Authors: Elli Lewis
By Elli Lewis
Copyright Elli Lewis 2016
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form whatsoever or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the copyright owner.
The right of Elli Lewis to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictionally, and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
For my boys xxx
'What do you mean you lost it? How do you lose 150 million pounds?'
The voice was controlled. Too controlled. Amy stared at the back of the expensive leather chair from which these words emanated, fear and shame coursing through her body. Was the chair itself trembling? Beyond it, vast floor to ceiling windows revealed an icy blue sky bordering the famous City of London skyline, clear and promising. But inside the stark office she could feel storm clouds gathering, silently, ominously, like a flock of birds assembling, ready to pounce on a single, unwitting mouse.
The worst part was, she had no idea what she was supposed to say. Was it a rhetorical question? Was Jackie supposed to answer? Amy looked over at her supervisor. Mistake. This was worse than she had imagined. Usually straight backed and bearing a neutral, professional expression in the presence of her superiors, Jackie’s bulky frame seemed frozen, rooted to the spot, her eyes fixed on a point somewhere in the middle distance. A soldier awaiting Court Marshall.
Just minutes earlier, in their shared office, her face had been contorted into a fierce crumple of blazing eyes and bared teeth.
'It had better be just you they fire. I am not taking the fall for this.'
It was amazing how a perfectly normal day, one which had begun with toast and picking what to wear and being crushed on the Metropolitan Line, could turn so quickly and so spectacularly.
As usual, she had arrived at the office at 8am. As a trainee at Drakers LLP, one of the most exclusive law firms in the City, it was well known that she had to be in the office before her supervisor and to leave well after. It was a matter of course, like making sure she wore shoes to client meetings. It was just what you did. Some trainees – and she was thinking of Graham here – would take it too far. He didn’t just send emails at ridiculous hours saying things like
'we need to action this ASAP'
. He would check in at the firm on Facebook, with captions like
'tax waits for no man'
Having been in the tax and then the family department, Amy was in the middle of her 6-month stint in the property department. That’s how traineeships or 'training contracts' worked in the City. Each trainee spent 6 months at a time in four departments before selecting a specialism. At the end of the contract, the firm would decide whether they would keep the trainee or banish them into the dark depths of the job seeking market. She liked to think of it as musical chairs with vocational implications.
In so many ways, that day had been like most of the other days she had spent in property. She had quietly dictated some letters to her secretary as well as a report about a block of offices they were buying for a charity. Amy spoke soothingly and with great reverence into the Dictaphone, making sure to follow all the instructions her secretary, Hilda, had given her on previous occasions. Amy was terrified of Hilda. At 22, Hilda was younger than Amy’s 25 years, but she never failed to make her feel like an infant. It didn’t help that at 5'8, the slim Australian towered over Amy’s hourglass 5'2 frame, nor that her surly demeanour was accompanied by street smarts and practicality that often left Amy questioning the usefulness of her university degree.
Jackie had marched into their shared office at 9am precisely, reverently placing her sensible black handbag on a chair before carefully hanging her oversized duffel coat on a hanger and her blazer on the back of her chair. Once she had completed this morning ritual, the list of orders began their daily flow.
'Have you finished the Brightman report?'
'Hilda has it, almost done.'
'I needed it this morning,' she chastised without looking away from her computer screen. She had actually asked for it to be ready for tomorrow, but Amy had learned never to contradict these statements.
'We’re transferring funds on the Hijinx deal today so I need you to be available in case anything comes up. Do you understand?' This time she did look over.
'Yes, no problem.' This was the stock answer to that question. It had to be delivered in just the right tone. Confidently, calmly, not too flip, but with absolutely no fear or anxiety detectable.
'You know how important this is.'
Amy did. The Hijinx deal had been all anyone had been talking about for months. The biggest and most expensive property deal going on in London at that time, it was the brainchild of the glamorous heiresses known as the Hijinx twins – or Hijinx Hotties as the media like to call them. It was part of their crusade to make living in London as desirable – and also seemingly as expensive - as possible. As such they were buying a vast chunk of land in the west of the city, with the aim of building a development of luxury flats destined to be
'a haven of spectacular homes for the discerning Londoner'
. Amy had seen some of the plans and couldn’t quite believe that anyone had use for that much gold leaf detailing or black marble, but the opulence of it all was undeniable. As was the price. Just the initial transaction would be worth an incredible £150,000,000. Not all that surprising in a city where studio flats sold for the price of vast stately homes anywhere else. Also understandable given that the area of land being purchased was in Notting Hill, in one of London’s most sought-after postcodes.
Amy also knew the Hijinx deal was particularly important to Jackie and her campaign to become the youngest ever partner at Drakers. This was her flagship project. The one that would set her apart. The deal had been fraught with difficulties. The seller was an elusive, but apparently quite volatile, Russian oligarch and there had been several occasions when it looked like things might fall apart. Apparently there was another party interested and, in the event that the funds didn’t arrive by 2pm that day, the deal was off. Jackie had spent the whole of last week trying to convince the Hijinx sisters to transfer the money a day earlier to be on the safe side, but tensions were so high that it had become a point of principle. The money would arrive when it was supposed to and no earlier.
'Good.' Jackie seemed satisfied. 'Now, go and fax this for me.'
Amy took the document proffered from Jackie’s hand and went to the relatively unused fax machine. Usually, things were emailed or sent by DX, but sometimes, for archaic reasons, fax had to be used. Amy punched in the number and waited. The paper went through, the machine whirred, but then its screen responded 'No Answer'. She tried a few more times, wondering whether the number was correct. She checked it carefully.
'You have to put a nine at the front.' Hilda’s nasal voice was weighed down by weary disdain as she sauntered past, obviously having watched the whole performance unfold from her desk.
It was nearing 10am when an excited buzz emanated from the secretaries’ hub.
'Did you hear?' a dark haired trainee called Penelope had said, sidling up next to her by the coffee station, her eyes glinting. 'Hammond Flint is downstairs.'
Amy felt a spark of excitement ripple through her. With his mop of sandy blond hair, dazzling blue eyes and olive skin, Hammond Flint was the current box office favourite when it came to charming yet cheeky big screen characters. There was even talk of him as the next Bond, although that was one of those rumours that had been around for so long, it was probably started by his agent. The idea that he was in the same country let alone the same building as her was enough to raise her blood pressure.
'What’s he doing here?'
'D-I-V-O-R-C-E,' Penelope whispered, seemingly unnecessarily. 'There’s a big cat fight over who’s getting him. My money’s on Bingham, but I hear your one’s in with a chance.' She motioned with her chin towards Jackie who was sitting at her desk, looking officious as she spoke on the phone.
'I’m pretty sure it all comes down to whoever finishes their phone call first,' Penelope added, her eyes flitting to Jeremy Bingham’s desk. He was gripping his phone receiver so tightly, his knuckles had turned a pale shade of grey. Amy wondered if anyone had ever actually crushed a phone before.
'Tenner on Bridlington,' Kieran’s voice piped up behind them. 'Look at that dedication. He’s talking at double speed.'
'But I’m pretty sure he’s on the phone to Doris,' Penelope said, which elicited an 'oh' from everyone involved and put Bridlington decisively out of the running. Doris Filcher was the firm’s most elderly client and the one who spoke the slowest. There was absolutely no way to disentangle oneself from a conversation with Doris in less than sixty minutes. It simply wasn’t possible.
'Well, as much as I’d like to watch this – and I really would,' Amy said, 'I have a deadline to meet.' She walked back to her desk and was just immersing herself in her latest financial document when Jackie put the phone down. Despite the fact that she couldn’t see her face, Amy could sense that, beyond her computer screen, across the office, Jackie was in a state of turmoil. She could feel her pausing, unsure what to do before alighting on Amy. It was the furtiveness of her movements that gave it away. The slam of the phone, the silence, a shuffle of papers and then silence once again. Amy knew her eyes were on her, but she pretended not to, waiting for the blow.
Just then, Jackie’s secretary, Katie, walked in, her face bright crimson as though she was a child holding its breath in a tantrum.
'Are they ready for me?' Jackie said.
Seemingly unable to speak, Katie just nodded. Jackie looked conflicted again and then started scribbling rapidly on a sheet of paper. Her strokes sounded so gruff Amy expected the sheet to rip, but even this inanimate object clearly knew it wasn’t the time for dramatics.
When Jackie’s shadow finally fell over her desk, Amy looked up as her formidable form paused expectantly.
'Amy.' The sweetness of her tone was as saccharine as it was sinister. 'They need me downstairs, so I’ll need you to do something for me.'
Amy just nodded. Was Jackie going to take her along to meet Hammond Flint? Her sister would be so jealous if she knew! Not that she was allowed to tell her what with client confidentiality, but if only she knew. Was her makeup ok? Would she have time to look in a mirror?
'It’s time to transfer the funds on Hijinx so you are going to have to do it.' Amy almost laughed. The tremulous delivery of this last line was like that delivered by a film hero telling his loved one that it’s his job to set off the explosive device – manually. She half expected Jackie’s next words to inform her that she was unlikely to survive, but instead she continued, 'All of the details are on this piece of paper.' She had slammed the sheet onto Amy’s desk. 'Everything is correct on here. Do it exactly. Like. This. Liaise with accounts and get this done. The money needs to get there by 2pm. Two. P. M. Do you understand?' Jackie currently bore an uncanny resemblance to a tightly coiled spring
'Yes, no problem.' Amy said as confidently as she could muster. And, as she watched Jackie sprint towards the lifts and her fellow trainees settle their bets, she had thought, how hard could it be?
And yet, now here Amy was, facing the back of the leather chair with the controlled voice. She cast her mind back to when she had first realised there was a problem. Jackie had only returned from her meeting at midday. The first thing she asked about was the transfer. 'Did you get it done?'
'Yes, I was just going to call to confirm,' Amy had replied quickly. In fact, she was in the middle of a task for Kimberly, one of the partners, and had mentally ticked off the Hijinx project as completed. The morning had been so busy, with partners and associates milling in and out of her office wanting this and that done, that she had felt like a hamster, whirring in its wheel, unable to locate the brakes. Yet with Jackie back and looming over her desk, she wondered how she could have failed to call the solicitors on the other side just to make sure the money had arrived. It was so simple yet so vital.
Locating the file and the phone numbers written in black marker on the front of it, Amy dialled the one for the seller’s solicitors and listened as it rang. There was no reason to think anything had gone wrong. Yet, somehow, she already knew it had.
'I was wondering when someone would call,' Nisha said on the other end with her usual reasonable tone. 'Nothing yet. Let me double check.' Amy heard the music that signalled she was on hold. A minute later, Nisha returned. 'Nope, hopefully soon.'
Amy didn’t move, but felt her body start to spring into action. Her blood was pumping faster; there was a tingling in her hands. Jackie seemed to be focused on her own computer screen, but Amy sensed she was listening to her conversation. Sure enough, as soon as Amy put the phone down, Jackie asked, 'So it’s there?'
'She says it’s not. Let me check with accounts. Maybe there was a delay in sending it?'
Amy had Jackie’s full attention now. 'What do you mean? You said you were dealing with this.'
Knowing that there was no satisfactory response to Jackie’s statement, Amy just picked up the phone and dialled.
'Ok, let’s run through all the details,' said Brian from accounts minutes later, his slow monotone voice in no way matching the urgency of the situation. There was silence on the other line except the slow tapping of a keyboard.
'Just waiting for the computer to open the program,' he said unhurriedly. More silence. After what seemed an interminably long time, he said, 'Case number?'
Amy read it out.
'Was that EYZ or EYX?' he asked. 'And a second four after the 53?'