A Banquet of Consequences(2)

By: Elizabeth George


And then there was nothing to do but to wait. She watched the minutes tick by and she tried to reassure herself that they had plenty of time to get to Stansted. All William had to do, really, was walk in the door because she had their passports in her bag, she had the tickets printed already, and every plan that needed to be made when one journeyed to another country even for a weekend had been made by her.

She realised that she should have told him that morning. But he’d been displeased with how the job in Shoreditch was shaping up, and she hadn’t liked to break into his thoughts. Sometimes his clients took a bit of work on his part to bring on board, for even when William had a superb idea that he knew would work on their property, people liked to be in charge of things, even when they hired an expert, which was definitely what William Goldacre was. Expert, visionary, artist, and labourer. Give him your weed-choked garden and he worked magic.

When she finally saw his ancient Fiesta rounding the corner from Heneage Street, she had been waiting for him for four hours, and the Marrakesh plan was shot to hell. The money was wasted, they were stuck, and Lily was looking for someone to blame.

Where had he been? What had he been doing? Why hadn’t he answered his bloody phone? Had he just done that early on—it was one simple thing, William—she could have told him about her plans and advised him to meet her at the airport. They could have even now been sitting happily shoulder to shoulder on that stupid plane as it winged them towards sunshine and a weekend of simple pleasure.

Lily was winding herself up as he got out of his car. She was choosing her words. Inconsiderate and thoughtless were at the top of her list. But then she caught sight of his face as he passed under one of the street lamps. She saw the set of his shoulders, and the way he walked towards the lift in the evening darkness. She thought, Oh no, and she knew what had occurred. He’d lost the Shoreditch client. That was two clients in three months, with both projects ending in acrimony, anger, and accusation. That would be on William’s part. On the part of the clients would be a demand for the return of a rather hefty deposit, most of which would already have been spent on supplies.

Lily watched his progress from pool of light to pool of light till he disappeared from view. Then she took the carry-on through to the bedroom. She shoved it out of sight under the bed. By the time she’d got back to the sitting room, William’s key was in the door lock, the door was opening, and she was sitting on the sagging sofa with her smartphone in her hand. She was checking her email. “Pleasant trip, darling!” from her mum didn’t do much to lift her spirits.

William saw her at once—he could hardly help it as the place was so small—and he averted his eyes. Then his gaze came back to her again, and she noticed that it shifted from her face to her phone. He said, “Sorry.”

She said, “I texted and rang you, William.”

“I know.”

“Why didn’t you respond?”

“I broke the phone.”

He had a rucksack with him. As if to prove to her the truth of what he was saying, he unzipped the thing and dumped its contents. His mobile toppled to one side, and he handed it over. It was destroyed.

“Did you drive over it or something?” Lily asked him.

“I smashed it with a shovel.”

“But—”

“You kept . . . I don’t know, Lily. I couldn’t answer, but still you kept . . . It was the ringing and then the buzzing and every bloody thing was happening at once over there. My head felt like it was on the verge of exploding and the only thing I could do to make it all stop was to use a shovel on the phone.”

“What’s going on?”

William left the contents of the rucksack where he’d strewn them. He crossed the room to a sling-back chair. He flung himself into it, and she saw his face clearly. He was double blinking in that way he had when things were moving from bad to what was going to be worse.

“It’s no good,” he said.

“What?”

“Me. This. The whole bloody thing. I’m no good. It’s no good. End of story.”

“Did you lose the Shoreditch clients, then?”

“What do you think? Losing things is what I do, isn’t it? My car keys, my notebooks, my rucksack, my clients. You as well, Lily, and don’t deny it. I’m losing you. Which is—let’s face it—what you wanted to tell me, isn’t it? You rang and you texted and it was all to get me to ring you back so you could do to me pretty much what everyone does. End things. Right?”