The Partnership, page 1
Copyright © 2015 Christopher Kenworthy
Christopher Kenworthy has asserted his rights under the Copyright, Design and Patents Act, 1988, to be identified as the author of this work.
First published in 2015 by Endeavour Press Ltd.
This edition published in 2018 by Endeavour Media Ltd.
For my precious grand daughters, Millie, who brought joy for seventeen years of my life, and Anja who missed me by one month!
Table of Contents
“Few can foresee whither their road will lead them, till they come to its end.”
If an angel had come to Edsel Parminter in a dream and shown him all the cities of the earth and all the wonders of all the cities of the earth, and all the wondrous women of all the cities of the earth and invited him to take him choice thereof, Edsel would have answered him in this wise:
“Give unto me any woman thou mayest choose, oh Gabriel,” Ed Parminter liked to think he dealt only with the top man, even in dreams, “save only that overblown blonde over there, name of Polly George, who weareth gaudy raiment, talketh in a loud voice, and showeth entirely too much skin for a woman of her age. If I never see her again, it will be too bloody soon. Verily.”
So of course, Polly was waiting for him in the Wine Bin on the evening of the worst day of his entire life.
It was an indication of Ed Parminter’s unnaturally slackened grip on events that he did not say instantly to himself, “Sod this for a game of soldiers!” and make for the door.
But his grip on events did have an excellent excuse for being a little slack, that day. Several, in fact. It would not need a note from its Mummy when the vultures came home to roost.
“Look at the day we’ve had,” it would say in an injured voice, “and tell me you wouldn’t have been a little slack, too!” In one day, Parminter had lost job, home, and wife and redundo cheque.
In fact, his life had been swept so clean that he was beginning to suspect that either he had a hidden and hitherto unsuspected talent for disaster or there was an international conspiracy going up to and including Number Ten and quite possibly the White House.
Somewhere Up There, the word had gone out: “Get Parminter!” And he had been GOT. Verily.
He put his briefcase on the floor, carefully avoided the eye of Polly George, who was sitting further along the counter and trying to catch his, and smiled at Katryn, the barmaid. It was not an easy feat. Katryn was a bone-white girl with dark hair gelled into a closefitting helmet which was further constricted by what looked like a length of lorry inner tube. The rest of the inner tube had been converted into a garment which covered her from just below the collarbone to about eighteen inches above the knee. She looked as sexually stimulating as a two-days-dead anorexic nun, and had much the same amount of warm personality.
“Yah?” she said without moving her dark maroon lips. There was that even about Katryn’s voice which said that dalliance was not an option. Men whose tastes did not lean towards necrophilia were grateful for it.
“Has Bennie been in this evening?” Bennie had taken over Parminter’s job at Internews, the day Parminter had been head hunted away to BritDish Satellite, a million years and umpti million pounds ago.
“Nope.” She watched him through eyes so unemotional that he had wondered in the past if she was actually alive behind the white-face makeup.
“In that case, I’ll have a bottle of Badoit.”
She opened the bottle and gave him a glass and a slice of lemon. Nobody drank Badoit with ice in it. Killed the natural flavour of the water. Everybody knew that.
The Badoit must have been the last in the fridge when they topped up again after lunch, and was lukewarm. Parminter normally liked Badoit, and would have chosen it even if he hadn’t because Loyd Grossman said it was more desirable among the upwardly mobile foodie set than Perrier. But the natural flavour of this particular bottle was like used bathwater. Parminter revised his list of the worst drinks on earth, and warm Badoit joined Campari Soda just under warm gin and flat tonic second from the top. He had never actually tried kumis, which is made from fomented mare’s milk by rapacious Tartars, but he suspected he would prefer it to warm Badoit.
Had the Tartars been forced to drink warm Badoit, they would not have stopped at laying waste the Steppes.
“It true BDS is selling out to Murwell?” said Katryn, whose language, like her taste in clothes, was minimalist. She wiped the bar near his elbow with unnecessary and uncharacteristic care.
She did not look at him as she spoke, and her voice seemed to issue from somewhere near her navel, which might have been the reason her lips never moved.
“Sold. Past tense.” said Parminter, stretching his hand to take ice from the wine cooler on the corner. If he had to wait for Bennie at least he would have cold Badoit.
“So, you joining Murwell?” This time she was looking at him. Research scientists look at little dishes containing furry grey spots with more compassion. Even when they know what a culture looks like through a microscope, which is not a pretty sight.
“No. You have to draw the line somewhere.”
One of the places you had to draw it was just under the letter which said: “I enclose your redundancy cheque, which represents forty percent of the amount you contracted with BritDish Satellite in the event of termination of employment.
BritDish Satellite ceased to exist at midnight. You have no such contract with The News Organisation.
“While The News Organization has no legal obligation to offer you any moneys in settlement, it has been decided after negotiation to honour forty per cent of the contractual sum as a gesture of good will. Please sign below to confirm your acceptance of these terms, which embodies a waiver of any further claim upon The News Organisation.
“While you are technically obliged to work out one month’s notice, the company has no wish to hold you to this obligation.
“Instead you may find it more dignified not to report for work tomorrow morning.
“Your company car should be delivered immediately to the garage at Willesden and the keys surrendered in person to the Security guard at the gate. Failure to surrender the car will result in serious consequences for you.”
Since he had been hired for the new company only six months before, after ten years supervising overseas accounts at Internews Parminter had been careful to negotiate a whopping redundancy clause. The alacrity with which BDS had agreed to what he privately considered to be ridiculous terms had surprised him at the time. A more cynical man – or one before whose eyes the keys to a Porsche were not being jingled – might have suspected that the company did not foresee ever having to honour the agreement, and wondered why.
However, it did mean that forty per cent of the agreed amount was a respectable chunk of cash, as his bank manager had agreed when he had the cheque express cleared.
It had paid off his overdraft, and left a generous lump in the Joint account. Edwina had found it generous, anyway. She had withdrawn the lot in cash five minutes before the bank closed.
She had even, the bank manager reported, brought a
“I begged you not to buy this Docklands white elephant,” she had said coldly as she announced in the living room of their top floor flat that she was leaving him.
“It isn’t even worth the mortgage, now.” She missed out the fact that what she had begged him to buy was a Chelsea terraced cottage for approximately twice the price.
“I begged you not to leave a good job at Internews and go to this fly-by-night Satellite bunch,” she had said, equally coldly. That, at least, was true. But Internews hadn’t offered him a Porsche as an office car, and a contract with a year’s money tied to the end of it.
Now the money was flying with his wife and Diego the rooftop gardener to Malaga to meet Diego’s parents.
Parminter had forborne to point out that Catholic Spanish parents were unlikely to welcome a married Protestant with open arms as a prospective bride for their adored son.
He thought it would have more piquancy when Caroline discovered that fact in the little village tucked away miles from the coast from which Diego had originally come.
Diego had often discussed his humble origins with Parminter in the early mornings when Parminter was working out in the roof garden. Diego had lots of time to talk. London pollution had put paid to most of the plants which were his charge, and were used to eating carbon dioxide and excreting oxygen.
The air of the Docklands, which has been blessed with offices and traffic jams in roughly the same proportions, due to the normal careful planning by Government both local and national, consists more of carbon monoxide and lead. Plants do not thrive on lead. Neither do people.
During the day, as it turned out, Diego had lots of time for other activities as well. Edwina Parminter was by no means his only intra-mural activity: she just came to fruition faster than the others.
“It is medieval, my village. My parents think flying to London is a sin,” he had said, watching Parminter’s desperate attempts to exercise away the effects of a non-stop diet of Bollinger and red steak.
The exercise was not very effective. He would have had to run a London Marathon every day to expunge from his system the accumulated poisons and fats of a decade of business lunches.
Perhaps, Parminter daydreamed, the dark, bigoted inhabitants of Diego’s dark, bigoted background still believed in stoning loose women to death.
A nice, spirited auto-da-fé could put a crackle into her life. Or to be more accurate, into her death. Short of that, public humiliation would have to do, he supposed.
The bar had become uncomfortably packed. Looking along the room, Parminter was confused for a moment by the impression that the counter had been quilted with leather.
Then he realised that so many Filofaxes had been laid along the edge between the drinks that there was hardly room for the portable telephones.
Next to him, a large gin and tonic with silvered wings of hair swept back over his ears was talking loudly to two malt whiskies in pinstripes and a Kir in an Armani suit with the sleeves pushed back to the elbows. Words like ‘pivotal’ and phrases like ‘integral to…’ and ‘perceived wisdom’ were swirling like Spitfires in a dogfight.
Beyond them, Parminter could see Polly George. Other people asked him why he disliked her so much, but Parminter never had to examine his own feelings for the woman. He knew exactly why. She represented everything he loathed about the new face of Fleet Street.
At least when the newspapers were here, he thought, you knew where you were with the women. They were bimbos with big boobs and small brains, glowing at the executives, or thin, strident women with gin voices, hard eyes and bitter mouths, adroitly outmanoeuvring the male journalists. Either way, a prudent man stayed well clear of them.
These days, the Fleet Street bars were filled with another type. Tall confident women in dark suits with big shoulders showing a great deal of leg and cleavage buying Krug and telling jokes which made your hair curl.
They took up lot of space in the wine bars, telling each other in stereophonic voices how much they despised the behaviour of the men they so painstakingly imitated. They also frightened Parminter spitless.
Polly George was the noisiest of them. Her lapels plunged lower than any of the others, her skirts rode higher. She bad a rambling mane of tawny hair and a laugh like a cavalry bugle. She was in her late thirties or maybe, when he was being uncharitable, her early forties. When they were issuing ‘confidence,’ she had run round to the back of the queue and fiddled herself a double portion.
At the moment, she was abusing a frightened young executive from the legal office in the vulgar building which had replaced the old Sun and News of the World headquarters in Bouverie Street opposite.
The young man was in charge of stationery purchasing, and Polly had a load of carbon paper to dispose of.
She had decided that her young victim was not leaving the bar tonight until he had signed her requisition form, and she was using every one of her considerable armoury of tricks to get him into a corner.
Watching Polly work on a young man with a train to catch and a young wife in the family way was akin to watching vivisection and it made Parminter feel queasy.
So did the Badoit. He caught Katryn’s eye and changed his drink to Sancerre. It, too, was warm, which would have made the viticulturist whose family had laboured over it shoot himself. But it was better than warm Badoit.
He glanced at his watch. If Bennie was coming, he was leaving it bloody late. In Parminter’s day, the Overseas Accounts office closed at seven, and it was nearly eight now.
Bennie was a humourless man who had backed Parminter magnificently for the past five years, and whom in turn, Parminter had dragged along on his coat tails as he went up the promotional ladder.
Having Bennie behind him benefited him in two distinct ways. Bennie didn’t have the ambition or the imagination to stab him in the back, while merely by being there, dogged, devoted and conscientious; he prevented anybody else doing it.
When Parminter left, he had been pleased to recommend Bennie for his job, and mildly gratified to see him get it.
When Bennie had said he would meet you at seven thirty, he was generally there at seven thirty on the button. People had been known to glance at their watches when Bennie came back to the office from his forty-five minute lunches, frown irritably, and correct them.
Parminter was justifiably miffed. He had dealt well and fairly with Bennie. He did the business lunching, Bennie held the fort. Parminter did the necessary entertaining in the evening. Bennie went home.
He lived in … er … Bromley, Parminter thought. Or was it Chislehurst, near the caves? He was interested in jazz, cricket and vintage motor cycles. Only Bennie could make Jazz sound boring. But then, Bennie could make almost anything sound boring.
He was exactly the type of head cashier who disappears one Friday night with the year’s takings in a leather Gladstone bag and is next heard of on Copacabana Beach with a blonde in each hand and a smug smile on his face, to the amazement of everybody.
Parminter looked at his watch again, and admitted grudgingly to himself that maybe Bennie was as careful as he was reliable. It had been in Parminter’s mind to get in before the rush and ask Bennie to find him a job in the Department.
His plans after that would depend on the circumstances, but one thing was certain: where the turning of backs was involved, it would not be nearly so safe for Bennie to turn his on dear old Ed as it had been for Parminter to expose his shoulder blades to dear old Bennie.
There were, however, flaws in Parminter’s reasoning which he could only have foreseen had he taken the elementary precaution of staying in contact with his old office. When Parminter announced his intention of moving on, Bennie had been both thrilled and horrified with the prospect of promotion.
He had been convinced that he could never under any circumstances fill the highly polished Gucci loafers of Edsel Parminter and simul
In the intervening six months, he had discovered that contrary to his first fears he could handle the department quite as well as Parminter, and he dared to believe possibly a little better.
He knew the workings of the place easily as well as Ed, unsurprisingly since he had done most of the day to day work. He also discovered for the first time in his life the delights of a business entertaining account.
These days, head waiters greeted him by name, and he was even beginning to find his way around a wine list. That week, he had even discovered the name and location of Copacabana beach. It looked a nice place, if only one could afford the fare.
Bennie in short was having the time of his life. He certainly had no intention of re-importing Ed Parminter who at the very best made him feel clumsy and inadequate and at the worst would probably steal his job. So Bennie went home via a different bar that night, and made a phone call instead.
“Mr Parminter.” The eyes looked like wet stones. “There’s a message from Mr Bengtstein. He can’t make it tonight. Would you like to phone his office in the morning?”
It was Monday evening, turning into Doomsday.
“Muffin The Mule is legal – so long as the mule enjoys it!”
Graffiti in the Gentlemen’s toilet at the Harrow Inn, off Fleet Street.
After the third glass of wine, Parminter felt more relaxed if no less savage. Bennie was after all a cautious man, and Parminter admitted even to himself that asking for a job in the very department to which he had bid a bumptious and noisy farewell only six months before was a pretty long shot.
He ordered a sandwich along with his next drink, and looked around him. The Filofax and poser phone fringe along the bar had started to thin out, and he could see patches of woodwork moist with flat Bollinger between the leather covers.
CHRISTOPHER KENWORTHY SERIES:
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