“We’re out of time, I’m afraid,” says Emma, “but before we go, do you have any last words of advice, Rebecca?”

My VISA card, canceled. My Octagon card, confiscated in front of that whole crowd. God, that was humiliating.

OK, stop it. Concentrate. Concentrate.

“Yes,” I say, forcing a confident tone. “I would just say. . in the same way you might have a medical checkup once a year, do the same with your finances. Don’t ignore them until they become a problem!”

My whole terrible, disorganized life. It’s all there, isn’t it? Waiting for me, like a great big spider. Just waiting to pounce, as soon as this phone-in ends.

“Wise words from our financial expert,” says Emma. “Many thanks to Rebecca Bloomwood, and I’m sure we’ll all be heeding her advice. Coming up after the break, the results of our makeover in Newcastle and Heaven Sent 7, live in the studio.”

There’s a frozen pause, then everyone relaxes.

“Right,” says Emma, consulting her piece of paper. “Where are we next?”

“Good work, Rebecca,” says Rory cheerfully. “Excellent stuff.”

“Oh, Zelda!” says Emma, leaping up. “Could I have a quick word? That was fab, Rebecca,” she adds. “Really fab.”

And suddenly they’re both gone. And I’m left alone on the set, exposed and vulnerable. Rebecca Bloomwood, top financial expert, has vanished. All that’s left is me, Becky. Shrinking on my seat and frantically trying to avoid Derek Smeath’s eye.

I don’t have anything to give him. The money from The Daily World has got to go straight to Suze. I’m in as much trouble as I ever was. What am I going to do?

Maybe I could slip out at the back.

Maybe I could stick it out here on the sofa. Just sit here until he gets bored and leaves. I mean, he won’t dare to come onto the actual set, will he? Or maybe I could pretend to be someone else. God yes. I mean, with all this makeup on, I practically look like someone else, anyway. I could just walk quickly past, and if he talks to me, answer in a foreign accent. Or else. .

And then suddenly I stop, midtrack. It’s as though I’m hearing my own thoughts for the first time in my life. And what I hear makes me ashamed of myself.

Who do I think I’m kidding? What exactly will I achieve by dodging Derek Smeath one more time? It’s time to grow up, Becky, I tell myself. It’s time to stop running away. If Fran from Shrewsbury can do it, then so can Rebecca from London.

I stand up, take a deep breath, and walk slowly across the set to Derek Smeath.

“Hello, Mr. Smeath,” I say in polite, calm tones. “What a coincidence to see you here.” I hold out my hand for a symbolic, peacemaking handshake, but Derek Smeath doesn’t even seem to see it. He’s staring at me as though he’s seen a goldfish begin to talk.

“Coincidence?” he echoes at last, and a technician gestures to us to keep our voices down. Derek Smeath firmly ushers me out of the studio into a foyer area and turns to face me, and I feel a twinge of fear at his expression.

“Miss Bloomwood,” he says. “Miss Bloomwood—” He rubs his face with his hand, then looks up. “Do you know quite how long I have been writing letters to you? Do you know how long I’ve been trying to get you into the bank for a meeting?”

“Ahm. . I’m not quite—”

“Six months,” says Derek Smeath, and pauses. “Six long months of excuses and prevarication. Now, I’d just like you to think about what that means for me. It means endless letters. Numerous phone calls. Hours of time and effort on my part and that of my assistant, Erica. Resources which, quite frankly, could be better spent elsewhere.” He gestures sharply with his polystyrene cup and some coffee slops onto the floor. “Then finally I pin you down to a cast-iron appointment. Finally I think you’re taking your situation seriously. . And you don’t turn up. You disappear completely. I telephone your home to find out where you are, and get accused most unpleasantly of being some kind of stalker!”

“Oh yes,” I say, and pull an apologetic face. “Sorry about that. It’s just my dad, you know. He’s a bit weird.”

“I’d all but given up on you,” says Derek Smeath, his voice rising. “I’d all but given up. And then I’m passing a television shop this morning, and what should I see, on six different screens, but the missing, vanished Rebecca Bloomwood, advising the nation. And what are you advising them on?” He begins to shake with laughter. (At least, I think it’s laughter.) “Finance! You are advising the British public. . on finance!”

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