Felicity Appleby has promised to help the Impressions, the peculiar inhabitants of the investment bank she works at near St Paul's Cathedral, find a way to stop the building they inhabit being torn down.
But how will that be possible when other people hardly ever notice them? Could Felicity's old boyfriend Aidan Duchenny - also known as Aidan the Douchebag - help her find a way?
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Felicity sat up in bed with a start and looked around her room. It was reassuringly normal, her books on the bookcase, pictures on the wall, mobile phone on the table …all very 21st century. What an extraordinary dream! She yawned, scratched her head and gave a little squeak of pain as she discovered a large bump. That must be the reason, she thought. She’d bumped her head, come home, gone straight to bed and dreamt about all those peculiar people. All because of that bloody cupboard door.
She wandered into the kitchen of the flat she shared with two other girls, Julie and Paula, and put on the kettle for some tea. Julie was eating breakfast and texting at the same time.
“So,” she said to Felicity through a mouthful of toast. “Who was that who brought you home late last night then? He sounded very posh.”
Felicity dropped her spoon.
“Brought me home? What time was that?”
“After midnight. I heard you come in and someone saying goodnight to you at the door. Lovely voice he had. All respectful like. Much nicer than that other boyfriend you used to bring back here - what was his name?”
“Aiden Duchenny,” said Paula as she joined them and poured the water Felicity had just boiled onto a teabag for herself and sat opposite Julie. “Or Aiden the Douchebag as I like to call him.”
At the beginning of her last year at university, Felicity had made the mistake of falling in love with Aiden, a guest lecturer on her course. Just before her final exams she’d discovered he had a wife and two children that he’d forgotten to tell her about. Julie and Paula had had to spend the next four weeks making Felicity get up, study and go to her exams when all she’d wanted to do was hide in bed.
“That’s it, Aiden! Nasty piece of work,” said Julie. “Always putting you down. Anyway, the bloke what brought you back last night sounded much nicer. Where’d you meet him?”
“Just somebody from the office,” answered Felicity, not knowing what she could possibly say. “Oh, is that the time? Got to go!” and she disappeared off to the bathroom to get ready for work.
On the bus ride she thought hard as she looked out of the window. So, it hadn’t been a dream then. If Julie had heard Frederick Tumble after he’d insisted on making sure she got home safely, then it had all really happened. The meeting in the boardroom, the strange group of people (what had they called themselves? Impressions … that was it!), the promise to help …
“So, what’s the plan then?” said a voice in her ear. “We haven’t got long you know. Are you doing the needful?”
Felicity turned and found Mrs Twizleton sitting down next to her. The lady-detective was now wearing a hijab and had a large Marks and Spencer’s bag on her knees which helped her blend in, although the toes of her Victorian button-up boots could still be seen poking out from under her long dress.
“I thought you could benefit from my assistance,” she continued. “But I realized I may look a little unusual to most other passengers on this omnibus in my usual outfit, so I put on this disguise. But, as I said before, we must hurry. Time waits for no man!”
“Well… umh…I …er…” began Felicity.
“Tickets please,” said a ticket inspector coming up the stairs to the upper deck. He was a large Sikh with a turban, an impressive beard and a fierce eye. Felicity never travelled without a ticket but hated the feeling of panic the inspectors always caused her. Mrs Twizleton showed something to the man, who barely looked at her, as Felicity rummaged frantically in her bag.
“I know it’s here somewhere,” she said, wondering for the millionth time why bags were made with a black interior which made it impossible to find anything.
“Come along, miss. I don’t have all day,” the inspector said ominously. He pulled out a notebook and started tapping it with his pen.
“Look, I’m sorry, but I can’t find it now. I definitely put it in here …” at which point she managed to drop her bottle of mineral water on the floor so that the top came off and it rolled across the top of the bus spraying water everywhere. Somebody behind her tutted. Mrs Twizleton looked straight ahead and ignored everything.
The inspector sighed, rescued the bottle and returned it to Felicity who was by now red-faced with embarrassment. He opened his notebook.
At St Paul’s they got off the bus together and headed towards the bank.
“Here you are,” said Mrs Twizleton, handing Felicity back her missing travel card.
“You stole it from me? Why did you do that?”
“Well, I thought it best if I remained inconspicuous. If I hadn’t show him a ticket, he’d have paid more attention to me.”
“But now I have to pay a fine! And how did you get it out of my bag without me seeing you, anyway?”
“Learnt that from ‘Fingers’ O’Neill,” answered Mrs Twizleton. “Finest pickpocket and cut-purse in 19th century London. He could steal the socks off a man’s feet while he was still wearing his shoes. Taught me everything I know. But that’s enough about me. You still haven’t told me about your plans.”
That evening the Impressions collected in the boardroom again and everybody looked towards Felicity. She did not much care for speaking in front of groups and this was an extremely peculiar group. She cleared her throat a couple of times before beginning.
“Umh… well, I managed to find out who wants to buy the building,” she said. “It’s a Russian company called Krysanova Krystals. They’re diamond merchants who want to establish themselves in London and …”
“Goddamn commie bastards!” growled the American general from inside a cloud of cigar smoke. “We should’ve nuked them back in …”
“General Tippet!” said the lady from the Salvation Army with a strong Scottish accent. “Can I remind you to watch your language? The good Lord did not …”
Sir Lancelot raised his hand. “General Tippet, Miss Murray! You remember our agreement? No interruptions!” he wiped his forehead with a handkerchief. “Miss Appleby, please continue.”
“Right. Well, they’ve offered a lot of money for the building, and apparently they want to knock it down and build something modern here. The bank’s directors – Mr Ripov, Mr Twobit and Mr Grabber - think it makes sense to sell up and move the bank’s operations somewhere cheaper outside London, so they’re very keen.”
“Is there anyway to change their mind?” asked Sir Lancelot. “I mean, this is such a beautiful building, it has so much history. What about that young doctor you used to know Mrs Twizleton? Conrad Boyle or something, didn’t he become famous?”
“Conan Doyle. Turned into a writer. But this lot don’t give a fig for history!” snorted Mrs Twizleton. “I heard that idiot Grabber talking to Ripov about the wonderful business opportunities there’d be if St Paul’s Cathedral could only be turned into a shopping arcade.”
“But I think you have an idea, Miss Appleby,” said Frederick smiling encouragingly and looking at Felicity with more confidence than she felt herself. “What is it?”
She gulped. “History is actually something you could use. I was thinking you could apply to the Historical Buildings Association to have the building listed as a historical monument. If you could show it has a connection with an important event or person, or if you can argue it has particularly impressive architecture it would be protected.”
“Well, there you are,” said Sir Lancelot triumphantly. “Superb example of late 19th century architecture, entrance hall with columns, magnificent staircase, original ceiling fittings.”
The group nodded. “I like that,” said the Nigerian prince. “But when you talk of ‘you’ I see a problem. We can’t apply for this sort of thing.”
“She’ll have to do it for us!” squeaked Smudge. “Or we’re dead as dormice!”
“’Doornails, Smudge,” said Frederick. “Not ‘dormice’. But Prince Chinaza has a point, Miss Appleby. We really have to make an effort to be noticed by ordinary people. What do you suggest?”
That, Felicity continued was tricky. If the directors saw that she’d applied to have the building listed, she’d lose her job and couldn’t help them anymore. There was then a long discussion until it was decided that Felicity should open an email account in the name of Frederick Tumble and send everything from there to the Association.
“I’ll help fill in the papers,” said Frederick. “I know something about architecture. Shall we start?”
They had to work long into the night until everything was ready and sent. Again, Frederick insisted on escorting her home on the night bus. We must look like an odd couple, thought Felicity to herself. Her in her office clothes and him with his hat on his thick dark blonde hair, the sideburns going halfway down his cheeks, those dark blue eyes with such long lashes. But people hardly gave them a glance. Well, to be fair, this was London, she concluded. There were stranger things on the bus than people in top hats most days.
“Goodnight, Miss Appleby,” he said when they reached her door. “We’re so grateful for your help. We would be lost without you. Until tomorrow let me bid you au revoir!” he bowed, took her hand, kissed it and disappeared back into the night.
“Well,” said Paula coming out of the bathroom in her nightdress and with a toothbrush in her hand. “Julie was right. He has got a lovely voice.”
Next day Felicity found it hard to concentrate. If Tricia or the directors found out what she’d done they’d have her out the door before you could say ‘Historical Buildings Association’. She constantly checked the email account she’d set up for Frederick but apart from spam mail advertising Viagra and last-minute cruise holidays, nothing arrived. Supposing the Association was slow and bureaucratic, she thought to herself, maybe they’d be too late to stop …
“Felicity?” It was Joshua, the security guard from the building entrance on the phone. “There’s a gentleman here from the Historical Buildings Association says he has an appointment with Mr Ripov. Can you show him where to go?”
Felicity waited by the lift, her heart pounding. It was going to work! The doors opened and…
“Why, Felicity, hello,” said a familiar voice. “How’re you doing? You look a bit tired.”
Aiden the Douchebag stepped out of the lift.