Authors: Carrie Williams
Cocktails, room service, spa treatments: Alicia Shaw is a girl who just can't say no to the little perks of being a private tour guide in London. Whether it's the Hollywood producer with whom she romps in the private screening room of one of London's most luxurious hotels, or the Australian pilot whose exhibitionist fantasies reach a new height on the London Eye, Alicia finds that flirtation â and more â is part of the territory.
But when internationally renowned flamenco dancer and heartthrob Paco Manchega, and his lovely young wife Carlotta, take her on as their guide, Alicia begins to wonder if she has bitten off more than she can chew. As the couple unleash curious appetites in Alicia, taking her to places more darkly beautiful than she has ever known, she begins to suspect she is being used as the pawn in some strange marital game.
Manchester-based writer Carrie Williams travels widely as a reviewer of hotels, restaurants and bars. She began writing for
Black Lace's Wicked Words
short story collections before progressing to novels.
She is the author of
Chilli Heat, The Apprentice
The Blue Guide
To Nuala Devel
muse and partner in crime
THE TELEPHONE BY
my bed rings, shrill against the muffled traffic sounds from the street below. I open one eye to check the time on the LED display, then roll away with a groan. Nine o'clock is far too early to be hauling myself out of bed on a Monday morning after working all weekend. Especially when I haven't been feeling my usual breezy self these last few months.
Sleep is already trying to suck me back down into its seductive depths when the answering machine kicks into life.
âHello,' I hear myself say. âThis is Alicia Shaw, professional tour guide. For more information about my individually tailored tours of London, either leave your name and number after the tone, or email me via my website, www.theblueguide.com.'
I smile wryly in my half-sleep, still proud of my little joke. Not so long ago, I was entitled to sport a Blue Badge, the mark of a guide approved by the official tourist body. Then I got struck off. My new designation is a form of revenge, as well as a way of poking fun at myself, at some of the little adventures I've had of late.
The beep on the machine startles me out of my reverie, as does the brisk voice that follows it.
âHello Alicia, this is Fenella Hamilton-Jones of Papaya Performing Artistes. I'm calling on behalf of one of my clients, who's been recommended your services. The trouble is, it's very short notice â he's arriving this afternoon, and would want to meet you for dinner to
discuss an itinerary for the next couple of weeks. That said, I've been looking at your website, and I can safely say that Paco would be more than happy to double your rates if you could clear the decks for him.'
I sit up in bed, staring at the answerphone. Only yesterday I read in the weekend glossies that heartthrob flamenco dancer Paco Manchega is coming to town for a series of shows. It can't be a coincidence. And now he wants to pay me exorbitant amounts of money to show him around town. My gloomy thoughts are cast away, at least for the moment, and it's all I can do to stop myself punching the air in jubilation.
I don't waste a minute in returning Fenella's call and confirming the booking and arrangements for the evening's meeting. Then I pad into the kitchen in my dressing gown and whizz myself an energising smoothie in the blender before sitting down at the breakfast bar, opening my diary, and working my way through appointments I need to cancel.
By four o'clock, I've taken a taxi to Harvey Nics and had a cut and colour, a manicure and pedicure, and a facial. I wouldn't normally indulge myself like this, but Paco Manchega is one of the world's most gorgeous men. Not that I fancy my chances. But it wouldn't feel right being in his presence with a hair out of place, or the merest suggestion of a zit. Letting my credit card take the strain in anticipation of the almost obscenely huge cheque that Fenella's putting in the mail today, I check my watch and see that I have a couple of hours to spare. Good. That gives me time for a cocktail or two at Claridge's Bar.
Over the driest of martinis, my thoughts return, in spite of myself, to Daniel Lubowski, and a dark mood threatens to descend on me again. It must be five
months since I first heard the movie producer's gravelly West Coast drawl on my message machine, enquiring about the possibility of a bespoke tour of London film locations. As I listened to him speak, I pictured a tall lean man oozing with the self-confidence that comes with money and worldly success. In his fifties, I decided, he was handsome and boyish-faced enough to have let his hair go a distinguished grey, Ã la Richard Gere. He was the kind of guy who teamed an Armani jacket with vintage Levi's.
I called him right back, and quickly established that though he was making great shakes in Hollywood, he was actually a connoisseur of 1960s and 70s British films, and wanted something a little more offbeat than the usual Bridget Jones in Borough Market or James Bond in Mayfair tours. He talked fondly about Alfred Hitchcock, James Fox and Dirk Bogarde in
, Michael Caine and others, and we agreed that I would devise a few mini-tours that he would be able to slot into his busy schedule of meetings.
After we'd talked fees and timings, I hung up and logged onto the internet. A couple of hours' surfing gave me plenty of material with which to sit down and plot a handful of possible tours with the help of an
A to Z
Daniel flew in a few days later, and lived up to my every expectation, except that the jeans were Juicy Couture, he was in his early forties, and he was far, far sexier than Richard Gere. He had that same roguish twinkle in his eye, but there was less cocksureness about him, less swagger.
He'd asked me to book dinner somewhere âhot', so that we might get to know each other a little before the first tour, as well as to fine tune the details together, and I'd managed to pull a few strings and secure a table
at The Wolseley, which had just opened on Piccadilly. It didn't get much classier than that. Daniel approved â the decor (Japanese lacquer screens, original art deco features, marble floors) was stylish, the food faultless, and the company illustrious: we spotted Hugh Grant snuggling up to Jemima Khan, as well as Gwyneth Paltrow, with whom, it turned out, Daniel was on nodding terms.
We got on from the word go; Daniel was charming without being smarmy, and full of pithy anecdotes about his life in Los Angeles, without being boastful. The wine (an unspeakably delicious Pouilly FuissÃ©) flowed freely, and before long we'd moved on to more intimate matters. In my defence, it was Daniel who started it.
âSo Ally,' he'd said, leaning in to me over the table, fixing me with those cobalt-blue eyes that reflected the light from the chandeliers. âYou don't mind if I call you that?'
I shook my head, trying not to let my cheeks colour. All of a sudden I'd come over all starstruck.
âWhat do you get up to when you're not a tour guide?' he continued.
âWell, work doesn't leave me much time for myself,' I said rather evasively, all too aware of how empty and grey my life would seem to someone who mixed with Hollywood's elite. âI always seem to be so busy â researching, devising new walks, keeping up with the latest openings and new attractions, exploring London from different angles.'
I tried to decipher his expression, but his face was momentarily obscured by his hand as he lit a cigarette. I shook my head as he offered me one.
âAnd you?' I ventured.
âNah, I don't have a boyfriend right now either,' he
said, exhaling a plume of smoke. His face was deeply serious.
, I thought as we finished our coffees and Daniel settled the bill. How could I have misread him so badly? Not only had I not clocked on that he was gay, but I'd even, for a moment, been deluded enough to imagine that he was flirting with me. Suddenly I was in a hurry to get home. Confirming that I'd collect him from his hotel at two o'clock the next day, I bade him goodnight, stepped out into the throng and neon glare of Piccadilly, and took the tube home.
I WAS ARMED
with my usual clipboard, covered with pages of notes of names, addresses and dates that I wasn't likely to remember off the top of my head. I'd also printed off some photographs and film stills from the internet. We were in Covent Garden, where Hitchcock had shot much of
in 1972, in and around what was then London's main wholesale fruit and veg market. We'd decided to start with that because it was the nearest to Daniel's hotel on Aldwych.
I'd hired the movie the night before, never having seen it, and been shocked by its sheer viciousness, by the cold offhand way in which the brutal murders of a succession of women are portrayed. I wasn't surprised, when subsequently reading up on it, to discover that it had been the only Hitchcock film to garner an X-certificate, probably because it was his first one to feature nude scenes.
Daniel was dressed casually, in an eggshell-blue Ralph Lauren shirt and some DKNY jeans that fit his firm buttocks snugly. Still stinging from my misunderstanding of the previous evening, I tried to focus my mind on the tour and not on the contents of his trousers.
We started in the market itself, where, I told Daniel, Hitchcock's father had once sold produce. We compared stills from the film to the present prettified building with its touristy shops and cafÃ©s. Then we wandered into Henrietta Street, where I pointed out number three,
a building that had once belonged to a writer called Clemence Dane, whose novel had inspired Hitchcock's early film
. The ground floor was currently occupied by a book distributor's office; above that was the window of the bachelor pad of the ânecktie murderer' in
, Bob Rusk. Daniel immediately identified it as the location of an astonishing scene in which the camera follows the killer as he leads a fresh victim up the stairs to his flat, then pulls back into the market itself, as if recoiling from the sight.
It was easy money, really. All Daniel needed me to do was show him the present-day locations, and he put the rest together from his intimate knowledge of the film. I must admit, I was impressed â he seemed to know every line of dialogue, every camera angle that had been used. We had lots of fun holding up my printouts of old photos against the buildings and spotting in which ways they'd changed and how they had stayed the same, and Daniel spoke so passionately about
that I told him that although I'd found it, in many ways, repellent on first viewing, I intended watching it again that night in the light of what I'd seen and what he'd told me.
âThen why not come back to my hotel and watch it with me?' he suggested. âThey have a private screening room we could use if it's free. I have a DVD of the film with me.'
We were sitting outside the Nell of Old Drury on Catherine Street, in which the man who will become the prime suspect, Richard Blaney, listens in on some city gents discussing the sex killings with obvious relish. The late April sunshine warmed us as we enjoyed a couple of beers.
Daniel raised an eyebrow. âUnless you have other plans for the evening?' he said.
I shook my head. I wasn't about to tell him that even if I had had plans, I'd cancel them without a second thought. I'd got over my humiliation of the night before and was actually now just enjoying myself in a very straightforward way. Daniel, I had realised, was just an extraordinarily interesting â and