A millionaire's wife heads for Bond Street in JEFFREY ARCHER's story

A millionaire's wife heads for Bond Street in JEFFREY ARCHER's story

May 13, 2020

The screaming beauty with sparklers on her mind: A millionaire’s wife heads for Bond Street with her eye on a glittering royal masterpiece… Part One of JEFFREY ARCHER’s short story Cheap At Half The Price

They say behind every successful man is a woman — and in this case it’s a smart, manipulative wife and mistress who uses her looks and her greed to outwit her wealthy but controlling husband in this clever story from the master of the surprise ending. Read on and find out what happens in Part Two tomorrow.

Women are naturally superior to men, and Mrs Consuela Rosenheim was no exception. Victor Rosenheim, an American banker, was Consuela’s third husband, and the gossip columns on both sides of the Atlantic were suggesting that, like a chain smoker, the former Colombian model was already searching for her next spouse before she had extracted the last gasp from the old one.

Her first two husbands — one an Arab, the other a Jew (Consuela showed no racial prejudice when it came to signing marriage contracts) — had not quite left her in a position that would guarantee her financial security once her natural beauty had faded. But two more divorce settlements would sort that out.

With this in mind, Consuela estimated that she only had another five years before the final vow must be taken.

The Rosenheims flew into London from their home in New York — or, to be more accurate, from their homes in New York. Consuela had travelled to the airport by chauffeur-driven car from their mansion in the Hamptons, while her husband had been taken from his Wall Street office in a second chauffeur-driven car.

They met up in the Concorde lounge at JFK. When they had landed at Heathrow, another limousine transported them to the Ritz, where they were escorted to their usual suite without any suggestion of having to sign forms or book in.

This story follows Consuela Rosenheims hunt for a birthday present – but is bound to have a twist. Pictured above is Consuela with her desired diamond and ruby necklace

The purpose of their trip was two-fold. Mr Rosenheim was hoping to take over a small merchant bank that had not benefited from the recession, while Mrs Rosenheim intended to occupy her time looking for a suitable birthday present — for herself. Despite considerable research I have been unable to discover exactly which birthday Consuela would officially be celebrating.

After a sleepless night induced by jetlag, Victor Rosenheim was whisked away to an early-morning meeting in the City, while Consuela remained in bed toying with her breakfast. She managed one piece of thin unbuttered toast and a stab at a boiled egg. Once the breakfast tray had been removed, Consuela made a couple of phone calls to confirm luncheon dates for the two days she would be in London. She then disappeared into the bathroom.

Fifty minutes later she emerged from her suite dressed in a pink Olaganie suit with a dark blue collar, her fair hair bouncing on her shoulders. Few of the men she passed between the elevator and the revolving doors failed to turn their heads, so Consuela judged that the previous 50 minutes had not been wasted.

She stepped out of the hotel and into the morning sun to begin her search for the birthday present. Consuela began her quest in New Bond Street.

As in the past, she had no intention of straying more than a few blocks north, south, east or west from that comforting landmark, while a chauffeur-driven car hovered a few yards behind her.

She spent some time in Asprey’s considering the latest slimline watches, a gold statue of a tiger with jade eyes, and a Fabergé egg, before moving on to Cartier, where she dismissed a crested silver salver, a platinum watch and a Louis XIV long-case clock.

From there she walked another few yards to Tiffany’s, which, despite a determined salesman who showed her almost everything the shop had to offer, she still left empty-handed.

Consuela stood on the pavement and checked her watch. It was 12.52, and she had to accept that it had been a fruitless morning. She instructed her chauffeur to drive her to Harry’s Bar, where she found Mrs Stavros Kleanthis waiting for her at their usual table.

Consuela greeted her friend with a kiss on both cheeks, and took the seat opposite her.

Mrs Kleanthis, the wife of a not unknown shipowner — the Greeks preferring one wife and several liaisons — had for the last few minutes been concentrating her attention on the menu to be sure that the restaurant served the few dishes that her latest diet would permit.

She went shopping for the deluxe birthday present on New Bond Street. The same road is pictured above but during the current crisis, meaning all shops are closed

Between them, the two women had read every book that had reached number one on the New York Times bestseller list which included the words ‘youth’, ‘orgasm’, ‘slimming’, ‘fitness’ or ‘immortality’ in its title.

‘How’s Victor?’ asked Maria, once she and Consuela had ordered their meals.

Consuela paused to consider her response, and decided on the truth.

‘Fast reaching his sell-by date,’ she replied. ‘And Stavros?’

‘Well past his, I’m afraid,’ said Maria. ‘But as I have neither your looks nor your figure, not to mention the fact that I have three teenage children, I don’t suppose I’ll be returning to the market to select the latest brand.’

Consuela smiled as a salade nicoise was placed in front of her.

‘So, what brings you to London — other than to have lunch with an old friend?’ asked Maria.

‘Victor has his eye on another bank,’ replied Consuela, as if she were discussing a child who collected stamps. ‘And I’m in search of a suitable birthday present.’

‘And what are you expecting Victor to come up with this time?’ asked Maria. ‘A house in the country? A thoroughbred racehorse? Or perhaps your own Learjet?’

‘None of the above,’ said Consuela, placing her fork by the half-finished salad. ‘I need something that can’t be bargained over at a future date, so my gift must be one that any court, in any state, will acknowledge is unquestionably mine.’

‘Have you found anything appropriate yet?’ asked Maria.

‘Not yet,’ admitted Consuela. ‘Asprey’s yielded nothing of interest, Cartier’s cupboard was almost bare, and the only attractive thing in Tiffany’s was the salesman, who was undoubtedly penniless. I shall have to continue my search this afternoon.’

The salad plates were deftly removed by a waiter whom Maria considered far too young and far too thin. Another waiter with the same problem poured them both a cup of fresh decaffeinated coffee. Consuela refused the proffered cream and sugar, though her companion was not quite so disciplined.

The two ladies grumbled on about the sacrifices they were having to make because of the recession until they were the only diners left in the room.

At this point a fatter waiter presented them with the bill — an extraordinarily long ledger considering that neither of them had ordered a second course, or had requested more than Evian from the wine waiter.

On the pavement of South Audley Street they kissed again on both cheeks before going their separate ways, one to the east and the other to the west. Consuela climbed into the back of her chauffeur-driven car in order to be returned to New Bond Street, a distance of no more than half a mile.

Once she was back on familiar territory, she began to work her way steadily down the other side of the street, stopping at Bentley’s, where it appeared that they hadn’t sold anything since last year, and moving rapidly on to Adler, who seemed to be suffering from much the same problem.

She cursed the recession once again, and blamed it all on Bill Clinton, who Victor had assured her was the cause of most of the world’s current problems.

Consuela was beginning to despair of finding anything worthwhile in Bond Street, and reluctantly began her journey back towards the Ritz, feeling she might even have to consider an expedition to Knightsbridge the following day, when she came to a halt outside the House of Graff.

Consuela could not recall the shop from her last visit to London some six months before, and as she knew Bond Street better than she had ever known any of her three husbands, she concluded that it must be a new establishment.

When Consuela flew into London with her husband they decided to stay at the Ritz

She gazed at the stunning gems in their magnificent settings, heavily protected behind the bulletproof windows. When she reached the third window, her mouth opened wide, like a newborn chick demanding to be fed.

From that moment she knew that no further excursions would be necessary, for there, hanging round a slender marble neck, was a peerless diamond and ruby necklace.

She felt that she had seen the magnificent piece of jewellery somewhere before, but she quickly dismissed the thought, and continued to study the exquisitely set rubies surrounded by perfectly cut diamonds, making up a necklace of unparalleled beauty.

Without giving a moment’s thought to how much the object might cost, Consuela walked slowly towards the thick glass door at the entrance to the shop, and pressed a discreet ivory button on the wall. The House of Graff obviously had no interest in passing trade.

The door was unlocked by a security officer who needed no more than a glance at Mrs Rosenheim to know that he should usher her quickly through to the inner portals, where a second door was opened and Consuela came face to face with a tall, imposing man in a long black coat and pinstriped trousers.

‘Good afternoon, madam,’ he said, bowing slightly. Consuela noticed that he surreptitiously admired her rings as he did so. ‘Can I be of assistance?’

Although the room was full of treasures that might, in normal circumstances, have deserved hours of her attention, Consuela’s mind was focused on only one object.

‘Yes. I would like to study more closely the diamond and ruby necklace on display in the third window.’

‘Certainly, madam,’ the manager replied, pulling back a chair for his customer. He nodded almost imperceptibly to an assistant, who silently walked over to the window, unlocked a little door and extracted the necklace. The manager slipped behind the counter and pressed a concealed button.

Four floors above, a slight burr sounded in the private office of Mr Laurence Graff, warning the proprietor that a customer had inquired after a particularly expensive item, and that he might wish to deal with them personally.

Laurence Graff glanced up at the television screen on the wall to his left, which showed him what was taking place on the ground floor.

‘Ah,’ he said, once he saw the lady in the pink suit seated at the Louis XIV table. ‘Mrs Consuela Rosenheim, if I’m not mistaken.’

Just as the Speaker of the House of Commons can identify every one of its 650 members, so Laurence Graff recognised the 650 customers who might be able to afford the most extravagant of his treasures.

He quickly stepped from behind his desk, walked out of his office and took the waiting lift to the ground floor.

Meanwhile, the manager had laid out a black velvet cloth on the table in front of Mrs Rosenheim, and the assistant placed the necklace delicately on top of it. Consuela stared down at the object of her desire, mesmerised.

Cheap At Half The Price is taken from the short story collection Twelve Red Herrings by Jeffrey Archer, who is pictured above

‘Good afternoon, Mrs Rosenheim,’ said Laurence Graff as he stepped out of the lift and walked across the thick pile carpet towards his would-be customer. ‘How nice to see you again.’

He had in truth only seen her once before — at a shoulder-to-shoulder cocktail party in Manhattan. But after that, he could have spotted her at a hundred paces on a moving escalator. ‘Good afternoon, Mr…’ Consuela hesitated, feeling unsure of herself for the first time that day.

‘Laurence Graff,’ he said, offering his hand. ‘We met at Sotheby Parke Benett last year — a charity function in aid of the Red Cross, if I remember correctly.’

‘Of course,’ said Mrs Rosen- heim, unable to recall him, or the occasion.

Mr Graff bowed reverently towards the diamond and ruby necklace.

‘The Kanemarra heirloom,’ he purred, then paused, before taking the manager’s place at the table.

‘Fashioned in 1936 by Silvio di Larchi,’ he continued. ‘All the rubies were extracted from a single mine in Burma, over a period of 20 years.

‘The diamonds were purchased from De Beers by an Egyptian merchant who, after the necklace had been made up for him, offered the unique piece to King Farouk — for services rendered.

‘When the monarch married Princess Farida he presented it to her on their wedding day, and she in return bore him four heirs, none of whom, alas, was destined to succeed to the throne.’

Graff looked up from one object of beauty, and gazed on another.

‘Since then it has passed through several hands before arriving at the House of Graff,’ continued the proprietor. ‘Its most recent owner was an actress, whose husband’s oil wells unfortunately dried up.’

The flicker of a smile crossed the face of Consuela Rosenheim as she finally recalled where she had previously seen the necklace.

‘Quite magnificent,’ she said, giving it one final look. ‘I will be back,’ she added as she rose from her chair.

Graff accompanied her to the door. Nine out of ten customers who make such a claim have no intention of returning, but he could always sense the tenth.

‘May I ask the price?’ Consuela asked indifferently as he held the door open for her.

‘One million pounds, madam,’ Graff replied, as casually as if she had enquired about the cost of a plastic keyring at a seaside gift shop.

Once she had reached the pavement, Consuela dismissed her chauffeur. Her mind was now working at a speed that would have impressed her husband.

She slipped across the road, calling first at The White House, then Yves Saint Laurent, and finally at Chanel, emerging some two hours later with all the weapons she required for the battle that lay ahead.

She did not arrive back at her suite at the Ritz until a few minutes before six.

Consuela was relieved to find that her husband had not yet returned from the bank. She used the time to take a long bath, and to contemplate how the trap should be set . . .

Cheap At Half The Price is taken from the collection of short stories Twelve Red Herrings published by Pan, £8.99 © Jeffrey Archer 2011

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