Chapter Fifty Three
Childers is doing London, Beijing and Tokyo first, wrapping in LA. About two weeks in each of the overseas locations. We're in for an extended stretch away from home, a vacation for us and good for Oceane. Nikko and Zi will join us for the last week in London and the first week in Beijing, then return home to look after business interests.
Private flying is expensive. Private flying on long international routes is near prohibitive even as filthy rich as we are. We opt for first class commercial, two separate flights as a precaution. Janah, Oceane, Dasha and I on Virgin Atlantic, Amaya, Chloe, Daria, Eloise on British Air. No in flight disasters, we land at Heathrow eight hours later, snake through customs, private cars to the Dorchester, elegant if somewhat prissy suites, oh well.
We arrive at three, after unpacking, go for tea in the Promenade.
Which is delightful, French pastries, finger sandwiches, scones with jam or clotted cream, all for a mere forty five pounds per, seventy five dollars. The tea doesn't have flakes of gold, but the price includes the twenty percent VAT and a thirteen percent auto gratuity. I don't recall having the opportunity to shell out six hundred dollars for tea prior to now. It is white glove service, must cost them a bundle to clean those things every day. Given the rooms are running us from thirteen hundred to three thousand a night for suites, I suppose the tea price is relative. There are no impoverished guests hanging out here. Since Murakami Sylk Productions is financing the movie, our flights, hotels and meals are paid for by the company. It’s our company, thus our money, but those costs reduce the tax bite on the film's revenue.
Chloe is recognized, but it's England and the Dorchester, they've seen celebrities before and apart from a few turned heads nobody makes a thing of it. Matt and his assistant/girlfriend Claudia will be here as well, but flying from LA. Amaya says they arrive tomorrow.
A few years ago, before Dasha and Daria came to us, we met Prince William and Catherine at a private reception in New York. The next day she took time to visit the Shaolin Temple. We learned William enjoys polo, flying helicopters, and his charity work. Catherine likes hiking, tennis, swimming, sailing, photography and painting. One of her favorite contemporary artists is Janah's mom, Kara.
Janah and William swap occasional e-mails about education, a topic of interest to him. He likes being updated on our schools. The Duchess was impressed by the temple, how the monks train and our emphasis on a well rounded education beyond gung fu and meditation. She struck me as genuine, as down to earth as one in her position can afford to be.
A month earlier, Janah sent William a note mentioning we would be in London with Chloe filming a movie. Turns out he's a fan of Amaya's novels and saw the first Ultra Violet. Two weeks before we left, an invitation arrived to have dinner at Kensington Garden with the royal couple. Imagine that.
Since Janah's e-mail didn't mention anyone but Amaya, Chloe and the twins, they invited only the six of us, can't be helped, they can't know what they aren't told. Nikko and Zi will be in London by then, good thing, someone has to stay with Eloise and Oceane.
The manager on duty comes to our table with a phone in his hand, "Pardon, Ms. Sylk, would you have a moment to speak with the Duchess of Cambridge?"
"I would be delighted," I take the phone, the man bows and retreats a discreet distance, "Daphne Sylk here."
"Daphne, so happy to hear your voice, and here in London. We look forward to your visit."
"Our pleasure, ma'am."
Catherine, "Catherine, please, and William is William. We get a bit weary of the formalities, in private we prefer to drop it."
"As you wish, how is his mini-highness?"
She laughs, "Oh my, motherhood, where to begin? I won't bore you with details, I have so much help it's embarrassing. I am ringing you to say we will be informal at dinner. It is just Will and myself, please dress comfortably, skirt and blouse perhaps, nothing like a gown."
"I'm happy to hear it, I left all my fashionable hats at home."
She giggles, "God, I feel rather ridiculous in those things. It's a bit of tradition, people have expectations and outlandish hats are part of the uniform."
"Catherine, your hair is gorgeous, ought to be head covering enough, but a Duchess has to do what a Duchess has to do."
"Thank you, I recall your hair being quite luxurious."
"Thank you, haven't changed it, may I ask, how is Henry?"
Catherine, "Still looking after me, discreet, kind, and as you no doubt know, lethal."
"My kind of guy. We have a gift for you and William. It will be in a box, unwrapped so it can be examined. Please tell Henry not to wrestle me to the ground when I carry it in."
Catherine, "Henry will be fetching you, I shall be sure to mention it. You only need leave it in the car, someone will bring it along."
"I look forward to seeing him, he has an excellent eye for martial arts, you are in good hands."
"Don't I know it. I know you just arrived, perhaps a bit of jet lag, I won't keep you."
"Thank you for taking time to call, we'll see you next week, Wednesday, seven."
We disconnect, Janah, "How is HRH?"
"Beautiful as always."
The manager shuffles up, "Is Madame's call complete?"
"Yes, thank you."
"Will there be anything else?"
"Not for now, the service was excellent, the tea remarkable, we chose the perfect accommodations."
Manager turns to the waiter, "Tea is courtesy of the hotel, today and for the duration of their stay," he nods to me and the others, "if you require anything, my name is Edward, I am at your service."
"How very kind, thank you Edward."
He nods, scoots off.
"Neat of Catherine to call through the hotel, she knew what would happen. Her Royal Highness is doing just peachy. Our visit is casual, which in their world is skirts, a blouse or a nice dress, not jeans and a t-shirt. At least we don't have to do a gown thing. And we are to refer to them as Will and Catherine, they want our dinner to be relaxed, a break for them, still generous to make it less formal."
Chapter Fifty Four
Dasha and Daria are also part of the film, reprising their roles as twin assassins in Ultra Violet II. Today is the last day they have off for a while, we take a walk in the area around the hotel. Down Park Lane left to Kensington Palace, it's a little over two miles.
"Think they have enough room for two adults and a child?"
Janah, "Most of it is museum, the public can visit, see a couple of Diana's dresses, a dress of Queen Victoria's. Council chambers, King's and Queen's rooms, a thousand years of British history."
"Shall we rename our place Sylk Palace? We could sell tickets and visitors could walk Amaya's cavernous closet."
Amaya, "Forget it. There will never be grubby tourists wading through my things."
"Oceane, what does London feel like?"
I look at the sky, "Going to be wet soon, we need to get a move on."
Just as we enter the hotel, the drops start, then a typical English rain, not a downpour, more than a mist, like the sky is dripping.
Amaya, "I hope the filming isn't held up, our schedule is tight. We don't need a lot of outdoor time in London, a couple of car things, one street fight. Matt gets abducted, the twins track the car and Dasha bashes it. Matt snaps one abductor's neck, Daria shoots the other, they race off to a hotel where Chloe is holed up after slicing up two Yakuza."
It's after six, we go to the bar. Cocktails and wine by the glass are twenty bucks a pop. Janah and Oceane have champagne, Oceane looks fourteen, but nobody asks. In England, a sixteen year old can drink wine and beer if they are with an adult. Thus, Oceane's ID says she is sixteen. Amaya and Chloe decide to try gin martinis, it is England after all. The twins stick to vodka.
Amaya, "We may have to add gin to our cabinet at home, this is rather good."
Chloe, "It has quite a bite, I may develop a taste, Amaya drinks vodka with bitters, not a surprise she likes gin."
I am enjoying mineral water, a cheap date at only eight bucks. At least the twins avoided the Russian Imperial. The vodka sells for around forty dollars a bottle. Somehow the Dorchester has decided to sell it for eighty a drink. A shot in England is 50 ml, an ounce and three quarters. To get the twins buzzed on Russian Imperial would run about a grand, to get them blitzed would support a third world country for a year.
We move on to dinner, the Grill, it's simple, we're starting to wind down from the travel and time difference. Dover Sole, Chateaubriand, root vegetables, potatoes, smoked curd, garlic spinach. All impeccable.
Amaya, "That was most satisfying, the filets were splendid, I was much in need of protein. Time for Chloe and me to retire, we have an early call."
"Where are you shooting?"
"The East End, which is what remains of one might call poor in London. There has been recent development, as happened in Hell's Kitchen in Manhattan in the eighties. London, according to Childers, has stretches of low end interspersed with wealthy development all over the city. Like Manhattan and much of Brooklyn, London has become so wealthy that seedy has largely disappeared."
Janah, "East End is an immigrant mishmash, Bangladeshi, African, Caribbean, Turkish, Kurdish and Orthodox Jewish communities. Some of it is semi gentrified, it's also home to the so called creative crowd, much like Greenwich Village used to be before they all got priced out."
Amaya, "Harry wants to show something about London besides Buckingham Palace and Big Ben. The criminal class is more prevalent in the East End. Tomorrow, Dasha is on the hunt for one of them, hired to assassinate a crime boss's competitor. The twins turn the tables, take out both the crime boss and the competitor. It's the reintroduction of them as identical twins. The competitor doesn't know them at all. The crime boss thinks there is only one assassin, Dasha. Imagine his surprise when Daria, dressed exactly like Dasha, is in front of him seconds after he's gotten a text and photo from Dasha demonstrating that the contract is complete."
"Does he make the connection?"
"He looks at the phone, then at Daria, asks........'How?' Daria says, 'Sister,' Crime Boss stares, his jaw drops, he whispers, 'fucking twins.' Daria puts a bullet in his forehead.
"Just like the book."
Amaya, "First rule of my contract, film follows the book. Only I can approve dialogue changes, which I do sometimes. The screenwriters are smart and savvy, they make a good suggestion, I go with it. Scene changes happen once in a while, things need to be adjusted on location that I do not have to deal with in the text. Sometimes they need to strike a character or add a small role, I have no problem with that either. This is our fourth film with Childers, we work well together."
Dasha, "Eemaya haf made Cheelder beeg deal movie directing person."
Amaya, "I suppose, but remember, he also works quick, does not go for artsy shots or chew up time with screen filler of pointless scenery or long soulful expressions. Harry is professional, a craftsman, not a prima donna. We come in on time and within budget."
We're all yawning, not bored, tired. I sign the check, we head up to our rooms to sleep and adjust for the eight hours that disappeared on the flight over.
Chapter Fifty Five XIII
I decide Daria and Dasha on the set is all the security Chloe and Amaya need. We can fill up our day with London tourist things, the twins or Amaya can mental me if they need to.
We are heading out after breakfast when I hear my name, "Daphne!"
I turn, it's Claudia and Matt, "Hello, or is it cheerio? Last time I saw you it was buenos dias."
Hugs around, Matt says, "Oceane has grown a bit, still swimming?"
Oceane, "Amaya says I am a fish flake," she smiles, "I am in her heart."
Matt looks at me, "I'll take that as a yes, with subtleties of family meaning."
"You are correct. She is sacrificing, no swimming, we are set for a day of obnoxious American tourist. Chloe said you aren't filming today, get a day in to adjust your body clock."
Claudia, "We travel so much, we either do fine with jet lag or we’re just permanently lagged. Today we're going to the set, check in, Matt likes to be around even when he's not part of the shoot."
Matt, "I don't like just memorizing lines, show up for makeup and breeze out to the set. I need a sense of what else is happening, what the other actors are doing, how they play the part. Otherwise, I'm an alien dropping onto a strange planet with beings I don't understand."
"Sounds like what you are is a dedicated professional. Chloe is so happy you wanted the role."
Matt, "When I read Amaya's book, I was hooked."
The Dorchester manager, I presume there are several, but the one I know is Edward of the Duchess phone call, is lurking around the edge of the check-in counter. The clerks aren't busy, morning check out has slowed, too early for check-in. We find ourselves the surreptitious focus of attention, Matt is, after all, a major film star.
"Before you hustle off, let me introduce someone you may find helpful," I wave at Edward to join us.
"Mr. Sutherland is the manager of this magnificent hotel, and a good man to know, Edward, two of your guests, Claudia Johanssen and Matt Damond."
"Delighted to meet you ma'am, and you sir. Welcome to the Dorchester. If there is anything I can do, please ring me directly," he hands Claudia a card.
Claudia, "Thank you, Mr. Sutherland. What we've seen of the hotel is beautiful. We must be off to a less pleasant side of London for now. A pleasure to make your acquaintance."
Edward nods, "Ma'am."
Claudia, "Our car is here, let's have dinner one evening, I don't know the schedule just yet."
"Call me, we've only got plans for one evening next week, Wednesday. Other than that, anytime."
They go off, Edward cocks his head at me, "Ms. Sylk, you astound me. Duchess of Cambridge, Mr. Damond, not to forget Ms. Chloe Sylk and the famous author Amaya. I appreciate the introduction, sometimes stars can be...um....well, at any rate, if they know someone on the premises, it can smooth things."
"You won't have a moment's problem, Matt is a consummate gentleman, Chloe has worked with him before."
Edward, "Of course, how unobservant of me, his accommodations are under Murakami Sylk Productions. And Ms. Murakami arrives next week, yes?"
"Yes, Nikko and her companion Zi. Business kept them in New York this week, they look forward to a relaxing break."
Edward, "May I have the pleasure of upgrading their suite? No extra charge of course."
"You are too kind. Nikko will be delighted, she is the backbone of our business interests, the thing would implode without Nikko, Zi and Daria."
Edward, "You must be about your day, Ms. Svensson, Miss Oceane, Miss Eloise, I see your car outside, enjoy London."
He goes back to do whatever it is managers of luxury hotels do, we head for the door to a chorus of 'Good day, Daphne.'
Better to be on a first name basis with staff. I may have to be Ms. Sylk when the boss is around, but he's not around now.
The doorman, Exeter, is chatting with our driver, I specifically requested a female, "Ms. Daphne, this is Fiona."
Fiona, "Right in here mum, I have several things routed out, you wish to be back for tea?"
"Perhaps, or maybe you know a place, we can decide that later. I'm Daphne, this is Janah, Oceane and Eloise. We prefer not to stand on ceremony if that's good with you."
I turn to Exeter, "Will it make her uncomfortable, being less formal?"
Exeter, "Fiona, hotel staff uses their given names when the brass isn't round. These ladies are regular people if you catch my meaning."
Fiona half smiles, "Suits me, Ms. Daphne will be my guv then."
Exeter, "You know the meaning?"
"Yes, love it, never been guv, Fiona may start a tradition."
Fiona, "Mates call me Finn if it suits you guv."
"Finn it is."
"I suggest we start with The Tower of London, it is near a thousand years old, not in its present day form of course. The kings never got tired of expanding and fortifying."
(You can explore in detail, I don't need to rewrite what's already done quite well on the Tower website.)
The place is huge, Oceane is having a grand time tapping into the vibe, her succinct summary, "Death and suffering."
Janah, "Guy Fawkes tortured, drawn and quartered, Anne Boleyn beheaded, George, Duke of Clarence drowned, Anne Askew on the rack, then burned at the stake for the error of being Protestant. Sir Walter Raleigh was a guest three times before being beheaded, others disappeared. I'd say death and suffering are accurate."
Finn, "The young lady has studied the Tower, British history?"
"Janah is a fact sponge, perhaps Oceane picked it up," don't need to go into the mystery of Oceane, she'd never heard of the Tower until today.
Finn, "It can be a creepy place, let's take a peek at the crown jewels then."
"There's no shortage of jewels, maybe this is where the big hat tradition comes in, perhaps I'll ask Catherine."
Finn, "Catherine, guv? Someone else in your party know about the British hat fetish?"
Finn eyes me, hint of suspicion, but she drops it, I couldn't possibly know the Duchess of Cambridge. We move on to the instruments of torture. I could tell them about our much more efficient methods. They were stuck with the rack, stretching a body until the joints separated. There's another ugly device, the rack's alter ego, squashes the victim like a nutcracker and a version that twists the body such that the spine snaps. Today we have advanced to the messy beheadings of ISIS, thus is civilization.
We stop for a late lunch at the New Amouries Cafe inside the Tower, keep it light, sandwiches on baguettes, cream of tomato soup. We finish the day driving past Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, opt not to do another tour, just walk the street and gawk at the guard. It's rolling up to four, tea time.
Finn takes us to the Orangery at Kensington Palace, chock full of tourists like us. British tea is British tea, finger sandwiches, there's an obsession with cucumber, scones with jam or clotted cream, pastries...an-duh, tea.
Then to the Dorchester, "Thank you Finn, nice tour. Whatever you decide for tomorrow is good with us, collect us at, say, nine thirty?"
"I'll be here guv."
"Maybe a traditional place for lunch, where real people eat, not the highbrow or the tourists, we're easy to feed."
"Know just the spot, have a good evening, guv."
We make our way through the lobby, Exeter is gone, I introduce myself to the new man, "Hi, I'm Daphne."
"Benson, ma'am, my pleasure."
"This is Oceane, if she escapes, as in you see her on her own, have someone ring me immediately. She's not a prisoner, but it's a big city and she is unfamiliar with it."
Benson, "The staff has informed me Ms. Daphne."
"Thank you, and this is Janah, she's not allowed out on her own either. She will find whole new ways to get in trouble."
"I understand ma'am."
I shake his hand, pass along a twenty pound note, "We are grateful for your attentiveness, Benson."
He pockets the bill, "Thank you, ma'am."
Tipping in England can be dicey business, but it's flexible. In hotels, I prefer to tip chambermaids, desk clerks, room service, bellmen and doormen. I always try and offer a reason, compliment their service, an immediate or possible future request I may have. It gives them cause to accept, even if the presumed service is only remote. Besides, they're grown up and free to decline, I've never met one who did.
Chapter Fifty Six
I won't bore you with too much travelogue, we tour Buckingham Palace, the Big House. Seven hundred seventy five rooms, fifty two Royal and guest bedrooms, one hundred eighty eight staff bedrooms and seventy eight bathrooms. Given two hundred and forty bedrooms, the staff shares bathrooms a good deal. The building is over a football field wide and deep, eighty feet high.
Janah, “Wonder what happens if they all flush at the same time?”
"We should skip these details with Amaya, she'll be wanting to make massive additions to the apartment."
Eloise, "I wonder how many guests get lost?"
Janah, "It's a stunning place, over the top, but still. Palace grandeur and starched staff are a great intimidator; if you aren't a royal, the message is you're down several pegs. What do you feel here Oceane?"
"You aren't afraid, are you?"
"No, there is fear, anger, envy. Not like our house."
Finn says to no one, "Oceane goes to the heart, first stab."
Enough upper class, we go to the lunch spot Finn picked out. Fish and chips, which is self explanatory, bangers and mash (sausage and mashed potatoes) cottage pie (ground meat, vegetables baked in mashed potatoes) a sandwich of cheddar with plum and apple chutney on bloomer bread.
We shares tastes and bites, it's nothing romantic, it's the British version of down home. I'm going to get Dasha try bangers and mash. It may find its way to Ultra Violet, our restaurant named after Amaya's movies. The movies were created as a vehicle for Chloe, who has violet eyes, and is a play on words from the film A Clockwork Orange which refers to ultra violence. A Clockwork Orange was originally a novel by Anthony Burgess. So, life imitates film, which imitates literature, which imitates film which imitates literature, got it?
Finn, "Mom and pop pubs are going the way of small bookshops I'm afraid. They can't keep up with ever increasing rents and the efficiency of fast food, or even chains. It's not so bad in the outlying areas, but in London, any of the larger cities, they can't compete. Dad had one of 'em, lucky he sold out and retired before the worst of the lot. There's a good chance you come to this place next year, it'll be a bloody Olive Garden."
"Eeeewww, in America, that's where teen age boys take their dates. Cheap pasta and all the bread you can stuff."
Finn, "The same, but here the office crowd piles in as well, pizza is big seller."
Oceane is dragging a chunk of fish through the side of smashed peas, "Crispy, I am a fish, not crispy," she bites into it, "sea and earth."
Ocean isn't talking to anyone, I can tell Finn is wondering if she's, what's the PC word? Challenged? She's too polite to ask.
"Oceane lives in a world adjacent to ours, pretty close in space time anyway. She's got a unique skill. For instance, she can pick up a foreign language in no time, all she needs is to hear it in context. She has no interest in reading in them. She can swim for hours, has amazing talent with a drawing pencil or oil paint, but limited math capacity. She can read and write, but doesn't much. Has negligible interest in TV, movies or world events. I have never seen her unhappy."
Finn, "I've driven a lot of blokes with money, most of 'em not so happy, some of 'em miserable. Young Oceane has landed herself in a dream. Good for her I say. Who's she hurtin', not a bloody soul."
Oceane, "I will draw Finn."
Finn, "I'm honored, never been drawn, never photographed 'cept for licenses."
"We'll return to the hotel now. Eloise has projects, Oceane wants to draw, Janah and I are happy to lounge. We may need you tomorrow, so you're on hire, but don't come unless we call."
Finn, "You don't have to pay if I don't work."
"We do. You could take another job if we weren't tying you up. Don't worry about it, it's our decision to have you on call."
She shrugs, drops us at the hotel, up to our suite. Eloise and Oceane are in another room together. A good match, Eloise stays busy dreaming up devices and tapping out graphics on her computer. Oceane silent, drawing or drifting.