A little learning was a dangerous thing. It was something her father had often told her. He had been a literature professor before the dementia. After the dementia had taken hold, it was the one thing he seemed able to remember. Not her face. Not even her existence. Just the importance of those seven words. In the nursing home, she had sat through, continued to sit through, lecture after lecture on its origins in Alexander Pope’s writings, its subsequent corruption – now a little knowledge was a dangerous thing and a little learning got you elected to Congress – and the all-important meaning of the phrase.
The words floated around in her head as she sat in the expensively decorated corporate office and listened to the man in front of her talking. He wasn’t her boss but he liked to think he was, even though she was the one who did all the hard work – all the work really. He was simply…a necessity.
Still, she was starting to hate these meetings. Seven months ago, it had seemed like the perfect partnership. Now it seemed like an enormous pain in the ass. A simple necessity was turning into a necessary evil, emphasis on the evil.
She wouldn’t have to endure him for much longer though. The plan she had set in motion seven months ago was about to come to fruition. It would make her very, very rich. And if she was lucky, she would never have to see him ever again. She could remove her father from the nursing home, fly him and herself to Spain, engage the services of a private nurse and live out her days in the resplendent and anonymous comfort of the villa she’d had her eye on for as long as she could remember. It had changed hands several times since she’d first seen it – the very wealthy didn’t seem to be able to stay in one place for very long – and at the next opportunity, it would be hers. In the meantime, she would just have to work on enduring her ‘partner’.
She forced a much practiced smile onto her face, the one that had worked so well in the past to placate his nerves.
‘You worry too much.’
‘Someone has to.’
He was perpetually nervous and she knew it was her presence that made him act that way. She insisted on holding their meetings at his office to give them the appearance of legitimacy. Secretive meetings in restaurants or hotel rooms would have inevitably been noticed by someone. Secret meetings didn’t stay secret for very long. It was a paradox but this was Washington DC. Nothing here happened the way it should. So by holding their meetings in a highly visible manner, nobody suspected them of anything they shouldn’t be doing.
It didn’t stop people speculating, despite the deliberate infrequency of the meetings. One a month at the most. She’d heard some of the rumors trying to explain their purpose. He was trying to headhunt her for the company. He was already employing her as a highly paid but independent consultant for the company. He was her uncle. He was her lover. He was both. They were all wrong but she shuddered at most of the notions anyway. Particularly the last one.
‘The plan is fool proof. I’m sticking to the plan. Are you sticking to the plan?’ she asked with a calm expression. He nodded his head.
‘So as long as you make sure your stepbrother sticks to the plan, then we’ll be fine. Are you sure you can control him?’ She could see he was less certain this time, but he nodded his head again anyway.
The stepbrother had been an unexpected development. The fool. Thus making it necessary for the plan to be fool proof. On the one occasion she had met him, he had tried to feel her ass and then made it perfectly plain what he thought of a woman being in charge, of a woman pulling all the strings, of a woman having the power. She’d offered to take her strings and her power elsewhere but the man sitting in front of her had pooh-poohed the idea. He didn’t care who was in charge so long as he got his cut when the time came. Or so he said. Nevertheless, he’d acted like the boss ever since then.
‘You’re sure it will start tonight?’ he asked.
‘Positive.’ The two people who were central to the plan were about to cross paths and would crash into each other very shortly after that. She’d orchestrated it very carefully. There were variables – she couldn’t plan individual reactions – but there were also contingency plans.
‘Let’s go through it one last time.’ They didn’t need to, but it reinforced that she knew what she was doing. ‘Your job is to do nothing. You don’t know anything. When they come to you – and they will come to you – you answer all their questions calmly based on everything that is already public knowledge. You offer all the help you can give. You give them all the access they want. And that’s it.’
‘I can do that.’
‘Your stepbrother’s job is to do nothing. He doesn’t know anything. They won’t come to him so he won’t need to answer any questions. He won’t need to offer any help. He won’t need to offer any access. You’ll make sure he knows that his job is to do nothing.’
‘I can do that, too.’ He paused for a moment, then asked, ‘What’s your job?’
‘Everything else.’ She had a very busy night planned, one that would swing into action shortly, but one that it was unnecessary for him to know the details of. In fact, it was better if he didn’t know. The less he knew, the less chance there was that he could do or say something, intentionally or unintentionally, that would throw a spanner in the works. ‘Do you have the package?’
He did. It was in a shimmery silver gift bag. He passed it over to her carefully. Anyone watching them through the glass walls of the office would have thought it was a gift of some kind. She peered between the grey, ropey handles to make sure it was what she had asked for and fixed a faux look of genuine delight to her features, reaching across the desk to grasp his hand. To the puppet theatre she hoped it looked like gratitude, but her grip was painfully firm and his mouth tightened.
‘And you’re sure—?’
‘I’m sure.’ He didn’t let her finish the question. She released his hand and he surreptitiously massaged it under the table.
‘Okay.’ She stood, picked up her briefcase and turned to leave but before she made it to the door, he called out, ‘Wait!’
She turned back, the signs of his cold feet obvious. ‘Last chance. If you want to pull out, say so now.’
She rested her fingers on the door handle, knowing he wouldn’t back out. Any opportunities for him to do so had come and gone months ago. They both knew that if he pulled out now, she’d have to make certain he would never tell anyone what had passed between them. There was only one way she knew to do that and he knew what it was. The only thing he didn’t know was how and she knew he didn’t want to find out.
‘If this goes south…’
‘Then you and your stepbrother are going south with me.’ She waited a moment for the threat to sink in before smiling and opening the door to underline the fact that all comments from that point on were for public consumption. Knowing it would drive the office rumor mill into overdrive, she delivered her parting words with his secretary within earshot. ‘I’m partial to Argentina myself.’