CHAPTER NINE - ECONOMY CLASS
London, 22 March 2001.
Nathan was sitting next to Zelda in Economy on the daytime flight back from New York JFK to London Heathrow. This was their second trip to New York, following the weird Brewster episode. It had been very successful generally. He had generated good business for the bank from Zelda's leads, and the Brewster thing itself was now developing well. He was getting close to Bill Robinson. Bill had dropped in to see him on the two occasions he had been in London, and had said he would become regular in his requests for reports now that the Brewster deal had got off the ground.
Apparently Nathan would have met Suleiman, if he, Nathan, had been able to attend the meeting at the Lannington. In retrospect, he was disappointed: he should have broken off his ski holiday. He looked at Zelda sleeping in the seat next to him. They had been booked a couple of rows further back, but these bulkhead seats had been empty and they had switched after take-off. They were now stretched out with the row to themselves, every bit as comfortable as in Business Class. His thoughts turned to the female executive who had made the news last year for cavorting in-flight in an unseemly manner with her business companion. He could see the appeal as Zelda opened her eyes and gazed up at him. He realised then that this had been the first time he had seen her with her eyes closed.
Embarrassed, Nathan leant back and closed his eyes. He imagined himself telling his mother he wanted to introduce his new girlfriend. Mama would suggest they all go to the opera together: his mother's way of letting the girl know who the family was. He had a vision of them heading for the bar in the interval, his father, powerful, white haired, with Zelda glittering on his arm, and behind them, he and his mother, both slim and dark; his mother turning to him and whispering, "I think you have found your Mata Hari, Nathan." In the bar the attention would be irresistibly drawn to their little circle, to the contrast between his slim, elegant mother and the Hollywood vision of the girl in green with flowing red hair, marble features and blue-grey eyes. Across the room he would see eyes drawn, averted, and then furtively flicking back. The vision faded as he felt movement next to him.
Zelda leant down to pick up her document case and sat up.
"The calls went well, Nathan, I appreciate your manner with the clients. They have confidence in you." She opened her case and pulled out a sheaf of papers in a pink transparent plastic envelope. "I got these from Ferdie. They are for your bank. They're all signed, and you should have your people confirm the signatures. They authorise you to disclose full details of all the transactions on the Brewster accounts to Bill Robinson, for physical collection by him when he's in London. Apparently they don't want the paperwork floating around the Gulf, but he needs to know. He's principal advisor. There's a template for the schedule of numbers you should supply him."
Nathan took the envelope. "I got the impression, when you called Ferdie on the phone, that you weren't too happy with the meetings."
"That's not true, Nathan. It's just that we haven't landed Brewster Mark II yet. Ferdie and I set ourselves very high targets."
"I could never have expected a portfolio to develop as fast as mine has since I joined you. My colleagues think the same. That's a high target."
"We make good partners, Nathan. You complement me. Add in Ferdie and we are a full team. I enjoy working with you, Nathan." He looked into those blue-grey eyes, and felt he could see that the depth of her sincerity went way beyond those words, and it seemed that those eyes knew his thoughts and liked them.
"Excuse me, Sir, we are entering turbulence. Would you mind buckling your seat belt?" the hostess interrupted. The moment was lost.
Zelda took leave of him as soon as they had disembarked and set foot inside Terminal Four. He had no idea of whether she was going to Bangkok, Brighton or the Post House Hotel but that was the way she operated. Secretly, he would have preferred to go with her. He took the Underground to Sloane Square and decided to walk home down the King's Road. Twenty minutes later he stepped through the door of his Beaufort Street flat, just one message on the answer phone. He pressed the button: "I'm at the pub." The Reverend's familiar voice intoned, in a message left just ten minutes earlier. He sank into a chair, both mind and body suddenly afflicted by Gulf War syndrome, shellshock or whatever. The Reverend.
During these last few weeks everything seemed to have come back to normal. Zelda may have been connected to these people, but he could not believe she was involved in any nefarious activity herself. It was also hard to see her as somebody's pawn. He was doing good business; in truth, he had only heard good things about Suleiman and was beginning to doubt the veracity of the incriminating evidence he had seen last year. What did the Reverend want? And the Reverend was there right now, when he had literally just got in from New York. It was almost as if he were being watched. It was late. He had better go round the corner and meet the Reverend. He rose to leave.
"Nathan my boy, how good of you to come. Here, have a pint. The usual?"
"Thank you, Peter. I've just flown in from New York. How did you know?"
"I didn't. No harm. If you hadn't come, I would have come back another day. Any news for me?" The Reverend beamed at him, slurping beer.
"Not really. Jemimah, who is really Zelda, has developed some excellent leads to private banking clients, in addition to Brewster whom you know about already. Bill Robinson is first class. Nothing I have stumbled on leads me to believe they are anything other than the bona fide business people they claim to be."
"I'm glad to hear that, Nathan." He laughed. "Of course, I would generally prefer to hear hard evidence, damning people to hell or sending them to jail, the first being appropriate to my previous occupation in the Church and the second to my current activities. In this case I can live with your response."
The Reverend proceeded to explain that he did not expect to require Nathan's further assistance. It was not clear to Nathan that he had really given any assistance, but he did not object. The Reverend continued to talk in general terms about the continued need for discretion, nonetheless. He interrupted this monologue only to order another couple of pints of bitter. He told Nathan that they would still keep occasional contact, and could possibly request some minor service, but this was unlikely. What he did not tell Nathan was that their suspicions had now moved away from Suleiman and were focusing on Julian Vermouth, a Gulf Banker who worked with Suleiman on a variety of transactions. Nathan would be like a control in pharmaceutical tests, where one group takes the pills and another the placebos. If Nathan came up with anything independently, it could validate another source, prove that the medicine really was working.
For the Reverend's purposes, the less Nathan knew the better, and he should certainly not act as if he were secretly seeking information. This is why the Reverend had told him he was released from service. When it came to the third pint, Nathan requested a gin and tonic instead, and the Reverend was delighted to join him.
"Who's this Bill Robinson chap, Nathan. Any clues as to who he works for?"
"He's a top notch banker, Peter. I can give you his phone number, but somehow, I know it sounds strange, it's always business talk or social talk, but we've never got to any kind of personal exchange. Funny. I have a lot of respect for him, we're really tuned in, but no, I don't know who he works for."
The Reverend was a very meticulous man, but that snippet of information, the phone number, slipped by him. It was only some weeks later that he came upon his note of the number, which he had made at the time, and followed it up. This closed the loop on Bill Robinson, and very helpful it was. They would come back to use Nathan after all.
Entering his flat, Nathan saw the message light flashing on his answer phone, the second message today, no two messages. He was in good spirits, fortified by drinks with the Reverend, and glad that it was all over. He was a free man and back in business with a career before him again. Suleiman was no longer a threat. Nathan had done what he should do, in his opinion if not the bank's, but then they did not know, so they could not tangle him in their bureaucratic web. He pressed the play button on the answer phone
Message one, message left at eleven ten PM today. "Hello, Nathan. You didn't say you had any plans tonight. I'm going shopping for a late dinner. I'll come round later."
Message two, message left at 11.36 PM today. "Nathan, still not back? I'm on my way. See you shortly." She's coming round for dinner! Here! I don't believe it! His spirits, already elevated, soared. The first thing to occur to the domesticated mind might be to tidy up the flat. Nathan adopted a more pragmatic approach and poured himself a gin and tonic while he looked around for a decent bottle of red. Midnight passed and he began to wonder if the messages, by now deleted, were a dream, a symptom of jetlag, when the doorbell rang. She entered, she was in his flat. Unbelievable but true!
"Hello, Nathan. I'm sure you're still on New York time, like me. Since every one else is going to bed, I thought we two could share a cooking experience. Take me to your kitchen, Leader." He took her through and she swung the supermarket bags up onto the work surface. Long gone were the days of the corner late night rip-off shop.
"I have never felt a need for formality with you, Zelda," he said, "but I am surprised to see you here. I would have been less surprised, if you had called me from Bangkok."
"You're perceptive, Nathan, I've surprised myself too. Perhaps that says something. We might find out while we cook. Come on."
In fact, she had made a routine call just over an hour ago and heard from the watcher, whom she had forgotten to take off the job, that Nathan was sitting in the Devil's Retreat pub with the vicar. This had surprised her. Was there something she should know? There was one way to find out: talk to Nathan and see if he let something slip. But Nathan seemed in excellent spirits and she could read him. He was not casting those furtive looks, as he had that first time they had met in the wine bar in the City. OK, he wasn't pissed out of his mind yet, but he was well on the way.
"Have you got any red wine, Nathan? It will go well with the main course. I'd like to try it first." He poured her a glass and one for himself.
"See this broccoli," she said. "We're just going to cut off the stalks and fry them with garlic. Try it at a dinner party, and see if any one can guess what it is. Wolfgang Puch would probably get it right, but I have my doubts about the rest of them. You can save the green bits for dinner tomorrow."
"Cheers," Nathan said, pouring Zelda a second glass, and himself, of course. She seemed to be thirsty.
"Can you cut up the onions, garlic and red peppers? I'll deal with the bacon and beef. I want a saucepan." She opened the cupboard below. "Nathan, where did you get this Le Creuset saucepan? This is perfect. They are so versatile. I love this heavy cookware. Once I've heated some olive oil in it, I want you to drop in the stuff you're chopping and mushrooms as well. I'll add the bacon. Then we'll throw in the beef for a minute or so before we add the red wine. This dish takes three hours, by the way."
"I have to be at work by nine."
"I'm joking, Nathan. It's true that it takes three hours, but with this quality of beef it will be ready in forty-five minutes. I thought we could sit down over a glass of red wine while we wait." Her glass was empty again. He refilled it, and his also.
Zelda left Beaufort Street at four forty-five ante meridian. Nathan was as likeable as ever and also blotto by the time she left, three bottles of red wine later. He had let nothing slip, which surprised her. It was as if the vicar had given Nathan's ego a vitamin boost. She did not distrust Nathan. This evening's exercise was just something she had to do, a swift reaction to a changing scenario, pre-empting the unexpected. It was part of her methodology, attention to detail, no stone unturned. The walk back to the hotel would take an hour, and as she walked she realised that she had really enjoyed being with Nathan in his flat.