THE TIME HAD COME TO LEAVE THE ORPHANAGE BEHIND...
She was stirred from her thoughts by Michael’s voice.
‘Sophie, I’ve got a surprise for you.’
‘For me?’ she asked.
‘Mm-hmm,’ he answered, and grinned.
He was amused by her surprised expression and the fire of intrigue in her cornflower-coloured eyes.
‘I won’t say anything more,’ he put a stop to her question. ‘You’ve got to be patient and…wait until we reach the place.’
‘The place? That means where?’ Sophie couldn’t conceal her curiosity.
‘Patience, Sophie. Patience is a virtue,’ he reminded her, looking at her pensive face.
He knew it was not a well-practiced virtue. He smiled to himself, knowing how stubborn she could be. He was also aware of the determination she could show in pursuit of a goal and what she was willing to sacrifice to reach it.
She’ll make an outstanding detective, he thought proudly…
…Sophie got out, dazed, and let herself be led to the building. Her mind was not working as it should. She was too stunned by what she had heard. She could not remember afterward how she even got inside the lovely flat which was to be her home…
…The kitchen was beautiful. Made-to-measure furniture in white, perfectly balanced with bright wooden floors. She slowly opened the doors to the cabinets but quickly closed them, like a child caught peeping. A look inside each one showed, to her surprise, that they were not empty. Tucked inside were, among other things, marvellous tableware, coffee and tea sets from Villeroy & Boch.
‘Timeless elegance, innovative design and outstanding quality,’ Michael said.
Sophie looked at him, astonished. ‘You know stuff like that?’ she asked incredulously.
‘I know everything about this flat,’ he answered, letting another grin flash across his face. ‘After all, I equipped it.’
‘Have more faith in me, young lady!’ he demanded, in an amusingly serious tone of voice. ‘I get that you are going to have a thousand questions but restrain the urge. First, take a look at the apartment, then we’ll talk.’
Sophie didn’t say a word, deciding to follow his advice. From a spacious cupboard, she took out a set of shiny, brand-new pots.
‘Fissler…’ she read aloud the name of the producer.
She glanced at the still-smiling Michael, wondering if he had to say anything about it as well.
‘Buying them, I was thinking about you and your passion for cooking,’ he explained. ‘Fissler means over seventy years of tradition combined with modern technology, perfect fabrication and amazing innovation. All shapes and functions of these pots are perfectly harmonised, and I’m sure that your culinary “abracadabra” will be real fun for you.’
‘I’m not sure it would be good for me. Maybe I should change my branch of studies and instead of criminology and penal law, I should go into…gastronomy.’
‘Very funny,’ he retorted.
Sophie looked at the seemingly endless number of various kitchen accessories, marked with the same name as the shiny pots, perfectly made and finished, without being clear as to their use. They were hanging, such a kitchen decoration, on a silver steel pole fastened to the wall under the top kitchen cupboards. Now, for a change, she opened one of the drawers, took out a pretty big knife and gazed at Michael as if she was going to…kill him.
‘Don’t pull your grim face!’ he screamed.
He tried to sound serious, but his soul was literally shaking with laughter. He knew perfectly well what aroused her anger.
‘These Fissler knives are really useful in every kitchen,’ he said, taking one of them out of a drawer. ‘The knives from the “Passion” line are characterised by the handles with an elegantly rounded form that prolong the gentle curve of the blade. They are made of non-slip material for a secure grip while cutting, slicing and chopping. The blades and tangs of these knives are made of a single piece of steel, which makes them particularly durable and robust.’ he stated with the voice of a true connoisseur. ‘You are going to thank me for them one day!’
‘And since we’re still in the kitchen, I would like to tell you that in the bottom drawer you’ll find user manuals for all the appliances you’ve got here.’
‘Maybe you could enlighten me a bit?’ she asked in a sweet little voice, pointing at the miracles of technology that were around her. ‘I thought that if you were the one to purchase it all, you must have sufficient knowledge you could share with me, which would save me the “pleasure” of reading those scientific descriptions that, as I’m guessing, would be for me quite a puzzle I might not be able to solve.
‘You do know how to buy me,’ he said, then grinned. ‘All right, then.’
He had given in.
‘This is a toaster with an integrated microwave,’ he said, pointing at the oven built into the cupboard. ‘It guarantees a quick reheat or baking. Here is a remote control with seventeen automatic programmes. You’ll be able to run it quite easily from the panel on the remote, right here. It has text information and symbols to help you choose the required function. The rest will be taken care of by this prodigy,’ Michael said and then smiled seeing that Sophie was taking everything in. He continued his lecture. ‘This multipurpose appliance allows us to combine the traditional methods of heating up with the practical advantages of the microwave.’
‘Splendid!’ shouted Sophie, smiling. ‘When I’m busy and in a hustle and have no time for cooking, I’ll start by thawing a pizza to immediately bake it! At least I won’t die of hunger!’
‘You are impossible,’ he said, wagging a finger at her as if she were a little girl.
‘And you are a darling,’ she confessed and kissed his cheek again. ‘I’m sorry, I cut you short in your story about the secrets of ovens, microwaves and other marvels of technology.’
‘If I didn’t love you so much, I would say no more and would leave you in this fascinating universe of gadgets all by yourself.’
‘But you do love me and you wouldn’t do that to me,’ she said with a sweet voice, winking her eyelids, with their ornamented fans of long, black eyelashes.
‘You’re right. I won’t leave you alone with it,’ he said in agreement. ‘Are you ready for the rest of the story?’
When she nodded in agreement while making a very serious face, he smiled and once more wagged his finger at her.
‘This is an induction cooktop,’ he explained. ‘It’s way better than a ceramic one. You’ve got here a direct and intuitive choice of heating surfaces and a sensor with five power settings according to what you’re cooking or baking. And this one here,’ Michael pointed at another sensor, ‘is the Perfect Cook, a cooking sensor that prevents overcooking or boiling over thanks to precise control of the cooking process.’
‘The times of scrubbing a burnt stove are over!’ she shouted, excited and clapping her hands like a little girl who has just gotten her favourite lolly.
‘But that’s not all,’ he whispered, mysteriously.
‘I know!’ she yelled back, fascinated but cutting him short and pointing at another button. ‘This magical button will make the silver Fissler pot jump out of the cupboard by itself, the veggies and meat eagerly jump in, obviously, already chopped, and the spices will decide themselves the right amounts to add in, and soon we will be enjoying the exquisite taste of a ragoutwe’ve never had the chance to try before.’
‘No,’ he said, in a stony voice. ‘This is a timer that will turn off the heating surface after the previously requested time.’
‘Oh, and here I was imagining I was in…heaven. And it turns out it is still the same planet Earth,’ she said, in a kind of sad voice, only to immediately burst out in joyful laughter.
‘Rascal!’ Michael scoffed, moving closer to the built-in dishwasher.
‘That’s something you’re certainly going to like. A dishwasher with a turbo speed function. It does the washing in about twenty minutes with pre-heated water.’
‘Time-saving. That’s what I like.’
‘I knew you’d like it,’ he said, winking at her. ‘Okay. Let’s move on.’
He pointed at the washing machine, another point in his authorial programme called ‘Sophie in the land of new technologies.’
‘Vario Perfekt means two ways of saving. If it’s time, you turn on “time perfect.” If you wish to save energy and protect our natural environment, you choose “eco perfect.” This washing machine also has integrated intelligent sensors that administer the optimal amount of detergent for every load of laundry,’ he remarked, satisfied.
Seeing that Sophie was staring at him with astonishment in her cornflower-coloured eyes, he concluded that further explanation was required.
‘The point is that you fill the detergent container once and it is used for twenty runs,’ he explained.
‘If you are now going to tell me that this marvel empties itself and hangs the washed clothes, then I’ll have the right to believe the producer remains in collusion with some higher forces.’
‘Very funny,’ he said in a gruff tone, then stuck his tongue out at her like a small grouchy boy who had had his bucket, spade and rake snatched away from him by some friends.
‘And this is…a fridge,’ Sophie said seriously and solemnly, stroking the silver door.
‘You’re correct. This is a fridge.’
‘Could you please tell me more about it?’ she asked, pulling a contrite face. ‘I’m certain it also holds a secret inside.’
‘You bet it does!’ he acknowledged, raising his voice and pretending to be offended, though a moment later, he smiled. He could not be cross. At least not with her.
‘This is a fridge-freezer “No Frost.”’
He opened the door and pointed to the drawer filled with fresh vegetables and fruits.
‘This is a Vita Fresh drawer, with regulated temperature and humidity. Its job is to preserve the freshness of all this bounty and keep it fresh three times longer than a regular fridge. The same goes for the lower drawer.’
Michael indicated the glass container filled with raw meat and fish.
‘This one also has the temperature regulation installed.’
‘And all that for these products to also remain fresh three days longer than in a regular fridge.’ Sophie completed his explanation.
‘You clever pupil,’ he remarked, a grin on his face.
‘Doing my best.’
‘Your new fridge can do one more important thing.’
‘Shopping!’ she yelled out.
‘I hate to disappoint you,’ he said. ‘If you don’t feel like grocery shopping, you can hire someone to do it for you, but it certainly won’t be your fridge!’
‘Okay, okay. I’m sorry. Done with the jokes,’ she promised.
‘I don’t trust you now,’ he said firmly. ‘But I’m not one of those types who takes offense or gives up quickly. I’ll tell you all you need to know.’
‘No need to thank me, as I don’t do it for you but for my own peace of mind. I know that if I don’t explain everything here and now, your phone calls won’t stop bothering me: How? What for? Why? Where? And so on.’
‘You know what…’
‘I do,’ he admitted, cutting her short. ‘But you don’t. Or at least not everything, so let us not waste precious time and let’s move forward. As I said earlier, your fridge doesn’t do the shopping but it has a self-defrosting function.’
‘Wow!’ she exclaimed with an ironic tone of awe.
‘I’m sorry,’ she whispered, contrite, then smiled and stuck out her tongue at him.
‘You’re not going to provoke me,’ he declared and showed a wonderful metallic white food processor placed on one of the kitchen tops. ‘This is MaxxiMum. It is incredibly useful thanks to a hundred and twenty functions and a whole array of accessories that you’ll find in the drawer second to the bottom. This food processor cuts, chops, grinds, blends, mixes, presses juices, and God only knows what else. I hope you will manage to handle it.’
‘I’ve got the manual, so you don’t need to worry,’ she reassured him and kissed his cheek.
‘And that’s for what?’ he asked.
‘For existing. And obviously for everything that you’re doing for me. And for your patience and indulgence, and for your sense of humour. And for all those marvels of technology that at first were to me like a big mystery but you solved and like an enigma that you elucidated.’
‘I just hope you will be content while concocting in your new kitchen. I hope it will be a real pleasure for you. Bosch, the brand that manufactured all those “prodigies,” is proud of its uncompromising quality, technical perfection and complete infallibility. I am familiar with their products and I know they are not lying. When they promise satisfaction, they keep their word.’
‘Michael …’ she said gravely. ‘You’re so convincing in what you’re saying and doing that you should consider a change of profession. You are a great priest, but you would make an even better bagman.’
‘One more word and I’ll really strangle you!’ he exclaimed, and catching Sophie running away around the table, he hugged her tightly…
…Sophie didn’t say a word. She turned towards the window and looked at a magnificent vase with fresh cornflowers. She didn’t need to ask Michael whether the vase, a true piece of art, was made of glass or crystal. She knew the answer. She had seen an identical one in one of the colourful magazines.
‘Baccarat…’ she murmured. ‘Nearly twenty-five years of tradition in the manufacture of crystal items of the highest quality.’
She turned her head and glanced at Michael.
‘Baccarat is one of the names of luxury.’
She smiled and inclined her head towards the blue cornflowers.
She smelled them and closed her eyes. For a moment, she had the impression that it was but a dream and she didn’t feel at all like waking up. But she took the risk and lifted her eyelids, and when she realized it wasn’t a dream at all, she looked at Michael, still smiling, who put in front of her on the dining table, surrounded by eight chairs upholstered with white silk, a hand-made wooden chest with bronze hinges.
‘This is a gift from me, Adam and Matt,’ he whispered with a trembling voice. ‘On the occasion of your birthday, passed university admission exams and the new stage in your life,’ he explained. ‘All the best!’ he added.
At seeing that Sophie was in a state of a shock, not knowing what to do, he gave her a hug and kissed her cheek.
‘Come on. Maybe you’ll open it?’ he said, encouraging her in a soft voice. ‘Are you not curious what’s in it?’
Sophie slowly approached the table and gently lifted the wooden lid. She uttered a quiet sigh as soon as she saw what the chest was hiding.
‘Michael, I…I saw this cutlery on TV. Surely it cost a fortune!’
‘It cost…quite a bit, but the price we paid did not bankrupt us,’ he stated calmly.
‘Michael, I saw an interview with Clive Christian, who had designed them as the most expensive perfume in the world!’ she said, noticing her face flushing. ‘Empire Flame, that’s the name of this masterpiece,’ she murmured almost reverently. ‘One hundred twenty-four pieces…for twelve persons, gilded with twenty-four-carat gold….’
She sighed, stroking one of the knives, then read, ‘Precision and care for details… Luxury and style…’ She half closed her eyelids and slowly closed the lid of the wooden chest. ‘Thank you so much. I don’t know what else I could say. They are magnificent, but I can’t use them,’ she declared firmly.
‘You can’t? But why? I don’t get it.’
‘Michael…this cutlery is a fortune locked in a wooden chest!’ she said, raising her voice. ‘And that’s exactly how I’m going to treat it. As a precious thing that one needs to take care of. I won’t be using them.’
‘Sadly, I can’t agree with you,’ he protested. ‘You’re right in saying this cutlery is a real masterpiece. I also agree that it was made with tremendous precision and care for the tiniest details,’ he admitted. ‘And it’s also obvious to me that…you’re going to use it,’ he said, completing his statement with a calm but firm voice.
Seeing objection in her cornflower-coloured eyes and readiness to ‘veto’ it, he made her understand with a movement of his hand that he wasn’t finished.
‘This is exactly the reason why it was designed and created, to serve its owner, not to sit locked up in the wooden chest.’
Having said that, he looked her straight into the eyes.
‘Is it clear and comprehensible for you?’ he asked.
‘Yes… No…I don’t know,’ she muttered dubiously. ‘I get it all, but I guess I need some time to get used to the thought that my world has been stood upside down,’ she confessed…
…Under the mirror and over the sink was a long shelf where various cosmetics and bottles of perfume had been arranged. They had not been used and seemed to have been specially bought for the new lady of the house. However, they were not what caught Sophie’s eye, rather the large phial made of Baccarat crystal, with a collar of twenty-four-carat gold, on which was fastened a five-carat diamond. The bottle rested in an ebony case upholstered with velvet and decorated with gold and platinum. Sophie gently brushed the shining diamond with her finger and sighed.
‘Just don’t get upset,’ murmured Michael. ‘Or at least not with me.’
Sophie slowly turned and looked him straight in his blue eyes.
‘Not with you?’ she asked. ‘With whom then?’
‘Later, Sophie. I’ll explain later.’
‘Do you even realise what this is?’ she asked, pointing at the phial of precious perfume.
‘Well, as far as I know, this is perfume.’
‘That’s right. Indeed, this is perfume. The most expensive perfume in the world. Did you know it?’
‘I don’t wish to lie to you …’
‘So you knew!’ she exclaimed and shook her head in disbelief. ‘Why didn’t you tell me about it earlier, in the kitchen, when I mentioned the name of the man who had created it, Clive Christian? The cutlery you offered me was designed by the same man who created this most expensive perfume. Clive Christian “No.1 Imperial Majesty,”’ she whispered and then went quiet…
…The more she saw, the more she was convinced that she was in the wrong place. The feeling turned to certainty when she found herself in the room next to the bathroom. It turned out to be a wardrobe. But it was no ordinary wardrobe and changing room, oh no. It was filled with countless white wrappers, each containing a brand-new and expensive item of clothing. There were floaty dresses from Ralph Lauren in her favourite colours, very feminine, of various lengths and textures. Blouses with asymmetrical cleavage from Carolina Herrera. Flowing trousers, shirts, cashmere and wool sweaters from Donna Karan. There were dresses, trousers, blouses, jackets and pantsuits in black, red and white, made of fairy-tale-like, unusual fabrics from Chanel and the characteristic element of her timeless style—a small black quilted handbag with a golden chain… There were a few models of jeans in several hues and a countless number of T-shirts, plain and with overprints from Armani. Two amazingly feminine trouser suits from Hugo Boss, one in black, the other one in cornflower blue and two cashmere coats in identical colours with assorted shirts. She also found a Burberry hallmark trench coat with a large and delightful cashmere shawl in white, red and black checkers on a beige background.
One of the dressers in that room was packed with tracksuits, sport T-shirts, comfortable pants and sweatshirts.
There was another dresser in which Sophie found a seemingly unlimited amount of particularly feminine…underwear. Slowly and very delicately, she took out every piece as if worried that a stronger grip might damage it. The more she saw, the more her cheeks flushed. The lingerie came entirely from the same designer – Agent Provocateur. Sophie had to admit that every woman would look beautiful, sexy and…daring, without crossing the limits of good taste. So she admired the refined laces, fancy ribbons and bows, as well as the incredible combination of sensual muslin with royal satin. She felt discountenance at the sight of the exceptional forms of corsets. There were not only matching sets in classic black and white, but also panties and matching bras made in more subdued, unicoloured tones and made in one type of fabric. She also discovered a few silk pyjamas and more than ten nightgowns from La Parie and La Perla.
After putting it all back and closing the last drawer of this enchanted dresser, she glanced at the wall in the back of the wardrobe, where mounted up to the very ceiling were shelves for an untold number of shoe boxes. Sophie couldn’t resist the temptation, so she started to take them down and open them, one by one. Her face flushed as she examined the boots, high heels, pumps and booties, distinguished by their extravagant forms and unusual combination of colours, patterns and ornaments characteristic of Manolo Blahnik. Every shoe by him was an autonomous work of art. She tried on a couple of pairs from Jimmy Choo, more subdued and ideal in their refined simplicity. She took the courage to put on the incredibly high heels from Christian Louboutin and she remarked with astonishment that they felt like walking on a flat sole. So she went on trying other pairs from this designer, varying in colours, patterns and height of the heel, but always featuring the cult red sole. She had to admit that they were not only perfectly profiled and fit her feet amazingly well, but also beautiful and surprisingly comfortable…
…‘And how do you like the rest of your flat?’ he asked, still avoiding her gaze.
‘It’s beautiful, but I’m afraid I’m not the right person to live in it,’ she whispered. ‘Michael, I don’t understand any of this!’ she exclaimed. ‘I’m not the daughter of an Arab sheik, but merely a poor, abandoned orphan, a girl from a children’s home! You said that someone had paid for all of this and wanted to secure my future—then why the hell, instead of giving me all those luxurious things, didn’t he give me what I desired the most in this world? Why didn’t he offer me a…home? A family…warmth…sense of belonging? If I am so important in his eyes, why didn’t he simply come to the orphanage to rescue me from there? Money is not everything!’
Then, raising her voice, she said, ‘Michael, for real, what is going on here?’ After a moment of reflection: ‘Who am I really? What’s the story here? For God’s sake! I feel I’m going nuts!’…
…Michael gave Sophie, who was by then completely bewildered, a yellowed letter and a gold chain as thick as a finger on which hung a medallion in the shape of an angel with outstretched wings, lined with expensive, coloured stones.
Sophie slowly held out her hands, and when the letter and the necklace found themselves in her hands, something very strange began to happen to her. A wave of heat flooded her body, and her heart throbbed like crazy, like a bird seeking freedom. A new, previously unknown feeling captured her whole being. She felt that she was losing her breath, that this new feeling was absorbing her as it hugged her like a lover’s hands, and she wanted to lose herself and…opened her eyes. Everywhere there shone an extraordinary brightness and then she saw his face. His black hair, blue eyes, full lips and…she heard a voice…
…The only thing that mattered was the face of the man she had seen when she lost consciousness. A face…to which she was not neutral. On the contrary. It had become close to her. Almost…desired.
She realised that she was utterly and irrevocably…in love. In love with the face of someone she had never seen, whom she did not know, and she did not know if such a person really existed or was just a figment of her imagination. But somehow she knew he would protect her, for he had given her an angel. And that he loved her. He had written that, after all.
Chapter 15, The Black Shade of White: Justice, Cattleya