Decamot of the month

31 Mar 2017-Skinning a Whale

Inspired by the following Decamot Items:

composer, gymnast, horn, Jupiter, plaza, printer, revolution, soiled nappy, station clock, whale

Part I

The gymnast was waiting for her cue. The sequence of moves that she was about to perform were not complicated, at least, not for an athlete of her training and inherent skill. They would be a leap to a high bar, a swing for momentum, then a complete revolution, a release and catch onto a lower bar, and a Jaeger twist. And finally, an unauthodox dismount of her own devising, comprising a midair horizontal half-twist, into a swallow dive and forward roll on landing. All neatly completed in a little under 30 seconds. And yet, she was more nervous than she'd been in years.

It wasn't that she was rusty: true, it had been many years since she had practised for several hours every day, but for this performance, she was point perfect. It wasn't that she was worried about an audience: there would be no audience. It was because she was going to perform her mini-routine on the outside of The Plaza Hotel in New York, 50 meters up, in pitch blackness.

Her cue was when all the lights in the hotel went out.

Part II

Gustav Holst is not a composer typically heard at the New York Met. Nor is Jupiter typically the last movement of The Planets Suite. And Mars does not typically contain a brief solo on a flugelhorn. But this was not a typical concert. It was privately paid for, and there are many things that money can buy in the United States, even if good taste is not one of them.

The evening's questionable musical programme had been arranged by Angela Nagel, personal assistant, aid, adviser, organiser, fixer, shopper, factotum, and general dog's body to the insufferable Pandora D. Murtell. Angela remembered every toe-curlingly awful moment of the interview she had had the misfortune to witness (and to minute) between her boss and James Levine, the Music Director Emeritus at the Met.

"And after the Hallelujah Chorus, you want the musicians of the Metropolitan Opera House to perform Holst's Planet Suite?" Levine had asked raising a supercilious eyebrow.

"Yeah, but not the whole thing, obviously. That's far too long."

"Too long?"

"A few too many planets."

"Ah. And which planets would madam like us to cut, pray tell?"

And tell him she had, concluding with a demand that Angela would never forget: "And jazz up Mars a bit will ya; it normally sounds far too militaristic for my liking."

Each musical assault was made all the worse for Angela who knew that she would be responsible for drumming up an audience for this monstrosity. Making Pandora's vanity projects an apparent success was a tacit part of her job description. Paying sufficient numbers of people to attend was one thing, but encouraging appropriate applause and discouraging derisive comments would be quite a challenge.

Somehow both the programme and the audience had been assembled, and tonight was the night that the two would come together. Angela felt like Igor about to throw the switch that would breathe life into Doctor Frankenstein's monster. She stood outside the door of Pandora's suite in New York's Plaza Hotel. She was modestly, but smartly dressed. She had put her hair up and wore a delicate gold necklace. She had chosen a pretty blue frock that that complemented her eyes, and had matching shoes and bag. The overall affect was one of understated style which fell just a little short of chic.

Finally the suite door opened and out flowed a waft of perfume only marginally less overpowering than its wearer. Pandora wore a real-fur stole over her shoulders and had a string of priceless pearls that she'd bought by the yard. She was wearing immense gold earrings, and both hands were adorned with rings encrusted with absurdly large diamonds. Her designer skirt was far too short and showed far too much of her legs. The heels on her Jimmy Choo shoes were far too high for either practicality or safety, and she seemed to defy gravity as she walked in them.

Pandora glanced briefly at Angela: "Going somewhere?"

"Well yes. To your concert."

"I wouldn't be seen dead with you in public. You look like Cinderella before her magical visitation." She approached Angela and pretended to sniff the air around her. "And you smell like a soiled nappy."

Outwardly, Angela looked crestfallen. Her shoulders slumped forward slightly and her bottom lip quivered. Inwardly, she was relieved. In her pocket she had two tickets to see the Blue Man Group off-Broadway. She had successfully gambled on being summarily dismissed for the evening by her overbearing boss and had secretly planned a rare night out with an old college friend.

"As you're here, make yourself useful. Grab that box and take those letters down to the lobby for franking and sending."

Pandora pushed passed her heading towards the elevator. Angela bent down to pick up the box and balanced it precariously with one hand while she closed the suite door behind her with the other. She turned to see that Pandora was already entering the elevator. She hurried to catch up, but the doors started to close. Pandora made no effort to hold them for her.

18 floors down, Pandora emerged from the elevator with a flourish. She strode confidently to the front door pushing her way through the packed foyer. She ignored the bellboy who held the door open for her and politely wished her a good evening. A smartly uniformed doorman hailed a passing taxi for a young couple who had been waiting patiently. As the taxi came to a stop, Pandora deftly pushed the young couple aside and clambered in the back in their place.

"To the Met," she demanded. "Make it quick. And I don't require any conversation."

The woman was obnoxious. But that alone would not justify what was about to happen to her when all the lights in the hotel went out.

Part III

Jack White was in a small conference room in a hotel across from the Plaza Hotel in New York. Behind him was an overhead projector screen and in front of him on a small table was a laptop computer running the ubiquitous PowerPoint. On the other side of the table, looking up at him impatiently, was his audience: Carol, Sebastien, and Ruby.

"I bet you're wondering why I called you all here today."

Carol groaned. "You're going to have to come up with a new opening line. That one you've used like a thousand times already."

Jack ignored her and continued.

"Our next project," he said, and tapped the mouse pad on the laptop. A title appeared on the screen: Skinning a Whale.

"What a charming image," said Carol.

"And this," said Jack, ignoring her again and tapping on the mouse pad again, "is our whale."

An image of a well-dressed woman in her mid-40s flashed onto the screen.

"Miss Pandora D. Murtell," said Jack.

"She's certainly a bit on the weighty side, darling," said Ruby. "But calling her a whale is a bit much don't you think. Sexist even. A little beneath you."

This time both Carol and Sebastien groaned.

"It's a casino term, for a high roller," said Sebastien. "A frequent flyer of the gaming tables. The big hotels fight over them. Offer them lots of perks, including show tickets, meals and free accommodation when they're in town on the understanding that they'll drop 10s of thousands of dollars per hand at the poker tables or per spin of the roulette wheels, or whatever their betting peccadillo happens to be."

"For Miss Murtell, that peccadillo is Texas Hold 'Em," said Jack. "She once went all in to the tune of $500k with a low straight, lost, and returned later that night to join a game with double the entry blind."

"So she's one of a number of 'whales' who can afford to bet, and lose, large sums of money," said Ruby.

"Exactly," confirmed Jack.

"Why is this 'whale' in particular our mark?"

"Firstly, because of the way she makes her money," said Jack. He tapped the mouse again the first item in bulleted list appeared. "She's the queen of foreclosures. Ambulance chasing mortgage defaulters so that you can swoop in and gain a bargain at auction after a foreclosure is a popular hobby among a sector of unpleasant Americans. That's where Miss Murtell started out. But several years ago, she took this insidious practice to a new low: she targets vulnerable mortgage holders who have used their own home as security against loans for new business ideas. Ideas that could have taken off given half a chance, but she ensures fail by creating undercutting competition, or stealing company secrets and filing patents early, or bribing essential suppliers to increase their prices without warning, or any of a number of unethical, mean-spirited schemes that her devious mind can dream up. She doesn't chase mortgage defaulters, she creates them, and then profits on their financial misfortunes. A suitable target I'm sure you'll agree."

The other three murmured agreement.

"And secondly," he continued, and now adopted a Deep South accent, "when we skin this little whale, it's gonna net us a cool $15,000,000."

"How?"

"We're going to steal it. A simple, good old-fashioned, snatch and grab operation. You look sceptical."

"For a start," said Sebastien. "Where is this $15 million?"

"Right over there," said Jack, pointing through the window towards the New York Plaza hotel.

"Miss Murtell's got $15 million in the New York Plaza hotel?"

"Yup."

"In cash?"

"Yup."

"Why?"

"Does it matter?"

"I guess not."

"Where is it exactly?" asked Carol. "In the hotel vault?"

"Nope. In her suite on the 18th floor."

"Not the penthouse then?"

"Nope. In fact, that's a bone of contention that she has with the hotel."

"No doubt the money's under lock and key?" commented Sebastien.

"No doubt."

"And protected by a guard outside the room?"

"Probably."

"What am I missing?" asked Sebastien. "How are we going to get to Miss Murtell's millions?"

Jack tapped again on the mouse pad and a picture of the outside of the New York Plaza hotel flashed onto the screen. He tapped again to zoom in on the 18th floor. And again to zoom in on a single window.

"Oh no," said Sebastien. "I've still got the scars from the Paris job. I'm not crashing through another window."

"No, you're right. You're not. Carol is!"

"Gee thanks dad," said Carol indignantly.

"But there'll be no broken glass this time. You'll be going in through there," Jack zoomed in on the picture again. "There's a small flap at the very top of the window, hinged at the top. That's your entry point. On a night that Pandora D. Murtell is known to be otherwise engaged."

"And how do you suggest I get to that convenient little cat flap," asked Carol sarcastically.

Jack panned down to the floor below and a row of flag poles.

"An acrobat of your abilities should be able to go from the floor below to the floor above and in through the window using the apparatus available to you."

"It's been a fair few years since I was a junior gymnastics champion."

"I know, but it's like riding a bike isn't it? Something you never forget."

Carol didn't rise to the bait. Instead, she walked over to the image on the screen and looked at the flag poles from different angles. She then started doing slow motion steps and twists. She finished by taking a short run up and did a half turn, into a hand-spring, a flick flack and an Arabian side somersault. She then paced back over the route her tumble had taken, counting under her breath. She look back at the picture.

"Judging by the furniture you can see through the window, you can see this distance I've just covered is roughly the same. If you replace the handspring and the Arabian for rotations on the two flag poles, a move off of the second pole and up to the window is theoretically possible."

"Now you're talking," said Jack

"I didn't think windows above the 7th floor of New York buildings opened," observed Sebastien. "Something to do with suicide risks."

"On the whole that's true. But several decades back, the expensive hotels got a special exemption for the upper floors that contain multi-room suites. It's a throw back to when you could smoke inside buildings in New York. The suites on these floors have small high windows that are held shut my electromagnetic locks that can be released from inside."

"So you'd need someone on the inside to release that window?" said Carol, prodding at the image on the screen.

"Well ordinarily yes. But, in the event of a total power cut in the hotel, the electromagnetic locks are released automatically. It's a safety feature that allows the emergency services an entry point to those floors that does not involve tons of flying glass. A courtesy to the super-rich punters. And that's where Sebastien comes in: You'll be responsible for hacking into the hotel's computerised power server to cause a total power cut."

"Wouldn't cutting the power to the whole hotel cause pandemonium?" asked Sebastien.

"A little, but only for 30 seconds."

Three pairs of eyes looked at Jack blankly.

"After 30 seconds, the emergency generator will kick in, the lights will come back on, the window locks will be reset, but Carol will be inside the hotel suite. Carol, your cue will be when the lights in the hotel go out, because that will indicate that the window locks have been deactivated. When their techies come to check their error logs, if Sebastien has done his job correctly, they'll right it off as an unexplained, but unexceptional power surge."

There was silence while three brains mulled this over.

"So, let me get this straight," said Carol. "You want me to leap onto and between two flag poles, get sufficient momentum to do a catch and release that enables me to do some sort of dive through a narrow window. 50 meters up. With no safety net. In the dark. And all in a little under 30 seconds."

"Exactly."

"And supposing I manage that without breaking my neck, how do I get back out again with $15,000,000?"

"Ah," admitted Jack. "Now that's the tricky bit!"

Part IV

Angela Nagel hurried up the steps of Grand Central Station and spotted her friend immediately. She was standing under the main station clock as arranged. They exchanged hugs and air-kisses, and then headed back out of the station.

"Where are you staying," asked Angela's friend.

Angela stopped at the top of the steps to get her bearings. Then pointed to the sign lit up in the night sky that said: The Plaza.

"At the Plaza Hotel. My boss is in one of the suites, and I'm almost in the basement," she grinned. "But still, it is the basement of The Plaza!"

"Wow," said her friend as she looked where Angela was pointing. And then she said: "What the fuck?" as all the lights in the hotel went out.

*****

On her cue, as all the lights in The Plaza went out, Carol took what could best be called a leap of faith. Faith in her ability as a former champion gymnast; faith in her ability to maintain concentration under extreme pressure; and faith in her ability to accurately judge distance from the photo of the outside of a hotel room.

But it was faith well founded. It was not a great distance, granted. In her youth, she would have laughed at worrying about such a tiny hop. But she was twenty years on from her gymnastic prime. And being 50m up with no safety net made the fear factor rise exponentially. So it was with understandable relief that she made the leap to first flag pole.

Now for the swing for momentum, and a complete revolution. A release and catch onto the second flag pole. And then: Which way does the Jaeger twist go? She caught herself thinking, then quickly admonished herself: Don't be so stupid, who cares? It's not as if anyone's going to be giving you marks out of 10!

In fact, had anyone looked up at that moment, or had anyone looked out of one of the many windows that overlooked the flag poles at that moment, they would have seen exactly what Carol could see: Absolutely nothing at all!

As her hands touched the second pole, Carol instinctively chose an anticlockwise twist for the Jaeger. Interesting, she thought. I wonder if that's because I'm naturally left-handed. She left that thought hanging as she prepared for her unorthodox dismount: a horizontal, mid-air half twist into a swallow dive was a far cry from her schoolgirl training.

A second before her finger tips touched the narrow window, another thought flashed into her mind: What if Sebastien had been wrong about the electromagnetic locks on the windows at the top of the high-rise hotels in New York deactivating automatically in the event of a total power failure?

But he wasn't, and they did.

Carol's perfect swallow dive took her neatly through the window and a forward roll took her across the bed. As she landed lightly on the floor on the other side of the bed, the backup generator kicked in, the lights in the hotel came back on, the top-hinged window flipped shut, and the electromagnetic lock gave a satisfying snap as it held the window in place again.

And now for the tricky bit, thought Carol.

*****

Back at the top of the steps outside Grand Central Station, Angela Nagel and her friend saw the lights on The Plaza come back on.

"That was odd," said Angela's friend.

"Must have been a trick of the light," said Angela.

"I guess."

Angela looked at her watch.

"Best grab a taxi if we're gonna make the show," she said.

*****

Twenty minutes later, someone who looked just like Angela Nagel walked calmly out of Miss Pandora D. Murtell's suite on the 18th floor of New York Plaza.

She passed the security guard on her way to the elevator, and waved vaguely when he wished her a good evening. On her way down, she looked in the mirror and adjusted her wig. Then gasped a little as she tugged at what felt like a price tag protruding at the back. She pulled it out firmly and palmed it in her left hand just before the door opened. She emerged from the elevator into the foyer and made her way over to the front doors. Two doors, two bellboys. She chose the door on the left, and as she brushed passed the bellboy holding it open for her, she patted his breast pocket lightly. She smiled to herself as she overheard the ensuing conversation between the two bellboys as she waited for a taxi.

"Now that's what I call class: Did you see how she slipped the tip into my pocket? You'd hardly know she'd done it."

"Better than her boss," said the other bellboy. "She don't never tip no-one."

"Oh no," said the first bellboy, who'd discretely removed the supposed tip from his pocket. "This is far too much." He'd expected a 5 or a 10, but had unfolded a $100 bill."

"You get all the luck, Frankie."

Frankie hurried out the front door and over to the taxi rank just as the person who looked just like Angela Nagel was getting into the back of a cab.

"Hey Miss," he called. He put his hand on the doorframe of the cab. "I think you've made a mistake," he said, holding out the bill.

"Nonsense," she said. "You've earned it Frankie."

She closed the door quickly and leaned forward to speak to the driver.

"Get me down town as quickly as you can," she hissed.

*****

A taxi pulled up outside the Astor Place Theatre on Lafayette. Angela Nagel and her friend got out.

"Best hurry," said Angela, the show's about to start.

At the top of the steps of the theatre, their passage was blocked by a man in a dark suit, long overcoat, and wearing a fedora. He seemed to have appeared from nowhere.

"What the fuck?" said Angela's friend for the second time that evening.

The man reached into his coat and brought out an old-fashioned camera complete with huge flash attached.

"Picture?" he asked. "With the boys?"

He pointed behind the two women. They both turned. Behind Angela and her friend were three men dressed in tight black trousers and shapeless black smocks. They were all completely hairless. And their shiny bald heads were painted dark blue.

Angela laughed. "They're part of the show," she explained to her friend.

They posed with the three blue men as the cameraman got a shot.

"10 bucks," he said, handing Angela a numbered cloakroom ticket. "You can pick it up in the gift shop at the end of the show."

Angela paid the man, and the two friends headed into the theatre.

Part V

Two senior security personnel were watching the CCTV footage captured from the cameras on the 18th floor of the Plaza Hotel in New York. They were investigating a significant theft that Miss Murtell had reported early that morning.

They saw someone who looked just like Angela Nagel walking out of Pandora D. Murtell's suite, passing the guard, waving vaguely, and heading into the elevator. One of the security officers hit pause.

"So the aid did it."

"How do you work that out?"

"Look at the timestamp in the corner of the screen. That's 30 minutes after both she and Miss Murtell left for the evening. No one else is captured on this footage coming out of Miss Murtell's suite, or any other suite on this floor for that matter, between then and Miss Murtell's return from the Met. Plus there's this."

He backed up the footage by thirty minutes and hit play.

"This is them leaving the apartment 30 minutes earlier."

The footage showed the confrontation between the two women that had occurred the night before, ending with Angela being left behind holding the bundle of mail for posting. He pressed pause again just as the elevator doors were closing in Angela's face and Miss Murtell was failing to hold them.

"Miss Nagel was obviously ready to go out for the evening; she's dressed up real nice. She was clearly expecting to accompany Miss Murtell to this musical thing. But they're clearly having an argument, and Miss Murtell's forced her to do some menial errand for her, which she could have got one of our staff to do. And look at her face when the elevator door closes."

He zoomed in on Miss Murtell on the inside of the elevator. The look of glee on her face was evident.

"She's one mean bitch."

"That's it? That's your evidence?"

"Pretty much."

"She decides to rob her boss blind just because she thought she was going for a night out, but instead gets left tending Pandora's box?"

"Yes." said his colleague sounding less confident this time. "It's an accumulation of insults and slights over time. We know she's mean. She treats our staff like shit. Always surly, never tipping. Bet she's like that all the time to her aid too. This," he said pointing at the screen for emphasis, "was just the last straw."

"That makes no sense."

"Why not?"

"Three reasons: Firstly, she's easily identifiable as the only person, other than Miss M and the hotel staff, to have access to the room. She'd be mad to steal that kind of sum from her boss."

"Mad maybe, but as I said: perhaps she’d been insulted one too many times."

"OK then, secondly: She has an alibi."

"Alibis can be faked, people can be bribed."

"This alibi's pretty strong," said the security officer placing a large 5x8 inch photograph of Angela Nagel and her friend with three blue men standing outside the Astor Place Theatre. "There's a date and timestamp on this photo as you can see; it's part of the souvenir package so that you can always be reminded when you were there. And before you go down a conspiracy alley, I checked the number with the Astor: it's legit. The photo was taken by their head snapper."

"Even so," his colleague began, but was instantly interrupted.

"And thirdly, where's the money?"

"What?"

"If Miss Nagel here," the security officer fast-forwarded back to the CCTV footage of the woman who looked just like Angela Nagel walking out of Pandora D. Murtell's suite and hit pause at the point at which she was waiting for the elevator to arrive. "Where's the money? She's not holding anything. Where's the suitcase or sack she'd need to carry it all?"

"Pockets?"

"Pockets! That would be one heck of a pocket. Do you see any unsightly bulges about her person that could account for that amount of cash? She just seems to be wearing a dress. I don't even see the handbag she was carrying earlier. So it must have been someone else who stole the money. Not this fine lady," he concluded tapping on the frozen image of the woman who looked just like Angela Nagel standing in front of the elevator doors. "You'd've had her arrested and charged just like that," he said, snapping his fingers.

"Hmmm."

"That's why I'm the Head of Security here at The Plaza, and you're just an ASS-istant. Did you see what I did there?" concluded the Head of Security, anxious to ensure that his assistant hadn't missed his appalling pun.

Unfortunately for him, in the frozen image on the screen, he'd missed what appeared to be the corner of a $100 bill protruding from the woman’s neck just below the hairline.

Part VI

Jack White was back in the small conference room in the hotel across from the The Plaza Hotel in New York. This time there was no overhead projector screen and no laptop computer. But, his audience was the same: Carol, Sebastien, and Ruby. Although Carol looked a little different this time. She was wearing the same padded outfit that she had been wearing as she left Pandora D. Murtell's suite the day before. The Angela Nagel face mask that had completed her disguise sat on the table in front her.

"I bet you're wondering ... ", Jack began, and held up his hands as all three of his audience members groaned. "Let me finish! I bet you're wondering how I got so much inside information about the deplorable Miss Pandora D.

As if on cue, there was a knock on the door. Jack hurried over and opened it.

"Let me introduce you to Miss Angela Nagel."

Angela Nagel walked in. There was a gasp in the room.

"We don't normally get quite this close to our insiders, darling," said Ruby. "I hope you know what you're doing."

"With Miss Nagel, I've made an exception. And you'll soon see why."

He turned to Angela.

"Let me introduce you to the family. This is my son Sebastien."

"Hi," said Sebastien.

"He's our resident computer expert. He can crack into any system you care to name. Plus he's a whizz with electronics and a soldering iron. I thought him everything he knows."

"Ha!" said Sebastien. "You wouldn't know a bit stream from a streaming cold."

"Moving on, this is my daughter Carol," said Jack. "She's a musician, a sleight of hand magician, a cardsharp, a pickpocket, and sometime high-flyer."

Carol groaned.

"Oh gosh," said Angela Nagel looking at Carol closely. "I'd not realised I'd got that fat." She picked up the Angela Nagel face mask. "And that is really quite creepy."

"It's courtesy of Ruby, our resident artist, chemical engineer, chief fabricator, and my wife of 41 years."

"How on earth did you do this?" said Angela still holding the mask that bore an extraordinary likeness to her own face.

"I can't take all the credit," said Ruby. "Most of it's down to this 3D-printer." She pointed to a large cabinet in the corner of the room with a glass middle and several buttons on the side.

"I thought that was a drinks machine," said Angela laughing.

"Jack provided me with two face moulds: one of you and one of Carol."

"So that's why you treated me to a full facial massage. You pinched the dried mud mask, didn't you Dad?" said Carol.

"Guilty," said Jack.

"From those masks," continued Ruby. "I produced a hollow plaster of Paris mask that has your profile on the outside and Carol's on the inside. The 3-D printer and some heavy duty CAD software that Sebastien designed scans both outer sides of the masks and translates that information into a 3-D blueprint from which you can print the mask using virtually any synthetic material that you have to hand. With my little baby," Ruby continued patting the printer. "You can work with anything from graphene to the plastic used to make Lego bricks."

"So Nathan Sawaya could be using a 3-D printer to create his award-winning Lego models?" asked Carol with genuine interest.

"He could, but he claims he doesn't. From a set of photos I took of his latest exhibition, I managed to produce a monochrome version of his batmobile in an afternoon. Adding colour would be child's play. Anyway, for masks like these," Ruby continued, taking the mask from Angela's hands. "I used a lightweight, breathable latex mixture that I've been developing. To make a perfect fit, the inside has to match the profile of the wearer, hence my needing a model of Carol's face as well as Angela's. Needless to say, for an exact 1-1 scaling, the profile of the subject has to be sufficiently greater than the profile of the wearer."

"In English, mother," said Carol.

"The mask fits perfectly and looks exact on the outside because I've got a fatter face than you," supplied Angela.

"Yes," agreed Ruby, sounding a little embarrassed.

"Don't worry, honey," said Angela. "I'm glad my extra pounds have finally been of value."

"Well actually, you could say they're worth their weight in $100 bills. Carol, could you disrobe."

Much to everyone's surprise, Carol obligingly whipped off her dress. Underneath she was wearing a full size, padded, flesh coloured body suit.

"This suit's made of a graphene and lycra mix that's ultra-lightweight, extremely strong, and very stretchy. 3-D printed of course. It contains hundreds of pockets, each of which contains a wad of $100 bills. The wads are the difference between you and Carol, size-wise."

"Filling that out must have taken ages," said Angela.

"Nineteen minutes and forty five seconds," said Carol. "I was leaving the room 20 minutes after the power cut."

Jack leaned over and removed a wad of bills from a pocket under Carol's left arm.

"This is yours," he said placing the money on the table in front of Angela. "$50,000 as agreed."

He then removed a wad of the same size from under Carol's right arm.

"And here's a bonus for you."

Angela pushed the second wad away, and held her hands up.

"As I said when you first approached me, $50,000 is all I need."

"True, but we couldn't have done this without you."

"Everyone's played their part. I was just your insider. I don't need anymore."

"Everyone could do with a little more," scoffed Carol.

"Not Miss Nagel," said Jack. "She's been adamant about what she needs from the very beginning, and that's why I've let her into some of our secrets. I've tested her integrity quite a few times, and never found it wanting. I happened upon Angela when I was researching whales. I discovered that she was both working for, and a victim of Pandora D. Murtell. Why don't you explain," he said, turning to Angela.

"Where to start," she said. "Probably best to begin with my inheritance: I'm the only child of successful parents, who sadly both died shortly before I finished high school. I inherited the family home, but not much more. Now fast forward to my university days. I was lucky enough to borrow sufficient funds to go to medical school. While I was still a medical student, I stumbled upon a technique for gene manipulation in the treatment of obesity. I guess you could say I had a vested interest in the subject matter. Unfortunately, because I was still an undergraduate, no one took my ideas seriously. I tried to persuade my faculty head to let me lead a research team, but he wouldn't listen. Because I believed so much in the value of the idea, I decided to quit university and pursue the research privately. Funding the research required more borrowing against my inherited house, but I reasoned that it would all pay for itself in the long run. And it probably would have many times over, because my technique for gene manipulation proved to be valid, re-creatable and able to be synthesised. I just needed a lab for mass production and a patent to protect my intellectual copyright. My borrowing had spiralled, and now amounted to virtually the whole value of the house, but I was within touching distance of turning the corner. But that's when everything started to go wrong."

"To cut a long story short, when I tried to register my patent, I found someone had beaten me to it. It turned out that someone had stolen my research papers, and bribed their way into the patent office. I was now broke, and had debtors knocking at my door and threats of foreclosure on my mortgage. At this point in the story Pandora appears on the scene, and offered me a lifeline. She claimed that she'd acquired my debt, and would write it off in exchange for my services as her personal aid. I was ridiculously relieved, and absurdly naive. I thought that maybe within five years I might be able to start saving money again and eventually go back to university. What I didn't realise at the time was that Pandora was behind the industrial espionage and had been the architect of my demise."

"That was over a decade ago. By the time I met Jack, I'd already decided that 12 years a slave was enough. He suggested at that he could make me very rich indeed. But as I told him them, and maintain now, I just need $50,000. That would be enough to finish my medical degree and then hopefully go on to find a post in a research hospital. And he assured me that it wasn't his intention to ruin Pandora, just to fleece her for sum that would be uncomfortable, but that she could afford."

"Just out of curiosity," said Sebastian. "Why did Pandora have such a large sum in cash in her hotel room?"

"She's in town to buy an apartment. In her words, she's 'sick of slumming it at The Plaza'. The truth is, she’s annoyed that they never let her rent the penthouse suite."

"But why does she have the money in cash?"

"Oh she doesn't trust banks, and hasn't done so for years. Since even before the banking crisis of 2008."

Everyone was silent for a few moments.

"Well I guess that's everything," said Jack. "Except for this."

Jack reached into the inside pocket of his jacket and brought out a long envelope.

"The best way for the balance of Miss Murtell's millions to leave the country is for it to remain around Carol's person while she travels to the UK. So it would be most useful if you could discretely lay low for a few days; continuing to have two Angela Nagels in town is probably asking for trouble, so I've taken the liberty of booking you into the Little Palm Island in the Florida Keys for a few days and arranged a flight down there for you on a private jet. The details are in here," he said, patting the envelope. "If you're willing to accept a free holiday, that is."

"In the circumstances," said Angela taking the envelope. "How could I refuse?"