
‘Is the lovely little lady asleep?’ He asked her, sitting in the armchair opposite the sofa and resting his hand on the top of his cane. ‘I trust that you have everything you need?’
‘What the hell do you want from us?’ Perla spat in response.
‘My dear Perla, always straight to the point, eh?’ He replied, twirling the cane as he spoke. ‘I don’t actually want anything from you,’ he continued, ‘other than your complete co-operation. Which, as long as your granddaughter is still here with you, alive and well, I assume I will have.’
He let the thinly veiled threat rest in the air before speaking again. ‘What I do want is for your daughter to find the box that her husband has hidden. We did try to ask him ourselves but unfortunately he… well, he isn’t with us any longer.’
Perla gasped and Stephen noted how easy it was to gently twist the truth and let others come to their own conclusions. Simon Baxby had eluded his men when they had tried to detain him at the airport and again when he touched down in Hong Kong but they would find him soon enough. His Chinese investigator had been promised a hefty bonus to find Simon and likely had subcontracted a number of willing locals at a much reduced rate to help him scour the downtown maze of streets and hotels. In the meantime Stephen reasoned that he wouldn’t have taken the box with him in any case. He was much more likely to have left it behind at their new home at Squall’s End. However a thorough search of the property, enabled by his unique and rather expensive relationship with certain members of the Metropolitan Police Force, had turned up nothing and so Stephen was forced to use more invasive techniques to find it’s whereabouts. Hence his two new house guests.
‘What is so special about this damn box?’ Perla asked.
‘This damn box, as you describe it, is of great interest to me.’ Stephen replied, ‘And that is all that you need to know.’ He said finishing their conversation and standing up. ‘Now if you will excuse me I have other matters to attend to. I just wanted to check that your accommodations were satisfactory. I’m afraid there is no television here but there is a deck of cards in the bureau draw and most of the modern classics on the shelves. If you get hungry just knock on the door and one of my men will get you whatever you’d like to eat. In the meantime I bid you good evening.’ Stephen bowed gently and left the room, making his way to the waiting car outside.
Within minutes he was speeding towards his offices in the centre of London and after a few phone calls he laid his head back against the sumptuous leather headrest and considered Perla’s question. What was so special about the box? It was only a matter of days since Nancy Gafford had telephoned him about it and he hardly dared hope that it was quite as special as he’d been led to believe. Still, every possible avenue that could lead to the infamous Elixir had to be explored he reasoned. He congratulated himself on recruiting Nancy to work for him while maintaining her cover as Personal Assistant to the head of International Law Firm Cutler and Boss. Little did Managing Director Phillip Hindmarsh realise that his trusted right hand was really passing information to Stephen. It was an arrangement that had served him well many times at all of the companies that he invested in, and he found it hard to believe that using the inside information he received to trade on the stock market could so easily have netted him the small fortune he now enjoyed.
But this time Nancy had reported back with more than just information. She had overheard a conversation between her boss and Simon Baxby who had recently been promoted to a Partnership position after a number of profitable client wins at court that had been procured by rather dubious means. Perhaps he and Simon weren’t so different after all, he thought ruefully. Phillip Hindmarsh had a business trip planned the next day, Nancy had explained and he had asked Simon to look after a box while he was away. He had sounded very agitated, she said, like the box was really important. He made Simon promise to hide it carefully but Nancy didn’t hear the rest of the conversation as the Finance Director had come into her office asking for some diary time.
No matter. Nancy had done well. She had not only given Stephen useful information, she had given him a sense of hope. Hope that he might finally find the solution to his eternal problem, the solution that would banish his degenerative disease and give him back his life. Everlasting life.