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Authors: Jeffrey Archer

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Mightier Than the Sword (9 page)

BOOK: Mightier Than the Sword
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“That’s exactly what I am doing,” insisted Seb. “So why is Sloane treating me this way?”

“I can explain that in one word,” said Emma. “Envy. And you’d better get used to it if you’re hoping to climb further up the corporate ladder.”

“But I never had that problem when I worked for Mr. Hardcastle.”

“Of course you didn’t, because Cedric never saw you as a threat.”

“Sloane thinks I’m a threat?”

“Yes. He assumes you’re after his job, and that only makes him more secretive, insecure, paranoid, call it what you will. But to use one of Des Mellor’s favorite expressions, just be sure you cover your backside.”

*   *   *

When Seb reported to Sloane, his boss came straight to the point, and didn’t seem to mind that his secretary was listening to every word.

“As you weren’t at your desk when I came in this morning, I assume you must have been visiting a client.”

“No, I was at the American Embassy dealing with a personal matter.”

This silenced Sloane for a moment. “Well, in future, when you’re dealing with personal matters, do it in your own time, and not the company’s. We’re running a bank, not a social club.”

Seb gritted his teeth. “I’ll remember that in future, Adrian.”

“I’d prefer to be called Mr. Sloane, during working hours.”

“Anything else … Mr. Sloane?” asked Seb.

“No, not for the moment, but I expect to see your monthly report on my desk by close of business this evening.”

Seb returned to his office, relieved to be a step ahead of Sloane, as he’d already prepared his monthly report over the weekend. His figures were up again, for the tenth month in a row, although it had recently become clear to him that Sloane was adding his own results in with Seb’s, and taking the credit. If Sloane hoped that his tactics would eventually grind Seb down, even force him to resign, he needn’t hold his breath. As long as Cedric was chairman of the bank, Seb knew his position was secure, and while he continued to deliver, he need have no fear of Sloane, because the chairman was well capable of reading between the lines.

At one o’clock, Seb grabbed a ham sandwich from a nearby café and ate it on the move, not something his mother would have approved of—at your desk if you have to, but not on the move.

As he searched for a taxi, he thought about some of the lessons he’d learned from Cedric when it came to closing a deal, some basic, some more subtle, but most of it good old-fashioned common sense.

“Know how much you can afford, never overstretch yourself, and try to remember that the other side are also hoping to make a profit. And build good contacts because they’ll be your lifeline during bad times, as only one thing is certain in banking—you will experience bad times. And by the way,” he’d added, “never buy retail.”

“Who taught you that?” Seb had asked.

“Jack Benny.”

Armed with sound advice from both Cedric Hardcastle and Jack Benny, Seb went in search of an engagement ring. The contact had been suggested by his old school chum, Victor Kaufman, who now worked on the foreign exchange desk at his father’s bank, just a few blocks away from Farthings. He’d advised Seb to visit a Mr. Alan Gard in Hatton Garden.

“He’ll supply you with a larger stone, at half the price of any jeweller on the high street.”

Seb was eating on the move and taking a taxi because he knew he had to be back at his desk within the hour if he didn’t want to fall foul of Adrian Sloane yet again. It pulled up outside a green door that Seb would have passed without noticing if the number 47 hadn’t been painted neatly on it. There was nothing to hint of the treasures that lay within. Seb realized that he must be dealing with a private and cautious man.

He pressed the bell, and a moment later a Dickensian figure wearing a skull cap and with long black ringlets greeted him. When Seb said he was a friend of Victor Kaufman, he was quickly ushered through to Mr. Gard’s inner sanctum.

A wiry man, no taller than five feet, and dressed casually in an open-necked shirt and well-worn jeans, rose from behind his desk and gave his potential customer a warm smile. When he heard the name Kaufman, the smile broadened and he rubbed his hands together as if he was about to roll some dice.

“If you’re a friend of Saul Kaufman, you’re probably expecting to get the Koh-I-Noor for five pounds.”

“Four,” said Seb.

“And you’re not even Jewish.”

“No,” said Seb, “but I was trained by a Yorkshireman.”

“That explains everything. So how can I help you, young man?”

“I’m looking for an engagement ring.”

“And who’s the lucky girl?”

“An American, called Sam.”

“Then we’ll have to find Sam something special, won’t we?” Mr. Gard opened his desk drawer, took out a vast key ring, and selected a single key from the bunch. He walked across to a large safe embedded in the wall, unlocked the heavy door, and opened it to reveal a dozen neatly stacked trays. After hesitating for a moment, he selected the third tray from the bottom, pulled it out, and placed the contents on his desk.

Several small diamonds winked up at Seb. He studied them for a few moments before shaking his head gravely. The gemologist made no comment. He returned the tray to the safe and extracted the one above.

Seb took a little more time considering the slightly larger stones that shone up at him, but once again rejected them.

“Are you sure you can afford this girl?” asked the jeweller, as he removed the third tray from the top.

Seb’s eyes lit up the moment he saw a sapphire surrounded by a cluster of tiny diamonds that rested in the center of the black velvet cloth.

“That one,” he said without hesitation.

Gard picked up a loupe from his desk and studied the ring more closely. “This beautiful sapphire came from Ceylon, and is one point five carats. The cluster of eight diamonds are all point zero five of a carat, and were recently purchased from India.”

“How much?”

Gard didn’t reply for some time. “I have a feeling you’re going to be a long-term customer,” he finally said, “so I’m tempted to let you have this magnificent ring at an introductory price. Shall we say one hundred pounds?”

“You can say anything you like, but I don’t have a hundred pounds.”

“Look upon it as an investment.”

“For whom?”

“I’ll tell you what I’ll do,” said Gard, returning to his desk and opening a large ledger. He turned over several pages, then ran a forefinger down a list of figures. “To show how confident I am that you’ll be a future customer, I’ll let you have the ring for the price I paid for it. Sixty pounds.”

“We’ll have to go back to the bottom shelf,” said Seb reluctantly.

Gard threw his arms in the air. “How can a poor man hope to make a profit when he has to bargain with someone as sharp as you? My lowest possible offer is,” he paused, “fifty pounds.”

“But I only have about thirty pounds in my bank account.”

Gard considered this for a few moments. “Then let us agree on a ten-pound deposit and five pounds a month for one year.”

“But that takes it back up to seventy pounds!”

“Eleven months.”

“Ten.”

“You have a deal, young man. The first of many, I hope,” he added, as he shook Seb’s hand.

Seb wrote out a check for ten pounds, while Mr. Gard selected a small red leather box in which to place the ring.

“Pleasure to do business with you, Mr. Clifton.”

“One question, Mr. Gard. When do I get to see the top shelf?”

“Not until you’re chairman of the bank.”

 

8

O
N THE DAY BEFORE
Harry flew to Moscow, Michael Stewart, the British foreign secretary, summoned the Russian ambassador to his office in Whitehall and, on behalf of Her Majesty’s Government, protested in the strongest possible terms about the disgraceful treatment of Anatoly Babakov. He went as far as to suggest that Babakov be released from prison, and the ban on his book lifted immediately.

Mr. Stewart’s subsequent statement to the press made the front pages of every broadsheet in the country, with supportive leaders in the
Times
and the
Guardian
, both of which mentioned the campaign mounted by the popular author, Harry Clifton.

During Prime Minister’s Questions that afternoon, Alec Douglas-Home, the leader of the opposition, voiced his concern for Babakov’s plight, and called upon the PM to boycott the bilateral talks that were due to take place with the Soviet leader, Leonid Brezhnev, in Leningrad later that month.

The following day, profiles of Babakov, along with photos of his wife Yelena, appeared in several of the papers. The
Daily Mirror
described his book as a time bomb that, if published, would blow the Soviet regime apart. Harry did wonder how they could possibly know that when they couldn’t have read the book. But he felt that Sir Alan couldn’t have done any more to assist him and was determined to keep his side of the bargain.

On the night flight to Moscow, Harry went over his conference speech again and again, and by the time the BOAC plane touched down at Sheremetyevo airport, he felt confident that his campaign was gathering momentum and that he would deliver a speech Giles would be proud of.

It took him over an hour to get through customs, not least because his suitcase was unpacked by them, and then repacked by him, twice. Clearly he was not a welcome guest. When he was finally released, he and several of his fellow delegates were herded onto an old school bus which trundled into the city center, arriving outside the Majestic Hotel some fifty minutes later. Harry was exhausted.

The receptionist assured him that as the leader of the British delegation, he had been allocated one of the hotel’s finest rooms. She handed him his key and, as the lift had broken down and there were no porters available, Harry dragged his suitcase up to the seventh floor. He unlocked the door to enter one of the hotel’s finest rooms.

The sparsely furnished box brought back memories of his schooldays at St. Bede’s. A bed with a thin, lumpy mattress, and a table scarred by cigarette burns and stained with beer glass circles passed as furniture. In the corner was a washbasin with a tap that produced a trickle of cold water, whether it was turned on or off. If he wanted a bath, a notice informed him that the bathroom was at the far end of the corridor:
Remember to bring your towel, and you must not stay in the bath for more than ten minutes, or leave the tap running.
It was so reminiscent of his old school that if there’d been a knock on the door, Harry wouldn’t have been surprised to see Matron appear to check his fingernails.

As there was no minibar, or even the suggestion of a shortbread biscuit, Harry went back downstairs to join his colleagues for supper. After a one-course, self-service meal, he began to realize why Bingham’s fish paste was considered a luxury in the Soviet Union.

He decided on an early night, not least because the first day’s program revealed that he would be addressing the conference as the keynote speaker at eleven the following morning.

He may have gone to bed, but it was some hours before he could get to sleep, and not just because of the lumpy mattress, the paper-thin blanket, or the garish neon lights that invaded every corner of his room through nylon curtains that didn’t quite meet. By the time he finally fell asleep, it was eleven o’clock in Bristol, two in the morning in Moscow.

Harry rose early the following morning and decided to take a stroll around Red Square. It was impossible to miss Lenin’s mausoleum, which dominated the square and served as a constant reminder of the founder of the Soviet state. The Kremlin was guarded by a massive bronze cannon, another symbol of victory over another enemy. Even wearing the overcoat insisted on by Emma, with the collar turned up, Harry’s ears and nose had quickly turned red with the cold. He now understood why the Russians wore those magnificent fur hats, accompanied by scarves and long coats. Locals passed him on their way to work but few of them gave him a second look, despite the fact that he was continually slapping himself.

When Harry returned to the hotel, rather earlier than planned, the concierge handed him a message. Pierre Bouchard, the conference chairman, hoped he would be able to join him for breakfast in the dining room.

“I’ve allocated you the eleven o’clock slot this morning,” said Bouchard, having already given up on some scrambled egg that could never have seen a chicken. “It’s always the best attended of the conference meetings. I will open proceedings at ten thirty, when I’ll welcome the delegates from seventy-two countries. A record number,” he added with Gallic panache. “You’ll know I’ve come to the end of my speech when I remind the delegates that there’s one thing the Russians do better than anyone else on earth.” Harry raised an eyebrow. “The ballet. And we’re all lucky enough to be attending
Swan Lake
at the Bolshoi this evening. After I mention that to the delegates, I will invite you onto the stage to deliver the opening speech.”

“I’m flattered,” said Harry, “and better be on my toes.”

“You shouldn’t be,” said Bouchard. “The committee were unanimous in their choice of you as the keynote speaker. We all admire the campaign you’ve been masterminding on behalf of Anatoly Babakov. The international press are showing considerable interest, and it will amuse you to know that the KGB asked me if they could see an advance copy of your speech.”

Bouchard’s words caused Harry a moment of anxiety. Until then, he hadn’t realized how widely his campaign had been followed abroad, and how much was expected of him. He looked at his watch, hoping there was still time to go over his speech once again, drained his coffee, apologized to Bouchard, and headed quickly back up to his room. It was a relief to find the lift was now working. He didn’t need reminding that he might never have another opportunity like this to promote Babakov’s cause, and certainly not in Russia’s backyard.

He almost ran into his room and pulled open the drawer of the small side table where he’d left his speech. It was no longer there. After searching the room, he realized that the KGB were now in possession of the advance copy they’d been so keen to get their hands on.

BOOK: Mightier Than the Sword
2.3Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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