I lean back in my seat dimly aware of the jaw dropping view of London’s skyline from my office window but focused more on the husky voice of Beggar’s Choice lead singer Charlie Hudson.
“So let me get this straight you’ve bought sight unseen a villa in the hills above Cannes which you’ve now found to be a crumbling wreck that requires an extensive building overhaul before it’s even remotely liveable?” I say slowly.
There’s a small pause and then he laughs. “Well when you put it like that it does sound a bit fucking stupid, but mate the view is to die for.”
“Yes, but the lack of windows does tend to detract from that.”
He psaws. “That’s just details John. Nothing that a little money thrown at it won’t hurt.”
“A little? This is the South of France that we’re talking about. Enjoy being a multimillionaire while you can Charlie because when this is finished you won’t be.”
“Blah blah blah you’re such a fucking pessimist John.”
“That’s what you pay me for Charlie, and why am I only hearing about this now? As your lawyer these tiny frivolous details about buying houses tend to be quite interesting to me.”
“I paid cash mate. Mabe and I had a weekend there and came across it. My wife took one look at it and fell in love with it instantly so I tracked down the old man that owns it. He inherited it from an aunt and never lived in it so it’s been empty for years. I offered him money and after a bit of haggling he took the offer and he’s bought himself a modern house in the city instead.”
“How much haggling?”
“Well I had to promise him our first born, but you know I think Mabe will be fine with that when she sees the view.”
“You’re so funny. What did she say when you unveiled your grand gesture?”
There’s a pause. “Well she doesn’t exactly know yet.”
“Well I want it to be a surprise. You know the South of France was where she first told me that she was in love with me, and it might be silly and sentimental but I want to produce it on our anniversary as her present. Obviously it would be better if her first anniversary present wasn’t a crumbling wreck.”
“First anniversary present is traditionally paper isn’t it? That could be your divorce papers if you leave her in the dark on things. You know how she is about grand gestures and keeping secrets.”
“Sometimes I hate that you know us so well.”
I smile because I do know them well. In fact I count them amongst my closest friends, not that there’s too many of them. I’m too private and contained a person to embrace vast groups of friends. However, the members of the band are definitely in there. “I do know you well which is why I’m wondering why you’re ringing me with this fait accompli.”
“Ooh fancy words. Bet you’re wearing a three piece suit while you speak.”
I smirk. “No only a studded thong. You’ve interrupted me in my lunch hour.”
I hear the sound of fake gagging and laugh out loud before glancing round self-consciously to check that no one heard me. I don’t know why I do this when I have a private office, but old habits die hard. “Spit it out Charlie because this call is costing you £300 an hour.”
“You’ve got me on a meter?” he says in an indignant voice which is spoilt by the thread of laughter running through it. “Okay the thing is I may own the villa fair and square but there’s going to be a lot of paperwork and building regs if I’m going to get the work done and I’m sort of on a time limit.”
“What time limit?”
I sit bolt upright. “Three months! Didn’t you mention some slightly long winded projects like a new roof?”
“Yep and I don’t have anyone to ask advice from.”
“I’m not licensed to practice law in France.”
“I know. I’ve got a French lawyer for that. Bill our manager got hold of him for me, but you speak fluent French don’t you?”
“I do,” I say suspiciously.
“Thought so. The point is I’m not going to be there and I may be a debonair multimillionaire and a devastatingly handsome man, but I’m also not a twat and no one is going to swindle me.”
“Charlie you’re not asking me to oversee building work are you?” I ask disbelievingly, but he laughs.
“Fuck no. I can’t picture you doing that. I’ve got someone else in mind for that. What I need to know is whether you’re still taking that sabbatical to write your book and prepare for your visiting lectures?”
“I am. I just never realised that underneath that ditsy exterior you actually listen to the words that I say.”
“Fuck off,” he says peaceably. “What I’m getting round to asking is whether you’re still planning to decamp to your place in France?”
I have a villa in the hills above Cannes which is actually where Charlie and his wife Mabe first got together. I’d loaned it to her and my best friend Viv, who’s a paralegal in the law firm at which I’m a partner and also Mabe’s best friend.
“I am. I leave next week and I’m staying there through the summer and then I’m back home in time for the lectures in October at University College in London.”
“Would you be okay to be on the end of the phone if there are any problems or documents that need a second look at?”
“Of course I will Charlie. I’ll help in any way I can, you know that.”
“Thanks mate. I knew that you’d help.”
“Who have you got to oversee the building work? I might know someone if you’re interested. The bloke that did mine was very good.”
“No need mate. I’m going to ask Matt to go over. I’d trust him with my life.”
I’m startled. “I’m surprised Bram’s parting with him without a fight. What will he do without his assistant?”
There’s a long pause before Charlie speaks and when he does there’s an undercurrent of laughter in his voice. “I’m not sure anyone tells Matt what to do John, especially Bram. You’ll find that out.”
My eyes narrow in confusion and I’m about to ask what he means but then another thought occurs to me. “Where are you putting Matt up? It’s busy at this time of the year.”
“I’m not sure yet. I’ll sort something out.”
My mouth opens and to my utter astonishment I hear myself say, “Don’t worry about it, he can stay with me if he wants to.”
There’s a pause. “Are you sure John?”
No, I’m not. This is utterly unlike me. I like my peace and privacy, and I adore my house in France because it’s my home and my sanctuary, and I don’t let others into my space easily. However, my mouth opens independently again. “It’s not a problem. The villa’s big so I’ll hardly know that he’s there, and at least he can find me easily if he’s got any queries.”
After wrapping up the conversation and giving him permission to tell Matt I hang up and swivel my leather chair to look out over the city, but my attention is elsewhere and my mind instantly conjures up the events of the last few months.
After that inauspicious first meeting with the band I’d thought that I’d only see them again for legal matters, but instead it had led to a surprising raft of friendships with the men who proved to be friendly, sociable, funny and loyal. I’d therefore come into contact a lot with Matt because he’s one of Bram’s best friends and has known the group since they were kids, and so is firmly in their inner sanctum.
However, while the other men had warmed up to me he hadn’t, and he’d remained distant and wary of me. Watching him with the other men I’d quickly realised that this wasn’t normal for him. He’s funny, laid back and extremely sociable with a warm manner that people love, but with me he’d maintained a wary distance.
The knowledge had been surprisingly sharp to me. I’m not an easy man and there are plenty of people who don’t like me, but it had stung slightly that this man who liked everyone, didn’t like me. I therefore can’t believe that I just invited him to stay with me for the summer.