Gromet's PlazaTG/CD Stories

The Consultants 3.15

by Charlotte Arabella Graham

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© Copyright 2013 - Charlotte Arabella Graham - Used by permission

Storycodes: Solo-M; FM; FF; cd; fem; heels; leather; public; auction; revenge; voy; cons; X

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Part 3: Chapter 15

Leslie had been discharged from hospital, Ray Browne having declared that he had done all he could in the short term. Though he proposed surgery to mitigate some of the damage, his opinion was that the operation would best be deferred for a few months to give his emergency repairs time to heal. He had been insistent that she should not walk other than was absolutely necessary and that she should temporarily suspend her professional activities.

Leslie had protested violently at that.

“It’s just what Sarah Turnbull was trying to achieve,” she stormed.

“I said, ‘temporarily’,” Ray insisted. “If you ignore my advice it could well be permanent.”

In the end she had to agree.

Gwyneth had been at the meeting.

“If you have got to use a wheel-chair I don’t see how you can manage on your own in the house. You had better come and stay with me while you convalesce. It’s more on the flat and the country air should do you good.”

Once more Leslie was inclined to resist, but with the rest ganging up on her, she caved in.

“What I think you should do,” advised Charles, “is to let ST think that you are worse than you really are and that you have actually gone out of business. In the short term you might lose a few clients, but I’m sure that they will come back again. In the mean-time it would give us a breathing space in which to decide if there really is anything we can do to balance things up.”

The next day, a discrete notice appeared in the Times “Ms Leslie Weston regrets that due to a sudden indisposition, she will not be seeing clients until further notice”


Charles did not see very much of the others over the next two weeks there was just too much to be done with Barry’s software and, now that the immediate crisis was over, he felt obliged to put in overtime and work the weekend to compensate for the time he had had off. Nevertheless, he had rung Saxon Court every day for a medical bulletin. Leslie assured him that she was getting on fine, though to Charles, she seemed less positive than normal. “Presumably the medications she’s taking,” he thought.

For the first few days she had asked if anyone had rung or faxed or left a message on the answer-phone.

“Only a few messages from well-wishers who had seen the notice in the paper. I’ve made a note of their names, if they gave them. Do you want the list?”

“Not today, thank you. I’ll do something when I get back. I need to look up addresses on the computer and its better if I do that myself.”

Charles had lied. In addition to the expressions of concern and hopes that she would soon be ‘better and receiving clients again,’ there was a stream of threatening invective from Sarah Turnbull. Gloating over what she had done and promising that she was not finished, yet, and was set on Leslie’s total professional, if not physical, destruction. With a flash of inspiration he unplugged Leslie’s computer and opened her desk for which she had given him the key, before leaving for Saxon Court.

“You never know you might just need to get in for the rates or something. I keep all my papers there so be careful what you read,” she had added with a laugh, cut short. “Ooh, that hurts,” She said.

Charles piled all the floppies, and CDs he could find on top of the computer ready to carry everything up to his flat. Even though he was only wearing what he jokingly called his flatties, ie shoes with mere ten centimetre heels, the final pile was too unstable for a single journey. He returned to have a final look round and to lock up. There were a lot of papers in the desk. Quite a bit of it, he surmised could be embarrassing if it fell into the wrong hands, but Leslie was keen on technology and he felt certain that the really important stuff she would have computerised and encrypted.

He knelt down to embark on one last sweep for disks, pulling the drawers right out and moving papers aside to see if anything had got pushed to the back. He pulled on the left-hand drawer.

“That’s funny,” he thought, “it hasn’t come out as far as the other one. It seems to have stuck. I wonder if something has got jammed.” After five minutes tugging and wriggling it seemed to just as jammed as ever. Charles was just about to give up when he noticed that; running along the side of the drawer was a sliver of wood that seemed to be a slightly different colour from the rest. He gave it an experimental poke. It moved. He pushed harder and, suddenly; he was on the floor with the drawer on his lap.

At the back of the drawer was a secret compartment. It did not contain computer disks, but, instead, an even greater treasure; Leslie’s father’s catalogue of his art treasures, complete with photographs of the pieces and of his secret identification marks.

“So that’s why I didn’t find anything in the safe,” he told himself.

Charles tidied up and returned upstairs with his second pile of trophies. His first idea was to hide everything at the back of a pile of his own things. On reflection he decided to take them to the Office instead. “They will be safer there if we have another uninvited visitor,” he said to himself. “And if ST’s spy network is any good they must know something about me and could well give the flat a going over too.”

Barry had been out of the office for much of the time. When Charles did see him briefly he had invariably been asked as to Leslie’s health, the information being greeted with a “Good, good.” After which he had excused himself and hurried on.

On the Thursday of the second week Charles was summoned to Barry’s office. He could not think that there was anything amiss with the work and wondered why the request had been so formal. Charles was ushered into the office by Barry’s PA. He made a mental note that her skirt seemed shorter and her heels longer than at the time of his interview.

“She must be feeling the competition,” he thought, unconsciously giving his not much longer leather skirt a futile tug to pull it down and straighten it, as he entered he inner office. Barry was standing in the middle of the room caressing a brandy balloon in his hand.

“Ah, Dr Graham,” he said stepping over to Charles and putting his empty hand behind him in a way that Charles recognised as appropriate for him as Charlotte, but which he nevertheless still found disconcerting, and guided him towards the easy chairs. “Allow me to introduce you. Dr Graham, my principal consultant, Sir Henry, chairman of the gallery that is to auction what we now confidently believe is Ms Weston’s statue.”

Sir Henry, a large round man in his late sixties, red-face topped with sparse strands of white hair, rose to his feet, turned and held out a hand. He was obviously not expecting what he saw, even though Charles was in one of his more restrained ‘working at the office’ outfits. Over Sir Henry’s shoulder Charles could see Barry grinning broadly. Obviously he had been playing a little trick on both of them. Barry gave Charles a wink and stepped forward.

“Oh, hadn’t I mentioned it, Henry? It is Dr Charlotte Graham. Please sit down both of you won’t you? Charlotte, can I get you a drink? It’s only a Remy Centaur, but quite drinkable, or would you rather have something else.” He waved in the direction of a well-stocked drinks’ cabinet.

Charles declined the offer; he had work to do. Moreover, he had cut back savagely on the amount of food he was eating so as to lose weight more quickly and get out of the damned corset, though in his heart of heart he knew he never would, always wanting to have a more slender waist. He also knew that alcohol on an empty stomach could be disastrous.

“Well, if you’re certain you won’t have any I sure Henry will have a drop more, won’t you?” He topped up the glass that was held up to him, “Then I’ll explain why I invited you here. You both know part of the story. I should explain to you, Charlotte, that Henry and I have known each other for years.”

“Mm, from prep-school,” Sir Henry butted in, breaking off from sipping his cognac. “Barry and I were in the same dorm. God, the things we got up to, eh Barry? Do you remember that prank with Matron’s knickers? But, perhaps we shouldn’t talk about that in front of ladies, eh?”

“Yes, exactly” said Barry, somewhat cross to be stopped in mid flow.

“Anyway,” he went on addressing Charles, “I have told Sir Henry that we are certain that the Flame Leaper is the prototype stolen from Ms Weston and that for personal reasons she would like to make the exposé of those responsible as embarrassing for them as possible. Sir Henry has agreed to help.

Sir Henry butted in again. “Yes, Barry, but can you be sure? I’m happy to help you, for old time sake. If it goes as you say, it will be good coverage for the House. Nevertheless, if it goes wrong it will be us who look foolish, to say the very least.”

Barry turned to Charles, “Back at the hospital, Leslie said she had proof, we must know, does she or doesn’t she, and can she show Sir Henry so as to reassure him?

“I can do better than that. As it happens I moved a lot of Leslie’s things here for safety. She had already had the one break-in and I feared there could be another. Upstairs I have her father’s book of receipts and his photographs. Shall I go and get them?”

“Brilliant,” said Barry. “Do that.”

Charles got up and made for the door. In a mirror he caught a glimpse of Sir Henry’s eyes fixed on his disappearing bottom. For the last few strides Charles put on a hip-wiggling walk, making the highlights bounce and ripple on his shiny leather.

“He’s just as bad as Barry,” he thought. “Men!”

Charles returned with the catalogue and handed it over to Barry who eagerly opened it and spread out its contents on his desk. Sir Henry, suddenly animated despite all his girth, leapt up to get a better look.

“That’s the Flame Leaper,” Barry said pointing to a photograph, “and here, if I am not mistaken, is the receipt for its original purchase.” He teased a yellowing piece of paper out of the pile. Look, Henry, that is definitely Ferdinand Preiss’s signature, the ink’s a bit faded, but I’m pretty sure. What do you think?”

Sir Henry produced a folding magnifying glass from his waistcoat pocket and scrutinised the document for some minutes.

“It’s genuine all right. I’d stake my reputation on that,” he eventually said, handing the paper back to Barry. “I assume that this person,” he tapped a spot on the receipt with his magnifier, “is your friend’s father who bought the piece directly from Preiss’s workshop.”

“Grand-father, I think.” volunteered Charles, “It was 1923.”

“Ah, yes. Quite so,” grunted Sir Henry without looking up from other documents he started to scrutinise.

The two connoisseurs were in deep conversation, oblivious to Charles. He felt quite left out, superfluous even.

“If all they wanted me to do was fetch the papers couldn’t that have just sent someone up for them and let me get on with what I was doing? Though, I suppose that they couldn’t have known that they were already here. I wonder if they would notice if I just slipped out?”

He began to wish he had accepted the offer of a drink. At least it would have helped to pass the time. Barry kept his office warm and Charles’s corset and rubber undies were beginning to fidget him. He tried sitting on the very edge of the low seating, but that did not help a great deal. He got up and wandered round looking again at Barry’s collection, or at least the more public part of it. They had the same effect on him as the first time. He was unsure whether they should do or not. As a woman should he be offended and, ought he to prefer pictures of men? However, as a man, would that make him a homosexual, which he certainly was not?

He sat down again and folded his hands in his lap. He was pretty sure that the bump that was straining to manifest itself could not succeed, but just to be sure. He caught a glimpse of the receptionist’s legs on one of Barry’s monitors, same problem.

“Right, Ms Graham,” Charles came out of his reverie with a bump, it was still so odd to be addressed like that and scrambled to his feet. It was Sir Henry speaking, now standing with his back to the table clutching a fist full of documents and photographs. “I’m convinced. These are the crucial documents.” He handed them over to Charles. “Guard them with your life. Barry will brief you what you and your mutual friend must do next week. I have no part in it. This meeting did not take place, do you understand?”

Charles took the documents from Sir Henry’s outstretched hand and clutched them to his chest. “Yes, Sir Henry,” he replied to his surprise doing a little curtsy at the same time using his free hand to hold his skirt hem. “What made me do that?” he wondered as soon as he realised what he had just done.

“Good. Well I must be going. Thanks for the brandy Barry, do get something decent for next time.”

“Good afternoon, Ms Graham, I’m delighted to have met you.” He took Charles’s free hand and kissed the back of it. “See you all next week, but remember, if so much as a word leaks out…”

“Right,” said Barry when he returned from making sure that Sir Henry was off the premises. “You don’t have to mind Henry, he’s a funny old stick sometimes, but he has a heart of gold“.

“I must tell you about Matron’s knickers sometime, when this is all over, but we have things to do before the sale. We had better lock those papers in my safe here; then I’ll explain what we have planned…”


Charles arrived early at the salesroom dressed in a filly blouse he had bought for the occasion and his Harvey Nichols knee length black leather skirt, Barry having hinted that his usual minis were not quite right for that day’s appointed task. He positioned himself near the back of the rapidly filling sale room. This sale was ‘important’ in the jargon of auction houses. However, this particular sale was exciting especial media attention. Of course there were some were attractive, even provocatively, sexy items on offer, but a significant contributor had been Amber.

After Barry’s intervention, she had been reinstated in a permanent post loosely attached to the Chairman’s office. From there it had not been difficult to arrange for the news room to take interest and to drop hints that, “the grape vine had it that something interesting was going to happen.” The assumption was that someone was going to pay a record price for something so, in the absence of any major news story a camera crew arrived soon after Charles and, to the consternation of some of the regulars who, for their own reasons, much prefer to be not merely anonymous, but invisible, began to set up their gear.

Charles suddenly realised that Amber was with the crew. He tried to catch her eye, but she studiously avoided contact. “Probably that’s best,” he reasoned. “I don’t expect that she was planned to be here, but knowing her she just couldn’t resist.”

The auction started and pieces knocked down at good if not spectacular prices. The camera crew was all for packing up and going for a beer long before lot 67, The Flame Leaper came up. Out of the corner of his eye Charles could see Amber arguing with the cameraman. With an angry gesture, she pulled out her mobile and spoke to someone. She handed the ‘phone to her colleague. Who listened, shrugged his shoulders and started filming again. Seemingly Amber had had to go to the top.

Flame Leaper arrived. Charles suddenly felt hot with excitement as he got out his ‘phone and pretended to be in quiet conversation with someone.

The auctioneer started the bidding at £20,000 that was quickly pushed up to £50,000. There was a pause. A hand holding a catalogue was momentarily lifted into the air.

“£55,000, Mr Schofield, the auctioneer called out.” That was Charles’s cue. He raised his catalogue.

“£60,000 at the back.” Barry again £65,000, Charles raised the bid to £70,000 as an usher sidled up to him to discretely ask his name.

“I’m acting for an American client Ms Caroline St Clair,” he replied.

The TV crew now had something exciting to shoot as they switched between auctioneer, a distinctly boring rear view of Barry’s head and the striking leather skirted bidder in fantastic heels that was conveniently in a clear line of sight for them.

The bidding passed the £100,000 mark. Charles noticed that Sir Henry had appeared and was standing discretely in the shadows at the side of the dais.

The bidding went to £160,000 on Barry’s bid then stopped.

“All done?” the auctioneer asked, looking at Charles. As planned, Charles shook his head. “Your bid, Mr Schofield. Going for the first time. Going…”

At that moment there was a scuffle at the back of the hall. The door burst open and, hotly pursued by security guards in rushed Gwyneth propelling Leslie in a wheel chair.

“It’s stolen. I can prove it,” shouted Leslie waving something in the air. The cameras swung round, this was great stuff. Visions of news cameraman of the year swept through the crew’s minds. This was going to be the centrepiece of the evening news.

Frantic discussions were going on at the front of the hall. Charles could see Leslie gesticulating, pointing to the stature and to her papers. Charles had been instructed to slip out and disappear as soon as the planed debacle was reached. However, it as hard not to pause for a minute. That was a mistake as he realised when he found himself being interviewed for the news programme.

“I couldn’t stop them,” Amber apologised later, “especially having had to go to the Chairman to tell them to keep filming.”

However, the more serious consequences of his delay would not manifest itself for some time. While he was being interviewed a woman accompanied by a small man, clearly very much under her thumb, left the hall. They looked hard at Charles and nodded to each other. It was Sarah Turnbull and Fred Cooke.


That evening they gathered at Barry’s office. There, over drinks, they watched with undisguised glee the events as they unfolded in the evening news.

“How do you like being a TV star Charlotte?” Gwyneth had asked.

“In what sense are you using the word, TV,” Amber jumped in. Charles glared

“Now then you two, I’ve told you before to behave. If you carry on like this I will have to do something serious about it when I’m better.”

“Yes please,” they laughed in unison.

Later, over dinner Barry filled in some of the details. Of course the police had been told. They were convinced, on the evidence that the statue was indeed Leslie’s and it would be being returned to her shortly. As far as she was concerned it was a case of burglary that was now closed. There was the question of how it had come into the hands of Sarah Turnbull and that was being investigated. As far as Sir Henry was concerned it had all been good publicity for his House. What was more, just to rub it in, he was invoicing Sarah for his commission and expenses on the aborted sale and was threatening to pursue her for damages in respect of possible harm to the sales room’s reputation though, in reality, he was tickled pink by the ‘jape’.

“Just like the old days, what?” he had observed.

It was late when Charles got back to the flat. There had been so much to talk about. Reluctantly it was agreed that the party must end. Leslie was going back with Gwyneth again, the others to their separate homes.

“Will you share a cab with me part way?” Amber had asked Charles.

“Sure,” he replied.

The car arrived and they got in. Amber immediately adopted her curled-up-in-the-corner position, while Charles sat stiffly in a corner.

“I wish I could curl up like you,” he yawned.

“Is it your corset,” she asked.


“I expect I’ll have to be wearing them very soon, specially if I want to keep a figure as good as yours, so I’m just making the most of it while I can. Cheer up! You always look great.”

“That’s nice to know. The problem is not so much how it looks as how it feels sometimes though.”

“Tell me,” said Amber changing the subject, “what do you think about today? I’m worried. I can’t believe that Sarah Turnbull will let it rest.”

“No,” agreed Charles, “me neither. We may have won a battle, but I fear that there is a lot more war still to come. Do be careful, I’d hate anything to happen to you after all you’ve done for me.”

“Rubbish,” said Amber, “but we had all better be careful.”

The taxi stopped and he got out. Amber wound down the window.

“Good night, big sister, don’t do anything I wouldn’t.”

“Good night, little sister, sweet dreams, and be careful.” This time it as Charles who blew the kiss

As he climbed the stairs from the mews he noticed that a light was on.

“That’s odd,” he thought “I pretty sure I turned everything off.”

He put his key in the door it was unlocked. Someone had broken-in. He swung open the door, expecting the worst. The flat seemed to be quite neat and tidy with nothing of the chaos that is the usual consequence of a burglary. However, there was something odd. Then he realised. Though nothing was missing, his furniture had been rearranged. In the middle of the table was a visiting card, face down, with a message on it.

“Watch it buster,” it said, “unless you want your personal furniture rearranging like I did for your friend.”

Turning the card over Charles saw then name, ‘Sarah Turnbull, Consultant.’


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