"I wouldn't be so sure of that, Gerald," said Davenport, looking even more pleased with himself than usual.
A young woman appeared in the doorway. "We're ready when you are, Mr. Craig."
The three men strolled through to the dining room recounting their days at Cambridge, the stories becoming more exaggerated by the year.
Craig took his place at the head of the table as portions of smoked salmon were placed in front of his two guests. Once he had tasted the wine and nodded his approval, he turned to Davenport and said, "I can't wait any longer, Larry. Let's hear your news first. You've clearly had a change of fortune."
Davenport leaned back in his chair and waited until he was certain he had their undivided attention. "A couple of days ago I had a call from the BBC, asking me to drop into Broadcasting House for a chat. That usually means they want to offer you a small part in a radio play with a fee that wouldn't cover the taxi fare from Redcliffe Square to Portland Place. But this time, I was taken out to lunch by a senior producer, who told me that they were going to write a new character into Holby City , and I was their first choice. It seems that Dr. Beresford has faded in people's memory..."
"Blessed memory," said Payne, raising his glass.
"They've asked me to do a screen test next week."
"Bravo," said Craig, also raising his glass.
"My agent tells me they're not considering anyone else for the part, so he should be able to close a three-year contract with residuals and a tough renewal clause."
"Not bad, I must admit," said Payne, "but I'm confident I can still beat both of you. So what's your news, Spencer?"
Craig filled his glass and took a sip before he spoke.
"The Lord Chancellor has asked to see me next week." He took another sip as he allowed the news to sink in.
"Is he going to offer you his job?" asked Davenport.
"All in good time," said Craig. "But the only reason he asks to see someone of my humble status is when he's going to invite them to take silk and become a QC."
"And well deserved," said Davenport, as he and Payne rose from their places to salute their host.
"It hasn't been announced yet," said Craig, waving them back down, "so whatever you do, don't breathe a word."
Craig and Davenport leaned back in their chairs and turned to Payne. "Your turn, old chum," said Craig. "So what is it that's going to change our whole lives?"
There was a knock on the door.
"Come in," said Danny.
Big Al stood in the doorway, clutching a large parcel. "It's jist been delivered, boss. Where wull I put it?"
"Just leave it on the table," said Danny, continuing to read his book as if the package was of little importance. As soon as he heard the door close, he put down Adam Smith on the theory of free-market economics and walked across to the table. He looked at the package marked Hazardous, Handle with Care for some time before removing the brown paper wrapping to reveal a cardboard box. He had to peel off several layers of sellotape before he was finally able to lift the lid.
He took out a pair of black rubber boots, size 9½, and tried them on-a perfect fit. Next he removed a pair of thin latex gloves and a large torch. When he switched it on, the beam lit up the whole room. The next articles to be removed from the box were a black nylon jumpsuit and a mask to cover his nose and mouth. He had been given a choice of black or white, and had chosen black. The only thing Danny left in the box was a small plastic container covered in bubble wrap and marked Hazardous. He didn't unwrap the container because he already knew what was inside. He placed the gloves, torch, boots, jumpsuit and mask back in the box, took a reel of thick tape from the top drawer of his desk and resealed the lid. Danny smiled. A thousand pounds well invested.
"And how much will you be contributing to this little enterprise?" asked Craig.
"About a million of my own money," said Payne, "of which I've already transferred six hundred thousand in order to secure the contract."
"Won't that stretch you?" asked Craig.
"To breaking point," Payne admitted, "but I'm unlikely to come across an opportunity like this again in my lifetime, and the profit will allow me enough to live on after I become an MP and have to resign my partnership."
"Let me try to understand what you're proposing," said Davenport. "Whatever sum we put up, you'll guarantee to double it in less than a month."
"You can never guarantee anything," said Payne, "but this is a two-horse race, and ours is the clear favorite. In simple terms, I have the opportunity to pick up a piece of land for six million, which will be worth fifteen to twenty million once the minister announces which site she's selected for the velodrome."
"That's assuming she chooses your site," said Craig.
"I've shown you the entry in Hansard reporting her exchange with those two MPs."
"Yes, you have," said Craig. "But I'm still puzzled. If it's such a good deal, why doesn't this chap Moncrieff buy the site himself?"
"I don't think he ever had enough to cover the six million in the first place," said Payne. "But he's still putting up a million of his own money."
"Something just doesn't feel right to me," said Craig.
"You're such an old cynic, Spencer," said Payne. "Let me remind you what happened last time I presented the Musketeers with such a golden opportunity-Larry, Toby and I all doubled our money on that farmland in Gloucestershire in just under two years. Now I'm offering you an even safer bet, except this time you'll double your money in ten days."
"OK, I'm willing to risk two hundred thousand," said Craig. "But I'll kill you if anything goes wrong."
The blood drained from Payne's face, and Davenport was struck dumb. "Come on, chaps, it was only a joke," said Craig. "So I'm good for two hundred thousand. What about you, Larry?"
"If Gerald's willing to risk a million, so am I," said Davenport, quickly recovering. "I'm fairly confident I can raise that amount on my house without it changing my lifestyle."
"Your lifestyle is going to change in ten days' time, old chum," said Payne. "Neither of us will ever need to work again."
"All for one and one for all," said Davenport, trying to stand up.
"All for one and one for all!" cried Craig and Payne in unison. They all raised their glasses.
"How are you going to raise the rest of the money?" Craig asked. "After all, the three of us will be putting in less than half."
"Don't forget Moncrieff's million, and my chairman is stumping up half a million. I've also approached a few chums who I've made money for over the years, and even Charlie Duncan is considering investing, so I should have covered the full amount by the end of the week. And as I'm the host for the next get-together of the Musketeers," he continued, "I thought I'd book a table at Harry's Bar."
"Or McDonald's," said Craig, "should the minister select the other site."