As the last carriage pulled away from the station Marmaduke Chalfont dropped thankfully into the functional, though less than comfortable, seat and once more cursed the circumstances that led to his straitened condition. Marmaduke was not used to straitened circumstances, was uncomfortable with them and thoroughly despised being subjected to them.
He had of course experienced some difficulties in life, things that caused a pertuberance upon the otherwise calm pond of life. Being sent down from Oxford for what was in the end a high spirited prank had been a minor annoyance, losing his driver’s licence the first time was a minor annoyance, daddy’s imprisonment had been a minor annoyance in-fact more of an embarrassment, the parental divorce hadn’t even registered as an annoyance with him spending most of the year in boarding school, if anything the summer trips to visit mummy in her Long Island home, with its easy access to New York had added extra gilding to an already privileged life. But finding out that the trust fund had been steadily embezzled, and the town house in London mortgaged to the hilt these had really been a major annoyance, a very major annoyance.
Now he was hacking his way around various ‘old chums’ trying to secure a job, a source of income, a sinecure for preference. Anything as long as he had income before the few lines of credit he had finally ran out: He hated to think what the club was going to say about his bill this month. The experience was not pleasant. Normally at this time of day he was used to being in the pool, or on the tennis court. Rich, and indolent, but not idle Dukie, as he had been known since prep school, maintained his fitness with a regular morning workout, then his mind with a gentle twenty minutes on the Times and Observer crosswords, he never bothered reading the papers, just did the crosswords. Then it was time to enjoy the day. A snifter and probably lunch at the club, a little work on a project he was doing about Lord Raglan's impact on the Crimean War, possibly a meeting with the trust fund executors, or off to the cricket, or any of the myriad other things that when you are old money rich, expensively educated and extremely well connected you fill your time before the evening clubs fill with the latest naive ingénues.
These avenues of calm and natural pleasure were however cut off from him. Not that he could not access them, but sadly he could not enjoy them because at the back of his mind there lurked the knowledge that it was all about to change. He felt like a man standing watching his ship sail off without him, marooned in a barely understood land. He found himself considering the irony of being caught in this condition in the year of the Jubilee, after all the biblical custom of jubilee was meant to be a time when the Israelites released each other from bonds of penury and here he was being thrust further and further into it.
The carriage rocked and swayed onwards, already warm and muggy in the underground tunnel after dealing with the morning rush hour. His mind turned toward the interview, he didn’t really like to think of it in such terms but he had to be honest with himself. His meeting today was his oldest school mate, ‘Sticky' Wallace, at least Marmaduke had called him that after a pear drop offered on the first day of first term had proved to be a gungy and very sticky thing. He knew others had used a different soubriquet, 'Stinky', which had been occasioned by the unpleasant smell of camphor balls that permeated his passed down coat and trousers. Marmaduke had always thought this a cruel thing, though whether out of a strong personal moral code or a loyalty sprung from shared boiled sweets was even now unclear to him. They had been at school from day one until they went off to different universities and then life just took them in different directions. Until he got the surprise message to come to this meeting it had been four or five years since they last spoke, a manly hug and quick drink during the interval when they bumped into each other at the opera in Covent Garden, promises to call and keep in touch had been sincere, just not acted upon. Marmaduke wondered which part of the grapevine had taken the news of his difficulties to his old friend.
'Sticky' was ‘something big in the city’ the strange code used by people to mean a person who did mysterious things that made them money, lots of money, obscene amounts of money, money that could stick to his fingers and relieve the penury with which he now found himself burdened. The office was in one of the brash towers at Canary Wharf, the trust fund had money invested in property there, when the trust fund had existed, before it was embezzled. Marmaduke had obviously passed the area, on the way out to city airport for a quick hop to Gstaad or Paris or Cannes. Life, though, existed in real London, in his club at Elsinore Square or Soho clubland or his tailors just off of Jermyn Street, in the Long room at Lord’s. Life did not exist in this shiny outpost of modern shopkeepers.
The security guard at the glistening faux onyx desk wrote down his name on a piece of card, inserted it into a little plastic wallet and handing it to him spoke in an accent of someone who was still diligently learning the language of their adopted country “Some-one will come and collect you in a minute, take a seat” He waved towards a row of shiny low seats and turned to pick up a phone. Marmaduke stood and gazed out the plate glass window, as lost in his own private world as the dozens of people walking past, as pre-occupied with his own concerns as were the drivers of the cabs and delivery vans and buses moving in a constant stream. The late summer light streamed down the street, casting sharp lined shadows and gleaming from the acres of steel and glass, the definition was a suitable allegory for the changes he expected to happen very shortly in his life.
“Mr Chalfont?” He turned to find a man in his early twenties, the tone had been questioning, but his bearing and manner were assured, someone comfortable with who, and where he was “Mr Wallace apologises for not coming down personally, but he is looking forward to speaking with you shortly, if you follow me we’ll get you passed the guard dogs and up where the drinks are” The sentence shook Marmaduke, its precise start and familiar chummy ending were jarring, but he couldn’t help smile at the thought of a drink with 'Sticky' and replied “Thank-you my man, I am at your heel.”
They took an elevator, Marmaduke noted that a key was used to allow access to their destination of the fourty-eighth floor. Once there he was ushered into an office somewhere along the side of the building that gave a view up towards central London where the Eye, the Gherkin and the Shard were all easy to see.
“The drinks are in the centre cabinet Mr Chalfont, please help yourself – I believe there is an 1989 Balblair in their you may enjoy. Again, sorry Mr Wallace isn't here to greet you, but he is due back very shortly. If you need anything then please use the intercom and I will be with you as quickly as possible.” he turned to go but stopped almost immediately “If you would like to freshen up you will find facilities behind the door in the far corner.” he pointed, and then carried on out the room.
Marmaduke looked around for a moment and then decided to make use of the facilities. A quick freshen up and then, based on the sun being over the yard-arm somewhere, a generous measure of whisky later he ensconced himself in one of the executive leather chairs and sat watching the comings and goings several hundred feet below him. Again he turned over in his mind the situation he was in. The money his American mother had so carefully protected with complex trusts and trusted executors to prevent him squandering it, as she eloquently put it, on 'hookers and gee-gaws for hookers'. The money, that had accumulated through a generation and a half in the new world and that was going to maintain the family seat owned by ten generations in the old country, was irrevocably gone. Smart lawyers were of course involved, but Marmaduke had gone through the details as thoroughly as a layman could and by his reckoning he would be lucky to get ten pennies in the pound, less by the time legal costs came out, and of course there was no realistic time-scale as to any sort of resolution.
The steady warmth of the office combined with the whisky and the gentle glow of the morning sun through the tinted glass had a gently soporific effect and he found himself almost dozing. His reverie was disturbed by the sound of the door clicking open “Hello Dukie, it's good to see you. Let me get a drink and we'll have a chat”
Marmaduke looked at his old school friend and thought to himself “Time to start work.”