James Grenfell turned an incredulous face to his secretary as he lowered his wiry frame into the swivel chair. ‘You mean Bert Haynes got the job, Ann?’
She nodded, tentatively placing the day’s mail before him. ‘Yes, sir. It was announced while you were attending the Trade Fair.’
A coldness seemed to seep into every fibre of his body. He’d thought he was the obvious choice for their Swiss branch’s new manager.
As the hard facts of Haynes’ good fortune sank home he found himself berating Ann repeatedly, grudging every second working for the firm that had treacherously spurned him.
Instead of detailing Ann to take his dictation down to the typing pool, he carried the material himself. He had to get away from the stifling confines of his office.
After eleven years – not good enough! It burned him up inside. Loyalty seemed to mean nothing nowadays. Barging into the typing pool, he halted in his tracks. ‘Do you reckon this merger’ll affect us, Deidre?’
‘The job’ll be the same.’
Tensely gripping his letters, he turned on his heels and hurried back down the corridor.
So they’re planning a merger. And he’d never been informed. They didn’t trust him any more!
As he stormed blindly into his office, an idea slowly materialised and moulded itself. Trusted or not, he still had access to the latest and most up-to-date trade secrets. He smiled sanguinely.
At the moment Ann dashed out for her tea-break, he telephoned Sebastian Lecroix in Paris.
‘Surprised to hear from me, eh?’ He chuckled archly. ‘Yes, I know this is quite irregular, calling our biggest rival’s head of personnel.’ He cleared his throat nervously. ‘I have a proposition…’
‘What’s this?’ Cornish queried, his stout arms akimbo. He looked every inch a managing director, with his mottled cheeks, glistening blue eyes and contented paunch. ‘Working late again, James?’
Casting startled grey eyes upward, James stammered, ‘Yes… just… checking the system.’
Before him lay a mountain of duplicated files and photocopied material amassed during his overtime. He broke out into a cold sweat, fearing Cornish would notice them.
‘Every night this week you’ve been working late, James. Don’t overdo it, now.’ Cornish beamed unctuously. ‘You’re too valuable to us, to go collapsing with over-work, eh?’ He chuckled and slipped out of the door.
James’ trembling fingers gathered the various dockets together. God, he’d never make a crook! Still, he now had a comprehensive breakdown of the whole business, inside and out.
‘Good morning, sir!’
He returned Ann’s greeting cheerfully enough and dumped his heavy suitcase beside her desk. ‘I’ll be going to Paris this evening, Ann. The Lacelles contract,’ he lied, patting the case.
‘Finally, yes.’ He wavered a moment. ‘Oh, I’ve reserved a berth on the ferry.’
For the remainder of the morning he couldn’t concentrate on any work. ‘Why bother?’ he mused. He’d soon be handing over his valuable secrets. Should net a few thousand – and a good job. A position of trust. That’s all he wanted.
‘I’m off to dinner now, Mr Grenfell,’ Ann informed him over the intercom.
‘Right-ho, Ann.’ Time to act! Calmly bringing the suitcase into his office, he smiled to himself. Everything running smoothly.
Heaving the case on to his desk he opened it and emptied the load of books. Swiftly unlocking the safe, he dumped the duplicate files and accounts inside the case and returned it to Ann’s office.
‘This calls for a drink.’ He sighed with heartfelt relief.
His heart was beating apprehensively as he walked through the building. Carrying the suitcase, he felt conspicuous. And yet nobody seemed to pay him undue attention. He was actually getting away with it!
Nearly out in the clear, he realised excitedly, his pace quickening as he caught sight of the double doors and the waiting taxi outside.
Heart pounding expectantly, he faltered on the threshold. Should he hurry on, pretend he hadn’t heard? Too late! He winced as Cornish grabbed his free arm.
‘Your secretary tells me you’re off to Paris.’
Pivoting round to face him, James replied equably, ‘Yes, a contract from Lacelles.’
Then, a tincture of bravado crept into his manner. Forcing a lean smile, he joked, ‘I’ll have to speak to Ann, I think. Can’t have her discussing my business, you know.’
Cornish’s laugh rumbled from his barrel of a chest. ‘Not her fault, James.’ He jovially placed aa heavy fat hand on James’ shoulder. ‘I told her I had to see you urgently.’
His mouth dropped open. ‘Urgent?’ Forebodings filled him. Glancing at his watch, he mumbled, ‘I’ll be late.’
‘A moment, James.’
Cold fear struck him to the core.
‘Since you’re away tonight, I thought I’d tell you.’ His chubby cheeks glistened as a massive smile creased his face. ‘We’re planning a merger with our rivals and their personnel chap, Lecroix, has insisted you lead the new amalgamated team.’
James was stunned. Head swimming, he queried in a subdued tone, ‘When did you speak to Lecroix?’
Cornish dimpled his shining brow in thought. ‘About two weeks ago. He’s due over here this evening to negotiate the merger’s final draft.’ He grinned. ‘He’ll be sorry you’re not here, James.’
‘So will I,’ James said feelingly, and added flatly, ‘Well, must go.’
Certainly, Lecroix had wanted him. Insisted, even. But that was before he’d phoned with his clever proposition.
Dusk was settling across the Channel when he strolled to the ferry’s guardrails and ditched the incriminating suitcase over the side. As it swiftly sank in the phosphorescent wake an emptiness pervaded him. Getting rid of the material was pointless.
Already, Lecroix would be telling Cornish about his proposed betrayal.
Previously published in Parade, February 1972, under my penname Platen Syder.
Copyright Nik Morton, 2014.
Naturally, looking back over this now, some 42 years later, I would like to think it could be improved. A certain magazine style was considered necessary to tell a tale in 1,000 words, so genre fiction short-hand prevailed in the writing. Still, I feel it holds up as a story.
If you enjoyed this moral tale, then you might like my collection Spanish Eye, published by Crooked Cat Publishing, featuring Leon Cazador, private eye in 22 cases.