Chapter 2

1894 Words
“I don’t know. I had to get away. I … I went into shock.…” “Olivia, I don’t know if you got my messages. But …” He hesitates. “Everyone knows.” “I know.” I lean against an old crumbling wall and squeeze my eyes shut. “How did it happen?” He sounds as shocked as I feel. “How the hell did you make a simple error like that? I mean, Christ, Olivia—” “I don’t know,” I say numbly. “You never make mistakes!” “Well, I do now!” I feel tears rising and fiercely blink them down. “What’s … what’s happened?” “It’s not good.” He exhales. “Ketterman’s been having damage limitation talks with Glazerbrooks’ lawyers and talking to the bank—and the insurers, of course.” The insurers. The firm’s professional indemnity insurance. I’m suddenly gripped by an almost exhilarating hope. If the insurers pay up without making a fuss, maybe things won’t be as bad as I thought.… But even as I feel my spirits lift I know I’m like some traveler seeing the mirage through the haze. Insurers never cough up the whole amount. Sometimes they don’t cough up anything. Sometimes they pay up but raise their premiums to unfeasible levels. “What did the insurers say? Will they—” “They haven’t said anything yet.” “Right.” I wipe my sweaty face, screwing up my courage to ask the next question. “And what about … me?” Gabe is silent. There’s my answer. I open my eyes to see two small boys on bikes staring at me. “It’s over, isn’t it? My career’s over.” “I … I don’t know that. Listen, Olivia, you’re freaked out. It’s natural. But you can’t hide. You have to come back—” “I can’t.” Ketterman’s face looms in my mind. And what will Arnold think of me now? “I can’t face everyone.” “Olivia, be rational!” “I need some time!” “Saman—” I flip my phone shut. I feel a bit faint. I must get some water. But I can’t face going into a noisy pub, and I can’t see any shops. I totter along the road until I reach a pair of tall carved pillars decorated with lions. Here’s a house. I’ll ring the bell and ask for some aspirin and a glass of water. And ask if there’s a hotel nearby. I push open the elaborate wrought-iron gate and crunch over the gravel toward the heavy oak front door. It’s a rather grand old house made out of honey-colored stone, set well back from the road, with steep gables and tall chimneys and two Porsches on the drive. I raise a hand and tug the bellpull. There’s silence. The whole house seems dead. I’m about to give up and trudge back down the drive—when all of a sudden the door swings open. Before me stands a woman with blond lacquered hair to her shoulders and long, dangly earrings. She has lots of makeup, long silk trousers in a weird shade of peach, a cigarette in one hand and a cocktail in the other. “Hello.” She drags on her cigarette and looks at me a bit suspiciously. “Are you from the agency?” I have no idea what this woman’s talking about. My head’s hurting so much, I can barely look at her, let alone take in what she’s saying. “Are you all right?” She peers at me. “You look terrible!” “I’ve got a rather bad headache,” I manage. “Could I possibly have a glass of water?” “Of course! Come in!” She waves her cigarette in my face and beckons me into a huge, impressive hall with a vaulted ceiling. There’s a circular oak table in the middle, bearing a vase of huge lilies, and a medieval-style bench at the side. “You’ll want to see the house, anyway. Eddie?” Her voice rises to a shriek. “Eddie, another one’s here! I’m Tanya Geiger,” she adds to me. “You may call me Mrs. Geiger. This way …” She leads me down a short passage into a luxurious maple kitchen and tries a few drawers, apparently at random, before crying “Aha!” and pulling out a plastic box. She opens it to reveal about fifty assorted bottles of pain-relief tablets, vitamins, and bottles of something called Hollywood Skin Glow Supplement, and starts rootling about with her lacquered fingernails. “I’ve got aspirin … paracetamol … ibuprofen … very mild Valium …” She holds up a livid red pill. “This one’s from America,” she says brightly. “Illegal in this country.” “Um … lovely.” She hands me three green tablets and after a few attempts locates a cupboard full of glasses. “Here we are. Migraine relief. They’ll zap any headache. Eddie!” She runs me some iced water from the fridge. “Drink that up.” “Thanks,” I say, swallowing the tablets down with a wince. “I’m so grateful. My head’s just so painful. I can barely think straight.” “Your English is very good.” She gives me a close, appraising look. “Very good indeed!” “Oh,” I say, thrown. “Right. Well, I’m English. That’s … you know, probably why.” “You’re English?” Tanya Geiger seems galvanized by this news. “Well! Come and sit down. Those’ll kick in, in a minute. If they don’t we’ll get you some more.” She sweeps me out of the kitchen and back through the hall. “This is the drawing room,” she says, pausing by a door. She gestures around the large, grand room, dropping ash on the carpet. It’s decorated with what look like antiques, several big velvet sofas, and lots of lamps and ornaments everywhere. “As you’ll see, there’s quite a lot of hoovering … dusting … silver to be kept clean …” She looks at me expectantly. “Right.” I nod. I have no idea why this woman is telling me about her housework, but she seems to be waiting for a reply. “That’s a beautiful table,” I offer at last, gesturing at a shiny mahogany side table. “It needs polishing.” Her eyes narrow. “Regularly. I do notice these things.” “Of course.” I nod, bemused. “We’ll go in here …” She’s leading me through another huge, grand room into an airy glassed conservatory furnished with opulent teak sun-loungers, frondy plants, and a well-stocked drinks tray. “Eddie! Come in here!” She bangs on the glass and I look up to see a dark-haired man in golfing slacks walking over the large, well-manicured lawn. He’s tanned and affluent-looking, probably in his late forties. Tanya is probably in her late forties too, I think, glimpsing her crow’s feet as she turns away from the window. “Lovely garden,” I say. “Oh.” Her eyes sweep over it without much interest. “Yes, our gardener is very good. Has all sorts of ideas. Now, sit down!” She makes a flapping motion with her hands and, feeling a little awkward, I sit down on a lounger. Tanya sinks into a basket chair opposite and drains her cocktail. “Can you make a good Bloody Mary?” she asks abruptly. I stare at her, bewildered. “No matter.” She drags on her cigarette. “I can teach you.” “Teach me …?” “How’s your head?” she demands before I’m able to finish. “Better? Ah, here’s Eddie!” “Greetings!” The door opens and Mr. Geiger comes into the conservatory. He doesn’t look quite as impressive close up as he did striding over the lawn. His blue eyes are a little bloodshot, and he has the beginnings of a beer belly. “Eddie Geiger,” he says, holding out his hand jovially. “Master of the house.” “Eddie, this is …” Tanya looks at me in surprise. “What’s your name?” “Olivia,” I explain. “I’m so sorry to bother you, but I had the most terrible headache …” “I gave Olivia some of those wonderful migraine tablets!” puts in Tanya. “Good choice!” Eddie unscrews a Scotch bottle and pours himself a drink. “I’m very grateful, really.” I manage a half smile. “You’ve been very kind, letting me trespass on your evening.” “Her English is good, isn’t it?” Eddie raises his eyebrows at Tanya. “She’s English!” says Tanya triumphantly, as though she’s pulled a rabbit out of a hat. “Understands everything I say!” I am really not getting something here. Do I look foreign? “Shall we do the tour of the house?” Eddie turns to Tanya. “Really, it’s not necessary,” I begin. “I’m sure it’s absolutely beautiful—” “Of course it’s necessary!” Tanya stubs out her cigarette. “Come on … bring your glass!” This woman cannot have a life. All she seems interested in is housework. As we trail round the first floor, viewing one splendid room after another, she keeps pointing out things that need special dusting and polishing, and how careful you have to be with the soft furnishings. I’m sure silk drapes do need special treatment—but why tell me? “Now upstairs!” She sweeps out of the dining room. Oh, God. There’s more? “You come from London, Olivia?” says Eddie Geiger as we head up the stairs. A huge oil painting of Tanya in a long blue evening dress with astonishingly sparkly eyes and teeth gazes down at us, and I can see the real Tanya waiting for a reaction. “Yes, I do. That’s a … lovely painting,” I add. “So vivid!” “We were rather pleased with it.” Tanya looks complacent. “And you have a full-time job there?” I’m sure Eddie’s only asking to be polite—but for a few moments I can’t bring myself to answer. Do I have a job? “I did,” I say at last. “To be honest … I don’t know what my situation is at the moment.” “What sort of hours did you work?” Tanya seems suddenly interested in the conversation. “All hours.” I shrug. “I’m used to working all day and into the night. Through the night, sometimes.” The Geigers look absolutely stunned at this revelation. People just have no idea what the life of a lawyer is like. “You used to work through the night?” Tanya seems stupefied. “On your own? “Me and the other staff. Whoever was needed.” “So you come from … a big setup?” “One of the biggest in London.” Tanya and Eddie are darting glances at each other. They really are the oddest people.
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