There’s silence. I don’t dare look at Derek Smeath’s face. I don’t dare look at anything except the floor.

“Well, there’s a coincidence!” says Philip. “More champagne, anyone?”

“Rebecca Bloomwood,” says Derek Smeath. He sounds quite faint. “I don’t believe it.”

“Yes!” I say, desperately slugging back the last of my champagne. “Ha-ha-ha! It’s a small world. Well, I must be off and interview some more. .”

“Wait!” says Erica, her voice like a dagger. “We were hoping to have a little meeting with you, Rebecca. Weren’t we, Derek?”

“Indeed we were,” says Derek Smeath. I feel a sudden trickle of fear. This man isn’t like a cozy sitcom uncle anymore. He’s like a scary exam monitor, who’s just caught you cheating. “That is,” he adds pointedly, “assuming your legs are both intact and you aren’t suffering from any dreaded lurgey?”

“What’s this?” says Philip cheerfully.

“How is the leg, by the way?” says Erica sweetly.

“Fine,” I mumble. “Fine, thanks.”

“Good,” says Derek Smeath. “So we’ll say Monday at nine-thirty, shall we?” He looks at Philip. “You don’t mind if Rebecca joins us for a quick meeting on Monday morning, do you?”

“Of course not!” says Philip.

“And if she doesn’t turn up,” says Derek Smeath, “we’ll know where to find her, won’t we?” He gives me a sharp look, and I feel my stomach contract in fright.

“Rebecca’ll turn up!” says Philip. He gives me a jokey grin, lifts his glass, and wanders off. Oh God, I think in panic. Don’t leave me alone with them.

“Well, I’ll look forward to seeing you,” says Derek Smeath. He pauses, and gives me a beady look. “And if I remember rightly from our telephone conversation the other day, you’ll be coming into some funds by then.”

Oh shit. I thought he’d have forgotten about that.

“That’s right,” I say after a pause. “Absolutely. My aunt’s money. Well remembered! My aunt left me some money recently,” I explain to Erica Parnell.

Erica Parnell doesn’t look impressed.

“Good,” says Derek Smeath. “Then I’ll expect you on Monday.”

“Fine,” I say, and smile even more confidently at him. “Looking forward to it already!”

OCTAGON — flair style • vision

Financial Services Department

8th Floor, Tower House

London Road, Winchester SO44 3DR

Ms. Rebecca Bloomwood Charge Card Number 7854 4567

Flat 24 Burney Rd.London SW6 8FD

15 March 2000

Dear Ms. Bloomwood: FINAL REMINDER Further to my letter of 9 March, there is still an outstanding balance of £235.76 on your Octagon Silver Card. Should payment not arrive within the next seven days, your account will be frozen and further action will be taken.I was glad to hear that you have found the Lord and accepted Jesus Christ as your savior; unfortunately this has no bearing on the matter.I look forward to receiving your payment shortly.Yours sincerely,Grant Ellesmore Customer Finance Manager


THIS IS BAD. I mean, I’m not just being paranoid, am I? This is really bad.

As I sit on the tube on my way home, I stare at my reflection — outwardly calm and relaxed. But inside, my mind’s scurrying around like a spider, trying to find a way out. Round and round and round, legs flailing, no escape. . OK, stop. Stop! Calm down and let’s go through the options one more time.

Option One: Go to meeting and tell the truth.

I just can’t. I can’t go along on Monday morning and admit that there isn’t £1,000 from my aunt and there never will be. What will they do to me? They’ll get all serious, won’t they? They’ll sit me down and start going through all my expenditures and. . Oh God, I feel sick at the thought of it. I can’t do it. I can’t go. End of story.

Option Two: Go to meeting and lie.

So, what, tell them the £1,000 is absolutely on its way, and that further funds will be coming through soon. Hmm. Possible. The trouble is, I don’t think they’ll believe me. So they’ll still get all serious, sit me down, give me a lecture. No way.

Option Three: Don’t go to meeting.

But if I don’t, Derek Smeath will phone Philip and they’ll start talking. Maybe the whole story will come out, and he’ll find out I didn’t actually break my leg. Or have glandular fever. And after that I won’t ever be able to go back into the office. I’ll be unemployed. My life will be over at the age of twenty-five.