Books: Brilliant Creatures — Chapter 15 |
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Brilliant Creatures: Chapter 15

~ fifteen ~

ack in London after a sleepless flight, Lancelot went to bed for the day, but left the phone on the hook in case Samantha rang up later. Everybody except her did.

‘You got shag-lag?’ asked Nicholas.

‘Yen. Mustab. Florfl.’

‘Better get some sleep. Sounds like Sam fucked you flat. She come back with you?’

‘Still there. Change of plan. Home soon.’

‘I’ll leave you alone. Watch out for Delilah. She’s sniffing about. See you at lunch Friday.’

Lancelot went back to a sleep punctuated by the barking of dogs. Delilah was, in fact, next on the line.

‘Can I speak to Mrs Windhover, please?’

‘Slancelot. Zat you, De l’Isle?’

‘Sorry, I thought you were the Chinese gardener or something. Are you ill? I was just calling to check up on something with Charlotte.’

‘Check up on what?’ said Lancelot, suddenly fully alert.

‘Just a thing. But while I’ve got you, I’m doing a profile on Samantha Copperglaze and all the other bright young beauties. You know, the girls with the gold credit cards and the Think Tank brains. Did you see her in Hollywood?’


‘Where? In what circumstances?’

‘Look, Delilah, she’s just a trend, just a friend and I can’t talk now.’

‘Do you think she’ll be at Elena Fiabesco’s opera ball thing?’

‘I don’t know. You’ll have to wait and see.’

‘1 haven’t been invited.’

‘Sounds as if you’ll have to crash.’

Getting rid of her was like trying to clean up hot fat with a cloth soaked in cold water, but eventually he got her off the phone. Apart from the occasional dog fight there was peace until the early afternoon, which would have been Lancelot’s interior morning if he had got any sleep on the plane. Then Anthony rang.

‘You aren’t still asleep?’ It wasn’t a real question.

‘Not now, no. What is it?’

‘There’s been a hitch about Virginia,’ Anthony said happily.

‘Who’s Virginia? Don’t understand.’

‘Our secretary. The one we’re getting rid of to ease the cash-flow problem.’

‘Oh yes. Right. Got it.’

‘She needs six months’ notice and a day’s pay for every week of service.’

‘I thought she was some sort of temp.’

‘She’s got a union,’ laughed Anthony, ‘who are threatening to take us to an industrial tribunal and beyond that to the International Court of Human Rights in The Hague.’

‘I thought people like that didn’t know how to apply for their own child endowment allowances.’

‘This one does,’ chortled Anthony. ‘If you get one that can spell, you get one that knows Robert Mugabe personally.’

‘Can we afford this?’

‘Have to. We’ve got off lightly, it seems. If they wanted to enforce the rule strictly they could have asked for a week’s pay for every day of service plus chauffeured car for life and a fully catered funeral in Trinidad.’

Not even this news could stop Lancelot from going back to sleep. Down he went below the level of elliptical nightmares into the long tunnel of Arabic script and random imagery, where the Japanese hook made its bitchy squeal, green numbers accumulated in the debit column, your car was never repaired, dogs barked far away[1], smiling squash-players laughed at you limping and the telephone rang as if it couldn’t wait. As if it was real. It was. It was Janice, ringing from the office.

Lancelot felt that his head had been crammed into an angry policeman’s loud-hailer, but after he had persuaded her to put the telephone on the desk and stand back a bit, he began to understand that she was putting Frank Strain through. Frank came through to tell him, in a few thousand clumsily chosen words, that his application to have his tax case reviewed by the commissioners had been rejected out of hand. The person doing the rejecting, apparently, was the inspector who had reclassified him in the first place. Something about this struck Lancelot as unfair but he could not concentrate, partly because Frank’s sentences were very long and partly because he felt very weak. Either he had gone from the debilitating condition of not having had enough sleep to the even more debilitating condition of having had too much sleep, or else he had not had enough sleep. He promised to see Frank first thing next day, if next day was the day that came after this one.

He fell half asleep and stayed that way until one or more of the children came home and made noises that brought him half awake. Then Charlotte rang to say she was going to the opera at the Coliseum with somebody called David but that Mrs Hammerklavier would cook him something for his dinner[2] if he wanted it. He thought of going downstairs and saying that was what he wanted but didn’t see how he could do that without moving. So he had a bit of a doze. Towards midnight he woke up definitively, all set to face a brand new night.