"Oh, Miss Harris, Mr. Greig's here to see you. I put him in your office..." The secretary got no further.
"Lovely! Thanks, Lorraine."
"But he's not very...." the lawyer's office door shut behind her, and her PA finished, "...happy." She sat down with a bump at her post, looking glum in anticipation of the coming storm.
"Hello, Grandpapa, how nice to see you." Nicole Harris attempted to deliver a peck on the cheek, but to her amazement was rebuffed as her grandfather took a step to the side and turned to look at her. It was not a pleasant look.
"My dear, I think you have been very careless."
Her brow furrowed. "What's this about, Grandfather?" She placed her briefcase by her chair and sat down behind her desk in a subconscious attempt at self-preservation.
The tall, silver-haired man turned from the office window and continued to glare sternly at her. "You've not seen today's newspapers, then, I gather?"
"No, I don't bother with them till mid-morning. Why, what's happened?"
"This." Greig thrust a copy of the Daily Telegraph under her nose. She grabbed it and read the headline: "MPs' Noses in the Trough Again".
"Nothing to do with me, I'm afraid. If your lot will go getting caught..." she began, only to have her grandfather cut her off.
"I think you'll find it's everything to do with you, Nicole. Your client interviews, your information, your laptop, the lot."
"Rubbish. My laptop is right here." She pulled it from the shelf where she left it each night, opened it up and checked it. "See?" She turned it round so that Greig could read her username, nharris.
The surly man grunted, "Well, if you can be bothered to actually read the paper, you'll see for yourself that they have copies of documents typed on your stationery, using your computer. All the files appear to have your electronic signature. And as for the list of clients, I know a lot of these people, and they all have a very clear recollection of meeting with you to discuss their legal position. To put it mildly, they're outraged at this shocking violation of trust. And, I may add, seeking competent legal advice on the matter."
Nicole scrabbled through the pages anxiously and found the images he was referring to under the heading, "Legal documents show MPs' contempt for electorate". Frowning, she pored over them. "Yes, it's my headed notepaper...but I never wrote anything like this! And as for this so-called 'client list'...it's nothing like mine! These people are friends of yours, grandfather." Realisation dawned that this was exactly why he had come to see her. "You can't believe I had any involvement in this, surely!" Bewilderment was being replaced by anger, but her grandfather was well beyond that stage and on to retribution by now.
"I've given you every advantage, Nicole. Paid for your education, and not a cheap one at that; helped you set up here, introduced you to all the best-connected people...how you could manage to stuff up so spectacularly is a total mystery to me, but there we are. I'm sorry to have to tell you that as from next month, I will no longer be paying the rent on this office. And I don't think I need tell you that you won't be attracting any clients from Westminster, now or in the future. In fact, I'd be rather surprised if you don't get a call from the Law Society at some stage. I believe they take breaches of client confidentiality very seriously indeed."
Without further formalities, William Greig strode out of his granddaughter's office, letting the door slam as he went. The perplexed lawyer still sat at her desk, staring at the newspaper article and running her hands through her blonde locks in despair.
The lawyer shook hands with Mickey and Sean. "I'm sorry I couldn't do more to help you."She saw them to the door and closed it gently behind them, then returned to her desk.
"Lorraine? Can you get me the Right Honourable William Greig, please? Thank you."
A few minutes later Nicole Harris's phone rang. "Hello?" she answered as she read through a case file. Then her countenance changed, the file was forgotten, and she said, "Thanks, Lorraine, that was quick...Grandpapa! How are you?...Oh, I'm fine. Listen, I've had those two civil servants here again, the ones I told you about. I did as you suggested and fobbed them off with the 'hopeless case' scenario... Totally. Of course, they were unhappy, but what could they say? They had to accept my legal opinion." A satisfied smirk replaced the detached, professional demeanour. "See you for supper at Wiltons, then? Laters."
"...here we are, nharris...ahhh, an unsecured network." Ash grinned with satisfaction as he clicked on "Connect". "I love it when marks leave everything running all night," he muttered happily to himself. Exploring the hard drive, Ash found everything they needed, from official stationery to client databases. He copied the relevant files from Nicole Harris's computer to his own laptop. On returning to the hotel, he booted up Emma's new notebook for the first time and, on being asked to name its user, entered, "nharris".
Albert tossed his copy of the Telegraph over to Ash. "Front page and the following six," he said laconically. "Prime rib."
"Ideal," was the amused reply. Ash did a quick Google search while Mickey continued with the briefing. "Journalists' pubs in London" brought up quite a list, from which he selected the ones nearest to the offices of the Daily Telegraph. He followed this up with an image search for "Jeff Kelsey," the author of the most recent articles in that paper about the MPs' expenses scandal. Having found a photograph of the man, he printed out a copy for Albert.
Breakfast at the crew's suite had been a leisurely but celebratory affair over the morning papers. Bucks fizz, eggs benedict, and Albert's favourite, kippers, had been interspersed with readings from Jeff Kelsey's latest exposé of greed and corruption in parliament. The MPs baring their souls to Emma had made for sensational journalism: their disdain for the voting public, their desperation to hold onto power at all costs, their self-assurance that they were entitled to whatever they could milk from the system – all had been grist to Kelsey's mill.
The journalist had had the laptop examined by forensic computer technicians to be certain of its provenance. The experts had agreed that it was owned by someone called "N. Harris", and the documents stored on it bore this out, with their headed stationery and client list. All Kelsey had needed to do was look up Nicole Harris's website to learn more about her. He needn't go into any detail about her yet, but he wanted to be sure that she existed before he was required to give her up as his "source".
"So," Mickey asked between mouthfuls of bagel, "when do we leave?"
"I think Ash has all the details," replied Albert, as the fixer returned with another jug of orange juice from the trolley. "Vacation, Ash?" he prompted.
Ash hesitated, then said, "Yes, right...there might be a slight delay there..."
"How come?" Emma looked disappointed, her forkful of egg pausing halfway to her mouth.
Ash nodded with a growing grin and said, "Think it'll fly, then?
"Volcanic ash. Not me, you understand...," explained Ash, causing groans at his woeful pun. "Our flight risks being cancelled if the cloud doesn't drift away soon."
"You don't sound too upset about it," remarked Sean.
With an indifferent shrug, Ash sat down at the table. "We'll get away at some point. Bahamas'll still be there." He tucked in to some toast and marmalade. "Pass the coffee, Mick."
Despite the chill wind, people were hanging about outside the grey, palladian building, smoking and talking, rubbing their hands together to stay warm. Ash, in the black Savile Row suit he had had made especially for the occasion, purposefully climbed the stairs to the imposing entrance and pushed open the glass door. In the marble vestibule, he checked the list of meetings being held there that day, then made his way to the room where the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal was scheduled to take place. It had already started as he slipped in and sat down on the back row of chairs.
"I'd like to submit for the tribunal's consideration these documents..."
"Duly noted, Mr. Crandall. Do you intend to call any witnesses in support of your client's case?"
"Er...just the one, Miss Harris herself."
"Very well. Please proceed."
The clerk of the tribunal went through the oath-taking and sat down.
Crandall began. "Miss Harris, in your own words, can you explain the charges brought against you regarding this alleged breach of client confidentiality?"
"I firmly believe that my name has been used without authorisation to produce and disseminate the documents published in the press," replied the woman.
"And can you tell the tribunal how this happened?"
"I have been the victim of some kind of practical joke. Somebody has, in effect, stolen my identity and used it to perpetrate this...this..." Harris was almost spluttering with rage by this point, and Ash succeeded, with great effort, in maintaining his solemn aspect. He jotted down a few lines from time to time in a reporter's notebook, lest anyone wonder why he was there.
"So identity theft is at the heart of this matter?" prompted Crandall.
"And do you know who is responsible for this theft?"
"Not at this time. I have, however, engaged the services of an investigation agency to try and discover who is responsible. I expect their report in the next few days."
Crandall spoke. "If it please the Tribunal, I would like to ask for an adjournment to enable Miss Harris to introduce the investigative report into evidence."
There was a brief consultation among the tribunal panel members, then the chairman said, "It would have been more appropriate if that request had been made prior to this hearing. For that reason, the request is refused and we will conclude these proceedings in a timely manner. Please continue with your evidence, Miss Harris."
Struggling to keep her composure, Harris replied, "I am the victim here. I have been the target of some kind of vendetta..."
"Do you have any evidence to support that allegation?" asked the chairman.
There was an uncomfortable silence, and then the barely audible response from Harris: "No, I do not."
"Then we will carry on. If you have no further evidence to add, Miss Harris, we will ask you to step down."
Incensed but silent, the disgraced lawyer took her seat beside Stuart Crandall. The chairman announced that there would be a thirty-minute break, and the members retired to consider their findings. Harris and Crandall left the room for about twenty minutes, and when they returned, another man had arrived and seated himself away from everyone else. Nicole Harris walked over to him, and given the size of the room, Ash couldn't avoid overhearing their conversation.
"Grandfather..." The distinguished-looking older man looked up at her as she stood by his chair. "I thought you would come as a character witness for me. Why didn't you get here earlier? I was counting on you!"
"I'm only here to follow this whole sorry business through to the end, Nicole. Once the verdict is announced, I'll go. The outcome doesn't have any bearing on how things will go in future; I still stand by what I said about supporting you. It's time you stood on your own two feet. You can't expect me to keep paying your way – you're twenty-nine, for heaven's sake!"
"But Grandpapa, if I don't have a practice, I'll lose the apartment, the ski lodge...everything!" the woman almost wailed.
"Perhaps that's for the best. Having all this success and property doesn't seem to have done you much good, does it? A spell on your uppers could be just the thing to make you see sense." William Greig stood and as he was leaving, told his granddaughter, "Get a job as a waitress or something like that. You could do with a dose of humility."
It was all Ash could do to not let out a loud guffaw at the irony of an MP delivering such advice. He covered with a sneeze and a cough, and received scarcely a glance from the pair. Harris was too wrapped up in her own personal fall from grace to notice a former client, and at that moment the tribunal members re-entered the room. Once everyone was seated, the chairman declared, "The Findings of this Tribunal in the matter of Nicole Harris are that she is guilty of serious professional misconduct, and should be struck off the Roll. A fine of £3,000 is also imposed. These Findings will be available in writing at the conclusion of this hearing." He banged a gavel on the table, and the meeting was over.
Harris leaned on the table, head in hands, while Crandall tried to offer some consolation. Ash heard the word "appeal" as he walked quietly up behind them and, unnoticed, placed some papers on the vacant chair beside Harris. He then turned and left the room.
A few moments later, Harris got up to go. "Are those yours?" Crandall asked her, pointing to the documents Ash had left.
"No, I don't think so." All the same, she picked them up. She stared at them, transfixed, for a full minute, until Crandall had finished gathering his own paperwork together and lifted his briefcase from the table.
"Ready to go?" he enquired, and started to leave. When Harris remained rooted to the spot, he moved back to her side.
"What is it? Are these yours after all?"
Speechless with shock, she nodded. Crandall gently took the papers from her hands and read them.
"This is an old medical compensation case of yours from six years ago. What's it doing here?"
Still unable to speak, Harris shook her head. Crandall read on.
"This can't be right. The date on this application is well over the time limit from the date of the accident. It would have fallen at the first hurdle." He looked sharply at Harris. "Did you know about this? Does it have something to do with today?"
"Leave it, Stuart. Just leave it," the woman snapped at him, all the while most definitely not leaving the papers behind for others to see. Only Crandall had seen the name on the case file: Mrs. June Morgan.