Sunday, 14 February 2010
The Not-So Secret Diary of a City Girl - chapter one
A sound like an incoming missile alert sliced through the air and threw me into a state of confusion. Up until then, I’d been asleep and dreaming about a man hitting me on the back of the head with a sledge hammer; now, however, even though I was awake, my dream not only seemed to be carrying on but the pain was getting worse.
What was going on?
“For God’s sake turn the bloody alarm clock off!” muttered a voice next to me, half-muffled by the duvet.
I reached an arm out from under the covers and smacked the clock hard. So hard, in fact, that it shot off my bedside table and into the outer darkness over by the wardrobe.
I groaned again and tried to open my eyes, only to find that they were glued shut by a combination of excess alcohol consumption, extreme sleep deprivation and Lash-a-bility – ‘the mascara that keeps on working while you party!’
“If you don’t turn the alarm clock off,” the voice next to me said, “I shall do it myself. And after that, I shall be forced to execute you for crimes against humanity.”
Frankly, death seemed pretty appealing right then (as opposed to the ‘death warmed up’ option, which I was currently experiencing). However, I was never one to shirk my duty, so I threw back the covers, crawled on my hands and knees towards the noise (which now seemed to have an added pneumatic drill-like quality to it), picked up my hairdryer and aimed it the offending timepiece. There was an almighty crack – one that felt as though it sliced the top of my skull open – and then peace, blessed peace, reigned supreme.
Exhausted, I lay down with my head on the carpet and the throbbing in my temples subsided slightly.
“What time is it?” muttered the occupant of my bed.
“I don’t know,” I said, “I can’t actually open my eyes.”
“Are you alright?”
“So long as I lie down flat it’s okay,” I said. “If I try to stand up, I feel as though I’m going to slide off the floor. How about you?”
I prised one eye-lid open with my fingers and was rewarded by the sight of Polly, my friend and work colleague, draped over the edge of the bed with her normally sleek, black hair standing up on end.
“I was well and truly mugged by the beer gorilla last night,” she whispered.
“You mean the Long Island Iced Tea Gorilla,” I reminded her, rolling onto my back to see if that helped at all, “who was accompanied by his cousins the chardonnay chimpanzee and the Tequila Slammer Orang-utan.”
Polly groaned and put a pillow over her head.
“I hate you,” she said. “It’s all your fault; it was your birthday.”
“It couldn’t have been,” I said, wondering who’d turned up the wattage on the streetlight outside my window and wishing I could reach my sunglasses. “My birthday’s on a Wednesday this year. We would never have got this drunk on a week night.”
“But it was your birthday,” Polly struggled up briefly onto her elbows before collapsing back onto the mattress, “I know that because we all went to the pub after work and then you invited everyone back here after last orders.”
Vague, swimmy recollections of catching the tube to Hammersmith with fifteen of my closest friends and co-workers swam into my addled brain.
“Oh God,” I mumbled. “Are they all still here?”
“No, you sent them all home.”
“So why are you here?”
“Because I spilled tequila on my shoes and put them under the shower for half an hour to clean them off. They were wringing.”
“And why are you in my bed?”
“You said I wasn’t allowed to sleep in the spare room because I had to stop you calling Tom in the middle of the night and yelling at him.”
“Why, what had he done?” Yelling at anyone was certainly not my usual M.O.; I must have been pretty far gone to have even contemplated it.
“He’d – oh, fuckadoodle, Laura! Have you seen the time – we are so dead!”
I peeled open my other eyelid just in time to see Polly drop my mobile phone onto the bedside table as though it had scalded her and sprint into the bathroom.
“It’s Thursday!” she yelled, her words cutting through me like blades on a scythe, “Thursday the Tenth of March and we’re late for work.”
“Shit!” I murmured and staggered after her, pausing only briefly to throw a couple of Neurofens and half a pint of water down my gullet.
Thursday the Tenth of March was not the day to be late. Thursday the Tenth of March was not the day to be turning up at work with a raging hangover. Thursday the Tenth of March was the day they were announcing redundancies in the Analysis Department of the Metropolitan and Provincial Bank and the last thing either of us wanted to do was give the powers that be any encouragement to send the Curse of the Job Centre in our direction.
Three quarters of an hour later, with our arms linked together to keep us vertical and each clutching bottles of mineral water, Polly and I lurched up Cornhill in the City of London, before hanging a right into St Andrewgate where the Metropolitan’s head office was situated. Five years ago, this street had contained nothing to mark it out from any other City thoroughfare (some low-rise, low-grade office buildings; a white, slightly scary Hawkswood church at one end and a couple of take-away sandwich shops); but now, thanks to the profits made by our bank (the bank that wants to make you smile!) during the boom years, it was now home to The Screwdriver – the newest and biggest super skyscraper in town. We rounded a corner and found ourselves squinting as the spring sunlight bounced energetically off its glass and chrome structure. Considerably fatter at the base, it’s angular sides tapered thirty-five floors later to a rounded point that would have had Sigmund Freud rubbing his hands together in glee, it was so striking and cutting-edge that it made every other building around look as though it needn’t have bothered turning up.
I always felt a little thrill of excitement as I trotted up the four pale York Stone steps that flowed out from the base of the building like ripples on a pond. I might not earn as much as Tom on his trading desk; I might secretly think that churning out endless reports on company performances and share movements was not the most exciting job in the world; sometimes I might even dream of spending doing something really off the wall like being a big game warden or monitoring dolphin numbers in the Bahamas – but I totally loved the fact that I got to work in the hottest building in town.
No, scratch that.
The hottest building in the world.
People applied for transfers from our New York offices just so that they could work at The Screwdriver. The guys in the Paris office said ‘mais non’ to the Left Bank and begged to be allowed to work amongst les rosbifs here in London. Applications were also up from Tokyo, Singapore and Honk Kong: the kudos of the Screwdriver outweighing the charms of life in the Far East; and even the Aussies were queuing up in droves to leave sunny Sydney so that they could work in the British rain at the ‘Screwy’.
As for me, a country girl from a no-mark village in darkest Wiltshire, it was so awesome I felt as though I was doing something vaguely illegal sneaking in here every day.
“Morning Dennis,” I croaked to the man in a deep, clarety-red morning suit and top hat who was standing at the top of the steps next to the automatic door.
“Morning Laura!” Our Doorman deftly tipped his hat a quarter of an inch in our direction. “Morning Polly. Passes?”
We waved our laminated security passes in his general direction and he pushed the revolving door open, allowing us to glide into the cool (and mercifully shady) marbled expanse of the foyer. We gingerly click-clacked our way across the polished floor, past a desk so huge it had to be staffed by three receptionists, and into one of the glass-and-chrome lifts that shuttled up and down the see-through frontage of the first twenty-five floors of the building.
I leant my still-pounding head against one of the cool, steel ribs that encased the elevator pod and closed my eyes.
“Remind me why I’m here,” I muttered, “and not at home sleeping it off.”
Polly mumbled “Floor Twenty” into the lift’s voice-activated control panel.
“Because we not only deliver the best – we are the best,” she trotted out our departmental mission statement.
“Bollocks,” I said, clutching my temples as the lift rocketed upwards, leaving my stomach behind somewhere between floors ten and eleven.
“Okay,” she conceded, “we’re actually here because if we call in sick we’ll get redundancy for sure; and if that happens we’ll never get another job ever again because everyone now thinks that bankers are the anti-Christ and we’ll be forced to move back in with our parents until we finally die in our old, pink bedrooms with peeling posters of Robbie Williams and Damon Albarn on the walls. That’s why.”
I shivered. The idea of going home to the bosom of my family (or my mother anyway; my parents had divorced not long after my Dad’s business had disappeared down the u-bend) was enough to convince me of the importance of dragging myself into work come hell or a hangover. In fact, I would even have been willing to wear the bilious lime-green Metropolitan baseball cap and t-shirt to client meetings around town if it gained me any brownie points with the HR department.
“You’re alright,” I said mournfully, “you could always shack up with Archie. If I lose my job and I can’t pay the mortgage I’ll have to move home.”
The sound of Polly choking came from somewhere over by the lift door.
“Oh God,” she said in a strangled voice, “ohgodohgodohgod. Are you serious? Me? With Archie?”
I opened one eye and saw her having some sort of seizure over by the door. Archie was a tall, thin chap in our department who had had a thing for Polly since the moment he’d first walked through the doors of our office and saw her lovely face illuminated by the light of the photocopier.
“After you put your shoes in the shower, you spent the rest of the evening playing tonsil tennis with Archie in the kitchen,” I informed her.
“Floor Twenty” announced the lift in a voice that sounded almost like Professor Stephen Hawking; and we crawled out of our glass pod.
We found ourselves on a carpeted corridor bounded on one side by huge glass panels held together by a spider-webbed network of chrome frames and, on the other, by a seemingly-endless curving white wall containing a number of identical doors. Polly leaned against the latter and put her head in her hands.
“Oh God,” she breathed again. “That’s why there were ten messages from him on my voicemail this morning.”
She looked up at me, obviously expecting the worst.
“I didn’t – tell me I didn’t – with him – with Archie?”
“After I’d turned off the shower and put your shoes in the airing cupboard, I found you asleep in the hall under the coat rack fully clothed,” I reassured her. “Your virtue remains intact.”
Polly closed her eyes with relief.
“But you still haven’t told me why I wanted to yell at Tom,” I added, thinking that yelling at anyone right now would have serious consequences for my headache.
“Because he – oh, shit, Laura; it’s gone eight o’clock. Get moving.”
Ignoring the impressive cityscape pooling out below me through the glass panels, I scurried off along the corridor behind Polly feeling like a Twenty-first Century Alice in Wonderland heading down the Rabbit Hole. We passed door after door after door; some with brass name plates announcing the occupants to be ‘Smithers and Company, Insurance Brokers’, or ‘Carridan and Lacey, Solicitors’; until we stopped at one with the Metropolitan’s logo on it, swiped our passes through an electronic card-reader and walked into a large office area. Croaking ‘hello’ to various colleagues, we made our way through rows of desks topped with computer monitors, in-trays and telephones; hung a left down a wide corridor lined with photocopiers and then turned right through a pair of double doors. This was our patch, our home territory. It consisted of a small open-plan room containing fifteen identical work-stations separated by brown desk dividers a foot or so in height, a small kitchen area and, on the far wall, two very large flat-screen televisions respectively blasting out Bloomberg and the less well-known, but eerily prescient, Financial News Today. The latter broadcast from a small set of studios two streets away from the Screwdriver but were often in there with the breaking stuff before the big boys at the BBC or Sky had time to reshuffle their scripts.
I found my desk, dumped my bag and coat, booted up the computer and then shoved off to the kitchen to concoct the super-strength, forty-thousand-volt espresso that was needed if I was going manage anything more productive than lying with my head on the desk, drooling out of the corner of my mouth.
A phone started to ring.
My temples throbbed.
Nobody picked the phone up, so it carried on ringing.
My headache got a hundred times worse.
It didn’t stop.
I began to hate the person who owned the phone.
Still it continued.
I put my hands over my ears.
Another phone joined in.
I screwed my face up to try and block out the sound and...
...realised that my jacket pocket was vibrating.
Sheepishly, I put my hand into my pocket and pulled out both the mobile I used for personal calls and the BlackBerry I had for work.
The screens told me that both callers were Tom.
The fuddled state of my brain found this difficult to understand; but nevertheless I gamely pressed a phone to each ear.
“Tom?” I said. “Why are you doing ringing me twice? In fact, how are you ringing me twice?”
“I rang your mobile with my mobile but you weren’t answering so I called your BlackBerry with my BlackBerry at the same time and waited to see which one you picked up first.”
I realised that I could only hear his voice in my left ear so I switched my mobile off and stuffed it back into my pocket.
“Okay,” I said, having very little idea of what he’d just said but being profoundly grateful that the noise had abated, “what can I do for you?”
“I wondered whether you liked it?”
Oh shit; my birthday present.
It all came flooding back to me: that was why I’d wanted to ring him at one o’clock in the morning.
“It was a man’s watch, Tom,” I said with remarkable composure.
“No, it wasn’t; it just had a few gadgety bits on it. It’s the last word in Swiss design and it cost me an arm and a bloody leg.”
“Tom, listen to me: it was a man’s underwater watch capable of telling me the depth of dive, water pressure per square metre, temperature and it came with an optional shark-proof reading light attachment. When, exactly, in my hectic life of spreadsheets and City finance did you think I was going to use it?”
“I don’t know – couldn’t you use it to start conversations with important clients at drinks’ parties?”
I took a very deep breath.
“The strap is so big the whole thing keeps sliding off my wrist and anyway, you know perfectly well analysts don’t get invited to any client drinks’ parties.”
“Okay, fine,” replied Tom wearily, “I was in such a rush when I picked it out I must have gone for the wrong thing. Sorry.”
Last year my present had been a ticket for a World Cup rugby match at Twickenham – in the stands; none of your corporate-hospitality-with-free-champagne-and-a-three-course-lunch milarkey. At least with jewellery he was heading in the right general direction, even if he couldn’t quite manage the gender specifics.
“Go on then,” he continued, as though he was doing me an enormous favour, “keep the refund and get yourself something else.”
I bit my lip. Choosing my own present with a refund from a useless watch wasn’t as romantic as having my boyfriend lovingly select the perfect gift to celebrate my twenty seventh birthday – but it was probably the best I was going to get.
“Alright. I’ll meet you after work and you can give me the receipt. Then you can buy me a belated birthday drink to make up for not coming out with us last night – and what about a belated birthday candlelit dinner for two whilst you’re about it?” I suggested hopefully.
Tom had texted yesterday to say he had to pass on my party because of an emergency team meeting at work. A journalist on Financial News Today had broken a story about the investment bank he worked for, Davis Butler, having massive undeclared losses. Their share price had fallen like a stone and it was currently touch and go as to whether they would survive.
From the other end of the phone came a silence so uncomfortable, it might as well have been wearing jeans three sizes too small.
“The thing is, Laura, I’m a bit busy tonight.”
“Yeeees?” He’d better have a bloody good excuse...
“It’s England versus South Africa tonight so me and few of the lads were going to catch it on the big screen at the pub,” he concluded sheepishly.
“But you missed my birthday party!” I protested. “You owe me a night out.”
“I know and I’m really sorry about it but – oh, shit! Laura, I’ve got to go; the boss wants to see me. Later!”
And he rang off.
I shoved my BlackBerry back into my pocket and turned to see Polly leaning against the fridge.
“What?” I barked, busying myself with the espresso function on the coffee machine. Polly raised her hands in submission: “Hey, I didn’t say a word.”
“He said he was sorry about blowing me out last night,” I said, slamming cups around and then cringing as the noise re-ignited my thumping headache. “And you know things are difficult for him at the moment after that news story broke: they’re still talking about massive redundancies. Oh, and he didn’t mean to buy me a crap present, he was just stressed out.”
Polly’s visage softened – but only marginally.
“So he’s taking you out to the Ivy to make up for it?” She asked, opening a tin of biscuits and shoving two chocolate digestives in her mouth at once.
“Whisking you away for a romantic weekend in Florence?”
“Replacing that stupid watch with an engagement ring and suggesting that the pair of you start house-hunting first thing Saturday morning?”
“Don’t be daft. You know he’s living with his Mum and Dad till he’s got enough money saved for a deposit.”
“That boy could afford a down payment on Windsor Castle, but there you go. So when are you actually going to see him? ”
“I’m calling briefly into the Lamb and Flag to throw the diver’s watch at his head at about a quarter to seven this evening. After that it’s all rather up in the air – soon, anyway.”
Polly’s eye-brows shot skywards and she helped herself to another biscuit.
“I don’t know why you put up with it,” she mumbled through a mouthful of biscuity mush. “You can’t have seen each other properly for ages.”
I shrugged and helped myself to a custard cream.
“It won’t be like this for ever,” I said. “It’s a phase. A blip. We’re both flat out a work and we have a healthy range of interests outside our relationship.”
Polly gave me a look piercing enough to open a can of beans at fifty paces.
“You need a healthy range of interests inside your relationship too,” she reminded me. “When you first got together he couldn’t leave you alone for five minutes – texts, phone calls, flowers; the whole nine yards. Now you’re lucky if you see him from one weeks’ end to the next.”
“It’ll be fine,” I said. “Like I said, it’s not for ever and anyway, we’ve been together for over a year now, part of it’s probably our relationship moving onto the next stage – you know: less of the uncontrollable passion, more of the need to make sure the bills get paid and the suits get picked up from the dry cleaners.”
And I looked away and fiddled with the filter on the coffee machine for a bit.
It was true what I said – well, almost true. Over the past few of months Tom and I had been spending less and less time together, but I’d sort of blocked it out. To be honest, I couldn’t think of a night in the last six weeks when we’d actually been together, but it wasn’t as though I’d spent our time apart sitting alone at home in my pyjamas, drinking chardonnay on my lonesome and sobbing into a tissue.
Well, the sobbing into a tissue bit, anyway.
However, apart from being crap at present buying Tom pretty much ticked every box I could think of (and even a few that I couldn’t). Not only was he tall, fair and so achingly gorgeous both in a suit and out of one, that my knees still went a bit bendy when I saw him; but he was also financially secure and came from a pretty-much together, traditional family – both things that had been painfully absent in my own upbringing. So I told myself that it would all be okay as I smoothed over the missed dates and the forgotten phone calls; forgave him when he almost always needed to work late and reassured him that I understood the pressures that came with his job. After all, this was me, remember: the girl who would rather run a mile than have a stand-up row and who, if such a thing existed, would win the Nobel Prize for biting her tongue.
I fished a jammy dodger out of the tin and turned back to Polly.
“Oh, what do I know anyway?” she gave a big, heartfelt sigh. “I haven’t had a boyfriend in so long, I probably qualify as some sort of neo-virgin.”
“There’s always Archie,” I reminded her, pouring Polly’s cappuccino and switching the function to ‘espresso’ for myself. “He’s nuts about you.”
“Yeah, but he’s – well, he’s Archie, isn’t he? He’s sweet enough, but he jumps about like an over-enthusiastic Labrador puppy with its tongue hanging out and I don’t know if I could handle that full-time.”
“It’s only because he’s nervous,” I replied, putting my mug under the hissing spout of the machine. “Anyway, I think you should try it; he might just give you a pleasant surprise.”
Polly took a sip of scalding coffee and fanned her mouth violently.
“Oooh-er, missus,” she replied. “Anyway, we better get back there. The Firing Squad are due down in five.”
We walked back out to the office area, took our seats and booted up the computers so that it would look as though we were doing something vaguely constructive when the posse from HR made their appearance. We knew the form from the whispered tales that wound their way from department to department like quick-growing jungle creeper: a small number of Human Resources staff would appear; there would be a general announcement about the ‘rationalization of staff numbers’ and the need for ‘down-sizing’ given the ‘non-advantageous economic climate’; then the name of the first victim be read out and they would slope off to a small, soundproof office with Sophie Spink, our Head of Personnel, to be given their marching orders. After that another name would be called and the pattern repeated until the cull was finished. It was a horrible, degrading process and always made me think of us, the powerless employees, trembling like a herd of cornered wildebeest, whilst a pack of Human Resources lions prowled round the outside picking off as many as they could get away with.
We didn’t have to wait long. Before I’d even been able to get Spider Solitaire up onto my screen, the double doors burst open and in marched Sophie in a tight tailored suit and heels so long and spiky you could have used them to harpoon whales.
We all sat bolt upright at our work stations and a terrified hush descended on the room. Eyes darted from colleague to colleague and then back again to Sophie as we tried to second guess who would be first up for the walk to the scaffold.
Despite the fact that she seemed to be operating without her usual entourage of minions, Sophie didn’t waste any time in getting to the point.
“You all know why I’m here,” she said, each syllable issuing from her mouth like the crack of a bullet exiting a gun barrel. “But I am pleased to tell you that there has been a slight change of plan.”
Gary down at the end gave a whooping cheer but Sophie silenced him instantly with a scorching glare.
“We have obtained four voluntary redundancies from the Private Client Department,” she continued, her tone of voice making it sound as though she’d extracted those personally through the use of thumb-screws and a torture rack. “And therefore the disruption to Analysis will be minimal.”
The collective fear of fifteen people which had been cresting above us like a huge, dark cloud suddenly rolled away and the sun shone once again: we were saved! We all lived to work another day! Yippeee!
Sophie stood regarding our palpable relief with a steely gaze: she hadn’t quite finished.
“So if Laura McGregor would like to follow me, please, the rest of you can get on with your work.”
And she twisted her mouth into something that, on Planet Spink, might have passed for a smile.
At that moment, I swear that my blood turned to ice. In fact, if you had severed one of my arteries, tiny red ice crystals would have come clunking out and spilled over my desk. I sat, rigid with disbelief; my right hand still gripping my mouse and my left lying comatosed in my lap.
Sophie shot me a gimlet-eyed look.
“If Laura McGregor would like to follow me,” she repeated slightly louder than before, “the rest of you can get on with your work.”
Somehow my body managed to raise itself up out of its seat and take the five steps across the carpet to join her. I could feel the stares of my colleagues – pitying, relieved, even genuinely distressed – boring into my flesh as Sophie and I then made our way over towards a tiny room situated next to the kitchen.
Once inside, she shut the door, pulled down the blinds and gestured for me to take a seat. However, I found I couldn’t actually make my knees bend and my bottom place itself on the low plastic chair positioned opposite hers. My pulse was thumping in my throat and my palms were beginning to sweat. Sophie shrugged and pulled up a chair for herself before slapping down a large, beige envelope on the teeny tiny table between us: it was my personnel file.
“Right Laura,” she began, her tone of voice indicating that our meeting represented a rather tedious low-point in her otherwise action-packed schedule of personnel management. “Let’s get to the point.”
I closed my eyes and tried to resign myself to my worst nightmare: I was about to lose my job. Without my job I would lose the preferential mortgage rate the Metropolitan offered its employees, and without that I would probably have to sell the flat. It might take months – if not a year or two – to get another job in finance; and in the meantime all I would have to live on would be a dwindling pot of money from the sale of my home and whatever the bank decided to cough up as my severance package. Polly’s scaresville scenario might even come true and I’d have to move home with my mother.
However, before I could get round to grappling Sophie to the ground and using one of her dagger-like heels to slice open my wrists, I became aware that she was still speaking.
This struck me as odd; I mean, if all she had to was tell me to put my stuff in a box and make sure I was out of the building by nine o’clock, she was being rather long-winded about it. Maybe...perhaps...possibly...
“If I might – just – for one moment,” I began tentatively.
Sophie gave me a withering look.
“Yes?” she snapped, sounding as though she would rather eat live spiders than give me the right of reply. (Although to be honest, I wouldn’t be that surprised if they used that sort of thing as a training technique to keep them mean ‘n’ focussed up in HR)
“I have been with the bank since graduation,” I said, fear of the grisly fate giving me little option but to put the case for the defence, “and in that time I have become one of the most profitable members of my department. My line manager comments favourably on my work and I have always exceeded my performance targets by at least a margin of thirty per cent. I would suggest that given those performance indicators I am not the obvious choice for redundancy within my department.”
Blimey! Had that been me? Had I really just opened my mouth and made those particular words come out? I was impressed. The question was, would Sophie be too...
“Is that all?” she said, unblinking.
My spirits sank. She might as well have said ‘So?’ or ‘whatever!’; her voice told me that her mind was already made up. I was doomed. Dooooooomed, d’you hear?
I took a deep breath and waited for the ritual humiliation of the handing over of the P45.
“As I was saying,” Sophie resumed pointedly, “you are to report to Will Barton in SunSpot Hedge Funds. You will be working with him for the next few weeks in addition to your usual role.”
“I’m sorry,” I said, “would you repeat that please?”
I was totally convinced that what she had actually said was ‘please ensure you leave by the main doors and surrender your pass to Reception’ but it hadn’t sounded like that.
“Really, Laura,” Sophie grumbled, “you need to pay more attention. I’ve told you to report to Will Barton at SunSpot. There’s a new hedge fund coming on-line in a couple of months and Will needs someone for a few weeks to oversee the data that’s going to go into the prospectus and help with various bits and pieces. There will be some analyst duties but it’s basically a bit of a mixed bag – still, I’m sure you will rise to the challenge.”
For about ten seconds, I forgot to breathe.
“Will Barton?” I gasped, feeling as though I had somehow died and gone to heaven.
“Will Barton,” Sophie confirmed brusquely, lining up her papers and tapping them together on the top of the table. “He’s expecting you for a preliminary meeting at a quarter to nine. He can answer any questions you might have then. That will be all.”
And she stalked out of the little room on her harpoon heels, leaving me staring moronically after her.
“Will Barton,” I breathed once again, still unable to process this piece of information.
Will Barton was a legend in his own (and everyone else’s lunchtime). A hugely successful hedge fund manager in New York, he had been lured across the Pond four months ago to be head of the Metropolitan’s ‘alternative investment portfolio’ – aka more hedge funds – with a transfer package that would have made Alex Fergusson wince. While other banks had been jettisoning hedges faster than you could say ‘the market may go down as well as up’, it seemed that anything Will Barton touched turned – almost literally – to gold. The boy could do no wrong.
And I got to work for him!
As soon as I regained the use of my legs, I walked back to my desk and sat down heavily. Polly rushed over.
“You okay?” she whispered.
I nodded dumbly.
“I’ve got a friend at The Royal Bank of Wales,” she whispered. “There’s a maternity leave position coming up in the analysts’ department. Do you want me to ring her?”
I shook my head.
“It wasn’t the sack,” I breathed. “It was Will Barton; he’s my new line manager.”
Polly’s eyes grew as wide as bistro pasta bowls.
“You get to work with Will Barton?” she said. “You jammy cow.”
The envy in her voice was almost tangible.
“That would be ‘work with him’, Polly,” I reminded her, “not ‘go out for lots of dinner dates with him’; and he wants to see me in – shit – he wanted to see me two minutes ago.”
I scrambled out of my seat clutching at a pad of paper, a biro and my bag.
“Good luck,” Polly called after me, “and if he needs a plus one for any of his posh corporate functions, you can give him my number.”
I legged it over to one of the lifts situated on the interior of the building and pressed the button to open the doors.
“Floor eighteen,” I panted into the voice operated thingie – and we were away; my stomach left thirty feet above me on Floor Twenty and my mind racing as I tried to envisage what life in the world of the hedge funds was going to involve.