"Any trouble in the constituency?" Craig asked as he poured him a glass of wine.
"Could be worse," said Payne. "The Liberals are spreading rumors, but fortunately they do it so often no one takes much notice. When the editor of the local rag rang, I told him I'd resigned as a partner of Baker, Tremlett and Smythe because I wanted to devote more time to my constituency work in the run-up to the general election. He even wrote a supportive leader the following day."
"I have no doubt you'll survive," said Craig. "Frankly, I'm far more worried about Larry. He not only failed to land the part in Holby City, but he's telling everyone that you texted him about the minister's statement just as he was about to take the screen test."
"But that just isn't true," said Payne. "I was in such a state of shock I didn't get in touch with anyone, not even you."
"Someone did," said Craig. "And I now realize if it wasn't you who sent us both a text, it had to be someone who knew about Larry's screen test as well as my meeting with the Lord Chancellor."
"The same person who had access to my phone at that time."
"The ubiquitous Sir Nicholas Moncrieff."
"The bastard. I'll kill him," said Payne, without thinking what he was saying.
"That's what we should have done when we had the chance," said Craig.
"What do you mean?"
"You'll find out all in good time," said Craig as the doorbell rang. "That must be Larry."
While Craig answered the door, Payne sat thinking about the text messages that Moncrieff must have sent to Larry and Spencer while he was out of action in the Commons washroom, but he was still no nearer to understanding why when the two of them joined him. Payne couldn't believe the change in Larry in such a short time. He was wearing a pair of faded jeans and a crumpled shirt. He clearly hadn't shaved since he'd heard about the announcement. He slumped down in the nearest chair.
"Why, why, why?" were his opening words.
"You'll find out soon enough," said Craig, handing him a glass of wine.
"It was obviously a well-organized campaign," said Payne once Craig had refilled his glass.
"And there's no reason to believe that he's finished with us yet," said Craig.
"But why?" repeated Davenport. "Why lend me a million pounds of his own money if he knew I was going to lose every penny of it?"
"Because he had the security of your home to cover the loan," said Payne. "He couldn't lose."
"And what do you think he did the next day?" said Davenport. "He appointed your old firm to dispose of my house. They've already put a for-sale sign in the front garden and started showing potential buyers around."
"He did what?" said Payne.
"And this morning I received a solicitor's letter telling me that if I didn't vacate the premises by the end of the month, they would have no choice but to..."
"Where will you live?" asked Craig, hoping Davenport wouldn't ask to move in with him.
"Sarah's agreed to put me up until this mess gets sorted out."
"You've not told her anything?" asked Craig anxiously.
"No, not a thing," said Davenport. "Although she obviously knows something's wrong. And she keeps asking me when I first met Moncrieff."
"You can't afford to tell her that," said Craig, "or we'll all end up in even more trouble."
"How can we possibly be in any more trouble?" asked Davenport.
"We will be if Moncrieff is allowed to continue waging his vendetta," said Craig. Payne and Davenport made no attempt to contradict him. "We know that Moncrieff has handed over his diaries to the Lord Chancellor, and no doubt he'll be called on to give evidence before the Law Lords when they consider Cartwright's pardon."
"Oh, God," said Davenport, a look of sheer desperation on his face.
"No need to panic," said Craig. "I think I've come up with a way of finishing off Moncrieff once and for all." Davenport didn't look convinced. "And what's more, there's a possibility that we can still all get our money back, which would include your house, Larry, as well as your paintings."
"But how can that be possible?" asked Davenport.
"Patience, Larry, patience, and all will be revealed."
"I understand his tactics with Larry," said Payne, "because he had nothing to lose. But why put up a million of his own money when he knew it was a bum deal?"
"That was a stroke of sheer genius," admitted Craig.
"No doubt you're going to enlighten us," said Davenport.
"Because by investing that million," said Craig, ignoring his sarcasm, "you were both convinced, as I was, that we must be onto a winner."
"But he was still bound to lose his million," said Payne, "if he knew that the first site was doomed."
"Not if he already owned the site in the first place," said Craig.
Neither of his two guests spoke for some time, as they tried to work out the significance of his words.
"Are you suggesting that we were paying him to buy his own property?" said Payne eventually.
"Worse than that," said Craig, "because I think a piece of advice you gave him, Gerald, meant that he couldn't lose either way. So he ended up not only killing us, but making a killing himself."
The doorbell rang.
"Who's that?" asked Davenport, nearly jumping out of his chair.
"Only our supper," said Craig. "Why don't you two go through to the kitchen? I'll let you know over our pizzas exactly what I have planned for Sir Nicholas Moncrieff, because the time has come for us to fight back."
"I'm not sure I want another confrontation with that man," Davenport admitted as he and Payne walked through to the kitchen.
"We may not have much choice," said Payne.
"Any idea who's joining us?" asked Davenport, when he saw that the table had been laid for four.
Payne shook his head. "Haven't a clue. But I think it's unlikely to be Moncrieff."
"You're right, although it could just be one of his old school chums," said Craig as he joined them in the kitchen. He took the pizzas out of their boxes and placed them in the microwave.
"Are you going to explain what the hell you've been hinting at all evening?" asked Payne.
"Not yet," said Craig, checking his watch. "But you'll only have to wait a few more minutes to find out."
"At least tell me what you meant when you said that Moncrieff may have made a killing because of some advice I gave him," demanded Payne.
"Wasn't it you who told him to buy the second site so that it would be impossible for him to lose out either way?"
"Yes, I did. But if you remember, he didn't have enough money to buy the first site."
"Or that's what he told you," said Craig. "According to the Evening Standard, the other site is now expected to fetch twelve million."
"But why put up a million of his own money for the first site," asked Davenport, "if he already knew he was going to make a killing on the second?"