I cant do it. I just cant. There is no way of writing this e- mail without sounding like a paranoid crazy. I look in despair at my tenth attempt.
I need you to help me. I think I have been set up byArnold. I think he planted that memo on my desk. Something is going on. He has family links with both BLLC Holdings and Glazerbrooks, did you know that ?? Why did he never tell anyone? And now hes banned me from the building, which in itself is suspicious
I sound delusional. I sound like some bitter, twisted ex- employee with a grudge.
Which of course is what I am.
As I run my eyes over my words, Im reminded of nothing more than the wild- eyed old woman who used to stand at the corner of our street, muttering, Theyre coming to GET me.
I have total sympathy for that old woman now. They probably were coming to get her.
Guy will just laugh. I can see him now. Arnold Saville a crook? It sounds insane. Maybe I am insane. Its only a theory. I dont have evidence; I dont have anything solid. I lean forward and rest my head hopelessly on my hands. No ones ever going to believe me. Or even listen to me.
If I only had some proof. But where am I supposed to get that from?
A bleeping from my mobile phone makes me jump, and I look up blearily. Id almost forgotten where I was. I pick it up and see that Ive got a text.
Im downstairs, have a surprise to show you. Nat
As I head downstairs, Im really not with it. Flashes of anger keep overwhelming me as I
think of Arnolds jocular smile, the way he encouraged my messy desk, the way he told me hed do his very best for me, the way he listened as I blamed myself, as I apologized and groveled ...
The worst thing is, I never even tried to defend myself. I never questioned the fact that I couldnt remember seeing the memo. I immediately assumed the worst of myself, assumed it was my fault for having such a messy desk.
Arnoldknows me pretty well. Maybe thats what he was counting on. Bastard. Bastard. Hi. Nathaniel waves a hand in front of my face. Earth to Samantha. Oh ... Sorry. Hi! Somehow I muster a smile.
Come this way. He grins and ushers me out to his car, which is an ancient Beetle convertible. As usual, rows of seed pots are crowding the backseat and an old wooden spade is sticking out of the back.
Madam. He opens the door gallantly. So what are you showing me? I ask as I get in. Magical mystery tour. He smiles enigmatically and starts up the engine.
We drive out ofLower Ebury and take a route I dont recognize, through a tiny neighboring village and up into the hills. Nathaniel seems in a cheerful mood and tells me stories about each farm and pub that we pass. But I barely hear a word. My mind is still churning.
I dont know what I can do. I cant even get into the building. I have no credibility. Im powerless. And I only have three days. OnceArnold disappears off to theBahamas thatll be it.
Here we are! Nathaniel turns off the road into a gravel drive. He maneuvers the car into place by a low brick wall, then stops the engine. What do you think?
With an effort I wrench my mind back to the present time. Um ... I peer around blankly. Yes. Lovely.
What am I supposed to be looking at? Samantha, are you OK? Nathaniel shoots me a curious glance. You seem on edge. Im fine. I try to smile. Just a bit tired.
I open the car door to get out, away from his gaze. I shut the door behind me and look around.
Were in some kind of courtyard. Theres a ramshackle old stone house to the right, with a for sale post. Ahead are banks of greenhouses, glinting in the low sunlight. There are plots filled with rows of vegetables, theres a Portakabin markedGARDENCENTER ...
I turn to see that Nathaniel has got out of the car too and is holding a sheaf of papers in his hand.
A horticultural business opportunity, he reads aloud. Four acres of land, with ten more available, subject to negotiation. Ten thousand square feet of glasshouses. Four- bedroom farmhouse, needs work ...
Youre buying this? I say, my attention fully grabbed.
Im thinking about it. I wanted to show you first. He spreads an arm around. Its a pretty good concern. Needs building up, but the lands there. We can get some polytunnels going, extend the offices ...
I cant take all this in.
But what about the pubs? How come youre suddenly
It was you. What you said in the garden that day. He pauses, the breeze ruffling his hair. Youre right, Samantha. Im not a landlord, Im a gardener. Id be happier doing what I really want to do. So ... I had a long talk with Mum and she understood. We both reckon Eamonn can take over. Not that he knows yet.
Wow. I look around again, taking in a pile of wooden crates, stacks of seed trays, a tattered poster advertising Christmas trees. So youre really going to do it?
I can see the excitement in his face. You only get one chance at life.
Well, I think its fantastic!
And theres a house. He nods toward it. Or at least, there will be a house. Its a bit run- down.
Right. I take in the old stone house again. The paintwork is peeling and theres a shutter hanging offone hinge. It does look a bit of a mess.
I wanted you to see it first, says Nathaniel. Get your approval. I mean, one day you
might He stops.
All of a sudden my relationship sensors are swiveling round madly, like the Hubble spotting an alien ship. What did they just pick up? What was he going to say?
I might ... stay over? I supply at last.
Exactly. Nathaniel rubs his nose. Shall we have a look?
The house is bigger than it seems from the outside, with bare boards and old fireplaces and a creaking wooden staircase. One room has practically no plaster, and the kitchen is totally old- fashioned, with 1930s cupboards.
Great kitchen. I shoot him a teasing look.
Im sure I could refit it to your Cordon Bleu standards, he returns.
We make our way upstairs and into a huge bedroom overlooking the rear of the house. From above, the vegetable plots look like an orderly patchwork quilt, stretching away into the green meadow. I can see a little terrace down below and a tiny private garden belonging to the house, all clematis and tangled roses.
Its a beautiful place, I say, leaning on the windowsill. I love it.
Standing here, looking out at the view, I feel likeLondon is on another planet. Carter Spink and Arnold and all of them suddenly seem part of another life.
But even as Im gazing out at the restful country scene, I cant relax. All it would take is one phone call to the right person ...
If I had some proof ...
My mind starts turning over the facts again, like a bird turning over empty snail shells. Im going to drive myself crazy like this.
What I was wondering is ...
Suddenly I become aware that Nathaniel is speaking. In fact I think he could have been speaking for a whileand I havent heard a word. I hastily turn round, to see him facing me. His cheeks are flushed and he has an unfamiliar awkwardness about him. It looks like whatever hes been saying has required some effort.
... Do you feel the same way, Samantha?
He coughs, and breaks off into an expectant silence.
I stare back at him dumbly. Do I feel the same way about what?
Oh, shit. Bollocks. The man Im secretly falling in love with just made a romantic speech to meprobably the only one Ill get in my whole lifeand I wasnt listening? I missed it?
I want to shoot myself for being so rubbish. And now hes waiting for me to reply. What am I going to do? Hes just spilled his heart
to me. I cant say, Sorry, I didnt quite catch that.
Um ... I push my hair back, playing for time. Well ... youve given me quite a lot to think about.
But do you agree?
OK, this is Nathaniel. Im sure I agree with it, whatever it is.
Yes. I give him the most sincere look I can muster. Yes, I agree. Wholeheartedly. In fact ... Ive often thought so myself.
Nathaniel is scrutinizing me. You agree, he says, as though to make sure. With everything?
Er ... yes! Im starting to feel a bit nervous now. What have I agreed to?
Even about the chimpanzees?
The chimpanzees? I suddenly see Nathaniels mouth twitching. Hes on to me.
You didnt listen to a word I was saying, did you? he says, in matter- of- fact tones.
I didnt realize you were saying something important! I wail, hanging my head. You should have warned me!
Nathaniel looks at me incredulously. That took some nerve, you know, saying all that. Say it again, I beg. Say it all again! Ill listen! Uh- uh. He laughs, shaking his head. Maybe one day.
Im sorry, Nathaniel. Really I am. I turn away to press my head against the window glass. I was just ... distracted.
I know. He comes over and puts his arms around me, over my own. I can feel his steady heartbeat against me, calming me down. Samantha, whats up? Its your old relationship, isnt it?
Yup, I mutter after a pause.
Why wont you tell me about it? I could help.
I turn round to face him. The sun is glowing in his eyes and on his burnished face. Hes never looked more handsome.
I know I cant hide my past forever. I could tell Nathaniel the whole story, right here, right now. But at the same time, I know that the minute I tell him who I was, hell look at me differently. Everything will change between us. I wont be Samantha anymore. Ill be a lawyer.
And its all so perfect as it is. I cant bear to rock the boat just yet.
I dont want to bring that world into this one, I say at last. I just dont. Nathaniel opens his mouth again, but I turn away before he can speak. I stare out at the idyllic view, blinking against the rays of the sun, my mind in total turmoil.
Maybe I should just give up on the whole nightmare. Forget about it. Let it go. The chances are Ill never be able to prove anything.Arnold has all the power; I have none. The chances are if I try to stir things up again all Ill get is more humiliation and disgrace.
I could so easily do nothing. I could just put it from my mind, as Ive tried to do all this time. Close the door on my old life and leave it behind forever. I have a job. I have Nathaniel. I have a possible future here.
But even as Im thinking itI know thats not what Im going to do.I cant forget about it. I cant let go.