THE ’03 I think Michel.” I sit opposite the oleaginous Rupert Carmichael in an elegantly restrained private dining room at the Bensley Hotel. The sommelier retreats.
“We’ll drink the ’59 if I land you” says Rupert. He shoots his cuffs, his signature diamond-encrusted death's head cufflinks prominent at the sleeves of his handmade Savile Row suit. “When I land you, dear boy. When I land you,” he corrects himself. There is nothing unstudied about Rupert Carmichael. Even this trope of self-correction is designed for effect, honed to perfection during 35 years of headhunting.
The pleasantries dispensed with, Rupert eases up smoothly through the gears.
“What are you now David? 38? No, sorry, 40 next birthday if I recall correctly.” I’m quite sure that Rupert will have a copy of my birth certificate on file. “And still number two to Sandy. Is that by accident or design? After all, I hear you practically prop the old fraud up these days. Bring in the deals. Manage the clients. Cross the i’s and dot the t’s. Probably make the tea too,” he suggests, mischievously, looking me in the eye and waiting for a response.
I’ve agreed with Emma to listen to Rupert and to keep schtum myself. And to remember that you can tell when he’s, well, shall we say exaggerating, because his lips move.
“And Sandy’s what, 45?” he continues. “Not going anywhere is he? Why would he? Not with you at the helm. And with him on the bridge. Taking the salute. He’s all fur coat and no knickers. So the question, dear boy, is whether you’ve got the balls. Run your own ship. Make some serious money. Have some fun.”
I’m wondering whether this pantomime routine of flattery and subtle intimidation really works anymore.
Two waiters emerge, apparently from nowhere and present our salt-baked baby Welsh lamb niçoise, with anchovies, stuffed artichoke and an olive jus.
“Well, this looks good,” I say.
“Before we eat and at the risk of seeming impossibly vulgar David, I’m going to pass you a scrap of paper. You don’t need to look at it right now. Whenever you’re ready. It contains the name of your next firm, along with your salary and guaranteed bonus. And as a little, what shall we say, amuse bouche, I’ve also included your current salary and this year’s bonus. Easy to tell which one is which.”
Rupert takes a sliver of white paper from the inside breast pocket of his jacket. He slips it across the table. The size of the labels my mum used to sew inside my school PE kit, it’s almost invisible on the immaculate, white table cloth.
“Let’s enjoy lunch first, shall we Rupert?”
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