"Rob Meadows? Hyde Park, Albert Memorial, 4 p.m. Understand three things only Mr Meadows. Be on time. Be alone. Tell nobody. I trust that you appreciate the importance of this."
The cold, sullen tone of the female voice, left no doubt as to its sincerity. Running his fingers through his short, stubbly hair on the pavement, Rob was now very confused. Who was that voice? Where was Alicia? What the hell was going on?
Staring into the sunny, midday sky, he questioned to himself if this was really a dream? Yes, of course, he'd wake at any moment, to the smell of Alicia toasting crumpets, her morning 'fix', with Spike the cat jumping on the bed and claiming her pillow. Yes, all would soon be ok.
Turning, still befuddled, he ambled back up the driveway, his thoughts interrupted by an anxious Debs coming to meet him.
"Rob? What's going on, where's Alicia?", she queried.
He looked into her eyes; for once not entranced by their chestnut beauty, nor flattered by their resident twinkle in his presence and certainly not recalling the fiery intensity they emitted from under him on THAT morning, the morning of burnt loyalties on the kitchen table.
Their unspoken tryst was far from his mind as her voice questioned once more.
"Rob? Where's Ali?"
"Tell nobody." Much as he hated lying, the voice had contained brooding, sinister intent.
"Well..er, she's just rung, she apologises but has had to pop into town urgently, she was a bit fraught that she had left Archie's medicine behind, you know his 'magic stuff', so has nipped out to pick some more up, she said she won't be long.
"Right, ok", Debs replied, giving him the kind of blank look that people give when they don't really understand what you've just explained to them.
"Well, come in, I don't bite.....often", she giggled.
"Archie's out like a light in the spare room, I'll make us a coffee", she continued, her voice trailing off to the kitchen.
"So how come Jack's not back?", Rob asked, voice raised, so she would hear.
"Been held up in Vienna until tomorrow. He's at a plastic surgeon's conference, always says that it's good for business", she answered in similar, elevated fashion.
Her husband was a very well-connected man, with influential contacts in both the upper echelons of his native pharmaceutical industry and also international politics. With his burly, powerful build and handsome looks, Jack really was a poster child for the business of cosmetic perfection and eternal youth. Yet for all the riches gleaned from such glamorous exploits, Rob knew that Debs was not happy.
2.02 p.m. His watch told him the Hyde Park rendezvous was less than two hours away.
"Debs?", Rob asked, now leaning on the doorframe, "Ali's just texted, she says there's some kind of mechanical problem with the carrier? Sorry about this, one of those days isn't it? He nervously laughed. "I'll walk down myself and sort it out, shouldn't be too long. Would you mind looking after Archie for a little while?"
"Yes of course", Debs answered, smiling sweetly. He knew the spark between them still existed but right now he was more concerned with her sister's whereabouts.
The mechanical excuse sounded fairly implausible but he didn't have time to worry about it. He had to make the meet, maybe Alicia would be there and this nightmare would start to make sense. He hoped to God she was ok.
Briskly half-walking, half-jogging, Rob made his way to the Wimbledon Underground; with South Kensington nine stops away, he would have to hurry.
Dark questions invaded his inner thoughts as he moved swiftly through the leafy, suburban streets on that bright afternoon; was Alicia was in mortal danger, was he at risk in some way, why had this happened, why us? It was all so very mysterious.
Unbeknown to him, it would be a day not only of intrigue but of lies and danger, the likes of which would change their lives forever....
© Nigel Pamenter 2012
The right of Nigel Pamenter to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. All rights reserved.