We’re just off the return flight from Venice. Walking through the terminal, I’m speaking to Noel on the telephone.

“Were you good for Maria?”

“Yes daddy. Of course I was. But Gwennie…”

The call is suddenly interrupted by a flurry of incoming messages.

“Noel, I’m going to have to call you back.”

“But daddy…”

“A couple of minutes. Promise. Bye darling.” Emma looks at me disapprovingly.

“We’ve been back – what? - five minutes,” she says.

“Might be important,” I reply.

“Important? You were talking to our son, David,” she finesses. Venice suddenly seems a long time ago.

As I’m about to check my messages, the telephone rings. Sir Roderick’s office. I prepare myself for the metronomic “Good morning David, it’s Angela Valentine, the chairman’s executive assistant” and wonder whether her tone of voice will give any clue as to our mercurial leader’s state of mind or current pre-occupations. I haven’t so much as glanced at a newspaper or the television news in three days and don’t want to get caught out.

So I’m ill prepared for: “There’s a hell of a hoo-hah on here David.”

“Sir Roderick. Good after…”

“Can you vouch for her? Your girl?”


“Your bag carrier. Girl with the elegant calves.”


“Dammit David. Miss Plumb-Palmer. She does work for you, doesn’t she?”

“Juliette? Well, yes Sir Roderick.”

Emma is looking daggers at me.

“So, Juliette Plumb-Palmer. Can you vouch for her?”

I sit down. I sense bad news. And I need to collect my thoughts.

“Do I need to? What’s happened?”

Emma drifts away and with her back to me, looks out of the terminal window.

I jot down details from Sir Roderick’s sputtered narrative, using the beautiful handmade fountain pen that Emma had bought me in Venice.

It has suddenly lost its romantic lustre.