God, she’s a cow.
“I’ve just had John from Flagstaff on the phone,” adds Alicia to Luke in a lowered voice. “He was very keen that you should mention the new Foresight Savings Series. Obviously, I told him—”
“This is a damage limitation exercise,” says Luke curtly. “Not a bloody plug-fest. He’ll be bloody lucky if he. .” He glances at me and I look away as though I’m not remotely interested in what he’s talking about. Casually I glance at my watch and feel a leap of fright as I see the time. Ten minutes. Ten minutes to go.
“OK,” says Zelda, coming into the room. “Elisabeth, we’re ready for you.”
“Marvelous,” says Elisabeth, taking a last mouthful of pain au chocolat. “Now, I do look all right, don’t I?” She stands up and a shower of crumbs falls off her skirt.
“You’ve got a piece of croissant in your hair,” says Zelda, reaching up and removing it. “Other than that — what can I say?” She catches my eye and I have a hysterical desire to giggle.
“Luke!” says the baby-faced guy, rushing in with a mobile phone. “John Bateson on the line for you. And a couple of packages have arrived. .”
“Thanks, Tim,” says Alicia, taking the packages and ripping them open. She pulls out a bunch of papers and begins scanning them quickly, marking things every so often in pencil. Meanwhile, Tim sits down, opens a laptop computer, and starts typing.
“Yes, John, I do see your bloody point,” Luke’s saying in a low, tight voice. “But if you had just kept me better informed—”
“Tim,” says Alicia, looking up. “Can you quickly check the return on the Flagstaff Premium Pension over the last three, five, and ten?”
“Absolutely,” says Tim, and starts tapping at his computer.
“Tim,” says Luke, looking up from the phone. “Can you print out the Flagstaff Foresight press release draft for me ASAP? Thanks.”
I can’t quite believe what I’m seeing. They’ve practically set up an office, here in the Morning Coffee green room. An entire office of Brandon Communications staff complete with computers and modems and phones. . pitted against me and my crumpled piece of notebook paper.
As I watch Tim’s laptop efficiently spewing out pages, and Alicia handing sheets of paper to Luke, a resigned feeling starts to creep over me. I mean, let’s face it. I’ll never beat this lot, will I? I haven’t got a chance. I should just give up now. Tell them I’m ill or something. Run home and hide under my duvet.
“OK, everyone?” says Zelda, poking her head round the door. “On in seven minutes.”
“Fine,” says Luke.
“Fine,” I echo in a wobbly voice.
“Oh, and Rebecca, there’s a package for you,” says Zelda. She comes into the room and hands me a large, square box. “I’ll be back in a minute.”
“Thanks, Zelda,” I say in surprise, and, with a sudden lift of spirits, begin to rip the box open. I’ve no idea what it is or who it’s from — but it’s got to be something helpful, hasn’t it? Special last-minute information from Eric Foreman, maybe. A graph, or a series of figures that I can produce at the crucial moment. Or some secret document that Luke doesn’t know about.
Out of the corner of my eye I can see that all the Brandonites have stopped what they’re doing and are watching, too. Well, that’ll show them. They’re not the only ones to get packages delivered to the green room. They’re not the only ones to have resources. Finally I get the sticky tape undone and open the flaps of the box.
And as everyone watches, a big red helium balloon, with “good luck” emblazoned across it, floats up to the ceiling. There’s a card attached to the string, and, without looking anyone in the eye, I rip it open.
Immediately I wish I hadn’t.
“Good luck to you, good luck to you, whatever you’re about to do,” sings a tinny electronic voice.
I slam the card shut and feel a surge of embarrassment. From the other side of the room I can hear little sniggers going on, and I look up to see Alicia smirking. She whispers something into Luke’s ear, and an amused expression spreads across his face.
He’s laughing at me. They’re all laughing at Rebecca Bloomwood and her singing balloon. For a few moments I can’t move for mortification. My chest is rising and falling swiftly; I’ve never felt less like a leading industry expert in my life.
Then, on the other side of the room, I hear Alicia murmur some malicious little comment and give a snort of laughter. Deep inside me, something snaps. Sod them, I think suddenly. Sod them all. They’re probably only jealous, anyway. They wish they had balloons, too.