I dont see the Carter Spink brochure again for two weeks, when Im drifting into the kitchen to make lunch.
I dont know what happened to time. I barely recognize it anymore. The minutes and hours dont march past in rigid chunks, they ebb and flow and swirl around. I dont even wear a watch anymore. Yesterday I lay in a hay field all afternoon with Nathaniel, watching dandelion seeds float by, and the only ticking sound came from the crickets.
I barely recognize myself anymore either. Im tanned from lying in the sun at lunchtimes. There are golden streaks in my hair. My cheeks are full. My arms are gaining muscles from all the polishing and kneading and carting heavy saucepans around.
The summer is in full throttle and each day is hotter than the last. Every morning, before breakfast, Nathaniel walks me back through the village to the Geigers house from his flat above the puband even at that hour the air is already warming up. I stay there most nights now, and its almost got to feel like home. Its surprisingly spacious, with old sofas covered with cotton throws, and a tiny roof terrace that Nathaniel built himself.
We often sit up there as evening turns into night, listening to the babble of pub- leavers down below. Sometimes Nathaniels doing the pub accounts, but he talks to me as he works: about the backgrounds of everyone in the village, about the plants he wants to put into the Geigers garden, once explaining the entire geology of the local landscape. I tell him about the day Ive had with the Geigers and entertain him with stories about the latest catering job Ive done for Eamonn. Its become quite a regular event for me
driving off in his scruffy Honda with a couple of other girls from the village, changing into black waitress outfits and serving canapes at some posh party or other.
Everything seems slow and lazy, these days. Everyones in holiday moodexcept Trish, who is in full frenzy. Shes holding her charity lunch next week, and from the fuss shes making, youd think it was a royal wedding.
Im tidying away the papers that Melissa has left littered on the table when I spot the Carter Spink brochure underneath a folder. I cant resist picking it up and leafing through the familiar pictures. There are the steps I went up every day of my life for seven years. Theres Guy, looking as dazzling as ever. Theres that girl Sarah from the litigation department, who was up for partnership too. I never even heard if she got it.
What are you doing? Melissa has come into the kitchen without me hearing. She eyes me suspiciously. Thats mine.
Right. Like Im going to steal a brochure.
Just tidying your things, I say pointedly, putting the brochure down. Ive got to use this table.
Oh. Thanks. Melissa rubs her face. She looks haggard. There are shadows under her eyes, and her cheeks seem sunken. Could I have looked that stressed out even at her age?
Youre working hard, I volunteer.
Yeah, well. She lifts her chin. Itll be worth it in the end. They work you really hard to start, but after you qualify, it calms down.
I look at her tired, pinched, arrogant little face. Even if I could tell her what I know, she wouldnt believe me.
Yup, I say after a pause. Im sure youre right. The Carter Spink brochure is open at a picture ofArnold. Hes wearing a bright blue spotted tie and matching handkerchief and is beaming out at the world. Of all the people at Carter Spink, hes the one Id like to see again.
So are you applying to this law firm? I ask, stacking the papers on the counter.
Yup. Theyre the best. Melissa is getting a Diet Coke from the fridge. Thats the guy who was supposed to be interviewing me. She points to the picture ofArnold. But hes leaving.
Im astonished.Arnold s leaving Carter Spink? Are you sure? I say before I can stop myself.
Yes. Melissa regards me quizzically. Whats it to you?
Oh, nothing, I say, throwing down the brochure. I just meant ... he doesnt look old enough to retire.
Well, hes going. She grabs the brochure and wanders out of the kitchen.
Arnoldis leaving Carter Spink? But hes always said hed never retire. Hes always boasted about lasting another twenty years. Why would he be leaving now?
Im totally out of touch. For more than a month Ive been living in a bubble. I havent seen The Lawyer, Ive barely even seen a normal paper. I dont know any of the gossip, and I havent cared a bit. But now, as I look atArnold s familiar face, I can feel my curiosity rise.
So that afternoon, when Ive cleared up lunch, I slip into Eddies study, switch on the computer, and click on Google. I search for Arnold Saville and sure enough on the second page I come across a little diary item about his early retirement. I read the fifty- word piece over and over, trying to glean clues. Why wouldArnold retire early? Is he ill?
I search for further items, but thats the only one I can find. Next I go to the search box andtelling myself I shouldnt type in Samantha Sweeting. Immediately a zillion stories about me pop up again on the screen. I dont feel so freaked out this time, though. The person in these stories doesnt feel like me anymore.
I scan entry after entry, seeing the same details replayed. After clicking through about five pages I add Third Union Bank to my search, and scan the resulting entries. Then I type in Third Union Bank, BLLC Holdings, then Third Union Bank, Glazerbrooks. Then, with a beat of apprehension, I type in Samantha Sweeting, ? 50 million, career over, and wait for all the really nasty stories to appear. Its like watching my own car crash on action replay.
God, Google is addictive. I sit there, totally absorbed, clicking and typing and reading, gorging on endless Web pages, automatically using the Carter Spink password wherever I need to. After an hour Im slumped in Eddies chair like a zombie. My back is aching and my neck is stiff, and the words are all running into one another. Id forgotten what it was like to sit at a computer. Did I really used to do this all day?
I rub my tired eyes and glance at the Web page open in front of me, wondering how I even got to it. Its some obscure list of guests at a lunch held earlier this year at the Painters Hall. About halfway down is the name BLLC Holdings, which must have been the link. On autopilot, I move the cursor along the pageand into view comes the name Nicholas Hanford Jones, Director.
Something chimes inside my addled brain. Nicholas Hanford Jones. Why do I know that
name? Why am I somehow associating it with Ketterman?
Is BLLC Holdings a client of Ketterman? No. It cant be. Id have heard of it before.
I screw my eyes up tight and concentrate as hard as I can. Nicholas Hanford Jones. I can almost see it in my minds eye. Im grasping at an association ... an image ... come on, think ...
This is the trouble with having a nearly photographic memory. People think it must be useful, when in fact all it does is drive you insane.
And then suddenly it comes to me. The swirly writing of a wedding invitation. It was stuck up on the pin board in Kettermans office about three years ago. It was there for weeks. I used to see it every time I went in.
Mr. and Mrs Arnold Saville request the pleasure of your company at the wedding of their daughter Fiona to Mr. Nicholas Hanford Jones
Nicholas Hanford Jones is Arnold Savilles son- in- law? Arnold has a family connection with BLLC Holdings?
I sit up in my chair, totally disconcerted. How come he never mentioned that?
And then another thought strikes me. I was on the BLLC Holdings Companies House page a minute ago. Why wasnt Nicholas Hanford Jones listed as a director? Thats illegal, for a start.
I rub my brow, then out of curiosity type in Nicholas Hanford Jones. A moment later the screen is full of entries, and I lean forward.
Oh, for Gods sake. The Internet is crap. Im looking at other Nicholases and other Hanfords and other Joneses, mentioned in all sorts of different contexts. I peer at them in total frustration. Doesnt Google realize thats not what Im inter- ested in? Why would I want to read about some Canadian rowing team list containing a Greg Hanford, a Dave Jones, and a Chip Nicholas?
Im never going to find anything here.
Even so, I start picking my way down, skimming each chunk of text, clicking onto the next page and the next. And then, just as Im about to give up, my eye falls on an entry tucked away at the bottom of the page. William HanfordJones, Finance Director of Glazerbrooks, thanked Nicholas Jenkins for his speech ...
This is incredible. The finance director at Glazerbrooks is called Hanford Jones too? Are they from the same family? Feeling like some kind of private detective, I log onto Friends- Reunited, and two minutes later I have my answer. Theyre brothers.
I feel a bit dazed. This is a pretty huge connection. The finance director of Glazerbrooks, which went bust owing Third Union Bank ? 50 million. A director of BLLC Holdings, which lent it ? 50 million three days before. AndArnold, representing Third Union Bank. All related; all in the same extended family.
Im almost certain nobody else knows.Arnold s never mentioned it. No one at Carter Spink has ever mentioned it. Nor have I seen it brought up in any of the reports on the whole affair.Arnold s kept all of this very quiet.
I rub my shoulders, trying to gather my jumbled thoughts. Isnt this a potential conflict of interest? Shouldnt he have disclosed the information straightaway? Why on earth wouldArnold keep such an important thing secret? Unless
I feel a bit light- headed, as though Ive suddenly swum over the ledge into mile- deep water. My mind is flying ahead, careening onto possibilities and shearing away again in disbelief.
DidArnold discover something? Is he hiding something?
Is this why hes leaving?
I get up and thrust my hands through my hair. OK, lets just ... stop all this, right now. This isArnold Im talking about. Arnold. Im turning into some nutty conspiracy theorist. Next Ill be typing in aliens, Roswell, they live among us.
With sudden resolution I get out my phone. Ill callArnold. Ill wish him well in his retirement. Then maybe I can get rid of all these ridiculous ideas floating round my head.
It takes me about six failed attempts before I muster the courage to dial the entire number and wait for a reply. The idea of ??talking to anyone at Carter Spinklet alone Arnoldmakes me feel slightly sick. I keep bottling out before being connected, thrusting the phone down as though Ive had a narrow escape.
But at last I steel myself to press the digits and hold the line. Im never going to know
unless I do this. I can talk toArnold. I can hold my head up.
After three rings the phone is picked up by Lara. Arnold Savilles office.
I have a sudden vision of her, plump and shiny- haired, sitting at her pale wooden desk, in the burgundy jacket she always wears, tapping on the computer. It all seems a million miles away now.
Hi, Lara, I say. Its ... Samantha. Samantha Sweeting.
Samantha? Lara sounds perplexed. Bloody hell! How are you? What are you up to?
Im fine, thanks. Really good. I quell a spasm of nerves. I just rang because Ive heard thatArnold s leaving? Is it true?
Its true! says Lara with relish. I was gobsmacked! Apparently, Ketterman took him out to dinner and tried to get him to stay, but hed made up his mind. Get this, hes moving to theBahamas.
The Bahamas? I say in astonishment.
Hes bought a house there! Looks lovely. His retirement partys next week, Lara continues. Ill be transferring to Derek Greens officeyou remember him? Taxation partner? Very nice guy, though apparently he can have a bit of a temper
Er ... great! I cut her off, suddenly remembering her ability to gossip for hours. Lara, I just wanted to giveArnold my best wishes. If you could possibly put me through?
Really? Lara sounds surprised. Thats incredibly ... generous of you, Samantha. After what happened.
Well, you know, I say awkwardly. It wasntArnold s fault, was it? He did what he could.
Theres a strange silence.
Yes, says Lara after a pause. Well. Ill put you through.
After a few momentsArnold s familiar voice is booming down the line.
Samantha, dear girl! Is it really you?
Its ... really me. I manage a smile. I havent quite disappeared off the face of the earth.
I should hope not! Now, youre all right, are you?
Im.- .. fine, I say awkwardly. Thanks. I was just surprised to hear youre retiring.
I was never a glutton for punishment! He gives an easy laugh. Thirty- three years at the coal face of law. Thats enough for any human. Let alone any lawyer!
Just his jovial voice is reassuring me. I must be crazy.Arnold couldnt be involved in anything untoward. He couldnt be hiding anything. Hes Arnold.
Ill mention it to him, I decide. Just to prove it to myself.
Well ... I hope it all goes well, I say. And I ... I guess youll be seeing more of your family?
Ill be lumbered with the blighters, yes! He booms with laughter again.
I never knew your son- in- law was a director of BLLC Holdings! I attempt an easy tone. Quite a coincidence!
Theres a beat of silence.
Im sorry? saysArnold. His voice is still as charming as ever, but the warmth has disappeared.
BLLC Holdings. I swallow. You know, the other company involved with the Third Union Bank loan? The one that registered a charge? I just happened to notice
I have to go now, Samantha! Arnold cuts me off smoothly. Delightful to chat, but Im leaving the country next week, and theres a lot to do. Its exceedingly busy here, so I wouldnt ring again if I were you.
The line goes dead before I can say any more. I slowly put down the phone and stare at a butterfly fluttering outside the window.
That wasnt right. That wasnt a natural reaction. He got rid of me as soon as I mentioned his son- in- law.
Something is going on. Something is definitely going on.
I have totally abandoned the housework for the afternoon and am sitting on my bed with a pad of paper and pencil, trying to work out the possibilities.
Who stands to gain? I stare at my scribbled facts and arrows of connection yet again. Two brothers. Millions of pounds being transferred between banks and companies.
Think. Think ...
With a small cry of frustration I rip out the page and crumple it. Lets start again. Lets get everything in logical order. Glazerbrooks went into receivership. Third Union Bank lost their money. BLLC Holdings jumped ahead in the queue ...
I tap my pencil impatiently on the paper. But so what? They only get back the money they loaned. They dont get any advantage, they dont get any benefit, its pointless.
Unlessunless they never paid over anything in the first place. The thought comes to me out of nowhere. I sit bolt upright, unable to breathe. What if
thats it? What if its a scam?
My mind starts to race. Suppose there are two brothers. They know that Glazerbrooks is in serious financial trouble. They know that the bank has just paid in fifty million but the banks charge wasnt registered. That means theres a fifty- million unsecured loan swilling around in the company, up for grabs by anyone else who registers a charge ...
I cant sit anymore. Im pacing backward and forward, feverishly gnawing my pencil, my brain sparking like an electrical circuit. It works. It works. They fiddle the figures. BLLC Holdings gets the money that Third Union Bank paid over, Carter Spinks insurers foot the bill
I pause in my striding. No. It doesnt work. Im being stupid. The insurers are only covering the fifty million because I was negligent. Thats the crucial element. The whole plan would have depended on me, Samantha Sweeting, making that particular mistake.
But I mean ... how on earth could they have planned that? It makes no sense. Its impossible. You cant plan a mistake in advance. You cant make someone forget to do something, you cant make someone fuck up
And then I stop dead. My skin suddenly feels clammy. The memo.
I never saw that memo on my desk until it was too late. I know I didnt.
Oh, my God.
I sink onto the window seat, my legs like rubber. What if someone planted that memo on my desk? Slipped it into a pile of papers after the deadline had passed?
What if I didnt make a mistake? I feel like everything is cracking and reshaping around me.
What ifArnold deliberately didnt register the bank charge and made it look like my fault?
Like a looped tape, my conversation withArnold that day is playing over and over in my mind. When I said I couldnt remember seeing the memo on my desk. And he immediately changed the subject.
I assumed the memo was there all the time. I assumed it was my error. My inefficiency. But what if it wasnt? Everyone at Carter Spink knew I had the messiest desk in the firm. It would be easy to slip it into a pile of papers. Make it look as if it had been there for weeks.
Im breathing harder and harder, till Im almost hyperventilating. For the first time Im realizing the huge strain Ive been under. I have lived with that mistake for more than a month. Its been there every morning when I wake up and every day when I go to bed. Like a constant background ache that Ive gotten used to, like a chorus in my head: Samantha Sweeting ruined her life. Samantha Sweeting fucked up.
But ... what if I was used? What if it wasnt my fault? What if I didnt make a mistake after all?
I have to know. I have to know the truth. Right now. With a shaking hand I reach for my mobile phone and punch in the number again.
Lara, I need to speak toArnold again, I say as soon as Im connected.
Samantha ... Lara sounds awkward. Im afraidArnold wont take any more calls from you. And he asked me to tell you that youre not to pester him about your job anymore.
Im in shock. What has he been saying about me?
Lara, Im not pestering him about my job, I say, trying to keep my voice steady. I just need to talk to him about a ... matter. If he wont talk to me, Ill come to the office. Can you make me an appointment, please?
Samantha. She sounds even more embarrassed than before. Arnoldtold me to inform you ... if you try to come here to the offices, Security will eject you.
Eject me? I stare at the phone in disbelief. Im sorry. I really am. And I dont blame you! she adds fervently. I thought
whatArnold did to you was really shocking! A lot of us do. What he did to me? Does Lara know the memo was planted?
Whatwhat do you mean? I stammer.
The way he got you fired! says Lara.
What? I feel like all the breath has been squeezed from my chest. What are you talking about?
I did wonder if you knew. She lowers her voice. Hes leaving now, so I can say it. I took the minutes at that meeting, after you ran off. AndArnold talked round all the other partners. He said you were a liability and they couldnt risk taking you back and all sorts. A lot of them wanted to give you another chance, you know. She clicks her tongue. I was appalled. Of course, I couldnt say anything toArnold.
Of course not, I manage. Thanks for telling me, Lara. I ... had no idea.
Everything is distorted.Arnold didnt fight my corner at all. He got me fired. I dont know this man at all. All that genial, affable charmits an act. Its a bloody act.
With a sickening lurch I suddenly recall him the day after it happened, insisting I should stay where I was, not come back. Thats why. He wanted me out of the way so I couldnt fight for myself. So he could stitch me up.
And I trusted him. Totally and utterly. Like a stupid, stupid gullible fool.
My chest is heaving painfully. All my doubts have disappeared.Arnold is in on something crooked. I know it. He planted that memo, knowing it would destroy my career.
And in a week hell have disappeared to theBahamas. I feel a stab of panic. I need to take action now.
Lara, I say, trying to sound calm. Could you put me through to Guy Ashby?
I know Guy and I had a row. But hes the only person I can think of right now wholl be able to help me.
Guys inHong Kong, says Lara in surprise. Didnt you know?
Right, I say, my heart plummeting. No. I ... didnt know.
But hell have his Blackberry with him, she adds helpfully. You could send him an e- mail.
Yes. I take a deep breath. Yes, maybe Ill do that.