Geoff Harries 1997
‘Come down and live with me for a while,
dear,’ her Aunty Eva had urged, on hearing she had broken up with her long-time
boyfriend. Jenny had gratefully accepted.
the beginning it had been wonderful. The adventure of moving away from Burnley
and the sense of freedom from finally breaking with Ned. At 26, one year older
than her, he wanted to marry her, but
she had held off. Friendly uncomplicated unambitious, his world limited to the
pub, the TV and the football club. He would find someone else.
Eva had spent all her life in publishing and had early on introduced her
favourite niece to a love of books. It was therefore no coincidence that
Jenny’s first job was at Belfort Press. In an old country house surrounded by a
park it was only 40 minutes tube and bus ride from her temporary new home with
Aunty Eva at the very edge of London.
met at Belfort was Daphne Moorham-Jones who was everything that Jenny found
intimidating about the South of England. About 30, she was tall, blond and
cool. Wearing an oatmeal coloured woollen dress with a brown and yellow silk
scarf at her throat, Daphne had looked down her patrician nose at the small
neatly dressed temp from Office Services with her slight northern accent. She
had merely shown her to a desk in the corner of the office and given her some
orders to type out. Jenny had ripped them off rapidly and returned them to the
languidly surprised Daphne.
was not until the third day that Jenny met the man who Daphne worked for. She
knew he was coming because of the way Daphne straightened her dress, combed her
hair and reapplied make-up. A deep pleasant voice at the door and a man in his
mid thirties entered like a gust of wind. Alan Belfort, the son of the proprietor,
was tall and slim with black hair and a pale aristocratic face. He wore a brown
corduroy jacket, a soft checked shirt and elegant jeans and was carrying a
holdall with airline ticket stubs hanging from the handle. He thumped it down
on the floor with a sigh of relief and greeted Daphne.
at her corner desk Jenny was thrilled to hear them casually talking of the
glamorous international authors he had been visiting in America. In a pause in
the conversation he noticed her.
who is this?’ he enquired.
Howe,’ said Jenny standing up straight. He looked down surprised at her
outstretched hand and shook it gravely. A firm warm hand, so different from
Ned’s moist palm. Close up Alan was really very good-looking, masculine yet somehow
gentle, with clear grey eyes under straight black eyebrows and regular white
teeth. Her heart thumped and she just couldn’t help herself from smiling at
him. A faint grin quirked at the corner of his mouth for a moment as he looked
into her level water-clear brown eyes and then it was as though a shutter had
come down. He dropped his hand, turned away and entered his office. Jenny
blushed with shame; she’d done it again! Her Aunty Eva was always telling her
not to stare into people’s eyes.
the days that followed Jenny saw Alan frequently, but learnt nothing more
except that he worked hard and received lots of private calls from various
females. She knew because she had to sometimes take them in his absence. ‘I
suppose a handsome rich man like that must be just surrounded by beautiful
girls,’ she said to herself philosophically.
she packed up her things to go home in the evening she sometimes saw him still
at his desk reading manuscripts or telephoning. He didn’t smile often and once
she saw him wearily running a hand over his face. Her heart went out and she
longed to comfort him.
knew she was beginning to fall in love with Alan, but could do nothing about
it. Her Aunty Eva had once said she was pretty, ‘a pre-Rafaelite’. Jenny had
gone to the local museum and looked at a picture by a painter called Rossetti
but couldn’t see any likeness to herself in the rather drooping girl - although
the colours were nice. But compared to the goddesses she imagined behind the
cut-glass accents that called...
was a lively girl and soon attracted the attention of other men in the small
publishing company, but the image of Alan’s tired face always prevented any
development. She was furious with herself. She had foolishly allowed herself to
fall in love with a man eight years older than her, a man who obviously just
thought of her as another pretty empty-headed popsy.
there was strong local competition too. Jenny watched with contempt the way
Daphne fawned over Alan, hanging on to his words, making him coffee, bringing
him special biscuits, squirming in front of him like a little puppy. ‘Has she
no pride?’ she fumed to herself, banging files back onto their shelves.
was a reluctant witness to the crisis in the relationship when she returned
unexpectedly to the office during the lunch interval and saw them embracing. Or
to be exact, Alan had a cup of coffee in his hand and Daphne was embracing him.
But Alan was obviously more concerned at not spilling the coffee than in
returning her embrace.
Daphne!’ she heard his impatient voice, as face burning with embarrassment she
she returned Alan was alone. Face closed he told her Daphne was not feeling
well and had taken the rest of the day off. He brusquely handed her a file of
invoices to enter in the computer and retired into his room.
next morning Daphne was back at work as usual, and on the surface it appeared
as though everything was as before. But now and then Jenny caught her looking
expressionlessly at Alan.
it was from this time that things started to go wrong for Belfort. The first
copies of a new book were delivered late so they could not be reviewed in time
for a book fair. There was a dispute over commissions with their West Country
salesman and he quit. Two of their best-seller authors were offered more money
than Belfort could afford from Folter Verlag, a publishing company in Munich,
and they reluctantly changed. Sales fell and Jenny saw Alan working late almost
one evening when the phone rang in Alan’s office. Jenny was alone. Daphne had
only come in for an hour in the morning and had then left, as her mother was
ill. Alan had left just after lunch, saying he was visiting a printer in
Swindon and would not be returning to the office that day.
daring, Jenny walked into Alan’s office and picked up the phone. An English
voice with a slight American accent asked for Alan Belfort. Jenny told him that
Mr Belfort was not in and there was an annoyed silence.
calling to confirm our meeting at the Heathrow Hilton tonight,’ said the voice.
not Mr Belfort’s secretary,’ said Jenny, ‘but I’m sure he’ll be there to meet
you.’ Oh dear, that was silly. ‘Can I ask who is calling and when you are
supposed to be meeting? I could check that Mr Belfort will be there.’
do that,’ said the voice coldly. ‘My name is John Grenaue. I got in two hours
ago, expecting to find a note confirming our meeting here at six PM. If Mr
Belfort can’t make it, I can take an earlier flight out.’ Jenny’s heart jumped.
John Grenaue, the author!
was a click followed by the dialling tone. He had rung off. Jenny stood there,
still holding the phone, her pulse racing. Alan’s small brass desk clock showed
it was just past five PM and Jenny knew immediately something was wrong. She
had heard nothing about John Grenaue coming to England. Alan had gone off to
Swindon and she was sure he knew nothing either! When important people made
mistakes and got angry her first impulse was to duck. But she had answered now.
‘Jenny, show some gumption! You can’t just leave it at that,’ she said to
first thing was clear enough. She must call Alan over his mobile phone. What
was the number? Daphne and the Belfort receptionist would know but they had
she had an idea! Feeling terribly guilty she sat in Alan’s chair and nervously
pulled open the centre drawer. Yes, there they were! A small box of his
business cards. “Alan N. Belfort, Chief Editor”. And in one corner the long
dialled it, only to hear a woman’s voice saying the number called was
“temporarily unreachable for technical reasons but if you would care to leave a
message at the end of the beeps...”
Five past five on the desk clock! What should she say? ‘Beep.’ Did he really
know about the meeting and would he be annoyed at her for making an expensive
call? ‘Beep’. A hissing silence. She took a deep breath and spoke.
Jenny,’ she said. ‘John Grenaue called ten minutes ago to confirm that you
would be meeting him at the Heathrow Hilton at six PM tonight. I just
thought...’ Stop, that was enough. ‘It’s ten minutes past five now,’ she
finished, and hung up.
deeply and heart thumping, Jenny stood there. She knew she was mixed up in
something big. She really wasn’t an employee of Belfort; she’d done everything
that could be expected of her. But Alan would never get to Heathrow by six PM.
He was going to miss John and that couldn’t be good for Belfort Press. She felt
she had to do something more. But what?
it struck her. There was something else she could do! Feeling dizzy with
excitement she took a last look at the clock. There was a bus in two minutes;
if she ran she would just catch it. Pausing only to switch the phone answering
machine on, she tugged her coat off the hanger behind the door and thrust her
arms into the sleeves. She dashed down the stairs, past Fred the porter now
sitting in reception reading a newspaper and out into the dark rainy night.
Then along the gravel drive, seeing the lights of an approaching bus through
the trees. She waved frantically and the driver just caught sight of her light
coloured coat in time and pulled in to the stop. He grinned at her gasped
thanks and she collapsed panting into the front seat of the almost empty bus.
minutes later the bus pulled up outside the tube station. A train must have
arrived as people were flowing out of the entrance and making for the car park.
And a cab was drawing up to the Taxi sign where an elder woman was standing,
holding an umbrella. Jenny almost fell out of the bus and coat flapping ran
over to the cab, making it brake abruptly, still a few yards away from the
stand. She pulled open the door. The young driver looked up at her in surprise.
me miss, but that lady waved at me first.’
must get to Heathrow Airport,’ said Jenny, climbing in the back. ‘It’s an
emergency.’ The driver hesitated only a moment. A long profitable drive with a
pretty young passenger.
that case then.’ He switched off the ‘for hire’ light, slipped into gear and
looking over his shoulder pulled out into the evening traffic, driving past the
lady with the umbrella. She stooped down to furiously shout something, but the
driver shouted back ‘Emergency!’ out of the window and wound it up.
long to the airport?’ asked Jenny. The driver held out his hand and rocked it.
time of night, raining ... say an hour.’
the Hilton I want really,’ said Jenny, looking surreptitiously in her purse.
Two five pound notes and some change. Nothing like enough. She had her
chequebook but there was a notice by the side of the meter saying ‘No cheques’.
they rolled through the dark rainy night she sat on the edge of the seat and
watched with apprehension as the counter advanced by leaps and bounds, almost
in time with the labouring windshield wipers. Ten pounds already! She longed to
ask how much it was going to cost but something told her she would have to
trust the meter and just brazen it out on the Hilton steps.
driver stretched up to look at his pretty passenger in the rear-view mirror and
tried to chat her up, but Jenny just replied in monosyllables. Finally he gave
up. The counter mounted and mounted - twenty-two pounds!
rather less than an hour lights gleamed outside and there was a muted roar as a
jet slid slowly overhead.
we are,’ said the driver, turning into the entrance to the Hilton and reaching
forwards pressed a knob on the counter.
pounds fifty,’ he said. A uniformed doorman opened the taxi door for her.
have to give you a cheque,’ said Jenny, spreading the book out on the back of
the seat in front of her and clicking her Biro.
sorry, miss. No cheques,’ said the driver, pointing to the sign on the dash.
is an emergency; it’s all I’ve got,’ said Jenny, suddenly impatient. She wanted
to get into the hotel. The driver began to protest but the uniformed doorman
requested him not too politely to move on as his cab was blocking the driveway.
So ungraciously the driver snatched the cheque and revving up his engine drove
off noisily. Jenny tossed her head and walked through the rotating glass doors.
had hardly ever been in a big hotel before and felt awed as she stepped into
the vast warm scented reception lobby of the Hilton. Chandeliers hanging from
the high-domed ceiling, seeming acres of thick fawn-coloured carpet underfoot,
small groups of red arm-chairs where well-dressed people sat speaking in
foreign languages. Smiling white-coated waiters carrying drinks on silver
trays. Soft background music.
was a moment before she could locate the reception desk. Holding her wet coat
over her arm she determinedly walked up to it and attracted the attention of a
smart blue-uniformed Indian girl.
have an appointment with John Grenaue,’ she said glancing at the clock. Twenty
past six! The receptionist clicked on hidden computer keys, picked up a phone
and spoke a few words.
shall I say is calling?’ she asked.
Press,’ answered Jenny, fingers crossed, and the receptionist repeated this.
There was a rather long pause and she put the phone down.
said to go up. Room 426.’
stepped out of the lift and almost ran down the corridor looking at numbers on
the doors. Here it was! She pressed the buzzer and it was almost immediately
opened by a tall grey-haired man of about fifty wearing a dark suit.
Grenaue! Aunty Eva’s favourite author. The grey hair made him look older than
the rather retouched picture on the cover of ‘Rook’s Progress’, but she thought
it made him more distinguished.
Grenaue found himself looking into the steady brown eyes of a small woman
staring up at him with undisguised interest.
Jennifer Howe from Belfort Press,’ said Jenny. Nervousness caused her northern
accent to strengthen. ‘Mr Belfort has been delayed and has sent me to
apologise.’ She comforted herself by thinking that that was surely what he
would say. John frowned, hesitated a moment then with restrained annoyance stood
well,’ he said. ‘You’d better come in for a moment.’ She entered the luxurious
suite and looked around curiously. On a polished wooden rack by the door was an
expensive suitcase, closed and obviously ready to be picked up by the hotel
porter. Draped over it was a white mackintosh. On the table were his leather
brief case and a book.
I get you something?’ he asked with conventional politeness, gesturing to some
chairs around a glass-topped table.
fruit juice, if you have one,’ she replied sitting down and leaning forwards
picked up the book. It was his latest - ‘Cries of Perfidy’. Jenny had just
finished reading it in manuscript form - no reviews had appeared yet in
turned round from the small fridge with her drink in his hand. She put the book
back on the table.
‘You have read it?’
‘Yes,’ she said. He put the drink down, glass clicking on glass.
preferred your last one: “Jonathan’s Wake”,’ she continued, unasked. She looked
into the distance. ‘I liked Sara though, and it was in character for her to
challenge her uncle’s will. But I think she would have used Gregson and Gregson
as lawyers and not gone to the New York company. I think you made that bit too
complicated: I had to go back and read it again.’
you indeed,’ said John, in something approaching exasperation. His wife had
said the same thing.
of course if she had, she wouldn’t have seen that Peruvian drug importer in the
waiting room and the book would have ended at chapter six.’
looked across the table at him and he returned her gaze in a strange mood. John
Grenaue, cultivated man of letters and twice married, found himself in an odd
and annoyingly undefined position. As a writer he was automatically examining
his own feelings and to his irritation he couldn’t put a name to them. He
didn’t know whether to smile condescendingly at this little dark-haired
self-possessed woman or to well, dammit, sit down and take notes.
my Aunty Eva and I both think you should stick to the “I” form,’ she added.
you indeed,’ was all he could manage. He was aware that he was repeating
himself and if he were writing, this would have to be edited out.
‘It’s more personal and makes your pro
... er ... your chief character really come alive.´
he said absently. ‘And I prefer it too, but Carl Goldberg, that’s my American
editor, says the public these days expect more complicated plots.’
American public perhaps. But 62% of the sales of “Jonathan’s Wake” were in
England and Australia.’ It was sheer luck that Jenny had that day been typing
up a list of best sellers.
watched her composedly sipping her orange juice. He had immediately recognised
her down-to-earth accent as that of his hometown. Had he grown too far from his
roots, become too cosmopolitan?
my Aunty Eva, who reads a lot, thinks your descriptions of characters and
backgrounds in “Cries” were very good,’ she continued, smiling at him. He felt
an irrational glow of gratitude to the unknown Aunty.
this point there was a soft buzz from the door. With a feeling akin to relief,
John got up from the table and crossing the suite opened the door.
terribly late and it was quite unpardonable,’ said Alan’s voice from the
corridor. ‘I’m so grateful you waited.’
shook hands formally and Alan entered quickly. He pulled up short at the sight
of Jenny sitting at the table, a half empty glass of orange juice in front of
eye jumped to the bedside clock. A quarter to seven! Oh dear, she had been chatting
away again. John, she thought of him as John, had been very tolerant and
friendly and Aunty Eva would be green with envy. She blushed a bit, thinking
back over what she had said: she’s spoken to him like he was just an ordinary
two men looked uncertainly at Jenny, but she knew when to go. Alan could take
over now. She rose.
I’ll better be off,’ she said briskly, unfolding her coat from the back of the chair. To her surprise John stepped
forwards and helped her on with it. They both seemed to be at a loss for what
was a pleasure to meet you Jenny,’ said John, extending his hand. ‘I’m sure
we’ll meet again.’
was at work as usual the next morning. The door to Alan’s office was open and
she could hear him phoning.
few minutes later Daphne arrived too, unusually early for her. Something was
wrong. There was a tension in the air that you could cut with a knife. Daphne
hung up her coat then sitting down returned Jenny’s friendly inquiry about her
mother’s health with such a stare that Jenny shivered as though in a cold
shower. Daphne seemed about to say something when Alan rang off and came to his
replay the calls we received over yesterday night.’
was the only one who really knew how to use the new telephone answering
machine. She switched it on and carefully pressed ‘Reset’. Daphne sat stiffly
at her desk, pencil in hand, looking down at the incoming mail. It was very
quiet in the room as the machine whirred softly, rewinding to the beginning of
the tape and stopped with a click. Jenny pressed ‘Play’. There were the usual
hisses and beeps and a voice Jenny recognised as a paper supplier talking about
his invoice. Then another recorded voice about a modification of phone charges.
After strange sounding beeps an American woman announced that John Grenaue was
making a surprise visit to Europe and would be at the Heathrow Hilton at 6pm on
the 14th (yesterday). He would like to meet Alan Belfort about the
publishing rights of his latest novel. Would Alan please confirm. Alan
signalled to Jenny and she pressed ‘Stop’. The counter showed the call had come
in 1:12am yesterday morning.
could you have forgotten it?’ he said bitterly to Daphne. ‘If it hadn’t been
for Jenny here, I wouldn’t have met him and the publishing rights would have
gone to Germany.’
sorry Alan,’ said Daphne contritely. ‘But my mother’s illness drove everything
else out of my mind.’ Alan just stood there, tapping his fingers against the
doorsill. Jenny saw he was angry but couldn’t do anything about it. He went
back into his office and Jenny looked down at the machine. She knew the tape
had to be emptied before it could be switched off so she pressed ‘Play’ again
and immediately the room was filled with a woman’s affected voice.
dear. It’s Mummy. I seem to have missed you. I know it’s rather short notice,
but we’ve been invited to the Debray’s tomorrow evening and I said you would
come. Do call me back.’ The door to the office was burst open and Alan reappeared.
was the time of that call?’ he snapped to Jenny. Daphne moved convulsively, arm
outstretched to the machine, but Alan reached it first.
PM,’ he read from the counter. He looked at Daphne grimly. ‘So much for your
sick mother.’ The call must have come in just after Jenny had left for the
Daphnes’s face went a bright brick red. In
the dead silence there was a sharp click as the pencil in her hand snapped.
continued looking at her.
explains as lot of things,’ he began slowly. ‘The flight that John Grenaue had
booked to Munich but cancelled after my talk with him. The calls that have been
made to Munich from this office.’ He picked up the phone on Daphne’s desk and
dialled. ‘Could you come here a moment, Fred,’ he said. Daphne stood up, face
you’re jumping to wrong conclusions. My mother called because ...’
door opened to reveal Fred’s bulky form.
Miss Moorham-Jones is leaving,’ interrupted Alan, unhooking Daphne’s coat from
behind the door and handing it to him.
just don’t believe this,’ flared Daphne, her face working in furious
incredulity. ‘You can’t throw me out. I’ll sue you ... there are personal
things in my desk ... I’m going to call the police.’
not belonging to Belfort’s will be returned to you,’ said Alan, stony faced.
‘And we may well be calling in the police ourselves.’ He nodded to Fred.
dare you! Let me go!’ she cried, struggling against Fred’s hand on her elbow.
along now, miss,’ he said, her coat over his arm. With something like pity in
her eyes Jenny watched the door close
on her muffled cries.
a barren silence, Alan entered his office and closed the door. She heard him
trembling and shocked Jenny felt like crying but took a deep breath and
returned to her typing. She had only the slightest idea of what was going on,
but she hated scenes.
few minutes later an elderly hard-faced woman from Personnel entered and
opening all the drawers of Daphne’s desk, carried their contents into Alan’s
about half an hour later the office door opened and Alan came out. He walked
across the room and sat on the corner of Jenny’s desk. She looked at him
nervously but he was quite calm.
he began, ‘I’m sorry you saw all that. It’s never happened before and I hope it
never will again. We’re really a small friendly family company.’ Jenny nodded
he continued, ‘I would like to ask you two things. First, will you please not
say anything about what you just saw?’
of course,’ she answered, making a mental reservation for Aunty Eva.
the second is ...’ he paused. ‘I have no secretary now. If you could arrange it
with Office Services, I would like to offer you the position.’
looked stunned into his clear grey eyes. The sun was shining, a choir was
singing, with the wind in her hair she was effortlessly running down a meadow
towards a shining lake. She knew this to be one of the turning points in her
felt her face flushing, she swallowed and her eyes filled with hot tears.
Jenny,’ he said in a gentle tone she hadn’t heard before, ‘I didn’t mean to
make you cry.’ His hand was warm on her shoulder,
fine,’ she said blindly feeling in a drawer for tissues. ‘It’s just that I’m
it’s “yes”?’ he said. She snuffled into the tissue and looked up at him.
think it should be possible,’ she said, prosaically, and had to dab her eyes
he smiled. He looked at the clock over her shoulder. ‘There’s one other thing.
We’re having a little party at the Queen’s Hotel in half an hour. It’s to
celebrate the fact that John Grenaue is going to sign us exclusive rights. I’d
like you to come.’ He had another thought. ‘Yes, and at the same time I can
introduce you as my new secretary.’
Queen’s Hotel! In a very feminine gesture her hand flew to her hair.
haven’t a thing to wear”,’ said Alan, a mocking glint in his eyes. ‘You’ll do
fine. Literary people don’t dress.’
of course,’ she said, and then it struck her. She would be standing by Alan’s
side as his new secretary!
because John said he would only come if “that lass” was there,’ finished Alan,
standing up. ‘And I think he was only half joking.’