Twenties Girl

Page 24


Fillet of duck with three-way orange mash £59 .
My stomach lurches again. I keep doing mental math and reaching three hundred and feeling a bit sick.
“Some mineral water?” The waiter appears at the table and proffers a blue-tinted Plexiglas square to each of us. “This is our water menu. If you like a sparkling water, the Chetwyn Glen is rather fun,” he adds. “It’s filtered through volcanic rock and has a subtle alkalinity.”
“Ah.” I force myself to nod intelligently, and the waiter meets my eyes without a flicker. Surely they all get back into the kitchen, collapse against the walls, and start snorting with laughter: “She paid fifteen quid! For water!”
“I’d prefer Pellegrino.” Clive shrugs. He’s a guy in his forties with graying hair, froggy eyes, and a mustache, and he hasn’t smiled once since we sat down.
“A bottle of each, then?” says the waiter.
Noooo! Not two bottles of overpriced water!
“So, what would you like to eat, Clive?” I smile. “If you’re in a hurry, we could go straight to main courses…”
“I’m not in any hurry.” Clive gives me a suspicious look. “Are you?”
“Of course not!” I backtrack quickly. “No hurry at all!” I wave a generous hand. “Have whatever you’d like.”
Not the oysters, please, please, please not the oysters…
“The oysters to begin with,” he says thoughtfully. “Then I’m torn between the lobster and the porcini risotto.”
I discreetly whip my eyes down to the menu. The lobster is £90; the risotto, only £45.
“Tough choice.” I try to sound casual. “You know, risotto is always my favorite.”
There’s silence as Clive frowns at the menu again.
“I love Italian food,” I throw in with a relaxed little laugh. “And I bet the porcini are delicious. But it’s up to you, Clive!”
“If you can’t decide,” the waiter puts in helpfully, “I could bring you both the lobster and a reduced-size risotto.”
He could what? He could what? Who asked him to interfere, anyway?
“Great idea!” My voice is two notes shriller than I intended. “Two main courses! Why not?”
I feel the waiter’s sardonic eye on me and instantly know he can read my thoughts. He knows I’m skint.
“And for madam?”
“Right. Absolutely.” I run a finger down the menu with a thoughtful frown. “The truth is… I went for a big power breakfast this morning. So I’ll just have a Caesar salad, no starter.”
“One Caesar salad, no starter.” The waiter nods impassively.
“And would you like to stick to water, Clive?” I desperately try to keep any hint of hope out of my voice. “Or wine…”
Even the idea of the wine list makes my spine feel all twingey with fear.
“Let’s see the list.” Clive’s eyes light up.
“And a glass of vintage champagne to start, perhaps,” suggests the waiter, with a bland smile.
He couldn’t just suggest champagne. He had to suggest vintage champagne. This waiter is a total sadist.
“I could be persuaded!” Clive gives a sort of lugubrious chuckle, and somehow I force myself to join in.
At last the waiter departs, having poured us each a zillion-pound glass of vintage champagne. I feel a bit giddy. I’m going to be paying off this lunch for the rest of my life. But it’ll be worth it. I have to believe that.
“So!” I say brightly, raising my glass. “To the job! I’m so glad you’ve changed your mind, Clive-”
“I haven’t,” he says, swigging about half of his champagne down in one gulp.
I stare at him, unnerved. Am I going mad? Did Kate take down the message wrong?
“But I thought-”
“It’s a possibility.” He starts to break up a bread roll. “I’m not happy with my job at the moment, and I’m considering a move. But there are drawbacks to this Leonidas Sports gig too. Sell it to me.”
For a moment I’m too choked with dismay to answer. I’m spending the price of a small car on this man and he might not even be interested in the job? I take a sip of water, then look up, forcing my most professional smile. I can be Natalie. I can sell this to him.
“Clive. You’re not happy in your current post. For a man with your gifts, this is a criminal situation. Look at you! You should be in a place which will appreciate you.”
I pause, my heart thumping hard. He’s listening attentively. He hasn’t even buttered his bread roll yet. So far, so good.