Danny didn't sit. He strolled around the room admiring the paintings and fine furniture, even if they were covered in a layer of dust. He peered through the back window to see a large but unkempt garden.

The anonymous voice had called from Geneva that morning to say that houses in the square were currently changing hands at around three million pounds. Mr. Davenport had purchased number 25 in 1995, when eight million viewers were tuning in to The Prescription every Saturday evening to find out which nurse Dr. Beresford would be sleeping with that week. "He has a mortgage of one million pounds with Norwich Union," said the voice, "and for the last three months he's fallen behind with his payments."

Danny turned away from the window when Davenport walked back into the room. He was wearing an open-neck shirt, jeans and sneakers. Danny had seen better-dressed men in prison.

"Can I fix you a drink?" asked Davenport.

"It's a little early for me," said Danny.

"It's never too early," said Davenport as he poured himself a large whiskey. He took a gulp and smiled. "I'll get straight to the point, because I know you're a busy chap. It's just that I'm a little strapped for cash at the moment-only temporary, you understand-just until someone signs me up for another series. In fact, my agent was on the phone this morning with one or two ideas."

"You need a loan?" said Danny.

"Yes, that's the long and the short of it."

"And what can you put up as collateral?"

"Well, my paintings for a start," said Davenport. "I paid over a million for them."

"I'll give you three hundred thousand for the entire collection," said Danny.

"But I paid over..." spluttered Davenport, pouring himself another whiskey.

"That's assuming you can provide evidence that the total you paid does amount to over a million." Davenport stared at him, as he tried to recall where they had last met. "I'll instruct my lawyer to draw up a contract, and you'll receive the money the day you sign it."

Davenport took another gulp of whiskey. "I'll think about it," he said.

"You do that," said Danny. "And if you repay the full amount within twelve months, I'll return the paintings at no extra charge."

"So what's the catch?" asked Davenport.

"No catch, but if you fail to pay the money back within twelve months, the paintings will be mine."

"I can't lose," said Davenport, a broad grin spread across his face.

"Let's hope not," said Danny, who stood up to join him as Davenport began walking toward the door.

"I'll send a contract round along with a check for three hundred thousand pounds," said Danny as he followed him into the hall.

"That's good of you," said Davenport.

"Let's hope your agent comes up with something that suits your particular talents," said Danny as Davenport opened the front door.

"You don't have to concern yourself about that," said Davenport. "My bet is that you'll have your money back within a few weeks."

"That's good to hear," said Danny. "Oh, and should you ever decide to sell this house... "

"My home?" said Davenport. "No, never. Out of the question, don't even think about it."

He closed the front door as if he'd been dealing with a tradesman.


DANNY READ THE report in The Times as Molly poured him a black coffee.

An exchange which had taken place on the floor of the House between the Minister of Sport and Billy Cormack, the Member for Stratford South, was tucked in at the end of the paper's Parliamentary report.

Cormack (Lab., Stratford South): "Can the minister confirm that she has shortlisted two sites for the proposed Olympic velodrome?"

Minister: "Yes I can, and I'm sure my honorable friend will be delighted to learn that the site in his constituency is one of the two still under consideration."

Cormack: "I thank the minister for her reply. Is she aware that the president of the British Cycling Federation has written to me pointing out that his committee voted unanimously in favor of the site in my constituency?"

Minister: "Yes I am, partly because my honorable friend kindly sent me a copy of that letter (laughter). Let me assure him that I shall take the views of the British Cycling Federation very seriously before I make my final decision."

Andrew Crawford (Con., Stratford West): "Does the minister realize that this news will not be welcomed in my constituency, where the other shortlisted site is located, as we have plans to build a new leisure center on that land, and never wanted the velodrome in the first place?"

Minister: "I will take the honorable member's views into consideration before I make my final decision."

Molly placed two boiled eggs in front of Danny just as his mobile phone rang. He wasn't surprised to see Payne's name flash up on the little screen, although he hadn't expected him to call quite so early. He flicked open the mobile and said, "Good morning."

"Morning, Nick. Sorry to ring at this hour, but I wondered if you'd read the Parliamentary report in the Telegraph?"

"I don't take the Telegraph," said Danny, "but I have read the ministerial exchange in The Times. What's your paper saying?"

"That the president of the British Cycling Federation has been invited to address the Olympic Sites Committee next week, four days before the minister makes her final decision. Apparently it's no more than a formality-an inside source has told the Telegraph that the minister is only waiting for the surveyor's report before she confirms her decision."

"The Times has roughly the same story," said Danny.

"But that isn't why I phoned," said Payne. "I wanted you to know that I've already had a call from the Swiss this morning and they've turned down your offer of four million."

"Hardly surprising, given the circumstances," said Danny.

"But," said Payne, "they made it clear that they would accept six mil, as long as the full amount is paid before the minister announces her final decision in ten days' time."

"That's still a no-brainer," said Danny. "But I've got some news too, and I'm afraid mine is not so good. My bank's not willing to advance me the full amount right now."

"But why not?" said Payne. "Surely they can see what an opportunity this is?"

"Yes, they can, but they still consider it's a risk. Perhaps I should have warned you that I'm a little overstretched at the moment, with one or two other projects that aren't going quite as well as I'd hoped."

"But I thought you made a killing on the Mile End Road site?"

"It didn't turn out quite as well as I anticipated," said Danny. "I ended up with a profit of just over three hundred thousand. And as I told Gary Hall some time ago, my last agent let me down rather badly, and I'm now having to pay the price for his lack of judgment."

"So how much can you put up?" asked Payne.

"A million," said Danny. "Which means that we'll be five million short, so I fear the deal is off."

A long silence followed, during which Danny sipped his coffee and removed the tops of his two eggs.