‘Hello. Come in. Punctual as ever.’ Rory stepped back and held the door open. He crossed the threshold.
He stood in a small, square lobby. On his right a narrow set of stairs led up to a bedroom and nowhere else. Straight ahead there was a door to a bathroom. He gave Rory a bottle of champagne and followed him through to the kitchen on the left.
‘Thank you. Nicola’s already opened one upstairs.’
A glutinous gumbo bubbled in a copper cauldron on the hob. The mahogany units gleamed in the light from a single, hidden, neon tube.
Rory placed the Veuve Cliquot in the refrigerator then went over to the entrance of his latest alteration. What had once been a brick wall was now an archway into a conservatory-cum-dining room. A ramshackle shed had been demolished to make way for a large glass box, the sides of which could be slid back in the summer to permit alfresco eating. Ivy-clad walls divided this part of the garden from the front so that the extension was entirely private. A new rockery filled the remaining space. Rory flicked a switch and spotlights flooded the grotto.
‘All you need now is a couple of gnomes,’ said Martin.
‘You’re only jealous,’ replied Rory. He adjusted the cutlery on the table which was set for three. ‘Come on, let’s go and see Nicola. She’s got something to tell you.’
‘I can’t wait.’
‘What’s in the bag?’
‘Fireworks, of course. I thought we’d set them off before dinner.’
‘OK. It’s ages since I’ve bombed a cat. Do you want to leave them here?’
‘It’s all right. I’ll keep them with me.’
They went back into the kitchen, turned a sharp left and walked through the old dining room. It was empty except for a white marble Adam fireplace and a black carpet. A black and white mandala hung on one of the white walls. In the main entrance hall they passed the triple-locked front door and another bathroom then started up a staircase that was just wide enough for one person.
The whole of the first floor was taken up by a split-level reception room which measured forty feet by thirty feet. Three square windows on one side of the room were matched by three square windows in the opposite wall. Red blinds covered them all. The lower half of the gallery was devoted to music. Free-standing speakers posed in the middle of the sprung ash floor. Ten thousand compact discs filled a specially designed alcove with stainless steel doors. In the upper half of the room Nicola lolled on a white vinyl sofa. A huge circular TV, encased in black plastic, flickered silently in a corner by the fireplace, which was flanked by a pair of Indonesian dragons.
Nicola was on the telephone. She hung up as soon as she saw them. She tried to mask her surprise by brandishing a bottle of champagne. It was less than half full.
‘Hello Martin. It’s lovely to see you.’ When he bent down to peck her on the left cheek, the right cheek and the left cheek once again she flung her arms round his neck and pulled him on to the sofa. ‘Have some fizz.’
Rory switched from Massive Attack to Portishead by ostentatiously pointing the remote that had been lying on a vast coffee table made entirely out of shattered glass. He poured some champagne into a flute for Martin.
‘Aren’t you going to take your jacket and gloves off?’
He had not planned to but he was enjoying himself too much to rush things.
‘Sure. I thought we were going to have the fireworks though.’
‘Later, we want to ask you something first.’
‘In a minute,’ said Nicola. She got to her feet. ‘Give me your jacket. I’ll take it downstairs. I must check on the soup.’
‘You better bring another bottle up as well,’ called Rory as she disappeared. Martin took the firework box out of the bag. ‘Tonight is going to be a celebration,’ continued Rory. He was looking even more self-satisfied than usual. ‘I hope you’re in a party mood.’ He lay back on the second sofa, running his long, brown fingers through his silky fair hair.
‘You bet,’ said Martin and shot him.