Handyman Wanted Part 3

Wanted – Handyman.
Handyman wanted to carry out various repairs and renovations on remote country property.
Young single man preferred with option to live-in until project has been completed.
Must be experienced in all aspects of plumbing, electrical and carpentry.
Excellent rates of pay plus possibility of generous bonus if work is satisfactory.
Apply in the first instance with full contact and current employment details, recent photograph and availability to
P.O.Box 666. Alderslay.

Replying to this advertisement had brought me to the luxurious but secluded property where up until now I hadn’t seen a soul, but I assumed I would meet my new employer today. As if he had read my mind, a discreet knock while I was in the shower was followed by the sight of a fully laden breakfast trolley which had been placed in a corner alcove. From the small table next to it, I picked up the envelope bearing my name. Although I had only been a few seconds before coming out from the bathroom, there was no sign of who had delivered my meal. Was I being monitored on closed circuit television, or perhaps the house was riddled with secret passages?

Frank. I hope you slept well. Please join me in the library on the ground floor at 9 a.m. so we can discuss the renovation plans. I will explain more then.

Once I had finished breakfast, I wondered whether I should put the trolley somewhere but assumed as it had been delivered, it would be collected. Undecided whether to wear overalls if I was to begin work straight away, I settled on jeans and a T-shirt, thinking I could always pop back to my room and change if necessary. Descending the stairs to the ground floor I noticed a small map pointing me in the direction of the library. As I knocked on the door, I was greeted with the first of many surprises.

‘Good morning, Frank. Please come in and take a seat.’

From a cosy armchair the person who addressed me was not the middle-aged man I expected, but a rather beautiful woman who looked no older than thirty. She laughed at my bewildered expression then went on to explain more about my role.

‘For reasons I won’t go into, I need to keep my full identity a secret but rest assured I am the legitimate owner of Alderslay, and have ample funds to cover your wages and all costs involved in the work I need doing. It’s mainly the basement area which needs clearing of years of accumulated junk. Wiring and pipework need bringing up to date, and then it all needs to be decorated to make it habitable. I’ll take you down and show you in a minute, but first a few house rules.

Your working hours will be Monday to Friday, 9 to 5, with a break for lunch, a half day on Saturday and Sundays off. All meals will be provided but there is a small kitchen attached to your suite, and you can leave a list of anything you require, whether it be materials for the job or personal food and drinks. Housekeeping will attend to your room between 9 and 11 and collect any washing except on Sundays. Feel free to wander anywhere around the house and gardens, make use of the swimming pool and games rooms, but do not go beyond the perimeters. The walls and gates are constantly monitored and if you are seen outside, the contract will be immediately terminated. I must ask you to leave me your mobile phone until your work here is finished, but feel free to borrow any books and make use of the theatre along the corridor. If there is a particular film you want to see it can be ordered in for you. My staff are totally trustworthy, so if I’m not around, just ask them for anything you need.

I think that’s everything so I’ll show you the basement. By the way, you can call me Zelda.’

I’d already signed the contract agreeing to the conditions, but her words made it obvious they were to be taken seriously and weren’t just a fad. If money was no object, perhaps she was scared of being kidnapped for ransom, or there might be a jealous lover or husband trying to find her. Either way it wasn’t my concern, and if everything went to plan I would be able to save my wages for three months, and have enough to start my own business.

Reality came back with a vengeance when I saw exactly how much work there was to do. It was the first time I had been in the lift but as she pressed the button for the basement, I noticed there was another for a sub-floor below. Imagine the attics of about fifty houses and the accumulation of stuff over a hundred-year period, and you would have a pretty good idea of the task facing me.

First priority is a means of disposing of all this junk,’ I said. ‘Do you know a good local skip company? My next thought is whether everything will fit in the lift. Some of this old furniture looks antique and could be worth a bit. You wouldn’t want to just dump it so it would need to be professionally valued. On my own it would take three months just to clear it, never mind renovating and making it habitable.’

‘I knew you were the right man for the job,’ Zelda smiled. ‘I have an antique dealer I trust. He can come next month and give me some prices. How many skips do you think we’ll need? There is another entrance that goes straight from the basement into the grounds so there’s no need to use the lift. If you can get everything documented and organised, I’ve a couple of young lads who can do the heavy shifting work. They’ll be here tomorrow.’

As easily as that it was sorted. She showed me where to find the secret entrance, I drove the truck in when there was no one around, my helpers filled it then I took it outside for them to unload the following day. They didn’t ask how it got there, and I didn’t tell them. It was the same with the delivery and collection of the skips. It was my job to take the full ones up to the security gates, where they were collected and replaced with empty ones. The company might have thought it strange they never needed to actually come near the house itself, but I assume they were well paid.

At times I wanted to phone someone to tell them where I was, but a promise was a promise and no one would worry about not hearing from me. The weeks passed and I settled into a comfortable routine, working hard but enjoying my leisure time too. I’d realised the basement covered the whole area under the house, but when it was more or less empty it looked enormous. Some of the electrical sockets needed bringing up to date, but on the whole it was sound, and I was able to keep to the time schedule. It crossed my mind what would happen when the three months were up.

I didn’t see much of Zelda during the day, but most evenings we had dinner together, and often sat chatting for an hour or two afterwards. We couldn’t actually be classed as friends but she seemed to trust me, and without going into detail had hinted about the reason for all the security. It was as I was replacing the final double socket that I got a shock, and it wasn’t due to the discovery of a second circuit board hidden behind some panelling.

Final part next week or this might go on forever.

© Val Portelli August 2021

I hope you’re enjoying this short story. If so, you might want to check out my latest book ‘Alderslay’ which has a similar house but a very different storyline.


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