It’s always the same types, these people who mill about. And it’s always the same slightly stuffy private room for the milling Angus mused. And it’s invariably in London. These types work hard to look earnest and purposeful, like they really do mean it. Perhaps they do. He stood alone watching them chat and smile, waving the occasional hand, an offhand nod here and there. Angus lit another cigarette. A passing waiter brought him another whiskey. Angus perused lines of conversation they’d likely follow and calculated pecking orders, his favourite sport. They would say nothing to him until David arrived, because not only did he not wear their uniform, but his distance was clear and his invisible shields were slightly up. Just enough. They would come down for David, the star of the show and then Angus could exist for these people and they would recognise him as part of the unit. He was only here as a favour to David, his closest friend, and with this book the story of Angus was part of the story of David. At least in theory.
They all look so ancient Angus pondered at the same time conceding that he, even without the uniform, did perhaps look the part. He tried to dress for his age, but had never made it past the cords and waistcoats he’d first donned as a teenager wanting to be taken more seriously. And he still looked old, older than his years, even though he and David were nudging forty instead of sixty. Apart from the waiters Angus had noticed only one other guest too young to be in this gathering, and she was barely there, lurking in the corner rather than joining the throng. And then David swept into the room arms aloft, conscious of the need to look and behave in some sort of authorial manner. It wasn’t hard. “Angus, by god you’ve arrived! You must only just have landed! So marvellous that you are here! Where did the heicopter drop you dear man?” This last was a nonsense of course but its effect was immediate and suddenly the wrinkly throng was all about them. Angus noted the young woman as she made the smallest of steps forward, almost unwilling. He had to admit she’s a bit of a looker, a substantial woman early thirties he guessed clothes not too tight, low or short but very stylish looking. Colours he couldn’t name and lots of them, fashionable for the time but not excessive. The skirts looked full enough to sweep engagingly when she walked. And her shoulders were broad but unenhanced with that ridiculous padding. Yves Saint Laurent had a lot to answer for, Angus observed taking another swig. This woman had her own slightly eccentric uniform and clearly a mind of her own.
David in full flow, talking about his book and caught up in inspirations and some guff about where he got his ideas from. His little audience was lapping it up. Cigarette waving, old people nodding, names falling like rain as the little group made their contributions to the conversation. What’s the word for a group of oldies Angus wondered, musing that he would need to include himself in whatever it was. A wrinkle of them? An incontinence?
He hoped he did not look as ill and pale as most of these people looked, and that his fag intake was not so high. He stared at the columns and looked into the shadows to where the interesting looking woman was still standing. Odd he pondered, because mostly women interested him no more or less than men did. There was no room in his life for relationships beyond the wheelings and dealings that filled his head and heart. Still, sometimes he thought it might be nice to talk to someone with a different perspective, a different experience from property and law and money. Well, maybe not the last part, and into this fog came an echo of his name and Angus realised that he was being introduced to the admirers. But as he heard the tagline Angus could not help but let loose a massive guffaw. The very idea that Angus had in any way been the focus of Journeys into the Undergrowth of Commerce and How to Cut Through to the Heart of Success still amused him enormously. The contribution was mostly out of David’s head, based on a few random facts that had only the most fragile connection to real life Angus business deals. David saw the outcomes not the process but together they had put together a credible journey for the Angus case study. Angus was quietly proud that his contribution to the book was easily the most entertaining.
As David continued to explain Angus’ journey of unmitigated success to his audience, Angus remembered that he was there to play a part, a part that the publisher expected him to fulfil. And it wasn’t entirely ficticious this role. It was indeed true that Angus had managed to accrue considerable wealth at a relatively young age. It had been a few lucky bets one Derby Day weekend and mentoring from a friend of his dad’s who’d felt sorry for Angus. An alcoholic father is hardly an asset to a bright young lad. When Angus was knee deep in A Levels the pair were snapping up private garages in North London and rental income was building up nicely.
By the time Angus got to Magdalen, he was already investing in dull but reliably lucrative businesses: a garage here, an off-license there, and soon he had enough leverage available to move on to flats and commercial developments. His aptitude and intuition were indeed uncanny and money begat more money and more money begat more options. There was no need to fictionlise the case study content for David, but it had seemed better than the inconvenient scrutiny too much attention might attract. David and Angus had been friends since their Magdalen days. They shared an affinity for cautious omission when it came to factual inclusiveness. Subsequent training in law at Stanford in California had brought them closer though not more intimate. They shared the belief that any sense of being in any way accountable to anyone, should be buried very deep. The conviction never weakened.
When his mentor died and left Angus his interests in the garages Angus was well on his way to understanding when to twist and when to stick. Studying History at Oxford and then law at Stanford together, with David Angus had replaced the mentor with the friend and came to understand that friendship should be for life. Watching David smiling and holding forth Angus reminded himself how fleeting it all is, how dearly he missed the many people he had lost. Surveying the room as he tried to gather himself together and engage with the nice people, Angus noticed that the interesting woman in the excess of colours was smiling at him. Or rather she might be, because her gaze seemed to slide off somewhere above his head. Or was it a stare? Got it he thought. The laugh. It’s been remarked upon before. Angus put up his hand, as if he was making sure his hair was still draped down the back of his head. He stared back at her and returned the smile, tipping his glass as he did before moving over to one of the small tables to stub out his cigarette and peruse a sample copy of the book. “Well, Angus, so lovely that you could make it.” This is the editor woman thought Angus, the woman who’s always standing a bit too close and laughing a bit too loud. She’s another one with the ridiculous shoulders. “Yes, of course, couldn’t let David down now could I.” And Angus beamed bluely at her, right in the eye and enjoyed her blush before stepping back a pace and returning to David to hear him say “Well you see Angus was one of my best options for the case studies, since he’s never put a foot wrong in business. At least as far as I can see.” And the man is shameless with that silly little laugh and his fingers over his mouth. The little group were clearly impressed, and the elegant woman on the edge of the circle was still smiling.
Unbidden the thought that he wished he had worn something a little smarter, a little less boisterous and that he had changed his hanky before coming out. He wished for a moment that his hairline was not quite so high and that he was aging less rapidly. As she moved towards one of the little tables Angus was tempted to join her and make some sort of idiotic chat about the cleverness of the book’s title, or how pleased he was that his friend was published. There didn’t seem to be anywhere for such a conversation to go, so Angus stayed put and just watched as she scanned David’s bio on the flyleaf. But it was too much, something pulled him in closer and soon he could see that the conversation would indeed go somewhere, maybe not far before the publisher woman started talking about David and David started talking about Angus, but for at least a furlong or so. Angus pulled his waistcoat down as far as it could go and ran a hand across the back of his head. As he approached the smile grew wider and the eyes brighter and whatever else made their connection endure, its first link was being forged. And the link was true.