"Nick," he said as if they were old friends. "Good news. I've tracked down the bank which represents the owner of one of the sites."



"And do you have any contacts there?"



"Unfortunately not," admitted Payne, "but as they are based in Geneva, the owner may well be a foreigner who has no idea of the site's potential value."



"Or he may be an Englishman who knows only too well." Danny had already discovered that Payne's bottles were always three-quarters full.



"Either way," said Payne, "we'll find out tomorrow because the banker, a Monsieur Segat, has promised to call back in the morning and let me know if his client is willing to sell."



"And the other site?" asked Danny.



"Not much point in chasing after that if the owner of the first site is unwilling to sell."



"You're probably right;" said Danny, not bothering to point out that was what he had recommended in the first place.



"Gerald," said Lawrence Davenport, leaning down to kiss Payne on both cheeks.



Danny was surprised to see that Davenport was unshaven, and wearing a shirt that had clearly already been worn more than once that week. As the two men exchanged greetings, he felt such loathing for both of them that he found himself unable to join in the conversation.



"Do you know Nick Moncrieff?" asked Payne.



Davenport showed neither recognition nor interest.



"We met at your closing-night party," said Danny.



"Oh, right," said Davenport, showing a little more interest.



"I saw the play twice."



"How flattering," said Davenport, giving him the smile reserved for his fans.



"Will you be starring in Charlie's next production?" asked Danny.



"No," replied Davenport. "Much as I adored being in Earnest, I can't afford to devote my talents to the stage alone."



"Why's that?" asked Danny innocently.



"You have to turn down so many opportunities if you commit yourself to a long run. You never know when someone's going to ask you to star in a film, or take the lead in a new miniseries."



"That's a pity," said Danny. "I would have invested considerably more if you'd been a member of the cast."



"How nice of you to say so," said Davenport. "Perhaps you'll have another opportunity at some time in the future."



"I do hope so," said Danny, "because you're a real star." He was becoming aware that there was no such thing as over-the-top with Lawrence Davenport, as long as you were talking to Lawrence Davenport about Lawrence Davenport.



"Well," said Davenport, "if you really did want to make a shrewd investment, I have-"



"Larry!" said a voice. Davenport turned away and kissed another man, far younger than himself. The moment had gone, but Davenport had left the door wide open and Danny intended to barge in unannounced at some later date.



"Sad," said Payne as Davenport drifted off.



"Sad?" prompted Danny.



"He was the star of our generation at Cambridge," said Payne. "We all assumed he would have a glittering career, but it wasn't to be."



"I notice that you call him Larry," said Danny. "Like Laurence Olivier."



"That's about the only thing he has in common with Olivier."



Danny almost felt sorry for Davenport when he recalled Dumas's words, With friends like these... "Well, time is still on his side," he added.



"Not with his problems, it isn't," said Payne.



"His problems?" said Danny as he felt a slap on the back.



"Hi, Nick," said Charlie Duncan, another instant friend.



"Hi, Charlie," replied Danny.



"Hope you're enjoying the party," said Duncan, as he filled Danny's empty glass with champagne.



"Yes, thank you."



"Are you still thinking of investing in Bling Bling, old boy?" whispered Duncan.



"Oh, yes," said Danny. "You can put me down for ten thousand." He didn't add, despite it being an unfathomable script.



"Shrewd fellow," said Duncan, and slapped him on the back again. "I'll drop a contract in the post tomorrow."



"Is Lawrence Davenport doing a film at the moment?" Danny asked.



"What makes you ask that?"



"The unshaven look and the shabby clothes. I thought they might involve some part he's playing."



"No, no," said Duncan laughing. "He's not playing a part, he's only just got out of bed." Once again he lowered his voice. "I'd steer clear of him at the moment, old boy."



"And why's that?" asked Danny.



"He's on the scrounge. Don't lend him anything, because you'll never get it back. God knows how much he owes just to the people in this room."



"Thanks for the warning," said Danny, putting the full glass of champagne on a passing tray. "I must be off. But thanks, it's been a great party."



"So soon? But you haven't even met the stars you'll be investing in."



"Yes I have," said Danny.



***



She picked up the phone on her desk, and recognized the voice immediately.



"Good evening, Father," she said. "How may I assist you?"



"No, Miss Sutherland, it is I who wish to assist you."



"And what do you have in mind?"



"I was hoping to help you come to a decision concerning Christy Cartwright, a young member of my congregation."



"Christy Cartwright?" said the headmistress. "The name rings a bell."



"As indeed it should, Miss Sutherland. Any conscientious headmistress couldn't fail to notice that Christy is potentially scholarship material in this dreadful age of academic rankings."



"And any conscientious headmistress could also not have failed to notice that the child's parents were unmarried, a state of affairs that the governors of St. Veronica's still frown upon, as I'm sure you will recall from the days when you served on the board."



"And rightly so, Miss Sutherland," responded Father Michael. "But let me put your mind at rest by assuring you that I read the marriage banns three times at St. Mary's, and posted the date of their wedding on the church noticeboard as well as the parish magazine."



"But unfortunately the marriage never took place," the headmistress reminded him.



"Due to unforeseen circumstances," murmured Father O'Connor.



"I am sure that I don't have to remind you, Father, of Pope John Paul's encyclical Evangelium Vitae making it clear that suicide, and indeed murder, are still, in the eyes of the Church, mortal sins. This, I fear, leaves me with no choice but to wash my hands of the matter."



"You wouldn't be the first person in history to do that, Miss Sutherland."



"That was unworthy of you, Father," snapped the headmistress.



"You are right to rebuke me, Miss Sutherland, and I apologize. I fear that I am only human, and am therefore prone to making mistakes. Perhaps one of them was when an exceptionally talented young woman made an application to be headmistress of St. Veronica's, and I failed to inform the governors that she had recently had an abortion. I'm sure I don't need to remind you, Miss Sutherland, that the Holy Father also considers that to be a mortal sin."