“So, anyway,” I say, hurriedly changing the subject. “You’re… you’re doing a deal with Luke. That’s great! How’s it all going?”
I only really ask to be polite, and steer attention away from my gym activities. I’m expecting them both to start explaining it to me at great length, and I can nod my head at intervals and enjoy my drink. But to my surprise, there’s an awkward pause.
“Good question,” says Luke at last, and looks at Michael. “What did Clark say?”
“We had a long conversation,” says Michael. “Not entirely satisfactory.”
I look from face to face, feeling disconcerted.
“Is something going wrong?”
“That all depends,” says Michael.
He starts to tell Luke about his phone call with whoever Clark is, and I try to listen intelligently to their conversation. But the trouble is, I’m starting to feel quite giddy. How much have I drunk today? I don’t even want to think about it, to be honest. I loll against the leather backrest, my eyes closed, listening to their voices chatting what seems far above my head.
“… some sort of paranoia…”
“… think they can change the goalposts…”
“… overheads… cost reduction… with Alicia Billington heading up the London office…”
“Alicia?” I struggle to an upright position. “Alicia’s going to run the London office?”
“Almost definitely,” says Luke, stopping midsentence. “Why?”
“But what?” says Michael, looking at me with interest. “Why shouldn’t she run the London office? She’s bright, ambitious…”
“Oh. Well… no reason,” I say feebly.
I can’t very well say, “Because she’s a complete cow.”
“You’ve heard she’s just got engaged, by the way?” says Luke. “To Ed Collins at Hill Hanson.”
“Really?” I say in surprise. “I thought she was having an affair with… whassisname.”
“With who?” says Michael.
“Erm… thingy.” I take a sip of gimlet to clear my head. “She was having secret lunches with him, and everything!”
What’s his name again? I really am pissed.
“Becky likes to keep abreast of the office gossip,” says Luke with an easy laugh. “Unfortunately one can’t always vouch for its accuracy.”
I stare at him crossly. What’s he trying to say? That I’m some kind of rumormonger?
“Nothing wrong with a bit of office gossip,” says Michael with a warm smile. “Keeps the wheels turning.”
“Absolutely!” I say emphatically. “I couldn’t agree more. I always say to Luke, you should be interested in the people who work for you. It’s like when I give financial advice on my TV show. You can’t just look at the numbers, you have to talk to them. Like… like Enid from Northampton!” I look at Michael expectantly, before remembering that he doesn’t know who Enid is. “On paper she was ready to retire,” I explain. “Pension and everything. But in real life…”
“She… wasn’t ready?” suggests Michael.
“Exactly! She was really enjoying work and it was only her stupid husband who wanted her to give up. She was only fifty-five!” I gesture randomly with my glass. “I mean, don’t they say life begins at fifty-five?”
“I’m not sure they do,” says Michael, smiling. “But maybe they should.” He gives me an interested look. “I’d like to catch your show one day. Is it shown in the States?”
“No, it isn’t,” I say regretfully. “But I’ll be doing the same thing on American TV soon, so you’ll be able to watch it then!”
“I look forward to that.” Michael looks at his watch and drains his glass. “I have to go, I’m afraid. We’ll speak later, Luke. And very nice to meet you, Becky. If I ever need financial advice, I’ll know where to come.”
As he leaves the bar, I lean back against my squashy seat and turn to look at Luke. His easy demeanor has vanished, and he’s staring tensely into space while his fingers methodically tear a matchbook into small pieces.
“Michael seems really nice!” I say. “Really friendly.”
“Yes,” says Luke distantly. “Yes, he is.”
I take a sip of gimlet and look at Luke more carefully. He’s got exactly the same expression he had last month, when one of his staff cocked up a press release and some confidential figures were made public by mistake. My mind spools back over the conversation I was half-listening to — and as I watch his face I start to feel a bit worried.