Earth calling Taylor

Calvin Hathaway has performed one of his legendary U-turns. Wednesday it was: “Taylor, the Big Cheese wants me to stage an interview or two before you step into Pablo’s shoes, just for appearance’s sake.” Thursday, “El Supremo’s lobbying for a golfing crony’s son-in-law, some Oxbridge wunderkind, but rest assured, it’s over my dead body.” Then this afternoon, as Hathaway was leaving for a rich Russian’s chalet by Lake Geneva, I got a curt “Look, Taylor, if you are the new portfolio manager, you’ll hear from me by 8pm: otherwise, better luck next time.”

After he’d gone, Staffa Bruno threw a paper dart at me with Better Luck Next Time on its wings. My retaliatory dart said, Screw You, but 8pm and 9pm have passed without a word from Hathaway, so it’s pretty clear who’s the screwer and who screwee.

And lo, it came to pass that while Mr Oxbridge trawls property websites for Thames-front apartments, Ryan Taylor stands peering through the bright crack of Dad’s private room in hospital, spying on his own parents and two middle-aged step-siblings as they wage Scrabble on each other. Problem is, I pre-announced my promotion to the big league on Christmas day and the prospect of their consoling words and unspoken Why-doesn’t-this-surprise-us? is more than I can bear, even with a swift spirit-bolsterer from the Traveller’s Repose inside me.

Fairy lights from the little tree lap the ceiling, and Dad’s sat up in his Marks and Sparks pyjamas, recovered enough to act the grumpy loser: “J-O? Jo’s a name, Cynthia. You can’t have names in Scrabble.”

“It’s on the approved list of two-letter words,” states Julia.

Dad glowers over his bifocals. “What is a ‘jo’ anyway?”

“Scrabble doesn’t care about meanings, Dad. ‘Jo’ is a valid word.”

“A ‘valid word’ nobody knows? Jason – you with me on this?”

Jason grimaces at his tiles. “Julia nails Serbian war criminals in The Hague for a living, Dad. What chance do we stand? Is ‘ooainoo’ a word?”

“‘Jo’ is Scottish,” says Mum, totting up her score, “as a matter of fact. It means ‘sweetheart’: and on a triple-letter square both ways, it’s worth a tidy 50 points. Julia, could you try Ryan’s GooseBerry again? It shouldn’t be taking him this long to walk from the station.”

“I can try, Cynthia, but he’s a grown lad and he knows the way.”

Someone’s bound to make a joke about me getting waylaid at a pub. Nobody does. Pity the poor eavesdropper: it’s a joyless addiction. A spy can never belong, and I ache to belong: time to pull myself together. “Knock knock. How’s Captain Indestructible?” There’s a blast of Speak of the devil! and Just starting to get a little concerned and If it isn’t our family fat cat! and a mmmwha! kiss on both cheeks from Julia (but what does that knowing look signify?) and a crushing hug from Mum. She stands back to inspect me. “Ryan, you look shattered, pet.”

“Isn’t ‘Monica,’ ” Dad teases, “looking after you properly?”

“Had to help my boss wine and dine some Hungarian investors last night,” I say to Mum, “and today we had to get the end-of-year position statements out, or ... or ... ” My sentence sort of comes undone, as happens to the best of us.

“Or the world would stop turning,” Dad pokes, “right?”

I give him a full-cheese smile. “Dead right, Dad.”

Jason says, “Quite a scramble in Paddington, huh?”

“God yeah, the Fall of Saigon part two. Dad’s operation went OK?” I put the question to Julia and Dad rises to the bait: “A lot of fuss over nothing.”

“‘Nothing?’” Mum snorts. “Two fractured ribs? A sprained ankle and a sprained wrist? Bruises all over? Internal bleeding in three places where Angel Gabriel’s glass trumpet – ”

“ – three French hens,” huffs Dad, “two turtle doves – ”

“I told your father,” Mum says, “to get an electrician in, but – ”

“An electrician is a man who fleeces the gullible, Cynthia.”

“And what’s a man who falls on top of Christmas trees?”

“Did I let a two-tonne labrador go rampaging across a hallway where ladders were out – a hallway, may I add, polished into an ice-rink, which –”

“Kong’s just well padded. You’re a chronic exaggerator.”

“The main thing is,” states Julia, “Dad’s on the mend.”

“And we’re all together on New Year’s eve,” adds Jason, “for the first time since ... well, since ‘never?’ ” We all think back, but can’t contradict him: Jason’s rearing his young up in Grange-over-Sands, Julia shares her Dutch glass cube with a teenage daughter and an operatic partner, and I’m married to Exponential Strategic in the shadow of the Gherkin.

“Visiting hours,” Julia tells me, “end at 10pm. Then Dad gets his beauty sleep while we go back to Cynthia and Dad’s to party ’til dawn.”

Dad delivers a droll, “Party until Dawn does what?”

My BlackBerry vibrates against my groin: an incoming message. Not the remotest chance it’s Calvin Hathaway, phoning to apologise for the mix-up, to explain that bad weather diverted his flight to, to, I dunno, to Zagreb, where he couldn’t contact me until now. “I, uh ... ”

“Ryan?” Mum frowns. “Have you forgotten anything?”

“Yeah,” I grope. “Champagne! Which, I guess, a hospital shop might not sell, quite right too, but they’ll have that fizzy non-wine stuff which’ll, uh, fit the bill. Why don’t I just right back,” and I’m gone, itchy with hope. Hospital noises smurble along the disinfected corridors and dark pipes. Which way were the damn lifts? Everywhere looks the same.

The lift’s taking an eternity. A smidgeon of Mr Staffa’s exceedingly pure cocaine would score 180 right now – my tea-time Red Bull’s worn off – but a glug of Kilmagoon Special Reserve from my cunningly concealed hip-flask will have to suffice. My BlackBerry’s fumbling for a signal, but coverage is patchy inside the hospital – had the same problem when Dad was admitted on Boxing day.

Finally the elevator doors trundle open: two young nurses in the corner break off a conversation with a hissed “something-something-where the sun don’t shine.” I press the UP button (with my knuckle, to avoid super-bugs) to the Sky Garden (aka “Smoker’s Garden”) where the signal’s sharper. Going up, I discreetly check out the nurses. One’s a minger but the other’s fit enough to unseat even Calvin Hathaway, temporarily. I imagine shampooing her, but then I imagine Monica letting her new boyfriend (star trader at HSBC Futures and already seriously enwonga’d, age only 33) do the same, and the misery knife twists again like it did last summer. “I can’t see where the drinking stops and you begin any more, Ryan.” God, I wish Monica’s last words hadn’t sounded so East­Enders.

The lift stops at the sixth floor and I play the bell-boy. The fit nurse gives me a glance that says, Enjoy your gawp? and, since we’ll never meet again, I shoot her a look back saying Yes, actually. The lift shuttles me upward to a future of grown-up bonuses and Alpine new years, of grateful girlfriends who stay that way.

It’s mild out for a December night, 10 floors up. I cross the fake lawn and sit on a bench flanked by dwarf shrubs. The high chain-wire encourages the suicidal to take their business elsewhere. Assorted colleges and steeples and domes are floodlit and pretty, but now it’s BlackBerry time. My pulse revs up: three unread e-mails, plus three new voice messages.

E-mails first: Lucian Stock at the HK office (Copper nudging 1100, could knacker our ICRVs, suggest SELL 40% first thing Jan 2. Prosperous Year of the Tiger); Fern in Singapore (Rumours Jakarta Consolidated to bid for Weh United Finance: suggest buy at opening); and Oscar Chen in Kuala Lumpur (Judge on human rights panel accepts hospitality from RT Mining: HOLD for now). Fine and dandy, boys and girls, but what about my effing promotion? Better be in my voicemail. Better be.

“Wes Hyland at ABN Sydney: are you guys actually gonna get your fingers out and send that spreadsheet on the Malaysian logging pay-offs, or – ” I kill Wes Hyland: Olly Raymond’s doing that spread-sheet, so it’s his nuts against the cheese-grater. Second message: “Hi Ryan – it’s Freda – hope your dad’s better – listen, if you’re coming in before January 3rd to sieve the Shanghai Auto files – ” I kill Freda, and suddenly I’m down to my last life.

One more anchoring swig of Kilmagoon ...

“Taylor. Calvin Hathaway here, with a bit of festive good news ... ”

The crowd went wild. King Ryan is anointed.

“ ... uh, not, matey! It’s Staffa, yeah? So what’s the score? Screw You or Better Luck Next Time? I bet £500 on you, Smith’s saying it’s Mr Oxbridge golf-crony-son-in-law, so call me back. Better still, get your scabby arse over to the Ivy. The Smithster’s sister’s brought a bevy of drama students, some of them look so dim even you might get laid – ”

I off my BlackBerry and squeeze it until my hand sings with pain. Staffa Bruno started three months after me, but his Daddy (owns an Italian shipping line) chucked Hathaway an account worth £20m, so Staffa got the last portfolio managership. A firework explodes like the Death Star, and I throw back my arm to hurl my BlackBerry at it, in one rising, falling sales curve ... let it smash into fragments in a medieval cloister. But I don’t dare, and my cowardice is the match in the gas tank, and I totally lose it and hammer Hathaway’s face with my left fist and hammer Staffa Bruno’s with my right and bellow an A to Zof 10 megawatt profanity until their faces are mushed and my throat’s all shredded ... My lungs are heaving. Thank God nobody saw that exhibition of titanic tittery.

“Bad news, huh?” says a voice, and I spin around to see this scrawny, scarred bloke standing there like the Ghost of Christmas Future, his face half-hidden by his hoodie. All the clues scream mugger! and heroin addict!

“Yeah,” I say, trying to act normal. “Not the best.”

He brings out a steel knife. Its blade catches the light.

My skin goes weird. I’m a rabbit in the headlights.

Oh God. He’s blocked my escape route. Oh God.

What now? Slash-tag between the dwarf shrubs?

The words “Look, just take my wallet” are half-out as he says, “Look like you need a smoke, mate,” with a sort-of West Country accent, and unhoods himself. The shiny blade is a metal prosthetic hand. After a lost moment I marshal the words, “Sorry, I don’t smoke”. With his human hand he puts a cigarette in his mouth and lights it. My pulse begins its creeping return to normal. He’s about my age. “Don’t be sorry about it,” he says. “I’d quit right now if I could.”

“You must have seen me,” I say, “and heard me, just, uh, now.”

“Shows promise, but I worked with pros. Five-and-a-half out of 10.”

A firework banshees up to the cloud roof ...

... and explodes into sherbert-pink spiders.

“If it cheers you up,” he takes a sharp drag, “I’ve had a pig’s arse of a day. Lost my job this morning. The boss assembled us all, said he was sorry, said we’d all worked our tits off, said there’s even orders in the pipeline, but the company that owns us, it got bought by a venture capitalist. Know what one o’them is?”

I nod warily: there are 30 or 40 in my Rolodex.

“So some tosser on half a million quid in Canary Wharf gives our sales figures a once-over and decides, ‘Y’know, the site’s worth more than the business: bung ’em in a skip and flog off the land’. Click o’the mouse and that’s 30 more guys taking up taxi-cabbing. This country’s shaping up to be one giant taxi rank with its arse in Bradford and its head at King’s Cross. Not me, of course.” He flourishes his metal claw. “What d’you advise? A career in Peter Pan pantos?”

Calvin Hathaway’s survival-of-the-fittest spiel comes to mind: “Unemployment,” he says, “is reality telling the troglodytes that it’s time to retrain.” When I started at Exponential I used to think “Bullshit!” but the City’s a mind-altering place, and one day you start thinking, “Well, in a way, yeah, I s’pose so”. But this one-armed hoodie makes me ashamed. Calvin Hathaway wouldn’t be man enough to joke like that, and nor would I.

“There are fleshier prosthetic hands,” the guy’s saying, “but Jimbo – my eight-year-old – Jimbo says my Terminator hand’s the coolest. He’s here,” he taps the decking, “in the children’s wing. Leukaemia.”

Before I can say something appropriate, silver firecrackers go snap-crackle-pop and he sort of flinches and assesses, and a hunch tells me, ex-army, left his arm in Afghanistan. But as Monica enjoyed pointing out, my hunches can be pretty shite for a market analyst. “Used to just be Guy Fawkes night you got fireworks,” Jimbo’s dad’s saying. “Now it’s every other bloody weekend. They don’t think about sick children or old people needing sleep.”

A human whooooooooo rises above traffic noises, and sinks.

“Still,” he adds, “S’pose I wouldn’t, neither, if Jimbo was hunky-dory. No pain, no gain, right?” It’s easy to imagine a drill-sergeant yelling those words into his younger ear at Deepcut boot camp. I warm my bones with the last of the Kilmagoon.

The old city’s lights are patterned and random ...

... constant, blinking, stop-starting, gliding on coasters.

I break the spell. “What’s your son’s chances?”

His cigarette sheds embers. “Jimbo’s a brave soldier.”

Down in the lobby, an orc king of a woman is lowering the shop’s shutters. My most charming “Excuse me, but do you think –” is beheaded with a withering “We’re closed. Happy new year.” From the vending machine I get five small cartons of Innocent smoothies, a monster-size packet of Maltesers and a bag of Liquorice Allsorts. A subprime haul for a quarter-hour’s absence, but if I go back empty-handed my family will suspect me of checking my voicemail.

The lobby serves as the A&E holding pen, with maybe two dozen people waiting for attention. A skinhead’s plugged into a blood-spattered iPod; a homeless-looking woman dozes under the heater; a large (black) family is harassing a young (Chinese?) doctor for “prejujuice”, poking his chest until his back’s up against the wall. A (white) security guard’s leaning against the wall, watching the scene with plain amusement. That undead Christmas hit by Slade is roaring dimly, the toilet’s out of service and the floor’s littered with wrappers and detritus.

I press UP for a lift to take me away from this Christ-awful scuzziness. Bet Calvin Hathaway’s hospital, if his sun-tanned health ever registers a blip, is like Hugh Laurie’s in House MD, all shiny and odourless. Bet his doctor is Hugh Laurie. I want that too. What’s wrong with wanting that? What’s wrong with wanting? Wanting makes the City go around, so that anti-capitalist rioters can enjoy index-linked pensions in their dotages.

“The City,” quoth Calvin Hathaway (at the end of my first lunch at Xavier Dubuisson’s) “is moody; narcissistic; a fashion-Nazi; and prone to orgasmic highs and irrational sulks. Remind you of anyone, Taylor?” He narrowed his eyes. “Yep, the City is a woman. Upon her favourites, she bestows wealth of” – pause to heighten tension – “of Papal magnitude. We’re not talking yacht money: we’re talking private island money. Not seat-in-first-class money: private jet money. Not five-star hotels: hotels so exclusive, Joe Public never learns of their existence. With me so far?”

I nodded then, as I nod now.

“In return, Taylor, the City demands the fruits and the sweat of your youth. She demands that you obsess about her markets, know her commodities, dream about her bonds, feel her fluctuations right” – he stabbed at my heart with a sugar crystal-encrusted silver spoon – “there. She demands, in short, that you love her more than your own family; that you want her,” Hathaway plays the gentleman-warrior, “like Ulysses wanted the Sirens. That’s the deal. The Only Deal. Welcome aboard.”

We shook hands and I felt Olympian: sure, a supermarket manager’s son with a low 2:1 from Bristol Uni, but nevertheless a Chosen One. Into the Only Deal I’ve thrown myself ever since. Through the mid-noughties golden age, when any mammal with a head was making money; through the triage of the ’08 Crash (which Exponential survived by dining on the corpses of its rivals); and on to the present day, skivvying for the portfolio managers until I was ushered into the high-walled cubicle and £1,200 Scandinavian chair of an Exponential Strategic portfolio manager...

...which never happens. Seven years of six-slash-seven day weeks and my career’s stuck in second gear. My salary’s ludicrous for what I put in. Jason’s only a speech therapist in the Lake District. It’s Julia’s eurowads that are paying for Dad’s private room.

The lift arrives, full of Primark-people and their halitosis and laughter after pressing the wrong button. They look like Slade, smell like Slade and don’t vacate my lift. I turn away and take the stairs. At the third or fourth or maybe fifth landing, I take out doctor Kilmagoon for a quick revivifier, but manage to drop a carton of smoothie over the third or fourth or fifth landing. It blats! into beautiful pink and orange petals in faraway basementland. Whoops: a little normaliser is called for. Doctor Kilmagoon may have left the building, but “What is this?” they cry. A slinky half-bottle of Beefeater Gin, hibernating in Taylor’s coat? After my imbibition, I open a tube of Extra Strong Mints to fool the Taylor family nostrils. One mint makes a desperate bid for freedom. It bounces down one step, two steps and smashes into shards.

Dad’s resting with his back to the door; but Mum, Julia and Jason are gone. Baffled, I go around the bed and touch Dad’s hand. “Dad? You awake?” From the blanket-cave emerges an old woman’s face. Her skin’s mottled like the banana left in the fruit-bowl for someone else to dispose of. Her striated lips whisper “Charlie?” and joy spreads over her sagging face...

...but fades as her flickering eyes pull into focus.

“Sorry, doctor,” she says, squinting. “I was dreaming.”

“No worries,” I say. “Actually, I’m not really – ”

“Thought,” her voice is a crumpled murmur, “you was Charlie.”

I wish I was Charlie, to bring that joy back.

The answer arrives: right room, wrong floor.

“Charlie’s your husband? Can I go get him for you?”

“No, Charlie’s my son. Vancouver, last we knew.”

“Vancouver’s nice,” I tell her, but she makes no sign of having heard. She’s old rather than ancient, but she’s worn away to a husk. Her room’s as empty of cards and flowers as Dad’s is chocka. God knows how I muddled the rooms up. Muddlings happen to the best of us. “He knows you’re in here, at least? Charlie?”

“The welfare lady got on to the Canadian police, but that was ... weeks ago. Days ago, at any rate.”

“Is there anyone else the hospital can contact?”

Her eyes close. “Linda, my daughter, we were close. But she was in a car crash in Luton on the same day Princess Diana died – the very same day. Awful time, it was ... then it was Donald’s turn, my husband, my second husband. Prostate cancer. Quite a bunch, aren’t we, doctor? Charlie took off long before all that, mind, must be 25 years ago. His stubborn streak’s from me, but his temper’s his father’s.”

She opens her eyes for a moment, perhaps to check I’m real.

“The world in them days, it wasn’t like now, with council flats for single mothers, hand-outs and whatnot. Back then, a divorcee,” she stresses each syllable, “was shameful, and with two kiddies in tow, I was damaged goods. Donald had his faults, but beggars can’t be choosers. Charlie grew into a bit of a tearaway, truth be told. First truancy officers, then probation officers, and I’d tell him, “Charlie, you’re breaking my heart”, but all he cared about was his precious Norton. That last day, in the garage, I’ve only got Donald’s account, but a metal stool got thrown, and a leg smashed the Norton’s headlamp – by accident, Donald insisted – and Charlie ... well, when I got to the garage, Donald was on the floor, clutching his face and Charlie’s Norton was roaring off. I ran after him, along the street, but there was just the noise of his engine fading away ... ”

Her eyes stay closed so I risk a sly swig of Beefeater.

“He never got in touch? To say he was all right?”

One eyelid lifts, dragon-like. “Linda got a postcard from Vancouver, 1990, or 1991. Just the one, saying he was sorry for how things turned out, but that he was making a life for himself in Canada, and wished us well. The postcard’s in the top drawer, as a matter of fact. Would you get it out, doctor?” She summons some strength and lifts her head higher up her pillow. The drawer’s empty but for a Bible and a time-bleached postcard of Burrard Bridge with a maple leaf in the corner and the word, VANCOUVER! I slot it between the fingers of Charlie’s mum. “Shall I read it to you?”

She gazes into its sky. “Learnt it off by heart.”

“I used to cycle across that bridge most days.”

This time she hears. Her eyes hunt me out. “Did you, doctor?”

“It was an exchange programme my univ-medical college arranged. Seattle was my first choice, but Seattle was full. Glad I went to Vancouver, though.”

“Maybe you cycled right past my Charlie, one day.”

“Possibly I did. It’s a big place, but not enormous.”

“If you’ve not got other patients to see to right now, doctor, could you tell me a bit more? About Vancouver?”

I’ll be her, one day. “With pleasure.”

“You’re a very kind young man, I must say.”

That’s not an accusation you often hear at Exponential Strategic. Where to start?

“Well, in March, when I got there, it’s quite wet and cold. Like Wales in winter, say. But April’s brighter and summer’s just gorgeous. Downtown’s walkable and bike-able. It’s Canadian, but there’s Chinese and Japanese, Indians, Filipinos and black people and native Americans and it’s a big old mix but people mostly get on OK, I’d say. There’s a few skyscrapers, but it’s nothing like New York or Toronto. Bays, inlets, ferries, bridges, mountains, and thanks to all the sun and rain it’s really green. There’s this big, big park, Stanley Park, on a peninsula jutting into the bay. It’s not a manicured park with flower beds and stuff, it’s mostly wood, a wild wood criss-crossed by trails, with big giant trees, fallen-down trees, saplings growing up again. There’s this lake there called the Lost Lagoon, and sometimes it feels lost, really, like a thousand years ago, even though apartments and laundrettes and Vietnamese take-outs are only 10 minutes away, and early one morning ... ” It was after that party at the Danish girl’s (what was her name? Began with a “B”). We’d dropped acid and had sex three or four times with Radiohead’s Kid A on shuffle-repeat.

“Early one morning, I was at the Lost Lagoon, doing nothing, no reason, just listening to woodpeckers, toads, leaves, rain ... ” the memory’s so vivid that I’m standing there again, a boy, really, in a man’s body, before the Deal, wondering what dead ends or plush avenues or lifeless ring roads my life would take me to; wondering who, where, what I’d be by my thirtieth birthday, fortieth, seventieth, but acutely, acutely alive, because the answer to all those questions was “Absolutely anything”.

“So anyway, if Charlie’s living there, running a vintage motorbike garage, maybe – Canadians love long-distance touring – I’d say, yeah, he’s having a decent enough life ... ”

Charlie’s mum’s stopped breathing. Look.

I’m calm. Yeah, I am. Now, I know I knew.

Should I tell a nurse? Christ no, think of the questions. The paperwork! No, what I want now is to find my family and use that bendy, vital word, Love, and play a game or two of Scrabble. Maybe me and Dad could join forces. I’ve kissed the old woman’s forehead and I’m telling her, “Sweet dreams”. The corridor’s empty, so I leave. Climbing the stairs, I realise that Charlie’s postcard is going to be tossed into a bin. That mustn’t happen, so I go back. There’s a strong musky smell in her room. Her hand rises a little as I free the postcard. There, safe in my jacket pocket.

On a padded bench between the floors, I purify myself with Beefeater, take out my BlackBerry and compose a short e-mail: Calvin Hathaway: final calculation from yr ex-analyst. 6 years @ bad joke salary + zero promotion + ingratitude? x yr incessant bullshit = f*** you + f*** The Deal. (The asterisks are to do with spam filters, not prudishness.) I quit. Taylor.

Now, I won’t be sending this. To do so would not so much burn my bridges as scramble a squadron of F-11s to vaporise the entire valley where the bridges once stood. If I was already a portfolio manager with a good track record, a rival fund might make an offer: as things are, they’d want to know why I never clambered out of the analysts’ playpen. Hathaway would use the dark arts to hamstring my future prospects, too. No, I was just curious about how my resignation e-mail might look, actually on the screen. I’m curious about guns, but I’d never shoot myself, right?

Somebody put a recycling bin next to this bench, so I finish the gin. “They’re laughing at you, son,” says the Beefeater in a sort-of West Country accent, as he disappears down the correct hole. “Hathaway, Staffa Bruno, the Oxbridge Wunderkind – they’ve stuck a KICK ME sign on your back.”

I send the e-mail. It won’t go: the signal’s too patchy.

It’s gone. A man and woman are laughing, nearby.

Servers, relay masts, undersea cables, satellites ...

...Hathaway’s BlackBerry in snowy Austria thrums twice.

Mum and Jason are outside Dad’s room, speaking with a nurse. I’m trembling at what I’ve just done. “Sorry I was a while,” I call to them down the corridor. “Something’s happened – quite a few things. I – just,” I feel drugged, ticklish, lubricated, and now Mum’s shaking with laughter, and Jason’s holding her like Dad should, and the nurse is peering into her face. I slow down. “What’s so funny, Mum? ‘QUIZZES’ on a treble-letter?”

The nurse turns to me: she’s the one I fancied from the lift.

Jason’s got a weird look. “Where’ve you been, Ry?”

“Down in the lobby.” I wave the smoothies. “I bear gifts.”

Mum slowly swivels her head. She’s sobbing and broken.

With this guppering voice she says, “He’s gone, Ryan.”

“Dad? Transferred to another hospital?”

“Dad’s – ” Jason struggles with his stammer. “Ryan, Dad’s – ”

The tactless nurse intercedes. “Your father suffered a heart attack 20 minutes ago. We tried paging you via the hospital PA, but obviously you didn’t get the message. Doctor Bhattacharya’s team did everything possible, but I’m afraid your father was pronounced dead a few minutes ago. I’m sorry. He really didn’t suffer for long.”

Some total plonker’s phone keeps ringing.

It’s not me who answers my BlackBerry.

It’s my reflexes, my hand, my voice. Not me.

“Taylor, at sodding last! Calvin here. Blizzards in Geneva, my plane got diverted to Lyon, complete ’mare. Listen, had a frank exchange of views with Chairman Mao earlier: upshot is, Happy new year, portfolio manager! We’ll discuss your package come January 4th, but in the meantime put your nasty River Island suits in bin-bags for the Ukrainian orphans. My tailor will contact you soonest...”

Through the half-open door, I see the contours of Dad’s body under a sheet. Like snowy hills. A grave Julia is nodding at what the Indian doctor’s saying. The nurse still stares at me with amazed contempt. Mum’s still shuddering in Jason’s arms. Hathaway’s still in my ear. “... initially Freda will mentor deals over 10 million, but you’ll be swimming solo with the big bad sharks by early Feb. Right, got a hill of new messages to sift through before my driver arrives – no rest for the wicked. Lost for words, eh, Taylor? Hello? Taylor? Can you hear me? Hello-ooo? Earth calling Taylor?”

Copyright © 2010 David Mitchell

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