Friday 1 March 2019

Beyond Illusion

by Stephanie Simpkin

Stolichnaya Vodka

The Lear jet 35, sat waiting, on the tarmac, at Orly Paris, destination, London City airport.

A beautiful blonde, wearing, a very fitted, navy Channel suit, stood chatting, with two, young men, in uniform, at the top of the stairs.

A tall, slim, very attractive man, in his forty’s, ran up the steps of the plane, closely followed, by two men.

Body guards, she thought. She’d done her homework.

"Good morning, Mr Akhmedev, my name is Anoushka, welcome aboard. Our chief steward, Harry, will show you, to your seats. Beluga, chilled Stolichnaya, served neat, as soon, after, take-off as possible!"

"Thank you, Anoushka, perhaps, you will join us," he said, smiling.

God, he is attractive, she thought

"Mr Akhmedev, you, need to be in London by 12.45. The time, is now 11, Sir!" She smiled

"Anoushka, indeed I do, please, call me Anton."

"Well Anton, I, am, the pilot, and we can’t miss our slot, so please, excuse me!" she said, slightly sarcastically.

I like her, I really, like her, he thought.

The plane landed on time, she was at the door.

He took her hand. "Thank you, I hope, this, is not goodbye," Anton said smoothly, "I feel a strong sense, of, serendipity, will you, join me for dinner, tonight, please?"

"Love to, but, I am hosting, a rather special, charity dinner, tomorrow, at Cliveden, and I, have to make sure, everything is tickety-boo!"

"I am, attending that dinner, how are you getting there," he asked?

"Euro copter.  I am the pilot." She laughed. "Tomorrow?"

He leaned in, kissed her fleetingly, on the cheek, her heart, skipped a beat! Tomorrow, he replied.

The charity dinner, for a hundred guests, she, was, aiming to, raise five million pounds, for Crisis the homeless charity. Many, people, said it couldn’t be done, she, would, show them.

Royalty, both British, and foreign, stars of the stage and screen. it was rumoured, an ex-President, and his famous wife, would attend. Guests had all responded. People were clamouring to get an invite. Only one couple had been unable to attend. They had generously sent a hundred bottles of vintage Dom Perignon, and all, of the fine wines. 

A silent auction, one guest had donated a Picasso, Michael Bublé’, Take That, Adele, Jools Holland, the cabaret, David Blane, for the magic, all, performing, without fees.

It had, taken a year to organise. She was excited, apprehensive, nervous,. Cliveden, was very special to her.

Saturday morning, she awoke early, had a double espresso, a croissant, sat down, to read the email.

Anton Akhmedev, a complex, and unusual ancestry. American passport that stated, (much to the bemusement, world-wide of immigration officers) Holder born on an airplane. 

Ten miles, south of New York. (airspace or water, Jus Soli) (Right of Soil).

He held a Russian passport. His father descended from the Romanovs. His mother’s family, included, a distant ancestor, Electress Sophia of Hanover, the grand-daughter of James the First. Her mother was English, grand-daughter of Sir Harold Wernher, who had inherited huge diamond mines in South Africa, her father was French, rumoured to be, the illegitimate son, of Charles De Gaulle

He holds a British passport, and French. 

Wow! She thought. She read on: Eton and then, New college Oxford, two firsts. He ran the family’s, diamond mines. A few years ago, a book about him, an unauthorised biography, suggested, he’d laundered billions, from Mexican, and Bogota drug cartels.

He’d sued in the High court, won, three million, in damages, which, he’d donated to charity. The author had vanished.  Rumours were rife. He was an enigma, some people, thought him, a latter day Robin Hood, others, a very clever, devious villain.

Single, Forty-two. Handsome, Bon Viveur, billionaire. Womaniser, playboy, reckless, racing driver. International Polo playing, philanthropist. Elegantly dressed, adventurer. Always, accompanied by two ex - special forces, bodyguards. He always, gets what he wants, including women! 

She made sure the email was deleted.

Her thoughts turned to Anton: charming, very attractive, intelligent, interesting, the first man she’d fancied in ages, unattainable, off limits, at least, to her!

The hotel manager came in. "Anoushka, this package just arrived for you. Looks rather interesting, special courier."

She unpacked, the beautifully, wrapped parcel. A stunning, Valentino evening dress, 
matching, diamond necklace, bracelet, and earrings.

"Who is it from?" asked Charles, the manager, she’d known since childhood.
She opened the envelope, a hand written card.

Can’t wait, to see you! A

"Charles, please return these gifts. No message, thank you."

"Are you sure Anouska?"

"Positive," she replied.

Everything looked perfect, the tables, the fabulous flowers, donated by one of the guests, the stage, professionally lit, the food would be exquisite, the finest of wines.

Private. No photos. Guests could. let their hair down. All mobiles were banned apart from the security, which was, immense, but appeared very understated. 

She dressed very carefully: her mother’s Balenciaga gown, the family jewels, her hair, and make- up perfect.

She went downstairs, checked every thing again.  Jools Holland’s jazz quartet were playing in the background. The guests were drifting in. Shee socialised, introduced people, chatted as she sipped, the wonderful Champagne,that helped to calm her nerves.

Time to be seated, the table plan, very, strictly adhered too (it had taken, the team, five days to get correct) she hoped! She took her seat, she saw Anton, three places down. He raised his glass to her. If only, she thought.

The dinner over, guests mingled in the hotel, and the grounds, Anton, sought her out.

"You look, amazing, stunning. I am, so very sorry for my crass attempt to gain your attention with my thoughtless gift."

No, Anton, I am sorry. It was very rude of me not to have thanked you!

"Anoushka, tell me about you. Where do you live? Is there any one special in your life?"

"I live here."

"In the hotel?"

"No!" She laughed. "I live in a beautiful cottage, in the grounds, close to Heathrow, and as you can see, the car park is full of helicopters. Very handy. I am Lord and Lady Astor’s grand-daughter. This was their home, and I have no time for any one, special!

"Ah! I understand. What a wonderful family you have. Sad, that you have no time for love. "I must confess, I could find out very little about you. "I did try."

"Wonderful family. I think not, at least, not all of them. The Profumo scandal, Hitler-loving, fascists. My charity work is to try and make amends."

She kissed him. Now, time for some magic. She excused herself.

I want her, she’s perfect, he thought.

The curtain went u: David Blane, a huge box, a large saw. “Anoushka, please, join me on stage, as my magic, assistant”

"Who will start the bidding, on being, sawn in half, by the wonderful Anoushka! Which one, of you, very lucky people?"  

Hands were raised, Anton stood up. "I will do it!"

"Well Anton, your donation, for charity?"

"One million." .

"Thank you, Anton. Is that one million for each half?" Anoushka, asked.


He went on to the stage, too much, applause, he lay in the box, “it’s like a coffin” he hissed, she picked up the saw, a drum roll, a fraction, of a second, a puff of smoke, and there in the box, was Anoushka!

The applause was tremendous, no curtain, no sleight of hand, how? Why? They, were all amazed. The evening was a huge success, congratulations all round, seven million, for Crisis.

She kicked off her shoes, punched the familiar number, into the phone, sipped her champagne. “Beyond illusion, magic, in plain sight, smoke and mirrors, cargo on its way” she, said.

“Well done, a very, tricky cargo, but until the Americans, confirm, eyes wide open, ” said M.

She, walked slowly to her cottage, thinking what might have been with Anton. She lay on the bed, she was elated, happy, but tired, and, sad. She sat up. A card fell to the floor, she turned it over, just one word.  Serendipity!


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