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‘But it’s not how it sounds. She was depressed. She was having a bad time getting rid of her ex. I just wanted to … make things a little easier for her. I keep telling you.’

‘Ed …’ Paul’s voice was a warning bell.

‘Just a few more questions.’

They had questions, all right. They wanted to know how often he had met Deanna. Where they had gone. What the exact nature of their relationship was. They didn’t believe him when Ed said he didn’t know much about her life. They didn’t believe him when he said he knew nothing about her brother.

‘Oh, come on!’ he protested. ‘You’ve never had a relationship based on sex?’

‘Miss Lewis doesn’t say it was based on sex. She says the two of you were involved in a “close and intense” relationship, that you had known each other since your college days, and that you were determined to make her go ahead with this deal, that you pressed it on her. She says she had no idea that in taking your advice she was doing anything illegal.’

‘But she’s – she’s making it sound like we had much more of a relationship than we did. And I didn’t force her to do anything.’

‘So you admit that you gave her the information.’

‘I’m not saying that! I’m just saying –’

‘I think what my client is saying is that he cannot be held responsible for any misconceptions Ms Lewis might have held about their relationship,’ Paul Wilkes interjected. ‘Or what information she might have passed on to her brother.’

‘And we were not having a relationship. Not that kind of relationship.’

The detective shrugged. ‘You know what? I don’t really care what the nature of your relationship was. I don’t care if you knobbed her halfway to next Wednesday. What is of interest to me, Mr Nicholls, is that you are on record as having given this young woman information, which, on the twenty-eighth of February, she told a friend was “going to bring us some serious profit”. And which her and her brother’s fund’s bank accounts show did in fact bring them some “serious profit”.’

An hour later, bailed for a fortnight, Ed sat in Paul Wilkes’s office. Paul poured them both a whisky, and they sat in silence while Ed drank his. He was becoming oddly used to the taste of strong alcohol in daylight hours.

‘I can’t be held responsible for what she told her brother. I can’t go around checking whether every potential partner has a brother who works in finance. I mean who does that? Surely they’re going to see that.’

Paul leant back in his chair and sighed, like someone well used to explaining the obvious. ‘The chain comes back to you. She and her brother made a barrow-load of money, and they did it illegally on information you gave her.’

‘I was trying to help her.’

‘Well, you certainly did that. But the SFA and the SOCA won’t care what your motives were, Ed.’

‘Can we stop talking in acronyms? I have no idea who you’re talking about.’

‘Well, basically, try and imagine every serious crime-fighting body that has anything to do with finance. Or crime. That’s basically who is investigating you right now.’

‘You make it sound like I’m actually going to be charged.’ Ed put the whisky on the table beside him.

‘I think it’s extremely likely, yes. And I think we may be in court pretty quickly. They’re trying to speed up these cases.’

Ed stared at him. Then his head sank into his hands. ‘This is a nightmare. I just … I just wanted her to go away, Paul. I want this to go away.’

‘Well, the best we can hope for at the moment is that we can convince them that you’re basically just a geek who was in over his head.’


‘You got any better ideas?’

Ed shook his head.

‘Then just sit tight.’

‘I need to do something, Paul. I need to get back to work. I don’t know what to do if I’m not working. I’m going nuts down there in Nowheresville.’

‘Like I said, I know the prosecutors want to get this sewn up quickly. But if I were you I’d stay put for now. The SFA may well leak this and then the shit is really going to hit the fan. I’ve drawn up a statement saying you’re completely innocent and that we have every confidence your name will be cleared once this goes to court. But the moment this gets out, the media are going to be all over you like a bad suit. The best thing you can do is hide out down there in Nowheresville for another week or so.’ Paul scribbled a note on his legal pad.

Ed gazed at the upside-down writing. ‘Do you think this will get into the papers?’

‘I don’t know. Probably. It might be a good idea to talk to your family, anyway, just so they’re prepared for any negative publicity.’

Ed rested his hands on his knees. ‘I can’t.’

‘You can’t what?’

‘Tell my dad about all this. He’s sick. This would …’ He shook his head. When he finally looked up, Paul was watching him steadily.

‘Well, that’s got to be your decision. But, as I said, I think it would be wise for you to remain somewhere out of reach when it all blows up. Mayfly obviously doesn’t want you anywhere near its offices until it’s all sorted. There’s too much money riding on the product launch. So you need to steer clear of anyone associated with the company. No calls. No emails. And if anyone does happen to locate you, for God’s sake, don’t say anything. To anyone.’ He tapped his pen, signalling the end of the conversation.

‘So basically I hide in the middle of nowhere, keep schtum, and twiddle my thumbs until I get sent to prison.’

The lawyer just stood, closed the file on his desk. ‘Well, we’re putting our best team on it. We’ll do our best to make sure it doesn’t come to that.’

Ed stood, and made to leave, slowly digesting the fact that his lawyer had not denied any of it. Paul opened the door to show him out. ‘And next time, Ed? Just tell her you’re not really interested. Saves a whole lot of trouble.’

Ed stood blinking on the steps of Paul’s office, surrounded by office workers and lead-stained buildings, couriers tugging helmets from sweaty heads, bare-legged secretaries laughing on their way to eat sandwiches in the park, and felt a sudden pang for his old life. The one with his Nespresso machine in his office and his secretary nipping out for sushi, and his apartment with the views over the city, and the worst thing that afternoon being the prospect of having to lie on the couch in his office and listen to the Suits drone on about profit and loss. He had never really measured his life by that of anyone else but now he felt cripplingly envious of the people around him with their everyday concerns, their ability to get on a Tube back to their own homes, their families. The simple pleasures of going for a meal with friends, to stretch out in front of the television with his arm around someone. What did he have? Weeks of being stuck in an empty house, with nobody to talk to, facing the prospect of imminent prosecution.

He thought back to the previous week, to waking up on his sofa at Beachfront with no idea how he had got there, his mouth as dry as if it had been packed with cotton wool, his glasses neatly folded on the coffee-table. It was the third time in as many weeks that he’d been so drunk he couldn’t remember how he’d got home, the first time he had woken with empty pockets.

He wasn’t really a drinker. Lara had always insisted alcohol gave you belly fat and complained that he snored if he had more than two. He wanted a drink right now like he had rarely wanted anything.

Because here was the thing: he missed work more than he had ever missed his wife. He missed it like a constant mistress; he missed having a routine. For almost five years now his day had run to the world’s most regular timetable:

– 7.00 a.m. get up, drink coffee

– 7.30 a.m. meet personal trainer, shower, walk to work, second coffee with Ronan

– 9.00 a.m. work

– 8.30 p.m. finish work, maybe have a quick drink at the bar downstairs with Ronan, walk home, maybe stay up and do a bit more work

It had been orderly. Reassuring. Satisfying. And now every morning that Ed Nicholls woke up he had to think of a reason just to get dressed. He had to convince himself that his life wasn’t over.

Get a grip, Nicholls. He took a breath. Think logically. There is a way round every problem. There is always a way round.

He checked his phone (new, only three imported contacts). There were two voicemail messages from Gemma. Nobody else had called. Ed sighed and pressed delete, then set off along the sun-baked pavement towards the car park.

Ed sat for a while in his empty flat, got a bite to eat at a pizza restaurant, sat again in his flat, and then, because he had no reason to stay in the city, he climbed back into his car and drove towards the coast. Deanna Lewis danced before him the whole way out of London, spinning around against the rain-spattered windscreen like a cut-price dervish. He thought about those big brown eyes, half closed in apparent pleasure, wrinkling in delight at one of his jokes. He saw them gazing directly into his, as if allowing him to see straight into her. His thoughts darted around like silverfish. How could he have been so stupid? Why had he not thought about the possibility that she would tell someone else? Or was he actually missing something more sinister here? Had she and her brother planned this? Was it some sort of psychotic revenge strategy for dumping her?

He drove and his brain hummed with questions. His skin prickled with anger, and with every mile it grew. He might as well have given her the keys to his flat, his bank-account details, like his ex-wife, and let her wipe him out. That would actually have been better. At least he would have kept his job, his friend. Shortly before the Godalming exit, overcome with rage, he pulled over on the motorway and dialled her mobile number. He had to try to remember it, as the authorities had taken his old phone, with all the contacts on, as part of their search for evidence. What the hell did you think you were doing? he wanted to yell at her. Why would you even do that to somebody? What the hell did I ever do to you that justified demolishing my whole life and leaving me in so much rubble?

But the number was dead.

Ed sat in a layby, his phone in his hand, feeling his rage dissipate. He hesitated, then rang Ronan’s number. It was one of only a handful he knew off by heart.

It rang several times before he answered.

‘Ronan –’

‘I’m not allowed to talk to you, Ed.’ He sounded weary.

‘Yeah. I know. I just – I just wanted to say –’

‘Say what? What do you want to say, Ed?’

The anger in his voice was a silencer.

‘You know what? I don’t actually care so much about the insider-trading thing. Although obviously it’s a bloody disaster for the company. But you were my mate. My oldest friend. I would never have done that to you.’

A click, and the phone went dead.

Ed sat there and allowed his head to drop onto the wheel for a few minutes. He waited until the humming in his mind leached away to nothing, and then he indicated, pulled out slowly and drove towards Beachfront.

The phone rang just as he was coming off the dual carriageway. He looked at the glowing screen, sighed, and pressed a button on the hands-free set.

‘What do you want, Lara.’ He didn’t say it like a question.

‘Hey, baby. How are you?’

‘Uh … not so good.’

‘Oh, no! What is the matter?’

He never knew if it was an Italian thing, but she had a way, his ex-wife, of making you feel better. She would cradle your head, run her fingers through your hair, fuss around you, cluck maternally. By the end it had irritated him, but now, on the empty road at dead of night, he felt nostalgic for it.

‘It’s … a work thing.’


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