"The first thing a producer has to do is identify a play," said Duncan. "Either a new one, preferably by an established playwright, or a revival of a classic. Your next problem is to find a star."
"Like Lawrence Davenport?" said Danny, topping up Duncan 's glass.
"No, that was a one-off. Larry Davenport's not a stage actor. He can just about get away with light comedy as long as he's backed up by a strong cast."
"But he can still fill a theater?"
"We were running a little thin towards the end of the run," admitted Duncan, "once his Dr. Beresford fans had dried up. Frankly, if he doesn't get back on television fairly soon, he won't be able to fill a phone box."
"So how does the finance work?" asked Danny, having already had three of his questions answered.
"To put a play on in the West End nowadays costs four to five hundred thousand pounds. So once a producer has settled on a piece, signed up the star and booked the theater-and it's not always possible to get all three at the same time-he relies on his angels to raise the capital."
"How many angels do you have?" asked Danny.
"Every producer has his own list, which he guards like the crown jewels. I have about seventy angels who regularly invest in my productions," said Duncan as a steak was placed in front of him.
"And how much do they invest, on average?" asked Danny, pouring Duncan another glass of wine.
"On a normal production, units would start around ten thousand pounds."
"So you need fifty angels per play."
"You're sharp when it comes to figures, aren't you?" said Duncan, cutting into his steak.
Danny cursed to himself. He hadn't meant to drop his guard, and quickly moved on. "So how does an angel, a punter, make a profit?"
"If the theater is sixty percent full for the entire run, he'll break even and get his money back. Above that figure, he can make a handsome profit. Below it, he can lose his shirt."
"And how much are the stars paid?" asked Danny.
"Badly, by their usual standards, is the answer. Sometimes as little as five hundred a week. Which is the reason so many of them prefer to do television, the odd advertisement, or even voiceovers rather than get themselves involved in real work. We only paid Larry Davenport one thousand."
"A thousand a week?" said Danny. "I'm amazed he got out of bed for that."
"So were we," admitted Duncan as the wine waiter drained the bottle. Danny nodded when he held it up inquiringly.
"Fine wine, that," said Duncan. Danny smiled. "Larry's problem is that he hasn't been offered much lately, and at least Earnest kept his name on the billboards for a few weeks. Soap stars, like footballers, soon get used to earning thousands of pounds a week, not to mention the lifestyle that goes with it. But once that tap is turned off, even if they've accumulated a few assets along the way, they can quickly run out of cash. It's been a problem for so many actors, especially the ones who believe their own publicity and don't put anything aside for a rainy day, and then find themselves facing a large tax bill."
Another question answered. "So what are you planning to do next?" asked Danny, not wanting to show too much interest in Lawrence Davenport in case Duncan became suspicious. "I'm putting on a piece by a new playwright called Anton Kaszubowski. He won several awards at the Edinburgh Festival last year. It's called Bling Bling, and I have a feeling it's just what the West End is looking for. Several big names are already showing interest, and I'm expecting to make an announcement in the next few days. Once I know who's taking the lead, I'll drop you a line." He toyed with his glass. "What sort of figure would you be thinking of investing?" he asked.
"I'd begin with something small," said Danny, "say ten thousand. If that works out, I could well become a regular."
"I survive on my regulars," said Duncan and drained his glass. "I'll be in touch as soon as I've signed up a lead actor. By the way, I always throw a small drinks party for the investors when I launch a new show, which inevitably attracts a few stars. You'll be able to see Larry again. Or his sister, depending on your preference."
"Anything else, Sir Nicholas?" asked the headwaiter.
Danny would have called for a third bottle, but Charlie Duncan had already answered all his questions. "Just the bill, thank you, Mario."
After Big Al had returned him to The Boltons, Danny went straight up to his study and took the Davenport file off the shelf. He spent the next hour making notes. Once he had written down everything of relevance that Duncan had told him, he replaced the file between Craig's and Payne's and returned to his desk.
He began to read through his attempt at a prize essay, and after only a few paragraphs his suspicions that it wouldn't be good enough to impress Professor Mori, let alone the panel of judges, were confirmed. The only good thing about the time he had spent on it was that it had occupied the endless hours of waiting before he could make his next move. He had to avoid the temptation to speed things up, which might well result in him making a fatal error.
It was several weeks before Gary Hall managed to close the two property deals in Mile End Road, without either seller becoming aware what he was up to. Like a good fisherman, Danny cast his fly with a single purpose: not to catch the minnows like Hall that hang around the surface, but to tempt the bigger fish, like Gerald Payne, to leap out of the water.
He also had to wait for Charlie Duncan to find a star for his new show before he could legitimately meet up with Davenport again. He also had to wait for-The phone rang. Danny picked it up. "That problem you mentioned," said a voice. "I believe we may have come up with a solution. We should meet." The line went dead. Danny was beginning to discover why Swiss bankers continue to hold on to the accounts of the rich who value discretion.
He picked up his pen, returned to his essay and tried to think of a more arresting opening line. John Maynard Keynes would surely have known the popular song, "Ain't We Got Fun," with its damning line, "There's nothing surer, the rich get rich and the poor get children." He may well have speculated on its application to nations as well as individuals...
"Yes, we believe that Japanese knotweed is the answer," said Bresson. "Although I'm bound to say that we were both puzzled by the question."
Danny made no attempt to enlighten them, as he was just beginning to learn how to play the Swiss at their own game. "And why is it the answer?" he asked.
"If Japanese knotweed is discovered on a building site, it can hold up planning permission for at least a year. Once it's been identified, experts have to be brought in to destroy the weed, and building cannot commence until the local health and safety committee have deemed the site to have passed all the necessary tests."
"So how do you get rid of Japanese knotweed?" asked Danny.
"A specialist company moves in and sets fire to the entire site. Then you have to wait another three months to make sure that every last rhizome has been removed before you can reapply for planning permission."
"That wouldn't come cheap?"