Bishop's Avenue in East Finchley, London, has for many years been known as Millionaire's Row, but back in 2006 the Guardian newspaper crowned it Billionaire's Row, reflecting the changing times. Saudi oil magnates, industrial tycoons, newspaper barons and property men all wanted a spot in this most highly sought after area, in one of the most valuable cities in the world. Valuable not for its intrinsic worth, necessarily, but its perceived worth; London property prices are remarkably stable, and only ever seem to trend upwards. Even in the depths of depression, RICS had good things to say about property prices in the South, and each time it carried the caveat 'bolstered by London demand.'
Yet there's a price to be paid, and in this instance the price is neglect. Many of the buyers who acquired houses in this area back in the 1980s and1990s did so only because they knew the price would remain stable or go up, never down. This meant they needn't worry about upkeep. Why bother sinking thousands of pounds into an empty house each month when, whether you spend thousands or spend nothing, demand for that property will still go up? Buy for a million in 1980-something, sell for 50 millions a few decades later, without lifting a finger in the intervening years. London becomes like Monopoly, where each square on the board is physically indistinguishable from any other square; only the price differs. But the end result is something almost obscene; wealth at its least valuable. If ever there was a riposte to the trickle-down theory of economics, this is it. It almost makes you nostalgic for the Edwardian era. You can't imagine Carnegie doing anything like this.
What does this suggest, from a Night's Black Agents perspective?
The conspyramid would probably rate this a level 1 or 2 node. Any conspiracy needs funds, and property is a good way of keeping cash at hand. As an asset, a mansion in a wealthy area of a stable and prosperous city is a very reasonable proposition. It's probably slightly more liquid an asset than property would normally be, inasmuch as demand is always high and therefore it's easier to dispose of than a house might otherwise be. But a mansion could also provide a very useful bolt-hole, either a temporary safe house or a more permanent address. Bear in mind, these places are like icebergs. There's more going on underneath them than appears on the surface. Ballrooms, swimming pools, hot tubs, sauna and massage rooms, as well as any number of bedrooms, bathrooms and toilets; anything you can think of, and more besides. If you're the kind of person who really doesn't like going outside in the sunlight, you don't have to.
But who's the public face of these decaying showplaces? From an outsider's perspective there are at least three layers. There's the obvious layer, the security firm that maintains all those locks and bars, and perhaps keeps dogs or even a man or two on site. There's the secondary layer, the estate agent that fields all questions about the property and which deals with the local authorities. Then there's the final layer, the actual owner, almost certainly some kind of corporate body or holding company that, on paper at least, has ownership of the property.
With that in mind, let's talk about Balela Holdings.
Balela is a shell company, created in 1931 and incorporated in Bermuda. Balela is the parent, and has as its subsidiaries Caledon Inc, Darkley Inc, and Edenaveys Inc. Each of those three companies owns property in various parts of the world, and Caledon is the one that owns property in London, and the UK.
Among its other assets Caledon owns two properties in Bishop's Avenue, East Finchley. One was bought in 1989 from an Indian magazine magnate famous for, among other things, adult publications, while the other was purchased in 1991 from a bankrupt stockbroker. Both had planning permission for basement extensions, and for several years after purchase building work could be seen to be going on. By about 1995 all work had, apparently, stopped, though there were rumors of specialist work taking place as late as 1998. One of the neighbors went so far as to complain to the council about unauthorized development, but that claim lapsed when the neighbor, a Russian, died of polonium poisoning in 1999. The authorized work was carried out by McAlpine's, project manager William Quinn (deceased), and designed by architect Norah Foster of Foster and Kennilworth. Foster was diagnosed with cancer in 1994 and died in 1995.
The Bishop's Avenue properties, and all of Caledon's UK assets, are managed by Sherwood Estates, a property development firm that, through one remove, is wholly owned by Caledon. Sherwood's surveyors and real estate agents are, for the most part, completely ignorant of their owners' interests. Only the head of the firm, Richard W. Stevanage, known to his friends as Ducky, has any clue, and that's largely because he sometimes has direct dealings with Caledon's security people. Ducky may, or may not, be a Renfield.
Caledon's security is handled by Miles Security, which - through a company incorporated in Jersey - is itself a wholly owned asset of Caledon. Most of Miles' people are normals, keyholders and dog handlers, who know very little about the properties they look after. Their job is to make sure the gates stay shut, and they do that reasonably well. There have been a few breaches over the years, and in the worst case these situations are handled by Miles' special operatives. These Renfields and ghouls show no mercy, but are discreet enough to handle their kills out of sight of the media and public. Anything inside the property is fair game, but outside of it they tend not to use firearms or overt powers. Their job is to keep the property safe, after all, not blow up half the city. That kind of thing they leave to the conspyramid's other nodes.
Inside, the mansions are in a shocking state. Nothing has been done to them in twenty years or more, and it shows. However the garages are in excellent condition and always have a vehicle or two in them, in case of emergencies. Moreover if an intruder were somehow to find his or her way to the secret stair or lift, they could get to the basement levels. Those are in excellent condition, but anyone who gets down there has a short life expectancy, unless they can cope with the horrors than the conspyramid's hiding down in the depths.