On board the Parvina
Leaning on the rail at the stern of the cruise ship Parvina, sipping his champagne, Eddie Munro looked out across the water and into the darkness. There was a warm, gentle breeze, and the sea was calm except for the dizzy trail of water churned up by the ship’s angry propellers. It was a beautiful evening and there was no one else on deck. Eddie liked it that way.
He looked down at his watch, which showed 10.31 p.m., and the ship was already half a mile from the harbour. He was amazed that such a huge cruise ship could move so fast – he was amazed it stayed afloat at all! He watched St Thomas island getting further and further away. He stared at the silhouette of the island, at its faint black shapes of hills rising up into the night sky. Eddie smiled to himself as he noticed he could no longer see where the lights ended and the stars began.
He finished his champagne and, for good luck, threw the glass far out into the sea. He never heard it drop. He couldn’t see much at all in the warm Caribbean darkness, but he noticed for the first time how high up he was. The sea was a long, long way down, he thought.
At this point his wife, Lynn, came out looking for him, wearing her long black evening dress and the silk purple scarf she had bought on the excursion earlier in the day. Her hair was dark and short with plum-coloured highlights.
He turned to put his arm around her as she joined him. He noticed her perfume, a powerful and luxurious scent.
“Hello,” he said, turning round. “You smell nice. And you look lovely. Are you married?”
“Yes, thank you. To a very wealthy man, so you have no chance,” she said, smiling.
“Ah. But so am I.”
“Ah, so you’re married to a wealthy man, are you?”
“I mean I’m wealthy. Very rich, in fact.”
“Well aren’t you the lucky one,” Lynn said.
“Yes, so if you’re lucky, I might buy you dinner,” said Eddie, turning back to look out to sea once more.
“Well, lucky me. How can I refuse such charm?” She looked at him and took hold of his hand. She smiled and stared out into the night, too, to the island which was now even further away.
“I thought I’d find you out here,” she said. “How many glasses have you thrown into the sea this evening?”
“Only two,” he said.
“It’s good luck.”
“No, it isn’t. Not if you’re a fish and you get hit by a glass.”
“The fish might like it. It’s probably quite boring being a fish. The sudden arrival of a champagne glass might brighten up your life.”
“Or end it,” she said.
“It’s fun,” said Eddie. “You should try it.”
“I think I’ve had enough champagne,” his wife said.
“I love the way the glass disappears the minute it leaves my hand, and the sea eats it up. You can’t see it falling and you can’t hear it hit the water. But you know it’s landed, dived in and sunk to the bottom. Imagine – a tiny glass holding a giant ocean.”
“You think too much,” she said, moving away and pulling him with her. “Why don’t you come back inside? They’re serving coffee and I think there’s going to be some jazz.”
“All right,” he said. “Just a few more minutes.”
“We have two more weeks on this cruise, Eddie. You have plenty of time to take it all in.”
“It’s incredible, though, isn’t it? So beautiful. It’s perfect.”
Lynn laughed. “It’s completely black. I can’t see anything in the dark.”
“I know. But it’s all out there. The blue sea, the white sand, the palm trees, the boats…”
“The champagne glasses…”
“Very funny,” said Eddie. Then he pointed to the horizon. “Look over there at the dots of light. Do you think they’re lights on the island or stars?”
Lynn looked hard into the night and gave it some thought. “Erm… lights.”
“But you’re not sure.”
“I am sure. I’m always sure.”
“Hmm,” he said. “How is that?”
“Because I’m always right,” she said, smiling.
“Of course. I was right about setting up your own business, wasn’t I?”
“And I was right about selling the business off this year for twenty million – only sixteen years after starting.”
“Possibly,” he teased. He wouldn’t give in so easily.
“And I was right to let you take me on this cruise to relax and celebrate in style.”
“Oh, I see. How generous.”
“Just think. You don’t have to work ever again. You’re a millionaire, Mr Edward Munro. How does that sound?”
“Lucky me,” he said proudly.
“Yes, lucky you. Lucky us. Now come inside before we lose all our money paying for missing champagne glasses.”
Back inside, the dining room was full of people. It was hot, but the lighting made it welcoming and comfortable. In the time Eddie had been outside, a space had been cleared for dancing and a few couples were already on their feet. In the corner, four musicians, three men and one woman, were playing a song Eddie knew well, but he couldn’t recall its name. The singer was wearing a navy blue cocktail dress, and the men were wearing tuxedos, black ties and formal dinner suits.
Eddie noticed how young the woman looked. Too young to have known the tune when it first appeared, Eddie thought, but her voice was strong and clear. And she seemed to believe in the words, at least. How old was she? Twenty-five? Twenty-six? Imagine singing on a cruise ship in your twenties! What a life! The fun, the parties, the people. The places to go and things to see – before your life had even started.
It seems so easy now, Eddie thought. His twenties had been very different. And his thirties. Eddie tried not to think about his own past. Now was all that mattered. The past was the past. ‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,’ Clive, his business partner, always said. ‘No such thing as luck,’ he once said, ‘it’s simply the moment when preparation meets opportunity.’
By now, Eddie was sitting back at his table and next to his wife. She was watching the band and tapping the table. She smiled at the other passengers opposite her, who smiled back, relaxed and enjoying the moment. Eddie looked at his watch. It was almost 11 p.m., but he wasn’t tired. Quite the opposite. He felt relaxed and energized. He’d always been an evening person, never a morning person.
He looked around at the giant lounge with its circular tables and well-dressed diners, and the perfect white tablecloths. The waiters and waitresses in their smart uniforms moved smoothly in and out of the room, and Eddie’s eyes followed them as they carried plates and coffee and cakes and trays around the tables, along the aisles and past the bar.
Eddie watched the barman throwing ice cubes and cocktail shakers in the air and juggling them as he made the drinks in acrobatic style. He was confident and polished, and also young. Possibly the same age as the singer. Why was everyone so young these days? Where were all the cruise ship jobs when Eddie was trying to get started in life? Why hadn’t he thought of working on a ship in the Caribbean?
He found himself staring at the bar in the distance. He was no longer thinking of anything in particular. He was simply listening to the sounds of jazz and the noise of a few hundred people talking and laughing.
And that was when he saw him.
That was the moment when he saw Dominic for the first time in many, many years. The man was sitting at the bar, leaning forward and smoking a large cigar. He was older now, clearly, and his hair was very grey, but Eddie had no doubt that it was him. He couldn’t believe that awful man was here on the ship.
And then everything was different.
Nothing was the same. All was spoiled.
Just like before.
Argument with Dominic
“You know your problem, Eddie?” said Dominic Stephens in his office. “You’re too hands-on.” He leaned back in his large, leather chair behind his glass desk. He seldom made eye contact. His shoulders looked tense and his neck was hidden.
“I don’t understand,” said Eddie. “How can that be a problem? The team really appreciates my style and the customers love it. It’s what I do best. It’s why I was brought here in the first place.”
“Oh, really?” said Dominic, clearly unimpressed.
“I know for a fact that Ann and Gary didn’t want an executive to run things. They wanted someone with practical experience, and drive – and lots of it. They said dull and uninspiring executives and managers have come and gone and there’s been no direction, no feeling for the business. No passion.”
“And you have passion?” said Dominic.
“Yes. Do you?”
“This isn’t about me, Eddie. It’s about you, and it takes more than passion to do this job. You need to be a leader.”
“I am a leader,” replied Eddie. “I’ve done it for years. My track record speaks for itself.”
“Well, you can’t do it all by yourself.”
“I’m not trying to do it all by myself, Dominic. I’m building a team. I’m training new people. Resources are limited. It takes time.”
“We don’t have time, Eddie.”
What did Dominic Stephens know about passion or time? wondered Eddie. The only passion he seemed to have was being in charge. And golf. He seemed to have a lot of time for that. He even kept his clubs in the corner of his office. And today was Thursday. On Thursdays he always left early to play golf and he didn’t even try to hide it.
Eddie was so angry his mouth was dry. “I don’t know why you have a problem with me, Dominic. There’s nothing wrong with my performance. Quite the opposite in fact.”
“Yes. When I joined Fenton’s, they were only producing software for small businesses in the UK. They had some accounting packages and sales and marketing databases, but not much else. I was brought in to expand the business and build exports, and that is exactly what I have done. I brought in some very talented people to develop our products, and we now offer some unique and very powerful programs used by the biggest and best companies globally. When I proposed and won the Moscow account, you said it couldn’t be done, and now we supply the entire Russian region.”
“Erm, excuse me, Mr Passion. I won the Moscow contract for you,” said Dominic, pointing firmly at his own chest.
Eddie could not believe his ears. This was so unfair. Rage filled his whole mind and body. “You did not win that contract. You knew some of the people in the Russian state department there, that’s all. I spent most of last year – and the year before – going to Russia and working long, long hours to build a business plan that would work. Don’t take the credit away from me, Dominic. Without me, this company could never have won such a high-profile project.”
“Well, I still haven’t seen the final numbers, and I still haven’t seen the new business plan,” Dominic said, throwing his arms around.
“Yes, you have. I’ve kept you informed the whole time with numerous emails.”
“Oh, emails, emails! I don’t have time for emails. I get about three hundred a day. How on earth can I keep up with all that?”
Well, it would help if you didn’t play so much golf, Eddie wanted to say. It would help if you let me do my job and didn’t interfere. It would help if you weren’t so aggressive. Instead, he tried to remain diplomatic and said, “Well, if you don’t read my emails, how can we communicate?”
“Simple. Pick up the phone.”
He made it sound so easy. This was ridiculous. “I do call you, Dominic. You’re never there. I leave messages but you don’t call back. When we do get time to meet, I don’t think you’re really listening.”
“I’m always listening to you, Eddie,” said Dominic in a weary voice. “Because you talk so much, that’s all you ever do. Talk, talk, talk.”
“You’re making personal comments, and that is not professional. I talk because I’m passionate. And I deliver. If I say I’ll do something, I do it, and within budget, and you know it.”
“You were not on budget. Last year you went over budget by 25,000 pounds”
Not this again. Eddie was so tired of the same story. “I can account for every penny my department spent. No one seems to know what happened to that 25,000 pounds.”
Dominic looked at him accusingly.
“Don’t look at me like that,” said Eddie.
“Look, the way I see it…” Eddie began, but again he was cut off in mid-sentence. Dominic always interrupted everyone. He was like a spoilt child.
And so the situation was impossible. Eddie simply wanted to leave. He could no longer focus. He could never win.
Eddie came out of the office. His whole body was trembling, and he tried very hard not to slam the door, scream or break something. He realized he was too angry and too upset to go back to the team or finish his work. He decided to slip out of the office for ten minutes, just to calm down. He would have a coffee. Or call Lynn. Come on, Ed, he told himself. Get things in perspective. It’s only a job.
He was almost at reception and the main door, when Clive passed him on the way to the photocopier. “Ed, what’s wrong?” he asked, stopping in the corridor.
Eddie couldn’t speak. He was afraid to say anything, as he didn’t know what might come out. His face was red and tears were stinging his eyes. He looked down, ignored Clive and walked out of the door into the street and towards the local cafe.
Someone from the past
“You all right, Eddie?” asked Lynn, who had noticed Eddie staring at the bar. Eddie took a moment and then said, “Yes, fine. Why?” But he was still lost in thought. He wasn’t sure if the ship was moving or if he was dizzy.
“You look so serious. Come on, let’s dance.”
He was still staring at the bar. The man was still there. It was Dominic. Sitting at the bar barely fifty meters away, drinking and smoking. As simple as that. Was the world so small? thought Eddie. Couldn’t it be a bit bigger? Why here? Why now? After all this time. Why on this ship? A familiar sickness in his stomach returned.
“Well, don’t get too excited, will you?” Eddie heard his wife say.
“Sorry?” he said, turning his attention to Lynn.
“A dance! Can we dance?” Lynn said impatiently.
“Yes, sure. Sorry.”
They both got up and walked to the dance floor. They held each other and danced slowly for the final verse of yet another song whose name Eddie couldn’t remember.
Turning in the dance, Eddie was pleased that Lynn was there with him as he tried to take in the fact that he was now staring at the distant shape of Dominic Stephens, on the far side of the ship’s dining room. The man, Eddie saw, now turned to watch the dining room and the dancing. He was hidden in a fog of his own cigar smoke. How Eddie had hated him. And how, after all this time, he still hated him.
“Are you sure you’re feeling all right, Eddie?” asked Lynn when they got back to their cabin. Eddie was sitting on the bed staring into space.
“Yes. Just tired. I think I’m still jet-lagged, and I’m tired after walking on the island today.”
“That trip on the glass-bottomed submarine was amazing, wasn’t it?”
“Yeah,” said Eddie. But he still couldn’t think straight. His mind was filling up more and more with the terrible realization that Dominic was on the ship.
Lynn knew him too well. “Eddie,” she said, sitting down beside him, taking his hand and looking at him. She stroked the back of his head. “What’s wrong?”
Eddie had decided to accept that the trip was now spoiled. Did he need to spoil it for his wife? She didn’t have to know. They would have their luxury cruise and go home to a new life. The ship was big enough. Dominic and Eddie both looked older and Dominic probably wouldn’t even remember him, so why worry about it?
But all the old feelings were there again, and Eddie could sense his energy slipping away just thinking about it. It showed on his face and Lynn could see it. Eddie could never hide much from his wife, and before he knew it he found himself weakening.
“It’s Dominic. He’s on the ship.” It sounded so strange to Eddie to even say those words.
There was a pause.
Lynn looked more closely at her husband.
“What?” said Lynn quietly. “Dominic Stephens? You’re kidding.”
“I’m not kidding, Lynn. I wish I was,” said Eddie.
“I haven’t heard that name in a long time.”
“Well, he’s here.”
“How do you know he’s here?”
“I saw him. He was sitting at the bar this evening when we came in from the deck.”
“Eddie, we were sitting on the other side of the dining room – you could hardly see anything. How can you be sure it was him?”
“Oh, I’m sure, Lynn. No mistake. The same fat, lazy bloke. But less hair now. And grey. And fatter.”
Lynn was still trying to take it in. “Dominic Stephens is on this ship?”
She waited a moment. “Oh, Eddie.”
They both sat there for a moment. Then Lynn spoke again. She was already recovering. “Well, look, it’s a long time ago, Ed. It doesn’t matter any more. He doesn’t matter any more. He’s nothing. You don’t have to talk to him.”
“It’s a big ship,” Lynn continued. “It’s extremely unlikely you’re going meet him…”
“I saw him at the bar!” said Eddie.
“… and even if you met him by chance, as I said, he won’t remember you.” Then she looked closely at Eddie and asked softly, “You didn’t speak to him, did you?”
“No,” replied Eddie. “Of course not.”
“And did he see you?”
“No.” Eddie wasn’t sure if Dominic had seen him or not. Probably not. “Well, that’s OK then,” Lynn said, but she knew it was an unhelpful thing to say.
“It’s not OK, Lynn. It’s not OK at all. That man is back.”
“He’s not back. Try to calm down.”
“Calm down?!” said Eddie, raising his voice and standing up. “We lost everything because of him, Lynn, everything – he cheated and bullied and took it all away!”
“Yes, I know, Ed, but it was sixteen years ago. We’ve come a long way since then. You and Clive have each just put ten million quid in the bank!”
“So what? Dominic got away with it all at Fenton’s!”
“It’s all in the past. It doesn’t matter anymore.”
“It does matter. He’s still getting away with it. He still looks very pleased with himself.”
“You don’t know that. You don’t know his life now. I can’t believe we’re talking about all this after so long.”
“Because he’s here, Lynn. On the ship. On our cruise!”
“Eddie, listen to me. Calm down. He and Neal gave you a bad time, I know. But you fought back and survived, and you became successful anyway. Without him. In spite of him and the things he said and did. You’re here with me now, on holiday, with financial security for the rest of our lives. You did it. You climbed back out of the hole and it’s OK. He can’t hurt you anymore.”
“He nearly destroyed us, Lynn.”
“But he didn’t, did he? We didn’t let him.”
Eddie wiped the tears from his eyes. “I can’t believe he’s on board! Why? He’s still out there getting in the way. Spoiling everything.”
“He’s not spoiling anything. Only if you let him. You’ve come a long way since he pushed you out.”
“So why do I suddenly feel so angry? I can’t believe it. I think of him and those days at Fenton’s from time to time, sometimes a lot, and it never upsets me.
“Well, you went through a tough time. It was very hard. If you really did see him tonight, of course that’s going to upset you. It’s not the same as the occasional memory.”
“Oh, I saw him all right. He still smokes those hideous cigars.”
“OK,” said Lynn.
“You went through it too, you know,” he reminded her.
“We lost so much, Lynn: the house, the money. Us. I was off sick for a year. A year!”
“I know,” said Lynn. “There’s no getting away from the damage the man caused. But you have to calm down. Nothing is going to happen. You don’t have to see him again or talk to him.”
“Well, what if he takes the same excursion as us at some point? Or sits at our table for dinner?”
“Eddie, there are almost 2,000 people on board. It won’t happen. We can ignore him. Being the sort of person Dominic is, he’s probably treated lots of people the way he treated you, so he won’t know who you are or remember what he did.”
“Somehow that makes it worse.”
“Well, there’s nothing we can do about it. If we see him again or he even recognizes you, we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it, all right?”
Eddie was quiet.
“All right?” Lynn repeated, holding his face in her hands.
“OK,” said Eddie.
After the argument
Eddie sat in a cafe not far from the office, dipping his teaspoon into a large cappuccino, and tried to think of what he could do about his job. He could leave, but that would mean giving in and letting Dominic have exactly what he wanted. Besides, it would take several months, possibly a year, to find another good job, and he would still have to put up with him in the meantime. He could officially complain about Dominic’s behavior. He had a strong case. But that would only make things worse. Somehow Dominic had Gary, the CEO, on his side. And Ann Blake, the Financial Director, would never support getting rid of Dominic, since she had hired him in the first place.
“He’s unbelievable. He actually said I was too hands-on,” said Eddie, stabbing at his drink with his spoon.
“Really?” said Clive, who had left the office and found Eddie sitting in the cafe.
“Yes. He also said I wasn’t a leader and that Moscow was his deal.”
“You’re joking,” said Clive. He seemed genuinely surprised. “That deal was yours. Everyone knows that.”
“Then he said my communication wasn’t good enough.”
“Eh? He can talk. He’s got no people skills whatsoever. Anyway, he never reads his emails.”
“I know. I told him that. He says I should phone him,” and Eddie laughed in disgust.
“He’s never there!”
“Exactly! I said that too. It’s pointless, Clive. He doesn’t listen and he interrupts all the time. He’s so smug. He thinks he’s right about everything.”
“At least you’re not alone. Everyone has the same problem with him.”
“Well, what is his problem?”
“It’s obvious. He’s insecure.”
“Well, it’s not obvious when you’re sitting in a meeting with him.”
“He’s a bully in a shirt and tie. All bullies are insecure. Maybe his dad didn’t show him any love. Maybe his dad’s worse!”
Eddie tried to smile as he looked out of the window, as if the answer were out there somewhere. Maybe if he were to look long enough, the answer would come and find him. He doubted it. He was exhausted.
“Clive, how do they get to be in charge, these people? They’re utterly useless. He’s useless.”
“Yes, and he knows it. Deep down. That’s why he picks on people and moves responsibility. No one actually knows what he does.”
“Yeah, and by the time they find out they have to pay him a year’s salary, and then he gets another job.”
“That’s his skill, though. He talks well to the top guys. But the real people don’t respect him. I spoke to someone at Gallagher’s the other week, where Dominic worked for about two years. They said the same thing.”
“Do you think he has any idea what people really think and say about him?”
“No, I don’t think he does. He’s so superior in his own mind he probably thinks we’re all losers.”
“But he knows I’m good. He knows you’re good too, and that really irritates him, because we know this job and he doesn’t. He just moves tasks and people around all day and calls it strategy.”
“I know,” said Clive.
They both stared out of the window.
“Did you hear what he said to Steve the other day?” asked Clive. “No, what?”
“‘Dominic told Steve that he got the top job because Ann and Gary saw him as a wise ambassador.'”
“Wise? Ambassador? Ambassador for what?”
“Who knows? He’s in his own dream world.”
“Did he really say that?”
“Yes. And when Steve questioned it, Dominic then said he was older than anyone else anyway.”
“Who knows what he thinks? He’s not like us. I think that scares him.”
“Where do these people come from?”
“I don’t know, mate, but they soon move on. We just have to hold on. Look on the bright side – it couldn’t get any worse.”
But Eddie wasn’t so sure. Eddie had the feeling that things were going to get a lot worse.
And he was right.
Back at home, Eddie spent the evening trying to catch up on the work he’d missed that afternoon, and looking at the many emails he had sent Dominic. It was a nightmare.
Again and again he considered walking away from the job, but it hurt him more simply to give up. Besides, he was enjoying the Moscow project, and he had done so much work for it. When he was in Moscow, he could get on with things. He loved Russia and he loved the people there. It was such a different world from the UK; and the owners of Zariya, Dima and Tatiana, always made him feel so welcome. Over time Eddie had had to explain to them some of the difficulties back in London, and they had been very helpful. Eddie was reading one of Dima’s emails and smiling again when Lynn walked into the room.
“Will you be much longer?” asked Lynn.
“Maybe. I’m behind on some deadlines, and today’s battle with Dominic didn’t help.”
“Just leave it now, Ed. Come to bed,” said Lynn.
“I can’t. There’s so much. Too much.”
“There’s always too much,” Lynn replied. “It will still be there in the morning. Give yourself a break.”
“Yeah, well, that’s true, but with Dominic I have to be extra careful. He picks on everything.”
“He’s an idiot.”
“Yeah, I know it, and you know it, and everyone else knows it, but he’s still the boss.”
“Well, what I mean is just ignore him.”
“How can I ignore him, Lynn? He’s the boss! He runs the division. He runs me.”
“Well, don’t let him,” said Lynn.
“I’m not letting him!” shouted Eddie. “I’m trying to stop him. That’s the problem!”
“There’s no need to shout, Eddie. I’m not deaf.”
“Well, you’re not being very helpful.”
“Thanks a lot,” she said sarcastically. “I’m doing my best.”
“Sorry. I was hired to build a team, win a project like the one in Moscow and make things profitable. He was brought in to oversee the whole division. Then he gets bonuses for doing very little, and I get the blame when the numbers suddenly don’t add up.”
“Your numbers are fine.”
“Not according to Dominic.”
“Oh, well, during our useless meeting today, he brought up that old story about being 25,000 pounds over budget, when everyone knows he fixed the numbers. Somehow he gets his bonuses and puts any blame on me. I’m almost certain now that he wants me out, Lynn.”
“Surely not. He needs you. If it weren’t for you, good people would have left ages ago. Besides, who else could move Russia along?”
“Oh, don’t mention Russia.”
“Why? That’s your big success story.”
“Oh, he keeps going on about the fact that he won the Moscow contract, not me.”
“What? That’s just not true.”
“What about Ann and Gary? Can’t you talk to them about all this?”
“They’ve changed, Lynn. I’ve hardly seen them since the new partners came in. Besides, Gary and Dominic are always playing golf at the weekends. Ann’s OK still, but she’s very political, and I think she’s embarrassed that Dominic’s upsetting everyone. After all, she was the one who recruited him.”
‘And Human Resources? Can’t you report him to them?”
“What do I tell them? That he’s got the people skills of a goat!”
“Well, that’s one thing. And the intimidation, the lies and the…” It’s very hard to prove, Lynn. He’s got his back covered, and they would only report the whole thing to Ann and Gary. And then what?”
“Well, presumably they tell Dominic and you all get together and sort it out.”
“Easy, really. Why didn’t I think of that?”
“You know what I mean, Eddie. There’s no need to be sarcastic. I’m only trying to help. I hate it when you’re like this.”
“Well, you’re not living in the real world, are you, Lynn? You’re a Primary school teacher, for goodness’ sake. If things go wrong, you all get into a circle and sing a song about it. Or draw a picture. It’s not that simple when you’re in a multi-million pound business and…”
But Lynn had heard enough.
She was already leaving the room. Eddie stared back at the open screen on his laptop at hundreds and hundreds of emails. He thought about how much more he had to do before he could go to bed, about the hurt he had caused Lynn and about the injustice of Dominic and of people like him.
Eddie slammed down the laptop lid.
The job was broken, the evening was broken, and now his relationship was broken.
Although the sea was calm, Eddie didn’t sleep well. He had a dream that seemed to last all night.
It began with him lying in bed in the cabin of the ship, and waking up to find himself in his old bedroom from his childhood. But the bedroom was on the ship. He sat up in the top bunk of some familiar bunk beds. In the bottom bunk should have been his sister Ellen, but he knew his wife was the occupant now. The bottom bunk was empty, however, and he saw water coming in quietly but rapidly under the door.
In his dream, he jumped out of his bunk and straight into half a meter of water. It was ice-cold and Eddie gasped in shock. He was wearing a grey suit and black shoes, but no socks, shirt or tie. With his feet already going numb in the cold water, he opened the small wardrobe to look for them and found a public telephone. Business cards were stuck all over the wall. He noticed his own from years ago with the familiar Fentons logo. But his details were in Russian.
His stomach was tight.
His head ached.
In his dreaming mind, a thousand tasks and deadlines seemed to weigh upon his shoulders.
The phone started ringing. He picked it up.
“Where are you?” a voice shouted on the other end.
It was Dominic.
“The unmistakable, cold, demanding tone of voice: “Do you know what time it is?”
Eddie lifted the sleeve of his suit to look at his watch, but its face was frosted over and unclear. Water had got into it somehow. The hands were barely visible.
“I can’t tell,” he heard himself say.
“You can’t tell the time? Typical! What’s the matter with you? We’re all waiting for you. Come on.”
“Who’s waiting for me? Where are you?”
Eddie heard laughter in the background.
“On the bridge. Where do you think?” Then the line went dead.
The water was up to Eddie’s knees now, and rising fast. He decided to leave the socks, shirt and tie and make his way to the bridge – dressed or not dressed. How much worse could it be?
As Eddie opened the door, water poured in at waist level, and with it thousands of champagne glasses. Most of them were intact, but many were broken. Too many for Eddie to avoid. His chest and legs were cut many times as he waded out into the corridor.
He saw Clive at the far end.
“Clive!” he shouted. “Clive, it’s me! Over here!”
But Clive didn’t hear him. He, too, was struggling with the strong current of water dragging him down and away at the far end of the corridor.
“CLIVE!” shouted Eddie in his sleep.
Opposite Eddie in the dream was a metal ladder which went up to the next level of the ship through a small hole. It was big enough for him to get through. This ladder led to another ladder and another hole. And another. And another. Ladders stretched all the way in a giant tunnel leading upwards. Eddie climbed and climbed. He could hear the laughter getting louder, so he decided to follow the sound.
When he reached the top, he suddenly found himself on the ship’s funnel. It was dark, and a strong sea wind took his breath away. He was scared and excited at the same time. He thought the funnel would be hot, but it was not. It was at an angle, and he was looking up into the sky, almost touching the stars themselves.
“They’re stars, Lynn. Not lights. You were wrong,” he shouted again (in reality, his shouting woke Lynn up).
Then he looked around and saw that the front part of the ship was already underwater and the ship was sinking.
“Lynn!” he shouted. This time it was a scream. That was when he slipped and fell and, in his sleep, flung out his arms to save himself. But there was no impact. Instead he was now standing on the bridge of the ship, which was full of people from work – from his days at Fenton’s. People he hadn’t thought of in all this time. People he thought he’d never remember again. People he certainly didn’t want to see again.
Ann and Gary were there, but they were behind Dominic, who stood by the wheel in his captain’s uniform staring at him. He was older now and heavier. The way Eddie had seen him at the bar.
“Glad you could join us. We’re only sinking, you know!”
“What’s going on?” said Eddie, looking around. The jazz band was playing in the corner, but the female singer was not the girl he had seen earlier. Instead it was Lynn. Singing a song whose name escaped him.
She didn’t look at him. She was looking away and singing.
“LYNN! What are you doing here?” shouted Eddie, confused and frightened.
“I’m the captain. What does it look like?” said Dominic.
“No. Not you. Lynn. What’s she doing here?” She wasn’t paying him any attention.
More and more people were coming on to the bridge. He saw Dima and Tatiana. They spoke in Russian. Eddie couldn’t hear them over the laughter of the crowd.
“Ssh. I can’t hear what they’re saying. And I can’t remember the name of the song.”
“Never mind that, Eddie. We’ve got more important things to do.”
“We’re sinking, no thanks to you.”
“Why? What have I done?”
More laughter from the crowd.
A familiar face appeared. It was Neal.
“Champagne glasses, Eddie. Champagne glasses,” he said.
“What about them?”
What about them?” shouted Dominic. “They put a hole in the ship, you fool.”
“That’s impossible.” Fear filled Eddie’s mind and body.
“Oh, really? Take a look around. Glass everywhere. Holes in the side of my ship.”
“It’s not your ship!” protested Eddie.
“Who cares? We’ll be underwater in ten minutes. Fifteen at the most,” added Neal.
“Shut up, Neal. You’re only here because of Dominic.”
Then he heard a loud buzzing.
A giant helicopter arrived and flew over the front decks. And another. Three, four, five. Dozens. Like bees around a beehive. Buzzing, louder and louder. They flew around and shone powerful lights on to the bridge. So many lights. The noise and lights were unbearable. Then sirens. Police sirens. People screaming. Eddie covered his ears and shut his eyes. He cried out: “LYNN!”
The noise lessened but the lights were bright, so bright. He was trying to open his eyes, but he couldn’t. Now someone was pulling at his arms.
“Let me go! Let me go!” he shouted.
“Eddie…” Lynn said, trying to wake him up.
“Lynn?” His eyes were opening. It was so bright.
“It’s all right, I’m here,” she said, holding him.
“We’ve got to get off! We’re sinking!”
“It’s all right,” she said again.
Then his eyes opened and he was finally awake.
Another bad meeting
The next morning Eddie woke early and his mind was racing. The house was quiet and there was little traffic outside. He felt like he hadn’t been to sleep at all, and he was still angry.
Lynn was still asleep. It was 5.50 a.m. He listened to the radio for a while until he heard the news, and then he got up, had a shower and got dressed. By 6.45 a.m. he was ready for work and quickly said goodbye to Lynn before walking to the station to get the train into central London.
The train was full, but Eddie managed to get a seat by the window. It was a fast train with only a couple of stops before Paddington. As the train picked up speed and aimed for the city, Eddie looked out at the fields and industrial estates passing by. He took deep breaths and tried to calm himself before the day started. He thought about his conference call with Moscow at 9.30 a.m., his scheduled sales meeting at 12 noon, and a lunch appointment at 1.30 p.m. with Neal Skinner in Production. Then he was hoping to block off a couple of hours in the afternoon to catch up on emails and paperwork.
He got to the office at 8.15 a.m. and sat at his desk with a double espresso and a bagel. As his PC started up, Eddie sorted through some of his papers and wrote a quick to do list for the day ahead. He logged on to his email and took care of a few basic queries, before noticing that Dominic had sent a meeting schedule for 10 a.m. There was no subject heading. Eddie saw that it clashed with his Moscow call, so he rejected it and suggested rescheduling for 11 a.m., and wrote a line to ask what the meeting was about. To support his message, he mentioned that he had an important call at 9.30 a.m. and asked Dominic for his patience in the matter. It annoyed him to think that his day with Dominic was already starting on a negative note, but he tried to put it to the back of his mind.
By 9 a.m. the open-plan office was filling up, and Maxine, Paula and Gavin arrived, who all worked in Eddie’s department and sat near him in the office.
“Hi, Ed! How’s it going?” asked Paula.
“Fine, thanks,” replied Eddie.
“How was the meeting with Dominic yesterday?” asked Gavin. “Oh, well, you know. A challenge, shall we say,” said Eddie, trying to smile and not give too much away.
“I bet it was. Rather you than me, mate,” said Gavin. Eddie knew that Gavin and the team were on his side, but what could they do?
Eddie went back to dealing with his emails and preparing for the call to Moscow at 9.30 a.m.
At 9.20 a.m. his phone rang. It was Dominic. “Did you get the meeting schedule I sent? 10 a.m. this morning.”
“Yes, I replied. I can’t do that time. I’ve got a call at 9.30 with Dima and his team in Moscow. I’m dialing in Adam in IT, who needs an update on the platform they’re using for the new software.”
“It’s too early for IT. Why are you bothering them with this?”
“Because we need their input on…”
“Look, Eddie. Forget IT and forget your call. Do it tomorrow.”
“I can’t. It’s taken ages to find a time when we can all…”
“You and I have a meeting at 10.”
“Let’s discuss that then. OK?” Dominic hung up.
Eddie glanced around and noticed Maxine looking at him.
“You OK?” she asked.
“Not really. Max, can you get hold of Dima for me and ask if he can reschedule the call for any time this afternoon?”
“He won’t like it,” she said.
“I know. Tell him I’m really sorry, and tell him Dominic has to see me at 10 a.m. Tell him I didn’t have any warning. He’ll understand.” Eddie tried to smile again. This smile was more fake than the last, and Maxine could see it.
“OK,” she said.
Eddie calmly got up out of his seat and walked across to the far side of the office floor, took the lift upstairs and went into the gents’ toilet. It was empty.
He went to the sink, turned on the cold tap, collected water in his cupped hands and splashed it on his face to freshen up. The situation was impossible, he thought. Eddie felt he could no longer do his job.
For a moment or two he stayed where he was, leaning over the sink, staring at the pouring water and watching it go down the plughole. Then he looked up, reached for some towels and dried his face.
At that moment the phone in his pocket announced the arrival of a text with the sound of a mystical harp. It was from Lynn.
sorry about last night, hope u r ok. stay strong. D is a useless robot and he knows it. love u. L. x
Eddie smiled and punched back a quick reply:
thanks, love u 2. X
The text and cold water seemed to give Eddie enough strength to go back and face another meeting with Dominic. It was almost ten o’clock. He had enough time to grab a coffee before going to Dominic’s office.
Eddie knocked on the door, walked in and sat down. Dominic was engrossed in something on his PC. Without looking up he muttered, “I’ll be with you in a moment,” and spent the next five minutes doing more work and ignoring Eddie. He even made a phone call to someone Eddie had never heard of. Eventually, Dominic turned his attention away from his computer and on to Eddie.
“Right. What’s the latest from Moscow?”
“I haven’t called them yet.”
“Why not?” Dominic’s tone was sharp. Eddie was always amazed at how unpleasant and cold this man was. Was he like this at home? What kind of friends did he have? Did he have any friends?
“I had a call planned for this morning at 9.30, but you asked me to change it so that we could have this meeting.”
“So when are you talking to them?”
“I don’t know yet,” said Eddie.
“You need to get a call sorted as soon as possible.”
“Maxine’s doing that now.”
“Maxine shouldn’t be doing that sort of thing. She’s only a temp.”
“Well, she sometimes takes phone calls for us in the office and sets UP meetings.”
“She’s not a secretary, Eddie, she’s a student! She types in data. You can’t ask her to phone our biggest customers…”
Eddie’s face was red, he could feel it. Already things were out of control.
“She’s only setting up a conference call,” he said.
“Do it yourself,” said Dominic impatiently.
“Fine,” Eddie. It wasn’t fine at all.
“And copy me in on the schedule. I want to join the call.”
“I want to find out when Dima’s going to order the rest of the software for all the offices in the region.”
“Dominic, please leave that to me. This call is more for product training and looking at any specific problems so far. I don’t want to distract him with pressure for more orders. We have time for that.”
“We don’t have time, Eddie.”
“Yes, we do. At least until my next visit to Moscow. That’s when we will be looking at the next orders. As a matter of fact I’ve got a meeting with Neal in Production today to look at costs.”
There was a knock on the door and Neal Skinner, Head of Production, walked into the office.
“Well, well. Here he is!” said Dominic. “Come in, Neal. We were just talking about you.”
“Nothing bad, I hope,” said Neal. His smile was insincere.
He was a very tall, thin man who always looked pale and wore dull suits. The Grey Man, they called him in the office. Neal was Eddie’s main contact in Production for all things related to the Moscow project.
He was a cold character who took himself very seriously and had little sense of humor. Like Dominic, he had a superior manner and was stubborn. When engaged in conversation he looked at the other person critically, judging them negatively. Neal always tried to give the impression that he knew everyone and that he was in charge, but it was clear he was not really comfortable in his role and didn’t really know what he was doing. He hid behind business jargon, name-dropping and things he had learned from going on too many training courses. But bosses liked him. Employees and customers did not. They thought he was a waste of time. Eddie knew he was a waste of time.
“Neal, thanks for joining us.”
“No problem,” Neal replied. So agreeable. So good with a boss around. Neal crossed his long legs and folded his arms.
Eddie now had a feeling that this meeting had been arranged, and that Neal was part of it. It was no coincidence that he had turned up at that point.
“Did you see the match last night?” Neal asked Dominic. Still no smile.
“No, I missed it. I heard that new defender Slater scored an own goal and saved us. That was very kind, thank you.”
“We’re still five points ahead of you, though.”
“Not for long. You’ve got Chelsea on Saturday, and then you’re away to Liverpool the following week.”
“Gentlemen,” interrupted Eddie, “if it’s OK with you… could we get back to business?”
“The thing is, Eddie,” said Dominic, “we need more people on the Moscow account…”
Eddie wasn’t sure where this was going, but he was slightly encouraged by the possibility of getting more assistance. “Right. That’s good,” he said, trying to be positive. “We’re short-staffed, as you know, and we could use more help.” But he still wasn’t sure why Neal was there – he remained still and quiet, looking first at Dominic and then at Eddie.
“… so Neal has agreed to take charge and give you guys a hand.” Dominic looked back at his computer screen, then tapped something on his keyboard. Eddie looked at Neal.
“Take charge of what, exactly?” he asked, looking back at Dominic.
“Take charge of the account. In Moscow.” Dominic gave a little laugh.
Eddie went cold. He could feel the sharp blade of realization enter his back. “Are you moving to Moscow, Neal?” he asked, confused but hopeful.
“No, mate. I’m staying in London.” Neal smiled his superior smile.
Eddie did not like the sound of this. He didn’t like being laughed at either.
Eddie turned his attention to Dominic. “Dominic, I don’t quite follow. What’s going on?”
“I’ve decided to make some changes in the team. Neal has a lot of experience in this field, so you will report to him. He is now Head of Product and Business Development. It’s a new position.”
Neal kept his eyes on Dominic the whole time. He looked very pleased with himself, as if he was waiting to be given a trophy of some sort.
‘It makes sense, Eddie. Really,” said Neal.
“I’m not interested in your opinion,” snapped Eddie. He was trying to stay calm but inside he was ready to explode. He tried to keep his voice steady. He leaned forward on Dominic’s desk and looked him in the eye.
“So what’s my position?” he asked.
An encounter in Barbados
The Parvina docked quietly at Bridgetown, Barbados, at 7.20 a.m. Eddie and Lynn were already awake and they lay in bed listening to the radio. At 7.30 there was a knock on the door.
“Good morning. Breakfast,” said the voice outside.
Eddie got out of bed, almost believing he would step into cold water once more, and opened the door. A young, smiling man brought in a large tray full of cereals, orange juice, pastries and a cafeteria of coffee. Eddie led him through the cabin to the balcony door, which he opened. The humid air struck him immediately.
“Phew, it’s warm. Leave the tray inside,” he said to the man. “Thanks.” Eddie gave him a few dollars and the man left.
Eddie looked out across the harbour view to where blue sea met white sand, to the houses dotted about the town, and to the green palm trees inland. Market stalls were already being set up near the ship, where locals could sell souvenirs and fruit to the passengers. Eddie heard the distinctive metallic sound of a steel band and saw five boys playing down below. He could see at least three other ships in the harbour. Given his nightmare, he really appreciated the fact that this was the reality.
“Good morning, Mrs Millionaire. Another day in paradise,” he said.
“What’s for breakfast?” asked Lynn, yawning.
“Get up and have a look.”
“You seem very awake and lively,” she said.
“Yes, well, after last night’s trip to hell and back, this comes as a relief.”
“You were in a terrible state. Do you remember?”
“Yes. I’m trying not to think about it,” said Eddie. And he really was trying not to think about it – about the dream, about Dominic Stephens, about the real nightmare of sixteen years ago. But he knew it wouldn’t be easy.
“Damn him,” he said under his breath.
Lynn and Eddie had decided to do different things that day. Eddie had chosen to go on a catamaran and snorkeling trip in the morning, while Lynn had booked tennis lessons. They took a taxi to the Tropical Beach Hotel and Spa, where they were welcomed with fruit punch and given a short talk about the area by one of the hotel guides.
The catamaran was scheduled to depart from the hotel’s private beach at 10.30 a.m., and Eddie put on his life jacket and joined several other passengers and hotel guests for the two-hour trip. He was given a mask, snorkel and fins, and he waved to Lynn as he walked down to where the boat was tied up. He was carrying his deck shoes and had a towel in his hand as he made his way, barefoot, across the fine, smooth sand.
As he waited his turn to get on board, he looked down at his feet in the warm, green water and thought again about the nightmare and about Dominic. He wondered where Dominic was today. Was he on a trip? Was he even still on board?
In the taxi on the way to the hotel, Eddie had worried that Dominic would be on the same excursion. But how likely was it that he would meet him? He started feeling angry again that Dominic was on the ship. And that he still existed at all.
In spite of this, Eddie was able to relax during the boat trip. After an hour of sailing around the bay and past some spectacular beaches and coves, the catamaran dropped anchor and the small group went snorkeling near an old shipwreck. They watched and fed some stingrays, and Eddie enjoyed the calming effect of being below the surface and in a very different world underwater. He was a good swimmer and very fit. He had swum for his school and his university, and he had won medals for long-distance swimming. Even now, at home, he tried to get to the local pool at least twice a week.
When he got back to the beach hotel, he was feeling tired but refreshed. He’d caught the sun too, and his forehead and nose were burnt. He found Lynn sitting on a sun lounger by a small pool with fountains. She was reading and sipping another fruit punch.
“Hello, you. I thought I’d find you here,” he said.
“Oh, hi. How was it?”
“You’ve caught the sun.”
“I know. I forgot to take some decent sun block. I borrowed some off the guys on the boat, but I think it was too late.”
“Here,” she said, reaching for some cream in her bag. “Use some of this.” She passed him a tube of cream and Eddie squeezed some into his hand and rubbed it on his face.
“How was the tennis?” he asked.
“It was cancelled. The guy never turned up, and it was too late to get another trainer.”
“Really? That’s not good. We’ve already paid for it.”
“I know,” said Lynn, “but they’re giving us lunch for free instead, so I don’t mind really. I’m booked for tennis again in St Lucia in a few days, so that’s OK.”
He mocked her: “Listen to you! I ‘m booked for tennis again in St Lucia in a few days, she says, sipping her cocktail.” Then he said, “This is the life, eh?”
“It certainly is. Oh, look, here’s Jen.”
“Who’s Jen?” asked Eddie, looking around. He thought she looked familiar.
“She was booked for the tennis as well, so we came here for a drink instead and we started chatting. You’ll never guess who she is.”
“I know her, don’t I?” asked Eddie.
“Yes and no. The same thing happened to me when I first saw her.”
“She’s from the ship. She must be,” he said. Jen was almost at the pool where they were sitting.
“Yes. Not only that. She’s the singer in the band!”
“Oh yes!” said Eddie, turning to meet her. She had on wide sunglasses and a baseball cap. She wore a colourful sarong with palm tree patterns, and her T-shirt was orange with a black saxophone logo. She was carrying a drink in one hand and a cigarette in the other.
“Hi, Lynn. Is this your man then?” asked Jen.
“Yes, this is Eddie. Eddie, this is Jen.”
“Nice to meet you, Jen,” Eddie said, shaking her hand.
“Likewise,” she said. “How was the boat trip?”
“Great, thanks. They took us around some fabulous beaches. Then we stopped and swam off the reef near an old shipwreck.”
“Cool!” said Jen.
“Some stingrays came by and we were given some food for them.”
“Oh, I’d love to do that, but I’d be terrified,” said Jen.
“They’re not that dangerous actually, although they can give you a nasty bite.”
“Ugh!” said Lynn.
“Or sting with their tail,” added Jen.
“Yeah, well, that’s true. It’s rare, though,” said Eddie. “That usually happens if you stand on one when they’re buried in the sand in shallow water.”
“Aren’t you afraid of sharks?” asked Jen, lifting up her sunglasses.
“I try not to stand on sharks,” said Eddie, smiling.
“You know what I mean.”
“There weren’t any in the area we were in,” said Eddie, sitting down on a sun lounger next to his wife.
“How do you know?” asked Lynn.
“Well, you don’t. You have to hope that there aren’t any.”
“You must be mad,” said Jen.
“It’s worth it. The fish you can see near the reef are so beautiful.”
“Well, Jen and I have been doing as little as possible, haven’t we, Jen?”
“Absolutely,” said Jen, sitting back on her lounger and sipping her drink.
“So, no tennis, then?” asked Eddie.
“No,” said Jen. “But we get a free lunch,” she added.
“So I heard,” said Eddie. “What are you doing later?”
“Well, my partner will be here soon and we’re booked to go on the Island Safari.”
“Oh, I saw that in the brochure,” said Lynn. “Is that the trip where you get a private jeep and go around the island and see the Wildlife Reserve?”
“Yes, that’s it. I love all the animal trips. I can’t wait. Dominic isn’t keen at all, but he says he doesn’t mind as long as he gets his golf, Typical! It’s like he’s married to the stupid game. I find it so dull. He loves it, though. Do you play golf, Eddie?”
“So, what’s your position?” asked Clive later that evening at Eddie house. Eddie had come straight home after the meeting and no one had been able to reach him. Clive had been worried, and so he ha called in to see Eddie after work.
“That’s what I said,” replied Eddie.
“And what did he say?” asked Clive.
Lynn, clearly angry and upset, interrupted at this point to add, “Oh Clive, listen to this…”
Eddie was trying to stay calm. He was in shock. “He couldn’t give me a straight answer. He went on and on about budget control, an Neal’s experience in Austria when he was with Gallagher’s.”
“Neal doesn’t do anything. And Austria is very different from Russia. Doesn’t he realize that? This project is completely different.”
“I know, Clive, I said all that. There was nothing I could say. When I got a chance to speak, he either didn’t listen or simply interrupted. Or Neal joined in with a useless reason to justify himself. It was pathetic to watch.”
“No one at Gallagher’s has a good word to say about Neal, or the work he did in Austria. In fact, the rumor is that he was sacked because he messed it up. That’s how he got into Fenton’s in the first place. He needed a job and Dominic is an old mate of his from university. It makes me sick.”
“I know.” That was all Eddie could say. He was so tired. He rubbed his eyes.
“So there’s no position for you?” asked Clive, but he could see the answer coming.
“Right,” said Eddie.
“They’re making you redundant, then?”
Clive was confused, and Eddie could not bring himself to say any more. So Lynn continued for him. “They fired him,” she said.
There was a brief silence.
“Can you believe it? It’s disgusting,” said Lynn.
Clive turned to Eddie. “I don’t believe it,” he said.
“Neither do I,” said Eddie, staring into space.
“Fired for what?”
“He’s using the issue about the 25,000 pounds in last year’s budget, but he also said I was a negative influence on the project and not hands-on enough’.”
“You have got to be joking!” Neither Eddie nor Lynn said anything. It was no joke.
“You’re very hands-on. The other day he said you were too hands-on, didn’t he?”
“Exactly,” said Eddie.
“And in what way are you negative? You are more enthusiastic and positive than the two of them put together,” said Clive.
Eddie didn’t say anything.
“He just wants a yes-man,” continued Clive. “Neal is the true corporate yes-man. He plays the game and does what he’s told. But he’s useless otherwise, and too frightened to say anything and rock the boat.”
“Who would want to be like that?”
“These guys think they’re above everyone else. It’s as simple as that. They have no idea what other people really think of them. They either scare you so you won’t tell them, or they just talk over you in case they look weak.”
“Meanwhile, Neal gets a job and Eddie doesn’t,” said Lynn.
“It’s funny, but I really don’t care anymore,” said Eddie. “They deserve each other. I don’t want to be a part of their grey world with their grey suits and grey ideas. They have no imagination. Only a selfish need to justify themselves.”
“They can’t do this, surely?” Lynn asked Clive.
“They can and they have.”
“But it’s unfair dismissal. You can take them to a tribunal.”
“I’m not sure I can cope with that,” said Eddie.
“But you have to,” said Lynn. “You’ve got to fight it.”
“All I do with him is fight. Now he has Neal to do his fighting. And he says he has the full support of Ann and Gary, so they’re no help.”
“You should have played more golf, Ed,” said Clive sarcastically.
Eddie thought about that for a moment and then said, “Now that I have no job, maybe I’ll have the time.”
The next morning Eddie went into the office early again to clear his desk. There were only a few people there. He saw Adam from IT, who came over to him. He noticed Eddie was busy emptying drawers and throwing files and old documents away.
“Hi, Ed, how’s it going? Doing a spring clean? Good man. Long live the paperless office!”
“Not exactly, Adam. I’m leaving, as a matter of fact.”
“No way!” he said. “I had no idea.”
“Me neither,” said Eddie, reaching for a folder and glancing quickly at its contents. He got halfway through and then threw the folder into the bin.
“I was fired yesterday,” said Eddie. The words sounded unreal when they came out.
“Oh, it doesn’t matter.”
“You’re one of the best people here, Ed. I mean it.”
“Thanks, Adam, but they don’t want the best here. They just want…” Eddie stopped for a moment and looked across the office, deep in thought. “You know what, Adam, I have absolutely no idea what they want.” He turned and looked at Adam. “And do you know what the worst thing is?”
“They don’t know either. My guess is they just want to be in charge. Nothing else matters. They just want to move people around and feel important,” said Eddie, slamming a cupboard door shut and pushing his chair away from the desk. “They don’t think about the people, their work, their customers. They don’t care about loyalty. They don’t care about building a business. They talk, have meetings and play golf, but they don’t know the business and they know they need us to make it work.”
“You know your problem,” came a voice from behind them. “You were never a corporate man, Eddie.”
It was Neal. Eddie was completely taken by surprise. He was both embarrassed and furious to see him standing there.
Adam started walking away. “Look, Ed, I’ll catch you later,” he said. “Let’s have a drink before you go, OK?”
“Sure,” said Eddie, who decided to ignore Neal and finish clearing his desk.
“You need the skin of a crocodile in this business, I’m telling you.” Eddie tried to ignore him and carried on throwing away files, paper, software manuals. Everything.
“Besides,” continued Neal, “Dominic needs someone like me. Someone more… academic. He needs someone who can talk to him.” Eddie stopped and looked at him. Was there no end to Neal’s patronizing arrogance?
“Neal, you’re deceiving yourself. Dominic wants a yes-man. Pure and simple. Now he’s got one. Congratulations.”
“No, really? Amazing. How did you guess?”
“Look, I don’t have a problem with you. It’s nothing personal.”
“That’s so generous of you, Neal. I feel so much better,” said Eddie, moving up close to him. He could smell Neal’s stale cigarette breath. “Well, I have a big problem with you, and, believe it or not, I am taking this very personally. I guess I’m human, not a crocodile. What would you rather be?”
“I know how you feel,” said Neal.
“You have no idea how I feel, and don’t talk to me about how to talk to people like Dominic. He needs someone more academic, indeed. What does that mean? And corporate. What is corporate?”
“You have to play the game, Eddie.”
“Maybe. But I’m not interested if the end result is turning into a grey yes-man like you. Ask yourself the question: are you true to yourself? I wonder.”
“Nice, Eddie. Very professional,” said Neal, finally showing his irritation.
“And you know all about professional, do you? Open your eyes. Really open your eyes. Listen to what people say about you. You’re deceiving yourself and I actually feel sorry for you. And if you want a second opinion, go and ask people here or your old friends at Gallagher’s.”
Neal was walking away now, so Eddie shouted after him: “Did they give you a good reference, by the way? It wasn’t redundancy, was it?” Eddie carried on putting things in his bag before sitting down to write an email to all his customers and colleagues to inform them of his departure.
As Dominic Stephens came out of the hotel towards them, Eddie froze. He looked at Lynn and her face said the same. Before they could make an excuse to leave, Dominic was already on the cafe terrace. His hair was grey and combed back, and he was wearing white trousers, grey golf shoes and a green polo shirt which was too tight for his large stomach.
It was definitely Dominic. The same hard face but now with a dark tan, though his chin and cheeks were fuller than the last time Eddie had seen him. He looked older and different.
“Hello, everyone. New friends, I see,” he said, putting out his hand. In a reflex action, Eddie noticed his hand go out to shake Dominic’s. He instantly felt he had betrayed himself. Dominic’s handshake had not changed: his palm at an angle, the fingers locked tight, difficult to grip. Do Not Enter, it said.
Again, automatically, Eddie lifted his sunglasses to be polite, but Dominic kept his on. Eddie waited for the moment when Dominic would recognise him. But he did not. This cannot be true, he thought. Is this really Dominic? After all this time, am I shaking hands with him and he does not know me? He looked at Lynn, who was shaking his hand, too. Eddie could see that she was not comfortable either.
“Nice to meet you,” she said, putting on her best smile.
“How was the tennis?” Dominic asked, leaning on the back of Jen’s chair.
“Cancelled,” she said. “Then I met Lynn and we’ve been working hard on cocktails since we got here.”
“Ah, it’s a hard life,” he said.
Yes, thought Eddie. It can be very hard. And some people make it harder. His head was quickly filling up with flashes of memory. Angry words and images.
“So, what are you guys going to do?” asked Dominic.
“Er, we’ve got to get back to the ship,” said Eddie.
“I thought you were staying for the free lunch,” said Jen.
“Ah, there’s no such thing as a free lunch, eh, Eddie?”
Eddie wasn’t sure if Dominic had recognised him. Maybe. Maybe not. Or maybe he was unsure and was playing for time? He never showed much emotion, and behind the dark glasses he looked almost robotic.
“I don’t really know,” said Eddie. He was still trying to recover from the shock of Dominic standing there in front of him after so long.
“Sure. I’ve been in business twenty-five years and I can tell you no lunch is free.”
“Right,” said Eddie. “Right, well, nice to meet you both.”
“Come on,” said Jen, “stay for lunch.”
“No, really, I’ve had too much sun, I think,” said Eddie.
“Well, we can sit in the shade,” said Jen.
“No, I mean I don’t feel too well,” Eddie said.
“Hmm…” said Dominic, finally lifting up his glasses and having a good look at Eddie’s face, “… your nose is burnt, but you do look quite pale otherwise. You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
Eddie looked into Dominic’s eyes. He did not see any signs of recognition. He looked away. “Right. Yes. Anyway. Lynn?” he said.
“Yes,” she said, standing up. “I’m coming.”
“Well, maybe we could meet for a drink after I finish tonight?” asked Jen.
“She’s a great singer, isn’t she?” said Dominic.
“Yes,” said Eddie.
“Wonderful,” said Lynn.
‘I’m off at about eleven, so I’ll come over to the bar and we can meet you both then.”
“We’ll see how Ed feels,” said Lynn.
Sure. Well, tomorrow then? Or breakfast?” Dominic was laughing. “We’re stuck together on the ship for the next two weeks, so there’s no getting away, is there?”
Eddie had never imagined Dominic on holiday. He only remembered that Dominic always came back from holidays complaining about the children. “Ah, it’s good to be back in the office,” he used to say, “away, from the kids.” Eddie felt sorry for Dominic’s family whenever he heard him say that.
“What would his kids say if they heard him say that?” Eddie had once asked Clive. “Why did he have kids or a family at all if he preferred to be in an office?”
“Because these guys like to be the center of the universe, and kids and partners take that away from them. Besides, family life and kids are all about showing emotion, and they find it too scary. That’s why they hide behind desks and power. Can you imagine Dominic or Neal trying to be with their kids? They don’t know how. They probably didn’t know how to be with kids when they were kids.”
“That’s so sad,” Eddie had said.
“They are sad. They’ve missed the best things in life and think money and status are enough. But they are so superior in their own minds that they don’t know it.”
“So they’re actually happy? Ignorance is happiness?”
“Maybe. I’m not so sure. How often do you see these guys relax, laugh or even smile?”
“Well, there’s your answer.”
“Eddie?” Lynn’s voice suddenly brought Eddie back to reality. “Eddie? Are you coming?”
“Yeah. Sorry,” he said. “See you guys later.”
“Bye,” said Jen and Dominic together.
Eddie and Lynn walked back through the hotel to the taxis. As they went back to the port and the ship, Lynn spoke first.
“He looks older. He’s still got that arrogant look. And he’s put on a lot of weight.” Eddie glanced out of the window.
“Are they married, do you think? What happened to his wife?”
“Don’t know,” said Eddie. “I hope she left him. For her sake.”
“I wonder what Jen is doing with a man like him, then?”
“Goodness knows. He’s old enough to be her father.”
The taxi moved along the harbour and passed the yachts in the marina. Eddie was shaking his head in disbelief.
“I don’t believe it, Lynn,” he said. “Can you believe it?”
“No. But at least he doesn’t remember you,” she said, looking at him. Eddie kept staring out of the window. “Do you think not?” he said. “Oh, come on. It’s over sixteen years, Ed. If he had remembered you, he would have said something – don’t you think?”
“Not necessarily. You never know with him. I never knew with him. He’s a snake. A fat snake now, of course. But still a snake.”
“Maybe he’s changed,” said Lynn hopefully.
“I doubt it.”
The taxi slowed down and stopped near the gangway for the Parvina. They paid the driver and got out.
“It doesn’t matter if he’s an angel now. I’ll never forgive him. The three things I hate most in the world are arrogance, bullying and betrayal. He’s guilty of all three.”
“Well, let’s hope he doesn’t remember you. We don’t have to see them anyway.”
“He’s with the singer of the ship’s band, Lynn – we’ll see him every night!” Lynn walked in silence on to the ship and into the reception deck. What could she say?
That night Eddie and Lynn had dinner in the main dining room, which was full, as it was every night. As the sun went down and the room got darker, Eddie found it harder to see if Dominic was in the room or not. Throughout dinner he had expected him to turn up, but he was not there.
As they finished dessert and drank their coffee, however, Dominic appeared and took a seat at the bar to watch Jen.
“There he is,” said Eddie.
“Oh yes. Well, maybe we could go back to the cabin, or the casino.”
“No, Lynn. We’re not letting him push us around again.”
“But he’ll soon see us and come over.”
“I doubt it. He was always antisocial.”
“Maybe he’s changed.”
“You keep saying that. People like him never change.”
Eddie sipped his coffee and said, “I think I need to know for sure if he remembers me. I’d feel a lot happier.”
“But why, Ed? What good will that do?” she asked.
“I can’t explain.”
“Eddie, please… Look, he’s leaving anyway. He’s not going to bother us.”
But Eddie had already got up from the table and was walking over to the bar and the exit to follow him.
He followed Dominic down the corridor and past the Starlight Lounge, where people were playing cards and reading. He followed him through the door, out on to the side deck and to the stern of the ship. It was dark, and Eddie thought he had lost him. But then he swelled the unmistakable cigar smoke and he saw him. The earlier breeze had been replaced by a strong wind and the sea was quite rough. He noticed Dominic in a small area, alone, sheltered from the wind, leaning on to the rail and looking out to sea.
“Hello,” said Eddie, walking up to him.
“Oh, hello there. Getting some fresh air?”
“I suppose so.”
“Me too,” said Dominic. “Feeling better?” he asked.
They both looked out to sea together for a long minute. Eddie broke the silence.
“You don’t remember me, do you?” he asked, looking at Dominic.
“Yes, I just asked if you were feeling better. We met at the hotel today. Your wife’s tennis was cancelled.”
“No, not here. Back home. At work.”
“What do you mean?” asked Dominic, looking at Eddie. “Where?”
Eddie knew Dominic had been in many companies. Creeping his way in, then getting thrown out. Dominic called them redundancies. Others knew better.
Dominic looked at him and then looked harder, using the light coming from the spotlight on the wall. “What’s your surname?” he asked.
Dominic appeared to be trying to remember.
“I was in sales. There was the big project at Zariya in Moscow.”
“Ah,” said Dominic. “Eddie Munro. Yes.” He smoked his cigar some more, buying time. “When was that?” he asked finally.
“Sixteen years ago.”
“Wow, good memory,” said Dominic.
“Not really…” said Eddie, “… you fired me and it’s not something one forgets.”
“Did I?” and Dominic actually laughed. Over the years Eddie had imagined meeting him again and confronting him. He had never imagined the man laughing.
“You did, yes. You found a way to blame me for a budget loss of 25,000 pounds.”
“It’s a long time ago. I honestly can’t remember,” said Dominic, still smoking, looking back at the sea. Eddie was staring at him. His mouth was dry. He was trembling.
“Well, I remember.”
“Good for you,” said Dominic, and now his tone was changing.
Less interested. Colder.
“Actually, I remember you were an incompetent bully. You made my life miserable.”
Dominic turned around and looked at Eddie. “Is that so?” It was too dark to see if he was angry or not. Eddie felt that the situation was getting out of control, but there was no turning back. The words were coming out on their own.
“I was very successful at Fenton’s,” said Dominic firmly, “and one reason was probably because I was able to get rid of useless rubbish like you.”
“They fired you from there eventually, I heard. Why was that?”
Dominic started walking away. “An interesting reunion, my friend, but it’s late and I’m bored with this conversation. I suggest you leave the past in the past and move on.”
Eddie grabbed his arm. He felt Dominic’s body stiffen.
“Get your hands off me,” Dominic said, putting his cigar in his mouth to free his hand.
“I moved on, Dominic. I moved on after you took away my job, my money, my peace of mind and almost my wife.”
Eddie was angry now. The words were not coming out right any more.
“I’ve seen your wife, Eddie,” Dominic said, laughing. “I can tell you that you still need to move on.”
“What does that mean?” This time Eddie pushed him against the rail of the ship and hit the cigar out of Dominic’s mouth. The light was shining on Dominic’s face, and Eddie saw a mixture of surprise and anger.
“Hey! What is your problem?!” he shouted, but they were out on deck in the wind and darkness and it was like a whisper. Dominic pushed back against the rail, but Eddie would not let him move.
“You! You are my problem!” Eddie shouted. He had no idea what he was doing any more. He was scared, and angrier than he had been for a long time.
“Move away, Eddie. This is unacceptable.”
“Unacceptable? Unacceptable? Oh, really? So, after all these years you know what is acceptable and unacceptable. What you and Neal Skinner did to me was unacceptable. The way you patronized and intimidated me was unacceptable. You cheated and lied. You were so smug, so superior.”
“I was the boss. I made tough decisions. You were a casualty. It happens in business. Sink or swim, my friend. Get over it.”
Without thinking, Eddie brought his knee hard and fast up into Dominic’s groin. Dominic shouted out in shock and blinding pain, but was able to push his hand hard into Eddie’s face. Eddie lost his balance for a moment, giving Dominic time to stand up straight. Dominic pushed Eddie in the chest, but Eddie did not feel it. He was too busy getting his hands around Dominic’s neck. He squeezed and squeezed, and Dominic tried to get himself free. But he could not. Eddie’s hands were locked around Dominic’s throat. He dug in his nails to be sure. He pressed his thumbs. Dominic was trying to speak, but he couldn’t. He choked out some words but Eddie could make no sense of them.
“Just shut up! Shut up! You stupid… arrogant man!” Eddie growled at him.
Eddie could finally see fear in Dominic’s face, which had gone pale, and his eyes stared back at him. Eddie could see he was going to pass out, so he loosened his grip. What am I doing? he thought. This is madness.
But the moment he let go, pain suddenly shot into Eddie’s ear as Dominic threw a punch to the right side of Eddie’s head, and then to his right side into his ribs. Eddie was wild and angry once more, this time pushing Dominic back on to the ship’s rail. Hard against the rail. Fast against the rail. Dominic shouting in pain once more. Eddie punching and punching.
“OK, OK, enough, enough. Stop,” pleaded Dominic, his arms up in defense.
Eddie stopped. He loosened his grip again and waited for a reaction from Dominic, but none came. Eddie stood back and watched Dominic try to stand up against the rail. Dominic was holding his stomach and breathing heavily. He coughed a couple of times. His head was down.
Eddie was out of breath himself. He hadn’t been in a fight since he was fifteen. It felt just the same even as an adult – tiring, frightening and sore. That time there was a crowd watching. This time there was no one.
“Don’t come near me or speak to me again… ever. Do you hear me?”
Dominic was still trying to get his breath. Either he could not speak or he did not want to. But he said nothing. Eddie took one last look at him and backed away until he was at a safe distance. Then he left the deck and went back inside.
That was the last time anyone ever saw Dominic Stephens.
Sinking not swimming
For a few days after his dismissal from Fenton’s, Eddie actually felt quite excited. He was relieved. A great weight had been lifted from his shoulders. But this feeling did not last long, and he soon started to feel irritable and, later on, angry.
For weeks he couldn’t get Fenton’s and Neal and Dominic out of his mind. He thought over and over again about the injustice of it all. He thought about all the arguments and frustrations. All the work he had done. All the work he could have done. Wasted. He missed his colleagues and a sense of belonging, and he missed going to Russia and working with Dima and the team.
To cheer himself up, he tried to remind himself that, apart from people like Dominic, there were things he would not miss, like emails. On the day Eddie left Fenton’s for the last time, there were over four hundred unanswered emails in his inbox. Eddie always tried to get back to people, but it had become impossible. Every time he got rid of one email, a dozen more would appear within half an hour. The world had gone mad, he thought. At first, like everyone else, Eddie had welcomed the new form of communication. It was neat, cheap, fast and flexible. But soon it dragged him down. He didn’t like to admit it, but Dominic was right about not reading emails. They were never-ending.
Back in his mind again.
Many times he had terrible thoughts about what he would like to do to Dominic, and to Neal for that matter. He thought of storming into the office and using Dominic’s own golf clubs to smash up computers and break windows, and then going into the car park and doing his worst on Dominic’s Mercedes. The shiny paintwork, the windows – all slashed, scratched and broken. It felt good but his conscience would not let him.
In the end, he followed Lynn’s advice, which was to get out of the house more and go for walks, or go swimming. Keep busy. Get some exercise. They lived two miles from their local sports center, so every morning Eddie got up with Lynn and then walked through the park to the pool at the sports center. He made this his morning routine, but he couldn’t get used to being in a swimming pool on a weekday morning at 10 a.m. He normally swam after work, so it was strange for him to find the pool almost empty, except for some elderly swimmers and sometimes small school groups. As he sat in the cafe afterwards, drinking a coffee or two, he always felt better. He wanted to stay there all day and hide. Then his heart would sink at the thought of heading home to nothing.
In fairness, Eddie had started looking for jobs in the same week that he was fired. But as depression set in, he lost interest and motivation. Then, to his alarm, he lost confidence. In a way, this was worse than the depression, but these were all new feelings and he was overwhelmed. Everything he had done seemed meaningless, and he wondered how he would ever do a serious job again.
He and Lynn had enough money saved to last for about four months, but the time soon passed and there were no vacancies. His chances with the best companies in his sector were also harmed by the news of his dismissal over the budget fiasco.
By the time there were a couple of opportunities, Eddie was physically unwell and his doctor had agreed he was not fit for work. It took time for sickness benefits to be paid, and with the two of them living on Lynn’s small teaching salary the financial pressures grew. Bills turned into reminders. Reminders turned into final reminders. And final reminders became phone calls from angry gas and electricity companies, TV companies and insurance companies. Then finally the bank called. Eddie was having a bad day anyway. This was the last thing he needed.
“Hello, Mr Munro, this is CNTS bank. May I ask you some security questions?” said a young male voice.
“Not really,” said Eddie. He almost hung up straight away.
“I just want to ask you some security questions and then talk to you about your account,” the voice insisted.
“Well, how do I know you’re the bank? You could be anyone,” said Eddie. He had decided to stay on the phone, but he wasn’t going to make it easy for the person at the other end.
“I can assure you this is the CNTS bank calling.”
“OK, then, well I can assure you that this is Mr Munro. What do you want?”
“I can’t do that, Mr Munro. I need to ask some security questions.”
“Well, my bank told me not to give my security questions away.”
“Ah, you don’t know I am Mr Munro yet, do you?” said Eddie. “When is your date of birth?”
“I’m not telling you that until you prove you are the bank.”
“All right, sir, ask me a question about your account.”
“OK, how much money is in my account?”
“I can’t tell you that. I have to ask you some security questions first.” Eddie hung up.
Thirty seconds later the phone rang again. Eddie considered ignoring it, but he was bored and was enjoying being in control for once. “Hello?”
“Good morning, Mr Munro. This is CNTS bank…”
“Hi, how are you?”
The voice didn’t know what to say for a moment, but then sprang back into action. “I’m fine, thank you, sir.”
Eddie had to admit that the young man was professional. If he was annoyed, he was hiding it well. Eddie felt a little guilty – the man was only doing his job. Then he thought of Dominic and Neal and what bosses like them would do to such youthful enthusiasm. He realized that the voice was still speaking, but Eddie wasn’t paying attention. “Sorry? I wasn’t listening,” he said.
“That’s OK, sir. I was just saying that we need to talk to you about your account, and I can get my supervisor if you wish.”
Eddie decided to give some ground. This was getting boring.
“Go on, I believe you. You’re CNTS bank. What do you want?”
“Thank you, Mr Munro. I just need to ask you some security questions. Is that OK?”
“Thank you. Can you confirm your telephone banking password?”
“Thank you. And can you give me the second and last numbers in your security code?”
“Eight and three.”
“Thank you, Mr Munro.”
“That completes the security with you.”
“I’m so pleased.”
“I was calling because your account had insufficient funds to pay some direct debits this month, and your credit card with us is now stopped until you make further payments.”
“Great. Thank you for telling me. Goodbye.”
“No, Mr Munro. You are currently overdrawn by 3,478.11 pounds, and the balance on your credit card is 4,490.30 pounds I have to ask if and when you will be making payments into your account.”
“I have no idea. I’ve lost my job and I can’t work. I’m thinking of doing the lottery on Saturday, so give me a call on Monday and I’ll tell you if I can pay you or not. If it helps, I’ll enter my bank account number and see if it wins.”
“Mr Munro, my supervisor is here. He would like to have a word with you. Would that be OK?”
“Not really.” Eddie hung up.
This time the phone did not ring again, which surprised Eddie in a way. He walked slowly into the kitchen, made a coffee, picked up the newspaper and sat in an armchair to flick through the pages to see what was on TV.
After the fight
Eddie went back inside the ship and made his way to the toilets, where he locked himself inside a cubicle. He was shaking and sweating. He sat down and put out his hands in front of him, watching the shaking in fascination and fear. He could feel the pain in his chest now, and his ear was sore. He wiped his face with the palm of his hand; there was blood coming from his nose. He used some toilet paper to stop the bleeding. He felt exhausted.
Eddie stayed where he was for about ten minutes. The toilets were empty and no one else came in during that time. He almost expected Dominic to come in, and he imagined the fight starting all over again. A struggle by the sinks, mirrors breaking, doors slamming.
He decided to make his way back to the dining room. He came out of the cubicle and looked in the mirror to straighten his clothes and his hair. The bleeding had stopped. He washed his face.
The dance floor was full and the dining area was being cleared. Lynn was at the table talking to some other guests when Eddie found her.
“Hello, stranger,” she said. “You took your time. Where’s Dominic?”
Eddie wasn’t ready for a conversation about this right now. “I couldn’t find him.”
“So where’ve you been all this time?”
“I went to get some fresh air, then I went over to the Starlight Lounge and checked some emails on the internet.”
“Eddie, you’re on holiday!” she said, putting her arm around him.
“I know. Sorry.”
“Come on, what do you want to drink?”
“I’ll have a large scotch. No ice.”
“Well, why not? We’re on holiday.” Eddie tried to smile. His ear and nose were stinging. His chest ached. Maybe he had a broken rib?
“OK. Wait here. I’ll get them,” she said, and Eddie turned to watch the dancing and the band. He was calmer now. The shock felt less. He glanced over at the band and saw Jen looking at him, and she gave a small wave. He waved back, but suddenly wondered if she was in fact waving to Dominic somehow. He looked behind him, but Dominic wasn’t there.
When Lynn came back, they had their drinks and danced for a while. Eddie was tense the whole time, waiting for Dominic to launch a sudden attack on the table. Or maybe he had gone back to his cabin to rest and would wait until tomorrow or the next day to continue the fight.
“I wonder where Dominic is?” said Lynn.
“No idea,” said Eddie. “Come on. I’m tired. Let’s go to bed.”
Even as they reached the cabin, Eddie was looking around for Dominic, but he knew now that he must have gone to his own cabin. He felt relieved as they walked in, and he sat down on the couch.
Lynn was looking in the mirror, taking off her necklace and earrings. In the mirror she watched Eddie sitting down. “You OK?” she asked.
“What happened to your face?”
Eddie laughed briefly. He suddenly saw the absurdity of it all. “I had a fight with Dominic,” he said, looking at the bruises on his hands.
“You mean you had an argument?”
“No, I mean I had a fight. A proper fight. You know, where people hit each other a few times.” He was trying to laugh again. But the tears in his eyes and on his cheeks were not happy ones. Lynn stopped what she was doing and came to sit beside Eddie.
“What happened?” she asked.
“To be honest, I can’t really remember. It all happened so fast. We were outside on deck one minute, and the next I was trying to strangle him.” Eddie made a strangling gesture with his hands, and again he saw that they were shaking.
“I know. I can’t really believe it myself. At one point I think he was going to pass out. I almost pushed him over the side.”
He was shaking his head.
“Was anyone watching all this? You must have looked like madmen.”
“No. It was just us. By the lifeboats.”
“Where is he now?” asked Lynn.
“I don’t know. I thought he followed me back inside, but he must have gone back to his cabin.”
Lynn got Eddie a glass of water.
“Thanks,” he said. “Sorry.”
“I can’t believe this. You’re like a pair of kids. It’s one thing to find him on board, but it’s another to start fighting like kids in a playground.”
“He started it,” said Eddie.
“Listen to yourself, Ed!”
“Look, it’s a shock that he’s on the same cruise, I admit, and I know it brings it all back. But I thought the plan was to keep a low profile now. Ignore him. Forget him.”
“How can we forget him when he’s on the same cruise ship?”
“Well, we’ll have to manage, and I suggest we wait and see what happens. If he approaches you at breakfast or something, don’t get involved. Apologise and walk away.”
“OK, well, maybe not apologise. Just ignore him. Promise?”
“Yes, I promise,” said Eddie.
Lynn and Eddie argue
Six months had passed since Eddie’s departure from Fenton’s, and no work offers were coming in. Summer was over and the evenings were getting darker. Eddie had lost weight and his relationship with Lynn was in a bad way. Either they argued over most things or they didn’t speak at all.
One Thursday afternoon Lynn came in from work and Eddie was sitting in his armchair as usual, watching a TV show from America. A couple and their neighbours were arguing over a dog. Lynn was soaking wet. The rain was heavy outside.
“These people are so stupid,” he said, not looking up. “This guy says he can’t sleep because of his neighbours dog, and the neighbour says the other guy’s been shooting at it with an air rifle!”
“It’s OK. I’m fine, thanks. Don’t get up,” Lynn said, putting down heavy shopping bags as she came through the front door.
“So this guy…” Eddie continued, “… the guy with the dog, is suing the other guy for a hundred thousand dollars in damages!”
Lynn was neither interested nor amused. She took off her coat, picked up the bags and went into the kitchen. On the way, she threw the post on to the sofa.
“But the other guy – the guy with the gun – he’s suing the dog owner because he says the dog barks all night and messes up his garden.”
Eddie knew he had already upset Lynn, but he stayed where he was. She was always upset these days. He decided to shout out the rest of his commentary so that Lynn could hear him in the kitchen.
“And now their wives are complaining that the men are obsessed with arguing with each other. They’ve been fighting over the dog for three years, and now they both want a divorce.”
Eddie heard Lynn say something from the kitchen.
“What?” he shouted.
“No, go on,” he shouted. “What did you say?”
“Nothing. Go back to your show. It sounds fascinating,” she said. Eddie got up and went to see her. “What’s wrong?”
Lynn ignored him and started putting shopping away in cupboards and in the fridge.
“What’s wrong?” he asked again.
This time she stopped and looked at Eddie. “Erm, well, let me see. I get up in the morning and go to work while you sit and watch telly. I come in from work, and you’re still sitting and watching telly. I do the shopping, I get no help. I do the cooking, I get no help. I try to talk to you, and I get nothing. You used to have breakfast with me in the mornings, and now you don’t get up at all! We never go out. Our friends don’t call us. The house is a mess, and you’re here all day making it messier. You don’t clean up, you don’t tidy. You look a mess…”
“Thanks very much.”
“… and I don’t hear anything positive from you about anything. Anything! I’m sick of it.”
There was a pause after she stopped.
“Bad day then?” he said.
“It’s not funny, Eddie. I worry so much about you, your job situation, money – and then I go into work and I have at least twenty – five kids in my class all day. I try to keep them under control and happy, but I just want to cry. I want to tell them all to shut up. I want to tell them to enjoy drawing pictures and singing songs, because after that life is pointless.”
“So, you did have a bad day.”
“Bad year, Eddie. Bad year.”
“So it’s all my fault?”
“That is not what I mean.”
At that point, Lynn picked up a full box of eggs and threw it at Eddie. He ducked just in time, and the whole thing exploded on the kitchen wall.
“I guess we can have omelets for dinner,” said Eddie, but he knew things had gone too far.
“You can have omelets for dinner. I’m going out.”
“I’m going to Angela’s.”
“Angela’s? That’s two hours away. When will you be back?”
“Maybe Sunday. I don’t know.”
“No, Eddie. I’ve had enough. We’re broke – worse than broke – we are in so much debt. You’ve got no job and you can’t get a job, or you don’t want one. I don’t know.”
“Lynn, listen to me.”
“You sit in the house all day, feeling sorry for yourself…”
She was crying now.
“… and it isn’t getting better,” she sobbed. “It’s getting worse and I hate it. I’m sorry you lost your job, and I’m sorry it made you ill. I’m sorry I’m not strong enough now, but I can’t help you anymore. I tried. I’ve lost you. You’re here, but you’re not here. I want a break. We want a break.”
“No, Lynn. Please, we have to talk…”
“I’ll call you when I get to Angela’s.”
She was walking out of the kitchen and into the hall. She opened the door under the stairs and took out an overnight bag. Eddie could see she had already packed it.
“I don’t believe this. You’re leaving me?”
“No. I’ll be back on Sunday. Maybe. I don’t know.”
“This is ridiculous. You can’t go. Lynn, we’ve been together for ten years.”
She was putting on her coat.
“What about your job?”
“I don’t care about the job. You don’t care about work. Now I don’t care about work.”
She was walking down the hall towards the front door. Eddie grabbed her arm.
“Get your hands off me.”
“Get your hands off me!”
He let go.
“Lynn, I’m sorry.”
But she had walked out of the door and got into her car, and was driving down the road.
Eddie stood in the doorway and watched the car disappear. The rain had stopped, but the clouds were ready for another storm. He went back inside and the house felt very strange. Panic was in his mind, heart and stomach. The kitchen door was open, and he saw broken eggs dripping off the clock and down the wall.
He sat down on the sofa. The neighbours were still arguing about the dog, which was now in the studio, and a dog psychologist was trying to talk to it. This time last year he was in Moscow working on the project of his career with good money in the bank, and he and Lynn had even discussed starting a family. Now, he had lost his job, his money, his health, his confidence, and even his wife. Instead of taking the company to the next level and building a future, he was sitting in his lounge watching a dog in therapy.
He looked around for the remote control to change channels, and saw the post. There were some letters for Lynn, the new programme for the theatre, more bills, and a letter from Steve Scott, his solicitor. He knew what the letter said before he opened it. It was the result of many difficult meetings with his solicitor and financial adviser. The letter now confirmed that he was bankrupt.
The end of a life with money.
For a few more minutes Eddie watched two American adults fighting and a dog being hypnotized. Then he put the letter back in its envelope and went into the kitchen to clean the eggs off his kitchen wall.
The next morning Eddie and Lynn walked into the dining room and saw Jen having breakfast with some members of the band. Two men in uniform were also sitting at the table. They were asking questions and taking notes. Eddie assumed it was a discussion about the coming evening’s performance. He was relieved to see that Dominic was nowhere to be seen. He still didn’t feel ready for the inevitable second confrontation.
“She looks upset,” said Lynn as they sat eating their breakfast at a table nearby.
“Maybe Dominic went back last night and started another fight.”
“Where is he then?”
“Maybe she strangled him?”
“Sorry. He’s having a lie-in, I suppose. Who knows? Who cares?”
At this point Jen looked across and saw Eddie and Lynn. She pointed at them and got up to come over. The two men in uniform accompanied her.
“Hello, Jen,” said Lynn. “Is something wrong?”
“It’s Dominic. He’s missing. He never came back last night. Have you seen him?”
Eddie went cold. Lynn looked at him.
“Not this morning, no,” said Eddie. Lynn shook her head to say the same thing.
“Did you see him last night at all?” said one of the men.
“Yes, I did,” said Eddie. “I went out for some fresh air, and Dominic was outside. We chatted for a bit and then I came in. Dominic stayed outside. I didn’t see him after that.”
Eddie could honestly say that this was the truth. He decided not to mention the part about trying to kill each other.
“When was this?” asked the other man.
“Oh, about midnight, I think. Or just after.”
“What did you talk about?”
“Not much really. The cruise, the weather, the food – that kind of thing.” Eddie decided he needed to tell them more. Just in case people became suspicious. Get his story out first. “I remembered him from a long time ago, though,” he said.
“What do you mean?” asked the second man, looking up from his notes.
“Mr Stephens used to work at the same company as me years ago – at Fenton’s – a software manufacturer in the UK. He was the divisional boss for a while. I was in sales. When Lynn and I first saw him yesterday, we weren’t sure if it was him or not. I wasn’t feeling well anyway, so we thought we’d meet him later and find out then.”
“And was it him? You knew him from work?”
“And did you talk to him about it when you saw him later?”
“He didn’t really remember me, and it was almost twenty years ago. I don’t blame him. Anyway, we’re both here to get away from work, so I guess that’s why we didn’t really talk about it. I wasn’t outside with him for that long.”
“Did he seem upset or stressed in any way?”
Eddie suddenly recalled Dominic’s face again. He had looked very upset and considerably stressed when Eddie had his hands around his neck. “Not particularly.”
“What about you, ma’am?” asked the first man.
“I only met him on the cruise for the first time yesterday. Jen introduced us when we all met by chance at the hotel around lunchtime yesterday.”
“And how did he seem to you?”
“Normal, I suppose. Eddie wasn’t feeling well, so we came back. I didn’t see him after that.”
The Parvina returned to Barbados, where the cruise was delayed and an official search began. Eddie saw helicopters come and go, and he saw police coming and going at the harbour. There was even a TV crew.
The atmosphere on board had not changed very much. The ship was so big and there were so many people, with so many things going on, that Dominic’s disappearance seemed only a minor problem. It was almost like an additional activity for the passengers to talk about. Who was the man? When did he disappear? Why? What happened? Was he injured on the ship somewhere? Did he fall overboard?
Eddie and Lynn walked into town to get away from things. They walked for hours around the streets and marinas. Here and there they stopped and looked at their map, and read their guidebook about the history of Bridgetown. They tried not to talk about Dominic, or even to think about it. But Eddie could see that Lynn was worried, and Lynn could see the same in Eddie. Sooner or later they had to talk again. So they had lunch in a cafe overlooking a small bay, and Lynn was the first to speak.
“What do you think has happened, Ed?”
“I’ve no idea. I left him standing by the rail. He was OK. After the fight, he was obviously tired and so was I. To be honest, I think we were both a bit shocked and embarrassed – and bruised. But he was all right when I left him. Actually, I thought he would come after me. I was in the toilet for about ten minutes. Then I came back in to find you.”
“Do you think he fell overboard?” she asked.
“Not from where we were. There was another deck below, and the rail was too high. To go overboard he’d need to jump.”
“So, do you think he jumped?”
“The man thinks he’s better than anyone else. Why would he do that?”
“Who knows? Sixteen years is a long time. People change.”
“Yeah, well, people like him don’t change. Unfortunately.”
When they returned to the ship, the police asked him to go to the office in Bridgetown to give an official statement. Jen had made her statement and given all the information she could. When she mentioned meeting Lynn and Eddie, it did not take them long to follow it up.
“And you met at the hotel, is that right?” asked a tall policeman sitting at his PC.
“Were you friends?”
“No, but I worked with him many years ago. We never stayed in touch. We were only colleagues, and I never knew much about him or his life. I couldn’t believe it when I saw him again after so long. He didn’t even recognise me.”
“So did you meet later, back on the boat?”
“Not together, no. As I said, his girlfriend met my wife by chance. We met briefly at lunch, and we agreed to meet later for a drink.” Eddie didn’t mean to say that, but then he realized Jen had probably said that in her statement.
Eddie waited for another question. The policeman looked up at him. “How did he seem when you met him at the hotel? Happy? Sad?”
“It was hard to tell,” said Eddie. That was true. “He had his sunglasses on the whole time. We only chatted for a few minutes.”
“And did you meet for a drink?”
“No, we didn’t. We were supposed to meet at the bar after Jen, his girlfriend, finished her session with the band. I met him briefly on deck though.”
“I see,” said the policeman, tapping information on his keyboard. “What did you talk about?”
“Not much really. I was only with him for about five minutes, but I came inside because I was cold.” Then Eddie thought he should add something else. “I was hoping to find out what he’d been up to since the old days, but I never saw him after that.”
“I’m not sure, to be honest. I was with my wife for the evening, but we went back to our cabin earlier than we had planned. We were tired. I was feeling unwell. I was unwell at the hotel. Too much sun, I think.”
“Ah yes, Mr Stephens’ girlfriend mentioned that. What time did you go to your cabin?”
“I have no idea.” Eddie didn’t like to end his statement with uncertainty, so he added: “On the ship you lose track of time. We both went to sleep. The first thing we heard about Dominic’s disappearance was this morning when Jen came to tell us at breakfast.”
The policeman nodded and carried on typing.
“So what do you think has happened?” Eddie asked the policeman. “We’re not allowed to say, Mr Munro. A thorough search of the ship and the area is being carried out. If we hear anything, there will be an announcement.”
“Is that all then?” asked Eddie.
“Yes, thank you, that’s all for now. We have your details if we have any more questions.”
“OK,” said Eddie. He got up and walked out of the office into the bright Caribbean sunshine.
Swimming not sinking
In the end, Lynn stayed with Angela for five months. She told Eddie that she needed some time to feel normal again. They didn’t argue anymore and it was only a separation, but it frightened Eddie. When Lynn left and stayed away for five months instead of three nights, he really thought he’d lost her forever. He was as low, lost and lonely as anyone can feel, but he knew this was a turning point. Losing Lynn was a thousand times worse than losing his job, and he needed to make changes. As Clive said to him during that time: “When you hit rock bottom, the only way is up.”
It was a mess, however. Eddie’s mental health was not good, and it got much worse when Lynn left. He couldn’t find work, and his depression made it impossible to do so. Lynn also lost her job when she didn’t come back immediately. They had to sell the house and furniture to cover all their debts, and they were no longer in a position to borrow money to start again.
Steve Scott, their solicitor, was an enormous help to both of them, handling their finances and their legal problems. He did everything except start a divorce action for them, and they had Clive to thank for that. Clive realized that the separation could not last long, and he kept in touch with both of them to make sure that it didn’t result in total breakdown.
By Christmas that year Eddie was staying at Clive’s and Lynn was I still at Angela’s. On New Year’s Day Eddie called Lynn to give her his best wishes.
“Happy New Year,” he said.
“Same to you. All the best,” she said.
“I hope it’s better than the last one,” he said.
“That won’t be difficult. It couldn’t be worse,” she said.
“It’s strange,” said Eddie. “We have never been apart on New Year’s Eve.”
“No,” said Lynn.
“What did you do?”
“Well, you know me. I don’t like it much. Angela and I stayed in on our own and watched DVDs. Then some neighbours came around just before midnight. We got to bed around two o’clock.”
“Well, you know…” she said.
Eddie knew. “Yes,” he said.
“You?” asked Lynn.
“What did you do?”
“Oh, Clive and I went to the pub and stayed there until about one. It was OK.”
“How is Clive?”
“He’s here. Do you want to speak to him?”
“No, it’s all right. I’ll text him.”
“Lynn?” said Eddie eventually.
“I’m still here.”
“I miss you.”
“Come back. Please.”
“Because… you haven’t got a house, and neither have I!”
They both laughed a little.
“OK. If I get a house, will you come back?”
“Only if you get a big one.”
“With a garden.”
“A big garden.”
“And a swimming pool.”
“OK, the swimming pool will take time. I’ll work on that.”
“Fine. A large bathroom and modern kitchen will be OK instead.”
“With or without egg on the walls?”
He heard her laugh on the other end.
“How are you feeling?” she asked. “Generally.”
“Not bad. Clive makes me go swimming and read his car magazines.”
“Good for you.”
“Hmm,” muttered Eddie.
Eddie wanted to tell Lynn again that he missed her.
“Don’t give up, Ed,” she said.
“I know,” he said.
Lynn was Eddie’s motivation to rebuild his life, and Clive was his support. But Eddie realized that only he could turn things around. He was encouraged that over the time he was out of work, he had actually started missing his work and his friends in the business. Over the next few years, Eddie put together a business plan and borrowed money from friends and family.
He began as an export agent in London for various UK software companies. He still had a strong and loyal commercial network throughout Europe, and many of his old customers and contacts were glad to have him back. Some had already become disillusioned with the larger companies like Fenton’s, and Eddie’s introduction of new products and a faster and more personal service brought good results. His enthusiasm and energy returned, and every day he enjoyed the thought that he was his own boss; no one could undermine his plans or take away the credit.
He set up a small office not far from Notting Hill and started off with a part-time office assistant. At the end of the first year he had taken on three full-time people. By the following year he had moved to larger offices and had a team of ten. It was the beginning of a sixteen-year journey which turned Eddie from a bankrupt, broken individual into a confident and very wealthy man.
Over time Eddie poached some of the team from Fentons, including Clive, who soon joined him as a partner. Clive then head hunted some of the best people from Fenton’s production and development team. With investment from some overseas partners, they then created a series of online titles for companies to provide general training, systems and platforms to run their businesses.
This was a turning point. Clive and Eddie’s team developed a unique way of linking online training with mobile phone technology, and their best-seller was a twelve-module course called People Skills for Successful Business. They licensed it worldwide and won an innovation award. At the awards night at the Savoy Hotel in London, Clive suggested they send a copy of the whole series to Dominic and Neal, but Eddie said it was a waste. “They wouldn’t understand,” he said. “Some people think they know everything anyway. Let them suffer.” And they toasted their success.
Business went from strength to strength, and Eddie travelled extensively to build strategic partnerships using the training catalogue of integrated online-mobile training (OMT). His contacts and friends in business were loyal and supportive. Within five years they had offices in Hong Kong, San Francisco, New York, Sydney, Bucharest, Munich and Paris.
On the day when he and Clive sold the business for 20 million pounds, Eddie came home to Lynn, who was sitting in the garden reading.
“It’s done,” he said, smiling.
“Really. We signed the agreement this afternoon. It’s over.”
“Twenty million?” she asked.
“Oh, Eddie!” She jumped up and put her arms around him. “I am so pleased for you. For us. You deserve it.”
“Thanks. Let’s open the champagne.”
“It’s in the fridge. I’ll go and get it,” she said.
When she came back, Eddie handed her a large envelope.
“What’s this?” she asked excitedly.
Lynn tore open the envelope and pulled out a large, colourful holiday brochure. “What’s this?” she asked.
“It’s a holiday brochure.”
“I know it’s a holiday brochure,” she said, smiling. “Where are we going?”
“We’re going on a cruise.”
Two more days passed with no sign of Dominic. Then three days, then four, then five. Soon a whole week had passed. Eventually the authorities decided to call off the search, and let the ship continue on its voyage. The shipping line did not want to cause any further inconvenience for the passengers. The longer they stayed there, the more bad publicity they faced from the press. From their point of view the sooner things got back to normal, the better. Cruise life continued and the Parvina took Eddie and Lynn, and its mystery, to St Lucia, Antigua, Martinique and Grenada.
Back in Barbados, before flying home, Eddie and Lynn went shopping and stopped at a cafe. The TV was on by the bar, but the sound was off. Eddie stared at the news and saw some familiar pictures of the ship, the helicopter searches, and the same photograph of Dominic that was used in all the reports of his disappearance. They had seen all these pictures before, but this time the report seemed to continue with interviews with people back in the UK.
Eddie could see a businessman talking to a TV journalist. Then another. Then there were pictures of some buildings. They were offices where Dominic had worked, but Eddie didn’t recognise them. There were pictures of Dominic’s house, and an interview with an elderly couple. The caption read that they were Dominic’s neighbours. There was no time to get up and see if he could turn on the sound before the news moved on to another topic.
“Lynn, they’ve just shown the report on Dominic again. But they’re showing more stuff from home and about where he worked – and interviews with his neighbours!”
“Well, everyone loves a good mystery, I suppose,” she said.
“No, I think the story’s changed. Something’s going on.”
“Well, maybe you should get a newspaper or look on the internet.”
“Good idea,” said Eddie, looking around. There were no papers, but there were two computer screens in the corner. Eddie bought a username and password from the waiter and went online. He keyed in the address for The Times’ website, and there he saw a headline below the UK political news that took him completely by surprise. Under a familiar photograph of Dominic, it read:
Missing businessman stole thousands. Police suspect suicide.
Eddie couldn’t believe it. He clicked on the headline and a new page revealed itself on the screen. Underneath the headline there was a picture of a younger Dominic, and a new article appeared. Eddie could not read it fast enough:
The search for missing London businessman Dominic Stephens has finally been called off. Authorities now believe that Mr Stephens took his own life whilst on a cruise in the Caribbean, leaving behind large debts and a trail of fraud and corruption.
Mr Stephens went missing over a week ago on the American cruise ship Parvina some time after midnight on 20 June in the south Caribbean sea. After days of searching, it is now believed that Mr Stephens may have jumped overboard somewhere between Barbados and St Lucia in an act of suicide. The exact time of his disappearance is not known. Search and rescue teams have been covering an area of thousands of square miles with no sign of Mr Stephens.
The disappearance follows reports that Mr Stephens had recently been fired from Flash Electronics Inc. by partners in the firm. It had been discovered that Mr Stephens had embezzled at least 145,000 pounds from the company during the seven years he had worked there as CEO. Further interviews with police are also being held at other companies, who have also reported acts of fraud, corruption and intimidation in connection with Mr Stephens.
The sixty-one-year-old businessman was due to appear in court on 15 June, charged with theft, but failed to make an appearance. He was reported missing by his wife, Margaret Stephens, but it is believed Mr Stephens left the country on 16 June to join the cruise ship Parvina. Friends and colleagues spoke of their shock and disappointment…
Eddie looked up from the screen and turned around to Lynn who was sipping an iced tea.
“Lynn, you’re not going to believe this,” he said.
On the last night of the cruise Eddie and Lynn had a quiet dinner together in the Starlight Lounge, danced for a while, and then went for a walk on deck before bed.
Although the day’s intense humidity had gone, the evening was still warm. The sky was clear, and bright stars mixed once more with island lights on the far horizon. Eddie leaned on the rail and looked out.
“I’m going to miss all this,” he said.
“I know. Me too. But we can do it again, can’t we?”
“But maybe next time we can do it without your ex-boss turning up and creating an international incident.”
Eddie smiled. “Well, if he does turn up next time, he’ll have a lot of explaining to do.”
“Unbelievable. It’s like a story from a film or a book.”
“Yes. Truth is often stranger than fiction.”
A pause. Both of them looked out to sea.
“Do you really think he’s out there?” asked Lynn.
“He must be. He’s not on the ship, that’s for sure.”
“It’s a scary thought. He must have been so desperate, to jump off a ship at sea. If he did jump. Can you imagine?” said Lynn.
“Maybe he fell.”
“Maybe you pushed him,” she said, smiling and nudging Eddie in the side with her elbow. It still hurt where Dominic had punched him. The man was still a pain in his side.
“Maybe someone else pushed him?” suggested Eddie. “Back home there was probably a long queue of people waiting to do something like that to him, and to all the superior-minded, arrogant Dominic’s of the world.”
“Sad,” she said.
“Very,” said Eddie. “Some are pushed and some jump anyway. That’s the way it is. That’s the way it’s always been. The trick is what you do next.”
Eddie took a deep, relaxed breath, let out a long sigh and looked out to sea to the Caribbean horizon once more and for the last time.
And then he smiled.
It was very clear to him now.
He could easily make out the difference between the stars and the lights of the island, and he wondered why he had never noticed it before.