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‘If your happiness depends on money, you will never be happy with yourself. Be

content with what you have; rejoice in the way things are. When you realise there is

nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.’ Lao Tzu




‘I spent a lot of money on booze, birds and fast cars. The rest I just squandered.’

George Best




       Whilst the Taoist philosophy of Lao Tzu is indeed very profound, to me the

legend that wore the No. 7 jersey for Manchester United was the one leaning against

an open door.

       I was a freelance TV producer, not a particularly brilliant one or indeed a

particularly bad one, just middle of the road. It wasn‘t that I was thick or even lacking

in ability; I just didn‘t care about the programmes being made. Having become

disillusioned with the most exploitative, incestuous and self-righteous industry

around, I wasn‘t the best person to provide career advice to the eager.

        ‗Dude, what‘s the best way to get a job after I leave college?‘ asked a work

experience lad one time. He was two years into his three-year media studies degree

and very keen to get into the business.

        ‗Give up that Mickey Mouse media degree and become an undertaker, Josh.

Trust me, you‘ll work less hours, always have a demand for your services and be a lot




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richer. You can even be a really terrible undertaker and still do well; the dead don‘t

complain,‘ I advised, destroying his youthful enthusiasm and sending him into a sulk.

       I fell into TV by accident. Like many students, my university years were spent

getting annihilated on cheap booze, not doing much work and trying to get laid at

every opportunity. I somehow managed to scratch a good grade in law, an astounding

feat thanks only to a website where I bought all my essays. After leaving college, I

spent a few years temping in banks, doing mind-numbing filing jobs and working

with fat girls who would go out at lunch time, drink gin with slimline tonic and eat

baked potatoes because they were watching their weight. Their efforts to slim never

worked, of course, because it wasn‘t the tonic water or even the gin making them fat.

It was all the chocolate, cakes, crisps, KFCs, burgers and curries they shoved down

their enormous gobs that saw off the skinny beings within them.

        It wasn‘t just office work. I did get out and about with various temp agencies.

Cleaning out the fat from the sewers was a particular highlight. A long broom handle

with a hook on the end was used to break up all the congealed fat that had made its

way down to the sewers from London‘s kitchen sinks. That may not sound too bad,

but the solidified fat acted like a sieve, catching every unimaginable object from

toilets across London. I threw up violently the first time, and only did one more day

before realising it just wasn‘t worth it. I spent a week assisting the chief inseminator

at a battery turkey farm, which involved handing him a clean syringe after each of the

large birds had been given its dose. I made up answers on surveys, pretended to make

cold sales calls and filled in for a ‗waste operative‘, or binman to you and me.

       The litany of crap jobs continued for a year or so until I met Louise, a plainish

blonde with an astounding body and a penchant for the gak. As well as being a

complete and utter lunatic, it turned out that her father owned a very successful

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production company making children‘s programmes that sold across the world. Her

dad got a producer to interview me for a runner‘s position. Steve, the gayest man I‘d

ever met (and still is to this day), flounced in and proceeded to tell me about the crisis

he was having because one of the presenters was about to be exposed in News of the

World. Apparently, her wholesome image didn‘t quite square with the pictures of her

snorting coke in the VIP section of a club. This was a refreshing change to any other

interview previously attended, and that‘s when I thought that my future lay in TV.

Steve actually didn‘t care about my abilities and wasn‘t really conducting an

interview. He‘d been told by Louise‘s dad to talk to me and knew that hiring me was

actually a foregone conclusion.

       So began my first TV job — the dogsbody on Hairy & Harry. Hairy and

Harry were two giant fluffy dogs who could talk to all animals and embarked on

adventures to distant lands, helping all sorts of other animals along the way. The H &

H characters were filmed in front of a plain green screen with the backgrounds, other

animals, etc., all being added later in the edit suite using some very clever graphics

packages. The fluffy friends were played by two washed up alcoholic actors who

detested the fact that their RADA training had finally led to them dressing up as

animals and scrabbling around on all fours. Their only solace came in that the

costumes‘ massive heads hid their faces, and thus their shame at resorting to what

they saw as the lowest form of the profession — children‘s animal characters. They

would bore any small crowd unfortunate enough to be caught, with terrible luvvie

stories about the good old days when they were in their prime. Although previously

friends, the spiteful envy harboured for some of their more successful RADA

compadres meant they couldn‘t stand the sight of each other. To numb the terrible




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pain they carried, heavy drinking before, during and after shooting every episode was

an absolute must.

        They managed to stay in the job for a year until a fight broke out on set, the

footage of which was played over and over in the office to packed houses. It started

with some hissy remarks about the other‘s performance and before you could say

‗down Fido‘, they had thrown away the big fluffy heads just like warring ice hockey

players ripping off their helmets and squaring up to each other. However, unlike hard

ice hockey players, these guys were pissed luvvies who couldn‘t fight their way

through paper. Forgetting to kick off the big paws, they launched at each other with

flailing arms. Hairy tripped up, fell into Harry, and both toppled backwards, taking

out the green screen and causing two high-powered lights to smash together, dropping

sparks on the dastardly duo. Unfortunately for them, the costumes were bought on the

cheap and hadn‘t passed any European fire-retardant tests, resulting in an immediate

fireball that instantly engulfed them both. One crew member reacted quickly, grabbed

an extinguisher and covered them with white foam that put out the fire as quickly as it

had started. The actors became friends again because they were united in a new goal

—   suing the production company for putting their lives at risk by making them wear

non-fire-retardant costumes. Although they had no physical injuries from the fireball,

supposedly the emotional scars were so deep that the mere sight of a dog on the street

sent them into anaphylactic shock. They lost the industrial tribunal.

        When I stopped seeing Louise a month after joining the company, it was of no

real shock to find myself not in the job anymore. This is the biggest problem with the

TV industry   —   work is based on short-term contracts, which meant long periods of

unemployment when I wasn‘t earning. I built up numerous debts, didn‘t own any



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property, spent plenty of time sleeping on my long-suffering brother‘s sofabed and

constantly sponged off my friends.

       When I did work, it was mainly in two areas       —   daytime chat shows and

hospital programmes. The chat shows were those freak shows that starred the dumb

and downright horrible. The more shocking, angry or stupid the guests were, the

better. One of the most popular themes we covered many times was DNA test results.

These programmes were about finding out the father of some poor baby, a baby who

would have been far better off being adopted as soon as he or she was born rather than

staying with any of the parties involved. Many guests had fallen out of the ugly tree,

hitting every branch on the way, and dressed in the most hideous clothes. The shell

suit was a favourite, along with various other forms of casualwear fashioned from

man-made shiny fibres. When they did actually make an attempt not to look like they

were on the rob, it was as though Stevie Wonder had dressed them. Another thing

nearly all of them had in common was a morbid fear of the dentist; it seemed as

though they‘d grown their teeth in Coca-Cola. It was fair to say that I wasn‘t really

proud of exploiting these morons for ratings, but I needed the money.

       The hospital programmes were usually described as ‗fascinating insights‘ into

the lives of patients and staff. This was, of course, nonsense because we were again

simply exploiting people to get good ratings. A big problem with these types of

programmes was that I was incredibly squeamish, a fact never divulged to the various

production companies that employed me. Part of my job involved viewing video

footage of surgery and controlling picture output when transmitting live from

operating theatres. For someone who gagged at the sight of blood, this was not the

ideal way to earn my crust. The first time I viewed orthopaedic surgery, I was haunted

for weeks by images of the surgeon using a circular saw on a thigh bone while

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wearing something akin to a welder‘s mask to stop bits of bone getting embedded in

his face. He used what looked like a hammer and chisel on a hip joint, and each bang

of the mallet from the surgeon sent judders through the patient‘s unconscious body. It

was not for the faint-hearted, and neither were operations on eyes or testicles, but I

had to watch them all at length and repeatedly.

       I did get some helpful tips on these programmes while getting drunk with the

doctors and nurses.     The most valuable nugget of advice came from Jerome

Forthesque, a consultant cardiologist and the antithesis of everything a cardiologist is

supposed to stand for. He was overweight, red faced, drank like a fish, smoked like a

chimney, didn‘t have a healthy diet and couldn‘t care less.

        ‗Connor, my dear boy, never go into hospital in the months of August and

February,‘ he said just as he was about to down a flaming Drambuie. Unfortunately,

he forgot to blow the flames out, so as a result we waited while another consultant

inspected the burns in his mouth. Once declared fit to drink again, he continued.

        ‗The reason August is a bad month is because we consultants have buggered

off on holiday. We leave the juniors to man the pumps.‘ Another cheer went up as we

all downed a shot made from the colours of an unknown country‘s flag. ‗February is

not a good month because that‘s when we have a fresh intake of newbies and all the

other juniors are rotated. So in August and February, you could be seeing a doctor for

your throat who will then whip off one of your balls, mistaking you for a cancer

patient. The moral of the story is — unless you‘ve been run over by a bus, avoid those

two months in an NHS hospital like you would a hooker with a cold sore.‘ Sage

words indeed.




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       My chosen form of transport around London was a scooter. Driving was out

because there were never any parking spaces and the congestion charge meant it was

too expensive. The thought of public transport was just too horrible to contemplate.

The Tube didn‘t work properly and was unhealthy; there were laws against

transporting animals in the sort of temperatures and overcrowding that existed on

Tube trains during the summer. The bus wasn‘t much of an option either. You had to

wait while exposed to all weather conditions and they really did only come along in

threes. They took an eternity to get anywhere and seemed to have quite an undesirable

element amongst their passengers. There was a story every night in the London

Evening Standard about someone on a bus being stabbed or having some other form

of horrible violence exacted upon them.

       So public transport was out and I was too lazy to walk or cycle. With the

scooter, I always found a parking space, never had to queue in traffic and was 15 to

20 minutes away from anywhere in London. It felt like I had the freedom of the city.

Just keeping possession of a bike, however, was always a challenge. Every little hoon

too young or too poor to buy a car always had their eyes open for someone else‘s

moped. I had three stolen over the space of a few months. The other problem was the

inherent danger. While not as dangerous as the big bikes, being knocked off one could

still cause considerable damage. I once dated an anaesthetist who would describe, in

graphic detail, the motorbike injuries she had to deal with. The guys who were going

70 to 100 mph when they came off were brought into the operating theatre in bits.

Scooter injuries weren‘t as horrific, but scary enough to make the anaesthetist swear

she would never get on or own one. I always tried to think of other things when she

started talking about it. This danger became nigh on suicidal in the wet, because the




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wheels are so small they have no grip whatsoever in the rain, as I discovered one

morning.

       I was going as fast as the bike could go (40 mph) down a long, straight road

when a post office van started to turn in front of me. I pulled on the brakes, an equal

distribution of pressure between front and back wheels as recommended by the guy

who sold me the bike. What the salesman had neglected to tell me was that when the

brakes were applied quickly in these conditions, you might as well just jump off for

all the use they were. The wheels locked up and the scooter disappeared from

underneath me. Now minus a bike, I skidded on my back, feet first towards the post

office van. I could see the underside of the van looming ever nearer in slow motion.

The bike careered across the road and hit the driver‘s door of a dustbin lorry. Just as I

skidded towards the front of the van, my feet seemed to catch on something in the

road, miraculously flipping and depositing me across the front of the van. I was face

to face with the driver, separated only by the windscreen and the open face helmet.

My nose and lips were squashed up against the glass and they made a slight

screeching sound as I slid down the windscreen and landed in the road on my back.

        ‗Jesus, you alright, mate?‘ enquired the worried driver. I was prostrate,

looking up at the sky, which was now being filled by his face. I couldn‘t quite focus

on what had just happened. Was I still alive? Was I hurt? If this was heaven, it was a

severe let down.

        ‗Try and get up,‘ the driver offered helpfully. I didn‘t respond to the

encouragement, so he moved closer ‗Here, let me give you a hand,‘ he said as he

reached out and grabbed my arm. Although still not quite comprehending what had

happened, I felt a surge of anger towards the man.



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          ‗What! You want to move me? Don‘t you know you‘re not supposed to move

a motorbike crash victim in case you cause more damage? Jesus, even my 5-year-old

nephew knows that. What the hell were you doing? You could see me coming, yet

you still turned?‘ I shouted as I got up.

          ‗All right, mate. I‘m only trying to help.‘ The driver was getting defensive.

          ‗Trying to help. Really? Well, here‘s how you can help. Invent a time

machine to take you back a few minutes. Then, when you‘re sitting at the junction

about to turn — don‘t fucking do it. Just stay there. That‘s the best way to help.

Moron!‘

          ‗There‘s no need for that. You‘re obviously OK, so I‘m off,‘ he said as he

climbed back in his van.

          ‗Oh yeah, better get back quickly or the whole postal system is going to

collapse around us. Don‘t worry about me. I‘ll just look for a mangled wreckage that

used to be my bike.‘ I could see him mouthing ‗wanker‘ as he drove away. Only after

he‘d disappeared did it dawn on me to get his details for insurance purposes. I looked

over at the dustbin lorry still sitting at the traffic lights. My bike was on its side in the

road, engine still running. I suddenly became aware of a searing pain in my right

ankle and couldn‘t put any pressure on it at all. My trousers were ripped all the way

down from the thigh and the top of my shoe was flapping about, exposing a bloody

foot through a ripped sock. I hopped over to the dustbin lorry and looked up at the

three men in the front of the cab, all wearing their fluorescent yellow tops. There

wasn‘t a flicker of emotion in their faces as they looked down at me.

          ‗Thanks for your help guys. Very kind of you.‘ The lights turned green and

the lorry moved off. ‗Don‘t suppose you got his number?‘ I shouted at the driver.


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        Apart from missing a wing mirror and all the paint off one side, the bike

wasn‘t too badly damaged, so I decided to ride it to the hospital. The nearest one was

held up as a shining example of what the NHS could truly do. The common areas had

galleried walkways, and there was a fountain in the huge atrium along with exotic

plants and modern art hanging along all the corridors. The A&E, however, was just

like any other anywhere in the country — busy and populated with a collection of the

walking wounded, all looking really sorry for themselves. I was half expecting to see

my anaesthetist ex come in just so she could point her finger and say, ‗I told you so.‘ I

was starting to shiver a bit with shock.

        About an hour later, the door in the corner of the huge waiting room opened

and a tiny Malaysian-looking female medic barked, ‗Mr. Blaine‘. My mind elsewhere,

I stood up and started for her. Forgetting why I was there in the first place, I pushed

off on my right foot and promptly collapsed into a pile of stacked plastic chairs,

knocking them all across the room. No help from anyone, not even the medic, who

just looked at me coolly. Once I‘d composed myself, I hopped over to her. On closer

inspection, she was very cute.

         ‗Follow me please,‘ she instructed, and walked down to the end cubicle, from

which she watched me hop for about 20 feet along the corridor.

         ‗Now, Mr. Blaine, what‘s the problem?‘ she asked as we were seated in the

cubicle. In hindsight, I shouldn‘t have said it, but I wasn‘t in the best of moods. She‘d

just seen me hop for England and my bleeding foot was exposed through a ripped

shoe.




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        ‗It‘s my arm, Doctor,‘ I said in a deadpan way and waited for a smile from

her pretty face. There was no reaction at all   —   just silence and an icy stare. It must

have been a bad day for her as well. ‗I‘m sorry, that was a bad joke. It‘s my ankle.‘

        My attempt at humour really came back to haunt me. I waited four hours for

the x-ray results. It seemed like hundreds of people had been admitted after me and

they had all left with their results. Each time the pretty medic walked past me, she

made a point of asking whoever was sitting nearby if they were being dealt with and

apologised for any delay. Each time I tried to talk to her, she just ignored me.

Eventually I was called into the results room and was faced with a very stern-faced

doctor whose demeanour suggested that there was something far more interesting she

should have been doing.

        ‗The cuts to your foot are quite minor and don‘t need any stitches.‘ It was as

if she was giving out to me for wasting her time with such trifling ailments. ‗You‘ve

also torn a ligament in your ankle. There‘s no treatment for this apart from

Paracetemol, and keeping it up and rested,‘ she said dismissively.

        ‗Oh, how long will it be before I can walk on it?‘ I enquired.

        ‗Depends,‘ she said, and then just stared at me blankly.

        ‗Yes … on what?‘ I was starting to detest the woman.

        ‗Well, some can take a couple of months to heal, others six or nine months.‘

        ‗Jesus, that‘s a long time.‘

        ‗It would have been better if you‘d broken it.‘ She was actually enjoying

telling me this. ‗With a break, you‘d have had it in plaster for six weeks and then it

would be healed.‘



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        ‗Can I at least get some crutches?‘

        ‗No, there are people with more serious injuries, you know. People far worse

off and they really need them. Crutches don‘t grow on trees, you know.‘

        ‗Well, technically …‘

        ‗Goodbye, Mr. Blaine.‘




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       Leaving the bike at the hospital, I took a cab to work. I was employed on

another chat show, but this one was a different kettle of fish altogether compared to

the previous shows I‘d worked on. Shaw was a prime-time programme and focussed

on big-name guests rather than Joe Chav. It also happened to be a six-month contract,

something almost unheard of in the industry. The host was Thomas Shaw, a perma-

tanned egomaniac who was enjoying success as one of the U.K.‘s major TV stars.

Shaw regularly attracted the highest ratings for the 9 p.m. slot.

       TS, as he liked to be known, had started as a local news reporter in Bradford. I

usually got angry watching local news, mainly because of the presenters. Guys who

looked like paedophiles, girls who had faces for radio, terrible suits, incredible

awkwardness and the unbelievable inability to read autocue were all hallmarks of the

local news programme. British television had never learned from the Americans with

regard to presenting. The American philosophy was that if you weren‘t attractive, you

weren‘t going anywhere near the front of a camera. TS was different though. He was

good looking, and he had a tan and perfect teeth. He possessed a style and a swagger

not really seen before on Yorkshire News Tonight. Out went the cheap suits, in came

tailoring. Bang went the reserved Brit, in came the aggressive Yank (albeit from

Bradford). He made local news cool and people watched just for his reports, the

female viewers in particular. He became so popular in Yorkshire that every time he

went out to do a story, word spread quickly amongst the locals and before long he‘d

have a mob tagging along. If he reported from an area with a heavy concentration of

housewives, he was goosed, groped and propositioned. Never shy in taking up some

of these offers, on one occasion he had sex with a married mother of two in the crew

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van once he‘d finished his report. She bombarded him with calls, e-mails and texts for

months afterwards. She wanted to leave her husband for TS and he just wanted to get

shot of her. Feeling rejected, the housewife went to the papers, spilling the beans

about how used and abused she felt. This was all news to the husband, who then went

to prison for attacking TS with a baseball bat outside his home.

       After only a year on Yorkshire News Tonight, TS was asked to move to the 6

o‘clock news. They wanted him to report on national stories from the regions in a live

broadcast every night. These live transmissions created a new phenomenon called

‗moonshaw‘, a trend taken up by hooded youth in trakkies. Pretending to be interested

in the report, they stood behind TS with the rest of the gathered unwashed. It started

with a little waving at the camera in that ‗look, Mum, I‘m on TV‘ way. At a given

command and with exquisite timing, they all turned around and performed a group

moonie.

       Despite various distraction techniques employed by the producers, the

moonshaws always found him. Determining who could do the best one became a

badge of honour for various towns and it definitely beat hanging around on garage

forecourts. It was the sort of thing the tabloids loved, particularly as it was the height

of summer, normally a very quite news period. The more publicity it got, the more

people wanted to do it. Having become a complete nightmare for the bosses, they

considered pre-recording all reports. TS was furious when he heard this plan. He

wasn‘t going to be dictated to by a bunch of hoodies who could hardly say their own

names. He made assurances that he‘d sort it out.

       The showdown came when he was doing a report about the death of the high

street from Warrington. It was a muggy and hot summer‘s evening and the usual

crowd had gathered behind TS. It had become easy for him and the crew to spot the

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moonshaws. Apart from the shaven heads, no tops, pushbikes and the occasional

chavette in tow, they always had the same MO. TS recognised the leader on this

particular evening as a regular, almost a pro. During transmission, the cameraman

held one hand up and signalled to TS when the moonshaws were about to act. As

planned, TS dropped his mike, turned and ran full pelt at the leader. He timed it

perfectly and reached the youth just as he had pulled down his shorts. With all the

force he could muster, TS launched his Italian handmade shoe at the naked bottom in

front of him. It connected with such force that blood was drawn in a line along one

buttock, causing the teenager to scream out in agony. The boy‘s father took great

exception to what Shaw had done and let loose with a ferocious right hook. The

cameraman, producer and runner now waded in to help their presenter.

       What followed was, according to the police report, a small disturbance. The

TV mob didn‘t come out of the encounter too well. The cameraman had a broken jaw

and Shaw got stitches for a wound to the cheek caused by the father‘s sovereign rings.

Because technicians in London had cut the live feed before the kick could be seen by

millions of viewers, the channel thought they‘d got away with it. Unfortunately, there

was plenty of mobile footage that found its way onto YouTube and every news

programme and paper.

       Despite being fired over the incident, TS stoutly refused to apologise for his

actions. In fact, he used them as an example of how to stand up to the antisocial

behaviour that had acted ‗like cancer‘ on the country. He got a great deal more

publicity and as a result of all the ballyhoo, he was offered his own show by a

terrestrial channel — Shaw.

       There was a great tradition every Thursday on Shaw    —   the crew piss up. The

Duck was their choice of venue, not mine. Its walls and ceilings were coated in a

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yellow hue created by years of cigarette smoke. The owners refused to clean them as a

salute to the days when you could smoke in pubs. The carpets had a stickiness that

suggested they hadn‘t seen a hoover for years. The clientele were all the local

weirdoes who‘d spent the morning in the betting shop and were now ensconced on

stools at the bar. Even dogs would turn their noses up at the food and no self-

respecting wino would go anywhere near the wine. It was purely a pint pub.

       I really enjoyed drinking with the crew. Many of them were wide as the

Mersey Tunnel and some were really rough, but they were all extremely good

company. Cameramen always had an unusual talent, one normally developed so as to

sleep with more women. At this particular gathering there was a local magic circle

master and a guy who could turn his eyelids inside out just by closing his mouth and

blowing. They also had a reputation for having sex with female presenters, something

to do with the relationship forged via the camera. The sound guys were obsessive

types; they had to be when dealing with a fraction of a decibel or frequency changes

that the ear couldn‘t normally hear. For some reason, I never met a sound girl. The

riggers were the guys responsible for doing the physical graft like laying cables and

moving sets. They were the hardest and rudest of the crew. They weren‘t fans of

political correctness, had numerous tattoos and could drink for England. They were

always handy whenever we were sent to do programmes from rough areas.

       I was talking to Nathalie, a floor manager whose job was to look after her

assigned presenter during transmission and convey directions from the gallery to the

floor. Because she was young, quite shy and possessed an English understated

prettiness, the riggers adopted her as their surrogate daughter. They always looked

after her, provided fatherly advice about sex and, much to her disappointment, scared

off guys who tried to chat her up. Having made my accident sound like the worst

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smash ever known to man, we were talking about the Euro Lottery. The jackpot had

risen to a record £110 million and with such a huge prize on offer, the U.K. had

experienced a ticket-buying frenzy.

            ‗£110 million would be too much. How can that much money possibly make

you happy? You only need a few million and even then you couldn‘t spend that

much,‘ Nathalie stated.

            ‗I can tell you it would make me immensely happy, and I could spend that in

one day and still need other things,‘ I offered.

            ‗How could you manage to blow all that money?‘ Nathalie asked

incredulously.

            ‗Easy. A house in London twenty mil, an estate in the country thirty mil, cars

three mil, and five mil shared with the family.‘ I was on a roll. ‗Then there‘s the

chateau in France and the New York apartment. Now I need more money for a jet and

a yacht.‘

            ‗That‘s scary. You‘ve really though about it.‘

            ‗And I can‘t stand people who say their lives won‘t change at all, like that

couple the other day who won ten million. They‘re going to build an extension for the

pigeons and he‘s still going to go to work as a sewer technician. Now I don‘t know

what a sewer technician is, but it‘s a pretty good bet that it‘s got something to do with

shit. Can you believe it? They don‘t deserve the money at all. It should be taken off

them and given to someone who is going to use it to change their life forever.‘

            ‗It‘s what makes them happy. It‘s their money and they are allowed to spend

as little or as much of it as they want,‘ she said.



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        ‗What‘s the point of entering a lottery with a ten million jackpot if you don‘t

want to spend the winnings? Those sorts of people shouldn‘t be allowed to enter.‘ I

was interrupted by a huge roar from the assembled company. One of the camera boys

had just flashed his Prince Albert to the barmaid. She‘d never seen a penis piercing

before and was impressed enough to sit down on his lap and enquire about the pain he

had been through.

       A tradition less enjoyable was the monthly presenter lunch. This was supposed

to be an opportunity for the producers, the production company management and TS

to get together and bond over lunch in some fancy media haunt. However, it always

turned into just an exercise in massaging TS‘s ego.

       TV presenters were a strange bunch and could generally be categorised into

three groups. There were a few who were genuinely nice, actually wanted to know

about you and didn‘t mind if they weren‘t the centre of attention the whole time. As

far as standing in front of a camera and being beamed into people‘s lives would allow,

they never put on an act once the cameras were turned off. I had met a few of these

types of presenters and all were genuinely good friends. Then there were the ones

who were a pleasure to work with, but it was very clear that they were the on-screen

talent and our paths would never cross outside the studio. I didn‘t mind that at all; in

fact it was something I totally empathised with.

       The third and unfortunately most prevalent group were totally self-obsessed

and egotistical, had massive mood swings and didn‘t really give a stuff about anyone

else. Nearly all of these types were actually extremely insecure. They always needed

assurance on their performances, career direction and life choices. They surrounded

themselves with fawning people who couldn‘t be counted as real friends. Sometimes

these presenters overcompensated for their pathological insecurities by trying to be

                                                                                     18
mates with the crew and production staff. I had lost count of all the times I‘d been to

the pub with the talent, who then just went on about themselves and the other stars

they knew, or told stories that revolved around their favourite subject   —   themselves.

TS was one of these types.




                                                                                      19
                                                3




        It was about four in the afternoon on a particularly schvitzing summer

Saturday. My friends and I had just finished a long, boozy lunch and were on our way

for a lap of honour in a new bar at the Sloaney end of the Fulham Road. I loved being

out and about at this time of year. Everyone seemed so much happier. They had tans,

looked healthy and just appeared to be enjoying life more. London had finally

awakened to the fact that people wanted to eat and drink al fresco when it was hot.

Councils were giving restaurants and bars permission to extend onto the pavements,

and an endless number of them took full advantage. It was so hot, my eyeballs were

sweating and the vinyl seats in the cab ensured my shirt was well and truly stuck to

my back. Despite the numerous discomforts, I really liked the heat. You‘d never have

heard me say it was too hot. If this was global warming, I was all for it.

        These lunches were an annual event and a chance to catch up with my oldest

and closest friends. Because I was still on Shaw, the longest time I‘d ever had

continuous TV work, money was coming in and one of my credit cards had actually

been accepted, an event that called for a celebratory drink. My best friend, John, and I

were always the ones who would want to go on drinking afterwards. We were

renowned for it and actually very proud of our ability to drink far more than almost

anyone else.

         ‗I‘ve really got to get back,‘ Dave said as we were waiting for the bill.

         ‗What?‘ was the unanimous response.

         ‗Oh, Marianna wants me to pick up some things for her, a bit of dry cleaning

and stuff.‘

                                                                                     20
         ‗Christ, she‘s really got your balls in a vise,‘ John chipped in. He knew the

issue of being a downtrodden husband was David‘s Achilles‘ heel. He‘d married a

total bitch from hell. Marianna was an Italian firecracker with a vicious temper

unrivalled by the most foul-mouthed of TV chefs. Although there was no proof,

everyone thought he‘d actually been physically attacked by her in the past. ‗Surely

you‘re not that much under the thumb, are you?‘ John continued.

         ‗Come on,‘ I pleaded. ‗Just one more. You must have time for just one more

drink?‘ There was a pregnant pause and we could almost see his brain working out an

excuse for Marianna. She would throw a total fit, slam the phone down on him, ring

him back and call him a ‗stupeed Engleesh‘ and then slam it down again. On returning

home, he‘d have to sleep in the spare bedroom. In the morning, she‘d wake up

especially early just to drive home her point. He decided it was worth the torture

because he was having a really good time and was pleased to see everyone again.

       The venue for further lubrication was Jack’s. It had only been open for a

month, but had already earned a fine reputation as the watering hole of choice in this

particular corner of Chelsea. It was the perfect outdoor drinks venue. Outside were

twelve large tables with immense white linen umbrellas. If you wanted the sun or

shade, all the tables had both. The waiters and waitresses were all aspiring actors who

were efficient, eager to please and not too shabby on the eye either.

       I was talking to Sophie and she was getting very touchy-feely, something she

always did after a drink. Although 30 years old, she could easily pass for someone a

great deal younger. A stunning, tall and willowy blonde, she always managed to look

fashionably immaculate and made effort seem effortless. She had one of the most

perfect figures I‘d ever seen. Long legs, a totally flat stomach, perfect natural breasts

and a bottom that you could eat your breakfast off. This body wasn‘t the result of

                                                                                      21
endless hours in the gym and always eating lettuce. Not a bit of it; she ate like a horse,

definitely enjoyed the odd drink or two, never did any exercise and had given birth to

two kids. She just had a natural inability to put on weight, something she‘d learnt not

to mention to other women.

         ‗What do you want out of life, Connor?‘ she asked with a slight slur. When

asked that question, most people would have to go through their desires in life and put

a value on them. For me, there was no need for deep soul-searching to find the answer

to this question. There was a very simple and instant one.

         ‗To make a shedload of cash and have sex with as many models as possible.‘

         ‗What?‘ Sophie took her hand away from my arm and looked alarmed.

        I knew it was the height of shallowness, but that was exactly what I wanted

out of life. No ifs or buts, that was my idea of true nirvana. I‘d put some serious

thought into the matter and the older I got, the less likely it was to happen, and thus

the more important it became.

        This need to live life in the shallow end, as my brother put it, was born 12

years ago when I was on holiday with John. We were staying in his parents‘ place in

Ibiza. Every year while at university, we were lucky enough to spend a month there in

the summer, getting blind drunk, dabbling in the odd bit of naughty stuff and having

the occasional one night stand with girls we didn‘t want to spend the rest of our lives

with.

        One day, particularly hung over and having only had a few hours of sleep, we

were in a bar for the afternoon snifter that would kick it all off again. Our cotton wool

heads and the desire to vomit vanished in an instant when two beautiful women

wandered into view. They were almost angel-like and it seemed as though they were

                                                                                       22
bathed in a sunshine glow that no one else in the bar had. It turned out that they were

also very nice. Most girls would have been put off by two dishevelled guys salivating,

but they actually said hello. Not quite believing these two creatures from Venus were

actually talking to us, we didn‘t respond, just stared. The second hello finally jolted us

out of our stupor.

         ‗Do you know a good local restaurant where we can go to lunch?‘ the

brunette asked. We stumbled through a recommendation, gibbering like idiots.

         ‗Well, we‘re going to go tomorrow and it would be great if you guys are

there. We could join up for lunch,‘ the blonde said in perfect English with a

supremely sexy French accent. It wasn‘t every day that two of the hottest girls we‘d

ever seen wanted to meet up for lunch.

         ‗Absolutely,‘ we both said, trying to retain some sort of cool.

         ‗Bye then. Look forward to seeing you tomorrow,‘ the blonde said chirpily.

         ‗À demain,‘ I said as they floated out of the bar into the sunshine.

         ‗À demain? How the fuck did you remember that? You were useless at

French in school.‘ John enquired.

         ‗Je suis maintenant un homme de l'Europe, mon ami,‘ I said as we both

raised our glasses of white Rioja in a smug manner that was more than a little tainted

with incredulity.

       The next day, again with crippling hangovers, we decided to take John‘s dad‘s

speedboat out for a spin. It was no more than a large rowing boat with a small engine

on the back, but we never failed to have fun pottering aimlessly around the sea,

thinking we were the dog‘s knackers. After half an hour, the boat broke down a good

20-minute swim from the shore. We called the port and were told they‘d send out a
                                                                                       23
rescue boat. However, this was Spain and thus there was absolutely no sense of

urgency to come to our aid. After an hour of stomach-churning bobbing on the waves,

there was still no sign of rescue. Feeling incredibly ill, we were lying on the floor of

the boat when we heard the churning of a large motor. Sitting up expecting to see a

rescue boat, we were greeted by the sight of a huge and powerful boat. It was

immense, and the ‗fun‘ boat on the back of this monster was the same size as the one

we were currently languishing in. As it went past, we heard voices.

        ‗Allo, boys!‘ We looked up to the rear deck and saw the girls from the bar.

They were sunbathing and waving down to us. We couldn‘t help but notice something

else. They were naked, their long limbs and breasts glinting in the sun. There was one

guy driving, sitting perched at the controls with a cocktail in his hand. He looked

down at us, raised his glass, winked and then threw the throttle full forward, sending

the front of the boat into the air as it sped off. Our nausea from sitting in that boat for

over an hour was exacerbated by the huge wake from the monster.

         ‗Naked,‘ John said, shaking his head as we waved pathetically at the girls

heading out to sea. ‗Fucking naked.‘

         ‗And the size of that boat. Jesus.‘

         ‗Naked. No bikini. Nothing. Nada. Shit.‘ John was still waving.

         ‗I‘m sure that bastard driving it was sneering at us,‘ I spat.

         ‗Of course he was. Wouldn‘t you if you were him?‘ I thought about this for

all of one second and accepted that I would have done exactly the same and would

have loved it. Funnily enough, we never saw those girls again and although there was

a question mark over whether they were prostitutes or not, it didn‘t matter. The




                                                                                        24
incident had made a permanent impression in my mind. It was clear to me     —   you had

to have money to get the insanely beautiful girls.

         ‗That‘s it? That‘s your key to happiness. Christ, you‘re so shallow. What

about love?‘ Sophie was again leaning in very closely, her bright blue eyes sparkling

with intensity.

         ‗Ah yes, love. The big L, that intangible thing without which you‘re not

complete. The ingredient that makes you whole,‘ I said mockingly. ‗I would be very

happy if I never fell in love. The fact is that love only works for a very small number

of people.‘

         ‗That‘s just too simplistic.‘ She was so close now that the smell of her

perfume was quite intoxicating.

         ‗Well, are you guys still in love?‘

         ‗Of course we are. Stupid question,‘ she said adamantly, but her body

language and the faraway look in her eyes didn‘t suggest that. She‘d been married to

Hugh for five years. When they first got together, Hugh was still a relative newcomer

to the pre-recession City, working for the investment bank he‘d joined after

university. His financial acumen, networking skills and raw greed meant he had a

rapid rise up the ranks, eventually becoming a hedge fund manager. London had

eclipsed New York as the world‘s biggest financial centre and 12 of the top 25

worldwide hedge funds were based in the capital. This incredible growth meant

stratospheric bonuses and earnings for the guys who were running these funds.

Hugh‘s dream and focussed goal was to get his fund into that top 25. On average, the

managers in that elite group had an annual salary of around £150 million.




                                                                                    25
       He certainly had the right attributes to be in that group. After pocketing £2

million on the biggest deal in his career, Hugh took his team to Greens, a City bar

frequented by all the big earners. It was the sort of place where bragging about the

amount of money you made was obligatory. Not only a competitive sport, it was also

a way of furthering your career. The more people who knew how much money you

were making, the more you were in demand by funds that wanted to poach you. There

was an art to this bragging; it wasn‘t just a case of shouting your salary out. It was

done in a more subtle way, talking about the things that your money was allowing you

to do. The serious players would talk about which private jet they were going to get,

or the fact that they were having trouble finding a port to berth their yacht because of

its size. Hugh walked into the packed bar, slapped down his black American Express

card and ordered a Methuselah of Cristal Brut 1990 costing £10,000. The total bill at

the end of the night was £66,000. He saw it as money well spent.

       Then the world went tits up and hedge funds collapsed like tenpins in a

bowling alley. Bankers became the epitome of evil, the cause of everyone‘s misery,

even eclipsing estate agents and the tax man as a focus of hatred. While people took

glee in the supposed demise of the bonus culture, Hugh continued his rapid rise up the

earnings ladder. Even in a recession, there are still immensely rich people who invest

their money to make more money. It‘s a fact that in troubled times, you can make a

killing if you can afford to take the risk, simply because no one else is doing it.

Hugh‘s fund actually got into the top 10 of the world‘s best performing funds during

the years of economic Armageddon.

       This sort of success didn‘t come without its drawbacks, the main one being the

lack of a private life. Although the stock exchange closed at 4.30, there was always a

broker or client who needed entertaining in the evening and at weekends. Then there

                                                                                     26
were the numerous trips abroad that lasted weeks and sometimes months. Even when

he and Sophie went on holiday, Hugh would still work using his iPhone. There was

always a call he had to take or problem he needed to sort out, so Sophie might as well

have been there on her own. Their sex life was also suffering. If he wasn‘t too tired or

stressed, he was too drunk after entertaining some client or other. From her point of

view, the sex was ‗wham bang thank you ma‘am‘ without any tenderness or

sensitivity. There were times when it was great, but these were few and far between.

This hadn‘t really bothered Sophie in the early days of their relationship, but she‘d

dropped a few hints about feeling neglected. She knew he was working like this so

they could have a good life, and although she enjoyed being wealthy, quality time

with the man she fell in love with was more important.

       I‘d always thought Hugh to be a bit of a tool. He was the sort of person who

would ask you how you were, not listen to the answer and then launch into how

wonderful he was and what he was achieving. At parties, he‘d constantly look over

your shoulder to see if there was anyone better he should be talking to. Unlike Sophie,

he had a total air of uncool about him. He could afford the most expensive clothes, but

they always looked dreadful on him, even when Sophie chose them. Another sin was

that although he thought he had hollow legs, he was a complete lightweight when it

came to handling his booze. He was a useless and aggressive drunk, something I

couldn‘t abide.

        ‗Just look at the divorce rate. Nearly half of marriages end up in divorce and

that figure is growing,‘ I continued saying to Sophie.

        ‗Marriages break down for many reasons.‘




                                                                                     27
         ‗There may be many reasons, but they all ultimately lead to one — that one

person doesn‘t the love the other one any more.‘

         ‗It‘s more complicated than that.‘

         ‗It‘s the concept of love I have a problem with. Initially there may be a girl

out there who‘ll make me lose all my senses and logic, someone I think I might want

to spend the rest of my life with. This will be a trick of the mind, because nature

allows lust to attract people to each other for the purposes of reproduction, but lust

can‘t keep them together. After a few years, we‘ll have kids. After a few more years,

we‘ll get bored with each other‘s company, run out of things to say and end up like

those couples who go out, read the papers and not say a word to each other. I‘ll end up

running off with my younger, prettier and more vibrant secretary, or she‘ll shack up

with her yoga instructor who ‗understands her needs more than I ever could‘. There

will be pain, recrimination and ultimately heartache simply because we mistook lust

for love and when this was eventually discovered, it was too late.‘

        ‗Bloody hell, you‘re one scarred misery, aren‘t you? You just haven‘t been

truly in love yet. When then happens, you‘ll change your mind.‘

         ‗OK, take unfaithfulness. If you truly love someone, you should never want

to have sex with someone else, right?‘

         ‗Of course.‘

         ‗But over two-thirds of marriages that end, do so because of unfaithfulness.

That‘s clearly not working then, is it?‘ The drink had really kicked in at this stage and

I couldn‘t stop talking. ‘So the concept of love being something that means you

forsake all others and never want to have sexual relations with another is complete

tosh. I couldn‘t imagine only having sex with one person for the rest of my life.‘

                                                                                      28
‗You will when the time comes and you meet the right person.‘

‗That‘s not going to happen.‘

‗It will, trust me,‘ Sophie said definitely.




                                                                29
                                               4



       It was whilst working on Shaw that I met Stefan Vecha. I didn‘t know it then,

but Stefan was someone who ended up having a huge influence on the way my life

turned out.

       We were recording a show about prostitution because of a new, controversial

law designed to make the oldest profession in the world safer by taking it off the

streets and allowing it to take place legally within controlled areas. Tassels was a new

club in London that was making the most of this law. All the girls gyrating on stages,

poles, tables and laps were dancers who also happened to be prostitutes. It boasted of

having the largest concentration of beautiful girls anywhere in the world. If you

fancied taking up the offers of all things carnal, it was equipped with state-of-the art

rooms upstairs, none of which would have been out of place in any of the swankiest

hotels. Although doing a roaring trade, it was the subject of strong protests from

nearby residents, religious types and the moral police who had a new cause célèbre.

       The owner was Stefan Vecha, an Eastern European businessman who had

taken London to his heart and amazingly, I‘d manage to persuade him to appear on

the programme. Everyone had an opinion; some wanted him hung by his privates

from one of the poles in his club, while others saw him as a liberator of English sexual

suppression. I was firmly in the latter of the two camps.

       The hundreds of articles we found portrayed a colourful character. The son of

a Hungarian miner who chose not to follow his father‘s path, he left the village where

he grew up and moved to Budapest in search of excitement and something more out

of life than being stuck down a pit. Blessed with a knack for getting to know the right

people, he soon became a low-ranking official in the ministry of energy. With the fall


                                                                                      30
of communism, he suddenly became seriously wealthy, mysteriously ending up with a

majority shareholding in one of the largest mining companies in Hungary, Yutroq. It

also happened to be one of the largest mining companies in the world, which meant

Stefan, son of a miner and civil servant, was worth nearly £9 billion.

       There was great speculation as to how he gained this foothold in Yutroq, but

one version cropped up many times. On privatising the company, the government

conducted a share issue that entitled every Hungarian citizen of voting age to a

number of shares in Yutroq. Allocation receipts were sent out to all those eligible and

they just had to turn up at a local government office with their receipts to receive the

shares. Stefan sent out an army of miners from his dad‘s pit to all the villages and

small towns across Hungary. When the unsuspecting peasants turned up to receive

their allocation, the guys would gently have a word in their ear. Because this was

post-communist Hungary, no one was checking and there certainly wasn‘t anything

like a database. By the time anyone realised something had been going on, Stefan had

become a majority shareholder. They couldn‘t prove he‘d obtained the shares by

illegal methods, and he always claimed that he paid the owners a fair price for their

allocations. None of those recently relieved of their shares were going to stand up and

dispute this, not unless they wanted to risk being fed to their pigs.

       However he managed it, there was no denying that he was the richest and most

powerful man in Hungary. Most of the judicial system, police and government

officials were on his payroll. He retained 50 of the original gang of miners and gave

them a makeover. As a huge fan of The Godfather, Stefan insisted they all wear dark

suits and sent all 50 to his tailor in Budapest. Imaginatively, they became known as

‗the suits‘. His convoy was allowed to drive through Budapest as though it were a

private Formula 1 race track.


                                                                                     31
       He gained the nickname of ‗the Butcher of Budapest‘ after one particular

incident that went down in Hungarian folklore. A renowned criminal gang kidnapped

his 11-year-old sister, snatching her from the school gates while waiting for the two

suits that picked her up every day. They were late because they‘d been in hospital

getting stitches after an early morning knife fight with some fellow poker players.

       Stefan played along with the kidnappers, promising them he would pay the £5

million ransom and not involve the police. He agreed to do the exchange at a

farmhouse on the outskirts of Budapest and swore that he‘d be alone. The kidnappers

didn‘t realise the level of Stefan‘s influence. He didn‘t bother with the police, opting

instead for the secret service. Still made up of evil bastards from the communist era,

they didn‘t have much to do at the time and were looking forward to some good old-

fashioned trapping, torturing and killing. Stefan wrote the rules of engagement. First

make sure his sister was free and safe, then brutal examples were to be made of any

gang members. At all costs, the leader was to be left for him.

       A week later, the Hungarian and international papers were full of the carnage

that took place at the farmhouse. Having received an anonymous tip-off, the police

turned up to investigate a reported burglary. When entering the barn, they were

greeted with horrific scenes. It was though a bomb had gone off, scattering six bodies

and some of their limbs around the floor with all enduring terrible pain before dying.

The face on the last corpse they came across was a familiar one. Despite the

considerable swelling, bruises and blood, they recognised him as the leader of this

gang of immensely violent thieves. He‘d been linked with at least three kidnappings

of children, all of which had ended in the death of the victims after ransoms had been

paid. He was hanging by his neck from the main rafter with his testicles shoved in his

mouth. The post mortem showed that they had been cut off before he‘d been hanged.


                                                                                      32
       Stefan had been in London for a couple of years and his excesses were well

documented. He owned four bars, five restaurants and numerous nightclubs and strip

joints in addition to Tassels. These weren‘t bought just to make money; he wanted

venues where friends could be entertained without worrying about anything, since

there were some nasty enemies around. He had a particular penchant for ladies of the

night and trusted this type of company far more than non-prostitutes. Two or three

very tall ones would always be in tow. There were numerous crashed supercars and

huge sums of money won and lost gambling. Occasionally there would be a kiss-and-

tell story with details about mountains of cocaine and strange sexual practices at his

various establishments. Everyone in London high society wanted to be his friend,

because serious money had replaced class in those circles and the toffs couldn‘t give a

monkey‘s (is something missing here?) where the money came from. To say I was a

little nervous meeting him was an understatement, particularly as he was being set up

as the target of abuse for all our other guests who hated what was happening at

Tassels. He was going to be demonised and I was going to be the man responsible.

Particularly keen to keep my tackle where it was, I hoped the Butcher of Budapest

would see the funny side.

       The production meeting before any programme was when the presenter,

director and floor managers were briefed by the producer as to what was happening

on that segment. On Shaw, it was mainly about running scripts by TS and making sure

he knew the facts of the issue, who the guests were and what they would be talking

about. They were usually jolly affairs, as long as TS was in a good mood.

Unfortunately, his mood was subject to unknown and very random forces. You only

found out when the production meeting began and he either said good morning or

threw all the scripts on the desk and kicked his chair across the room.


                                                                                    33
         ‗He‘s doing the whole country a favour,‘ exclaimed TS after I‘d given

everyone a rundown of Stefan‘s achievements and the issues surrounding Tassels.

There was a glint in TS‘s eye; he loved saying things just to get a reaction, although

this time he did seem genuine.

         ‗Where did you get that nonsense from? It‘s morally and ethically wrong to

promote the selling of sex. Just another example of the way this country is becoming

morally bankrupt.‘ Jennifer Conway was the first to take the bait. She was my

assistant producer, a devout Christian and at the age of 36, she should have been a

producer. Not interested in career progression, she devoted a great deal of time to

volunteer work. Just before joining Shaw, she and her equally Christian husband had

been working in refugee camps in Darfur for six months. He came back with a dose of

malaria and she came back with a chip on her shoulder. Unlike many staff members,

she didn‘t fear TS because she detested him and saw what he stood for as the worst

example of human selfishness and sin. He liked her spirit in the workplace

environment, but would rather have had his teeth drilled than join her for a drink

outside work.

         ‗Christ, loosen that chastity belt, Churchy. Where‘s the harm in a little

entertainment amongst consenting adults? The men love it and the girls earn a fortune.

I see no problem in that.‘

         ‗The money spent fornicating with just one of those girls from Tassels would

house and feed a family of refugees in Darfur for six months. And TS, I don‘t

appreciate you using the Lord‘s name in vain.‘

         ‗Two things, love. First, I‘m an atheist and it‘s me using the Lord‘s name in

vain, not you. If the good Lord wants to strike me down for such a sin, then it would

be me who gets the lightening bolt in the arse, not you. Second, spare us the guilt trip.


                                                                                      34
You‘re trying to make us feel as though it‘s our fault that two tribes of wandering

peasants in a Godforsaken shithole want to kill each other. Their own government and

surrounding countries are either complicit in the situation or at the very best turn a

blind eye. Any money we send them will either be stolen by their enemies or it will be

wasted on guns or some other non-food related items. Get over it.‘

       Just as she went red in the face and was about to explode in Christian rage, the

meeting was interrupted by my researcher looking, flustered and worried.

         ‗Sorry to interrupt, but Connor, I need to talk to you urgently,‘ he said as he

entered the room after a very tentative knock on the door.

         ‗Well, Connor‘s in this meeting right now and can‘t leave, so don‘t keep us

all in the dark, Martin,‘ TS bellowed, really enjoying the fact that Jennifer had to put a

cork in her rage for a moment. ‗What‘s the problem?‘

       It was clear that Martin was petrified about having to come and get me in the

first place, but now his worst fears were realised as TS decided to halt everything and

give him the floor.

         ‗Well, uh, um ...‘

         ‗Stop stuttering, Martin! Come on, what‘s so important that you have to

interrupt us?‘ he said with faux-anger. As a seasoned observer, I knew this was

mischievous winding up, but to a researcher who never got a chance to have direct

contact with TS, it was a brown trouser moment.

         ‗It‘s Stefan; he‘s kicking off,‘ Martin stumbled.

         ‗Kicking off what? A football match? Rugby? What? Speak English, Martin.‘

         ‗He‘s in the green room and is complaining that there‘s no booze in there.‘




                                                                                       35
         ‗Have you told him why?‘ TS continued the interrogation. Due to a previous

ugly incident involving an MP, one of his aggrieved constituents and the police,

alcohol had been banned from the green room for all guests.

         ‗Yeah. I ... I did, but he‘s having none of it and says he‘s off if he doesn‘t get

some vodka now.‘

         ‗I never agreed with this bloody stupid ban in the first place, so Martin, get

over to the pub next door and get the man whatever he wants,‘ TS ordered. Martin

disappeared and the Christian-baiting continued.

        Although really worried about meeting Stefan, I nevertheless bounded

through the door into the green room with fake positive energy. It immediately sprung

back, hitting me in the face, and a black-suited man-mountain appeared, looking as

though he was about to skin and cook me in a pot.

         ‗Gregor, leave it!‘ said a deep and croaky voice from behind him. I got up

and said nothing as I squeezed past his immense 6 ft. 8 in. frame. I‘m sure I heard a

low growl.

         ‗I‘m sorry about that. They get a little nervous when we‘re in unfamiliar

surroundings,‘ said a man I assumed was Stefan sitting in the corner section of the L-

shaped 12-person sofa. Standing behind the sofa were more of the suits, with two

more at the door that led to the studio. Sitting to his right were three exceptionally tall

and tanned girls wearing very short skirts, skimpy tops and high heels. My researcher

was cowering in the corner of the room and as I approached Stefan, the suits twitched.

         ‗Mr. Vecha, I‘m Connor Blaine, the producer. We spoke on the phone,‘ I said

and tried to approach with confidence.

       Not expecting him to stand up to shake my hand, I became very aware of his

lack of height. Standing at around 5 ft. 5 in. even with large Cuban heels, he had a


                                                                                        36
very diminutive frame. His oversized shirt wasn‘t tucked in, making him look as

though he was kneeling. The trousers were too baggy and although I was sure his

shoes were very expensive, they were a hideous crocodile-skin loafer worn with socks

that verged on the darker side of white. He had slicked-back black hair and a slightly

podgy baby face that gave away his Eastern European ethnicity. Was this really the

Butcher of Budapest?

        ‗Connor, pleasure to meet you.‘ There was a friendly warmth in his smile,

but the pressure exerted at the handshake almost crushed every bone in my hand. I

looked him in the eyes and tried to show I wasn‘t intimidated by also squeezing hard.

While still holding the grasp, his smile dropped and for one second he fixed me with

an angry stare. Shit! Let go, you idiot! Then suddenly the smile came back and he

released my aching hand.

        ‗I‘m glad to be here.‘ Although his accent was strong, his English was

immaculate and perfectly understandable. After these opening pleasantries, I ran

through the structure of the show, the type of questions he would be asked and how

events would unfold. Of course I omitted the fact that many members of the audience

wanted to lynch him.

        ‗Thomas likes his guests to feel welcome. He has a duty to make sure the

debate is fair, but he‘s asked me to tell you that he is very much on your side,‘ I

euphemized.

        ‗He should be, the number of favours he‘s had.‘

        ‗I‘m sorry?‘

        ‗Oh, did TS not mention this to you?‘ I couldn‘t work out if Stefan was

feigning surprise or not. ‗Yes, he‘s been into Tassels a few times. Iyla, tell him about

the last time,‘ Stefan said, gesturing to the nearest and prettiest of the long-legged


                                                                                     37
girls on the sofa. She stood up and walked the two paces to face where I was sitting.

Slowly and seductively, she bent forward to lower her lips to my ears, giving me an

uninhibited view of her breasts.

        ‗TS like many girls at same time. First they play with themselves. Then they

get on top.‘ Her accent and the gentle whisper in my ear sent a shiver of sexual

tension down my spine. ‗He likes them scratch his nipples until blood. Then he put

mask on, tie them to bed in kneeling position. At finish, he want them to howl like

wolf and scream ‗master‘ very loud.‘ This was sheer unadulterated gold. Everyone in

the office was going to hear about this as soon as I got back up there. When I stopped

laughing, I looked over to see Stefan just nodding knowingly.

        ‗I can see why you‘d expect him to be on your side,‘ I ventured.

        ‗Exactly,‘ he said with a smile.




                                                                                   38
                                            5




          The show went very well. Stefan didn‘t need TS‘s intervention to help him

out. He was confident and answered every question, accusation and attack with very

calm and intelligent responses. Whenever someone got angry or shouted at him, he

kept serenely cool and replied with respect and dignity. He came out of the debate

well on top, but I was still worried what his reaction to being set up would be as I

waited in the green room.

           ‗Connor, you didn‘t tell me there would be such a hostile audience in there,‘

Stefan said, fixing me with the sort of look that would stop a rhino. I had visions of

my detached testicles swinging from the studio lights. Then he broke into a smile,

showing that he had spent a great deal of money converting his miner‘s molars into a

Hollywood smile. ‗I really enjoyed that. Yes. It was fun.‘

           ‗I‘m glad you enjoyed it. Sorry if you were given a rough ride. I wasn‘t

expecting such anger. There were supposed to be people who supported you in there,‘

I lied.

           ‗Don‘t worry, Connor. I‘m not stupid. I‘ve seen the show. I knew what was

coming,‘ Stefan said, grabbing a glass of wine. The girls standing beside him made

the height difference look more pronounced, as he just about came up to their chests.

           ‗Wow, they really are tall,‘ I stated the bleeding obvious as the girls moved

away.

           ‗Yes, they are. You know why I like really tall girls?‘ It was a rhetorical

question. ‗As you see, I‘m no giant. When people see me with these creatures, they




                                                                                     39
say, ―He must be really rich and powerful to have girlfriends like that.‖ Don‘t you

think?‘

           ‗Absolutely,‘ I lied again. Most people who didn‘t know who he was would

have looked at him, then the girls and said, ‗They‘ve got to be hookers.‘

          We chatted for about 20 minutes about his love of London, my love of

London, the upcoming football season and how well Tassels was doing. Even the

suits loosened up. They were no longer looking as though they were about to kill me

and had started chatting among themselves; I think one of them even made a joke.

Forgetting about the stories and press reports, I was really warming to this Hungarian.

He was funny, self-depreciating and like me, had the ability to laugh at himself. I

walked him out to the waiting blacked-out Bentley, and as the passenger door was

opened by a suit, he turned to me.

           ‗You should come to Tassels. You would be my guest. I would like to see

you there. You would be looked after well.‘

           ‗I‘d love to. I‘ll let you know when I can do it. It was very nice to meet you.‘

           ‗And you, Connor, remember you‘re my guest at Tassels and you have to

come soon,‘ he said, shaking my hand. This time the steely grip was absent; just the

warm smile remained. As his convoy swept out of the car park, I thought it would be

a laugh to take him up on the offer.

          This programme happened to be the last in the series, which meant a wrap

party, the farewell piss-up for all the staff, crew and TS. Everyone involved in Shaw

was a freelancer and we were all going our separate ways now that the series had

finished. Most had work to go on to, but as usual, I hadn‘t organised any. Precisely

because a wrap party was a leaving do for everyone, they were usually riotous affairs.

                                                                                         40
The Shaw production manager, the man in control of the money, was one of the

generous ones and had hired out a hip bar in the West End, with a considerable sum of

money allocated for drinks.

       At every single wrap I‘d been to, there was always a junior member of staff

who got drunk before anyone else. They then cornered me, giving their opinions on

my management skills, how the programme should have been made, and the

presenters. The girls I didn‘t find attractive were all over me, and the ones I really

fancied told me how they loved their boyfriends or another member of the team. Then

when things started to really get going, these youngsters ended up slumped in a corner

somewhere or throwing up in the toilets.

       This party was no different. Louise, an overweight, chippy girl with an odour

problem, kept slurring about how TS was a god of the small screen and how she

thought I should have gone more left-field with programme topics. I hadn‘t noticed

before, but up close, she was an exceptionally hairy girl. As she spat booze-soaked

saliva at me, her moustache glinted even in the darkness of the bar. I couldn‘t take my

eyes off it and desperately wanted to ask whether she‘d ever heard of wax strips.

       After extracting myself, I noticed Becky standing at the bar alone. Going up to

girls at bars and just saying hello was something I had an irrational fear of. Whether

afraid of rejection or worried that they wouldn‘t be interested in me, this fear was

epitomised one time in a bar whilst at sixth-form college.

         ‗That girl is giving you the eye,‘ Jackie said, looking over at a pretty brunette

sitting at the end of the bar with two friends.

         ‗Yeah, I saw that. I can‘t go over there though. She‘s with her friends.‘




                                                                                       41
         ‗What‘s the matter with you? All you have to do is go over, say hello and

ask to buy them a drink. Unless you‘re a complete munter, they will always say yes,

even if they‘re not really interested in you. It‘s so easy.‘ She made it sound like the

most natural thing in the world.

       Eventually I got the guts up and started walking over to the group. Just as I

rounded the bar, three guys moved in on all of them and I walked past as if I had been

going to the toilet all along. As I passed the girl who had been looking over, she

smiled sweetly and shrugged. I kicked the toilet door open in anger at my totally

pathetic showing and, not used to such treatment, the door promptly fell off its hinges,

causing a huge crash as it landed on the floor. I looked back at the group containing

my original target and they were all laughing — at me.

       A work colleague was a different matter, however, because we‘d already been

introduced, as it were. Going up to Becky thus didn‘t create the sphincter tightening

fear associated with approaching unknown girls.

       She proved to be excellent company and we moved to the booths at the back

end of the bar. She‘d made quite an effort for the party, wearing makeup, something

she never bothered with in the office. Her jeans were very tight and if the backless top

she was sporting had got a showing at work, there would have been a riot. Although

wiser than her tender age, there were still moments that highlighted the fact that when

I was a feisty 12-year-old, she hadn‘t even been born.

       We ended up back at my flat for a night-cap and then bed. She was cute, but I

didn‘t want to start a relationship with a 19-year-old. As the morning broke, I looked

over to see her lying on her back with one of my dirty socks placed across her eyes.

        ‗What are you doing?‘


                                                                                       42
        ‗It‘s too light in here. I needed something to block it out. I need my sleep and

usually don‘t get up until about three on weekends.‘ If she had known that the sock in

question had been through three set of tennis, she might not have laid it across her

eyes. I got up, made myself some eggs and bacon, had a shower, got dressed and went

out to meet some friends in the pub. I left instructions for Becky to just shut the door

when she left.

       Unbelievably, I managed to get more work only a few weeks after finishing at

Shaw. It was for another daily hospital programme transmitted live from the largest

NHS hospital in the U.K. The production company responsible for the latest

instalment of real life medical drama was Totally Ingenious TV.

       I‘d developed a new technique to deal with my squeamishness that had been

adapted from a celebrity hypnotist‘s method of getting over a fear of flying. It was all

about focussing on some place infinitely more pleasurable than the one that was

causing the problem. For some, this was wandering around the Louvre gazing at the

Mona Lisa with no one else around. For others, it was skiing down virgin snow on a

clear, sunny day in the Alps. For me, it was lying on a sun lounger underneath a clear

blue sky in 90 degrees of heat. I was beside an infinity pool that overlooked a

beautifully calm turquoise sea dotted with fishing boats. I would imagine the warmth

as the sun spread up from my toes and around my body. I heard a loud chink of ice as

the waiter put a chilled sea breeze on the table beside me. It worked perfectly and I

could face anything with this technique, even the most gruesome neurosurgery.

       There was one drawback, however. I would get so focussed on paradise, I‘d

forget what was happening in the operation. That wasn‘t much of a problem when

looking at video packages to be inserted into the live programme. Live surgery was

the real problem. During transmission, I was stationed in the gallery with the director,

                                                                                     43
from where I controlled the flow of the programme. An important role was to ‗go

down the ear‘ to the presenters. At the push of a button, my voice boomed into the

earpiece of a chosen presenter, telling them what to do. This was especially important

when the presenter was doing an interview that wasn‘t going to plan and allowed me

help the presenter out with questions they wouldn‘t have prepared for.

          This particular programme featured a live varicose vein removal from a 75-

year-old patient, Elsie Smith. Of course, being creative people, we always gave these

items highly imaginative names. ‗Elsie‘s Vein‘ sounded like a relatively minor

procedure, but it was in fact a tricky and bloody operation. Surgeons would have to

clamp a major artery while extracting the offending veins. If anything went wrong

with the artery clamp and blood pressure, there was a risk of heart failure. The idea

with the live operations was to have the presenter talking to the surgeon as they went

about their work, asking pertinent questions along the way.

           ‗Which presenter have we got in theatre?‘ I asked in the production meeting.

           ‗Josie,‘ the managing editor and company MD stated.

           ‗Josie! Oh, please, no. She‘s as thick as pigshit. Doesn‘t know her arse from

her elbow!‘ I protested.

           ‗And if you want to talk about vain!‘ the floor manager chipped in, thinking

he was funny.

           ‗She‘s not that bad and the patients love her,‘ said the editor, defending his

talent.

           ‗Oh, really? On the last show, she said to a kid with cancer that it must be

great, because in hospital you get to miss school and everyone runs around looking

after you. I think the dad wanted to punch her. I wanted to punch her.‘

                                                                                      44
       Josie had always been quite a favourite among daytime commissioning

editors. She was attractive, but not too attractive so as to put off the predominantly

female audience. A slightly overweight mother of two, the viewers really related to

her. They thought she was like their next door neighbour. Off camera, she was a

bundle of insecurities, swore like a trooper, drank pints and even had a tendency to

break wind in the production meeting. On any given day, looking at the TV schedule,

there were at least two of her programmes on. Despite this relative monopoly on

cheap daytime TV, she‘d been complaining that she wasn‘t being taken seriously

enough on this programme and not getting juicy items like the other presenters. To

appease her, it was decided to hand over a live operation.

       It had been a very long process persuading the hospital to allow us to show

operations live. Surgery wasn‘t safe and the inherent risks in cutting people open were

understandably something the hospital didn‘t want highlighted. It wouldn‘t have been

good for the network, the hospital, the family and the viewers if a patient died live on

TV. To counteract this, we came up with a series of code words that the surgeon

would say if things were looking bad. They had to sound like something a surgeon

would say in normal circumstances so as not to arouse suspicion.

        ‗I‘m just going to swap sides here and have a look from a different angle‘

meant ‗a slight problem has arisen, but it‘s not too serious yet. I‘m just giving you a

heads-up.‘

        ‗I‘m thinking about a metabolic scan‘ meant ‗be warned, the complications

are getting worse.' Once the alert moved to this level, my role was to instruct the

presenter to introduce a videotape or throw over to another presenter in a different

part of the hospital. In some circumstances, I could decide to stay with the operation

and had to make a judgement depending on factors such as the level of panic amongst

                                                                                     45
the medics and the nature of the operation. If I didn‘t give the order to get out, the

transmission continued.

         ‗We have to reposition now‘ meant ‗get the hell out of here; this patient is

toast.‘ On hearing this, I‘d issue the command ‗reposition‘ and a well-rehearsed plan

fell into place with presenters and crew knowing exactly what to do and how to do it.

               ‘Elsie‘s Vein‘ began with a recorded interview in the operating theatre

ante room. Good presenters are able to judge the tone and level of involvement

required during an interview. If an interviewee is a brilliant talker, then it is up to the

presenter to provide the foil to allow said interviewee to shine. Alternatively, good

presenters really earn their money when the interviewee is not so hot. The interviewer

needs to adapt to the circumstances and the skill really comes in, making it seem

natural. Josie didn‘t have that skill and as usual, just kept trying to be funny and have

a laugh even when Elsie was extremely serious. The poor woman was frightened at

the thought of having surgery and that bloody idiot kept trying to make terrible jokes.

       Once we were live in theatre and the surgeon‘s first incision sent a small jet of

blood squirting up into the air, I went into the zone, watching the ripple of the water

as it plunged over the edge of the infinity pool.

         ‗How soon after this operation will she be able to play piano again?‘ asked

Josie, getting confused with another patient‘s notes.

         ‗I have no idea. This is an operation on her legs,‘ the surgeon sniffed. Being

made to look like a fool threw Josie into a panic and a series of more stupid questions

and dismissive responses followed. I was no help whatsoever as I imagined a

beautiful girl in a swimsuit beside me in paradise. All the sound was replaced by

lapping water, and the images on the screens in front of me by a sandy beach.


                                                                                        46
Something did register though. I could see there was a bit of panic down in the

operating theatre. I then became slightly aware that everyone in the gallery was

staring at me. I was hearing things but not registering.

           ‗WE NEED TO REPOSITION NOW!‘ the surgeon shouted with extreme

urgency in his voice. The other medics were frantically running around and an alarm

was coming from one of the machines. The programme editor stormed into the

gallery.

           ‗What the fuck are you doing? REPOSITION! REPOSITION!‘ he shouted

into the crew public address system. The transmission was cut just as medics gave

Elsie her first shock from the heart paddles.

       It turned out that Elsie was a fighter and responded to the massive bolt of

electricity that had been sent through her heart. She made a full recovery and went

home to show off her varicose-free legs to the neighbours. Although the first death

live on British TV was avoided, the fallout wasn‘t. I was unceremoniously fired.

When the crew heard the news, I was summoned to the pub to raise a glass in Elsie‘s

honour.




                                                                                47
                                          6



       I stumbled out of the pub at about 10 p.m. and hailed a cab. Only when the

cabbie asked for a destination did it seemed like the perfect time to take up Stefan‘s

offer of VIP treatment at Tassels. The cab pulled up outside an imposing six-story

Georgian building that looked as though it had muscled its way onto the street,

bullying the bookshop and coffee shop on either side of it. It was a master class in

how to light up a building. The whole facade was bathed in a bright blue light, the

source of which was nowhere to be seen. Behind all the windows were LCD screens

playing video that made the building look like a normal residence. There was a guy

watching TV in one, a couple eating dinner in another and so on. On the roof were

four Hollywood-style search lights dancing randomly around the sky. There were no

doormen outside or any noise from inside. As I approached the massive black door, it

swung open slowly just like No. 10 Downing Street.

        ‗Good evening, sir,‘ said the cashier, who was wearing not much more than

her smile.

        ‗Hi. One please.‘

        ‗That‘ll be 30 pounds please.‘ As I started searching for my wallet, an unseen

foreign voice barked an order from the shadows behind the cashier. It jolted her and

she looked apologetically at me. ‗I‘m sorry, sir, my mistake. Tonight you are the guest

of Mr. Vecha.‘ One of the suits appeared from the shadows behind the cashier‘s desk.

        ‗Good evening, Mr. Blaine. Mr. Vecha will be very glad you are here. Please

follow me.‘ He led me through a narrow gold-painted entrance that had a podium on

either side. The girls dancing on these podiums were smiling and blowing kisses at

me. The pictures I‘d seen did this place no justice. It was immense and had roughly


                                                                                    48
the same layout as the Albert Hall. I found myself standing on a balcony overlooking

the main stage that was one floor lower and to the right. A long line of seats and

tables went from one end to the other. To the left of the main stage were hundreds of

tables set out in groups of five and clustered around poles. All the way round on the

balcony level were large individual booths, all with views of the main stage. Loud

‗dancing music‘ was blasting from every corner of the place.

        I followed the suit through a black curtain guarded by two more suits who

nodded respectfully. The booth had luxurious red banquette sofas round the edge with

Stefan sitting in one, surrounded by four girls who were up to his usual standard.

There was a small stage with the obligatory pole in the middle. I recognised the girl

performing as the one from the green room the first time I met Stefan. He broke into a

massive smile, jumped up and gestured for me to come over. Even though a touch

tight, I was still a little nervous and unsure why a billionaire with a dubious reputation

wanted to invite me to his private booth in his brothel.

         ‗It‘s so good to see you, Connor. Thanks for coming.‘

         ‗My pleasure, Stefan. Thanks for the invite.‘

         ‗First a drink, then a girl, yes?‘ he said as we sat down, splitting the girls into

two groups. Two very large VATs later, Stefan revealed why I had been invited in the

first place.

         ‗Connor, do you like working in TV?‘ He fixed me with that intense look,

which again made me worry. I was right; he had held a grudge against me for being

set up on Shaw.

         ‗It‘s OK, pays the bills. I can‘t say that I wake up every morning and am

delighted to be going to work. But aren‘t most people like that?‘




                                                                                         49
         ‗Do you want to earn more money?‘ It was becoming quite hard to hear him

now, as the music had been cranked up to introduce the next dancer on the main stage.

I was sure the announcer said something about a snake, but now was not the time to

break off from Stefan‘s line of enquiry to check.

         ‗Of course.‘

         ‗And you don‘t mind what you do or who you have to work with?‘

         ‗Well, within reason. I‘m not going to kill anyone, if that‘s what you mean,‘ I

said, and winced as I immediately regretted being so flippant.

         ‗Ah, you‘ve obviously read all the stories about me.‘ He moved closer and

notched the intensity of his stare up a few levels. ‗I do not get involved in crime. I do

not need to. I have all the money I need. Why risk going to jail to get more?‘ I was

still finding it hard to believe that he didn‘t have criminal contacts or move in those

types of circles, but he was making sense. Why risk it when you were one of the

richest men alive? ‗There was something I did that I‘m not proud of, but I had to do it.

You know what they call me?‘ he asked. I just nodded, with the headline ‗the Butcher

of Budapest‘ embedded in my mind.

       ‗Let me tell you how this came about. My sister had been kidnapped by a local

gang trying to get money out of me. She had done nothing. All she wanted to do was

ride horses. She had no idea of the shit that life can throw up. I had a friend in the

secret service who told me about this gang. They were responsible for ten kidnappings

before they took my sister. They were paid every time, but they still killed all their

victims. They didn‘t do it quickly. They enjoyed torturing them with a very horrible

and slow death. Some were just kids and the girls, two as young as 10, were raped.

How would you feel if you knew your sister was in the hands of such people?‘ Stefan

didn‘t wait for an answer. ‗My friend got a tip off where the gang were. We went with


                                                                                      50
some of his men to rescue her. I did not worry about what my friend and his men

would do to the gang. I just wanted my sister safe. I did ask the men to leave the

leader to me. I wanted to scare him for scaring my sister.‘ I thought that was a slight

understatement considering how they found him. ‗I had seen the leader and made sure

he was suitably scared, but I didn‘t do what they said. They were all alive when I left

the farmhouse. It was not my concern what happened to them. I had my sister back

and that was all that mattered.‘ He took a long gulp of his vodka and cursed the fact

that since the smoking ban, his 60-a-day habit was considerably less.

         ‗Wow‘ was all I came up with. I had no idea how to respond to such a story,

but I did believe him.

         ‗I like you, Connor. I think I could use you in my organisation.‘ I didn‘t

know what he meant by this. Did he want me to become a suit? Surely he could see

that if the push came to the shove, I couldn‘t fight a kitten, let alone hard bastards

with knives.

         ‗Think about it.‘

         ‗I will, of course. Thank you.‘ I should have asked in what capacity he

wanted me to be part of his business, but the whole thing was getting a little surreal

and I simply couldn‘t find the words.

         ‗Right, let‘s get you a girl,‘ he said as he gestured to the girls sitting beside

us. One stood up and starting dancing in front of me. As she took her bikini top off to

reveal perfect breasts, I looked over at Stefan, who was grinning like a Cheshire cat.

         ‗Enjoy, Connor. Anything you want, anything. It‘s all taken care of.‘

       Despite Stefan‘s offer, I wasn‘t quite ready to work for him yet. Even though I

was desperate to make some serious cash, the suggested danger in choosing such a

career put me off slightly.


                                                                                       51
        The next few months were spent screwing up as many job interviews as

possible. Because I was totally disillusioned with the industry, I found it very hard to

build up enthusiasm and never spent enough time making sure my research was

thorough. Things went from bad to worse. I had to leave the flat I was renting before

the contract allowed with outstanding rent due. I dodged many solicitors‘ letters until

I persuaded a friend to call and say I had died in a car crash. My friends and brother

slowly got thoroughly pissed off with me. I was staying on their floors, borrowing

money off them and could never go out. This wasn‘t how I‘d planned to be living my

life at the grand old age of 31.

        The lifeline that was Shaw came back for another series. Despite my hatred of

the industry, it was fantastic to finally be working again and more importantly,

earning again. However, the show was facing a big problem. People weren‘t watching

TS anymore. He couldn‘t get arrested and had totally disappeared off the tabloids‘

radar. He used to be the editors‘ dream and always complained about press intrusion

into his private life. Despite what he saw as constant press harassment, he still

employed the services of a PR guru to place positive stories in the papers and make

sure his profile was still out there.

        Like many stars, he lived in a world of contradiction. If he wasn‘t famous, he

couldn‘t earn a living, but being famous, by its very nature, meant you had to wave

goodbye to some of the benefits of anonymity. Although some stars knew this was the

price they had to pay for having one of the best and well-paid jobs around, it had

become a fashionable mantra for celebrities to moan about the press and media

attention to their lives. But when the media stops bothering, these same moaning

celebs lose their reason for existing.




                                                                                     52
       As can happen so quickly, the journalists just stopped bothering about TS. No

more doorstepping, following his car or calling his ex-directory home number. Even

the guru gave up trying to place stories and was sacked for ‗not doing his job‘. This

lack of attention really got to TS because it was the signal that people no longer cared

about him, something that hurt more than anything.

       The channel was sticking by him though, and the commissioning editor,

Melanie Hawksmith, always defended him vehemently. She said the ratings weren‘t

the most important reason for making the show. She had always claimed that the

show was about making a difference to peoples‘ lives and not about how many people

watched. Her bosses backed her up, but they knew that she was gambling with her

career by not axing the show. This type of programme had become dated. Viewers

were no longer interested in discussion or real issues. They wanted entertainment in

the form of reality TV. I didn‘t understand why Melanie, one of the most talented

executives around, had believed so unflinchingly in the Shaw programme when it was

doing so badly in the ratings.

       Everything became very clear after one day‘s recording when I took a shortcut

back to the office from the studio. My route was actually forbidden by the health and

safety Gestapo at the studios because it meant weaving in and out of unused TV sets.

Not that any security guards were going to stop me; they were the most useless bunch

of layabouts I had ever encountered. As I stepped into the lobby of a high street bank

used as the location for a popular sitcom, I heard groaning. I looked across the prop

warehouse to see, in the doctors‘ surgery, Melanie performing oral sex on TS.

       I didn‘t need to hold onto the secret for long, as the next day we were

summoned into Graham Dean‘s office. He was an old tabloid hack who had seen it




                                                                                     53
all, had enough dirt on half the government to cause a general election, and was the

managing editor and boss.

         ‗I‘m afraid I have some very bad news,‘ he told the assembled company. ‗It

seems that our esteemed and much loved prick of a presenter has been caught by the

tabloids again. Considering they couldn‘t give a shit about him yesterday, there‘s

going to be a few stories tomorrow about him shagging some blonde. Although that‘s

not really a shock when it comes to TS, unfortunately this time, the bird was a

reporter and wearing a wire. His particular brand of pillow talk is about to cause a

right shit storm.‘ He paused for effect. ‗It was something along the lines of saying that

all Muslims are terrorists, Guantanamo Bay was a good thing, and he then went on to

insult the prophet Mohammed.‘ There was a sharp intake of breath.

         ‗Well, we all know about TS‘s views, but he‘s made of Teflon,‘ I said, trying

to put everyone at ease. ‗We‘ve been in this situation before. He‘ll make a very public

apology, say he was dunk and the combination of excessive amounts of brandy

coupled with pain killers meant he had no idea what he was saying.‘

         ‗Melanie has cancelled the show with immediate effect,‘ Graham said.

         ‗Yeah, right, Graham. Nice one,‘ was the general consensus. Graham then let

the assembled company in on the secret that I had discovered the day before. ‗Melanie

would have defended TS if these comments had come to light by any other means.

They‘ve been together for a while now and I think she may have fallen in love with

him. You can imagine her reaction when the blonde reporter rang her for a comment.

She never wants to see him ever again and has made it her personal mission to ruin

his career for good. Personally, I think the tosser‘s done that all by himself.‘

       TS‘s production company had lost a huge earner and was desperate to get any

other programmes commissioned to replace it. We were thus all kept on for a month


                                                                                      54
to develop new ideas. Most of that time was spent doing anything but development.

The daily routine was pretty much the same for everyone. Personal e-mails, office

banter and looking for work took us up until lunch time, at which time we all trouped

off to the pub for three hours. The afternoon saw a competition to see who could

come up with the best idea for a programme that would never be made.

       This morning began as usual and I opened up my e-mail account, where I was

notified of 30 new messages. There was the usual spam, such as offers of pills to

enlarge my penis. Hamjke, a Latvian girl, wanted to meet me because she was feeling

sexy. A good samaritan in Nigeria wanted to give me money; all I had to do was e-

mail my bank details to him and I would be £500,000 richer. There were links to sites

where I could see women enjoying sexual relations with farmyard animals and one

that advertised a service in Holland that would help me end it all if I felt everything

was getting too much. I had started to think along those lines. Only three e-mails were

genuine. The first was from Sophie.



       Hi All.

       I‘m throwing a surprise party for Hugh‘s birthday. It‘s on Saturday 30th May

at 3 p.m. It is a surprise so if you can‘t make it by 3 p.m., please go round the block or

something until we do the deed on Hugh. We don‘t want to blow the whole thing.

And it goes without saying not to mention a word of it to Hugh, doesn‘t it, Connor?

       Hope you can all make it.

       Love,

       Sophie




                                                                                       55
          Sophie mentioned me in particular because of my reputation for leaking like a

sieve. Throughout my life, people had always opened up to me. I didn‘t know whether

it was because I was a good listener (whatever that meant) or I just had the ability to

put people at ease. I never really analysed why, but drink was usually a factor. These

nuggets of information never materialised after large amounts of water had been

consumed. I‘d lost count of the number of people who‘d told me they were cheating

on their partners or who had revealed sexual proclivities that were best kept to

themselves.

          Take Geoff, for example. He was someone I‘d worked with before and we had

become friends. Not really close friends, but we would meet up about once a month.

He ran a small production company and had been going out with Suzi, his Personal

assistant, for a couple of years. They lived together in his flat and it looked a dead cert

that they would get married one day.

           ‗Listen, if I tell you something, you can‘t tell anyone else,‘ he dropped in the

conversation while we were having a drink after work one day.

           ‗Of course. No one, your secret is safe with me. What is it?‘ I said with

conviction.

           ‗No really. This is serious and you must swear not to tell anyone.‘

           ‗Totally. I promise.‘ I was flattered Geoff trusted me with whatever he was

about to tell me. I intended never to reveal it to anyone.

           ‗It‘s very embarrassing and ruining my life.‘ I thought the smell of terminal

illness was in the air. He‘d said it was embarrassing, so I reckoned on testicular

cancer.

           ‗OK. What is it?‘

           ‗I‘m addicted to wanking.‘


                                                                                        56
             ‗What?‘ I spluttered into my beer.

             ‗I‘m addicted to it. Can‘t stop. I‘m doing it over 30 times a day.‘ My desire

to scream in laughter had to be held back when I saw how serious Geoff‘s face was.

‗No, this is serious. I have to do it twice before I go to work. Then at work, I have the

urge the whole time. I have to go to the toilet and use video clips on my iPod as

inspiration. I rush home from work to beat Suzi back to the flat so that I can have a

couple before her arrival.‘ I was stunned.

             ‗What about Suzi?‘ I asked after poking my mind‘s eye out.

             ‗Of course she doesn‘t know. At home, I wait for her to go to bed and then

do it to Fashion TV, the swimwear collection. I have over 200 hours of hardcore porn

on DVD and have downloaded hours of clips on the computer we share. She has

nearly caught me out so many times, but I‘ve always managed to cover it up.‘

             ‗I meant what about Suzi? She‘s your girlfriend and you have sexual urges.

Doesn‘t she satisfy them?‘

             ‗Oh yeah, if it wasn‘t for her I‘d be doing double that amount. It‘s just never

enough. I don‘t know what‘s wrong, so I‘m going to America for help. They have a

therapy regime over there for people suffering from the same condition.‘ What can

you say to that? The image of an American self-help group for sufferers was too much

to resist.

             ‗Is it like AA where you get up, introduce yourself and state that you are a

wanker, at which stage they all give you a one-handed clap, the other one being busy,

of course?‘

             ‗That‘s just bloody rude and insensitive. You‘re taking the piss out of my

very serious condition. You‘d better not tell anyone. I couldn‘t handle the

embarrassment,‘ he said and then moved the conversation on. The topic was closed.


                                                                                         57
       Despite my original intentions, at the first opportunity I e-mailed a friend in

the City. The City had always been the source of the sickest jokes. They managed to

get them into circulation so quickly, particularly after a disaster. I put the whole

conversation down in the e-mail and the return mail just said what an amazing story it

was. I thought nothing more of it. The next day, I was alerted to a story on one of the

news sites entitled ‗I‘m addicted to pulling my pud.‘ It turned out that my e-mail had

done the rounds in the City and then the rest of London, eventually finding its way to

the newspaper. If that wasn‘t bad enough, I had included Geoff‘s name in the e-mail,

which had been duly printed. A week later there were entries on YouTube in which

people had done spoof videos set to music. One particular one was set to Queen‘s

Bohemian Rhapsody with lines like ‗Thunderbolts and wanking, very very

frightening.‘ Needless to say, Geoff never spoke to me again.

       The second e-mail was from Stefan. This really surprised me, because he‘d

said that he didn‘t trust e-mails because ‗any little shit with no friends could hack

them‘. Also, I had never given him, or anyone associated with him, my personal

address.



       Connor, my friend.

       I heard about Shaw. My offer still stands. Please come and work for me. It

would be fun. You would earn good money.

       Stefan



       I‘d forgotten about Stefan‘s offer and now couldn‘t give a stuff about the

danger. I was going to do it.




                                                                                    58
59
                                               7



       The third e-mail was from the lottery. I‘d been playing the lottery online for

years. It was so much easier and meant I didn‘t need to go to the corner shop, where

there would be a huge queue caused by some idiot who had filled in pages of lines on

numerous tickets but had got one wrong. I never played the same numbers, because to

me that caused more trouble than it was worth. If you did that, the numbers became

printed on your brain. You knew them instantly and could recite them in your sleep

and as long as you played those numbers every single week, there wasn‘t a problem.

       A friend of mine, Julia, had played the lottery with the same numbers since it

first began. Her birthday was 12th August, so two numbers were 12 and 8. Her mother

got married on 25th September, so 25 was the next one. Her dog had four spots on his

nose so 4 had to be included. The number of boyfriends she‘d had an orgasm with

was 1. For the last number, she really pulled it out of the bag. Her brother had been

born with three nipples and to redress the terrible time he had at school for such an

affliction, 3 was the final key to unlock countless riches. These numbers were set in

stone and she never wavered.

       One Saturday morning, she got a call from a very old friend who had just

discovered her husband had been having an affair with his fitness instructor. Being a

kindly soul, Julia offered to meet her for a consolation session over lunch, but after

two bottles of wine, time recognition went out of the window. She couldn‘t get away

as the friend kept breaking out in uncontrollable sobbing. When it got to three bottles,

all Julia could do was stumble into a cab, return home to throw up and wake up on

Sunday morning on the sofa.




                                                                                     60
       After a bath she put on the Sunday slobs and went to get the papers. Whilst

walking back to her flat, carrying a small rainforest in newspaper, she caught a glance

at the lottery results on the front page on one of the rags. Immediately halting in her

tracks, she dropped everything on the ground and stood for a few moments before

picking up the papers and staring at those results. They were her numbers. They were

the numbers that she had played every draw for 10 years. They were also the numbers

that she didn‘t have a ticket for. Because of her inebriation the day before, the ticket

hadn‘t been bought.

       Many months later, Julia told me how every day she went to work knowing

that she shouldn‘t be doing that. She shouldn‘t be getting the Tube and going to a job

she hated and working with people she loathed. I could only to begin to fathom the

hell that she was going through. If it had been me, I‘d have turned into a basket case,

muttering constantly to myself about how my friend was an evil witch and how she‘d

ruined my life. No, lucky dip was the only way to go. Allowing the numbers to be

picked randomly by the lottery took all that pressure away.

       The subject line of the e-mail read: News about your lottery ticket. I had

received at least 10 of these e-mails before and the first time I opened one, I almost

had a heart attack. My pulse was racing and I started to feel light headed. The text in

the body of the e-mail informed me that there was exciting news about my ticket and

all I needed to do was follow the link. When I clicked, it read: Your ticket has won.

Click on ‘My Account’ to see how much. I was sweating, thinking that it was the

moment that would change my life forever. It was difficult to actually click the mouse

I was shaking so much. As the next page revealed itself, I took in a huge deep breath.

CONGRATULATIONS. You have won £10. ‗Shit!‘ I exhaled in abject disappointment.




                                                                                     61
          So it was with a sense of complete non-excitement that I opened this one.

Having been through the usual process, I casually glanced at the screen, expecting the

news of the £10 win. But something wasn‘t right. The screen filled with a flashing

message saying: PLEASE CALL 0809 0808973 IMMEDIATELY. Although this was a

different message, all the past disappointments tempered my excitement. Perhaps they

were doing normal security checks or wanted to make sure that I didn‘t have a 6-year-

old son who was using my credit card to gamble online. Either way, I treated it like a

routine call.

           ‗Good morning, Thank you for calling the lottery. I‘m Suzanne, how can I

help you today?‘ said the operator as though she was working in an insurance call

centre.

           ‗Hi, Suzanne. I have a message to contact you about my lottery ticket,‘ I said

while doodling on the notepad in front of me.

           ‗OK, can I have your name please?‘

           ‗Yes, it‘s Connor Blaine.‘

           ‗Hello, Mr. Blaine. How are you today?‘

           ‗Very well, thanks,‘ I said, lying. No one ever wanted to hear that life was

shit. ‗How are you?‘ was a question for which the answer should always be ‗great‘ no

matter what was going on in life. People don‘t want or need to actually hear how your

day or life was going. They only need a standard response that makes them feel good.

           ‗How much are you claiming today, Mr. Blaine?‘

           ‗I‘m assuming it‘s £10 or a security check or something. Your website-mail

only told me to contact you; it didn‘t give a reason.‘

           ‗Do you have an online account?‘ I wanted to shout that of course I had an

online account. Otherwise how would I have known to contact them?


                                                                                      62
        ‗Yes.‘

        ‗Can I have your account number please?‘ Her voice stayed flat.

        ‗3454 327 284 782 CFG,‘ I said, reading off the screen. I could hear Suzanne

typing in the numbers on her call centre keyboard. There was a pause.

        ‗My apologies, Mr. Blaine. Could I have that number again?‘ she said while

taking a big breath and showing a little more interest than before.

        ‗Yes, it‘s 3454 327 284 782 CFG.‘ I was still doodling. Again I heard her

typing and then there was another pause. This one lasted so long that I was pulled out

of my daydream.

         ‗Hello? Are you still there?‘ I asked, slightly irritated.

         ‗Mr. Blaine. Can you confirm the number of the ticket you bought on the

first of May this year?‘ she sounded excited. Each time I had bought a ticket online, I

was sent an e-mail confirming the numbers and giving me a ticket number which was

assigned to each entry.

        ‗I‘d have to go through my e-mails. Is this really necessary?‘ I wasn‘t in the

mood to go trawling through all my old e-mails to find the one detailing this ticket

number for £10.

        ‗Yes, Mr. Blaine. Believe me, this is very necessary. I will hold.‘

Begrudgingly, I went to my e-mail account and after a few minutes I found the

relevant e-mail.

        ‗Hello. The ticket number is 6789HRT567.‘

        ‗Please repeat that number, Mr. Blaine.‘ I was ready to swear at Suzanne

now.

        ‗6789HRT567.‘ Then came another long pause and a deep intake of breath.

        ‗Mr. Blaine, I have some news about your ticket.‘ Another pause.


                                                                                    63
        ‗Yes?‘ Why did this bloody woman keep pausing?

        ‗Congratulations. You have won the jackpot, a total of one hundred and ten

million pounds.‘

        ‗I‘m sorry, what did you say?‘ I was laughing, an involuntary reaction to

something I was sure I hadn‘t heard. I had done that when dad told me my granny was

dead, a reaction he couldn‘t fathom and was very offended by. When someone told

me news that was totally unbelievable, my defence system immediately laughed it off.

        ‗Yes, Mr. Blaine, you have won one hundred and ten million pounds.‘

       This was a moment I‘d thought about so many times. I had dreamt of my

reaction, what I would say and how I‘d deal with it. I would be very calm at first,

almost as if I had expected it. I would thank the person giving me the news, then go

nuts in a very lucid manner and disappear to have one hell of a party for the rest of my

life. But no matter how many times it had been imagined, when Suzanne told me I‘d

scooped £110 million, all I could do was fix a non-blinking stare on the computer

screen. All peripheral vision and sounds disappeared, and although I was aware of

holding the phone, any sensory perception of where I was had disintegrated. Staring at

the green light on the monitor, one thought prevailed. I was rich. Not just rich.

Incredibly rich. Incredibly, disgustingly, unbelievably rich. Suzanne was saying

something to me about coming in to pick up the cheque. She also wanted to know

whether I wanted publicity. Everything she was saying was just white noise as my

future whizzed before my eyes   —   the cars, the houses, the girls, the holidays   —I   was

feeling light headed, my surroundings a total haze of out-of-focus images.

        ‗Mr. Blaine? Are you there?‘ Suzanne said loudly.

        ‗No publicity,‘ I managed to utter without really knowing what I was saying.




                                                                                          64
       My subconscious brain was listening to her explain that a car would pick me

up the next day and I gave them my address. Once I‘d put the phone down, I just

stared at it for what seemed like hours as my consciousness tried to comprehend the

situation. Was this really happening? I started muttering gibberish to myself, over and

over. I can‘t remember what it was, but I‘m sure it was liable to have had me carted

off to the looney bin if anyone had heard.

       Then something clicked, and I just got up slowly and started walking out of

the office serenely. Although aware of where I was walking, nothing was registering.

The two pretty receptionists smiled and said something to me as I passed. Everything

was in slow motion. It was like being in the middle of some three-day bender

involving all sorts of hallucinogenic drugs. My legs were wobbly and I was so light-

headed I thought I was going to faint.

       As I opened the front door of the office, I received a blast of hot air from the

street. The brightness of the outside world was just a wall of light that only added to

the surreal feeling. As I stood in the street in the middle of Soho in the blazing

sunshine, I began to feel a burning sensation in my stomach. It turned to a violent

fizzing, moved up my insides and exploded in my head with such intensity, it made

me jump five feet in the air.

         ‗Fucking yeeeeeeeeees!‘ I screamed at the top of my voice. It was like having

a thousand orgasms at once after having put half of Columbia up my nose. I started

shaking my clenched fists whilst running round Soho Square. ‘I‘m rich! I‘m fucking

rich! I won the lottery! Yes! Yes! Yes!‘

       No one paid any attention to me. They were used to strange behaviour in Soho

and I would have had to do something pretty spectacular to draw a crowd, not that I‘d

have cared or even noticed if that had happened. I began jumping up and down on the


                                                                                    65
spot, punching hard into the sky, looking like a cow with BSE trying to star-jump.

‗Yes! Yes! Fucking yes! Whooohaaa!‘

        Then came another spurt of hard running. To where, I didn‘t know, and I was

still screaming like a lunatic. When the 20-a-day habit caught up with me, I just stood

there smiling and shouting to myself. I found myself standing opposite the Starling

Hotel, one of the newest additions to a worldwide, uber-hip hotel empire. It had been

voted the coolest hotel in the world and a glass of vintage champagne in there was just

what I needed. In fact, why not a bottle? I bounded up the grand marble steps and was

met by an exceptionally pretty greeter.

         ‗Hello sir. How are you today?‘ she said with a sexy smile.

         ‗Fucking fantastic, thank you. How are you?‘ I didn‘t wait for the answer and

was already bursting through the front doors, heading for the bar. I didn‘t know where

it was, but being in full flight, I just headed for where I thought it might be.

        It was a large room with a long bar down the centre. On one side were tables

set up for eating and on the other, a more relaxed look with sofas and large

comfortable-looking armchairs. Waiting staff in black milled everywhere. The

lighting changed colour every twenty seconds in a way so subtle that it was hard to

actually spot the joins. Normally a place like this would have intimidated me, but for

this moment in time I was invincible and confident, and felt I had just as much right to

be there as anyone else. I made for the white suede sofa in the window overlooking

the street.

        As I watched everyone milling about on the street outside, all busily on their

way to or from their places of work, I knew I‘d never have to do that ever again. As

the waiter came over, he must have seen my ear-to-ear smile.

         ‗Hello, sir. What I can I get you this afternoon?‘


                                                                                     66
         ‗Hello, my friend. I was thinking champagne.‘

         ‗Well, we have a fine selection of champagnes by the glass.‘

         ‗I‘m thinking about a bottle. In fact, I‘m thinking about a bottle of vintage

champagne. What about Cristal?‘ I asked. I‘d never tasted Cristal, but I knew it was

the tipple of some music superstars and everyone knew it was cool.

         ‗Well, sir, Cristal is in fact quite an inferior champagne for the price. It is

drunk by people who don‘t know any better and just want to be flash, so the price has

rocketed far ahead of what it‘s actually worth. It is one of the biggest rip-offs in the

drink industry. May I recommend the Krug 1995 Vintage? It explodes on the palate

with tremendous depth and complexity. The first impression is intense, yet it develops

in the glass with delicacy and never fails to disappoint.‘ I really liked this guy.

         ‗Well then, let‘s go for that.‘

         ‗Very good, sir. How many glasses would you like?‘

         ‗Just the one, thanks.‘




                                                                                      67
                                             8



       The waiter was right. It was truly fantastic champagne. As I began to think

how to actually spend the money, I considered a series of questions I couldn‘t believe

I was asking myself. Would it be the Ferrari or the Aston? What about the Bentley?

Why not all of them? Should I buy a flat in New York? What about the Finca in

Spain? How much would that be? What about a house in the country, or should I just

emigrate altogether to get away from the incessant grey sky? How much interest

would £110 million earn a year?

       I was on my fourth glass and it was fair to say I was feeling no pain

whatsoever. The bubbles had only added to my already interstellar sense of happiness.

Thoughts turned to how my friends and family were going to react. In my dreams, I

thought I‘d just ring everyone up and tell them I‘d won the lottery, but now that it had

happened, I wasn‘t sure that was the best policy. I wrestled with who I‘d call first and

how I‘d tell them. Of course my family and good friends would be happy for me, but I

imagined what it would be like if I were in their positions. If one of them had called

me to say they‘d won that sort of money, I would be very pleased for them, but I‘d

also be insanely jealous. I mulled over this question with another glass and then

decided to hell with it. I was going to call them all.

       The bill came and made me wince. I would never have thought of paying £300

for a bottle of champagne before, but circumstances were different now. I was

suddenly different. What the hell! I went to my back trouser pocket where I usually



                                                                                     68
kept the wallet only to find it wasn‘t there. It was in my jacket along with my mobile

back in the office.

         ‗Ah, I‘m afraid I‘ve left my wallet in the office,‘ I said apologetically to el

coolio. ‗I‘ll go and get it and come back to settle this up. I only work a block away.‘

The waiter suddenly became very unfriendly and looked at me with total contempt.

He was astounded that someone would insult his intelligence by trying to get away

with such a terrible ploy.

         ‗I‘m sorry, sir, we can‘t do that,‘ he sniffed.

         ‗Look. I‘m not trying to duck out of paying for this. I‘ve just won the lottery

and I will give you a great tip if you just allow me to nip back and get my wallet.‘

         ‗I‘m sure you have sir, and did I tell you that I‘m actually an Oscar-winning

actor who is studying for my next role as a pissed-off waiter?‘

         ‗You‘re going to regret being like that. I really have won the lottery and you

will get bugger all tip.‘

         ‗I don‘t know how I‘ll sleep at night, sir.‘ As much as he was irritating me,

he did have a point. He didn‘t know me from Adam and I was the one who couldn‘t

pay my bill.

         ‗OK. I‘ll call someone in the office and get them to bring my wallet down.

Will that be alright?‘

         ‗Of course, sir,‘ he said condescendingly as he turned haughtily on his heels.

         ‗Excuse me,‘ I called out as he was halfway back to his station. ‗Can I

borrow your phone?‘

        Half an hour later Peter, one of the researchers, arrived with my coat, phone

and wallet. He didn‘t ask why I was three sheets to the wind at four in the afternoon

and I didn‘t offer that information up. He dutifully disappeared as soon as the goods


                                                                                       69
were handed over. The waiter turned out to be quite a nice chap so I tipped him well,

which he appreciated without sarcasm. Even though on paper I was insanely rich, my

card still could have been refused, so in honour of the occasion, I ordered another

bottle without knowing whether I could pay for it or not.

       Reunited with my mobile, it was time to make the calls to friends and family.

Buoyed by the arrival of more champagne, I set about the task with vigour. Deciding

to tell them that I had some really great news and needed to meet up, I was going to

sing like a canary when we were face-to-face.

       First up was my brother Simon, a very successful lawyer. Like him, I studied

law at university but unlike him, only did so because I thought LLB looked better on

the CV than BSc Combined Honours. I had no intention of becoming a lawyer,

whereas he knew it was the career for him. Simon had a huge slog that included a year

of law school after university, then three more years before becoming a fully qualified

lawyer. Throughout those years, he also studied and sat for hundreds of exams.

       As a newly qualified lawyer, he got all the legwork type of law as he moved

around the various departments. This was the sort of work that partners offloaded on

their juniors because it was exceptionally boring. It was preparation before meetings

and deals so the partners could negotiate, close deals and then take the credit. He

started to wonder why he‘d chosen this particular profession until he got his break.

       He had been preparing a big deal and when the first meeting came around, the

partner responsible for the deal fell ill. Simon had to stand in at the last minute and the

opposing partner was so impressed by his abilities, he requested Simon lead all further

negotiations on the deal. After seeing the deal out, he was offered a good job with the

opposing firm. He accepted in a flash and rose up the ranks very quickly as his

negotiation skills rocketed him to partner in almost record time. Our earnings went in


                                                                                        70
opposite directions. I was broke, while he was absolutely rolling in it. We usually saw

each other at least once a week, but he‘d been working even harder than usual and I

hadn‘t seen him for a few weeks.

           ‗Hello! How are things?‘ I asked in a normal manner.

           ‗Very good. You sound as though you‘re in a bar,‘ he said with disdain.

While broke, out of work and staying at his place, I‘d still managed to find someone

to drink with in the afternoon. On many an occasion, he came back from a hard day‘s

work to find me shitfaced. Understandably, this irked him.

           ‗Yeah, I‘m in the Starling Hotel.‘

           ‗Jesus, you haven‘t been fired again have you?‘

           ‗Nothing like that. I‘ve just been in here with a couple of people from work,‘

I lied. ‗Dude, what are you up to later?‘ I asked.

           ‗I‘ve had a terrible day which looks set to continue. I‘d still be up for a beer

later though.‘

           ‗Well I‘ll meet you after work. I‘ve got some really great news to tell you.‘

Although I was nowhere near his office, I could travel now that I was a man of

leisure.

           ‗Oh really? What is it?‘

           ‗I‘ll tell you when we meet.‘

           ‗Well, I usually like to get the hell out of the City after work on Friday, but

let‘s meet at Quince by St Paul‘s.‘

           ‗Cool. See you then.‘ He probably thought my great news was that I was

embarking on some other half-arsed scheme that was going to make me rich. There

had been a few in the past, such as the carwash with half-naked girls and the cigarette

delivery service for those moments when you were at home and found yourself


                                                                                        71
without fags. I thought I was starting to slur my words, but I didn‘t give a damn. Next

was up was John.

         ‗Hello, mate. How are you doing?‘ I asked as he answered the phone.

         ‗Good. You?‘

         ‗Very good. What are you up to tonight?‘

          ‗Oh, I‘ve got to go and see this useless band in the arse end of nowhere just

to listen to them talk crap about where they are going musically and how they will

never sell out.‘ John ran an entertainment company with a wide range of interests

including artist management, music publishing and Internet ventures. He had built the

business up from scratch with his brother and after two years of hard work, they were

starting to see the fruits of their labour.

        One of the areas that had flourished was the music management division,

which had been spurred on by a great success with JAST. They were a rock band John

had signed after seeing them perform in the back room of a North London pub. It was

a riotous set that ended with three of the crowd being rushed to hospital after a mass

brawl. Despite their tendency to wind up as many people as possible, John saw their

potential. After two years of touring every seedy dive that existed in the U.K., they

got a record deal and had just had a number one with their first-ever album. They

were also starting to make waves in the U.S. and John could see dollar signs, lots of

them.

        Despite JAST‘s growing success, he knew he still had to keep discovering

new talent. Relying on just one band to make all the money for the business was a

risky strategy, so he still had to deal with those unsigned bands. I arranged to see him

for a drink a few days later. Everyone else I tried was busy or their phones were off. I




                                                                                     72
was rich beyond my wildest dreams and the only people to know were me and

Suzanne from the lottery.

       Quince was one of the rare bars in the City that had resisted the urge to go

modern in its decor. Although having just been refurbished, it had kept its original

look from the days when it was an old-fashioned boozer for the dock workers and

fishermen.

         ‗Chief, what‘s the big news then?‘ Simon asked as I approached him.

         ‗Let me get a drink and I‘ll tell you.‘ When I brought a bottle of vintage

champagne over, he gave me a puzzled look.

         ‗What‘s going on? I suppose I‘m paying for that, unless of course you‘ve

won the lottery?‘ he joked.

         ‗Funny you should say that, but I have.‘ He was right on both counts,

actually. He would have to pay for the champagne, as the bottles earlier meant my

card definitely wouldn‘t work.

         ‗Yeah, and I‘m the Pope who‘s just nipped into the local for a pint and I‘m

looking to pull a girl for a one night stand.‘

         ‗No, really, I won the lottery. One hundred and ten million quid.‘ We just

looked at each other for a while. I was nodding, trying to assure him that I wasn‘t

joking and he just stared, trying to comprehend the enormity of what I‘d just said.

‗And I‘m going to give you five million.‘ He was still staring and after ten minutes of

‗you‘re joking‘ and ‗no I‘m not‘ a huge grin appeared across his face as he finally

realised I wasn‘t messing around.

                 Once we‘d discussed a few things over another bottle of champagne,

he rang his managing partner to quit. ‗Matthew, I‘m afraid I‘m handing in my notice.

I‘m leaving now because my brother has won the lottery and is giving me five


                                                                                    73
million. I don‘t have to work again. It was very good to know you. Take care. Bye,‘

was the voicemail he left. We looked at each other and both burst out laughing. ‗I

hope you‘re not shitting me, because I‘ve just thrown my whole career away,‘ Simon

managed to say.

        The resulting night involved dinner in one of the most expensive restaurants in

London, then on to a private members club where we drank more vintage champagne

and espresso martinis until about 4 a.m. Again he had to pay for it all, but that didn‘t

matter a jot.




                                                                                     74
                                              9



       I woke up the next morning at Simon‘s with one of the worst hangovers I‘d

ever had. It was a sure sign that I was getting older. In my twenties, the day after a

bender was no problem, but now it was getting harder and harder to recover and

muddle through days with cotton wool for brains.

       I struggled into the bathroom, looking for super-strength pain killers and

hoped there was a sachet of fizzy hangover cure lurking somewhere. Stubbing my toe

on the doorframe was something I really didn‘t need at that stage. Only as I sat on the

side of the bath with my head in my hands, feeling as though I was about to be sick,

did it dawn on me why I was hung over in the first place. The realisation that I was

going to pick up a cheque for £110 million took all pain and suffering away

immediately. The adrenalin from the day before started coursing through my veins

again as the euphoria returned.

       It was an hour later when Simon‘s door buzzer shrieked loudly, announcing

the arrival of the driver the lottery had sent. I hated that buzzer; it was so loud and

always made me jump. Whatever pad I bought would have a quiet buzzer.

       Dave, the driver, greeted me as I came out the door. He was a stocky man with

a beer belly that looked as though it took serious work to keep in shape. His short-

sleeved shirt showed off his massive forearms, which were covered in tattoos.

         ‗Hello, Mr. Blaine. I‘m Dave, your driver,‘ he said as he opened one of the

back doors.

         ‗Hi, Dave. How are you doing?‘ As he drove me across London, I discovered

Dave was a very chatty fellow. Not that I minded, absolutely nothing was going to

irritate me today.


                                                                                    75
       It turned out that he got all of his tattoos during service with the Navy. There

were ship names, strange bar names and various nicknames. Like the old cliché of a

girl in every port, there were also tattoos of girlfriends‘ names from all over the

world. He said that every time he got a new girlfriend, he‘d get one done in her name

to show her that the others no longer meant anything to him. They always fell for it,

but as soon as the ink dried, they then became ‗clingers‘ and he went off them. He

was a roaming sea dog who didn‘t want to be tied down to one girl. That didn‘t stop

him having a couple of kids though, one in Venezuela and one in Bangkok.

         ‗I tell you, Mr. Blaine, the Venezuelan was gorgeous,‘ he said, recalling his

past conquests. ‗Her soft skin was a rich brown. Her eyes were unbelievable. She had

an ass you could eat your dinner off, but not like those skinny models who are all skin

and bones. No, it was beautifully rounded and shaped like a peach. Her hips . . . wow.

I like a bit of purchase, if you know what I mean. When she swayed those hips to that

Latin music, it did it for me every time. I thought a lot of that girl. I even told her I‘d

get rid of all the other girls‘ tattoos rather than just add her name.‘ He was looking up

into the air with a smile on his face as he remembered this girl. I just hoped he‘d do

the remembering while looking at the road.

       ‗We were stationed in Caracas initially for two months to help train their Navy

in battle exercises. Useless they were, so our tour kept getting extended with each ship

they crashed. Into the fourth month, she told me she was up the duff. I thought ‗shit‘

and ran back to the ship to hide. Well, you know those Catholics are not too keen on

children being born out of wedlock. Her father and three brothers came to the ship to

speak to my C.O. They were demanding I make good and marry her. Luckily the C.O.

lied that I was locked in the punishment cell for disobeying my shore orders. We got




                                                                                        76
the hell out of there the next day. I can still see them standing on the side of the quay

making slit throat gestures to me on the deck as we left.‘

         ‗Did you ever contact her?‘ I asked, not knowing how true the story was, but

enjoying it none the less.

         ‗About a year later, I got a letter sent via our base in Plymouth. She said she

understood why I left and included a picture of the sprog. Good looking boy, like his

father. He‘ll be 10 now and I send them a bit of money when I can and she sends me

pictures every birthday.‘

         ‗What about the other one?‘

         ‗Ah, yeah, totally different. She was a prostitute in Bangkok.‘ Dave was

really being open and happily talked away as though I was having a pint with him.

‗We only had shore leave for one night, and me and the lads had a skinful, a couple of

punch ups and then went to this brothel. I was so drunk, I could hardly get it up, but

being the man I am, I did, of course. I woke up in the morning with a fucker of a

hangover, went back to the ship and thought nothing more of it. The next time we

docked there, about two years later, we did the same again. One night‘s shore leave,

totally drunk, no punch ups this time, but we went back to the same brothel. As soon

as we walked in, all hell broke loose. All the hookers started screaming at us and one

started running down the stairs with a baby in her arms screaming something at me.

She was mad as hell. One of the lads could speak a bit of Thai and told me she was

screaming that I was the father. I didn‘t remember her at all. Then the pimps started

joining in, screaming louder than the girls. Shorty laid one of them out and we legged

it back to the ship with the little bastards chasing after us with fucking machetes. They

would have had us for chop suey if they‘d caught up. Luckily our ship guards had

guns and they changed their minds about coming on board to get us.‘


                                                                                      77
           I liked Dave. Even if he did talk complete bullshit, it was good bullshit. He

went on to tell me that he was now happily married with three kids and living in

Surrey. ‗I never thought I would ever marry, but my wife is something else.‘ Before

he could go on to tell me how he met his wife, we pulled up outside the lottery

offices.

            ‗Oh, we‘re here, I‘ll tell you about my wife another time,‘ he said as he got

out to open my door. Suddenly I couldn‘t care less about this chapter in his life as the

butterflies in my stomach started again.

            The lottery offices were housed in an imposing brilliant white Georgian

building just off Regent Street. As I climbed the pristine steps, my heart started to

beat heavily. Behind the ancient exterior was a huge minimalist reception area with

marble floors, hidden lighting, Robert Eames chairs, ultra modern art on the walls and

surprisingly, no actual ‗reception‘ desk.

            ‗Hello, Mr. Blaine. I‘m Lindsey and I‘ll show up to the Hawthorne suite,‘

said a petite brunette in a blue uniform, who had appeared miraculously from

nowhere.

            ‗Wow, this place is amazing,‘ I said as Lindsay pushed the seventh floor

button in the glass-bottomed lift. As we ascended, the vertigo that would normally

have had me clinging to the sides of the lift in sheer panic had deserted me.

           We went through the fifth floor and it became clear that this five-story

building was in fact seven. They had built the other two stories entirely out of glass

and these extended out of the centre of the original roof. I could see from one side of

the construction to the other through about seven offices, all adorned with fantastic

art. The doors of the lift opened and we walked along the glass floor to a room where




                                                                                      78
three people were sitting round a large leather table. I assumed that was where we

were going because there were no other people to be seen in the other glass cubicles.

         ‗Mr. Blaine. I‘m very pleased to meet you. I‘m Diane Sears, head of

winnings at the lottery and I‘ll be taking you through the whole process today,‘ said

the first of the three, a woman in a pinstripe suit with a short haircut and a face with

extremely sharp features. She shook my hand and turned to introduce the other two.

‗This is Gerald Davies, your lottery-appointed financial adviser who will outline some

of the options available to you. And this is Fiona Harkness, who will be tending to

your personal affairs.‘ Mr. Davies was a tall skinny man in his forties wearing a grey

ill-fitting suit. He wore round-rim glasses and was going bald. There was a patch of

hair at the front which he had left longer than the rest in the vain attempt to persuade

himself that he still had a full head of hair. Fiona was a heavy-set blonde girl in her

late twenties. She was wearing a smart dark grey skirt and jacket, and the first thing I

noticed was her piercing blue eyes. Her handshake was firm and suggested she was a

sporty type. All three sat down facing me and each placed a folder on the table as

Lindsey disappeared. All I could do was focus on the three folders in front of them.

Which one had the cheque?

         ‗Understandably, Mr. Blaine, I can see your thoughts are on the money,‘

Diane said, bringing my attention back up to her face. ‗First, let me put you out of

your misery.‘ She pushed her folder over to my side of the table. Only when it was

under my nose did I notice that it was leather with ‗Ashley & Hattersley Private

Investment Banking‘ embossed in gold on the front. It was like being handed the Holy

Grail and although I had absolutely no idea who Ashley or Hattersley was, I knew that

the folder in front of me was the key to the rest of my life.




                                                                                     79
        ‗In front of you is a pack from Ashley & Hattersley Private Investment

Banking, which is the premiere investment house in London, if not the world. They

only deal with very high net worth individuals of which, Mr. Blaine, you are now one.

If you open it, you‘ll see account details that have been set up for you by us. In the

current account, you will see a deposit of one hundred and ten million pounds,‘ she

said in a very matter-of-fact manner. I opened the folder and there staring at me was a

letter on A & H headed paper.




       Dear Mr. Blaine,



       We are pleased to welcome you as a client and have credited your account

with £110,000,000.



       We look forward to meeting you, assessing all your needs and determining the

best way forward for the management of your portfolio.



       Yours sincerely,



       Gerald Hattersley

CEO Ashley & Hattersley Private Investment Banking



       Staring at me there in black and white was the confirmation of my sudden

wealth. I must say, I was expecting a cheque and all the razzmatazz that went with it. I

had imagined seeing my name in the ‗pay‘ line and then seeing the amount with many


                                                                                     80
zeros in the box on the bottom right. Instead, I had a very short and business-like

letter from some chap called Gerald. Although it wasn‘t what I‘d expected, the

enormity of the whole thing didn‘t escape me and the impact was truly intense. Just

seeing that amount of money spelt out was breathtaking enough, let alone the fact that

Gerald had told me it was now sitting in my account. After allowing me a couple of

minutes of silence while I stared at the deposit details in disbelief, Mr. Daniels then

took over.

         ‗At a more appropriate time, Mr. Blaine, I will need to run through all the

various permutations you have available to you with your portfolio. They involve

different departments which will be dealing with all aspects of your money such as

your investment portfolio, property portfolio and offshore portfolio. We have

numerous tax-exempt schemes with high return capabilities and consolidation

potential.‘ Mr. Daniels was a man who could send a rhino to sleep at a hundred yards.

Sensing that he‘d lost me, Fiona then piped up.

         ‗Mr. Blaine, I will be looking after all your personal needs. I will act as first

point of call for business associates and run your diary, both professionally and

personally. I have great contacts all over the world and will be able to make sure that

you are never wanting for anything.‘ She had the voice of a woman who likes to hunt

and horse-ride, and who hangs around with royalty. It was deep, full of authority and

had clipped tones that gave away what I imagined had been a very privileged

upbringing. ‗Of course, if you don‘t wish to avail yourself of the services of myself or

Mr. Daniels, then you are entitled to do so. After all, it is your money.‘

         ‗Of course I would like to use you both,‘ I beamed, still looking at the figure

printed on the opening balance letter. I really liked the idea of a private investment

banking service similar to the ones that landed gentry had used centuries before. They


                                                                                       81
had made a big comeback in London with the flood of foreign billionaires arriving

from countries like India and Russia. The idea of a personal assistant was even more

welcoming. ‗First things first, I need to go away and money is obviously no object,‘ I

said finally, looking at Fiona. She smiled, nodded and made a note.

         ‗I know just the place,‘ she said with a courteous and knowing smile. They

kept it quite short and sweet and the meeting soon came to an end. They could see I

had other things on my mind and wasn‘t interested in sitting in a glass office chatting

through options. In the leather-bound pack was a Visa debit card. I was only used to

the cards that they gave to students, the ones that I felt embarrassed presenting at

restaurants because everyone immediately knew I was poor. This one was black and

shiny and looked like a thin slice of marble rather than a bank card. It was my key to

the huge amounts of cash sitting in my account and was the most beautiful thing I‘d

ever seen. As I picked it up, it was treated with all the reverence of a priceless and

fragile piece of art. The rest of my life was about to begin and I couldn‘t wait.




                                                                                    82
                                              10



         ‗How are you feeling, Mr. Blaine?‘ asked Dave as we headed away from the

lottery offices. He would have known I was there to pick up winnings, but wouldn‘t

have an idea of the amount.

         ‗Words can‘t describe it, Dave. I‘m still numb. I will never forget this day as

long as I live.‘

         ‗And so you should be. I have driven many a winner and the ones I can‘t

stand are the ones who don‘t seem bothered by the whole thing. They don‘t want to

spend the money and insist it won‘t change their lives. Bollox.‘ Dave was a man after

my own heart.

        Our first destination of the day was my parents, who lived in Gerrards Cross, a

village only about half an hour outside London. Mum was a painter and Dad an

accountant. They weren‘t wealthy but were semi-retired, both having given up steady

9 to 5 work but still earning money on a part-time basis. Mum sold her paintings and

Dad did about two days a week as a consultant. The rest of the time was spent playing

golf (Dad) and having lunch with the girls (Mum).

                                                                                     83
        ‗Now, I‘ve got something to tell you,‘ I said quite dramatically after the

normal pleasantries had been exchanged. Mum‘s anticipation level went through the

roof. My brother and I were single and she had been pining for a grandchild for years.

Even when we did have girlfriends, we would never tell our parents because

something akin to the Spanish inquisition would follow in attempting to find out who

she was and what she was like. Mum would usually ask the nice questions like ‗What

colour are her eyes?‘ or ‗Where does she live?‘ and Dad would chip in with questions

like ‗What are her tits like?‘ or ‗Is she good in bed?‘ A statement of intent like the

one I had just given meant to Mum that I was about to announce I was engaged and

would be able to give her the baby she was desperate for.

        ‗Mum. Dad . . . I‘m gay.‘ I couldn‘t resist this. My parents had come from

the generation for whom homosexuality was not a common thing and as such it was

not something they were particularly OK with, although Mum was definitely a little

more relaxed about it.

        ‗Oh, shit, you‘re not,‘ Dad said with one of the most horrified looks I‘d ever

seen him give. He actually collapsed into the chair in shock. I left it a few more

moments, his face frozen in terror.

        ‗Yes, I have met a wonderful guy called David and we‘re going to get

married. I hope you‘ll both come to the ceremony,‘ I continued, loving my own joke.

        ‗Oh my God! Oh my God!‘ Dad kept repeating to himself. Mum was just

staring at me trying to get some words out.

        ‗No, don‘t worry, that was a joke.‘

        ‗What! For God‘s sake, Connor! Are you trying to give me a heart attack?‘

Dad said, holding his chest. I thought for a moment that he was actually having one.




                                                                                   84
         ‗You know we would support you if you were gay,‘ Mum said, trying to

reassure me.

         ‗I‘m not. That really was a joke. What I really wanted to say was that I‘ve

won the lottery.‘ There was silence. ‗I said I won the lottery. One hundred and ten

million pounds!‘

         ‗Oh yes, just piss off, will you? Very funny. Bloody hell, what are you really

trying to tell us? Stop messing around.‘ Dad was getting a little angry.

         ‗No, I really have. I don‘t know how many times I have to say this. I WON

THE LOTTERY!‘ It still took a while for them to take me seriously. As soon as the

penny dropped, they both jumped up in unison, letting out shrieks of delight as they

converged to give me a parent group hug.

         ‗Oh my God! That‘s fantastic. So wonderful. All your problems are over,

dear. You‘ll never have to worry about money again,‘ my mum was chanting as she

hugged me.

         ‗Just think of the birds you‘ll be getting now, son,‘ Dad said hopefully.

         ‗Well, I want to give you two the money you need to have a wonderful rest

of your lives.‘

       We talked for hours about what I was going to do with the money and what

would make them happiest for the rest of their lives. They wanted to live abroad,

somewhere with good weather where Mum would just paint for pleasure and Dad

would golf every day. I reckoned about two million would get them a beautiful house

and allow them to live in the way they wanted. Mum cried many times. I thought my

happiness couldn‘t be topped, but seeing how overwhelmed my parents were filled

me with a new joy.




                                                                                     85
         ‗How‘d that go?‘ Dave asked when I got back in the car. He knew it was a

stupid question, but he was just being nice.

         ‗Fantastically. As you can imagine, they were rather pleased.‘

         ‗Bet they were. I‘d go fucking mental if my son had just told me he‘d won

the lottery.‘

                The next destination was back to London to meet up with Fiona. We

were meeting in the Ritz, a venue she‘d suggested and one that didn‘t displease me at

all. She was already waiting for me in the bar, her blond hair was tied back and she

was tanned, which considering we hadn‘t seen the sun for many weeks, was obviously

fake. She seemed sexier than when we first met. As we sat down, I caught a glimpse

of the bag at her feet. There had been an article in one of the Sunday papers‘ style

magazine saying that only a small number of them had been made and unless you

were royalty or the very top of the A-list ladder, you didn‘t have a hope in hell of

getting one.

         ‗I really fancy a glass of champagne. Will you have one?‘ I asked the suited

one opposite me.

         ‗Thanks, but I‘d better not. Although I will have a virgin Mary,‘ she said.

         ‗That‘s no fun. Go on, have a bit of vodka in it.‘

         ‗I really had better not,‘ she replied, and I got in a bit of a huff that she

wasn‘t going to play.

        First on the agenda were the houses. She gave me details of about 20 homes,

all between £15 million and £30 million. There was a range of property types, from a

huge house with a swimming pool and gym in Kensington to a penthouse apartment

in a new building overlooking Hyde Park. I got that surreal, detached feeling again as

we looked at the type of property being considered. A friend of hers was a property


                                                                                       86
search consultant who was going to find and view properties before taking me round

the shortlist. I was to give him as many details as possible so he could compile a

comprehensive wish list.

       Then it was on to cars and she had another friend who was a dealer. This guy

wasn‘t the average car dealer though. He acted in a similar way to the property man

and would source the cars I wanted from a variety of sellers. I had to stop Fiona there

because I knew exactly where I was getting my first car. It was something I had

dreamt about for a long time and didn‘t need some Herbert or Charles ruining my

imagination of how it would happen. I was now on my third glass of the fizz and was

finding Fiona more and more attractive with every passing minute. I tried to flirt with

her, but she was having none of it.

         ‗Now to the matter of your accommodation while you look for your new

home,‘ she said and leaned forward towards me. I hadn‘t considered moving out of

Simon‘s flat until a new place had been found, but there was something in Fiona‘s

voice that made me all ears. She obviously had a plan and I knew I‘d like whatever it

was. ‗I thought you might like somewhere central and accommodating in terms of

entertaining guests.‘ Another glass finished, and as well as feeling thoroughly pissed,

I was really starting to fancy Fiona. Again I tried a bit of flirting, which again passed

without effect. ‗The manager here is a very dear friend and he said he‘ll give you a

suite at a very reasonable rate. It will be very comfortable with a large sitting room, a

dining room, a bar, three bedrooms, two bathrooms and a dressing room.‘

         ‗I bet that sort of luxury doesn‘t come cheap.‘

         ‗Well, normally it would cost over £1,500 per night, but your agreed rate is

only £400 per night.‘ A bargain, I thought.




                                                                                      87
        ‗Why not?‘ I tried to say in a nonchalant manner while trying not to act

astounded by the cost. When we finished all the business at hand, I made another

clumsy pass at her, something about how attractive she was and how sexy I found hair

being tied back. I might have even mentioned the secretary fantasy.

        ‗Thank you, Mr. Blaine. You‘re an attractive and now very rich man. I like

you, but I take a pride in my professionalism. My job is something I truly love doing

and for that reason I would never allow anything to compromise it. I‘m afraid that

includes sleeping with my clients,‘ she said as she held out her hand and smiled

apologetically. ‗The bill has been taken care of and I will get in touch as soon as I

have some appointments organised. You can move in here as soon as you want. See

you soon, Mr. Blaine.‘

        ‗Please, it‘s Connor.‘

        ‗I have sorted the bill. Goodbye, Connor.‘

       Dave‘s next task was to drop me at HR Owen. I had walked past their window

so many times over the years, looking at the Ferraris, Aston Martins and

Lamborghinis lined up as though they were on the starting line of the most expensive

car race in the world. They were so shiny, so sexy and so utterly unobtainable. Every

time I saw the potential buyers inside perusing the interiors of cars starting at

£150,000, I would be struck with sheer envy. Even more gut-wrenching than seeing

someone buying one was seeing someone my age or younger buying one.

       Trying to suppress the sheer excitement, I bowled in the showroom door with

great gusto and a slight stumble caused by the drink taken. My entrance, however, did

little stir the two salesmen from their desks. They looked at me as if I were some sort

of green campaigner wanting to give out to them for selling needless machines

responsible for killing the planet. I ignored their sneers, looked around and


                                                                                    88
immediately focussed on the Ferrari 458 Italia in the corner. It was the newest in the

range, a £200,000 supercar and widely touted as motoring heaven. Black with black

interior, wheels as wide as a house and curves to make the mouth water, it was a truly

stunning car.

       For me, owning a car like this wasn‘t just a symbol of the wealth needed to

buy one. Because I grew up loving everything about cars, I also appreciated the

beauty of the styling, the looks and mind-blowing speed. It was a shining example of

design and a masterpiece of mechanical engineering. I had no time for those who

believed they were planet-destroying penis replacements. They were the ones who

couldn‘t afford one and were just jealous. I opened the driver‘s door and the smell of

new leather wafted into my face. Everything was sparkling and sleek, and on the

steering wheel was the famous Ferrari horse. After an unsuitably long time, one of

the salesmen ventured over.

        ‗Can I help you, sir?‘ he asked in a condescending manner.

        ‗Yes. Thanks. I‘d like to buy this car. How much is it?‘

        ‗Well, sir, if you need to ask, you can‘t afford it, now can you?‘ He was

actually looking down his nose as he sneered at me.

        ‗Oh really!‘ I said as I got out, removed the black bank card from my wallet

and handed it to him. This was the first time I‘d used it and I was buying a Ferrari. As

soon as it was placed into his hand, the salesman made a very quick turnaround and

suddenly became far more reverent and contrite. That black card signalled to him that

I certainly had enough money to buy five cars, let alone one. He‘d just been handed

the key to a commission that would mean the school fees being paid for another year.

        ‗Now, sir, what would you like to know about this wonderful car?‘




                                                                                     89
               I had just spent two to three times the value of an average family house

in the U.K. on a car. It felt wonderful, but also a little scary at the same time. The

power of the wealth at my disposal frightened me. I cursed those drinks I‘d had with

Fiona because having just bought my dream car, I couldn‘t drive it away. Being over

the limit, I thought it wise not to risk losing my licence before even one day of my

membership in the Ferrari ownership club had elapsed. As it turned out, the garage

needed a couple of days to sort out the paperwork and get the number plates fitted.

They offered me a choice of personalised plates and I toyed with the idea of the truly

offensive ‗R1CH‘ or ‗110M‘ but thought better of it and opted for the normal plate.

       When I returned to pick it up, there was a scurry of activity as the salesman

almost broke a leg trying to get to me and shake my hand. Although not as excited as

I was, he certainly was very animated and fawning. He started running through all the

paperwork, but all I wanted to do was grab the key out of his hand and drive the thing.

       When the time eventually came, I lowered myself into the driver‘s seat, taking

in that wonderful new leather smell, and inserted the credit card key into the ignition

slot. The showroom‘s huge glass doors slid open in front of me and with a great sense

of occasion, I hit the ignition button on the dash. The engine made a noise that made

me shiver with anticipation. It gurgled like a caged tiger just waiting to explode in a

rush of Italian machismo. With a jaunty wave to the salesmen, I touched the

accelerator.

       Having not test driven the beast, I was unaware of how sensitive the

accelerator was and catapulted out of the showroom with G-force pinning me back in

the seat. It took longer than it should have to find the brake and again too much

pressure was applied. The car stopped as though it had hit a brick wall, throwing me

forward with such force it felt as though the seat belt had broken my collarbone.


                                                                                      90
Because it had Formula 1 state-of-the-art electronics, the car thought I was it mortal

danger and decided to deploy its airbags, which was like been punched by a

heavyweight boxer.

       While all this was going on, I had failed to notice that the car had shot across

the six lanes of traffic that head down from Marble Arch to Hyde Park Corner. A

white van had screeched to a halt millimetres from the driver‘s door. Luckily, it

wasn‘t a busy day, so apart from the van, there were only a few other cars that had

made emergency stops, but none had actually crashed. The driver of the white van

was shouting obscenities as the salesman appeared breathlessly in the passenger door

window. After being extracted from the car, I ran the gauntlet of driver abuse while

being walked over to the side of the road.

        ‗Don‘t worry, sir, that happens a lot,‘ the salesman lied as I dismissed the

suggestions of calling an ambulance and made embarrassed arrangements to come

back once the airbags had been fixed.




                                                                                    91
                                              11



       Telling all my friends took a while. Of course John was ecstatic for me and

was genuinely pleased about my good fortune. I couldn‘t help thinking that if it was

him telling me that he never had to work again, I would have been so pleased for him,

but concluded that to my shame, I would have been pretty envious. If John was

envious, he didn‘t show it. He‘d just bought a fantastic house, was starting a family

with his wonderful wife and the business was beginning to do really well. He had seen

me struggle with money all my life and was just so pleased that I didn‘t have to do

that anymore. We‘d always said that if one won the lottery, the other would get £1

million. Of course we never believed this promise would need to be kept and now the

moment had come, I lived up to my part of the bargain with a truly wonderful sense of

joy.

       Another person who was genuinely happy for me and who just stood there

smiling when I told her was Sophie. We were in her kitchen, having surprised Hugh

with all the hoopla associated with a ‗surprise‘ happy birthday moment. She‘d

definitely been at the sauce before anyone had got there and was doing her usual trick

of being very touchy feely with me.

        ‗Jesus. It‘s everything you ever wanted. Just think of the women you‘ll now

get into bed. You‘re in heaven, aren‘t you?‘ It was a rhetorical question. ‗Don‘t get

married; have a good time. You‘re better off sticking with what you want out of life.‘

It seemed as though Sophie had totally changed her mind on the whole love and

marriage concept. I didn‘t want to delve, so chose to change the topic to something

more cheery.

        ‗Great surprise party. Well done for organising it.‘


                                                                                   92
         ‗I had to. Otherwise that wanker wouldn‘t have let me forget it,‘ she said

with contempt.

         ‗Yeah, right, he made you organise his own surprise birthday party!‘ I said

sarcastically and immediately regretted it.

         ‗Well, obviously not, Connor, but if I hadn‘t made a fuss of him on such a

momentous day, he would have held it against me forever.‘

         ‗He‘s not that bad.‘

         ‗You don‘t live with him. Everything I do is wrong. He never seems happy.

We don‘t laugh together like we used to and we‘ve even stopped having sex. I don‘t

know what I‘ve done wrong or why it‘s all falling apart at the seams.‘ There was a

pause as she got some nibbles out of the oven. ‗Would you have a word with him?‘

         ‗Ah . . . well you see . . .‘ I stumbled around to find an excuse not to do that

‗fancy a pint‘ and chat thing with Hugh. Although Sophie was a good friend and I

really felt for her, he was total cock and I actually couldn‘t stand more than five

minutes in his company. He felt the same towards me and for some reason had it in

his mind that I was trying to seduce Sophie every time we met. She was looking

particularly sexy that afternoon, all homey, yet with a hint of naughtiness.

       Luckily my clumsy attempts to make an excuse were interrupted by Molly,

Sophie‘s eldest. She came storming in shouting, ‗Mummy! Mummy! I‘ve got

chewing gum in my hair‘. She was almost crying and holding up a huge clump of hair

stuck to her hands. Such a messy problem needed to be addressed and Sophie

wandered off with Molly in tow. She was too nice to be unhappy. She had devoted

herself to her family and husband, and she was funny and incredibly sexy. I decided I

would try to find out what was up with Hugh after all.




                                                                                      93
       As I‘d hoped, the windfall meant my sex life really did take a turn for the

better and a great example of this good fortune was a party hosted by Fiona. I was

quite surprised at the invite, because she had made the work life/personal life

separation abundantly clear when I made that clumsy champagne-fuelled pass at her.

Her background was quite a mystery, so I didn‘t know what to expect as I pulled up in

front of her Holland Park house in a taxi. Unlike most houses in London, this was

detached with a huge, beautifully lit garden that encircled all sides of the property. I‘d

brought a couple bottles of champagne, but when the butler opened the door in his

pristine morning suit, I realised it wasn‘t one of those types of parties. I placed the

bottles discretely in the bushes beside the front door and walked in as if I was a

regular at such events. It took a while of mingling before Fiona came over.

         ‗Nice place,‘ I offered.

         ‗Yeah, I‘m very lucky. It‘s been in the family for generations and I am

fortunate enough to live here.‘ It turned out that her father was a very successful

property developer and it was, in fact, one of his many homes. He‘d given it to Fiona

but still owned it, showing he hadn‘t got to the top of his profession by being stupid.

I‘d never really talked to Fiona about her personal life and she was, in fact, delightful

company, engaging and actually had a very dry sense of humour. We spent a

considerable time laughing at some of the guests.

         ‗Kids, really?‘ I asked as we looked at the Right Honourable Hugo

Pethelswaite, the campest straight man in the world. He was holding court with three

other guests and managed to mince without moving. His tight-fitting pin stripe suit

with a voluminous pink handkerchief in the top pocket didn‘t do his heterosexual

credentials any good.

         ‗Yah, even they think their dad plays for the other team.‘


                                                                                       94
         ‗He‘s one of these MPs who will get ―mugged‖ on Clapham Common by a

complete stranger.‘ I said. Laughing, she turned her head round and spotted someone

in the crowd.

         ‗Oh, by the way, have you met Vanessa?‘ She rushed off and grabbed a

blonde girl from a circle of guffawing Sloanes. ‗Connor, Vanessa, Vanessa, Connor.‘

As Fiona did the introductions, she winked at me effortlessly and took her leave to

attend the other guests.

       After a while, I found myself in a bathroom with Vanessa, a rolled up £50 note

in hand and hunched over a huge line of coke. I‘d encountered more cocaine since

that fateful winning day than in the whole of my adult life. It was everywhere and the

higher you moved up the social scale, the more prevalent it became. As we finished

the second line, I noticed the stud in Vanessa‘s tongue.

         ‗Did that hurt?‘ I enquired.

         ‗Not at all. Of course you do know why I have it, don‘t you?‘ she asked as

she started unzipping my fly. I knew exactly what their purpose was, but this was the

first time of testing the theory out. Its reputation was well deserved.

       I had great pleasure telling stories like these to my friends who were married

or in serious relationships. It was these guys who would want to hear all the gory

details, the more shocking the better. Just because they were hitched, it didn‘t mean

that their need to hear stories about sexual conquests and beautiful women

diminished. In fact, it was made more acute.

       I‘d met John, Simon, a few other friends and, as a favour to Sophie, Hugh, in

the Mason’s Arms. No matter how much money I had, I would never lose my love of

going to the pub. I found the atmosphere in nice pubs, particularly in the daytime,

intoxicating. I loved the sounds, the smells and the fact that nearly every person in a


                                                                                    95
pub was there for the same reason   —   to drink. As my friends got older and got nice

houses, some lost the desire to drink in the pub. They questioned the idea of going

somewhere when they could have a drink in the welcome and familiar surroundings

of their own homes. Although I agreed that it was nice to do such a thing, I never lost

the desire to drink in a pub.

         ‗So after dinner, we went back to her place.‘ I was telling them about

Sammie, the actress I‘d met at a gallery opening. She was the girlfriend of a high-

profile British actor, Jason Lowe, who had recently been voted the second sexiest man

in the universe. She was a style icon. Everything she wore, people copied. Even when

it looked as though she‘d let a drunk Stevie Wonder dress her from a charity shop

sale, fashion editors would coo about the ‗fantastic new look‘ and a range of similar

clothes would quickly appear in the high street. She was the paps‘ favourite, never out

of the fashion magazines, papers or gossip columns.

         ‗Why haven‘t we seen any pap photos then? This girl can‘t go anywhere

without a horde of photographers behind her,‘ chirped Simon.

         ‗Ah, that‘s the great celebrity myth,‘ I continued. ‗They always complain

about harassment and lack of privacy as they‘re being photographed coming out of

the one place photographers always hang outside. If a celeb wants to avoid the paps,

they can. This was a dinner party in a lovely house in Kensington, not the Ivy. We

simply got in the car with no hassle and Dave drove us back.‘

         ‗But she‘s totally in love with Jason. I‘ve seen loads of articles telling us

about their perfect bloody relationship.‘ Hugh still wasn‘t convinced about what

happened.




                                                                                    96
         ‗They were doing that because they both had films out. In reality they‘re

starting to loathe each other. He gets very jealous of the attention she gets and is

suspicious of her every move, thinking she is having an affair.‘

         ‗No shit. What would make him think that? Oh perhaps the fact that his tart

of a girlfriend was shagging anything that moved,‘ Hugh said with a hint of venom.

         ‗Anyway, after a few lines and some champagne, she stood there and like

something out of one of her films, just let her dress fall to the ground.‘

         ‗Shit,‘ they all said in unison, now leaning forward, hanging on every word.

         ‗She‘s got an unbelievable body with a tattoo of a bee that was just creeping

out behind the front bit of her G-string.‘

         ‗You lucky bastard,‘ Simon lamented.

         ‗So we ended up in the bedroom and while making the best with two backs, I

felt something behind me. I looked over my shoulder and there was her Jack Russell

up on its hind legs licking my arse. I made a swipe at it and the little shit bit me.‘

         ‗You can just fuck right off now, you‘re making it up,‘ Jeremy, a married

father of three, said really hoping it wasn‘t true.

        I pulled down the right side of my trousers, exposing one buttock to show

them the marks. ‗Look at this. I had to go for a bloody tetanus and you know how

much I love hospitals.‘

        A little while later, I was talking to Hugh at the bar. ‗You‘re so lucky. Having

all these gorgeous birds. Christ, I wish I could have some of that.‘

         ‗What are you talking about? You‘ve got Sophie. She‘s bloody sexy, a

wonderful mum and loves you to death.‘

         ‗I thought you didn‘t believe in all that love nonsense.‘




                                                                                         97
        ‗I don‘t, but that‘s for me. You do and as such, I couldn‘t imagine anyone

more perfect than Sophie,‘ I said, remembering the kitchen conversation.

        ‗Yeah, but it would be nice to shag something else for a change. I mean, I‘d

love to give her one.‘ We both looked at the barmaid as she brought over the change.

She was indeed very sexy.

        ‗Yes, but you‘re married. I could because I‘m single. You can‘t.‘

        ‗True,‘ Hugh said with great melancholy. He muttered under his breath,

‗Great, that‘s the rest of my life then.‘ I didn‘t know what I was going to tell Sophie.

How could she be told that the reason for Hugh‘s terrible behaviour was simply that

he just wanted to have sex with someone different, something I understood.




                                                                                     98
                                                12



       The ever-efficient Fiona was running my diary, something that was

unthinkable before winning because I was never invited to enough things to warrant

the use of such organisation. I did try, but gave up after six months after realising that

in all that time, it had only one entry   —   the dentist, an appointment that was duly

forgotten. Now a diary was needed because for some strange reason, invites for all

sorts of parties and events by people I‘d never heard of, let alone knew, were flooding

in.

       Entries in the diary were organised according to various levels of interest and

commitment. There were the events that I‘d said yes to, but would only go if nothing

else came up or was at a loose end. These were usually things like book launches and

film screenings, attended by the real X-listers who‘d turn up to the opening of an

envelope, such as those reality TV personalities whose only discernable talent seemed

to be the ability to raise the hackles on the back of every sane person‘s neck. They

were ever so slightly famous for being ever so slightly famous and were desperate to

go up a notch in celeb status. The girls would wear outfits that showed as much flesh

as possible in the vain attempt to boost their meagre status by getting in the papers the

next day. Unfortunately for them, because they couldn‘t hold their booze, the pictures

that usually made the papers were of them leaving the club completely pissed and

either falling over and out of their dresses or, if they were lucky, with a lower division

footballer. The guys weren‘t as desperate to get in the papers because pulling was

usually more on their minds.

       The drink was always horrible cheap wine and the food was worse than awful.

I had once read an article written by a very funny food writer about catered canapés at


                                                                                       99
parties. He said they were prepared in some God-awful town in the middle of

nowhere by really bored and stupid teenagers who couldn‘t give a stuff about their

job, let alone hygiene and health. They were prone to playing the odd practical joke

on the unsuspecting scoffer by using impromptu bodily ingredients that were not

normally meant for consumption.

       After a dozen or so of these gatherings, I began to give them a wide berth.

They did occasionally throw up the odd gem, however, like the time I ran into TS. He

was up to his usual old tricks again, still rubbernecking while talking to me, paying no

real attention to what I was saying and keeping his eye out for someone more

powerful or famous that he could latch on to. As far as I could ascertain, he was on

the brink of a new series that was going to be the next worldwide television

phenomenon.

        ‗It‘s very hush hush. All the bigwigs are really excited about it. They think it

could sell all over the world as a format and would even lead to a film franchise. It‘s

going to be great,‘ he said, while only very occasionally looking me in the eyes.

‗What about you?‘

        ‗Things are going well . . .‘

        ‗You should stay in touch. I might be able to get you something on this

project. We‘ll need a lot of people, you know,‘ he interrupted. When Shaw was

canned, he promised to look after me and use all his contacts to make sure I got work

straight away. When the time came for his help on a particular application I had made,

he did nothing and didn‘t return my calls.

        ‗I won‘t need it, thanks, and actually I‘ll never work with you or indeed

anyone else ever again.‘ This got his attention and for the first time he was actually

listening, albeit a little stunned. ‗Yes, in fact I won the lottery. One hundred and ten


                                                                                    100
million pounds to be precise.‘ I paused to let this exclamation sink in. ‗So as you can

see, I don‘t need to rely on a flaky, egotistical tosser like you who was never going to

follow up on useless promises made with no intention of honouring them.‘ His mouth

was open and he was stuttering to get some words out. ‗So it‘s been great to talk to

you again, or should I say, you talk and me listen but anyway, see you soon.‘ And

with that, I left him rooted to the spot, shaking with rage.

       Some of the invites that came my way were a definite ‗yes‘ and I would make

sure I‘d be there come hell or high water. One such humdinger was the party to

launch the autobiography of Heath Rogers. He was the head of a worldwide luxury

goods empire which was valued at nearly £600 million. His exploits were legendary,

as were his parties, so the prospect of A-list stars and gorgeous girls involved in

wanton debauchery was too good a chance to miss. It didn‘t fail to disappoint and

provided me with another few stories to tell the boys in the pub.

               Fiona had organised as many holidays as could be conceivably fitted in

without spending all my life on a plane or in an airport, although that wasn‘t much of

a chore anymore. I used to be the worst traveller in the history of travel and hated the

experience from the very moment my feet entered the airport. The blood boiled in my

veins as I realised that the largest check-in desk queue was the one for my flight. If

there was an option of a number of check-in desks, I always chose the slowest moving

one. Other travellers irritated the hell out of me with their dithering, complaining and

generally being in the same space as I was. Their stupidity always held no bounds,

with the particular favourite being those who queued to get through security for an

hour, only to be told when they got to their allotted spot that they were not allowed to

take certain items on the plane. This usually elicited a very loud moan on my behalf.

‗Oh, you‘ve only queued for an hour beside hundreds of signs telling you what you


                                                                                    101
can‘t take on the plane and now you‘re surprised. Oh, go on, just hold up the rest of

us. We‘ve got nowhere to go really, nothing to do in particular . . .' and so on. As you

can imagine, friends hated travelling with me. Throw in delays, more queues and a

good smidgeon of incompetence and it was fair to say that every time I used a British

airport, a holiday was needed just to get over the experience.

             Apart from the terrible food, the thing I hated most about the actual

flight was kids. They were never well-behaved angels, happy to sit in their seats and

pass the time. As soon as they were on a plane, they turned into deranged little

monsters hell-bent on making life a misery for everyone else. They were always

encouraged, or not discouraged, by their parents to enjoy themselves. I didn‘t blame

the kids. They were just being kids, but I did very much blame the parents. They were

the types who didn‘t seem to notice the rest of the world if it didn‘t involve their own

kids. Other people became inconsequential as long as their little darlings were being

entertained or entertaining them. They would coo and ahh at every little thing their

pride and joys did. If Joshua had opened the aircraft doors while in flight, their last

words as they were sucked out would have been, ‗He‘s so cute‘.

       Unfortunately, I had to take direct action with a kid on one particular flight.

The father of a 10 year old just three seats in front of me stood up and got the little

shit to run up and down the aisle as fast as possible. The dad kept shouting

encouragement as if he was at the school sports day, although by the look of him he

probably didn‘t believe in competitive sports because it was unfair to the useless kids.

       After five minutes of incessant thumping of 10-year-old feet, I was about

ready to snap. Waiting for the budding sprinter to run past me again, I stuck out my

foot. He did a good impression of a triple jumper before landing on his face. As the

tears started, the dad rushed to help the stricken child as though he‘d been shot and


                                                                                    102
took him back to the seat. I continued reading my book. If they weren‘t running in the

aisles, they would be behind me exercising their legs on the back of my seat or being

sick or both. Oh the joys of economy travel.

                  All the torture associated with air travel had now disappeared. The

very first holiday Fiona organised set the bar where I could expect it for the rest of my

life. She had a friend who managed to get me the penthouse suite at the Quattro in the

Caribbean hot-spot of St. Bart‘s. It was the new hangout for Hollywood film stars and

music business mega moguls. Fiona said that suite had been reserved for a very senior

Arab royal, but the manager was a ‗dear friend‘ and was happy to shunt the royal

party into the lesser-sized suite.

         ‗Alright, Connor. Feeling good today?‘ Dave chirped as I bounded into the

front passenger seat. It was 10 a.m. and he was taking me to the airport.

         ‗Superb, Dave. Absolutely brilliant. You well?‘

         ‗Always well, Connor. Life may not be going your way sometimes, but you

always need to have a smile on your face.‘ Dave had such a feel-good aura about him.

Many people in his position would hate me. I‘d just won a lot of money and would

never have any money worries ever again. He had large debts, a family to support and

a mortgage to pay. He regularly worked seven days a week and at unsociable hours.

Many of the people he had to drive were complete bastards who regarded Dave as

close to something on the bottom of their shoe. ‗I like you, Connor. You‘re alright,

mate,‘ he said.

              Expecting the usual airport hell, I started to tense up and get twitchy as

we approached the terminal. Dave surprised me by taking a left before the set down

spot for departures and drove down a narrow curved slip road. We pulled up outside a

white building with a tinted glass front.


                                                                                    103
         ‗Hello, Mr. Blaine,‘ a beautiful airline employee said after coming out of the

glass sliding door and leaning into the open car window. ‗Can I have your passport

please?‘ While she was checking it, my bags were being taken out of the boot by

Dave and another airline employee. She handed back my passport with a boarding

pass and baggage tickets. Dave jumped into the driver‘s seat next to me and started to

move off.

         ‗Is that it?‘ I asked.

         ‗Sure is. This is the first airline in the world to introduce the car check-in.

The lounge is just up there and the security desk is actually at the entrance,‘ he said,

pointing ahead. ‗You can get everything in there. Wait until you see the birds. Whoa,

man. They have massage, four restaurants, a Jacuzzi and as much free champagne as

you can drink. There you go, Connor. Have a great trip.‘

         ‗Thanks, Dave, I sure will,‘ I said, still dazed by the lack of stress and

irritants. It had taken all of 10 minutes to get checked in and go through security,

sheer heaven. The air conditioned lounge lobby was all white marble with two huge

plasma screens on either side of a marble desk. Behind the desk were two uniformed

girls who‘d put their makeup on with a trowel.

         ‗Please go through, Mr. Blaine,‘ one of them said as she gestured to her side

and smiled, almost cracking the outer coat of her face pack. As Dave said, it had

everything   —   chiropractors, massage pods, numerous restaurants, pool tables and a

couple of amazing bars. There was a good sprinkling of A-listers and the odd model,

all lounging around on Italian-made leather furniture. It was one of the most

pleasurable hours I‘d ever spent in an airport.

       I was personally shown to my seat on the plane by another stewardess who‘d

come to get me from the lounge. Calling it a seat was quite an understatement. I had


                                                                                    104
stayed in smaller hotel rooms than the area that was afforded me on the plane. As I

kicked my feet up, glass of champagne in hand, I found myself grinning from ear to

ear once again. The food wasn‘t three-Michelin-star standard          —   it was still a plane,

after all — but it was vastly different from the slop that‘s usually served to passengers.

I had my own LCD TV with all entertainment on demand, a personal DVD player,

and the seat turned into a huge flat bed that could have slept three. Then there was the

bar – a bar on an airplaine where I sat on a stool drinking Vodka chatting one

stewardess up while another made my bed. Unbelievable. I had once heard a posh

English actress being interviewed who had said that she only ever turned left when

she got on a plane. She irritated the hell out of me at the time, but once given a taste

of first class travel, I saw where she was coming from.

        Despite all this space and luxury on a plane, there was still one thing that

couldn‘t be eradicated     —   other travellers. Although the exposure to them was

minimal, they still managed to get on my nerves. While people were boarding the

flight to St. Bart‘s, a guy found his seat next to mine. He looked over the the partition

and asked, ‗Are you going to St. Bart‘s?‘ with a toothy grin on his moisturised and

fake tanned face.

         ‗Well, yes.‘

         ‗Oh, isn‘t that amazing? So am I,‘ he said with great excitement.

         ‗Oh, really, what a coincidence. Who‘d have thought that two passengers on

a direct flight to St. Bart‘s were in fact going to . . . wait for it . . . St. Bart‘s. Amazing

observation, dude. With that sort of intellect you must be a nuclear scientist or brain

surgeon.‘ I was laying down the ground rules of travelling in a confined space for 10

hours with people I didn‘t know. If they weren‘t engaged in conversation, they

wouldn‘t bother me again.


                                                                                          105
        ‗Well, there‘s no need to be like that,‘ he said as he actually made his

eyebrows mince, a feat I had never seen before and never did again. Despite this little

interruption, by the time we came into land, I was well rested and so brimming with

confidence that I asked one of the stewardesses to join me for dinner at the hotel, an

invitation she accepted.




                                                                                   106
                                              13



       The Quattro was unlike anything I‘d ever experienced before. The setting was

breathtaking, with its private beach, beach club and marina on one side and lush forest

on the other. There was a restaurant high up with panoramic views over the sea, one

on ground level in the beach club, and a truly spectacular one that been sunk into the

sea. It was like a live giant aquarium where the windows were huge gateways to the

Caribbean Sea. At night, powerful spotlights highlighted an undersea world that you

would never normally have seen.

       The suite had three bedrooms, two bathrooms and a lounge that was bigger

than those found in most family homes. I actually felt a little uneasy spending money

on such opulence and space that I didn‘t need. That soon disappeared though. To say

that every need was catered to was a gross understatement. I had a personal butler

who was on hand to supervise every aspect of my stay. If I wanted it, it was there. He

organised restaurants, trips and the Colombian marching powder consumed with glee

by me and the stewardess from the flight over.

       She turned out to be a wildcat party girl who spent a couple of days with me

before she had to work the return flight. On the day she left, I was lying on a lounger

by the lower tier pool, exhausted. She came over to kiss me goodbye and was back in

her uniform looking the height of professionalism. As she sauntered off, I couldn‘t

help smiling at the thought of the next set of passengers. They would be impressed by

her attention to detail and businesslike nature as she served them dinner. If only they

knew what she liked to do with a vibrator and a gram of coke.

       The day before I was due to leave St. Bart‘s, I met Natasha Borisnovsky. I had

taken my usual pre-lunch position at the main pool bar, having a heart-starter and a


                                                                                   107
joke with Luciano, the experienced old bartender who dispensed drinks and bonhomie

in equal measures. From my stool I had a panoramic view of the sea, the forest, the

beach club restaurant and the pool area. It was the perfect spot to waste away

numerous hours and copious sea breezes. She came in at the other end of the pool

area, wearing a see-through linen shirt that just about covered the bottom of her

skimpy green bikini. A tall brunette with olive skin, she had the longest legs I‘d ever

seen in real life and glided effortlessly between Jerome III and his wife Suzanne. He

was a jovial and immensely rich diamond magnate and they were there to celebrate

their wedding anniversary. His jaw dropped open as Natasha breezed past and when

his gaze moved down to her bottom, there was a shrill ‗Jerome!‘ that hissed from

Suzanne‘s lips. He‘d been busted and would pay for that later.

        Unusually, Luciano had fallen silent. He‘d seen it all at this hotel over the

years and was only too happy to recount all the stories but now he was transfixed by

the vision of Natasha. Although blondes were usually more my type, I followed every

step she took with an unprecedented intensity. She settled beside her chosen lounger

and with one elegant flick of the wrist, her towel covered the desired area. Very

deliberately and slowly, she removed her sunglasses, put her hair up in a ponytail and

then started taking her shirt off. She knew exactly what she was doing and thank the

heavens for that. As she lifted it over her head, a very slim and tanned figure was

revealed, and both Luciano and I simultaneously took a sharp breath with a ‗wow,

shit‘ movement of the lips. There wasn‘t a millimetre of fat on the whole of her body

and every inch was sheer perfection. Then came the sun lotion, with the movement of

her long arms just emphasising her magnificent figure. It was getting too much to

bear.

         ‗Oh my God,‘ I muttered. ‗She‘s sitting on the lounger beside mine.‘


                                                                                   108
         ‗Then what are you doing here, my friend?‘ Luciano offered helpfully.

Although flushed with a little extra confidence since winning the money, this was a

whole new league in terms of beauty. I felt as though I needed six or seven more

drinks before I could even go anywhere near her. I was 14 again, trying to get the

courage up to ask Katie Jones out to the roller disco. When I asked for another drink,

Luciano looked at me as if I was his son who‘d just done something to bring terrible

shame on the family.

       Suitably chastised, I got up and started for the lounger. My breathing was

getting shallow as the anxiety started to take over. It seemed like a bloody long way

over there and the paving around the pool was so hot, it was starting to sear the soles

of my bare feet. Don‘t blow it, I thought. Be cool. Endure the pain. It will be worth it.

Having resisted the temptation to run for it shouting ‗oh! ha! oh! ha!‘ each step now

caused a slight buckling in the legs as the pain got worse. When I finally approached

my lounger, Natasha looked up from her book. I stopped as if everything was normal

and managed a hello through gritted teeth. Desperate for her to look back at the book

so I could collapse on the lounger and end the searing pain, she just gazed at me with

no expression at all.

         ‗Allo,‘ she finally purred back with a smile revealing a set of perfect teeth so

white they actually dazzled. As she turned away, I couldn‘t hold it anymore and hit

the lounger with a huge crack, muttering, ‗Shit‘. The sound of her accent and the

relief of getting my scorched feet off the hot concrete put me into a bit of a spin. Once

settled, I took my t-shirt off, holding in the stomach. Although not fat, my penchant

for the booze and loathing of the gym meant I didn‘t exactly have a six-pack. The

question was how to break the ice.

       ‗Here on holiday?‘ Of course she is, you stupid twat, I told myself.


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       ‗Have you been here before?‘ Jesus!

       ‗Is that orange juice and lemonade you‘re drinking?‘ You should be shot.

       ‗Phew — hot today, eh?‘ Truly you are a pathetic excuse for a man.

       Luciano suddenly appeared miraculously in between us with a tray balanced

on one hand and a linen cloth over the arm in the classic waiter‘s pose. Looking down

at me he said, ‘Mr. Blaine, can I get you anything?‘

         ‗Ah yes, thank you, Luciano.‘ At last I was going to get a drink, as it seemed

an eternity since first spotting Natasha. ‗I‘ll have a glass of the old bubbles please.‘

         ‗Of course, sir,‘ Luciano said without moving his gaze from mine. There

were a few seconds of awkwardness as I just found myself staring at him. Why wasn‘t

he scuttling off to get my drink? He very softly cleared his throat and made a quick

eye movement over towards Natasha. Then it dawned on me. What a bloody genius.

         ‗Can I get you a drink of anything?‘ I gestured toward Natasha as if were the

most natural thing in the world. Again there was a moment‘s pause of blank

expression on her beautiful face, like a special needs child comprehending speech for

the first time. She even managed to make that look sexy.

         ‗Thank you, I‘ll too have a glass of champagne,‘ she said again flashing the

pearly whites.

         ‗Certainly, madam,‘ Luciano said, winking at me as he left. I could have

kissed him, but once he left, there was that awkward moment again when

conversation needed to be started. I was floundering and starting to panic until I

noticed the book she was reading — a pretentious novel written by J.M. McKintosh. It

was the story of Tibetan struggle for democracy told through numerous Western,

Tibetan and Chinese characters. The main theme was finding yourself through the




                                                                                       110
pain of others. I believed it to be truly incomprehensible, disjointed, right-on wordy

tosh.

          ‗What do you think of J.K. McKintosh?‘

          ‗Oh, he‘s just wonderful. The way he works the characters through all their

situations is amazing.‘

          ‗I know, I found that amazing as well, and his use of the English language is

masterful.‘

         We talked and drank for a couple of hours. She was a Victoria‘s Secret model,

25 years old, originally from Russia via Paris and now living in London. Having just

finished a shoot in the grounds of the hotel, she was flying back to London that

evening. She had an infectious laugh and the more champagne she had, the louder it

got. Normally I would have found this grating, but it didn‘t bother me in the slightest.

I was getting drunk on the bubbles and the thrill of talking to one of the world‘s most

beautiful women.

          ‗People don‘t realise how hard it is to model. It is up to you to bring out the

designer‘s vision, personality and influences. Because you have an external

relationship with the clothes, that puts immense pressure on me, the model,‘ she said

in a very earnest tone. My normal reaction to this sort of claptrap would have been to

laugh.

          ‗Yeah, I‘ve always hated those people who take the piss out of the

intelligence of models. They‘re just jealous of your work and lifestyle.‘

          ‗I would love to go on safari,‘ she offered when we were talking about

holidays. I had always thought that safaris were bug-infested, glorified camping

holidays that people went on in the slight chance they might see some animals          —


animals that can be seen easily on TV or in a zoo.


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           ‗That would be amazing. I‘ve always wanted to do that,‘ was the only

response I could muster.

           ‗I want to use some of the money I earn to save the planet and do something

to create world peace.‘ This was too much to bear.

           ‗Excuse me for a moment.‘ I pretended to go the toilet and wanted to call

someone just to tell them about the convo I was having. Instead of going off her, I

totally overlooked all these utterances because she was actually starting to flirt with

me. Touching my forearm with beautifully manicured hands, playing with her perfect

hair and shooting sideways smiles that would stop any man in his tracks, I was putty

in her hands.

          Then, after what seemed only a short time, she had to go. Fuelled by alcohol, I

actually got the nerve to ask her out. She agreed, gave me her number and then kissed

me on the cheek. Not a model air-kiss, but a lingering one with her long arms draped

around my neck. And then she was gone. She was a bloody Victoria‘s Secret model,

usually the preserve of Hollywood A-listers or American football superstars. The

epitome of the prefect woman and she had been talking to me          —   me. I had been

telling people all along, you had to be rich as Croesus to meet girls like that. I would

never have met her if I didn‘t have the money to stay in such a place. Also the very

fact that I could afford that hotel meant Natasha knew I was loaded and thus I had a

hell of a better chance.

          Although my time with Natasha was all too brief, I dozed on my lounger in the

late afternoon sun and basked in the wonder that my life had become. Was I

struggling into work on a crappy grey day in London? No I was ever so slightly drunk

on a lounger beside a pool in the Caribbean, chatting up supermodels. Tough times

indeed.


                                                                                     112
                                           14



       It had taken a couple of months to arrange a date with Natasha, as she seemed

to be a very busy girl indeed. In those months, I saw her photograph numerous times

in various publications. One was on the cover of FHM with her dressed in very little

and a headline entitled, ‗Natasha, Croatia‘s hottest export.‘ Of course I couldn‘t buy a

copy quick enough, but there was little in the interview that I didn‘t already know

from our conversation by the pool. These articles weren‘t about the words; they were

all about the pictures and these pictures sent me into a frenzied state of anticipation,

because there was actually an outside chance that I might see her naked in real life.

       First dates pre-winning were quite simple, when I had the money to take girls

out, that was. There was a particular place I thought was the perfect venue, a pub in a

very well-to-do area of London with a restaurant attached. The food was good but not

at a price where a remortgage was needed. If all was going well, there was a line of

nice bars to have a drink after dinner. One in particular did watermelon martinis,

drinks that had helped me get the odd girl back to my place in the past.      However,

that particular strategy was fine for the girls I‘d dated before, but none of them was a

Victoria‘s Secret supermodel. It seemed that the King’s Arms wouldn‘t really cut the

mustard with Natasha and after consulting Fiona, my suspicions were confirmed.

Where previously I‘d thought flashy was to be avoided on the first date, when dating

someone like Natasha, that‘s exactly what was needed.

        ‗Connor, these sorts of girls are courted by the rich and famous who would

not blink an eye at throwing thousands at one date,‘ she said after I‘d expressed

concerns about trying to impress too much. ‗So you will need to push the boat out to


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make sure you stand out from the other guys. I know it sounds like a generalisation

and I‘m not being unkind to these girls, it‘s just that your rivals will use their money

and power to impress, so you have to as well.‘

         ‗OK, so what shall I do?‘

         ‗Well, there‘s a restaurant called Boon that usually has a waiting list of about

a month. I know the maitre d‘ and can get you in for Saturday with a good table. It

will knock her socks off and trust me, you will impress her.‘ Where had Fiona been

all my life?

               The night of the first date arrived. I was looking at my new range of

clothes, housed in the walk-in wardrobe in my Kensington house. Fiona‘s man had

managed to get a great deal on a five-bedroom Georgian-fronted house just off

Kensington Church Street. The previous owners had totally gutted it and created an

interior that was an homage to modern minimalism.

       The ante room off the master bedroom was long and thin with the walls

mirrored from ceiling to floor. The room looked as though the mirror was just one

continuous piece of glass with no cracks or breaks. When a hidden button was pushed,

part of the mirror slid away, revealing an LCD touch screen with numerous boxes on

the screen. When the box marked ‗underwear‘ was touched, another larger part of the

right hand mirror disappeared to reveal shelves of perfectly-folded socks and

underwear. There were similar compartments for suits, trousers, shoes, etc.

       The maintenance of this masterpiece was beautifully handled by Hosefa, the

barking-mad Spanish housekeeper Fiona had retained. Hosefa ensured that I never

saw a washing machine or iron, never took anything to the dry cleaners, didn‘t have to

find a cleaner and didn‘t have to empty the dishwasher. She even found a man who

came once a week just to polish my shoes.


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       Standing in front of the mirrored wall with the trouser and shirt compartments

open, I wondered why the personal trainer hadn‘t had the effect on my stomach I was

hoping for. Two times a week, I would call him all the names under the sun, swear

and grit my teeth for a couple of hours of sheer hell. If a six-pack wasn‘t going to

appear, what the hell was the point?

       I was nervous. It was like being a teenager again and finally opted for one of

the Jermyn Street suits with a blue shirt.

         ‗Evening, Connor,‘ Dave said chirpily as he opened the back door to my new

Black Bentley Arnage. ‗Tonight‘s a night to impress, eh?‘ Jesus, enough of the

pressure. We pulled up outside the mansion block address she‘d given and I started

opening the door. ‗What are you doing?‘ asked Dave.

         ‗Er, well I thought I‘d . . .‘

         ‗Connor, it‘s far more impressive if I go to the door. I‘ll bring her to the car

and you‘ll look like the dog‘s bollocks.‘ He‘d found a way of using normal language

with me, but in a way that still recognised that I was his employer. It didn‘t take much

to persuade him to leave the lottery, just a bit more money and fringe benefits.

       Whilst Dave was ringing a buzzer on the far side of the courtyard, my stomach

was in knots, resulting in a small breaking of wind at exactly the time I could make

out a tall girl in a fur coat coming out from the door. There was a very real danger that

Natasha‘s first impression of me since St. Bart‘s would be recoiling in horror at the

smell. I scrabbled to find the window switch and watched each step the pair made

bringing them nearer the car. It didn‘t work. Dave had taken the keys with him, the

stupid twat.

       What about the door handle? Yes, I could waft it and that would solve the

problem. Opening the door, however, brought on the interior light, a light that could


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have lit up Wembley Stadium. She would see me if I‘d started to waft, so I decided to

get out, move round the other side and open the other door as if it were the natural

thing to do, but just hoping that the through breeze would clear the air.

       Dave hung back and Natasha strode towards me as if opening a Paris fashion

show, full of confidence and pizzazz. She was the same height as me, her buttoned fur

jacket stopping at the waist and giving way to a short black skirt, black tights and

huge black heels. It was an astounding sight that took my breath away, not for the first

time. My throat was dry.

         ‗Natasha, so good to see you,‘ I said, going to kiss her. I went for the wrong

cheek and so we both ended up with our heads at the same angle. I tried to correct the

situation, but so did she and again we found ourselves staring at each other with

cricked necks. Not exactly an assured start, and I caught Dave looking at me as

though he was watching a car crash. After showing her into the car, I made my way

round to my side and through the back window, caught a glimpse of her sniffing the

air and screwing up her perfect nose ever so slightly.

       Boon was owned by the hot celebrity chef Graham Hargreaves, who was

actually cooking in the restaurant that evening. Like celebrity hairdressers who were

never in their salons, celebrity chefs rarely actually cooked in their own restaurants.

They were too busy filming TV programmes, doing interviews or hanging out with

other celebrities, o when they did manage to show up, it was obviously quite an event.

       Hargreaves was a three-Michelin-star chef who had a very successful

restaurant before he became a TV star. All his numerous programmes drew in big

viewer numbers, not just here in the U.K. but also over in the U.S. I had heard that he

was behaving like an arse and had starting referring to himself in the third person — a

sure-fire sign of an over-inflated ego.


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       We were shown to our table and I almost asked the maitre d‘ whether he‘d got

the right people. Having walked past some quite famous diners, we were seated at a

table that was actually in the kitchen but had a glass partition overlooking the main

restaurant. It was the chef‘s table, something I‘d only read about before.

        ‗Chef would like you to be his guest and will be serving your food personally

to you,‘ the immaculate maitre d‘ said as he pulled out the chair for Natasha. I could

see many other diners and some of the kitchen staff stare as he removed her coat to

reveal those slender tanned arms and a dress that gave the slightest hint of cleavage.

‗Fiona asked me to look after you and that I will most certainly do,‘ he said quietly as

he pulled my chair out for me. What the hell did Fiona have over all these people that

made them willing to give a dumbass like me the chef‘s table at one of London‘s

hottest restaurants? Natasha was impressed. Natasha, the Victoria‘s Secret model who

had dated film stars and rock Gods, was bloody impressed.

       The food was truly astounding and safe to say, the best I‘d ever had.

Hargreaves also turned out to be a thoroughly charming man. The passion with which

he introduced each dish of the tasting menu showed that cooking was in every sinew

of his body. The stardom came after he‘d worked his way up from dishwasher, doing

18 hour days, seven days a week. He burnt and cut every millimetre of skin on his

hands, was hospitalised with exhaustion numerous times, had 10 serious fights with

fellow kitchen staff and went bankrupt with his first two restaurants. There was a scar

going from below his eye down to his jaw that had been obtained after he was caught

having sex with one restaurant owner‘s wife in the wine cellar.

       He went through all of this because he was training with some of the masters

of modern and classic cuisine. That was what drove him on. He wanted those

Michelin stars more than anything and once earned, he worked even harder to retain


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them. Stardom was a nice bi-product, filling the restaurants and selling the books, but

cooking was his life. He didn‘t even talk about his wife and kids with the same

intensity he reserved for the food he was bringing to our table. I liked him a lot but

was a little miffed when he started flirting with Natasha and worse, she flirted back.

       When Hargreaves wasn‘t flirting, Natasha and I picked up from where we had

left it in St. Bart‘s. The conversation was relaxed and we were at ease with each other.

I was even making her laugh and each time she did, I tried harder to do it again. She

was laughing heartily at a previous quip about Hargreaves and his big chef‘s tool

when I said the moment reminded me of my favourite joke.

         ‗Oh, I‘m useless at telling or remembering jokes. Go on, please tell me

yours,‘ she said as she leaned in, placed one side of her hair behind her perfect ear and

pouted with aplomb. She could have asked me to strip naked and run round the

restaurant shouting, ‗I have a small dick‘ and I would have done it.

         ‗Well, there‘s this guy in a lift. The doors open and in walks a woman in a

smart suit.‘ She reached out and touched my hand whilst staring into my eyes and

smiling that perfect smile. God, I wanted to sleep with her. ‗He looks her up and

down and says, ‗Can I smell your vagina?‘ This caused Natasha just to stare again,

but rather than seeing it as a warning stare, I saw it as one of encouragement. ‗So she

says, ‗No, you pervert!‘ and he says (I was laughing very hard at my own joke) ‗Oh

well, it must be your feet then!‘

       Natasha‘s reaction was horror at best and made me realise that although I

thought things were going well, there are some jokes that should not be told on a first

date, and maybe not to a girl at all.

               We‘d got over that terrible joke (and a few others) and Dave had

driven us back to her mansion block. That moment had arrived, going for the proper


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kiss, and I was determined not to fuck this up. For much of my youth, I had thought

that the direct statement ‗I really want to kiss you‘ was the one that would make them

swoon. Only after getting older did I realise that this actually gave off an air of

weakness. If they fancied you, women wanted the man to take control and the guys

didn‘t need to vocalise their wishes. They just did it. Like some sort of expert, I

moved in and a passionate kiss ensued. I couldn‘t believe it was happening. I was

kissing the number three in the sexiest women in the world poll as voted by FHM

readers.

       Buoyed by a false sense of invincibility, I moved my right hand down to her

thigh and my left hand under her right arm, fumbling around near her right breast. As

soon as I got agonisingly near ‗the cup‘, she pulled away. Looking at me with those

stunning eyes, she thanked me for a lovely evening and said she had to get up early

for a job. Then, like in St. Bart‘s, she was gone.

           ‗Connor, I can tell you that she wants you.‘ Dave was trying to console me

on the way back.

           ‗Well, why didn‘t she invite me up or take me up on my offer of a drink at

my place? Christ, I get the pad that should get any bird into bed and don‘t get the

chance to use it,‘ I lamented.

           ‗Connor, you‘re no different than any other bloke. When you‘re on a first

date and you fancy her — especially if she‘s one of the hottest girls in the world — you

want to shag her. There is no guy in the world that would say, ‗Sorry, that‘s too fast‘

when this girl is reaching into his trousers.‘ He was talking to me via the rear view

mirror, but I was too drunk to bother interrupting him. ‗But you know that when you

wake up tomorrow, you‘ll want her even more. How many girls have you shagged on




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the first date and been with six months later?‘ I didn‘t hear that question, having fallen

asleep in the Arnage‘s truly amazing back seat.




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                                                15



       After six dates with Natasha, there didn‘t seem to be the slightest hint of her

getting more physical than a few pecks on the cheek. There was a great deal of flirting

and we always had a fantastic time, but despite my best efforts, she never wanted to

come in for a night-cap. She always had to be up early for work or had a big casting

the next day and didn‘t want to look tired. I didn‘t believe that she ever looked tired or

like she‘d had a big night, unlike my image in the bathroom mirror on most mornings.

I was dating the most stunningly sexy woman and we weren‘t having sex.

       I‘d never been one those guys who liked the chase more than the actual catch,

but with Natasha, I was starting to understand what that meant. The more I saw her,

the more I wanted to see her. On each date, it was intoxicating trying to manoeuvre

the night to the conclusion I was looking for. After every date, when we parted

company, I would be insane with lust because she always wore something incredibly

sexy, like a shirt almost unbuttoned to the navel that showed just enough to set my

imagination racing like a train. Never mind, I still had plenty to occupy me.

       Matty came to stay for the weekend. He was someone I‘d known since

primary school when we used to charge at each other in British Bulldog at lunchtime.

To be fair though, he didn‘t actually do much charging because he was a slightly

tubby child. He was always the one who got tagged first because, like a pack of lions

going for the weak prey, the guys in the middle would catch him before he even left

the starting line. His parents always claimed that he was big boned, but even at that

young age, we all knew he was just a fat kid.

       Unfortunately for him, the ‗puppy fat‘ didn‘t disappear as the years went on.

He got all the usual abuse at secondary school and actually started getting larger as he


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got older. When he went on to university, discovering the student lifestyle meant his

weight problem went nuclear. The culture of binge drinking, takeaway and very little

exercise meant he ballooned from a fat kid to an immense young adult.

       His diet was atrocious. I remember going up to see him for a weekend and just

wondering how any human could survive on what he was stuffing down his gob. His

average day‘s consumption started with three bacon sandwiches for breakfast.

Elevenses consisted of two Cornish pasties. There was a huge burger and chips for

lunch and copious packets of crisps and chocolate bars before dinner. The Indian

takeaway that specialised in inedible meat kormas usually provided his dinner out of a

carton. All this was washed down with up to fifteen pints of bitter. He was a heart

attack waiting to happen.

       There was a fat-related incident in freshers week which, very unlike the

experience of being hounded at school, made him a legendary and popular campus

figure. Freshers week was when all the kids who‘d never been away from home on

their own before tried to get used to the fact that they were free from the apron strings.

It was a time where friendships were made that would last the course duration and

beyond. It was also a seminal week for Matty. He had returned to the halls of

residents at about 3 a.m. after a night on the lash with his fellow inmates at the halls.

He was making them all laugh with a rant about his shower being too small and not

being able to fit into it. Keen to keep his audience laughing, he ushered them into his

bedroom to illustrate the point with a practical demonstration. Still fully dressed, he

faced the shower and got everyone to push behind him in order to literally squeeze

him in there.

         ‗You see? You see?‘ he shouted with his back still to the crowd because there

was no room to turn around. Everyone‘s laughter was interrupted by a loud crack.


                                                                                     122
When they discovered the noise came from the shower floor that was giving way

under Matty‘s considerable weight, the laughter turned to mass hysterics. There were

two other cracks and then the floor suddenly gave way totally. He ended up wedged in

the space where there used to be a floor, like a marshmallow that had been stuffed

into a hole smaller than its circumference.

       He let out a shrill cry as a searing pain appeared in his right leg. There were a

few half-hearted attempts to pull him out by the arms, but it was soon apparent that he

was well and truly stuck.

       The general consensus was that the situation could only be resolved by the fire

brigade. Two engines arrived and the firemen spent a good amount of time openly

laughing at Matty before beginning to tackle the problem at hand. Matty‘s

predicament had caused a crowd to gather along the hallways and out in front of the

halls entrance. Texts went pinging around the campus, which resulted in a good two

hundred drunken students all jeering and waiting for Matty to emerge.

       The firemen first used the circular saw to cut the floor around him so they

could get access to whatever was trapping his leg and pull him out. They used ropes

round his waist and three men on each arm to extract him. The collective heave onto

the bathroom floor was accompanied by a very loud scream of agony form Matty, as

his leg was broken halfway between his knee and foot.

       Now they were faced with a dilemma. The ambulance stretcher would not take

his weight without crumpling like paper and there was no other way to carry him out.

Matty was going to have to hop out with the support of the firemen. It took them

almost an hour to work Matty down to the lobby because they kept having to stop for

the paramedics to give Matty more gas and adjust his splint. When they finally

emerged from the front door, a huge cheer went up from the waiting mob.


                                                                                    123
       The footage recorded on phones of him stuck and the subsequent rescue made

him an instant YouTube worldwide hit. The student paper took an altogether PC tack

and blamed the university for scrimping on the money when they built the residence

halls. They started a campaign for the acceptance of overweight people as a

recognised minority who should be given all the rights other groups like the disabled

were afforded. They wanted the university to spend money on reinforcing anything

that might give way under a large person such as shower rooms, toilets, beds and

canteen chairs.

       They used Matty as the campaign spearhead, something he was very unhappy

about. He didn‘t want to be the spokesman for anything. He came to college to have

fun, and getting involved in that sort of nonsense was not his idea of fun. However, all

the publicity made him a cult figure and meant that he spent the duration of his stray

there as the most popular person on campus. Despite all this popularity, he never got

laid. Women always say that a sense of humour is the more important thing in a man

than looks. Matty was a very funny guy, but all the girls were almost physically sick

at the thought of kissing him, let alone having sex with him.

                  After he left college, he managed to get a job in a marketing agency in

Manchester. Actually working for a living meant he lost weight and although no

longer medically obese, he was no racing snake, that was for sure. He was a popular

figure around the office and made friends easily. However, just like at college, he

didn‘t exactly have women beating his door down.

         ‗Hello, mate! So good to see you,‘ he blurted as I opened the front door.

Dave was holding the car door open as Matty squeezed his still-sizeable frame out of

the back seat.      ‗A driver, what looks like an amazing house and a supermodel

girlfriend . . . oh, Connor, where did it all go so wrong?‘


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          As we laughed heartily, he continued, ‗No, Connor, I‘m being serious. Are

you really happy? Hasn‘t money ruined you?‘ For one moment I actually did think he

was being serious, but that soon passed.

          It was great to see him again and considering Matty hadn‘t had sex for nearly

six years, I wanted to make sure he did on his trip to London. That night, we walked

into Harry’s, the legendary cocktail bar at the top of the Persimmon Hotel

overlooking Hyde Park, sat down at one of the window tables and ordered our drinks.

I‘d chosen this bar because I knew the seats were of suitable size to avoid any

embarrassing moments. We were laughing about some of the stories from university

when he almost spat out his drink all over the table.

           ‗Fuck me,‘ he exhaled. ‗Look over there.‘ He was looking at three stunning

girls who had just walked into the bar. They were all wearing tight jeans and heels

that accentuated their perfect bottoms and long, long legs. All three were tanned,

beautifully groomed and absolutely gorgeous.

           ‗Jesus,‘ I commented. They sat three tables away and were looking over with

lingering glances as the waiters fawned around them. ‗They‘re looking over, dude.‘

           ‗Really? Oh my God, they are. We should buy them a drink.‘ Despite his

appearance, he never gave up hope of pulling. He never saw his weight as an issue

and always believed that he could get a woman into bed. Once he gave up hope of

that, he‘d have to admit to his problem and do something about it. That is exactly why

he absolutely refused to pay for it.

           ‗Good idea.‘ I decided it would be a bad move for Matty if we both went

over because his waddling would not be a good look. After a couple of minutes, I

returned with all three in tow. As we walked towards the table, Matty‘s face was a

picture   —   a mixture of glee, anticipation and total disbelief.


                                                                                   125
            ‗Matty, this is Carla, Maria and Susannah. Girls, this is my good friend

Matty.' He didn‘t stand up as he shook their hands with great gusto and a huge smile

on his face. Blonde Carla and Maria, the brunette, sat on either side of Matty, making

him one of the happiest fat men on the planet. I was sitting opposite them with

Susannah, another blonde, who possessed the most kissable lips I‘d ever seen. Matty

was making them roar with hysterical laughter and all seemed to be going well. After

a couple of hours and copious bottles of champagne, all the girls had gone to the

toilet. Matty leaned forward as if he wanted to whisper something.

            ‗Dude, Maria has asked me to go back to her place. Fucking unbelievable,

man. She‘s a model, a fucking model, and she wants me to take her home. What a

result! What a way to break the duck. You don‘t think she‘s a hooker, do you?‘

            ‗Has she mentioned money?‘ I asked.

            ‗No.‘

            ‗Well then, you‘re OK and could be in for one hell of a night. I‘ll see you

back at the suite in the morning. Enjoy it. I think I‘ll stay and have another drink with

the other two,‘ I said as the girls came back. I watched Matty squeeze between the

tables, following Maria‘s perfect behind as she led the way out. Even though I

couldn‘t see his face, I imagined he was sporting a huge smile and a tug in his

trousers.

            ‗What are we going to do now?‘ asked Carla with a sultry Eastern European

accent as we sat back down.

            ‗Yes, it would be a shame to finish now, wouldn‘t it?‘ said the one with the

kissable lips.

            ‗You‘re dead right, girls. It would be a big shame to finish now. Let‘s go

back to my place.‘ Stefan really did have exquisite taste. Not only were these girls


                                                                                    126
perfect ‗10‘s, they acted their roles perfectly. Although Matty asked the question, I

had sent him off blissfully unaware. They had been paid for the whole night, so there

was no point in letting them just go home when so much fun could be had.

       Thoughts of Natasha hadn‘t entered my mind that night, but when I woke with

a bastard between the eyes at about 7 a.m. and in desperate need of some water, I got

an immediate rush of guilt. Carla‘s head was on my chest and Maria was spooning

her; they were fast asleep. It had been a cocaine and champagne fuelled extravaganza,

and they turned out to like each other very much. Guilt reared its ugly head,

something I though I was immune to when it came to things carnal. I thought about

how Natasha would feel, and the idea of her finding out and dumping me before we‘d

even had sex was horrible.

       It was incredibly difficult to get the girls out of my house. Let‘s say they

weren‘t really morning people. They moaned and groaned like children woken up too

early, but they had to disappear before Matty got back or he would suspect. I finally

bundled them into a cab just before he arrived.

        ‗Wow! Wow! Wow!‘ Matty was just shaking his head as we were having a

Hosefa special breakfast in the kitchen. ‗Unbelievable. I‘ve never had anything like it.

She was incredible and totally rocked my world.‘

        ‗You see, they can‘t resist a bit of Matty love. Well done, dude. You can go

back to Manchester with a spring in your step.‘ I was feeling very proud of myself. I

had made Matty‘s year and had a pretty good night myself to boot.

        ‗She kept saying how sexy I was and how she liked big men. She loved big

men — this big man in particular. She was amazing in bed. Amazing.‘ He kept going

and I started hoping he‘d shut up, because the thought of him naked was not

something I wanted in my head.


                                                                                    127
         ‗All right now. Stop there. TMI,‘ I pleaded.

         ‗No, you don‘t understand. I love her!‘

         ‗Yeah, she must have been great,‘ I said.

         ‗No, Connor, I really love her. I‘m going to quit my job and move down here

so I can be near her. She says she feels the same and wants me down as soon as

possible. There‘s something about her that just gives me a feeling in the pit of my

stomach and makes my knees go weak.‘ I wanted to reply that it was his weight that

was making his knees go weak but thought better of it. I couldn‘t believe what I was

hearing. My dumbass friend thought that this incredibly hot girl actually fancied him,

wanted to have sex with him and now wanted to see him again. What deluded world

was he living in? He was a tub of lard, albeit a very warm and funny tub of lard.

       It was a lose-lose situation. If I told him the truth, I‘d lose him as friend. If I

left it, he‘d leave his job and come down here, and she‘d then tell him the truth. He‘d

then hate me even more for not telling him in the first place.

         ‗So how come you think she loves you?‘ I could understand how Matty had

fallen in what he thought was love. He hadn‘t had sex for many, many years and had

just had a night of unbridled passion with a woman he thought was a supermodel. Of

course he was in love.

         ‗When I went to leave this morning, she was begging me to stay. I said I

needed to get back to shower and change, but I would see her later. Then, in a rush of

blood to the head, I said I loved her. She said she loved me too and wanted to be with

me.‘ I was getting really worried now. He was clearly hallucinating.

         ‗Did you have any drugs?‘

         ‗No, she offered me some coke, but I didn‘t want to do it, so she didn‘t take

any either.‘ None of this was making sense. One of the ways prostitutes could act as


                                                                                     128
though they were really enjoying their job was to be on the old Big C. The thought of

having sex with that lump of white whale meat should have been enough for even the

straightest hooker to dive into a swimming pool of the stuff just to numb every sense.

           ‗She really understands me, understands what I‘ve been through with my

weight.‘ This was the first time he‘d ever admitted that being his size was no fun.

Nevertheless, this was a worrying state of affairs. The mobile rang. It was Stefan.

           ‗Sorry, mate, I‘ve got to get this,‘ I said as I moved into the dining room. I

knew Matty wouldn‘t catch my conversation because I heard him breaking my stairs

whilst making his way to his room.

           ‗Hi, Stefan.‘ I greeted him enthusiastically, expecting to get the same

bonhomie back.

           ‗What the fuck is going on with your friend and Maria?‘ His voice was cold

and calculated in a hidden rage type of way. I‘d also never heard him swear before

and a chill ran down my spine as the image of those kidnappers in Budapest came into

my mind.

           ‗I‘m sorry, I don‘t quite get you.‘ I was trying to hold it together although my

throat had suddenly seized up and I was starting to sweat.

           ‗Maria has just quit. She tells me that her and your fat friend are going to

start a new life together. She has had enough of the business and wants out. After all I

have done for her, she does this to me. What the hell went on with your friend last

night?‘

          This couldn‘t be happening. I had totally dismissed any notion that Matty was

telling the truth about Maria‘s feelings for him. Stefan‘s statement hit like a hammer

in the stomach and now I was angry at Matty. It wasn‘t his fault. He didn‘t know that

she worked for a very powerful man. He didn‘t know she was a prostitute. He was just


                                                                                      129
being Matty, but I still couldn‘t help being angry at him because now I had a lunatic

Eastern European ‗businessman‘ very angry at me.

         ‗Well, I haven‘t seen him this morning, but I assume he went back to her

place as planned.‘ My voice was quivering now and even a five year old could have

told I was lying. There was a silence on the other end of the phone and then a huge

sigh.

         ‗I‘m sorry to get angry at you, Connor. You‘re my friend and I didn‘t want to

do that. It‘s just that Maria is family. I care a great deal about her. Her parents were

great friends with my parents, but they both died early so I brought her into my

family. She is like a sister to me and I care very much what happens to her. If she

wants to do this, then so be it. I trust you, Connor. Do you think your friend will make

her happy?‘ I wondered why he was her pimp if cared so much about her.

         ‗I can honestly say that having known Matty almost all my life, he will

always do his best by Maria. I‘m sure he will make her very happy.‘ I immediately

regretted saying that. I had just guaranteed the happiness of a close family member

with a fat man she‘d just met.

         ‗Well, I hope you‘re right, because if he doesn‘t, then he‘ll have me to

answer to.‘ The chill returned to my spine as Stefan issued this threat.

         ‗There really is no need for you to worry. I‘m sure everything will be OK.‘

As soon as I had said this, I hit my leg with my fist in anger at myself and cursed

quietly. Why had I done it again? Did I have a death wish?

         ‗OK, my friend. On to other matters. Do you like poker?‘ He suddenly

seemed his chipper self again in a totally schizophrenic episode.

         ‗Love it. Why?‘




                                                                                    130
           ‗I‘m having a little gathering that I‘d like you to come to. Very informal card

game, but it will be fun, I guarantee that.‘ I loved this guy. Only a few seconds ago he

was issuing threats and now he was back to his fun-loving self.

           ‗Count me in.‘

           ‗I‘ll arrange it with Fiona in the morning. Bye for now.‘

          When Matty came down, I had to find out how serious he was about Maria.

We sat in the lounge, somewhere with a sofa large enough to accommodate his

behind.

           ‗Matty, are you really serious about all this?‘

           ‗Of course, mate. I‘ve never felt like this before and really want this woman

to be in my life for a long time,‘ he gushed.

           ‗But you‘ve only just met her. How can you be sure?‘

           ‗I just am.‘ And with that, I left it. I could tell there was no point in analysing

every little detail of their brief meeting and subsequent undying love. Stefan‘s

warning still hung in the back of my mind and I vowed never to do that sort of thing

for anyone again.




                                                                                         131
                                              16



         ‗So how‘s the new house?‘ I asked Simon as both of us were being driven to

Stefan‘s poker game. This question had always sounded strange to me. Were you

supposed to say ‗very well, it sends you its regards?‘ Nevertheless, it was one I asked

often.

          ‗Oh, man, it‘s so cool.‘ Simon then went on to describe in detail the

wonderful modern house he‘d so lovingly created. It was an all mod cons bachelor

pad and a total ‗bird puller‘. He‘d also bought a new Porsche 911 Turbo and a black-

on-black Ranger Rover Sport. We‘d been on holiday, enjoyed the company of some

amazing women, and generally had a good time since the win and my gift to him.

Unlike me, however, he was getting bored and wanted to do something, so he had

started investing in various businesses and taking active roles in them. It was perfect.

He was using his well-honed, hard-assed negotiation skills and combining them with

his ball-breaking steeliness, something the law had also finely tuned. There was an

Internet start-up, an iPhone app production company and      —   totally unlike him   —   a

porn website

          ‗What? Porn? You?‘ I was stunned.

          ‗I had no idea how much money was involved,‘ he said gleefully.

          ‗But you always thought I was a perv when I said that.‘

          ‗Well, things have changed and there will always be people who want it. We

are just finding new technologies and new ways to give it to them.‘ I pondered his

new direction for a few moments.

          ‗I‘ve always had a question I have wanted to ask the boyfriend or husband of

a porn star. How do you cope with knowing that your girlfriend/wife goes to work and


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gets shagged senseless by a totally buff bloke with a schlong down to his knees? I

mean, it would give you a real complex.‘

         ‗Who says the boyfriend/husband isn‘t also another fit bugger and they both

love each other. When they make love, it‘s totally different than the sex at work,‘

Simon countered.

         ‗Or when she walks through the door and he sees those fantastic tits, those

thoughts jump out of the window.‘

         ‗By the way, we‘re having a launch party. You fancy coming?‘ Simon said,

uncharacteristically not wanting to take the discussion further.

         ‗No, I‘d hate it. Please don‘t take me to a worldwide porn phenomena launch

party. It‘s just way too sleazy. I‘ve grown out of all that now. I don‘t need it.‘

         ‗I‘ll call Fiona to arrange.‘

         ‗Jesus, Connor, who is this guy? With this sort of pad, he must own a few

countries,‘ Dave said as the gates opened, allowing us access to the road that leads up

to Kensington Palace. I thought I‘d seen some impressive houses recently, but this

was truly another stratosphere, a club with only a small number of members           —   the

billionaires‘ club. The houses in Kensington Palace Gardens were the most exclusive

in London and started at about £70 million, even in a recession. In the shadow of

Kensington Place, they were protected by Royal Protection officers and private

security guards. Most had all the trappings of a country estate      —   swimming pools,

stables and helicopter landing pads were de rigueur. Stefan‘s looked like the biggest

one of these Georgian mansions and that was saying something. As we drove up to

the front door, a number of the men in black appeared from behind the trees in the

front garden.




                                                                                         133
        ‗They look as though they‘re packing,‘ Dave said, eyeing the bulges in the

men in black‘s jackets. I‘d never really heard him impressed before.

        ‗Trust me, Dave, you wouldn‘t want to have met any of these guys when you

were out looking for a punch up in your Navy days.‘

         ‗You‘re telling me,‘ he said with a sense of relief. Fights in the old days

didn‘t involve weapons and followed gentleman‘s rules like no kicking a man when

he was down.

        ‗See you later,‘ I said as we got out and climbed the stairs to the front door.

There were two more men in black on either side of it, and then it opened as if by

magic like the door at No. 10 always seemed to do when Cabinet members

approached. We found ourselves standing in middle of an immense and atrociously-

decorated entrance hallway. There was a circular staircase that split and fanned out

around the far side of the hall. In the centre, descending from the heavens, was one of

the largest chandeliers I‘d ever seen. There were huge amounts of gold over-

elaborately decorated furnishings everywhere.

        ‗Mate, it looks like what I‘d imagine a really upmarket brothel would look

like. This guy really has no taste.‘ I hadn‘t told Simon about Stefan. I thought it best

to leave well alone and let him make his own mind up.

       From the side somewhere, one of Stefan‘s girls approached. Up to his usual

standards, the 6-foot brunette was wearing a very expensive black cocktail dress and

the trademark killer heels that launched her into the gods. She glided effortlessly over

and ushered us up the gilded stairs. Simon‘s tongue was hanging out like a panting

dog as we followed her. She could have given him a nappy, told him to wear it and

scream like a baby, and he would have been first in the queue.




                                                                                    134
        Standing at the top of the stairs was Uray, the suit who had first greeted me in

Tassels on the first night I‘d gone there. I‘d got to know him quite well and although

you couldn‘t take the piss out of him    —   he took the piss out of you and you just

laughed it off for fear of severe bodily harm     —   he was quite jovial company for

someone who‘d torture you for fun. He approached and grabbed my arms just below

the shoulders and kissed me once on the left, twice on the right as was the custom for

family greetings in Budapest. He didn‘t mean to hurt me, but his hands were like

hydraulic pincers that almost cut off the blood flow to my hands.

         ‗Connor, so good to see you again. We have a great night in store for you,‘

he said, still grinning.

         ‗Thanks, Uray, good to see you again and I‘m looking forward to it. This is

my brother, Simon.‘ Simon was still staring at the girl going back down the stairs like

some thick Labrador watching its owner leave the house.

         ‗Simon!‘ I snapped, grabbing his arm and not wanting to offend Uray in any

way whatsoever. ‗This is Uray.‘ He woke out of his trance and thankfully did the

pleasantries.

         ‗She‘s nice, eh!‘ Uray said to me with a slap on the back that would have

dislodged the whole chicken, let alone the chicken bone. After two more flights of

gaudy stairs and a very long hallway, we were shown into the library. Two more huge

chandeliers provided low level general lighting with various other lamps providing

localised reading lighting. All the walls were covered ceiling to floor with old books,

and there were dark red leather chairs and sofas arranged all around the room and two

huge stone fireplaces at either end. The decoration of this room was obviously not the

work of Stefan. It was tasteful, in tune with the house, and nothing like what we‘d

seen so far.


                                                                                    135
       One of the walls of books opened to reveal a darker room with a huge baize

green card table. The bright light immediately above illuminated only the table in a

smoky triangle reminiscent of so many films. In contrast, the background looked pitch

black. There were eight people seated with two chairs going spare. As we entered, the

man with his back to me rose and turned. It was Stefan and he was wearing one of the

most appalling suits. It was something that hadn‘t seen the light of day since an

eighties footballer wore one on TV, a cream pinstripe with feathers sewn into the

fabric that fluttered when he moved. Quite breathtaking, but although I held it

together, I could feel Simon tense up as though he was going to laugh. Please not

now, not at the Butcher of Budapest.

        ‗Connor, my friend. It‘s so good to see you and I‘m so glad you could make it

to my little night,‘ he said, doing the kissing thing as well, although without crushing

all the bones in my arms.

         ‗Good to se you as well, Stefan. This is my brother, Simon.‘ Stefan caught

Simon and me off guard as he did the kissing thing again. The Godfather came to

mind. He took us round the table and made the introductions to the rest of the guests.

Unusually, no bodyguards were to be seen, so I assumed that Stefan must have trusted

this group of poker aficionados. There were four more tall, good looking girls in long

black dresses who hovered on the shoulders in between each spot on the table. I

worried for Simon.

         ‗They‘re here to provide us with whatever we want — drink, food, drugs and

sex,‘ whispered Stefan. Seeing my reaction, he continued. ‗I was only joking about

the sex . . . well, at least until we finish playing cards anyway. That‘s what we‘re here

for, right?‘ he said and winked mischievously at me.




                                                                                     136
       The first player was introduced as His Highness, Prince Narjhim AdDullah Ali

Hasanarjini. I was useless with names at the best of times, but this one was taking the

piss. Dressed immaculately in a very expensive suit, he was a short man with a

friendly disposition. The man to his right was the exact opposite. Segey Borchomov

was a bear of a man with hands like a JCB who obviously found it difficult to find

clothes to fit his frame. His handshake was brusque and he didn‘t even get up out of

his chair, obviously very eager to get on with the game.

       The lady next to him needed no introduction. I couldn‘t believe it was her.

Jaqueline Anderson was one of the most famous women on the planet. She was a true

Hollywood A-lister, a stunning blonde in her mid thirties who had worked with some

of the greats. Winning two Oscars by the age of 25, she was the highest paid actress in

the world. Her dress was split down her cleavage to the waist, exaggerating those

famous surgically-enhanced breasts. She was very elusive when introduced, and again

Simon couldn‘t hold in his amazement. He went to mutter something only for her to

turn her attention back to the table, obviously eager to get on with the game.

       With my thoughts still on Jaqueline, the introductions to the other players

went in one ear and out the other. Nothing unusual there. A true poker player would

have spent time sussing out his opponents before playing, but I was still thinking

about the person I‘d just met. So was Simon.

        ‗Ladies and gentleman, we‘re ready to begin,‘ announced a man wearing a

dinner jacket and sporting slicked-back hair. He gestured for Simon and me to take

our seats. We, like all the other players, were told that Stefan was extending the

credit. At the end of the evening, or if you checked out early, your chips or lack of

them were added up and your account credited or debited. So this was an account with

someone who once let secret police cut a man‘s testicles off and shove them in his


                                                                                   137
mouth. Even having won all that money, I was having a bit of moment about the

amount of money that was about to be spent on a card game.

       I told myself to be confident because whenever I‘d played backgammon, I

nearly always won. When cutting my teeth at poker with the riggers, I lost heavily at

first, but after a while, I was winning regularly. Then again, that was a totally

different league. We all got so drunk that the rules became a little fuzzy and friendly

cheating was rife. The maximum pot we ever reached was £50 and the minimum bet

was £1. I started to get a cold flush as the enormity of the situation dawned upon me.

Simon had taken the opinion that this would be his first and last big money poker

game. Like me, he‘d only played small beer stuff for fun before, but his determination

meant that no matter how much he won or lost, he would write this off as a life

experience never to be re-visited. I knew he would be able to do that, but it was again

very unusual behaviour for him.

       We were sitting at a table with people who had serious money. I asked myself

why the hell Stefan had asked me. I was just a jumped-up nouveau who had been

lucky enough to win some money and thought I was a bit of a player. These guys

were bona fide big hitters.

       A dealer appeared in white shirt, bow tie, waistcoat and white gloves.

         ‗Ladies and gentlemen, the game is Texas hold ‗em. Fifty thousand minimum

in with the opportunity to extend that at the discretion of any remaining players.‘ This

sent a chill down my spine. It meant that if you‘d blown your £50,000 and wanted

more credit, it was up to the remaining players whether you could or not ask Stefan

for this. Lost £50,000 — oh my God, what was I doing there? Catching sight of

Jaqueline‘s breasts took my mind off things for a moment.




                                                                                    138
       Only an hour later, I found myself £35,000 down. I had lost more than any of

the other players and was starting to get depressed at my stupidity for getting involved

in the first place. Simon and I had been busted a couple of times holding up the game

as we stared at Jaqueline‘s cleavage and like some Tourette‘s boy, I shouted ‗Bollox

wank shit!‘ as I lost another hand and £10,000. There was a break after that. We had

been exposed as the useless amateurs we were.

               I was the first to reach the £50,000 loss. All agreed to allow me back in

and another £50,000 credit was extended by Stefan with a simple nod. It never

crossed my mind at all to get out. I needed a chance to win it back and believed I

could do that, with interest. I was wrong, and although there were a few other

dropouts, I reached the £100,000 loss mark and exit time with relative ease. Desperate

for another crack at it, the other players agreed to let me back in, but Stefan shook his

head and that was it.

       Strict rules meant you had to leave the table once you were out so as not to

influence any of the other players. I retired to the lounge next door, ordered a VAT

and sat in a huge leather armchair. I was fuming that Stefan had not allowed me to

carry on. Who did he think he was? It was my money, which I was good for, and he

stopped me winning it back. I waited for what seemed hours when Simon emerged.

         ‗Ah, you lost the lot, eh?‘ I enquired.

         ‗No, was on the brink, but then had a big win bringing me about evens, so I

decided to quit on a high.‘

         ‗What do you mean on a high? You should have continued to see if you

could get more. That‘s not what I call a high, dude.‘ I was sulking.

         ‗Well, at least I‘m not a hundred k down. That‘s gotta hurt.‘ He had a valid

point, but I wasn‘t listening and huffed off to the car cursing Stefan — under my


                                                                                    139
breath of course, just in case anyone heard. I was angry, not stupid. I knew, though,

that I was going to make that money back and more. The next poker game, I‘d show

them.




                                                                                 140
                                               17



       I was now on the ninth date with Natasha and still hadn‘t seen her naked.

Fiona kept telling me to persevere because it would be worth it. She‘d become more

than the girl who organises my diary; she‘d become a good friend. I had stopped

making advances at her and she relaxed enough not to treat me as her client and had

delegated many of her duties away to a junior. Not that I represented a massive

workload. It wasn‘t as though I was a high-flying businessman, constantly on the go,

always busy, deals to do, people to meet and requiring at least three assistants just to

deal with the work side of things. I simply enjoyed going out, going on holiday,

buying things, dating (if not sleeping with) a supermodel. All those people who said,

‗Oh, you would get bored doing that‘ were so wrong. I had a capacity to revel in

leisure time and although pre-win, all I wanted was a great deal of wonga, I could

never been like Hugh. I just never possessed that drive and raw ambition. It was lucky

the win happened or I might have been an unhappy person for the rest of my life,

wanting something but not really having the balls to go out and get it. So now I was

enjoying an exceptionally privileged existence and wanted to make the most of life

while I could. It was the height of shallowness, morally corrupt and to some people

truly pathetic, but boy, did it feel bloody wonderful.

       Something else that stayed consistent from no money to loads of it was that all

I wanted was for people to be happy. Not in a beauty queen ‗world peace‘ kind of

way, but more that when I met and got to know people, I wanted them to be happy in

whatever they were doing or whoever they were with. Of course it wasn‘t carte

blanche on what they liked to do to make them happy. For example, if it was killing

people that floated their boat, then my wishes didn‘t apply. Talking to an unhappy


                                                                                   141
person rubbed off on me and so I tried to avoid that scenario where possible. It wasn‘t

the money that made me that way. I had only ever wanted to have a laugh and try to

enjoy what time I had before shuffling off this mortal coil.

        Only a small number of really good friends and family could offload their

woes, making me concerned and wanting to do something to help them out. Sophie

was one of those and it made me sad for her when I heard how things were going. She

deserved to be happy, but she was married to a tool who was making her thoroughly

miserable and I couldn‘t really do anything about it except be there to listen.

                Although there was no horizontal action, at least Natasha and I were

getting on well and having a laugh while we were together. It had even got to the

stage where I was comfortable taking the piss out of her, saying the most dumbass of

things without fear of her walking out. Each time she laughed heartily, she would

flash those perfect teeth and throw her perfect head back, revealing her perfect neck . .

. you get the picture.

        There were things, of course, that were irritating. It‘s only natural. Little things

like offering to pay or lack of it would be more accurate. Usually by a fifth date, the

girl would at least make a token offer to pay, which of course would get refused, but it

was the gesture that counted. This was the seventh or eighth date and she hadn‘t even

glanced over when the bill was brought to me. In fact she had a remarkable knack of

finding some bloody furnishing that was great, or miraculously one of her vacuous

friends would wander by at the crunch time and full air-kissing would ensue. She had

even forgotten to thank me once. This irritated the shite out of me, but I knew it was

the price I had to pay for being involved in the model/money equation. If you had the

money and a stupendously gorgeous girlfriend, be prepared to pay for absolutely




                                                                                       142
everything. This equation held the answer to one of the common questions in life:

‗What the hell is she doing with him?‘ The reply was usually ‗He‘s loaded‘.

                 The other thing about the fifth date was that by that stage, I‘d usually

slept with the girl, so I was in completely new territory with Natasha. Nine dates and

no sex was unheard of in my world, but that evening, I had a feeling that something

might happen. We‘d been out to dinner, Dave dropped us off outside her flat and

waited while I went through the usual night-cap routine on the front door, expecting

her to say no.

         ‗Sure, that would be great. Why don‘t you come up?‘ she said, smiling

suggestively in a way that made me go weak at the knees. There was a twinkle in her

eyes and the slight suggestion of a lick of the lips. She then bit her lower lip in a way

that sent me into a frenzy.

         ‗It‘s OK Dave, you can go home now. Thanks for tonight,‘ I said, leaning

into the passenger side window, trying to sound cool and matter-of-fact. He shot me a

knowing smile and a hidden thumbs up with that ‗Go on son!‘ look on his face.

       In her modern, white, minimalist apartment, I became an awkward teenager

again and could taste the apprehension in my mouth.

         ‗Would you mind making the drinks? There‘s vodka in the freezer,‘ she said,

gesturing towards a door I assumed was the kitchen. Faced with a wall of white

surfaces and no hint as to which one was the freezer door, I pushed and prodded

everything that looked like a door as the music Natasha had sorted in the lounge was

piped into the kitchen from unseen speakers, a nice, chilled Ibiza sound.

         ‗Are you alright in there? Where are the drinks?‘




                                                                                     143
         ‗Yep, be there in a second,‘ I lied, as I still hadn‘t found the vodka, let alone

the glasses. Like a man asking for directions, I refused to admit I was lost, but so

much time had elapsed, Natasha had to come in and take over.

          We sat side by side on the sofa and there was plenty of intimate contact as

we stroked each other‘s arms and held hands. She was wearing a short skirt, and her

long tanned legs were crossed towards me and one of her slender arms was draped

over my shoulders as she rubbed her hand up and down my arm. Her perfume was

really filling my head. Then we kissed, a lingering passionate kiss that started gently

on the lips and turned into a full blown, throw-drinks-down-and-rip off-clothes one.

Although we‘d kissed before, this one felt like no other, especially as I knew it was

going to lead to something I‘d been so desperate for — sex with Natasha. So this was

what it was like waiting. Now I got it.

                It was fair to say that absolutely everything was entirely worth the wait

and beat anything with anyone before.          There were more than a few moments,

however, like when I slipped her blouse off, when I physically gasped, leading her to

stop and ask what was wrong. I had to assure her it really was a gasp of disbelieving

my luck to be with such a beautiful girl rather than a gasp of exasperation. Even going

to sleep was astounding, as her perfect breasts were bathed in the full moonlight

coming through the large skylights in the top of her bedroom roof.

                My friends and I had always observed the unwritten rule of blokes

talking about their sexual conquests. If it was an ex, a one night (or three night) stand

or you really didn‘t give a shite about the girl, then it was all fair game. In fact stories,

particularly funny ones, about girls‘ weirdness, fantasies, positions, etc. were de

rigueur. However, if there was a bit more there, a bit more about the girl that made

you want go on seeing her, then the details were off limits. You just didn‘t ask for


                                                                                        144
details and they didn‘t tell you any. I think it had something to do with not wanting

your mates to know intimate details about your wife should she end up so.

         ‗So how‘s it going with Natasha?‘ John asked as we were having a pint in the

Battered Cod in Chelsea. It was one of the oldest boozers in London and was

frequented by all the dads of the guffawing Sloanes who preferred the cooler bars on

the Fulham and Kings roads. It had been a favourite of ours for a few years.

         ‗Great, man. She‘s fantastic.‘

         ‗And?‘

         ‗Yep.‘

         ‗Nice.‘

         ‗It sure is. So how are Samantha and the business?‘ And that was that with

the Natasha talk. We discussed the fact that his band, JAST, was doing really well.

They‘d turned into a total pain in the arse and had fallen into that old trap of believing

their own press, but luckily for John, they were selling big, which made him happy

and thus made me happy. There were some great stories about what they got up to on

tour and I regaled some corkers of my own that happened whilst on my travels.

Samantha and the kids were great and someone was interested in buying his media

business that had now quite a healthy production arm to it. We remembered how we

both cried when he asked me to be godfather to his eldest. He accepted my invite for

the family and him to come and stay me and Natasha in the villa I was taking for the

month of August in Northern Majorca. In fact, there was going to be quite a few of us.

Whenever we met, no matter after how long, we picked up with consummate ease

from where we left off.

               **




                                                                                     145
           ‗Hello my friend Connor,‘ Stefan said jovially. ‗How are you?‘ I was hoping

he would call so I could get in another poker game but didn‘t want to look keen. Plus

I needed to finish the poker playing lessons from a friend of Fiona‘s who had been

once named grand champion after winning a $10 million winner-takes-all tournament.

           ‗I‘m wonderful, Stefan, what about you?‘ I tried to pretend I had forgotten

about his snub of credit at the game. We chewed the fat for a while and he told me

about Matty asking for Maria‘s hand in marriage. I knew Matty had wanted to do that

but didn‘t know the plan had actually been carried out. Although still not believing

she had fallen in love with him, I was pleased to hear that Stefan, as Maria‘s surrogate

father, had given the marriage his blessing. That would have got ugly if he hadn‘t.

There was a feeling throughout our conversation, though, that Stefan was holding

back on something, like that relationship-finishing conversation in which you would

make small talk, but all you could think about was that at some stage you had to utter

the words ‘we need to talk about us‘.

           ‗Connor, you remember the other night at the table?‘ He finally got round to

what he really wanted to say.

           ‗Yes, Stefan,‘ I said, feeling as though I actually had one up on the Butcher

of Budapest and he was embarrassed.

           ‗Well, my friend, there was a reason I refused to let you back in.‘

           ‗Yes?‘

           ‗Well, I did it for you, my friend. I have to tell you that you‘re a terrible

poker player and there was only one way it would have gone if you‘d been let in. You

were playing with some of the best poker players in the world and they would have

killed you‘ All I could think to myself was ‗just you wait and see at the next one, my

friend.‘


                                                                                    146
         ‗Well, I‘m good for the money, Stefan. You know that.‘ I wasn‘t going to let

him off straight away even though it was very hard for me to bear any malice to

someone with such genuine reasons for doing what he did.

         ‗Of course, my friend, of course. I wasn‘t suggesting that at all. . . ‘

         ‗But I understand where you were coming from. I was having a bad night,

that‘s all. Could I ask a favour from a friend?‘

         ‗Of course, Connor, what is it?‘

         ‗Stefan, I thank you for your concern, but I‘m a grown man with money. I‘m

a much better player than that and have even been having lessons. I want in on

another game and I‘ll prove it to you.‘ There was an uncomfortable silence before he

reluctantly agreed.

               The subsequent three games left me still down and by quite a margin. I

couldn‘t believe it, after all those bloody lessons from el maestro with his stupid

shades and cowboy hat and I was still losing. All his bullshit about never revealing

‗the tell‘ or never looking the other players in the eyes and I was shanking it big time.

When taking this up with grand master flash, he just said that even the best poker

players in the world could get totally whipped by a novice who‘d never seen a card in

their lives. He gave me the analogy of a granny verses Christian Ronaldo on the left

wing of a football pitch. There would always be only one winner. Put that same

granny, who had just a few basic lessons in how to play, up against him in a poker

game and she would still have a chance of beating him over a couple of rounds,

because poker was still a luck game. That was not what I wanted to hear. Each loss

only made me more determined to win back the money, more determined to show

Stefan that I was a good poker player. I was haunted by jovial Prince what‘s-his-name

and the bear man, who I‘d met on separate occasions across the green baize a couple


                                                                                    147
of times and they both tore the short off my back each time. Although there was no

sign of Jaqueline‘s breasts, I‘d heard that one of her implants had exploded on a flight

to L.A., causing the flight to divert as people thought some lunatic terrorist was trying

to blow the plane up and she‘d been injured in the attempt.

       Stefan was starting to look at me in a worried manner each time we met and

although he never actually said it, he thought I was losing it. I had never wanted

friends to worry about me or feel sympathy for me, and although people did do that at

various times of my life out of genuine concern, it made me slightly uncomfortable. I

assured him that he had nothing to worry about, I had it under control and all I wanted

to do was win back the money I‘d lost. He just sighed, sensing that I wouldn‘t hear

any of his concerns.




                                                                                     148
                                              18



        Over the next few months, Natasha and I saw each other about three to four

times a week, which was quite intense for me but I enjoyed being with her, and we

had a great laugh and unbelievable sex. I loved the fact that wherever we went, she

made guys fall slack-jawed and women looked at her with either disdain, envy or

admiration. I loved lying by a pool or beach with her stretched out beside me, going to

dinner together or just hanging out at the house. No one, least of all me, would have

put me down for such feelings and something that every other human being goes

through when in a relationship. Sophie was right.

        One morning, I woke to see Natasha looking at me intently with those

wonderful eyes. The legs just went on forever and one of them was wrapped around

my lower body, trapping me in vise-like grip. I loved the flatness of her stomach and

the arching of the back and immediately got aroused again.

        As I leant over to kiss her, she said, ‗What are you thinking about?' This was

one of those questions that had no simple answer. It was designed to delve deeper, to

give clues about my emotional status and suss out how I felt about ‗us‘. Although I

was having a great time with Natasha, I wasn‘t about to lose any masculinity and give

in first to any soppy utterings.

         ‗Well, I‘m thinking I have the most beautiful woman in the world lying

naked beside me and I‘m aroused,‘ I said as played with her hair.

         ‗I‘m not talking about sex. What are you really thinking about?‘

         ‗Sex.‘

         ‗No, come on, I mean it.‘ This could have gone on forever, so I tried to turn

the tables.


                                                                                   149
          ‗Well, what about you? You‘re obviously thinking about us.‘ A thoughtful

look came over her face as she stared into my eyes.

          'I‘m thinking I love you.‘

          ‗I love you, too,‘ I said as an instant reaction. She grinned in satisfaction and

laid her head on my shoulder. DOH! I lay awake thinking ‗Fuck, did I just say I loved

her? Fuck.‘ I‘d never said it before and it wasn‘t something I was supposed to believe

in. I was supposed to continue playing the field and like Dave in his heyday, have a

girl in every port. All I ever wanted was to have a shedload of cash and sleep with

models and I was doing that. As I wrestled with those thoughts, it dawned on me. I

did love her.

                Things went so quickly after that, but her inevitable moving in didn‘t

go down too well with Hosefa the housekeeper. She had taken to me in a motherly

way and had made plain from the start that she wasn‘t a fan of Natasha. The feeling

was mutual; in fact they actually hated each other. Although unable to put my finger

on what it was all about, I can remember when it started.

       Before moving in, Natasha was staying most nights with me and had left a fair

few items of clothes on the floor in the bedroom over that period. She asked me about

their whereabouts, something I couldn‘t help with because since Hosefa‘s arrival, I

didn‘t have to worry about what happened to clothes once they had been used. I was

very lucky to be blissfully unaware of the whole washing process and was only

presented with ready-to-wear clothes displayed in my immaculate wardrobe. I loved

Hosefa.

       After an inspection of said wardrobe, I found the items in one of the

compartments that housed my jeans and they were shoved to the back. I say shoved,

but even when sending a signal, Hosefa still couldn‘t just throw them in there, they


                                                                                      150
were beautifully folded. It may seem trivial, but she was definitely making her

disapproval of Natasha known, something that wasn‘t missed by the girlfriend.

       Natasha and I were throwing a dinner party and although Natasha was the

conductor, Hosefa was playing every instrument in the orchestra. Something as

simple as having a few friends round for dinner had become quiet an elaborate affair

and Hosefa‘s involvement was a bone of contention with Natasha.

        ‗That bloody woman is trying to take over my party,‘ she huffed at lunch.

‗She‘s organised the flowers, the delivery of the all the food, supervising the waiters

and even choosing what cutlery we‘ll use.‘

        ‗Yes, she organised all the deliveries, but it‘s under your direction. You‘re

the one with the taste and style. You‘re the general ordering your troops to do as you

bid,‘ I said while not looking at her and actually concentrating on the veal Milanese

on the plate in front of me. This family-run Italian restaurant had been a favourite of

mine for over a decade and their veal Milanese was world famous. I also couldn‘t care

less about her predicament and was just paying lip service.

        ‗I know she‘ll do something to piss Marcus off, which will mean he won‘t do

his best.‘ We had hired Marcus Smith to cook. Despite liking cooking pre-win, when

you can afford to have someone else do it (and do it a million times better than you)

then you‘d be a fool to opt for the graft option. Marcus Smith was Graham

Hargreaves‘ protégé, a good bet for developing into a true great and recommended to

Fiona by Hargreaves himself.

        ‗No, she won‘t. Don‘t worry. God, this veal‘s good.‘

        ‗You don‘t seem to care about this. If we hire a great chef to cook, everyone

will be expecting great food. If he‘s put in a bad mood by that fat cow, he won‘t make

an effort, my guests will be disappointed and I‘ll be embarrassed.‘


                                                                                   151
       I didn‘t rise to the ‗my guests‘ bit. Natasha wanted this soirée to be populated

by her idiot Eurotrash friends. I pretty much hated them en masse. They were air-

kissing, flashy, vacuous fuckwits who took themselves so seriously, there was never

any room for genuine laughter. I hoped I would never ever turn into them. I insisted

that we invite John, his wife Samantha, Simon and his girlfriend Holly, and Sophie,

who had to bring the tool along.

       Natasha took over two hours to get ready, during which time I helped myself

to a few very large VATs and Hosefa busied herself like the star she was. Each time

she rang upstairs to ask Natasha a question, there would be a silence as she listened,

then slammed the phone down, muttering something incomprehensible under her

breath whilst shaking her head. I thought it wise to stay well clear of this spat.

Natasha was my girlfriend, Hosefa my housekeeper. Both possessed qualities that the

other could never possess, nor indeed want. Taking sides was not something I wanted

to do, so I took the honourable route and ignored both parties‘ attempts to offload

their grievances and side-stepped any potential involvement in WW III. This plan did

nothing to ease tension between them though.

       When she came down the stairs, I was reminded just how lucky I was to be

with her. Wearing a trademark LBD and killer heels, even Marcus was impressed, as

were his waiters. She was sweetness personified with him and was bloody flirting

again with another chef. From the corner of my eye, I could see the little rotund one

bristling and cursing under her breath in Spanish.

       One of my main rules when it came to having people over for dinner was that

everyone had to be well watered. It was truly one of my pet hates — having to ask for

another glass of wine from a host, who would then look down his nose at me as if I

was some homeless alchy who had asked for a can of Special Brew. The hosts guilty


                                                                                   152
of this crime were usually those people who, when I brought a nice bottle of wine,

would serve me the cheap shit they had and save the nice wine for themselves. I‘d lost

count of the times where, on being handed a good bottle, the host would say, ‗Oh,

thank you, that‘s so kind‘, then turn, place the bottle on the counter and continue, ‗Oh,

we‘ve got this one open. Would you like a glass?‘ I wanted to say, ‗No you bloody

tight fisted wanker. If you‘re going to serve me the stuff that‘s used to fuel your car,

you can piss off and open the one I‘d spent more than £2 on‘ but never did. I just said

thanks and tried to pretend it was OK. Then when it came to eating, I would find

myself always the one with the empty glass, praying that perhaps they might just

bring out at least one of the bottles brought by the guests. Like some sort of dog

begging for more food, I would be almost panting with my paws up on the table. This

isn‘t something that came about after winning. I‘d always had this irritation because

wine had always been a very important part of my life since my twenties. It was

unforgiveable to not think about the guests. Even if you were tee-total and your guests

were raging alcoholics, their wishes should be respected in the interests of everyone

having a good time.

       This particular evening had neither a dry glass nor me doing anything in the

kitchen. The food was astounding and the waiters made sure every glass was always

charged with superb wine. Shame some of the assembled company wasn‘t up to the

same standard. I basically ignored her friends and had a great time clandestinely

laughing at the Eurotrash breaking bread at my table. Luckily I had Samantha, John‘s

impossibly glamorous wife, to my left and Holly, Simon‘s girlfriend, to my right. I

loved Samantha and by proxy, she had inherited all the history and stories John and I

shared, which meant an almost immediate connection. This was the first time I‘d met

Holly and she was superb company. I did my big brother bit and told all the


                                                                                    153
embarrassing stories about Simon when he was younger, like pretending a cardboard

toilet role inner was a replacement for a hamster the school had given him to look

after. He‘d fed the unfortunate animal with dishwasher tablets which, needless to say,

was not great for ‗Harry‘ and he promptly shuffled off to the large wheel in the sky

within a few hours of eating the offending tablets. She was a very pretty girl and

laughed heartily at all my stories and jokes. I liked her.

       Throughout all this, I couldn‘t help but notice that Hugh and Natasha were

getting on very well. They were seated next to each other because I wanted the

dickhead as far away from me as possible. He was in his element with all her

Eurotwat friends as they boasted about clubs and restaurants, constantly trying to

score points off each other about who they knew and where they went. She seemed to

be lapping it up, throwing back her head in faux hysterics at useless jokes. I‘d never

been a jealous type. I used to take it as a compliment if guys tried to chat up, flirt with

or even just look longingly at any girl I was with. I never felt threatened and thought

those guys who took offence at such actions were slightly insecure about their

relationship. On this evening, however, I found myself constantly glancing over at

Natasha and the tool. It got to the stage where Samantha asked if I was alright.

         ‗Connor, you seem distracted. What‘s going on?‘ she asked.

         ‗You know me, Sam. I don‘t care but . . . Hugh‘s hitting on Natasha big time

and Sophie is just the other side of the table. He‘s such a prick.‘

         ‗Connor, from where I‘m sitting, Natasha is doing all the running in that

department,‘ she said matter-of-factly, and slightly regretting it after seeing my face.

         ‗Nonsense, it‘s that dickhead there who is making a fool of himself. Look at

him, all over her. It‘s amazing Sophie doesn‘t get up and slap him in his fat face.‘




                                                                                       154
         ‗You‘re right, Connor,‘ Sam said, looking down at her plate ‗God that looks

divine,‘ she exclaimed after seeing the classic tarte tatin waiting to be sampled.

         ‗Mate, what do you think of Natasha?‘ I asked John whilst we were having

an Armagnac and a cigar in the garden. We had always been honest with each other

about girls, an approach that only lifelong friends could have carried off without

causing offence. If one of us didn‘t like something about the squeeze, the thought

usually took the form of a joke that would allow both guys to assess the seriousness of

the bond with the girl and whether no more needed to be said. A good example of

how we could be insulting without taking offence was one of my replies to the ‗what

do you think of her?‘ question. I said that she was great, but not to let her near the

coke because with a schnoz like that, she‘d hoover up the whole of London, let alone

all the inhabitants of Columbia. He didn‘t laugh and we left it there, although he did

remind me many times about my forthrightness after they had split up.

         ‗She‘s nice mate,‘ he said, taking a huge puff on the cigar.

         ‗Come on, dude. I‘ve known you all my life and you have never just said

that. What do you really think?‘

         ‗If you like her and you‘re happy, that‘s all that matters, isn‘t it?‘

         ‗Now I can tell you have reservations. Come on. What‘s wrong?‘ I couldn‘t

believe what I was saying. I‘d turned into some sort of idiot who wanted assurances

from friends and family that it was all as rosy as I thought it was. I pressed John for a

truthful answer and regretted that.

         ‗Mate, all I worry about is that you don‘t end up hurt because you‘ve fallen

in love with someone who might have different motives from your simplified view on

things.‘ This hit hard. Where was the joke or the softening of the blow?




                                                                                     155
          ‗Oh, I can assure you I know exactly what‘s going on. I know I said before

that I couldn‘t care less if a girl was with me just for the money, but this is different.

Yes, without the money I‘d never have met her or even managed to date her, but we

have fallen in love and the money is immaterial now.‘

          ‗That‘s good to hear and I hope that‘s the case, but what about how much

you‘re spending?‘ We were now in one of those drunken conversations that came

about only once in every couple of years when, gripped by alcohol, we delved deeper

than would be the norm. ‗Fiona‘s worried about the amount you‘re spending and also

losing at poker.

          ‗She has no right to talk to you about my spending.‘ I was getting drunk

angry.

          ‗I am too, and I‘m going on what you‘ve told me, not what Fiona‘s told me.

Are you sure the business is a good idea?‘

          ‗Natasha and I know that it‘ll be a very fashionable label. If anyone knows

anything about fashion, it‘s Natasha. She will look after the creative side and me the

business side. I think her idea has so much potential. Trust me, I know what I‘m

doing.‘

          ‗£20 million is a lot to invest, Connor.‘

          ‗Don‘t worry, I know what I‘m doing.‘

          ‗And your poker losses? Are you staying on top of those?‘ Jesus this was a

full scale stripping to the bare bones.

          ‗All part of the plan. I will win it all back with interest.‘

          ‗Perhaps you should see someone about it.‘

          ‗The only person I want to see about my poker is the person who will be

paying me all my money back. Now let‘s see if one those waiters can get us another


                                                                                     156
drink.‘ The conversation was over. It wasn‘t finished with acrimony or any hard

feelings, just a matter-of-fact conclusion to the discussion. John had made his point

and I‘d ignored it, and so more drinking was to be done.




                                                                                 157
                                              19



        Although poker was my main channel for the need to gamble, other avenues

had made themselves popular, mainly due to my membership in a ‗high rollers‘

casino. The place was a Mecca to the wealthy where everything just oozed money.

The interior looked like something from Stefan‘s house — all gold and over- the-top

furnishings. Even when the sun was at its highest in the sky, there was no sign of

natural daylight, just a perpetual hint of something that needed to be spoken about in

hushed tones. I got a dry throat and butterflies in my stomach each time I walked

through the door and was asked by a stunning and always immaculate hostess, ‗What

will be your pleasure tonight, Mr. Blaine?‘

        I‘d found blackjack to be not only fun, but also lucrative   —   or so I thought.

Every time I joined a table, there would be a perfunctory nod from the other players.

They were usually well-turned-out Middle Eastern men who were nearly always

shadowed by an immense minder lurking in the darkness behind the table. It amazed

me that no matter what time I went, there were always a fair number of these players

throwing money into the owner‘s pocket. It was not the done thing to talk to these

guys; you were all there to play, spend, sometimes win and mostly lose, but you were

not there to socialise.

        I found this out after getting slaughtered with Simon one night and rather than

going home, I rocked up on my own. Jovially, I sat down and tried to start a

conversation with other players, but they were having none of it. I had already fallen

off my stool whilst leaning over to say to one, ‗This croupier has the best pair of aces

in the pack,‘ but then topped that by starting to talk about terrorists and asking the

selected company if they believed in Jihad. A powerful hand squeezed my arm from


                                                                                     158
behind and when I turned round, I was faced with the manager, smiling politely whilst

still exerting the pressure of a hydraulic crusher to my arm. He took me aside and

suggested I play at another table. The one he pointed to had no one else at it, just a

grumpy looking croupier who had seen better days. Even that pissed, I got the

message and went home.

        I did have a few big wins in amongst the losses though. One night I came

away £500,000 richer, something that only fuelled the desire to go on to try and win

more.

        Even when on holiday, my need to get involved in some sort of game meant I

had hired a villa in the northern part of Majorca for the whole of August and various

friends dropped in and stayed a few days or weeks, whichever they could. I

discovered a local casino and took whoever was interested along with me.

         ‗A casino? Really, Connor?‘ Stefan asked after I asked him to come along

with me one evening. ‗Is that wise, my friend? You must be careful,‘ he counselled.

         ‗It‘s just a bit of fun Stefan. They have very low limits so there‘s no danger

of getting into trouble. It‘s just a good laugh. Come on.‘ He begrudgingly went with

me, but the feelings he expressed had also been voiced by John, my brother and

Fiona. All had been ignored. I knew what I was doing. Who were they to tell me how

to enjoy myself? I wasn‘t losing so much that I would be broke. Yes, I was probably

down a few quid, but it was under control.

         I still woke up every day and thanked my lucky stars that I was in the

position I was in   —   or the position Natasha was in if it was a particularly good

morning. I don‘t want to make it sound like some sort of Mary Poppins fairytale

though. There were, of course, days that weren‘t all chocolate and roses. They were

the mornings (or afternoons, depending on the night before) when I was beyond hung


                                                                                   159
over, beyond being alive and could only utter noises and grunts from bed like some

red-arsed baboon lying around in the jungle. These mornings were usually

accompanied by another poker loss and then a good helping of guilt for losing so

much on cards.

       Natasha didn‘t look after me in those instances. It was the wonderful rotund

one, Hosefa, who attended. She would cook and provide the relevant hangover staples

such as water, Berroca and pain killers. I don‘t know where she got the latter from, as

they were not over-the-counter products, but they were similar in strength to surgical

anaesthetic so I couldn‘t have cared less if the magic ingredient was powdered

excrement. They were true essentials never to be without.

       I would remember the times when I struggled into work, wanting to hurl at

every moment, muddling through the day smelling like a bottle of sweet sherry,

looking as though I‘d spent the evening sleeping rough and wishing I were dead. Then

like a kid at school waiting to hear the bell, when hometime came, a surge of relief

and the need for the hair of the dog. I‘d remember because I wasn‘t at work. Instead, I

was being looked after by my housekeeper in a magnificent Kensington house while

my supermodel girlfriend was out shopping. So relatively speaking, as horrendous

mornings go, they weren‘t really. They were a million miles away from the mornings

when most people woke up with real problems, problems like how to provide for their

kids or how to cope with a serious illness in the family. I knew this no matter what

state I was in, and it never failed to impress on me just how unbelievably lucky I was.

         ‗Connor, It‘s Fiona. I need to talk to you urgently,‘ she barked down the

phone, missing her usual bonhomie and friendliness.




                                                                                   160
         ‗Well, I‘m fine, thanks Fiona. How are you?‘ She‘d caught me still in bed

after a particularly bad night on the cards and I was nursing what seemed like the

worst hangover to date.

          ‗I‘m afraid I haven‘t got time to mess around because you‘re hung over,‘ she

said somewhat haughtily. ‗I‘ve cancelled your dinner with Simon and I‘m coming

over at 7 p.m. Hosefa is going to leave some coq au vin to heat up, but Natasha said

she had something to do and won‘t be joining us.‘ Fiona had joined the seemingly

ever-growing list of people Natasha had something against. I thought she was just

jealous of how close Fiona and I had become, as it was obvious to Natasha that Fiona

cared about me, something that didn‘t sit too comfortably on those slender shoulders

of hers. I put it down to the famous model insecurity and just let her get on with it.

         ‗Wow, sounds serious,‘ I said without much concern at all. ‗Well, I‘ll see you

later then. Jesus, I‘m hung over. You know last night, I was . . .‘ She hung up.

        Natasha had gone out to some new private member‘s club opening with the

Euros and I‘d recovered sufficiently to be having a glass of the bubbles by the time

Fiona arrived. She spoke warmly with Hosefa, but not just Spanish. No, this was

Fiona after all. She was gabbing in the almost impossible language of Catalan. It was

like they were old mates from the Basque country who had enjoyed many a paella

together in their little peasant village.

         ‗So what‘s so bloody serious, Fi?‘ I asked after talking for half an hour about

this and that.

         ‗I don‘t quite know how to tell you this,‘ she said in a manner that I‘d never

encountered before. Whatever she wanted to say was so tortuous for her that she was

fidgeting like someone on death row waiting for his last meal. All sorts of things ran




                                                                                         161
through my head — she was dying, Hosefa was dying, I was dying — what could have

been so serious?

         ‗Well, you know me well enough now to tell me straight.‘ I was really erring

on the side of bad news medically and preparing myself for it. Fiona had broken into

the higher echelon of friends who could offload problems/bad stuff and I‘d care.

         ‗Connor,‘ she said, grabbing both of my hands and staring intensely into my

eyes. She so was about to deliver some news on her health front; I was thinking six

months to live. ‗I‘m afraid you have no money left.‘ I burst out laughing in total relief

that Fi or anyone I cared about wasn‘t ill and she was responsible for a bloody good

joke.

         ‗For fuck‘s sake, Fi, you really had me going there. I though you were about

to tell me you had six months to live.‘ I had jumped up and was grabbing the bottle of

fizz to pour us both another drink and was still belly laughing at her wind up.

         ‗No, Connor, I‘m not joking. You have no money left and in fact, your debts

will mean you have to sell the house, the cars and the rest.‘ I still laughed, but this

time it was out of hope rather than genuine amusement. It was a nervous laugh that

showed that I was still waiting for Fiona to break. She saw the horror in my eyes

behind that laugh and continued.

         ‗Your investment fund losses, the money thrown at Black Label, your

gambling losses and general spending mean you owe around £35 million with no way,

other than your assets, to pay it off.‘

         ‗Yeah, right. Fuck off. No way.‘ I was now only smiling. ‗Come on, Fi,

there‘s no way I could have got through one hundred and ten million pounds. It‘s

impossible to spend that amount of money in the time since my win.‘ I was now




                                                                                    162
pleading rather than making a point and hoping for some kind of encouragement from

the forlorn Fiona.

         ‗I‘m sorry, Connor, but you have gone through the lot. You will have to sell

whatever assets you have in order to meet your debts, although there is some leeway

on those seeing as Stefan is the main creditor on that score.‘ I still couldn‘t see it and

although things hadn‘t gone well, I was aware of how much had actually been lost and

was in control of it.

         ‗OK, let‘s go through this bit by bit.‘ I was determined to prove to her that

she was talking tosh. When Fiona handed over many of her duties to the underling,

she took over all my financial administration and co-ordinated everything with the

accountants, investment mangers, banks and anyone else involved in my financial

affairs. I trusted her totally and she became the financial director of Black Label, the

fashion label I set up with Natasha.

         ‗From the beginning. Investments?‘

         ‗Black Label   —   you invested £15 million. That disappeared and now the

company owes suppliers and various other creditors, another £10 million.‘ She was

recalling these figures from her photographic memory; no need for notebooks.

         ‗Two questions here,‘ I was getting angry ‗You‘re the financial director, so

what the fuck were you doing and question number two, where the hell did the fifteen

million cash go?‘ I apologised for swearing and having a go at her. She then explained

to me that the initial £15 million went on designers, staff, offices, stock, marketing, jet

hire, fashion shows, adverts, parties, websites, etc. The £10 million owed was tied in

with future suppliers and spending on account, and I was personally liable for the

whole bloody lot.




                                                                                      163
         ‗How did anyone agree to spend all that cash? Why didn‘t you tell me? Jet

hire, for fuck‘s sake.‘

         ‗I did many times, Connor, but you just dismissed my concerns straight away

and told me to make it happen.‘ She was not going to take me being an aggressive

arse.

         ‗I don‘t remember that; you must be wrong.‘ This was getting fractious and I

couldn‘t recognise or remember any of the instances or warnings she was talking

about.

         ‗Well, if you‘re going to be like that, I will give it to you straight. You were

consumed with love that blinded you. What Natasha wanted, she got and your reason

went out of the window, leading you to make business decisions based not on facts,

but emotions. All these meetings where I questioned the spending taking place

happened with Natasha present because you said as creative director, she must be

involved in all decisions. When she said it needed to be done, you said yes despite

warnings and protestations from your financial director.‘ she wasn‘t holding back

now. ‗Every time I tried to raise these spending follies with you, as usual, you never

took them seriously and just wanted to drink and have a laugh. At the end of the day,

it was your company and your money and no matter how much I could see you were

committing a grave mistake, I was powerless. I could have had you committed, but

would never have done that, so all I could do was keep telling you not to continue

down that road.‘ My recollection of those meetings was that Natasha had actually

made good commercial cases for each tranche of spending. At the time, I dismissed

Fiona‘s thoughts as part of the personality clash that was going on between the two

girls and did what I had always done     —   ignore it. Now I was being kicked in the

knackers as a result.


                                                                                     164
         ‗Shit, you can‘t be serious.‘ Silence ensued for about five minutes as Fiona

allowed me to mutter nonsense to myself. ‗OK, leaving that for a moment, what about

my investment portfolio with Hugh the tool? He‘s so loaded he craps twenty pound

notes and he got that way by making all his clients very, very rich. There is no way

my investments with him have tanked.‘ Even though I despised him, there was no

getting away from the fact that he had made all his clients a great deal of money and

so I had invested an unbelievable £25 million in his fund.

         ‗It seems that although not illegal, Hugh was involved in various deals that

were questionable. I won‘t go into the exact details now, but suffice it to say that

having not been affected by the worldwide financial collapse, he took overly-

aggressive gambles based on the arrogant belief of his invincibility rather than

financial facts. The bottom line is that all his investors have lost their money. Having

done some digging, I have found that the same fate didn‘t befall him. He‘s actually

richer than he‘s ever been, worth hundreds of millions. We‘re still not sure how he

managed it, but you can be assured he lost money for the sort of people who wouldn‘t

take it well if something dodgy had been going on. He‘ll get his.‘

         ‗Too right he will, from me. I‘ll kill the fucker. Twenty-five million. Just like

that, gone.‘ Everything was really starting to sink in and I collapsed into the sofa

opposite Fiona. The same light-headed spinning feeling that happened when I‘d found

out about the win came across me. This time, however, it was making me sick to my

stomach in a way so opposite to that fateful moment, it might well as have been a

different universe.

         ‗Another major loss is the money you have thrown away gambling — all

losses. We estimate that runs to between ten and twenty million,‘ she continued,

ignoring my need to strangle the tool. ‗You also owe Stefan another £5 million from


                                                                                     165
your last couple of games, although he seems as though he will let you off that, seeing

as he regards you as one of his true friends. He also feels a little guilty about the

whole thing.‘ I was about to launch into an attack on Stefan along the same lines of

not warning me, but then remembered his refusal to allow me back into the first game,

my persuading him to allow me to make my own mistakes and his constant worrying

in all subsequent games. He told me I was a useless poker player; if only I had

listened to him. It went on   —   the money to friends and family, the cars, holidays, my

frivolous spending, Natasha‘s parties, Natasha‘s shopping, Natasha.

        Fiona told me how Simon, John and Sophie had all contacted her because I

was taking no notice of the various concerns and warnings they were all voicing.

Even my parents had been trying to talk sense into me. Everyone cared about my

spending, but I had lost sight of any reality and had been living in an artificial bubble

where the only thing that mattered was the supermodel girlfriend and a penchant for

spending. I had listened to no one, taken no advice on board or even considered any

other point of view.

        I couldn‘t believe what I was hearing. I had always prided myself on the little

switch in the brain that acted as a reality check, but the picture Fiona painted showed

me up to be as much of a twat as Natasha‘s vacuous idiot Euros. How did I let that

happen? How could I have let all that money slip though my fingers?

        Fiona explained that selling the assets was the only way, and although I‘d have

enough left to be able to have a flat without a mortgage, there was no getting away

from the fact that I‘d just been dropped down a huge crevice in the earth‘s crust into

the biggest, fieriest steaming pile of shite.




                                                                                     166
      So there it was. As Suzanne from the lottery had done, Fiona — who used to

work for the lottery — had just changed my life in a way utterly unimaginable

beforehand.




                                                                            167
                                                 20



               So began another chapter in my life, one in which having had all my

dreams fulfilled, they had then been totally snuffed out. Most people never realise

their dreams, but I still couldn‘t work out if seeing them come true only to have them

taken away again was any better than never realising them in the first place. At least

pre-win, I still had something to aim for and could dream about what it would be like

to own the cars and the houses, and spend the rest of my life on permanent holiday. I

now knew what that felt like and it was even more wonderful than I had imagined. It

had been given to me. I was enjoying every second and looking forward to doing the

same for my remaining years on this earth. Not so after Fiona‘s little chat.

       Telling Natasha of my slight predicament didn‘t exactly go as I‘d planned.

After the nuclear bomb that Fiona had dropped, I thought about Natasha and what we

had together. I did love her, she loved me and I knew that this bond — a bond I‘d been

so dismissive of in the past   —   would bring us closer together as we dealt with the

implications and adjusted our lifestyles. Well, that‘s what I thought.

       I hadn‘t slept a wink when she got in from the club, but there was no way I

was going to have that chat at 4 a.m., especially if she‘d been on the old marching

powder. I feigned sleep, thinking it could wait until the morning. She went to sleep

straight away, but — I couldn‘t even close my eyes. I just kept getting cold shivers

and hot flushes one after the other all night.

          ‗I‘ve got something to tell you,‘ I said in a repeat of Fiona‘s mood while we

were having lunch in a local dim sum place that overlooked Hyde Park. Natasha

looked shocked before I‘d even said anything. She was one of those dramatic types

who never took anything with a pinch of salt, which usually made it perfect for wind-


                                                                                   168
ups. If only this was a wind-up. ‗I have lost all my money and I‘m going to have to

sell all my assets just to meet my debts. I will still be able to get a small flat without a

mortgage, but everything else will have to go. We‘ll both have to go back to work.‘

No need to beat around the bush. Her face was as though she‘d just witnessed a brutal

assignation and was standing face to face with the assassin. I let the news sink in and

waited for a response before explaining any further.

         ‗H-h-h-how? How could this happen? W-w-when? Oh my God.‘ She was

stuttering and shaking her head like someone possessed and speaking in tongues.

         ‗Well, 24 mil with Hugh the tool, gambling losses, gifts and spending. Then

there‘s Black Label, which has gone bust owing ten million.‘ Her shock turned to

anger.

         ‗I can‘t believe it. Black Label as well? That was a great label and people

were really starting to talk about it. It was going to be a big success.‘

         ‗All those dickhead fashionistas were only talking about it to our faces, but

no one was actually buying it. Fiona warned us both on many occasions about leaking

money like a sieve and we didn‘t listen. We ignored her advice and continued to

spend. We were hiring jets to bring designers in from all over the world and they

weren‘t even on our fucking books. These were preliminary meetings, for God‘s sake.

We were enjoying the idea of owning a world-famous clothing brand worn by the A-

listers who would fall at our feet and invite us to their parties. Or should I say, you

were.

         ‗What‘s that supposed to mean?‘ she hissed, narrowing her eyes and looking

more like a serpent from a sci-fi movie than a ravishing supermodel.

         ‗Well, I did it for you, baby, because I love you. I knew nothing about the

fashion industry and now in the cold light of day, I see it was madness. I spent money


                                                                                       169
like water without actually sitting down and asking how Black Label was actually

going to make money. I wasn‘t thinking straight, allowing things to continue the way

they did. Fiona says the company, and more importantly, I personally, owe £10

million for future contracts that need to be cancelled, and supplies and accounts

already received but not paid for.‘

         ‗Oh right, so now it‘s all my fault. That bitch Fiona, she has always had it in

for me. She wanted me to fail, the jealous cow. She never implemented any of my

instructions. Every time I wanted something done, she would delay and in many

cases, simply not do it. She undermined me as the creative director and made sure I

failed.‘ She was seething and actually stabbing a dumpling repeatedly with her fork.

For the first time ever, she looked ugly to me, a mass of angry insecurities waiting to

expose her vicious side.

         ‗You‘re fucking joking, right? You honestly believe that?‘ It was a rhetorical

question and I wasn‘t about to get in argument about the moral fibre of Fiona, a

woman I trusted to the end. ‗Listen, it doesn‘t matter how it‘s happened. We have to

look ahead and . . .‘

         ‗And your gambling losses were how much?‘

         ‗Well, I owe Stefan £5 million from the last game, but I think he might let to

let me off with that and they estimate it might be as high as ten mil,‘ I said in abject

shame and disgust. When Fiona had told me about the gambling losses, I felt a nausea

creep from my toes and envelop me like a cloud. £10 million was more money than

anyone could ever dream of owning, an obscene amount of money that I‘d blown on

games of cards, the throw of dice or deciding between red or black. The nausea had

returned with more guilt than I‘d ever imagined feeling.




                                                                                    170
          ‗And you think I was stupid to want to have success with Black Label?’ She

wasn‘t letting that go and I certainly wasn‘t going to have her pour salt on gaping

wounds.

          ‗Listen, this is hard enough for me. I couldn‘t imagine ever feeling worse. To

have it all, then to lose it all — this is a new low for me. What I‘ve been trying to say

is that one thing I do have is you. We love each other and we‘re in this together. We

won‘t be homeless or starve, but the life we have been living — will no longer exist.‘

       All my dreams and aspirations had been wrapped around material success. I

had achieved that and now had lost it again. Despite that, I was feeling quite

pragmatic about the future. We would have to go back to work, but we‘d have a roof

over our heads and most importantly, I‘d still have Natasha. I was confident the

model/money equation didn‘t matter any more. Although true when we first met, it

had become superfluous as we fell in love and we‘d face the future together, no matter

what. Or so I thought.




                                                                                    171
                                              21



       Giving Dave and Hosefa the Spanish archer (El Bow) was bloody hard. I

didn‘t see it as letting staff go, but saying goodbye to members of my family. I was

totally honest. The respect I had for them demanded as much and there were two

distinctly different ways of dealing with the news.

       Hosefa just started wailing, crying, and rocking backwards and forwards like

one of those round toys that wobbled but never fell down. I found it a little

uncomfortable, this over elaborate display of emotion.           As she hugged me

inconsolably, I realised I had never had my nose that close to her armpits before. If I

had, it would have been an experience never to be forgotten and one that would have

made sure close contact with the rotund one was prohibited. The smell was like the

ammonia we used in chemistry classes at school which, when inhaled, stung like

bugger from your nostrils down to the bottom of your lungs. It made me gag. I had

always suspected the drains when on hot summer days, I would occasionally wander

past the door of the utility room and get hit in the face by the smell akin to rotting

meat. Now I knew the cause of that smell. We continued the emotional moment at

arm‘s length.

                Dave was a totally different kettle of fish. I took him for a pint,

something he found a little alarming when I asked him. We had never before crossed

that line of going for a drink without him working, but I felt a pub was as good a place

as any to do the deed. Once the news was delivered, he looked at me with a stony face

and took a huge gulp of his pint.




                                                                                    172
           ‗Well, I‘m sorry to hear that, Connor. It‘s been an absolute pleasure. You are

a great bloke and I like you a lot. I hope we can work together again sometime. If you

ever need a few drunks dealing with, then let me know.‘

        He was referring to the time Natasha and I came out of a restaurant one night

and there were about four totally pissed guys in suits standing near the car. They

recognised Natasha and started offering to perform sexual favours on her that even

porn stars would have been shocked at. She took massive offence. I just ignored them,

but when one of them lunged at us before we got into the car, Dave sprung into

action. using agility and speed that his overweight frame never suggested, he had laid

the guy out with one punch. As the drunk crumbled to the floor, his pissed mates tried

to be heroic and get involved. They squared up to Dave, shouting obscenities whilst

Dave just took the stance. As they came at him, it was all over in about six punches

and there were now two more lying on the ground and groaning. The fourth and last

man standing suddenly realised that without his mates, he was going to get punched

very hard, so he threw up his hands in surrender, protesting that they didn‘t want any

trouble.

        After his touching eulogy, we then carried on drinking pint after pint, and

Dave told me more outrageous stories that seemed too outrageous to be true. I didn‘t

care.

        If only Natasha had taken it as well as Dave. To say she wasn‘t dealing well

with our new circumstances was a slight understatement. We were arguing a lot,

something I‘d always avoided in my life. In the past, when I saw or heard about other

couples arguing, I would always say I was so lucky not to be in that situation. I told

myself that as soon as that started, I‘d be off, I wasn‘t going to stay in a relationship

where there was constant bickering.


                                                                                     173
       Of course, that was before I met Natasha. We argued about stupid little things

and I allowed these spats to escalate to the wider picture about not being able to do

anything anymore because we didn‘t have the money. One such encounter happened

after she said she wanted to go to Ibiza as a friend was opening a new beach club.

Although thousands and thousands of people took a cheap package holiday in Ibiza

every year, what Natasha had in mind wouldn‘t have been cheap at all. Her Eurotwat

friends would stay in hotels that usually required booking six months in advance, eat

in the most expensive restaurants, drink the finest champagne and host tables at the

most exclusive clubs. Natasha had her eye on a suite at the La Residence, the hotel

that George Clooney and Jack Nicholson stay in. These were, of course, the things I

loved about winning all that money and even with her idiot friends in tow, would have

loved to partake in a bit of that. But times were different. I‘d told her weeks before

that I couldn‘t afford it and although I could see she was disappointed, I thought she

had understood.

         ‗I‘m going out. Simone is taking us for dinner,‘ she snapped as she was

putting her keys and phone in her bag.

         ‗Oh, I thought we‘d stay in tonight and I‘d cook.‘

         ‗We‘re always staying in these days. I hardly see Simone anymore so when

he invites me out to dinner, I have to go.‘

         ‗Oh, forgive me. When that preening ponce snaps his manicured fingers —

although he probably doesn‘t snap his fingers for fear of losing a nail — you go

running. Send him my regards, or should I send him a kiss?‘

         ‗Simone‘s a very good and supportive friend and he‘s a . . .‘




                                                                                  174
          ‗Complete wanker. He‘s the most insecure, insincere, attention-seeking man

I‘ve ever had the misfortune of meeting.‘ I could see the veins in her neck starting to

throb and her teeth were grinding as though she‘d just sniffed up half of Columbia.

          ‗. . . and he‘s a friend who would have looked after us in Ibiza. It‘s his beach

club, for fuck‘s sake‘

          ‗Oh, that‘s what all this is about. You‘re still sore because I said I couldn‘t

afford it. He may have looked after you as well as all the countless other fag hags and

hangers on, but it would still cost a fortune. Thank fuck I can‘t go. I would rather have

my balls squeezed in a vise than be out there with all your idiot friends, wearing white

and talking the biggest pile of shit than has ever been talked in the history of talking

shit.‘

         I thought I‘d made my point well. Natasha didn‘t know what to do. She was

angry beyond humanly possible. Her fists clenched up, her face went red and those

beautiful eyes of hers glowered with a very scary intensity. I got worried as she

glanced at the chef‘s knives on the wall. She looked as though she was holding herself

back from grabbing one and violently despatching me. After a few seconds, she let a

blood curdling scream out to the ceiling and disappeared out the kitchen and then the

front door.

                Things didn‘t get any better after that. She was staying out later with

friends and when asked who these friends were, she just said ‗friends‘. The ultimate

sign things weren‘t going well was when the sex gradually disappeared. I kept telling

myself it was just a blip and all couples go through their ups and downs.

                On top of all this, I was getting rid of my possessions, my prized

possessions, things that I had longed for pre-win, then had actually bought and was

now losing. Fiona, of course, organised the disposal, making sure I didn‘t have to


                                                                                     175
actually sell them myself. She said she wanted to help me as a friend and would make

sure that everything was sold at the best price. The car dealer I‘d refused when I won

was drafted in, and I made sure I was out on the day the low loader arrived to remove

the Ferrari, Merc, Aston and Ranger from the garage. I couldn‘t face seeing them

being hauled up onto the back of a lorry that was taking them away forever. The

property consultant was organising the sale of the house in London. I never got round

to buying the country estate or foreign property, something I was really regretting

now because it would have meant putting money into investments rather than just

blowing the lot. A specialist accountant was also going to try and limit the damage

and my personal liability from Black Label.

               Of course, my friends and family had all offered to help. Simon had

moved away from the start-up businesses and ploughed all his money into property as

well as starting his own law firm. He had found that he did really like practising law,

so now he was doing it on his terms, which made the world of difference. He offered

to sell some of the properties and give me the proceeds. My parents still had some

cash left and were begging me to take it. They said they had enough to last for the rest

of their lives, thanks to me, and didn‘t need the rest. They would have to cut back on a

few things, but wanted to do so to help me. John also offered me cash, but I refused

his, Simon‘s and my parents‘ offers. They had touched me incredibly with their

generosity and willingness to help, but as I kept telling them, I wasn‘t going to be

broke or homeless, just not rich. Just ‗not being rich‘ is not bad enough to accept cash

from friends and family, no matter what good intentions were behind the offers. Why

should I receive gifts for being a total fuckwit and pissing away £110 million? If

anything, I should have been strung up by the knackers for being the worst example of




                                                                                    176
excessive idiocy ever known. I did take John up on one offer though. He wanted me

in on numerous projects that had the potential to make serious money for both of us.

                  Sophie came round to see me during my last week in the Kensington

house. It had been emptied of all but a few essentials. The property consultant had

said that many people lacked the ability to see through someone‘s personal taste and

thus the house needed to be presented with a blank canvas. It was strange to be

lolling about in that huge house like a squatter.

            ‗Wow, he really did mean a blank canvas,‘ she said as I let her in. She was

looking as wonderful as ever, but lacked the all-encompassing passion for life that she

normally exuded.

            ‗Yep, strange, eh? Drink?‘ Although losing my money, I wasn‘t about to lose

certain essentials, like alcohol.

            ‗Have you got any? It looks as though all you might have is a tea bag that

you keep re-using.‘ She always tried to make light of serious situations, a wonderful

Irish trait and a philosophy I, too, prescribed to.

            ‗Well, you‘d be amazed at the bins around here. The stuff these people throw

away has kept me going for a few weeks now.‘ Although not champagne, it was a

perfectly drinkable bottle of red that lubricated the throat as we chatted and laughed

about my situation and Natasha‘s seeming inability to deal with anything at all.

            ‗So how are things with you and Hugh?‘ I asked and the smile dropped from

her face.

            ‗Well, not good. He‘s never there — even less than before. The kids aren‘t

seeing their father and when he is there, we‘re arguing in front of them. We never

have sex anymore and don‘t talk at all.‘




                                                                                    177
        She obviously didn‘t know any of the details about the money I‘d lost on his

fund. I realised that the tool hadn‘t let ‗wifey‘ in on any of his deals. He would boast

to a tramp on the street about how much money he made and the deals he‘d done

before he‘d let Sophie in. He saw the two worlds as separate and never wanted his

business world to be gate-crashed by the family world. I thought now was not the time

to fill her in on his MO.

        ‗And I . . . I . . . I think he‘s having an affair.‘ The tears she was holding in

flooded out and I hugged her, getting a very wet shoulder. I was not surprised by this

concern of hers and all I could do was to assure her we‘d find out the truth.

         ‗I know someone who can help. He‘s called Bartholomew and is ex-SAS. He

will follow Hugh as a favour to me,‘ Fiona said as I explained the situation.

         ‗Bartholomew? Hardly a killing machine name, is it? You can imagine it:

―Right lads, we need to go in there hard and kill all the terrorists. Bartholomew,

you‘re in first.‖ ―Right ho, cap. Toodle pip.‖ I bet he made them quiver with fear as

he introduced . . .‘

         ‗Alright, shut up, Connor. Trust me, he will get the job done and report back

in a few weeks.‘

            ***

                The rotund one opened Fiona‘s front door to me and yelped in

excitement. The moment might have called for a hug, but she was now Fiona‘s

housekeeper and it wasn‘t the done thing, hugging visitors. I was glad because I

couldn‘t have handled another close encounter with the smell emanating from under

her arms. Sophie and Fiona were waiting for me in the sitting room, drinking

champagne. Oh, how the wealthy live. Oh, how I used to live. I was on my third glass

by the time the buzzer went again.


                                                                                     178
         ‗Oh, that‘ll be Barty!‘ Fiona said, jumping up. Sophie hadn‘t been told the

name of our undercover operative and looked over to me and mouthed ‗Barty?‘ with a

WTF? look on her face. I just shrugged. We were expecting some thumper to come

bounding up the stairs, collars tuned up, wearing red jeans and docksiders, and

shouting ‗What ho.‘ The man who actually came through the door couldn‘t have been

more different.

       He was a small, wispy chap wearing a white t-shirt, normal jeans and running

trainers. He hardly had any presence at all and was actually seemed quite shy when

introduced to Sophie.

         ‗Connor, this is Bartholomew,‘ Fiona introduced. Despite initial appearances,

when he shook my hand I could see something in his eyes that I‘d seen on a few of

Stefan‘s guards before. Rather than the reactions of the whole face, including the

eyes, playing a part in the smile, his eyes were unflinching and steely. They seemed to

be operating on an entirely different face than the one smiling at me. It was unnerving

and I immediately realised that Barty was the real deal, someone who had killed men

with his bare hands and done things that I didn‘t want to know about.

         ‗How do you do?‘ he said quietly. After a few preliminaries were completed,

Barty sat down.

         ‗So Barty, what have you got for Sophie?‘ Fiona asked.

         ‗Well, I‘m afraid your suspicions were correct. Hugh is having an affair,‘

Barty said quietly. He didn‘t mess around by trying to soften the blow, but that‘s how

I imagined he operated in the field. There was no time for pussyfooting around there,

because his life depended on it. He didn‘t deal in emotions, just facts. If only I‘d been

like that, I might still have been sitting there as an insanely rich person. Sophie




                                                                                     179
collapsed, sobbing, and as Fiona and I comforted her, Barty sat motionless in the

chair, staring at some unknown point on the wall.

        ‗Who? Barty, who is she?‘ Sophie blubbed out.

        ‗Natasha Borisnovsky,‘ he said and looked at me.

        ‗Who did you say?‘ I didn‘t quite hear him because of Sophie‘s sobbing.

        ‗Natasha Borisnovsky.‘

       The following hour was a bit of a blur, but the overall emotion of anger was

prevalent throughout. I asked myself many questions, but two became quite common:

How could that bitch do this to me? She told me she loved me; was she lying?

Everything my friends had tried to tell me was right. Whilst I‘d thought that the

model/money equation hadn‘t mattered anymore, it was, in fact, just as strong as it

was when I first met her. They tried to tell me, but once again, not listening had been

my downfall. I wanted violent retribution. I even asked Barty if he‘d take him out for

me, but he just shook his head. Sophie‘s strength and resolve was growing by the

minute. She didn‘t like the idea of violence, but she also wanted revenge. There was

only one man who could help us with this and I owed him £5 million.

           ***

               ‗You had a bit of cash Connor. He‘s got the whole bloody bank. I‘ve

never seen anything like it,‘ Stefan‘s new driver, Dave, was saying as he drove me to

Stefan‘s house. Dave‘s usual joviality couldn‘t take away the apprehension at seeing

my friend again. We‘d been in touch on the phone since Fiona had announced I was

broke, but nothing of note was mentioned. We kept trying to arrange meeting up, but

he was always busy, something I didn‘t quite believe. I wondered why he was

avoiding me. I was the one that owed him the £5 million It should have been me

dodging his calls. When he greeted me though, it was exactly the same and I thought I


                                                                                   180
was being paranoid and stupid. I explained everything and he just let me talk and

talk, which turned out to be very therapeutic.

           ‗That‘s quite a story, my friend,‘ he said with a warm smile. ‗First, we have

to work out a way to pay back the £5 million owed to me ‘

           ‗Oh.‘ I was taken aback. Fiona had said that he was cool with it and wouldn‘t

hear mention of the debt when she pressed him. Now he‘d changed his mind. ‗Well of

course Stefan, we can . . . ‘

           ‗Sorry, Connor my friend, I couldn‘t resist. Of course the five million is

forgotten about.‘ The fucker.

           ‗So what‘s happened to ―the tool‖?‘

           ‗Well, I‘ve moved from the house into the flat I thought I‘d be sharing with

Natasha. Sophie kicked the tool out, and now he and Natasha are staying in a suite in

the most expensive hotel in London. Of course it would be,‘ I spat. ‗I need a favour

from you, Stefan,‘ I asked, knowing it was weird asking for a favour from a friend

who had just let me off a £5 million debt.

           ‗What, £5 million is not enough of a favour? No, only joking. Of course, my

friend, anything,‘ he said, loving his own joke. I don‘t know where this sudden

penchant for winding me up came from, but it wasn‘t something I was in the mood

for.

           ‗I want revenge. I want both of them to pay for what they‘ve done to Sophie

and me.‘

           ‗Are you asking me what I think you are? By saying ―pay‖, do you mean

violence?‘ He was totally serious now.

           ‗Yes.‘ He stared at me for a few moments and then burst into hysterics.




                                                                                     181
       ‗What‘s the matter, for fuck‘s sake? Yes, I want them hurt and you can

arrange that, can‘t you?‘ It was the first time I‘d sworn at him, but he just continued

laughing.

        ‗Listen, my friend, you‘re hurting at the moment, but you‘re not a nasty

person. You don‘t really want them hurt physically.‘

       Sickeningly, I realised he was right. Although I‘d gone there to ask Stefan to

do something to them, I would never have let him carry it out. More to the point, he

would never have ordered it.

       ‗I realise you have revenge on your mind and rightly so, but there are many

types of revenge that don‘t involve violence or breaking the law. It so happens an

opportunity has presented itself that would allow you to get revenge on both the tool

and Natasha in an honourable way. It‘s big, has involved a great deal of coordination

and is the reason I have been so busy recently. I will need your help and knowledge of

the media industry, but I can guarantee a satisfactory outcome with no one hurt

physically.‘




                                                                                   182
                                               22



                 Sophie and I were sitting in her den, staring at the 70-inch TV on the

wall. As well as all the usual satellite and home entertainment systems, the TV was

also linked to the home computer network, thus taking the online world to a whole

new place. Although I hated Hugh, he did know his boys‘ toys. We had logged on to

stefconn.com to watch a world first, the live broadcast of a police bust.

         ‗What you‘re about to see is unique. Never before has the public been given

live access to a current police operation. Be warned, the following programme may

contain scenes of violence that could prove fatal. We are broadcasting this with full

cooperation of the Metropolitan Police and permission from the families of the

officers involved.‘ The announcer said all of this with extreme gravitas. The screen

cut to TS in a close-up of his head and shoulders with just darkness in the

background. His tanned, handsome face and white teeth once again stood out on the

small screen.

         ‗Hello. It‘s 9.45 on a cold February evening and I‘m talking to you live from

somewhere in the East End of London. Tonight you‘re going to be part of something

that, unless you‘re a police officer, you will have never seen before.‘ He was talking

with the sense of occasion that only a few people could pull off and it immediately

added an astounding sense of drama. The camera started to pull out wider, revealing

the black nothing of the night in background and his flak jacket with ‗TV Crew‘ in

white letters across the front. A true pro, he didn‘t need to point out the fact that he

was wearing it because the visual impact was enough to suggest the possibility of

mortal danger.




                                                                                    183
       ‗I am with an elite unit of the metropolitan police force who are about to go

into a live hostile area to stop one of the largest drug deals the U.K. has ever seen.‘

The camera panned down a line of police officers all in black, wearing helmets,

balaclavas and flak jackets, and bristling with guns. ‗Behind me,‘ he said, gesturing to

the blackness, ‗an English dealer is about to pay an estimated £50 million for cocaine

from Afghanistan, cocaine that some of our brave soldiers died trying to stop the

Taliban from exporting. The criminals have no idea that we are here or what‘s about

to hit them. You will see the bust live as we go with this specialist force into what

they call a hostile situation, a situation where they‘re authorised to use lethal force if

challenged.‘ He paused for effect. ‗Stay with us. You will not want to miss this truly

amazing and extremely dangerous event.‘ The screen then went to ads for razor blades

featuring the world‘s best footballer, the most expensive car ad ever made, and a very

clever one for the biggest selling lager in the U.K.

         ‗OK, this incredibly dangerous drug bust operation will be getting underway

in a moment, but before it does, I need to outline how this operation came about,‘ TS

said out of the ads. A videotape package then followed, explaining how the Taliban

had been growing poppies to create heroin, how the British troops had been trying to

take down the warlord responsible, and how in one operation three of them had been

killed by the warlord‘s militia. The British forces were unable to stop one of the

largest shipments ever to leave Afghanistan, but the police had been tipped off about

its arrival by TS. TS had become party to this information after a snitch had come to

him and blown the whistle on his boss, the U.K. buyer of the shipment.

         ‗And so this shipment ended up here in the London‘s East End, with a British

buyer ready to hand over the cash and take delivery of drugs that will be sold to our

kids. It‘s one of the largest contributions to the drug epidemic sweeping our streets


                                                                                     184
and we‘re going to be there as it‘s stopped in its tracks.‘ TS was really laying it on

thick, the hammy fucker, but it was effective and compelling.

       ‗Here‘s how it‘s going to happen. The actual deal is taking place in that

building over there,‘ he said whilst pointing into the darkness. ‗There are

approximately five sentries posted around the outside and they will be taken out first.

Then we will proceed to the main target zone and the most dangerous part of the

operation. This is where the two main targets, the buyer and the seller, are meeting.‘

He talked as though he was giving the operation brief. ‗All phone signals and Internet

connections in the area have been blocked so no one can be alerted as to our presence.

All targets are going to be hit hard. The police have been authorised to use lethal force

if necessary. So join us in a few minutes‘ time to see if these guys can be taken down

safely and without the need for lethal force,‘ he said, knowing that for 90% of the

worldwide audience, that‘s exactly what they were hoping for — a shootout at the

very least. Then followed four more minutes of very expensive ads.

         ‗Welcome back. If you‘ve just joined us, we‘re about to go in with the

Metropolitan Police force as they conduct one of the biggest drug operations in U.K.

history. It is a world first and will be a matter of life and death when the signal is

given. I must reiterate what was said earlier. We are here with the support of the Met

as well as all the officers involved and their families.‘ Sophie was now squeezing my

hand so tightly, I had to get her to relax the grip for the fear of losing all blood supply

to my fingers.

         ‗Sorry, Connor. I can hardly watch.‘

         ‗I know, it‘s fucking scary.‘

         ‗Right, the time has come,‘ TS said. You will hear the command ―GO! GO!

GO!‖ and that‘s when these men will strike the designated targets standing guard over


                                                                                      185
there.‘ TS was now moving behind the massed ranks of combat gear clad police. As

the cameraman followed behind him, the picture became shaky, as is natural when on

the move, and then shot steadied and widened to include all the police as well as TS.

‗I‘m now going to be quiet as . . . ‘

           ‗Well, shut the fuck up then,‘ I shouted as the old habit reared its head again.

Sophie shot me a filthy look and we missed TS‘s other words because of my

interjection. It fell deathly silent as the all the crouching police officers suddenly

bristled and prepared to leap into action like a WW I soldier about to go over the top.

The silence went on for what seemed an eternity. I wondered if something had gone

wrong, causing the operation to be abandoned, but it just added to the tension.

           ‗GO! GO! GO!‘ was suddenly shouted by someone, and all the officers

started running towards the building with machine guns raised up to their faces to take

aim. We heard TS‘s heavy breathing as he followed.

           ‗They hold their guns up like that, so wherever they are looking, their guns

will be pointing. That way they will never see a threat they can‘t neutralise

immediately,‘ he whispered in between his heavy breathing. The camera was now

extremely shaky as the unfit cameraman also tried to keep up with the pumped up

coppers.

           ‗Armed Police! Armed police! Get down on the ground. On the ground now.‘

The camerawork was now totally Blair Witch, so we couldn‘t make anything out

visually, just the sound of the police angrily shouting at the top of their voices, which

just created even more tension.

       The camera and TS caught up to see the police surrounding two men who

were lying on the floor with their arms and legs outstretched, making like starfish. All

the officers still had their guns raised and one was shouting instructions to the


                                                                                       186
prostrate sentries on the ground. ‗Stretch your bloody hands out, or we will shoot.‘

‗Now you on the left, do it now.‘ The camera moved in closer and for a moment, TS

wasn‘t in the shot as we saw what looked like a gun being kicked away. He soon

rectified that.

         ‗So the first two sentries have been taken down and it seems that the police

found and some firearms,‘ he whispered breathily, ‗and we‘re now moving on with

the rest of the strike team to the target zone.‘ The camera went back into shaky mode

as TS and the cameraman once again ran behind the advancing strike team. There was

a sound like a gunshot in the distance that instantly made everyone run forward faster.

As they approached a side entrance to the warehouse, one officer smashed the door

open and two others threw in stun grenades.

        After a huge bang and a blinding flash of light, the rest of the team stormed in,

shouting. TS and the cameraman followed the last team member in through the

doorway. The smoke from the stun grenade hadn‘t cleared, so once again we were left

with just more shouting. As it started to drift away, we could make out four men face

down on the floor, two on either side of a large trellis table. The camera moved to the

left hand side pair of crims, who were in expensive looking suits with one of them

shouting something in Russian. Then the view shuffled round the table to reveal the

other two men.

         ‗What the hell are you doing? Why are you doing this?‘ a terrified Hugh was

shouting. Sophie threw her hands to her mouth and gasped in horror. He may have

treated her terribly, but she was a decent person and seeing her ex-husband and father

to their children terrified with armed police aiming their weapons at him still tugged

at the heartstrings. I was different. I was glad to see that tosser shitting himself. I

didn‘t feel guilty for taking pleasure in his torment. This guy had not only lost me


                                                                                    187
millions and stolen the woman I loved, he‘d also done the dirty on one of the most

fantastic women I‘d ever known. I couldn‘t give a flying fuck that he was speaking in

tongues and pissing his pants in terror at the mere thought of heavily armed guys

filling him full of bullets.

          ‗There are four main criminals lying on the floor and the police need to

make sure they don‘t have any hidden weapons. Although surrounded by heavily

armed police, they could still be extremely dangerous,‘ TS was whispering again. If

only he knew that Hugh posed as much of a threat as a chocolate teapot. The Russian,

on the other hand, was a different matter.

        Once everyone was carted off into the vans, Hugh still protesting innocence to

the camera, the broadcast continued for another hour. There was review after review

of the footage with the officers involved, and a misleading attempt to still portray a

threat even though all involved had been arrested. TS did a moral high ground windup

about scum being taken off the streets and kids being safer because of the bust. When

TS uttered his trademark ‗Thank you and goodnight‘, Sophie hit the remote making

the screen go black and the room silent. I wanted to jump up and celebrate like I did

when I won the money in the first place, but she just sat there in shock. I respected her

wishes, so just beamed a huge smile and lit the Monte Cristo No.2 I was saving for

the wonderful occasion.

         ‗Bloody hell. That really happened,‘ she exclaimed after a suitable period of

silence. ‗We really are responsible for putting Hugh in mortal danger and having him

implicated in one of the largest drug busts ever seen in the U.K.‘ she said.

         ‗Yes, we are. Yes, we are.‘ I was triumphant.




                                                                                     188
189
                                             23



       A month earlier, Stefan had been approached by Boris, someone from his

home town. Instead of being a farmer, going down the mines or joining the suits,

Boris went to Moscow and became involved in petty crime. He ended up in a gang

affiliated with Igor Shevinenko, a supremely wealthy and ruthless gangster. Having

impressed Igor with his criminal prowess, he quickly rose up the ranks of the

brotherhood and when Igor came over to London, he brought Boris with him as a

trusted member of the clan.

       After five years of being involved in a successful drugs and prostitution

business, Boris was growing weary of the constant violence, intimidation and lack of

normality in his life. The final straw came when he was ordered back to Moscow to

kidnap the child of a rival gang boss. He‘d had enough and, because of Stefan‘s

history, knew he could be trusted to get him out whilst making sure his wife and kids

were safe at the same time. He told Stefan of a shipment of coke Igor was bringing in,

one of the largest ever in the U.K. Details of the drop off location where Igor was

meeting the unnamed buyer were provided. It was after Stefan had made some

arrangements that we hatched our plan.

        Jeremy was a trusted member of the backroom staff in Hugh‘s company and

he contacted TS to expose the involvement of his boss in drug trafficking. He told TS

that he‘d discovered irregularities in certain payments, and that after further

investigation, had found the truth. The hedge fund had been used as a front for a drug

dealing operation involving Igor Shevinenko and was the reason for its survival

during financial Armageddon. He then gave TS the details of one of the largest ever




                                                                                  190
deals going down on U.K. soil, in which Hugh was going to be handing over £50

million to a serious Russian gangster. Jeremy wanted TS to bust him live on TV.

          Why Jeremy chose him rather than any of the major newspapers or TV

networks was not something TS asked himself. Desperate to get a big hit again, he

wasn‘t going to question the veracity of the whistle-blower‘s claims or even the

motivation for doing so. Evidence wasn‘t something to give too much consideration

to. All he saw was primetime ratings and the big time again. If TS had done some

digging on this Jeremy, he might have found out that he wasn‘t even an employee at

Hugh‘s company. He might have also discovered that Jeremy (aka Stephen) knew

nothing about Hugh until Stefan, his boss at Tassels, had briefed him and issued

instructions. Since coming to London, Stefan had expanded his business interests and

thus his staff. Although the suits were always people from his hometown, Stephen

was one of a loyal group of British employees who were up there in Stefan‘s trusted

circle.

          I knew TS wouldn‘t question his source and with scant regard for the truth, he

managed to get the police on his side. He was a chum of the police commissioner

after Shaw: On the frontline, a series in which he spent six months with various units

of the Met, highlighting frontline policing against violent crime. Not only was he a

member of the same lodge as the commissioner, he was respected by rank and file

officers who saw him almost as one of their own. Unable to reveal his source, he

assured the drugs squad that the intelligence was credible and very real. They got

caught up in the whole thing as well, because it was serious career kudos to be

involved in the bust of Europe‘s most wanted criminals and head of a ruthless Russian

gang.




                                                                                    191
       With the first part done, TS now needed the exposure on live TV, but faced a

unanimous NO when presenting his plans to nearly every exec in the business. Each

broadcaster cited the lack of any hard evidence and the legal ramifications of

televising such an event live. TS thought they were all spineless tossers who didn‘t

understand the modern need for news with action and tension. Jeremy mentioned an

Internet broadcasting company he‘d heard of that was really going places. Stefconn

agreed to broadcast the whole thing on the Web and promised a massive viral and

guerrilla marketing campaign to ensure that. Barring things like the World Cup, it

would be one of the most watched broadcasts ever. TS salivated like Homer seeing a

doughnut at the thought of so many people watching him. What he could never know

was that Stefconn was the company set up by Stefan and myself, so like Markhma, we

never dealt directly with anyone who would blow our cover.

       Hugh was sitting at his massive oak desk that allowed him a panoramic view

though the huge glass windows over St. Paul‘s Cathedral and some of the oldest most

majestic parts of the City. He was going through the post his assistant couldn‘t deal

with in the normal process, such as letters marked ‗Private and Confidential‘ and

anything else that looked personal. He was watching the FOX news business channel

on a huge flat screen TV that dropped down from the ceiling. This was the station of

choice over the other business channels because of the unbelievably attractive

analysts and anchors. There was nothing he found more attractive than a super sexy

woman who really knew what she was talking about when it came to making cash in

the City. There were panels of LCD screens all along the wall, giving him all the

market information he needed to make well-informed guesses and advise his traders

to gamble his clients‘ money. Whilst admiring yet another well-informed hottie telling

him how the board members of ADV are at war, he opened a letter marked ‗strictly


                                                                                  192
private and confidential‘ and was immediately drawn to the signature. It was signed

just ‗Markham‘.

        At first he thought it was a joke because this guy was only City legend. He had

made billions in always choosing the right stocks, companies, currencies and

investments. He never lost. No one had ever seen a picture of him or an interview

with him. He never did any deals face-to-face and no one had actually ever claimed

they had even spoken to him. People who handled his money or did his bidding

always did so via third parties. Despite numerous journalists trying to uncover his

identity, he left no trail whatsoever that could ever be traced back to him. His power

of investment was immense. If a rumour got out that he was investing in something,

everyone followed suit with the kitchen sink. He was an elusive shadow but a God of

the city. The letter just said:



        Dear Hugh,

        I‘ve been following your success with keen interest. Please call me on 0749

888 309 to discuss an investment I think we can both benefit from.



        Jokes and wind-ups were part and parcel of working in the City. Whenever

there was a disaster or big news story, e-mail jokes would emanate from the City like

bees out of a disturbed nest. Trying to put one over on mates and colleagues was a

very important part of the culture, so Hugh didn‘t know how to take this letter. His

inherent greed wanted it to be true so much that it hurt. His city boy caution also said

that that as soon as he rang the number, there would be a whole trading floor laughing

at him as he was patched through to the main loudspeakers ually reserved for big

announcements. He came up with a plan in which he would pretend he was looking to


                                                                                    193
order a curry and dialled the number. Markham told Hugh that the reason he was so

successful was that he never got involved in deals directly, but had a network of

contacts that did his bidding. He wanted Hugh to be one of those contacts. Although

still slightly suspicious, Hugh‘s greed got the better of him as he imagined the

guaranteed successes he could have being tied in with Markham. They arranged a

meeting in an unused dock due for development a little bit further east of Hugh‘s

offices. As had happened with TS, we hoped that Hugh took the bait without too

many questions.

               So TS was set to go, the police were on board, and Steffcon was in

place to broadcast the bust, so all that was left was for Gregor to live up to his part of

the bargain. When he arrived at the site with Igor and thirty heavily-armed men, he

pretended to receive a call and moved around the corner. On his return he looked

worried, something Igor picked up on. He had a tip off that the whole thing might not

be totally kosher and persuaded Igor to leave, taking his men with him barring a

couple of guys who would protect him. He‘d do the deal himself and if anything

wasn‘t right, he‘d kill whoever turned up, which pleased Igor.

        Instructions were left with the two sentries to direct the driver in the black

Range Rover to drive into the inner part of the warehouse. The password was

‗revenge‘. Hugh pulled into the destination his satellite navigation system had

directed him to. He was sweating profusely as adrenalin coursed through his veins.

The whole thing was so clandestine, it had to mean immense profits.

       Two men jumped out from the shadows, scaring the shite out him. They

pointed sub machine guns through the window and shouted for him to lower the

window. They demanded the password and once Hugh gave it, they told him to get

out and directed him through a door. Once though the door he was greeted by


                                                                                     194
Markham, aka Gregor. Gregor stalled him enough with nonsense talk about the City

for enough time to allow the police to arrive.




                                                                            195
                                    The fat lady has sung.



       When the police arrested Hugh and Gregor, they were both carted off to a high

security station usually reserved for terrorists. Whist being interviewed for the first

time, Gregor said he wanted to turn and would provide them with everything to nail

Igor in return for a new life for him and his family. He could provide them with bank

accounts, names, safe houses, and whole operations. The British police didn‘t have

the means, structure and experience for making people disappear. The Russian secret

service, on the other hand, had plenty of experienced in that field. Of course most of

the disappearances were fatal, but Stefan knew that this time would be different. He

knew the commander well and despite the lack of resources that were available to

others like the FBI, if the former KGB couldn‘t make people disappear in Russia, then

there was no hope for anyone. They weren‘t bound by tight European human rights

legislation and even if they were, it wouldn‘t have made a difference. Stefan trusted

them to look after Gregor because they wanted Igor just as much as the British police

and not just for his criminal activities, but also for revenge. Igor had been responsible

for the murder of at least ten secret agents and they hadn‘t forgotten that.

       An unprecedented deal was struck between the British and the Russians

whereby Igor faced court and was convicted of 100 charges in the U.K. He was

sentenced to five life sentences, but rather than serving that sentence in the U.K., he

was shipped back to Russia, where he would be imprisoned in a high security jail in

Siberia. With many scores to settle, he was guaranteed that the rest of his life was

gong to be miserable at the hands of the secret service.


                                                                                    196
       Good to their word, Gregor totally disappeared. He did text Stefan from an

unknown Russian number before vanishing with the simple words, ‗I will think of you

as my saviour for ever. I owe you the life of my family, something I will never

forget.‘ That was the last thing anyone ever heard of Gregor or his family. I imagined

him queuing for bread in the middle of nowhere like his fellow Russian citizens from

the same village. I knew he would be happy doing something normal.

               Gregor told the police he had no idea who Hugh was. This lack of

association meant they had to investigate from the beginning and threw everything at

him. They weren‘t going to just let him go after he had been arrested at the site of one

of the largest coke shipments ever to land on U.K. soil. The Inland Revenue, Customs

and Excise, City of London Police and the Fraud Squad were all set on the case. They

were determined to get him for something, even if it wasn‘t drug dealing. The ensuing

investigation froze all of his assets and bank accounts. He was under house arrest, an

unfortunate term because he had no home after Sophie kicked him out and couldn‘t

pay for the hotel suite, so it meant a cell became his home. They investigated him for

a year before they brought charges of fraud and tax evasion, and he was found guilty

and given a suspended sentence. All his assets were seized and all cash in various

accounts ‗repatriated‘. He was banned from handling anyone‘s money ever again,

even if there was someone mad enough to trust him. His financial career was over and

to make matters worse, had to go underground because one of his former clients

happened to be one of Russia‘s exiled oligarchs and he was pissed off enough to put a

contract out on the tool. Stefan was right; his method of revenge was far more

satisfying than anything that would have involved violence. I felt cleansed of a

tumour, with just one to go.




                                                                                    197
       Natasha was, of course, unaware of anything that Hugh was up to in his City

world. She didn‘t want to know and didn‘t care a jot. All that mattered was that she

could still go on hideously expensive shopping trips, still impress the Euros with

fantastic tales of the latest club/restaurant/holiday destination and for a brief time,

Hugh was providing that.

       After we split up, I didn‘t even try and call her, although on many occasions

when a few drinks had been taken, I was about to drunken dial but resisted that

temptation each time. As every day went by after the bombshell dropped by Barty, I

began to see what sort of person she was more clearly. I hadn‘t done so when we were

together, but her real personality made me glad I was shot of her. Gregor had

mentioned to the police that he‘d heard the name Natasha mentioned a couple of

times, so she was arrested at a club in a coordinated attack. I couldn‘t help but revel in

the fact that it was in front of her idiot vacuous so-called friends — the ultimate in

shame for her.

       Like Hugh, every agency you could think of was hurled at her. They managed

to make misdemeanours like not declaring earnings stick, but the shocker for her

came when they realised her visa was no longer valid. She was deported back to her

crappy little village and immediately put on an Interpol watch list that meant she

could never travel to a European country or the U.S. without being arrested — another

master stroke from Stefan.

       So what about me? Well, it‘s fair to say that it has been an experience, but I‘m

not bitter in any way. I never regret having had the money, and the fact that I lost it

now only allows me to see my dreams and ambitions from a position that not many

people ever get to see their own — I achieved them.




                                                                                     198
       My dream was to have a shedload of cash and sleep with models. I did that

and also fell in love with a bonafide supermodel to boot, not a boast many can lay

claim to. Yes she ripped my heart out and stamped on it with a very pointy stiletto,

but I had my revenge and karma had come back round.

       I do look back on having the money with fondness, but I don‘t long for it back.

I have re-evaluated what‘s important in life and although I have been severely hurt by

a relationship, something I swore I‘d never get involved in, I‘m glad to have

experienced it. Without that feeling of what it‘s like to be in love, I would never have

taken the step to actually say to Sophie how I really felt about her. I tell you this

sipping a large VAT on the terrace of a stunning Italian hotel on Lake Como. I‘m here

on honeymoon with Sophie, the kids are in bed and we‘re talking about having a child

together.

       Going back to George Best‘s wonderful philosophy on life, I feel a new

empathy for him. I, too, had spent, squandered and pissed away a great deal of money,

but enjoyed doing it with no regrets. If someone were to now ask me the question that

Sophie had asked that summer‘s afternoon in London, ‗What would make you

happy?‘ I would again have no hesitation before answering. This time I would say,

‗What I‘ve got now.‘




                                                                                    199

				
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