Looking back on the decisions that led to my current predicament, I can't help but wonder if I should have seen this coming, but how could I? Every step seemed to flow into the next allowing me no time to step back and see the downward spiral I was trapped in.
My name is Lord David Tillman, myself and my wife Jennifer are the owners of a substantial country estate just outside of London. It is my pride and joy the beautifully terraced gardens, the private lake teaming with fish, the stables holding my wife's prized stallions Thunder and Lightning not to mention the house itself a prized example of late 19th century architecture. Alas the upkeep of such as residence is beyond my means, my substantial inheritance has been all but spent. My first wife Sarah taking a considerable chunk as part of her divorce settlement, the result of discovering she had certain undesirables in her family tree, her grandfather was a grease monkey for gods sake! The remainder I've frittered away, keeping myself and Jennifer in the style to which we are both accustomed. The membership to the club, the summer and winter holidays, have all put a excessive drain on our finances. I haven't been idle these past few years though I've tried numerous business ventures all of which have failed and in one case I was even defrauded of a rather large sum by a unscrupulous business partner. All of which has brought myself and Jennifer to this critical financial position.
Jennifer had the idea to renovate the house and let part of it out as a hotel using the proceeds to pay the upkeep of the rest of the mansion. It breaks my heart to think of the public traipsing in and out of our lovely home, like it was nothing more than a Holiday Inn but I can see no other way. At least this way the house and grounds will continue so we set about the project with a will. Jennifer has been marvelous in dealing with the contractors and other employees required to complete the refurbishment; she seems a whirl of energy, always zipping around the grounds checking the builders and gardeners work or out meeting designers putting to bed the final details of the new Hotel Tillman. I myself have undertaken the role of financial director which means I have been tied to my rather small study balancing figures on spreadsheets not that I minded working alone as I've always been shy and retiring around people much preferring my own company, I did miss Jennifer though but someone had to be the public face of the endeavor. In fact so much time have I spent in this small windowless box that I've started to take on a decidedly pale complexion and my usually slim figure has become even more gaunt due to the combined factors of poor diet and stress.
It was midday on Wednesday when I realized disaster had struck us, no matter how I worked the figures we didn't have enough money to finish the project. We were now £1,000,000 over budget! I had suspected that the builders had been dawdling but Jennifer swears that they've been hard at it whenever she was checking in on them. Never the less we must find alternative finance or we are sunk. My calls to banks and other financial institutions have been met with polite but firm refusals, my previous record of failed ventures well known in such circles. So despondent at my failure I decided I must break the news to Jennifer, having decided that waiting wasn't going to make the news any less heartbreaking. I headed out to the club where she was meeting one of the interior designers. With the pain of the summer sun in my eyes a reminder of just how long it was since I'd had time to venture outside, I climbed into my beautiful brand new Jag yes I probably shouldn't have bought it but appearances must be maintained! Fumbling behind the visor for my sunglasses I headed off. Perhaps it was the feeling of the sun on my skin for after so long or perhaps just the freedom of driving, I began to feel if not positive about things then perhaps a little less despondent maybe Jennifer would be able to come up with a solution to our financial worries.
So it was with a slightly lighter heart that I arrived at the club, assuming that Jennifer would be by the pool bar as she usually was. I headed straight there saying hello to the few people I recognized on the way, the club had always been more of Jennifer’s place than mine. I was not nearly as athletic as she was so the gym, tennis courts and swimming pools held no real appeal for me. She usually came alone during the day to exercise, where I limited myself to occasional evening mixers with others of my class. As expected Jennifer was by the pool talking animatedly to a young man, presumably the designer she had mentioned that morning as she leaving. As always the sight of her brought a smile to my face, Jennifer is a strikingly beautiful brunette with a dark tanned olive complexion. She almost looks Italian in origin although her blue eyes give lie to that idea. Even though she is 10 years my younger at 25 she's my soul mate we share everything with each other. My only regret is that our psychical relationship has stagnated in recent years, although my waning libido is mainly to blame for that a consequence of stress and getting older I suppose. Jennifer has never complained about this merely devoting her energy to sporting activities at the club and more recently with the refurbishment project. She was facing slightly away from me as I approached giving me a chance to appreciate how well her figure filled the tennis outfit she always seemed to wear around the club, her finely toned legs rose out of her trainers encased in a pair of white socks to mid calf, whilst her pert bottom was shown off to dramatic effect by her tennis shorts. Above the shorts her well rounded breasts where restrained by her sports bra and the tennis shirt stretched tightly across her chest My wife had the looks to be a model, of course she'd never lower herself by indulging in such a crass career.
Seeing my approach out of the corner his eye her companion looked up at me, faint surprise showing on his face, seeing his distraction Jennifer also turned in my direction. Her eyes hidden by mirrored sunglasses mouth dropping open in surprise. When I caught sight of my reflection in her glasses I realized it was more likely shock at my appearance. In my rush to relate what I had discovered I had forgotten my unkempt and unshaven appearance! Fortunately my own sunglasses hid my bleary eyes and I resolved to keep them on until out of public. My unnatural shyness asserted itself with a will when I realized just how out of place I must look in a creased polo shirt and my beige trousers hanging limply off of my gaunt frame! Feeling the color instantly rising in my cheeks I muttered something indistinct to my wives companion as she introduced me, his name instantly forgotten in my inner panic I mumbled some greeting wishing as I did that he would leave. A uncomfortable look on his face he made his excuses and left, promising Jennifer that they'd continue their meeting at a later date. Much to my relief and further shame that my mere presence could make him bolt so quickly. With his track suited form disappearing into the main building of the club I slumped into his seat and looked across the table at my wife. A concerned look replaced the shock that my untidy arrival had caused. Looking back at her I thought as I always did that here was a woman who would always be there for me, that simple fact giving me the strength to begin to relate what I had discovered.
"Honey we're out of money," I blurted out deciding that it was best to get the bad news out into the open as soon as possible. "I've worked the numbers every way I can think of and no matter what we come up at least £1,000,000 short."
"Surely there must be some mistake dear," she replied. "You worked out the budget yourself, you said we had enough!" Her voice was starting to become raised and people began to glance in our direction disapprovingly.
"Please honey, keep your voice down!" I hurriedly shushed her in our circle people who couldn't pay their way through life where considered the lowest of the low, in the minds of the old money rich it was better to be born poor than to arrive there through your own mistakes.
"I know I worked out a budget but the builders and gardeners have overrun not to mention the additional cost of all the redecoration we've been doing, there's simply no more money."
"Well we'll just have to get a loan to cover the difference surely your friends in the banks can help us out..."
"I've already tried they won't loan us any more money."
"Any more?" She now started too look really concerned. "I thought we had enough to get us through the refurbishment without any loans, what do you mean we already owe money?"
Then it dawned on me that Jennifer didn't realize just how bad our finances had become.
"Honey all the money we've spent on the refurbishment has been loans we are mortgaged to the hilt on the house to cover the cost." It broke my heart to see her face fall as she realized just how bad things had got.
"Oh my god I never realized!" again her voice rose drawing another set of disapproving looks from the surrounding tables, Jennifer noticing the scene she was causing abruptly started whispering, "David, I'm so sorry."
Sorry? What had she done to be sorry about? Didn't she understand that this was all my fault! Rallying, Jennifer started to suggest ways we could raise the money selling belongings and such, but the banks owned just about everything almost down to the clothes on our backs. Time and again she made some suggestion and time and again I was forced to tell her that it just couldn't be done. On and on this went the suggestions becoming more desperate as we slowly took solace in a number of bottles of wine we could no longer afford. Finally the sun began to set bringing me back to reality I was about to suggest that we leave as there seemed to be no way out of our predicament, we may as well return home and enjoy the house whilst we still could.
"Excuse me," said a rather nasal voice from over my shoulder turning around I saw it belonged to a slightly pudgy man in a very expensive navy blue suit. The man seemed to think that the suit alone wasn't enough of a statement of his wealth and was wearing a gold ring on every finger most encrusted with diamonds. In his left ear lobe was a large diamond which seemed to sparkle only slightly more than his too white teeth. Smarmy as soon as I took his appearance in the word leapt unbidden into my mind yes that summed him up perfectly.
"I couldn't help but overhear about your problems." Great; now this nouveau riche oaf had been listening in to our problems, the nouveau riche are considered only slightly more acceptable than old money that have become poor. Judging by his appearance this man was an example of the worst of the breed.
Uninvited he pulled his chair across to our table "I can get you the money you require to finish your project," he stated bluntly flashing yet more teeth at myself and Jennifer. Jennifer had clearly seen this man before judging by the look of recognition swiftly followed by revulsion at his manner. He was probably a regular at the club his kind usually are, hoping that some of the class of the other members would rub off on them My first reaction was to tell him to leave us alone, but perhaps due to the wine I decided that even the slightest possibility of a saving our futures was worth listening to the smarmy man.
"In fact I'll even pay for the remainder of the work myself in return for your participation in a game show that I'm producing."
"Game show?" Jennifer put in.
"Yes it's a fairly simple concept we get a married couple such as yourselves and put them through a number of fairly strenuous challenges and tasks, if they complete all eight they get a million pounds. Usually the reward would increase after each task was completed, with a option to withdraw at any point if the contestants couldn't complete the task or didn't want to try." He spread his hands rings glittering gaudily in the fading light. "But that wouldn't apply to yourselves, as we want someone to make it all the way through for the first show to start the ball rolling properly. So for you it'd be an all or nothing proposal." Yet another display of teeth followed this statement as he was obviously convinced that he had us hooked. Which to be honest wasn't that far from the truth as even a rope held by such a odious man will look wonderful to a drowning man such as myself.
"Look this probably isn't the best place to be discussing these matters." I said hoping to get the man to reduce his arm waving somewhat as just being seen talking to him was embarrassing enough.
"You're right," he agreed, "perhaps we should move this discussion to your house as I really should see my future investment. We can take my Limo. I'll send my drivers back for your cars as you really shouldn't be driving after all that wine."
Looking at Jennifer to gauge her reaction to this man and his rather too good to be true offer. I saw that she seemed as appalled as I was by the thought of going into business of any kind with him, but working through our other options and coming up blank she gave me a terse nod. Obviously coming to the same conclusion I had, this man was probably our only real chance of keeping our head above water financially.
"We'll hear you out Mr?" I said offering my hand to the stranger.
"Wood, my name is Mike Wood, Lord Tillman," he said taking my hand in his sweaty grasp.
The journey was spent in silence, the three of us silently agreeing to wait to arrive home before we discussed matters further. Mike Wood's limousine mirrored the man himself being painted rather unsubtly gold, it even had gold plated hubcaps! Perhaps the only saving grace of the contraption was the blacked out windows hiding us and the bright red leather interior from being seen. As we arrived the thought that had been niggling at my subconscious finally surfaced.
"How did you know my name? I never told you what it was." Suspicions were rising in me at this man's abrupt appearance in our lives, perhaps he was a con man or worse!
"Please Lord Tillman nothing to be alarmed about. I've been intending to approach you about renting the Hotel Tillman as the venue for my little show for some time, so naturally I know who you are. Besides your wife is quite well known around the club so it wasn't hard to deduce who you were." Jennifer gave me another terse nod to let me know that this was probably true.
Feeling a little more comfortable with this man I led the way into our home, pridefully leading them around the unrestored sections of the building. Mr. Wood seemed to like what he saw though smiling and muttering to himself about how this or that feature was just what he wanted for his show. Upon reaching the study Jennifer playing the good hostess role more out of pride than for Mr. Wood's benefit, offered to fix us both a drink. Having poured our scotches she excused herself to get changed, obviously tiring of our guest’s lecherous glances in her direction. Manners stopped both myself and Jennifer from commenting on them, god the man had no breeding!
Whilst we waited for Jennifer to return Mike explained a little of his history to me apparently he'd made most of his wealth producing game shows in Asia; he mentioned a number of titles to me but as I'm not a big fan of television I didn't recognize any of them. When I asked how he got started he informed me that his wife had funded his first production and things had taken off from there. Perhaps she was a little more subtle than her oaf of a husband! Sensing my interest Mike assured me that I would certainly meet her before the show was filmed, Jennifer returned in a rather more sensible light grey pant suit bringing our guest back to the business at hand.
"Simply my proposal is this," he stated, "in return for you appearing in the pilot of my new show and completing all 8 of your assigned tasks, I will pay to have the refurbishment of Hotel Tillman completed. I will also pay you one hundred thousand pounds as the fee for allowing us to film the episode here at Tillman Manor. Questions?" Looking like the man who has all the answers he sat there waiting for our reply.
"You'll pay up front to have the refurbishment completed?" I ventured.
"Of course we can't film on a building site," he smiled his rather unnerving smile again.
"Say we don't complete the show?" Jennifer put in next.
"Then you'd have to repay the money immediately of course, plus interest naturally."
Jennifer and I shared a look we both knew we wouldn't be able to pay in that case but to me it didn't seem like a big problem, he couldn't take back what we didn't have after all.
"What are these tasks they aren't dangerous are they?"
"All I can really tell you at this point is that they are physical in nature, but any more than that I can't really say in order to preserve the surprise. Although I will point out that considering the amount of money I am paying you it won't be a surprise to say they will be not simple or easy tasks."
"I think my wife and I would like some time alone to discuss your offer Mr. Wood." I finally said after trying to take in all the possibilities this statement.
"Of course. Here is my card if you agree just give me a ring and I'll send one of my Lawyers over to finalize the details. I believe I can find my own way out so I'll leave you to your decision making."
After I was sure he was out of earshot I turned to Jennifer a questioning look on my face.
"I don't see that we have any choice," she said in reply to my unspoken question.
"I agree, I know that he's a disgusting oaf but I think we need to accept his offer."
"I'm still concerned about these tasks though," she confided.
"I know honey so am I, he mentioned the names of a couple of shows he's made before to me, perhaps we can look them up on the internet and get a idea of what to expect?"
So we retired to my study. The only name he mentioned that had really stuck in my mind was Kamikaze Club so I put that in to the search engine. Clicking on the first promising website that appeared, our worst fears seemed to have been confirmed. It seemed to be the crassest form of entertainment conceivable! The tasks seemed to involve people running across greased bars and falling into pools of mud or trying to balance on a giant ball floating in a swimming pool. The audience (if they could really be called that) seemed to spend more time jeering the contestants than cheering them on!
Jennifer looked across at me tears forming in her eyes. "Oh my god!" She finally exclaimed. "Honey we can't do that! Think of our friends at the club what if they saw!"
"I know honey it's a terrible risk but what choice do we have? Look the chances of any of our sort of people ever even watching something like this are so tiny, I think we might be able to keep the whole thing just between us and Mr. Wood."
Besides I thought to myself the contestants did look well hidden underneath all that protective gear so perhaps no one would recognize us even if they did see the program.
"You’re right of course we have no choice. I'll ring that odious man in the morning and tell him to send his lawyer over," she said the weight of the decision seeming to drag her head down with it.
With that we retired to our separate bedrooms, a compromise we had made years ago after Jennifer complained that my constant snoring kept her up all night. Unable to sleep, I stared at the ceiling for long hours, replaying the day’s events over and over in my mind. Finally I could worry no more and dropped of to a fitful sleep.
The morning arrived and with it Mike Woods’ lawyer, he had some young lady in tow, by the tape measure around her neck I assumed she was a seamstress of some kind Jennifer having brought them into the study.
"Good morning Lord and Lady Tillman my name is Crookshanks, I am here on Mr. Wood’s behalf," he said in a cultured tone taking the same seat that his employer had sat in the night before, tidying his suit around him and opening a pristine looking briefcase. "This is Miss Zoren; she'll be taking your s measurements for your on screen costumes."
Well he seemed an improvement over Wood at least! Having him between us and his disgusting employer would at least make the whole sordid affair more bearable. Miss Zoren's presence I felt sure I could ignore, as she was after all only a menial and as such was barely worthy of my attention.
"Well let’s get right to it shall we? I've got a number of contracts formalizing the business relationship between you and Mr. Wood and also a number of waivers for you to sign," he said producing a sheaf of documents with little sticky tags attached.
"Waivers?" I said trying not to let a note of trepidation enter my voice.
Yes they protect my client from liability in case you sustain a injury whilst on the show, it's all quite standard I assure you."
That was the good thing about dealing with someone of a breeding such as Mr. Crookshanks, you could trust them at their word. So with my with a wish to see the deed done as quickly as possible, and be free of the second thoughts and doubt which plagued me, I took the papers from his hand and begin signing and initialing where the little tags indicated.
"There are a couple of clauses that I think I should make you aware of," Crookshanks said as I ploughed through the papers. "Lady Tillman can no longer be involved in the refurbishment project directly." Holding up his hand to forestall her objections he continued, "This is to ensure you do not inadvertently see something, which would tip you off about the tasks you are to undertake."
Seeing the logic of this Jennifer nodded her understanding.
"Anything else?" I asked passing the sheaf of documents over to Jennifer.
"Yes filming is intended to take two weeks but may be extended if delays occur. In order to minimize delays, you and your wife will be required to live on the set to reduce downtime."
Getting this over and done with quickly was in everyone's best interests I thought, I could live with the discomfort for the two weeks.
Seeing that Jennifer had also finished signing Crookshanks picked up the documents. "Whilst I check that everything is in order, perhaps now would be a good time for Miss Zoren to take your measurements."
The mention of her name brought the small women to life; moving from the corner of the room where she had been quietly observing the proceedings, she brandished her tape measure at me. Assuming that this meant I was to be first, I stepped forward holding my arms away from my sides. In total silence she measured me top to toe taking notes in her little pad. Having been fitted for suits on numerous occasions, I did think that some of the measurements she took were a little odd, but assumed it was for the safety equipment I'd seen on the Kamikaze Club film I let the matter pass without comment. Finished with me, she moved on to Jennifer and repeated the process with her, again in total silence. Ah this Crookshanks was a breath of fresh air! After being smothered by the cloying sticky feel of dealing with of Wood, even his menials knew their place performing their tasks efficiently and in silence.
Having finished her task the small woman paused to whisper something to Crookshanks before taking her place on the edge of the room.
"Ah yes Lord Tillman, Miss Zoren asked me to note that your show clothes will be much more comfortable if you are clean shaven." What a odd comment! But then who knew the minds of menials, of course I'd shave for the show!
"Well that is all, I'll inform Mr. Wood that everything is in order. One more thing we intend to start filming in two weeks, assuming the refurbishment is complete. So I suggest you use this time to make sure your affairs are in order as you will have no time for such mundane tasks once we begin filming." With that he tidied up the papers, placed them carefully in his briefcase and snapped it shut ensuring that it was safely fastened. As he was heading for the door Miss Zoren in tow he paused briefly.
"Goodbye Lord and Lady Tillman it was a pleasure meeting you."
With the Lawyer gone and the die cast I felt a great weight lift from me. It was done now what ever happened happened; it was out of my control now. The feeling was quite liberating after feeling totally responsible for everything occurring on the manor, it was a relief to hand the reins to someone else. Jennifer heading for the door pointed out that if she was going to be filmed she better look her best, and so headed for the club intending to have every beauty treatment offered.
The next two weeks passed in a blur, Jennifer was out most of the time, barred from working on the refurbishment, she instead spent her days at the club. As she pointed out to me we must not let our standards drop, even though we found ourselves dealing with the lower classes. So she spent her time preparing herself for the show. For my part I found myself catching up on all the sleep worry had denied me. Wood seemed to have tripled the refurbishment workforce in his rush to get the hotel refurbishment finished and the shows set built in time for the agreed date. Indeed the volume of all the work drove Jennifer to the club on many nights saying that she'd sleep in one of the rooms there.
Coming Next: Showtime.