Don’t miss the gripping ripped-from-the-headlines thriller about extreme wealth, lost girls and dark secrets. Here’s an extract from The Island of Lost Girls by award-winning author Alex Marwood.
1 | Mercedes
Mercedes feels her shoulders rise. How she hates that nickname.Thirty years she’s had to tolerate it, without the power to fight back.
‘How are you, Tatiana?’ she asks.
‘I’m fine, darling. Well, apart from having to make my own bloody phone calls.’
‘Oh, dear. Where’s Nora?’
She’s been expecting Tatiana’s personal assistant to call for days. That sinking feeling she’s had about the silence looks as though it was justified.
‘Oh, gone,’ says Tatiana, with that special brightness that means the opposite. ‘I got rid of the silly bitch.’
‘Oh,’ says Mercedes.
She liked Nora. Those efficient American tones on the phone always reassured that chaos was
not about to break the door down.
‘Anyway,’ says Tatiana, the employee already consigned to her internal trash can, her non- disclosure agreement an assurance that there will never be any comeback, ‘at least I
know I can rely on you.’
‘I’m not sure you should,’ replies Mercedes, evenly. ‘For all you know, I could be a secret agent.’
Tatiana takes it as a joke. Oh, lord, that laugh. That tinkling socialite laugh that tells you that the laugher has no sense of humour. My greatest power, Mercedes thinks, is my talent for being underestimated. Tatiana would never think I had the imagination to betray her.
‘Will we see you soon?’ she asks. They’ve been on tenterhooks for days, now, waiting for news.
‘Yes!’ cries Tatiana. ‘That’s why I’m calling! We’re coming in on Tuesday.’
Her mind starts racing. So much to do. So many people to tell. There’s still a fake tan stain that looks horribly like a streak of diarrhoea, left by some oligarch’s ex- wife on one of the white sofas, and Ursula’s doubtful it will ever come out.
‘Great!’ she replies, cheerily.
Would Nora Neibergall have booked the house out to a bunch of oligarchs’ exes last week if she’d still been in the job? Probably not. Everyone knows oligarchs are bloody animals. She’s clearly been gone a while, and nobody has passed the news on.
‘How many will you be?’ she asks.
Tatiana’s casual ‘we’ has filled her with foreboding. ‘We’ could be anything. It could be two, or fifteen. Oh, God, where is Nora? Why does Tatiana have to fall out with the people who make other people’s lives
easier? Flowers. Is it too late to order white roses? The urn in the entrance hall requires white roses. No other colour will do. House rule. Even in deepest December.
‘Oh, just me and a couple of girlfriends,’ says Tatiana.
Mercedes prickles with relief.
‘Well, four,’ she says. ‘But they’ll be sharing the back bedrooms.’
All she needs to know is in that sentence. Not really girlfriends,then.
‘And Daddy’s coming in on the boat on Thursday,’ she continues, ‘and there’s some others. But they’ll be coming on the heli, I think.’
Okay, VIPs. The duke only makes his helicopter available to people who matter. The rest have to charter their own.
‘Great. Should I book the boat for valeting?’
‘No,’ says Tatiana. ‘Don’t bother. He’s moved his Stag forward this year. They’re going out on Sunday morning, first thing, straight from the party. You can book for when they get back. Are you all terribly excited? I imagine a party like this is the most exciting thing you’ve all seen in ages.’
Yeah, that would suggest we were invited.
‘Of course,’ Mercedes replies, eventually. ‘St James’s week is always a special week.’
‘Yes, but the party,’ says Tatiana. ‘The island’s going to be buzzing with movie stars!’
Movie stars are the least of her problems.
‘How many are we expecting, in total?’ she asks. ‘So I can make sure we’ve got the bedrooms right?’
‘Not sure,’ says Tatiana. And, after a little bit, adds an adolescent, ‘Sorree.’
Mercedes says nothing.
‘Three, I think,’ she says eventually. ‘And Daddy, obviously. But you know what he’s like. He never passes on information one might actually need.’
Like father, like daughter.
‘Maybe four,’ she says. ‘Better allow for four.’
‘I shall have all the bedrooms ready,’ she says. ‘Any dietary requirements?’
‘Oh, yes. Tell – what’s his name?’ She waits to hear who ‘he’ is.
‘Chef,’ says Tatiana impatiently.
‘Roberto,’ she says.
‘Right. Well, small party Friday night. The usual pre- Stag get- together.’
Ugh. She knows what that means. Still, a night off for all the house staff. So that’s . . . she can’t tot up the numbers in her head. ‘How many?’ she asks.
‘Well, I don’t know, do I?’ snaps Tatiana. Thinks better of it. ‘Sorry, darling. I’m under the cosh and it’s making me terribly stressed. Trying to get packed to fly to Rome tomorrow, and I’ve literally no one to help me.’
‘I’m sorry,’ Mercedes soothes as she scribbles everything she can recall on to the notepad that lives
on her desk. She’s fairly confident that her eight- strong New York counterparts will rally round to put Tatiana’s clothes in a suitcase. Sometimes her head swims at the thought of all the people on Matthew Meade’s payroll. The number of people around the world who worry every day about simply
maintaining the supplies of paper in their toilets.
‘And of course, we’ll all be at Giancarlo’s on Saturday.’
Giancarlo. She’ll never get used to the casual way the Meades refer to the duke. It’s only two generations since the peasants had to turn their faces to the wall when his ancestors passed by.
The island has been in a frenzy of preparation all through July. The duke turns seventy this year, and the castle will host a bal masqué that is billed, according to the magazines that drop regularly through the door, as the party of the year. The vineyards look like painted canvas backdrops, the veal calves have been fattened on a diet of milk, the house fronts in Kastellana Town have had new coats of paint. According
to Hello! magazine, La Kastellana is the chicest of the chic this year. The New Capri at last.
‘Yes,’ she says.
‘Oh, Mercy,’ says Tatiana, ‘I can’t wait to see you. We must have a good old gossip.’
‘I’ll make sure there’s a lovely bath ready for you when you arrive,’ she replies, ‘and a nice cold drink.’
She won’t actually keep running baths in anticipation. The staff at the helipad call ahead when VIPs land.
‘Oh, God, you’re an angel,’ says Tatiana, and rings off.