In response to Sue Vincent’s Thursday photo prompt.
Now, briefly, you see me – #writephoto
“Money?” he smiled. “How much money do I have?” He laughed, in the way that the super relaxed, super rich, super smooth can do… His eyes twinkled as he scanned my hopeless innocence. “Let me see…”
He reached for the decanter containing the single malt. “Imagine,” he said, the smile unchanging, yet still not false. “that this is a large lake, filled with twenty-pound notes.”
He watched me swallow, knowing that the pretty but fragile reporter before him was lost, knowing that fate had smiled on her first assignment, plunging her into a world that should have been fantasy… yet wasn’t.
“And I’m pouring at a rate of about a bottle of single malt every thirty seconds,” he continued, putting down the whisky – the product of his own distillery on the island of Skye, hundreds of miles away. “And that’s been happening for the past thirty years…”
I think I gulped then. “That’s… that’s an awful lot of money.”
He threw his head back, and blew a stream of Havana smoke at the ceiling. “I lied,” he said, chuckling at my open-mouthed amazement. “It’s really much more than that. I just wanted to see your face when I said it.”
He watched me struggle with the idea; watched as my humble origins and simple political views leaked from my cheap, white blouse and into the killing fields of his dark eyes. I’d done my best to put makeup over the old self-harms scars that marred the inside of my right forearm, but I knew he’d seen them. He just nodded, sucking in more red-lit smoke as though they filled in the last piece of a puzzle that amused him.
Feeling defenceless, I turned away from his implacable, but surprisingly friendly gaze, and looked out of the polarised floor-to-ceiling glass of his Knightsbridge rooftop and at the Autumn moon. Hateful, I thought. He’s not admirable, he’s just hateful…sucking the money from…
…His gentle voice interrupted me. “I know,” he said sucking the large cigar so that the tip glowed, again, reflecting in the glass beyond his head. “I know everything about you.” More whisky. “Your politics, your state of mind, your past, that little brush with the law as a student, your writings on the internet…everything.”
“Why me?” It was a whisper. Realisation rushed at me. It hadn’t been the hundred phone calls to his press-secretary. It had been… “Something else…” It was a second before I realised I’d blurted the words out loud.
“Something else?” It had amused him. I watched as he ran the mental film-strip backwards. “Yes,” he said, doing the odds, pretty sure of what I had meant. “Not your journalist’s training, nor your persistence… more to do with me than you.”
He stood and took the drink and cigar to the window, looking out at London’s most expensive square mile. “I own most of what’s down there.” He turned, the smile becoming sinister. “Want to know how I did it? Ask me anything,” I think I heard a soft laugh in his broad chest. “I’ll tell you the truth…”
I knew he wasn’t lying. Knew he didn’t have to. My mind clawed at what I might rescue from the situation – something that might give my new career a boost. “Okay,” I said. “Deal. Tell me the secret of how you can make this much money.”
He turned and nodded, his eyes narrowing as he examined me. “Good,” he said. “That’s what I would have asked… and I’ll keep my promise.”
He came back to his antique leather armchair and poured himself another single-malt, then leaned forward and screwed the half-smoked havana cigar into the ashtray. Only then did I see that, laminated into the base of the glass, was a large NHS logo and a folded twenty pound note.
“It’s easy,” he sneered, reaching into his pocket, from where I heard a click. I stiffened, he smiled, shook his head and continued. “If you start with money.” He leaned back, spreading his thighs instead of crossing his legs as I thought he would. “You look for the event,” he whispered across the smoke-filled few feet between us.
“The event?” I managed. It was a feeble little voice that came out.
“The one that brings countries down,” he said. “And then you buy up everything that’s going to be scarce…”
“Like?” I asked, getting some control back over my speech.
“Like doctors, like trains, like buses, like nurses, like food, like green belt, like credit, like ‘cheap’ housing…”
He leaned forward and poured me a whisky, sliding it across the ivory-slatted top of the coffee table. “It’s not spiked. I don’t need to do things like that, I can have beauty queens here with a single call.”
I watched him run his eyes over my cheap outfit, nodding when I picked up the much needed alcohol and downed half of it in one. He smiled in approval.
“More, ask much more,” he said. “It’s your big chance. Come on, make yourself famous – write that scoop!”
I threw back the rest of the whisky and he poured me another. Then, I asked, and asked, and asked until there were no questions left, and I knew everything about how the twisted, crooked, financial psychopath operated.
“And you’ll let me write it up?” I asked at the end, my body wet with sweat.
“Better than that,” he laughed, taking from his pocket the micro device that had been recording our conversation. “You can have this…” he said, sliding the little black box across the polished table top.
I looked at it in my hands. It was about the size of the old matchboxes I used to light my cigs with at uni; before the breakdown at the hospital, before the booze, before the new training and the new career… before this moment.
“And I’ll verify that it’s my voice on the chip.”
I looked into his eyes. Calm and deadly. But truthful.
“Why would you do that… expose yourself to the truth like that?”
“I pick my victims carefully,” he said, the edge in his voice as deadly as the sharpest knife. “And when you publish it, you will be ignored.”
“Why… how…” I stuttered. “But it’s the truth, you said so!”
“It is…” He lit the second cigar that he had been grooming on his thigh, puffing blue clouds across the table. “But I bought up all the outrage long ago…”
©Copyright Stephen Tanham, 2016.