Disclaimer: This universe is not mine; it belongs to Sophie Kinsella.
He looked at the man across the polished oak table and said as calmly and levelly as he could manage: "Yes, Mr. Fletcher, we do have the First Nation Bank as a client, and have so for three years now. There have been no cases of litigation at all, sir. Here is what you may expect from us." He slid a sheet of paper across the shiny surface. Mr. Fletcher examined it minutely.
"We will need a few days to decide. I will inform you when we have reached a decision." Mr. Fletcher got up and shook hands. "Good-day, Mr. Brandon."
"Good-day," echoed Luke, and he left the boardroom as empty-handed as he had entered.
* * *
Hailing a cab, he gave directions to the Four Seasons hotel, and sank back onto the seat, staring fixedly out of the window at the traffic. All of the four banks he had just met with had the same reply—a half-answer of we'd like some more time or this is not what we're looking for, but if we ever need your service we'll contact you straightaway or some other variant. Exhaling silently, he thought again about what was happening in London. Alicia had just faxed him a report on how the company was doing in his absence; excellent, in fact.
Then why was there so much rumor and apparent uneasiness about the Bank of London? From the report, they seemed to be happy; there was nothing to say that they were dissatisfied. Someone out there must be spreading rumors—for what? Other PR companies might be competing for the same banks, but it seemed unlikely. London…his mind drifted to Becky, and flinched from the subject. He thought again about Mr. Fletcher and his First Nation Bank. They were still so reluctant, so hesitant. Something was bothering them, and all he could do was try to persuade them there was nothing wrong—not that there was anything wrong in the first place.
Paying the cab driver, he got out and went up to the suite. It was a luxurious, well-kept and also echoingly empty. As he passed the expensive phone sitting on the table, his hand reached out and started to dial a number long committed to memory, an overseas telephone number. Before he finished dialing, though, he came to his senses and put the receiver down, a little more forcefully than he'd meant to. It was over, he said to himself, and remembered what she'd said. "Maybe you don't have enough time..." "No wonder Alicia said I was tagging along…"
Shaking himself mentally, he went into the bedroom to change into a new shirt. Michael was meeting him in ten minutes down at the bar, and the tie was as constricting as a noose. He splashed his face with water, and, feeling better, went downstairs.
It was cool and quiet in the bar. It was only four o'clock in the afternoon, so the few people that were there chatted in low voices, and most of them appeared to be relaxing.
"A gin and tonic, please," Luke said. It was placed in front of him just as Michael arrived, pulling off a thick jacket.
"Hi, Luke," he said, and slid onto the seat. "Just water for me," he added.
There was a pause as Michael surveyed him for a few moments, then said, conversationally, "You might want to fly back to London to see what Alicia's doing."
"Why?" he asked, and focused on Michael's face. "What's going on with Alicia?"
"I just got a tip from someone who says she's setting up a rival PR company, and trying to poach your client. Clients, plural, in fact."
Luke was still for a moment, thinking through the various possibilities, face blank. "Do you know how reliable this source is?"
"Very," Michael said, and reiterated, "I really think you need to go to London, Luke. There's a real problem there." Sliding a sheet of paper across the table, he added, "I can look after what's going on here"
"Thanks, Michael." His face was still closed, but there was a certain grim look around his mouth. He looked at the sheet of paper with a single address printed on it. 17 King's Street, Soho. "I'll book a trip tonight."
* * *
Back upstairs, he passed the phone and thought with a small leap of realization, swiftly quelled, that Becky was also in London, or England at least.
He opened up his laptop to schedule a flight. Glancing at the email account, he saw that there was an unopened one from Alicia. His mind flicked back to what Michael had said, but he opened it anyway. The information looked normal; small office squabbles, nothing too drastic, and the usual report that things were going well. Luke frowned, thinking that perhaps it looked a little too optimistic—was there a false note in there somewhere? He closed the browser window and booked the trip.
He'd know tomorrow, one way or the other. Picking up the phone, he began dialing all of the banks in Manhattan he'd scheduled meetings with, already dreading the backlash of canceling. The automated voice inquired what he wanted, and with a sigh, he began making his excuses.
* * *
Arriving in London at almost midnight the next day, he felt tightly wound up and dull, as though the world was wrapped in cotton. He got back to his flat. This late, there was nothing he could do; he was exhausted, at any rate. The plane ride, like all overseas trips, seemed endless and he had been thinking about all the problems facing his company. The New York banks were recalcitrant, as timid as mice, bothered by something, and he still had no idea what on earth was going on in London.
* * *
Later that day, as the morning traffic began to increase in earnest, he was on the road to the office. Luke stepped into the building and looked around. There was no receptionist.
Odd, he thought, and went upstairs, wary. As the elevator dinged open, he saw that many of the offices were empty, and that it was silent, as though there was just a skeleton of the company he'd left. Walking through the halls, he was becoming more and more suspicious. This was a Tuesday morning. Where was his staff?
As he approached the boardroom, the sound of murmuring voices rose. He flung the doors open. Alicia, Ben Bridges and another three employees he recognized as Alicia's friends were gathered around the table, a sheaf of papers stacked around them. They looked up with a sudden horror.
"What's going on?" Luke said, noting the names. Frederick Lyle, Peter Latimer, and Norman Fisher, as well as Alicia; they were all looking aghast at his abrupt appearance. "Someone's told me that you're trying to poach a client, Alicia. What is going on?"
"Nothing," she said, her face composed again, though he noted she was still pale. "I was just having a meeting with the company's clients. It's a routine check-up meeting."
"I don't think so," Luke said, voice flat, and exited the room, shutting the doors firmly and locking them from the outside. He went first to Alicia's office, and rummaged through her desk. Make-up, some jewelry, water…there was all sorts of junk in the drawers. But in the lowest one, he hit it—a contract, unsigned, between a new company, B & B, and the Bank of London.
He felt cold, freezing his useless emotions and digging through her desk for anything else. There was more; the banks that Brandon Communications earned the most money from were all involved, somehow.
Checking the others' desks yielded similar papers; it looked as though they'd been planning this for a long time. He took all the papers and put them carefully into his own office, locking it. Then, turning around, he started off for the boardroom.
He was very much looking forwards to firing Alicia.
A/N: Please review.