Oscar coughed, then heard a shriek. He opened his eyes. All he could see was a white cushion. He was sleeping on Delta Foxtrot's sofa. He must have turned over in the night so that he was now facing the cushions.
Urgent whispering was coming from a short distance away. Oscar closed his eyes and pretended to still be a asleep while he strained to hear what was being said.
“But how did you get him up here?” someone asked.
“In the lift,” a sleepy voice replied. It was Delta's.
“But how did you get past security?”
“We came in through the shop.”
“You know about—”
“Everyone knows the way in through the shop.”
That must have been the room they'd wound a weaving path through the previous night, the one that smelt of books and soap. A secret entrance into... wherever it was they were. Oscar wondered if he should get up quietly and sneak out. He could leave without anyone else knowing he'd been here.
“There's no way he can stay here without anyone finding him,” the unfamiliar voice said. So that idea was out the window.
“Look, it'll be fine,” Delta said. There was a rustling sound. Perhaps she was getting out of bed. “I'll speak to Amelia.”
“That's Lady Amelia,” the other voice said sternly. She'd forgotten to whisper: Oscar had heard her loud and clear.
There was movement nearby. Oscar kept his eyes shut tight and didn't dare move. He wished he weren't here.
“Oscar?” Delta said sweetly, suddenly right next to him. Oscar jumped and sat up, almost falling off the sofa but saving himself just in time. Fortunately, that gave the impression that he'd just woken up. “Good morning,” she added.
“Uh, good morning.” He nodded and remained seated.
“Delta,” the other person said from behind Oscar. He turned his head to see her, which gave him the opportunity to see the room he was in. It reminded him of a hotel suite from a brochure he'd seen on one of his business trips. He was in a fairly large and sumptuously decorated sitting room. The carpet, as he had experienced through only his feet the night before, looked very fluffy. There were two sofas, both white, both very squishy. In his sweep across the room as he turned his head, he caught sight of a widescreen TV, an antique bookcase which covered one wall (full of books, with a ladder for reaching the higher shelves) and a state-of-the-art coffee maker in one corner. The person his eyes met when he finally made it all the way round, twisting in his seat so he could see, was a nervous-looking maid. She wore a black dress with white collar and white pinny, and comfortable black shoes. Her hair was pulled severely back from her face and she was wringing her hands in front of her. Oscar missed most of her conversation with Delta whilst reacting to the rest of the room. Was this really where Delta lived? He glanced up at the ceiling: it was white with patterns around the walls and a beautiful, golden centre-piece where the light (almost a chandelier) was fitted. When he thought about it, the widescreen TV seemed out of place in the stately-home style décor of the rest of the room. Then he realised that this wasn't the only technology: screens and devices littered the many surfaces. The coffee machine in the corner sported a colour touch-screen; two windows showed different weather, so one must be screen; a tablet PC and an mp3 player resided on the desk by one of the windows. Oscar wasn't sure what to make of it all. Delta seemed to be extremely rich. Why, then, were Delta and the maid talking about whether he was allowed to be here? And who was Lady Amelia? The way he saw it, Delta owned this place, the maid worked for her and Delta could do whatever she wanted.
When Oscar tuned in to the conversation again, the maid said, “What I really came up here for was because you're late for your debrief.”
Delta snorted. “But that's not until half past—”
“Half past nine,” the maid finished her sentence. She still looked very tense. “I make it...” she checked her watch. “Nine twenty-nine.”
“What!” Delta and Oscar both said at the same time. Oscar dived for his phone as Delta rushed from the room. The maid threw up her hands then left by another door.
Oscar grabbed his phone from his coat pocket and speed-dialled the office, tapping his leg nervously with his free hand. The line went dead. That was strange. There were three lines in to the office and an answer phone. It should connect to something. He tried his direct line in case there was someone near his desk who could pick it up. It wasn't the first time the phone line into the office had been interrupted. One time there had been roadworks outside their building and a workman had cut through the wrong cable. But there weren't any roadworks going on at the moment. He opened his contacts and thought about who to call. Marcus would be best: he did almost the same job as Oscar so he would understand what the meeting was about but not have the authority to discipline him for being late today.
Oscar thanked his lucky stars as the phone started to ring.
“Oscar, what's going on?” Oscar could sense the panic in Marcus's voice.
“I was hoping you could tell me,” Oscar said. “I haven't been able to get to work yet and when I rang in the line just went dead. Could you get a message to—”
“Oscar, stop talking! The office burnt down.”
“What?” Oscar leant back on the sofa, sinking into the impossibly-soft cushions. “So the meeting...” he trailed off.
“Is off,” Marcus said shortly. “There will be no presentation or meeting today for sure. We're not sure what happened. All I know is the building is just a pile of rubble. We're in Costa up the road waiting for more information. It's crazy, people with laptops and phones everywhere. Where are you?”
Oscar didn't answer straight away. How could he say he didn't know where he was? That would sound stupid. “My flight was delayed,” he said truthfully.
“Well, let us know when you're back and we can fill you in.”
“Thanks, Marcus. Bye.” Oscar put the phone down next to him and didn't move. Partly because he couldn't – the sofa was so soft it was going to take some effort to get up. That wasn't his top priority right now, though. First his home and now his office. What was he going to lose next?