departments and getting hold of their records. Then once we have all the results we can start to try and identify trends.’
‘Yes, yes of course.’ Simon nodded eagerly. ‘When do you need this to be completed by?’
‘Let’s see …’ Charles again conducted the charade of thought. ‘How about this time next week?’
‘Next week!’ Simon gulped in shock.
‘Ideally, yes. I know it is a very big task, but in light of the upcoming elections I thought it would be a great campaign for us all to get behind and if anyone can do it, it’s you, Simon.’
‘Well,’ Simon beamed at the praise and mentally recorded the words. He would store up kind words, gathering them eagerly like a squirrel gathers nuts, and then in his emotional winter he would revisit these exchanges and the kind words would bring him warmth.
‘I really will do my best with it, sir.’
‘Thank you, I knew you would.’
Simon remained in his chair, appearing reluctant to leave even though Charles felt that their conversation had drawn to a close.
‘Something the matter?’ Charles felt forced to ask as the man continued to sit and look awkward, as though there were something he wanted to say but protocol wouldn’t allow him.
‘I was just thinking,’ Simon began, grateful for the invitation to voice his thoughts. ‘I’m not sure if you are aware, but a young lady from here, she was an intern I believe, took her own life around six months ago.’
Charles felt himself freeze at the mention of Lorna. Did Simon know of the affair; was that why he had chosen to mention her? Charles tried to keep his composure and remain indifferent on the topic. He felt, in not acknowledging his despair at her death, that he was failing Lorna somehow, being untrue to her memory, but he had no choice.
‘Yes, Simon, I was aware. It was actually what spurred the whole idea.’ It was a stock answer generated from a larger truth.
‘Terrible business,’ Simon shook his head. ‘I like the angle though – we address problems which even appear on our own doorstep, showing we are not free from the trials and tribulations of the population.’
‘It really is a great idea sir. It will be my priority for the next week and I’ll deliver my results to you promptly.’
‘As always, thank you so much for your hard work.’ Charles smiled as Simon eagerly gathered up another praise nut.
Simon left excited by his task, leaving Charles to feel satisfied that he had put the wheels in motion for the investigation without arousing any suspicion. He wondered if he should call Laurie to update her, but then she would be in the office the following day. But to talk to her at work would be inappropriate, especially beneath Faye’s judging gaze.
Charles removed his mobile phone from his pocket and went to dial Laurie but stopped himself. Deep down, he knew that he didn’t really want to update her; he just wanted to hear her voice.
‘Until next time,’ he muttered sadly to himself, returning his phone to his pocket.
The hour was now late. Soon Elaine would call enquiring why Charles was not yet home. He was debating feigning some reason to remain in the city, some urgent work which required his attention. It would be easy enough to deliver the lie and then book himself into a luxury hotel. The trouble was that all of London’s finest hotels were now places where memories of Lorna lurked. Charles recalled how she would swoon over the decadence, throwing herself on to the king-sized bed in childish glee. He could not be alone in a hotel room. Elaine had her faults, but she was company.
‘Faye, call Henry and tell him to bring the Bentley around to the front of the building,’ Charles instructed his assistant.
‘And then go home, it’s late.’ He realised he was being abrupt to order her to leave, but she worked such long hours he worried that beyond her job she had no life. Or perhaps, like him, she was merely using her job as a distraction