Roz and Justin’s dinner party had started late, as Helen knew it would. They finally ate one of Roz’s vegetarian concoctions at ten thirty, just as the assembled journalists and architects and Roz, the trust fund baby slumming it as a social worker, were warming to the theme of obscene City salaries. Everyone present at the dinner had one of those jobs that enabled you to get up as late as nine thirty, save Helen and the guest specially invited to ‘keep her company’, as Roz put it. As if she had no hope of kinship with the others. Roz inadvertently speaking the truth, as she sought to patronise. Helen’s ‘company’ was Reece Douglas, a wry, thirty-two-year-old far-eastern-derivatives trader at Grindlays Bank. Sitting next to her, he’d whispered, ‘Indulge them, it’s harmless and if knocking us makes them feel a little better then I guess we’ve fulfilled some social function.’
Helen grinned at him and glanced mischievously at the others.
‘I’m not a social worker. I can’t promise to behave.’
Each member of Roz’s coterie spoke out of a familiar mixture of ignorance and envy, attempting unsuccessfully to hide it under the guise of ‘conscience’. Helen considered tackling the architects’ contributions to the public migraine or the rent-a-view concerns of the journalists, but desisted from some lingering concept of good manners.
‘I mean, the thing is, what do they actually do?’ asked Roz, as if neither Helen nor Reece was present. ‘They just stroll in, shout down the phones and hang around for their million-pound bonuses. I mean, c’mon, it’s not exactly rocket science, is it, or saving the world? It’s like anyone who could stand to do that for a living’d make out like a bandit. How much d’you earn, Helen?’
‘A million’s just for failures, Roz; I mean the really stupid. If you’re just adequately thick you can expect at least two. Pass the wine, would you?’
‘And that’s the other thing, all this getting pissed at lunchtime. Beats me how you don’t lose more money than you do.’
Helen took a sip of wine and put her glass down silently.
‘I’m confused, Roz. I thought we made it.’
‘Money, Roz. Dinero, moolah, you know, the stuff your trust fund’s gobbing with. You know it must be great, doesn’t matter one little bit if you’re pissed or sober, the old trust fund keeps churning out dosh. You could even be thick, thicker than the most stupid trader that ever existed — and, let’s face it, they’re pretty thick, aren’t they? — and you’d still make money. Now that’s really something, that’s really impressive.’
She winked at Reece, drank another glass of mercifully good red wine, and sat back to listen to the diatribe that oozed up again. At eleven forty-five, she got to her feet.
‘Excuse me, will you, Roz, Justin? I have to go. Got to get up early and start earning my grossly inflated salary.’
Reece grinned delightedly. He got to his feet.
‘Ditto. Will you excuse me, Roz?’
Roz nodded, pursed-lipped. Justin looked on, trying to stifle a smile.
Roddy stood up, said his goodbyes. The three of them flagged down a taxi. Roddy slipped quickly into the back seat, separating Helen and Reece. Helen was sleepy, the men uncommunicative. They drove through the streets in silence. Helen got out first at Dawson Place. Reece slipped her his card. She pocketed it wordlessly, a simple act, she thought at the time, without consequence.