Are parents always more ambitious for their children than they are for themselves, Beth wondered as she entered the headmistress's study.
Miss Sutherland stepped forward from behind her desk and shook hands with Beth. The headmistress didn't smile as she ushered her into a chair and then reread the application form. Beth tried not to show just how nervous she was.
"Am I to understand, Miss Wilson," said the headmistress, emphasizing the word miss, "you are hoping that your daughter will be able to join our preschool group at St. Veronica's next term?"
"Yes, I am," replied Beth. "I think Christy would greatly benefit from the stimulus your school has to offer."
"There is no doubt that your daughter is advanced for her years," said Miss Sutherland, glancing at her entrance papers. "However, as I'm sure you will appreciate, before she can be offered a place at St. Veronica's, there are other concerns I will have to take into consideration."
"Naturally," said Beth, fearing the worst.
"For instance, I can find no mention of the child's father on the application form."
"No," said Beth. "He died last year."
"I'm sorry to hear that," said Miss Sutherland, not sounding at all sorry. "May I inquire, what was the cause of death?"
Beth hesitated, as she always found it difficult to utter the words. "He committed suicide."
"I see," said the headmistress. "Were you married to him at the time?"
"No," admitted Beth. "We were engaged."
"I'm sorry to have to ask this question, Miss Wilson, but what were the circumstances of your fiance's death?"
"He was in prison at the time," said Beth softly.
"I see," said Miss Sutherland. "May I ask what offense he was convicted of?"
"Murder," said Beth, now certain that Miss Sutherland already knew the answer to every question she was asking.
"In the eyes of the Catholic Church both suicide and murder are, as I'm sure you are aware, Miss Wilson, mortal sins." Beth said nothing. "I also feel it is my duty to point out," the headmistress continued, "that there are no illegitimate children currently registered at St. Veronica's. However, I will give your daughter's application my most serious consideration, and will let you know my decision in the next few days."
At that moment, Beth felt that Slobodan Miloševich had a better chance of winning the Nobel Peace Prize than Christy did of entering St. Veronica's.
The headmistress rose from behind her desk, walked across the room and opened the study door.
"Goodbye, Miss Wilson."
Once the door had been closed behind her, Beth burst into tears. Why should the sins of the father...
DANNY WONDER ED HOW he would react to meeting Gerald Payne. He couldn't afford to show any emotion, and certainly if he were to lose his temper all the hours that he'd spent planning Payne's downfall would have been wasted.
Big Al drew up outside Baker, Tremlett and Smythe a few minutes early, but when Danny pushed through the swing doors and walked into the foyer, he found Gary Hall standing by the reception desk waiting to greet him.
"He's quite an exceptional man," Hall enthused as they walked across to a bank of lifts. "The youngest partner in the history of the company," he added as he pressed a button that would whisk them up to the top floor. "And quite recently he's landed a safe parliamentary seat, so I don't suppose he'll be with us for much longer."
Danny smiled. His plan had only involved Payne being sacked. Having to give up a parliamentary seat as well would be an added bonus.
When they stepped out of the lift, Hall led his most important client along the partners' corridor until they reached a door with the name Gerald Payne printed in gold. Hall knocked softly, opened it and stood aside to allow Danny to enter. Payne leaped up from behind his desk and tried to do up his jacket as he walked toward them, but it was clear that it had been some time since the middle button had reached the buttonhole. He thrust out his hand and gave Danny an exaggerated smile. Try as he might, Danny couldn't return it.
"Have we met before?" asked Payne, looking at Danny more closely.
"Yes," said Danny. "At Lawrence Davenport's closing-night party."
"Oh, yes, of course," said Payne, before inviting Danny to take a seat on the opposite side of the desk. Gary Hall remained standing.
"Let me begin, Sir Nicholas... "
"Nick," said Danny.
"Gerald," said Payne. Danny nodded.
"As I was saying, let me begin by expressing my admiration for your little coup with Tower Hamlets council over the site in Bow-a deal which, in my opinion, will see you double your outlay in under a year."
"Mr. Hall did most of the spadework," said Danny. "I'm afraid I've been distracted by something far more demanding."
Payne leaned forward. "And will you be involving our firm in your latest venture?" he inquired.
"Certainly in the final stages," said Danny, "although I've already completed most of the research. But I'll still need someone to represent me when it comes to putting in an offer for the site."
"We'll be happy to assist in any way we can," said Payne, the smile returning to his face. "Do you feel able to take us into your confidence at this stage?" he added.
Danny was pleased to find that Payne was clearly only interested in what might be in it for him. This time he returned the smile. "Everyone knows that if London is awarded the 2012 Olympics, there will be a lot of money to be made during the run-up," said Danny. "With a budget of ten billion available, there should be enough washing around for all of us."
"I would normally agree with you," said Payne, looking a little disappointed, "but don't you think that market is already rather overcrowded?"
"Yes, I do," said Danny, "if your mind is only focused on the main stadium, the swimming pool, the gymnastics hall, the athletes' village or even the equestrian center. But I've identified an opportunity that hasn't attracted press attention or any public interest."
Payne leaned forward and placed his elbows on the table as Danny sat back and relaxed for the first time. "Almost no one has noticed," Danny continued, "that the Olympic Committee has been considering six sites for the building of a velodrome. How many people can even tell you what takes place in a velodrome?"
"Cycling," said Gary Hall.
"Well done," said Danny. "And in a fortnight's time we'll learn which two sites the Olympic Committee has provisionally shortlisted. My bet is that even after the announcement is made, it won't get much more than the odd paragraph in the local paper, and then only on the sports pages." Neither Payne nor Hall interrupted him. "But I have some inside information," said Danny, "which I acquired at a cost of four pounds ninety-nine."
"Four ninety-nine?" repeated Payne, looking mystified.
"The price of Cycling Monthly," said Danny, removing a copy from his briefcase. "In this month's issue, they leave no doubt which two sites the Olympic Committee will be shortlisting, and their editor clearly has the ear of the minister." Danny passed the magazine over to Payne, open at the relevant page.