"Welcome back Mr Tomlinson. How's the leg and wrist?" asked my assistant Bree.
"Getting better Bree but I'm still a long way from running the marathon again," I replied.
I'd run the NYC Marathon the previous year and raised more than $10K for charity.
"It is just nice to see you back again."
My driver John wheeled me into my office. Not much had changed in the five weeks that I'd been out of action. The pile of current project files had grown considerably but not much else.
"Will there be anything else Mr Tomlinson?"
"Not at the moment John. I'll call down when I need to go home."
"Very well Sir. Mr Vernon wants me to do some errands," he said with a weary tone in his voice.
He left me. I'd be needing his help for the next 6 weeks after my accident. Well, I knew it wasn't an accident but... Anyway, let me introduce myself.
My name is Jeffrey Tomlinson. I'm an ex-pat Brit who works in M&A for a large multi-national bank.
M&A means for those who don't know it, Merger and Acquisitions. I'm twenty-nine and regarded by my bosses as a high flyer, destined for greatness and all that crap.
Yes, I'm a cynic. I don't want the corner office (even though they gave me one), the Golf and Country Club membership (yep, got that one too but never used it.) or a home in the Hamptons (not got that one, far too expensive and besides, I'm saving my money)
I'm also a realist. I seem to have the ability to know very early on in a M&A cycle if it will fly or not and if in the long term it will be good for both sides. Most aren't but it helps to be able to see both sides of the argument.
My New York corner office is on the 23rd Floor of our building that is a block from Wall St. I also have a much smaller non-corner office in London, Docklands to be precise but it does have great views over London City Airport.
I was in a wheelchair after being 'taken out' when I was taking part in a charity soccer match. As I said, I was taken out by a player from the opposing team. He tackled me with both feet off the ground. As a result, I suffered a dislocated knee and a ruptured Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL). I also had broken my left wrist when the medics had dropped me when putting me on the stretcher. It wasn't their fault. The same player who'd taken me out had tripped one of the people carrying the stretcher. I knew that this was deliberate. He had a score to settle with me for taking the job that apparently, he thought that he was a slam-dunk for.
Once I'd been released from hospital I was to be confined to a wheelchair for the following month or so. Due to my wrist injury, I was unable to wheel myself which was proving to be very frustrating.
My assistant Bree, took pity on me and brought me a cup of coffee. I normally brought it in with me in the morning and before anyone cries MCP, before my accident, I had always bought her one in with me in the morning.
She brought my coffee in and stood waiting for me to look up at her. When I did, I knew that I was about to hear some bad news.
"Mr Tomlinson," she said in a sad voice.
Yep, bad news.
"I'm leaving the bank. My last day is a week Friday. Joe has got a promotion but it means that we need to relocate to San Antonio."
"Thanks for telling me Bree. I know that Joe has worked hard for this promotion. You both deserve it."
"There is something else."
I smiled back thinking 'at least she's getting all the bad stuff out of the way first thing'.
"Bree, I'm so happy for you. If I could, I'd give you a big hug and to hell with office rules. I know that you and Joe have been trying for quite some time to start a family. Well, a new start and a new Baby. What more could you want. I'll make sure that I give you something for the baby before you go."
"Please, you don't have to."
"Bree, I do have to do just that. It was you who went the extra mile and made my move from London a lot easier that it might well have been. Don't say that you were just doing your job. You did far more than that so I'm not taking 'No' for an answer understood?"
"Yes. I understand," she replied reluctantly.
"I'm going to miss you Mr T. You are the best person I've worked for since I came here almost 10 years ago. I won't miss those preppy upstarts one little bit but I will miss you."
I knew that Bree didn't rate the people who came into the bank via the prep-school, Ivy League College, Frat Houses, what college or sports ring you wear, or who your father knew route rather than on merit. I'd lost count of the veritable fuck-ups that those people had caused or nearly caused since I had moved to this side of the Atlantic. I afforded myself a little smile. If all goes well, I won't be the only one leaving before the end of the year.
"Who is your replacement? Do we know who it is yet?"
"Someone new from outside the Bank."
"A greenhorn then?"
I grinned as I said,
"Your last two weeks at work is going to be quite a bit harder than you thought it would be then? After all, you will have two of us to look after…"
"It sure is," she said in her lovely Texas accent and with a smile on her face.
I knew then that she'd leave me in good hands. Bree was that sort of person. If she wasn't happily married, I'd have… Better not go there, I have work to do.
"Never mind, I'm sure that it won't take long for me to smooth off their rough edges when you are gone…"
Bree glared at me and then burst out laughing.
"You English and your weird sense of humour."
Bree's replacement was 'delivered' by HR a little later.
"Mr T, this is Erica Jorgenson, my replacement," said Bree as she ushered her replacement into my office.
"Pleased to meet you Erica. I'm sure that Bree will brief you on the job but one of the first things for you to do is push me in this contraption to the lift. I have a meeting with my Boss. On the 29th floor at Midday."
Erica looked at Bree for help.
"Erica, don't worry. It is only until I can get mobile again. If you can take notes during the meeting, I'd be most grateful. I'm a leftie by the way," I said waving my plaster encased left wrist in the air.
At ten before twelve, Erica presented herself in my office.
"Time for your meeting Mr Tomlinson," sad said announcing her arrival.
I smiled back at her.
"Less of the formalities Erica. Jeff is fine from now on unless we are in the presence of a customer or any of the big-wigs upstairs."
She looked a bit puzzled.
"Oh, sorry. Executives. Back in the 17th and 18th Centuries, men wore wigs as a matter of course. This fashion was possibly started by Louis the 13th of France. As time went by, the bigger the wig you wore, the more important a person you were. Hence the nickname 'big wig'"
"Ah I get it," she replied smiling.
As we waited for the lift I remarked to her,
"Do you have any more suitable shoes?"
"Eh? I was told that this is the normal dress code for someone in my role."
"Yes, it is but that normal role does not normally include pushing me around the building. So why not take yourself out at lunchtime and get something a little more suitable to wear. You'd better find a bag so that you can put those ones in and hang them from the back of my chair. If anyone comments then you can tell them why and they need to take up the issue with me. Got it?"
Erica smiled back at me. I think from her reaction that wearing heels to work is not the norm for her. I sighed mentally too. The bank was also very backward in that respect. At least they did give their employees an allowance to help them comply with the dress code.
Erica took notes for me during my meeting with the M&A Vice President, Vernon Kennedy III.
"What about this new project then Vernon?" I asked when we'd covered all the existing ones.
"I got a call about a possible tie up between Candover and Preston Foundries."
I knew of the two companies. Both were listed on the NASDAQ but hardly high fliers in their respective fields.
"That is a bit small fry for us, isn't it?"
"That is true, but I played College Football with the incoming CEO of Candover, Dan Short. He wants to expand and Bill Preston is looking to retire before next Summer. It would look good to the board to get this one done and dusted before the end of the financial year."
I knew exactly why he was interested in getting this deal done. He was short of his target by around $50M. From a quick 'guestimate' of their current book values and our cut, the deal would be worth around $60M to the bank and should get wrapped up before the year end.
"Can you handle it?" he asked me.
"Well, Vernon, why don't you do it. You seem to know all the players. It would do you good to get your hands dirty for a change."
He looked decidedly miffed. That was my intention all along.
"What have you got on your plate then? Not a lot from where I sit."
"Let me be blunt Vernon, you need this deal to complete so that you can make your numbers. There are six other deals that should have been wrapped up by now but it appears that very little at all has been done on them while I've been away. If you were to help put those to bed, you'd make your numbers easily. How about it?"
"You don't know the big picture, now do you?"
"Why don't you tell me what this big picture is then?"
"Another time, so about this merger between Candover and Preston Foundries? Can you handle it?"
"As long as you handle all the other work I'll do it."
"I have other things to do."
"Well then you need to make a decision. I can't do both. So, which is it to be eh?"
Vernon didn't reply.
"I'll make it easy for you. You do the new deal. Then you meeting your target is all down to you alone. That will earn you a good lot of kudos with the Board. I'll wrap up the other deals be the year end. Those will bring in the rest of our target."
"Then what, what?"
"What is next? Do you have any feelers for any good deals coming down the pipe?"
"Vernon, even if I did, you know that I wouldn't tell you at this stage. You know as well as I do, you have to keep things close to your chest in the early stages of a deal. Would you tell me of something that has less then 20% of a chance of coming to fruition? Besides, I've been pretty well out of the picture for the past month now haven't I?"
He didn't react so I closed off any possible argument with,
"Careless talk and all that."
"So, you do know something then?"
"As I said Vernon, I don't but even if I did, I wouldn't tell you until the deal was ready to be announced internally. Any of the parties involved an M&A operation would not like it if the scandal columns got hold of the wrong end of the stick so to speak before the deal was announced to the SEC. It could adversely affect their stock price and make the SEC take a look with respect to insider trading and all that crap and we both know that the Bank does not want that especially after that Texas Oil and Development scandal. You probably like me have some feelings as to where the next deals will come from but none of us would last long if we blab too early in the cycle."
I turned to Erica before Vernon could answer,
"I think it is time for Lunch Erica. Shall we go?"
Outside the lift Erica said quietly,
"He's your boss. How could you speak to him like that?"
"Erica, he got this job because his father is the Bank Chairman. He's a likable chap really but that's as far as it goes. He's a walking disaster when it comes to M&A. Hasn't a clue about proper deal making and his father knows it. He's waiting for him to royally mess up a deal so that he can fire him but somehow, he always seems to dodge the poisoned bullet. Perhaps this is the one that will bring him down? I don't know and to be honest, I don't really care. I have my own job to do."
Erica looked at me and was about to say something but thought better of it.
"Time for lunch I think. My shout. The sandwich shop on the ground floor might be nice today," I suggested at the Lift pinged its arrival.
"Sorry Erica. First Floor to you right ponders."
She looked none the wiser as we descended in the lift.
[nearly weeks later]
Bree's last day was a happy one for my team. She'd been the rock that I'd leaned on when I was seconded over from London. The way things are done here are very different to London. Here people talk far too freely about things they should keep silent about but hey, that is just an uptight 'Brit' speaking.
I kept my promise to Bree and gave her the documents to a trust fund that I'd set up for their child. I'd put as much in it as the IRS would allow me to and not hit me with extra taxes.
"I won't take no for an answer," I said to her.
"You made my introduction to life here so much easier to manage. For that I am eternally thankful."
Then I gave her a hug and a kiss and to hell with company rules.
Erica proved more than able to step into Bree's shoes. She even spotted some things on a deal that I'd missed. Everything she did made her more like my partner rather than my assistant.
She even managed to push me around the office wearing the regulation 3in heels.
[one month later]
"Erica, can you come in here for a minute please," I called out one morning.
"What is it Mr Tomlinson?"
"Please come in and shut the door behind you and sit down."
She did that but still retained the very puzzled look on her face.
"Erica, it appears that someone has been rifling through my drawers,"
Erica tried but failed to stifle a laugh. I saw the funny side of what I'd said.
"Sorry. I could have said that better but it is true. Some of the documents in my desk drawers have been touched."
"Mr Tomlinson, as far as I know, you have the only key to your desk drawers."
"Well, Erica it appears that I don't. There are some papers in there that are not for general viewing."
"A certain merger perhaps?"
"Yes Erica. There are some very good reasons why that must not get out until the right moment. That is why I take all the papers relating to that deal home with me every night."
"How can I help?"
I smiled back at her.
"I think a little misdirection is in order, don't you? I will get in contact with the two principals involved with the merger and see if they are both willing to participate. If you can prepare the documents then as they say, the game will be afoot."
I passed over a few sheets of paper to Erica.
"This will take me a few days," she replied after examining the papers.
"I agree. How about a little bonus from me if you work on them over the weekend? Say five hundred? Cash and off the books? A few days is what I'll need to get the go ahead from the two parties."
"Really? You'd do that?"
"Actually, not preparing them here is the best plan just in case there is an audit of the computers. Those security people are relentless when they get a sniff of something out of the ordinary."
"I know. The security training that I went on the other week was pretty clear about that sort of thing. They set out to put the fear of god into all of us. They did a pretty good job if you ask me!"
I thought for a moment or two before asking,
"Do you know how to create those files without leaving a trace on your computer at home?"
I smiled at her before saying,
"I'll have to show you then. Come back to my apartment with me after work and I'll show you."
"But… won't people notice and start talking?"
"And what can I do with one knee and one wrist in plaster eh?"
"I guess so."
"Then it is settled then?"
"This is my place," I said slightly proudly as Erica pushed me into my Apartment.
She looked around before saying,
"There is nothing here? Nothing that says that someone is living here,"
"Yes. Most of what I own is already packed up and on its way home in a container."
"What? Are you leaving?"
"Yes, and that bit of knowledge is not for general consumption. I have my own reasons for completing this deal and then going back to the UK."
Erica looked rather sad.
"I just get used to a boss and they go and get promoted or leave. It happens all the time to me."
"Well, come with me," I said without thinking.
"Come to the UK with me,"
There was no going back now.
"Honestly Erica, you are about the first person I've met since coming to the USA that I like, really like. You are smart and most of the time, you get my sometimes rather weird sense of humour."
"Jeff? Are you really serious about this?"
"I am but there is one thing I have to tell you first."
Erica stepped back and said,
"I sorta get the feeling that you didn't plan what you just said, did you?"
"Not exactly and I've just said things that would have taken me a long time to pluck up the courage to say but I've done it."
"So, what do you have to tell me?"
"Can you go into the bedroom over there and retrieve a photo that is on the bedside table? It is one of the few things that are not yet packed."
She looked at me a bit strangely but didn't question me. She went and returned with the photo.
She handed it to me but I shook my head.
"Please take your time and look at the photo. Tell me what you see."
Erica to my everlasting thanks, took her time examining the photo.
"You look very different, very convincing indeed."
"At least you aren't laughing your head off or worse," I replied.
"Screaming blue murder perhaps?"
"So, you do this as a side-line?"
"No. Well my intention is to… to eventually transition and live as a woman. If I, sorry we make this merger go through, then I'll have enough money to stop working and… and well, not have to work again."
"This is a bit of a shock you know?"
"It is and for that I'm sorry. If you want to leave then please do and I'll never mention it again."
"Thank you for giving me a way out. I'll stay for now. We have some work to do, don't we?"
I mentally breathed a sigh of relief.
"I need time to think but if and that is a big if, I accept then we will need this bit of deception to succeed, now don't we?"
Then she added,
"And for that to work, everything between us must appear normal and above board."
I smiled back at her and said,
"Erica, that's why I like you so much. You seem to be on the same wavelength as me in your thinking. I think you are going to have a bright future either together or apart but yes, we have some work to do."
After I had come clean to Erica really made a difference between us. She became more like… my best friend than my assistant. Sure, we were all right and proper when people were around but in private, we relaxed and got to know each other as people.
After work, we went to my home, we created the false documents and left them locked in my office drawer. She also put a motion sensitive camera on the top shelf of my office. I wanted to 'nab' the thief doing their dirty deed.
Once the 'fake' documents were in place, it took only four days for the voyeur to strike. As I suspected, it was Vernon, my boss. The TV Camera picked up his every movement. All I had to do now was wait.
As the saying goes, the best laid plans of mice and men, etc., it was just a day after Vernon's intrusion into my Office that I got a phone call from the UK just before I was going to lunch.
"Good afternoon, Lady Cain, what can I do for you?"
"Oh, that is not good. How bad is he hurt?"
"Oh, I see. I guess that puts him out of action for a while then?"
"Well, that would be a good way of doing it. I guess I'd better start organising things from this end."
"Yes, all the Due Diligence has been done. It is a lot easier when the two parties want it to succeed."
"Yes, I'll email the details when they are confirmed."
"Goodbye, see you soon."
I put the phone down and thought for almost a minute.
"Erica, can we go to Lunch?"
Erica came into my office with a puzzled look on her face.
"Mr T, it is only 11am?"
"Oh, is it? However, I fancy an early lunch. Are you up for it?"
"I am. I've sent all the papers for the Appleton's deal down to legal so when you are ready we can go."
The Appleton deal was the last of the remaining ones that I'd agreed to complete before the end of the year. We were now in mid to late November and this other deal would be icing on the cake so to speak.
Once we'd made our sandwich selection Erica pushed me into one of the more secluded booths in the shop. Because we were early, we were not likely to be overheard.
"Ok boss, out with it. Something has happened."
"Yes, Erica, I am afraid it has."
I took a mouthful of my Pastrami on Rye with Dijon Mustard before replying.
"One of the parties to you know what has had a riding accident. He has smashed up his shoulder quite badly. He was out with the Hunt yesterday when his horse refused to jump over a fence."
"Oh yes. He's the Master of the Hunt. They don't hunt foxes any more but follow a trail of scent."
We had an understanding to never use the names of the companies or people involved outside my apartment.
"So, he can't travel?"
"That is true."
"We are a right bunch of invalids. He can't fly at the moment but I can but only if I'm not going on a normal service."
"Excuse my language, but how the heck, are you going to get to him then?"
"British Airways flight to London City. It is business class only." I said quietly.
"It has none of the crush and chaos of a normal flight. It also lands on the right side of London for where I want to go."
"You can't be serious?"
"I am perfectly serious."
"Will he approve it?"
"He does not have to. I am due three weeks leave. I think it is time that took it. I was going to give my notice and take the leave due but this will have to suffice for the time being."
"I expect you want me to hold the fort here while you are away?"
With a perfectly straight face I said,
"I'd like you to come with me. Do you have a Passport?"
"What? Now you are having me on."
"No Erica, I'm perfectly serious."
Erica sat back and looked at me long and hard.
"You are really serious about me… and you, aren't you?"
I nodded my head.
"I.. I thought that you were joking because you had not said anything more about you know what?"
"There are a few things in life Erica that I don't joke about and this is one of them. But first we have a deal to do. Then we can sort out the other thing."
"I don't know how you do it?"
"Keep Business and that other thing separate," she replied.
"That my dear, it is the only way to survive and keep my sanity."
Then I added,
"So, do you have a passport?"
Erica shook her head.
"Then I suggest that you go see Mrs Travers on the 15th Floor. She'll expedite you getting one and a UK Visa. We have two weeks before we need to leave. That is of course, you want to come?"
"I've never been outside the country," she replied.
"Going to London will be so cool."
"We won't be in London much apart from the Airport."
I saw that Erica was disappointed.
"But I'll make sure that you can see some sights. I know someone who'd only be too happy to show you."
My joy was however short lived when I made one of my regular calls to Sir Arthur a couple of days later. After we'd exchange pleasantries and discussed how his shoulder was feeling, we got down to the subject of the call.
"Who exactly?" I asked when he said that someone else had been sniffing around his company and prompting the idea of a merger with an as yet unknown American company.
"I know Mr Kowalski only two well. He's the one that put me in Hospital. He and I have a bit of a thing. He thinks that I took his dream job from him when I got this one."
"Yes, Sir Arthur, I'd love to put one over on him. Does Art Ford know about this?"
"Ok, that's good to know."
"Thanks. I will, bye for now."
I put the phone down. Things were moving along with the deception plan but I was sure that a few spanners were waiting to hit the fan before it was all done and dusted.
At my next meeting with Vernon, I broached the subject of taking some leave. Erica was out of the office at the Dentists so this was the ideal opportunity.
"Vernon, as you are no doubt well aware that I am due three weeks leave which has to be taken before the end of the financial year. As I have made my target for the year, I'm going to take that leave before it gets carried over yet again. It won't be all lazing around because I have a sniff of a very good deal that would be perfect to start the new year off with. I know some of the players so some gentle sounding at one or two social events may well prove profitable in the long run. What do you say?"
His ears pricked up considerably. Just what I wanted.
"When do you plan to leave?" he asked hesitantly.
The file he'd rifled through in my desk had some dates in it. I was merely filling in a few blanks or so he thought.
"We are waiting for Legal to sign off on the last of my deals so I'd like to leave next Wednesday night. A neighbour of mine in England is holding a party on the Friday night which might be good to show my face at. I happen to know that one of the parties for this new deal will be there. And before you ask how do I know? Well, the person throwing the party is also having a big Shoot on the Sunday morning. He will put up ten grand for the best shot. That will ensure that this certain party will be there."
"I'd also like to take Erica with me. She's been really helpful in getting things sorted out. Without her we'd be in a rush to get things done before the year end."
Vernon looked at me with a wry smile.
"Got something going with her then?"
I was prepared for this.
"No and she's not my type. I just happen to think that she would like London. Most Americans do. She'd been more than just my assistant while I am in this chair so I'd like to say thank you."
"As long as you don't expect the Bank to pay for her flight?"
"I wouldn't think of it Vernon. All I need is for the bank to help out with her Visa. We have a whole load of people who do that sort of stuff for our staff."
"I don't think that will be a problem."
"Thanks. I'll get onto it ASAP."
"Don't forget to leave me an itinerary before you go. Just in case."
I smiled back at him.
"I'll make sure that Erica sends one over."
Once I was back in my office, I resisted the temptation to call Sir Arthur. I would send a detailed email from my own cloud account when I returned home that evening. What I did do however, was make the flight reservations for the two of us.
The travel agents that the Bank used worked their magic and Erica's passport and Visa was with us in just under a week. I called Sir Arthur the following morning before leaving home for work to give him an update.
"Everything is set from this end. Erica has her Passport and UK Visa," I said once the initial pleasantries were over.
"Has anyone been sniffing around?"
"He's what? Did you give him an invite?"
"Good. It seems that everything is slotting into place. Do you know when our other mutual friend travelling?"
"Saturday? I guess we are on for Sunday then. It should be a good shoot. I hope the dogs and the other guns are on form. It will be a shame to mess up the first one of the season with a few accidental targets." I said telling Sir Arthur a huge porky-pie (lie).
To his credit, he cottoned on and after a quick snigger, he replied that the guns would be out in force. I knew exactly what he meant.
As luck would have it, the plaster on my wrist came off two days before we were due to travel. This made things an awful lot easier when it came to getting around. My knee was getting close but I was told under strict instructions to not put even one ounce of weight on it until the Doc's said so.
Our driver collected Erica and I from the Office and took us to the British Airways Terminal at JFK. Because of my wheelchair status we were given priority when it came to checking in. Erica's eyes bulged out of their sockets when we were shown into the Dining Room where we would eat before flying.
"I didn't know this sort of thing existed," she said quietly.
I smiled back at her.
"If you stay with me, this is how we'll travel in future," I whispered.
After a very nice meal, we had a few drinks while we waited to board our flight. Erica was strangely silent.
"A penny for them?" I asked.
"Oh? Sorry. Just thinking that I'm totally out of my depth and at any moment, I'll wake up and find myself back at home and this was just a bad dream."
"Erica, you are not out of your depth. This isn't a dream and I'm giving you a glimpse of the people who are important in my life. Tomorrow, you will meet a number of people who are very dear to me. Just be yourself, relax and enjoy yourself especially the attention you will get from Dottie."
I smiled back at her.
"I'll let her tell you. She won't bite and once you are a friend of hers, you are a friend for life."
Any further conversation was interrupted by our flight being called.
We were shown to our seats in the A-318 Aircraft. Erica immediately said,
"This is a very small plane."
"Yes, it is. That's why it is used by us business types. A lot of deals are done on flights like this. No screaming children for one thing," I replied grinning as the Steward handed her a glass of Champagne.
Erica didn't say anything else for almost the whole flight. I could tell that she was just enjoying the experience.
"Good Morning Erica. Did you sleep well?"
"I did eventually. It sure beats travelling coach."
"Good. They'll be coming around with breakfast shortly. We land in a little over an hour. We've just crossed the Irish coast."
"In that case, I'd better go and put on a new face."
I watched Erica head off to the toilet. She didn't need much makeup if any. Her skin was almost flawless. Her brilliant eyes made the need for heavy eye makeup redundant. I was so jealous. Those were just two of the things that had attracted me to her in an instant.
Outside the small and compact London City Airport, a car was waiting for us.
"Erica, this is Simon. He's Sir Arthur's driver. He's going to take us to out of London and into the Countryside."
"Where are we going?"
"Ravelingham Hall in Suffolk. It is Sir Arthur's home."
I sat in the back of the Range Rover with Erica. We headed away from the Airport. A few minutes later, we passed the Olympic Stadium.
"That's where we held the 2012 Olympics. Before that this place was like parts of Staten Island, all polluted and contaminated. Now look at it."
Erica was just trying to take in the sights of East London as we headed towards the A12 and the countryside.
Just over an hour later we turned off the A12 onto a side road.
"Where are we now?"
"We've just crossed over the border between Essex and Suffolk. We are about 10 miles from our destination."
"This is lovely countryside."
"It is. The Artist 'John Constable' thought so as well. He painted many of his most famous works less than five miles from here."
Erica didn't look much the wiser.
"Sir Arthur has three Constables. You will see them later, they hang on the stairs up to the first floor."
As soon as I said it, I regretted it. I felt like a fool. I was showing off when there really was no need to.
As the car drew up outside Ravelingham Hall, Erica could not really believe what she was seeing.
"It is very beautiful. Just like those places we see on TV."
"I'm sure Sir Arthur will be pleased to hear it. This place has been in his family since 1612."
Just then two people emerged from the house. Once I was settled in my chair, I made the introductions.
"Sir Arthur and Lady Dorothy Cain. This is my Assistant, Erica Jorgenson.
"Pleased to meet you Erica," said Arthur
"And I'll here none of this Sir malarkey. My name is Arthur. Sorry for not shaking your hand or giving you a hug but as you probably know, I banged up my shoulder pretty badly when my horse threw me."
"And I'm Dottie and my dear husband needs to give up riding with the hunt at his age."
Erica seemed stuck for words.
"Come on Dear. I expect you need to rest and freshen up after your journey. Jenkins will serve us lunch at one."
Erica and Dottie went off into the house arm in arm as if they'd been friends for years. That was Dottie all over.
Simon pushed me into Arthurs study where there was some tea waiting for us.
"It was actually."
"So, you and Erica? Do you have something going on?"
I smiled back at him.
"If things go well then it might. This trip is hopefully a chance for us to get together."
He looked at me as if there was a question he wanted to ask but didn't.
"No, I haven't even held her hand let alone kissed her."
"Does she know?"
"Yes, and so far, she hasn't run a mile."
"So, there is hope then?"
"I need to think so at any rate."
After Lunch, Dottie disappeared with Erica saying that she knew just the right place to go to get the right outfits for the weekend. I smiled. I knew exactly what Dottie was up to and I approved.
They returned just as the last rays of the sun were disappearing. The shopping trip had been very productive, if the number of bags was anything to go by.
Erica came and found me a few minutes later. I was going to get a report on the shopping trip.
"Dottie is mad. You know how much she spent on me? I couldn't have afforded the shoes let alone the three dresses and… and the underwear. Why did she do this? She does not know me at all."
"Erica, that's Dottie. She is probably slightly mad but in a good way. She approves of you. That's all you need to know."
Erica looked at me suspiciously.
"Yeah and my name is Imelda Marcos."
"She does. Dottie is an excellent judge of character. That's why Arthur takes her along on any deal making trip he does. She sniffs out the bad ones in an instant. They make a formidable team which is why we are here, don't forget. We are here to do a deal and possibly end the careers of some others."
"I'll have to return the two dresses I don't wear. We ended up with three because I could not make my mind up."
"Don't you even think of it. Dottie would be very offended. Didn't I say that if she approved of you, she was your friend for life?"
"I get it now but she seems like a clucking hen at times."
"That's Dottie. To her, the little things matter. You obviously scored really high on her league table."
"I guess that means I have to come here with you?"
"Far from it. It means that should you ever need her help then you have it, no questions asked. That is how things are done here."
Erica shook her head again in disbelief.
"Erica, you have to remember that people like Arthur and Dottie don't need to prove themselves to anyone. They are the establishment in this country. Arthur can trace his family back to around 950AD. One of his ancestors came over with William the Conqueror in 1066. However, if you stab one of them in the back, word will go around pretty quickly and none of the people like Arthur will even give you the time of day in the future. They have an 'old boy' network that makes the one in the USA look like the work of amateurs. That is what Vernon and his cronies are up against. It is a battle they won't win."
Then I added,
"Sweet talking and making promises you can't keep might work on Wall St but not here."
"The old boys network?" asked Erica.
I shook my head.
"That and the old money network. Put the two together and you have an immovable object at times. At other times, they move as one. Rivalry is often intense but when it is mutually beneficial, even old enemies will work together. The Hatfield's and the McCoy's and their everlasting feud would just not happen here. Besides, we keep our guns under lock and key most of the time."
I'd discussed old and new money with Erica not long after she came to work for me. It had taken her a while to understand it but in the end, recognising 'old' and 'new' money became a bit of a game for us. This was the first time she'd experienced really old money at first hand.
The deal we were going to seal involved old money from this side of the Atlantic getting together with some of the oldest money from the American side.
The party was in full swing when Erica made her appearance. She literally glided down the central staircase as if she owned the place. Everyone stopped to look at her and then to wonder who she was. Then the band struck up a Waltz and Arthur stepped forward and took hold of Erica's hand. He was determined to dance with her even with one arm in a sling. Arthur was determined if nothing else.
That also told everyone in the room that Erica was off limits to potential suitors. There was a list of unwritten rules somewhere and this was on it. Dancing with a young lady that has had the seal of approval from the host is one thing. Trying to take in beyond the dance was a totally different matter. In the past, people had fought duels and died over less.
I'd just finished dancing with Erica when I noticed that Vernon had arrived. Well, if you can call being steered around the dancefloor while in a wheelchair, dancing.
"Erica, why don't you go and join Dottie? I'm sure that there are lots of people that she wants to introduce you too."
"Do I have to?"
"I'm afraid so. Besides, Vernon has just arrived."
Her face dropped.
"What is he doing here? I thought tonight was by invitation only?"
"It is?" I grinned.
Erica took the hint and headed for Dottie. She'd be safe in amongst Dottie's friends.
I headed straight for Vernon.
"Not such a good evening Vernon. How did you wangle an invite? You do have one, don't you? I'd love nothing more than to have you thrown out."
"What? How dare you speak to me like that."
"Why ever not? This is my turf Vernon. I've known most of the people here all my life. You are the outsider not me."
"Why you?.... I do have an invite. Here it is."
He thrust the heavily embossed invitation card at me.
"Hello Veronica Shaw," I said slightly sarcastically.
Vernon grabbed the invite back from me. The 's' in 'Ms' was clearly visible.
"Does Veronica know that you have nicked her invite? I could call her up if you like?"
Vernon glared at me. He'd narrowed his eyes so much that they looked like slits.
"If you must know, this Veronica lady is in South Africa on Safari."
"I know. I was just teasing Vernon. But my friend, you are at least a day too early. The parties to the deal are not all here yet."
"So, there is a deal then? Well, it is mine, all mine. As your boss, it is my right to clinch the deal."
"Vernon, you are a real pain in the arse at times. But I'll give you the deal. I'll email you the details first thing tomorrow. There might be an issue though."
"Don't bother. I am here so there won't be any issues."
"You know shit all Vernon. If the parties don't want you involved then you won't be. Is that clear?"
"I know all about this deal."
"Oh yes, the snooping you have been doing in my office. Then telling your mate Rob Kowalski all about it. Your father won't be impressed when he finds out that you are two timing the company."
Then he added.
"He won't believe you."
"Oh yeah, I have the CCTV of you breaking into my office what… three times at least in the past month. All that information you stole was planted by me with the full cooperation of the parties to the deal. Then there are the inquiries that Rob Kowalski has been making that were based on information that could have only have come from you. Your father will be very interested indeed."
"You wouldn't dare!"
"Wouldn't I? Well, just about now, a file will be delivered to your Father by an old friend of his. Your Uncle Vernon none the less, that same Uncle you are named after. You are dead meat Vernon."
"You must really want my job then? Why else would you do all this?"
"Do I really? Also in the file will be my letter of resignation effective the first working day of the new year."
"So, Vernon, why don't you toddle off back to whichever home of yours you are living in at the moment and keep your head down. Oh, and don't think of telling Rob. He and I have a score to settle and we will be doing that this weekend. If he is the coward I think he is, he'll take you down with him unless you get in first and so a deal with the Feds."
"Didn't I say? Oh, silly me. A copy of the file along with the voice recordings of you telling Rob all about the deal and this weekend were sent to the FBI today. You were stupid enough to use the office phone for the calls. You forgot that all calls are recorded. I tipped off security the day I left. They emailed me a few hours ago confirming my suspicions. Wire Fraud is just the start of the charges you two will face. One of you will get at least ten years in a federal lock up. Please take my advice, get on a plane back to the Big Apple first thing tomorrow morning and hand yourself into the Feds as soon as possible."
Vernon's face had turned a grey-white colour. Ashen is a perfect description. It would be no use going to his father as I'd kept him informed once I had proof that it was Vernon who was spying on me.
I didn't wait for him to reply. I turned my wheelchair around and headed for a group of people that included Arthur. When I looked back, Vernon was gone.
"Well, hello sleepy head," I said to Erica as she came into the breakfast room.
She yawned as she came up to me.
"Sorry for that. I didn't mean to," she said
"Don't worry about that my dear. We don't stand on ceremony here and especially in the breakfast room after a party. You aren't the last of our guests by a long chalk," said Sir Arthur from his place at the end of the table.
"Did you enjoy yourself last night?" I asked.
"I think so. I hope I didn't embarrass you too much. I've… I've never been to a place like this before let alone to a party like that. I was scared of ruining that delightful dress that Lady Dorothy bought for me."
"Dotty please," said Dorothy as she came into the breakfast room to join us.
"And that dress and everything else is yours to keep and I won't take no for an answer," she said smiling.
"We had the party last night and the shoot is scheduled for tomorrow. What happens today?"
"Nothing this morning. People are allowed to sleep in if they so choose. This afternoon there is a Point-to-Point happening on the next estate. Many of the guests will go over there and have the odd flutter or two. Then tonight we have the formal dinner. Black tie and all that but just the people who are staying here."
"By flutter, you mean betting?"
"Oh yes. There will be plenty of betting going on. It is far more out in the open than in the USA," said Arthur.
Then he added,
"Do you want to go?"
Erica looked at me hopefully. I took the hint.
"I thought it might be nice so show Erica, Farthing House."
Both Arthur and Dottie laughed.
"Shall I get cook to prepare some lunch for you?"
I shook my head.
"I think we will get some lunch at the Feathers," I said.
"It is also time that Erica experienced an old English pub."
Arthur as ever was playing the game.
"Old? That place was only built in 1770. That isn't old!"
Erica looked totally lost.
"Don't worry about Arthur, he's only pulling your leg."
"Here we are, Farthing House," I said as we arrived outside a large house built in the style of the latter part of the regency period. We were being driven in Arthur's 'estate car', an old and very battered Series 1 Range Rover.
"Who lives here?" asked Erica.
"No one at the moment but… I hope you will soon."
"What…? This place is yours?"
I nodded my head.
"Yes, it is," I said proudly.
"The house and a hundred and sixty acres. Most of that is rented out to local farmers. The bacon that you ate at breakfast came from one of them."
As I showed her the house and especially the kitchen, I noticed that Erica had a tear running down her cheek.
"What's wrong?" I asked quietly as I gently held her hand.
"It is as if I am living in a fairy tale. There is no way that I could fit in here. I'm just a poor public school educated girl from Queens."
"And where do you think that Dorothy came from? She was brought up in a very poor council estate in South East London, just a few miles from where Bob Hope was born. Like him, she managed it and so can you. She met Arthur in a Café just off of Trafalgar Square. There was a sudden downpour and Arthur ducked into the café to shelter. Half an hour later he'd proposed to her. She said yes on the spot. She didn't know him from Adam yet for them, it was truly love at first sight. Ask her all about it, she'd love to tell you if only to put your mind at ease."
Erica just shook her head.
"I'm not so sure about that."
"I did and so can you," I said quietly.
"But you went to Cambridge?"
"I did and I paid my own way. Arthur made sure of that."
"Arthur? What has he got to do with it?"
"Dottie is my aunt by birth but she and Arthur are also the people who adopted me."
"They are your mother and father? But you call them by their first names?"
"They are and yes, I do that. When I got the place at Cambridge the first thing that Arthur said was, 'Son, you are a man now so we not be having any more Mother and Father. From now on we are Arthur and Dottie'. And, from that day on, it was."
"But your surname is different from theirs?"
"And no one in the bank apart from the Chairman knows of my family. As far as my records go, I am an orphan. That is factually correct. I am. I just omitted to say that I was adopted and by whom."
Erica sobbed for a bit.
"Why?" she mumbled.
"Erica, you are the first woman I've met that can hold a cable to Dottie. She is my benchmark. I realised that you were totally wasted doing what you were doing on your second day. That was why Bree made a real effort in training you. She saw something in you that told her that you were a good-un. I saw it too. My problem was that I didn't know how to tell you how I felt. That's why it all came out like that at my apartment."
"Why? Why me?"
"Erica, I love you. Will you marry me and come and live here with me?"
"I don't know what to say. I guessed that something like this might happen but there is no way I could have been prepared for all this. No way Jose!"
"Don't say anything. Speak to Dottie. She has a wise head on her shoulders. She knows that you are the right one for me. She told me that when the two of you came back from your shopping trip. I knew that already, but promise me this one thing Erica, and that is that you tell me before we get back to New York. Deal?"
Erica smiled back at me. Her eyes were slightly puffy but I could see the happiness in her face.
"Good, let me show you the house. We will have a great time fixing it up."
"Fixing it up?"
"Oh yes. No one has lived in it for more than twenty years."
"And you said 'we'?"
"I have to look on the positive side, now don't I? Besides, the more you know about everything, then the better and the more of an informed decision you will make."
Erica glared back at me as if to say, 'how dare you throw my words back at me?'.
I showed Erica the house and explained my vision for it. She didn't recoil when I mentioned a 'nursery'.
"It is going to take an awful lot of money to fix this place up just to be habitable let alone a family home," said Erica when I finished the tour.
"I know. That's why I've been living in a small apartment in Queens rather than some super expensive loft on the lower east side. It is also why I lived in a rather down at heel part of London rather than an apartment in Docklands and why I never spent my bonus money on the high life, fast cars, women and or drugs. I guess I'm pretty boring but I have had a target to aim for. This place is it."
"Who owns it? I mean really owns it?"
"I do, I really do. It was given to me as a present on my twenty first birthday by Arthur and Dottie. They were amazed at what it was I wanted but he didn't back down and the title was duly handed over to me the day I turned twenty-one. Why do you ask?"
"It seems to me that as Arthur and Dottie don't have any children on their own. It seems to me that you are set to inherit the lot when… when they die."
Erica's sharp brain was working well.
"No and Yes. No, because I'm adopted. Yes, because I am the nearest living blood relative. Arthurs side of the family have had a hard time producing offspring for a couple of centuries. I'll get the estate and everything but that won't be for a long time."
We walked around the building and talked for several hours. She even asked me the question,
"But why do you want to become a woman?"
"I knew that I should have been born a girl from the first day I came to live here. I went exploring and somehow found the bedroom that Dottie's daughter Sophie, had. All her things were just as she left them the day that she died of Meningitis. I knew that I was in heaven. I changed into her clothes and went to find Auntie Dottie. She saw me and screamed. She thought that it was her daughter coming back to life. I didn't really understand what was going on but as a five-year old, I knew that I'd done something terrible."
"Dottie calmed down a bit later and took me back to the bedroom. She made me put everything back as it was. But she promised to get me my own clothes. Dottie kept her promise and I spent every school holiday here living as Alana. "
"Before I moved to New York, I promised Arthur and Dottie that I'd return and not only make this place liveable again but become Alana full time. Arthur wanted to give me the money to do up this place but I told him no, and that I needed to do this in my own way or not at all. Dottie saw my reasoning and eventually got Arthur to accept my plan. Then you came into my life and tossed everything upside down."
"It's all my fault then?" replied Erica grinning.
I shook my head.
"As I said just now, I knew from very early on, that I wanted you to be here with me. No other woman has ever had that effect on me. Nowhere near. That's why I wanted you to come with me on this trip. I could talk to you properly without the silly rules of the bank getting in the way."
"Don't they still apply? HR were really hot on the no fraternising thing."
"They could fire me but as I've resigned effective the first working day of January next year it is a bit moot. But I'm prepared to risk that as long as I know that you want to be with me for the long term."
Erica didn't say anything for quite a while. She kept looking at the house and at me and then back at the house. Eventually, she said,
"It is all becoming a bit clearer now. All those very subtle hints that you dropped from time to time. This little escapade with Vernon is all part of your plan to get me to say, yes isn't it?"
"Not in the slightest. Vernon is as they say, a mere sideshow, collateral damage. If that hadn't happened then I would have invited you here for Christmas which as you don't need reminding is not that far away."
"But I didn't have a passport or a visa?"
I grinned back at her.
"A call to Arthur who would have made some calls and a passport would have been issued and a visa as well. It helps to have a relative who sits in the House of Lords and sits on its Foreign Affairs Committee. He knows people who know people in DC who would have made a few calls and it would have happened. That is how diplomacy works. Quiet words here and there and gradually agreements are made. Then the Politicians are wheeled in along with the media and documents are signed."
Erica just sighed.
"So, about this little sting operation?" she said smiling and changing the subject.
"Vernon is hopefully hightailing it back to New York and going to go grovelling to his father. That remains the other protagonist, Rob Kowalski. This is how I see things going down…"
Erica looked absolutely stunning in a halter neck long black dress. Dottie had excelled herself with her dress selections. I only wished that I could have escorted her into dinner myself and temporarily cursed my confinement to the dammed chair. Still, she fitted in as if she'd been born to this sort of society. She'd had huge misgivings about even coming to dinner but after a couple of hours with Dottie explaining the etiquette and all the other 'do's' and 'don'ts' she was determined to give it a go.
As we relaxed later I said,
"You were fantastic. You were not out of place even for one moment."
It is all right for you but I was scared shitless. I got through it thanks to Dottie.
"Didn't I tell you that she is your friend for life?"
"I didn't believe you at first, but somehow I do now."
Then she said,
"This is all so unreal. If my friends from college could see me now, they'd all have a heart attack."
"This is real Erica. Ok, so we don't have formal occasions like this very often but these are real people. They might look fearsome at first but underneath, they are real people with real problems in their lives just like everyone else."
Then I added,
"I am so proud of you."
Then I kissed her. She seemed to melt into my arms.
[Sunday Morning at the Pheasant Shoot]
Arthur's Chauffeur drove Arthur, Erica and myself or rather Alana to the site of the shoot. Erica had taken great delight in making sure that I was perfectly dressed and made-up. She seemed to be in her element looking after me. More than once the thought 'I could get used to this' crossed my mind but I dismissed it as there was something more important that needed to be done.
Being wheelchair bound, I could not take part in the shoot but 'base camp' as it were, was where the food and later the drinks would be flowing. When the shoot was over the guns would divide up the birds and they'd all go home with a few fresh kills in the back of their cars.
This would also be where Mr Kowalski would make his move. Quite what it would be I didn't know but as both parties to the deal would be there it was an ideal time for him to make his play.
Sure enough, as the guns gathered for the first drive, Rob appeared in full shooting kit that seemed to have been bought only the previous day and with a semi-automatic shotgun. That didn't go down well. Manual Loaders are the order of the day as well as his gun being totally illegal. Quite where he'd got the gun from was a mystery which the Chief Constable would be investigating once the shoot was over. The CC is an old friend of Arthur and loves these events. I did see him make a quiet phone call before the guns went off for the first beat.
Rob carried on regardless and collared Sir Morton Young, one of the 'supposed' parties to the deal. He was in full spiel when Erica wheeled me up to the pair.
"Ah Alana, I take it you know Mr Kowalski here?", said Sir Morton playing his part perfectly.
"You? What the fuck are you doing dressed up like that? Do you think you had me fooled for even a second?" said Rob Kowalski in a very raised voice.
"Rob, I think of it as Karma. You took me out of that charity football game and then made sure that I was tipped off the stretcher for good measure. I have it all on Video thanks to some bystanders. My lawyers in the US will be filing suit against you next week. But that can wait, as now I'm going to take you out of the game. Well, me, my lawyers and the SEC who will no doubt be wanting to question you in relation to how you came by all those details of a deal that was confidential even to my employers."
He glared at me.
"A deal that I might add, was concocted by myself and has just enough truth behind it to be believable."
"Why you… If I ever get my hands on you, I'll make you pay."
"Carry on Rob, keep digging that hole deeper and deeper. You are on my turf now. I make the rules here. Give up Vernon and you might escape time in a Federal Jail."
"Vernon? Is that what this is all about? You want his job but his old man would never give it to you? Is that it?" replied Rob with a smug grin on his face.
"I agree that Vernon is a dumb shit who only got the job because of his father but that is it. He has violated several Federal Statutes as have you. His father won't be able to save him now. You can save yourself if you want to that is."
He glared at me again.
"I don't want his job. In fact, I've already resigned from the Bank already. Yes Rob, my job, the one you coveted could have been yours if you had only waited but… well, you didn't and now it will never be yours."
His shoulders slumped.
"I'm staying here in this backwater and going to live my life as I want to. You can keep New York. I would be only too happy to never have to go back there again but sadly I'll have to go and give evidence at least one of your trials. Did you really think that buying all those shares in a company that you thought you were broking the deal to sell would escape the notice of the SEC?"
"These are for you. You, Robert Kowalski have been served," I said thrusting the papers I'd been carrying into his jacket.
"This is all being captured on Video so don't even think of denying it," I said pointing to a man with a video camera.
With that Erica turned my chair around and left him fuming. As if to rub salt in it, it started to rain heavily and no one even thought of giving him shelter.
She wheeled me into the food tent where Bill 'Bronco' Cassidy was waiting with a huge Texan grin on his face.
"What were those papers that you gave him?" asked Bill Cassidy.
"Subpoena's from the SEC. They were faxed over this morning."
"By the look on his face he is very unhappy."
"I hope he gets fifteen years," I replied.
"He did this to me," I added pointing to my knee.
"Arthur said that you were something special and boy was he right."
With my job done, the car took us all back to the house.
Arthur and 'Bronco' disappeared into the drawing room where they would seal the deal with the other party to the deal, Art Ford. Bronco was Art's partner. I steered my wheelchair into the library. When we were both in there, I didn't hesitate but took Erica in my arms and kissed her long and hard. After a second or so, she responded with vigour.
We were interrupted by a discrete cough. It was Jenkins.
"Madames, Sir Arthur requests your presence in the drawing room, when you are ready that is."
I looked Erica in the eyes and said,
"Well darling how about it? Want to stay here with me?"
She didn't answer but took my arm in hers and led the way into the Drawing Room as Jenkins pushed my chair.
That was answer enough. There are times when actions speak louder than words and this was one of them.
The Chief Constable was with Sir Arthur.
"Thanks for the tip off about Mr Kowalski. He has been arrested and will be charged with several firearms offences. The 'guns' did not like him turning up with that monstrosity. He only need to have asked and a proper gun would have been made available for him. I understand that he was served with some subpoena's earlier."
"That was me I'm afraid."
"We'll probably do a deal with the Americans and send him back to answer whatever is coming his way. As we don't have any statute of limitations here, we'll let him serve his time over there and then get him back. He's looking at around ten years. We found two other loaded guns in his car. They are all on the list of illegal weapons in this country."
"Thanks Bertie," said Arthur.
Then Arthur turned to the other American in the room, an old friend of his, Art Ford.
"Right. Down to business," said Arthur smiling.
"During the shoot, Art, Bronco and I had the pleasure of completing the deal that we have been discussing for several months. The deal was brokered by my adopted son or should I say daughter. We signed the contracts less than an hour ago. The lawyers have gone off to do their thing in London. The deal will be announced on the London Stock Exchange tomorrow morning and on Wall St a few hours later in the day."
Then he carried on after a glance at Art.
"Art has agreed to be Chairman of the board along with me. We will do one year each and then review the situation. The combined company will be listed on the LSE and the NASDAQ but the HQ will be here. As such, Art will be moving from Houston to this part of the world. With his daughter, already at Cambridge and another one hoping to follow her, it makes perfect sense. I will correspondingly set up a base in Texas but Bronco will run day to day operations at that end."
We all toasted the new company.
Then I realised that Erica was holding my hand.
I looked up at her and she smiled.
Arthur saw this and said,
"For heavens sakes son, kiss the woman."
"Shh Arthur. Let them do this in their own time," retorted Dottie.
Erica squeezed my hand and whispered 'yes' in my ear.
I smiled back at her.
"Arthur, Dottie, Gentlemen, Erica has consented to be my wife."
Then we kissed.
That was really the last deal I brokered.
It was finally done, dusted and put to bed when Erica and I were married in a few months later. Erica's family were not too happy at first with their daughter leaving New York and at the thought of her marrying someone like me but once they'd met Arthur and Dottie and seen where we were going to live they reluctantly gave us their blessing. Even her father who had been the most reluctant began to see that I was a good person and that Erica was very happy.
Apart from my testimony at two trials in New York, I'd made my last appearance as Jeffrey Tomlinson.
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