“Yeah, right,” I murmur back. “And what sector would that be? The Crap Investments Sector? The Lose All Your Money Sector?”
Eric Foreman looks at me and his mouth twists slightly.
“You think they’ve fiddled their figures?” he whispers.
“It’s not exactly fiddling,” I explain. “They just compare themselves to whoever’s worse than themselves, and then call themselves the winners.” I point to the graph in the brochure. “Look. They haven’t actually specified what this so-called sector is.”
“Well, blow me,” says Eric Foreman, and looks up at the Sacrum team sitting on the platform. “They’re canny bastards, aren’t they?”
Really, this guy has no idea. I feel almost sorry for him.
Maria Freeman is droning on again, and I stifle a yawn. The trouble with sitting near the front is you have to pretend to look interested and be writing notes. “Pensions,” I write, and draw a swirly line underneath. Then I make the line into the stem of a vine and start drawing little bunches of grapes and leaves all the way along.
“In a moment I’ll be introducing Mike Dillon, who heads up the investment team, and he’ll be telling you a little about their methods. In the meantime, if there are any questions. .”
“Yes,” says Eric Foreman. “I’ve got a question.” I look up from my grapevine, slightly surprised.
“Oh yes?” Maria Freeman smiles sweetly at him. “And you are. .”
“Eric Foreman, Daily World. I’d like to know, how much do you all get paid?” He gestures with his hand along the table.
“What?” Maria Freeman turns pink, then regains her composure. “Oh, you mean charges. Well, we’ll be dealing with those. .”
“I don’t mean charges,” says Eric Foreman. “I mean, how-much-do-you-get-paid? You, Mike Dillon.” He jabs at him with his finger. “What are you on? Six figures, is it? And bearing in mind what a disaster the performance of Sacrum Asset Management was last year — shouldn’t you be out on the streets?”
I’m absolutely stunned. I’ve never seen anything like this at a press conference. Never!
There’s a kerfuffle at the table, and then Mike Dillon leans forward toward his microphone.
“If we could get on with the presentation,” he says, “and. . and leave other questions for later.” He’s looking decidedly uncomfortable.
“Just one more thing,” says Eric Foreman. “What would you say to one of our readers who invested in your Safe Prospects plan and lost ten grand?” He glances briefly at me and winks. “Show them a nice reassuring graph like that one, would you? Tell them you were ‘top of the sector’?”
Oh, this is fantastic! All the Sacrum people look like they want to die.
“A press release on the subject of Safe Prospects was issued at the time,” says Maria and smiles icily at Eric. “However, this press conference is restricted to the subject of the new Pension Series. If you could just wait until the presentation is over. .”
“Don’t worry,” says Eric Foreman comfortably. “I won’t be staying to hear the bullshit. I reckon I’ve got everything I need already.” He stands up and grins at me. “Good to meet you, Rebecca,” he says quietly. “And thanks for your expertise.” He extends his hand and I shake it, without quite knowing what I’m doing. And then, as everyone is turning in their seats and whispering, he makes his way along the row and out of the room.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” says Maria Freeman, two bright spots burning on her cheeks. “Due to this. . disturbance, we will have a short break before we resume. Please help yourself to tea and coffee. Thank you.” She turns off the microphone, climbs down from the podium, and hurries over to the huddle of Sacrum Asset Management personnel.
“You should never have let him in!” I hear one of them saying.
“I didn’t know who he was!” replies Maria defensively. “He said he was a stringer for The Wall Street Journal!”
Well, this is more like it! I haven’t seen so much excitement since Alan Derring from the Daily Investor stood up at a Provident Assurance press conference and told everyone he was becoming a woman and wanted us all to call him Andrea.
I head toward the back to get another cup of coffee, and find Elly standing by the coffee table. Excellent. I haven’t seen Elly for ages.
“Hi,” she grins. “I like your new friend. Very entertaining.”
“I know!” I say delightedly. “Isn’t he cool?” I reach for a posh chocolate biscuit wrapped in gold foil, and give my cup to the waitress to be refilled. Then I take another couple of biscuits and pop them in my bag. (No point wasting them.)