“Mind?” He gives a little shrug. “No, I wouldn’t think so.”
“Sssh!” says Janice. “It’s the Countdown Conundrum.”
“Right,” I whisper. “Well, I’ll just. . I’ll just take this, shall I?”
“Explicate!” yells Janice. “No, exploited!”
“And. . thanks for the sherry.” I take a huge gulp, shuddering slightly at its sticky sweetness, then put my glass down and tiptoe out of the room.
Half an hour later, sitting in my bedroom, I’ve read the letter from Flagstaff Life six times and I’m sure there’s something fishy about it. How many investors must have switched funds after receiving this crappy carriage clock offer — and missed out on their windfall? More to the point, how much money must Flagstaff Life have saved? Suddenly I really want to know. There’s a growing indignation in me; a growing determination to find out exactly what’s been going on and, if it’s what I suspect, to expose it. To print the truth and warn others. For the first time in my life, I’m actually interested in a financial story.
And I don’t just want to write it up for Successful Saving, either. This deserves the widest audience possible. Eric Foreman’s card is still in my purse, with his direct telephone number printed at the top, and I take it out. I go to the phone and quickly punch in the number before I can change my mind.
“Eric Foreman, Daily World,” comes his voice, booming down the line.
Am I really doing this?
“Hi,” I say nervously. “I don’t know if you remember me. Rebecca Bloomwood from Successful Saving. We met at the Sacrum Asset Management press conference.”
“That’s right, so we did,” he says cheerfully. “How are you, my love?”
“I’m fine,” I say, and clench my hand tightly around the receiver. “Absolutely fine. Ahm. . I was just wondering, are you still running your series on ‘Can We Trust the Money Men?’ ”
“We are, as it goes,” says Eric Foreman. “Why?”
“It’s just. .” I swallow. “I think I’ve got a story that might interest you.”
I HAVE NEVER BEFORE worked so hard on an article. Never.
Mind you, I’ve never before been asked to write one so quickly. At Successful Saving, we get a whole month to write our articles — and we complain about that. When Eric Foreman said, “Can you do it by tomorrow?” I thought he was joking at first. I jauntily replied, “Of course!” and nearly added, “In fact, I’ll have it with you in five minutes’ time!” Then, just in time, I realized he was serious. Crikey.
So I’m round at Martin and Janice’s first thing the next morning with a Dictaphone, writing down exactly all the information on their investment and trying to get in lots of heart-wrenching details as advised by Eric.
“We need human interest,” he told me over the phone. “None of your dull financial reporting here. Make us feel sorry for them. Make us weep. A hardworking, ordinary couple, who thought they could rely on a few savings to see them through their old age. Ripped off by the fat cats. What kind of house do these people live in?”
“Ahmm. . a four-bedroom detached house in Surrey.”
“Well, for Christ’s sake don’t put that in!” he boomed. “I want honest, poor, and proud. Never demanded a penny off the state, saved to provide for themselves. Trusted a respectable financial institution. And all it did was kick them in the face.” He paused, and it sounded as if he might be picking his teeth. “That kind of thing. Think you can manage it?”
“I. . ahm. . yes! Of course!” I stuttered.
Oh God, I thought as I put down the phone. What have I got myself into?
But it’s too late to change my mind now. So the next thing is to persuade Janice and Martin that they don’t mind appearing in The Daily World. The trouble is, it’s not exactly The Financial Times, is it? Or even the normal Times. (Still, it could be a lot worse. It could be The Sun — and they’d end up sandwiched between a topless model and a blurred paparazzi shot of Posh Spice.)
Luckily, however, they’re so bowled over that I’m making all this effort on their behalf, they don’t seem to care which newspaper I’m writing for. And when they hear that a photographer’s coming over at midday to take their picture, you’d think the queen was coming to visit.
“My hair!” says Janice in dismay, staring into the mirror. “Have I time to get Maureen in to give me a blow-dry?”
“Not really. And it looks lovely,” I say reassuringly. “Anyway, they want you as natural as possible. Just. . honest, ordinary people.” I glance around the living room, trying to pick up poignant details to put into my article.