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Sweet Talking Money

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Sweet Talking Money




  This novel is a work of fiction. The names, characters and incidents portrayed in it are the work of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or localities is entirely coincidental.

  Dedication quotation from Selected Poems, 1923–1958 by e.e. cummings, published by Faber and Faber


  1 London Bridge Street

  London SE1 9GF

  This edition published in 2001

  Copyright © Harry Bingham 2001

  The Author asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work

  A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library

  All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. By payment of the required fees, you have been granted the nonexclusive, nontransferable right to access and read the text of this e-book on-screen. No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, downloaded, decompiled, reverse engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of HarperCollins e-books.

  Source ISBN: 9780006513551

  Ebook Edition © JANUARY 2013 ISBN 9780007441006

  Version: 2016-07-22

  HarperCollinsPublishers has made every reasonable effort to ensure that any picture content and written content in this ebook has been included or removed in accordance with the contractual and technological constraints in operation at the time of publication.


  For my beloved N.

  lady through whose profound and fragile lips

  the sweet small clumsy feet of April came

  into the ragged meadow of my soul.


  Books are books. But if books were films, then I was the writer and director, while the producer, editor and assistant director was my wife, Nuala. This is an acknowledgement in the most straightforward sense: a formal recognition of her part in the forming of this book. This book was written by one, but created by two.












































  Sometimes you have to go crazy before you can come to your senses. Sometimes you have to lose everything to find the one thing that really matters. Sometimes – Hell, forget about sometimes. Here’s what happened.


  It was eight thirty-five on a chilly Boston evening, and the scientists were beginning to ramble. Enough.

  ‘Let’s call a halt,’ said Bryn. ‘Who’s writing up?’

  He knew the answer. A scraggy scientist, looking like something put together from rags and pipe-cleaners, raised his hand. ‘Dr Lewinson. Excellent.’ Bryn turned on his smile, maximum beam. His show of goodwill was brief and insincere. Of the eighteen people in the room, fourteen would be fired as soon as the deal concluded. Bryn knew that because he was the architect of the whole transaction. The others didn’t, because they weren’t.

  The meeting broke up.

  As Bryn began to pack away, a further racking cough rumbled painfully from his chest. It was his second trip across the Atlantic that week, so his jet lag, coming at him from both sides, was having an echo effect on his battered system.

  ‘Dammit, look, I wonder if you can help,’ he said, grabbing one of the departing scientists. ‘I really ought to see a doctor.’

  ‘A medical doctor? Hey Steve, you’re not a doctor, are you?’

  ‘No. Why don’t you try what’s-her-face, Dr Dynamite downstairs?’

  ‘You think that’s safe?’ The scientist laughed. ‘Only kidding, really. She’s great, just … No, really, she’s great.’

  As he spoke, the scientist fussed around with pass keys and swipe cards, taking Bryn downstairs, past empty laboratories, silent storage rooms, the hum of computers. They emerged on to a corridor on the ground floor, dark except for the glow of streetlamps spilling in from outside. They raced along until they arrived at a lighted doorway, where a brass plate advertised its owner, Cameron Wilde, MD, PhD. ‘Here you go,’ said the scientist, shaking hands. ‘Good luck.’

  Bryn raised his eyebrows in enquiry. ‘Dr Dynamite, huh?’

  ‘She’s kind of explosive. That’s part of the reason, I guess.’

  ‘And the other part?’

  ‘Nobel prizes. Built on the profits old Freddie Nobel made out of dynamite.’ He nodded at Wilde’s door. ‘She’s a future winner, if ever I’ve seen one. And I have, actually. Several.’

  Through a frosted pane in the door, lights burned. There was a dark shape, which might or might not have belonged to a future Nobel Prize winner. Bryn put his hand to the door and knocked.


  The room was a good size, thirty foot by twenty, lit by three or four anglepoise lamps. On the wall where Bryn entered was a small pool of tidiness, somebody’s workstation, a secretary’s, probably. Everywhere else was chaos. Stacks of paper on every surface. Sheaves of computer print-out. Journals, textbooks, e-mails, binders. Yellow Post-it notes tacked anywhere and everywhere. There was a workbench jammed with two PCs, a portable, a couple of printers, a scanner, and wiring arrangements designed by a five-year-old. There were two further work areas crowded with microscopes, two high-capacity clinical fridges, boxfuls of needles, blood collection tubes rolling around loose in cardboard trays, plus other equipment Bryn didn’t recognise. The room’s built-in shelving had long ago buckled beneath the deluge, and sheets of chipboard standing on concrete blocks acted as emergency reinforcements. There were four chairs in the room and on one of them sat Cameron Wilde, MD, PhD.

  ‘Dr Wilde?’


  The doctor sat in a pool of light cast by one of the lamps, her face partly hidden by the hair which fell across it. She was pale-skinned, skinny, not much to look at.

  ‘I apologise for disturbing you. I’ve been working with the team upstairs and I needed a doctor urgently. One of them suggested you might be able to help.’

  Wilde was working on a stack of documents. She didn’t seem over-anxious to greet her new arrival. Holding her pen in her mouth as she sorted papers, she said, ‘What’s the problem?’

  ‘Flu. Had it for weeks. I got a prescription in England, but didn’t have time to fill it before I left.’ He held out the piece of paper, which was no good to him in an American pharmacy. ‘I apologise for bothering you.’

  She looked at the prescription, and let the pen drop from her mouth. ‘It’s no bother.’


  ‘Your doctor gave you t
his? For flu?’



  ‘Anything wrong?’

  ‘Wrong? Depends on what you want. If you want to get rid of your flu, this won’t help at all. If you just want to cover up the symptoms so you can go right on doing whatever it was that gave you flu in the first place, then this is just the stuff.’

  ‘Right. OK. I’ll take my chances. Thanks.’

  ‘And the more you go right on doing whatever it is you do, the longer the flu will stay.’

  ‘Like I said, I’ll take my chances.’

  She shrugged. ‘OK.’

  The pen went back into her mouth and her hands went back to sorting her papers. Bryn couldn’t see a prescription pad anywhere, but then again there might be five hundred of them hidden round the room.

  ‘You can give me the prescription?’

  ‘Can. Sure. But won’t.’ Each word came out with a little puff, as she began shifting big piles of paper to get at documents stuffed away at the bottom.


  Bryn was incredulous. At thirty-four, he was a Managing Director of Berger Scholes, one of the world’s biggest and most successful investment banks. Last year, his bonus had been £625,000 and his group, which handled company acquisitions in the pharmaceutical industry, had advised clients on transactions worth over sixty billion dollars. That wasn’t all. If he looked brutish on a bad day, he was handsome on a good one. He weighed two hundred and ten pounds, not much of which was flab. He was broad, heavy, strong; a corporate bruiser with brains. A Welsh farmer’s son, Bryn had taken himself to Oxford University, then for the last fourteen years crashed successfully through the investment banking jungle. The way he saw it, he’d go crashing on for years to come. If he wanted a prescription to relieve him of flu, he wasn’t going to let some self-righteous doctor with a face that last saw daylight in the Reagan administration stop him.

  He pressed his chest with thick fingers, coughing as he did so. He wouldn’t plead, but he would make his point.

  ‘Dr Wilde, I understand that you would like to cure my flu outright, and I respect you for it. Unfortunately, to the best of my understanding, there is no cure for flu. But right now, this very minute, I am tired, I am in pain and I have a full day of work ahead of me tomorrow. I must therefore insist that you, please, give me the medication specifically designed to relieve people in my situation.’

  Wilde quit doing whatever it was she was doing, and swung around to face Bryn. The anglepoise lamp was directly behind her head, so her face was more or less invisible to view.

  ‘I didn’t say there wasn’t a cure.’

  Barely holding on to his temper, Bryn said, ‘OK. If you’d prefer to try me on something else, I’d be happy to trust your judgement.’

  Wilde consulted her watch, angling it to catch the light. ‘I don’t have much time. Maybe half an hour.’

  ‘Half an hour …?’ Bryn wondered what prescription could possibly take half an hour to write. ‘Sure. OK. Whatever.’

  ‘And no guarantees. I don’t do too much human work these days.’

  Things had gone beyond strange, Bryn decided, and he let this remark pass without comment. Just as well. Wilde had her head buried in one of the clinical fridges, searching for something. In the light streaming from the open door, Bryn could see rows of glass beakers, stoppered vials, glass trays, and neatly labelled cartons. Wilde emerged with a glass tray divided into twelve compartments. In each compartment, a little fluid sloshed around.

  ‘Any health problems? Serious ones, I mean.’


  ‘Any history of illness in the family?’

  Bryn had injured his knee playing school rugby. His brother had been invalided out of the Pontypridd scrum with a femur fractured in three places, and his dad had damaged his ankle so badly in a game of pub rugby that when the bones healed, they had all fused together and the foot ended up as stiff as a board. Even Bryn’s grandfather had twice ended up in hospital having his stomach pumped after post-match celebrations that had started too early and ended too late. But still … ‘Nope. All healthy,’ he said.

  ‘OK. Good. Thumb, please.’

  ‘My thumb?’

  Bryn held out his hand. Wilde picked up a cylinder just about big enough to hold a toothpick, held it to his thumb and clicked a button. Bryn felt nothing, but when the cylinder came away, blood welled from a small puncture wound.

  ‘Good. One drop in each compartment, please.’

  She peeled away a cellophane cover from the tray, and Bryn held his hand out, dripping blood into each compartment. As he did so, his chest was racked by a deep and painful cough, and blood splattered untidily around the tray.

  ‘One drop per compartment. Please.’

  Bryn held his thumb steadier as his cough subsided. ‘Can I ask what you’re doing? Is this for diagnosis?’

  ‘Diagnosis? I thought you said you had flu?’

  ‘Yes, but …’

  ‘What’s to diagnose? You get stressed, you get flu.’

  ‘I am not stressed.’

  Bryn hated that. He hated it when those without the balls for the job assume that every successful banker must be stressed just because they’re successful. Bryn was successful, but he wasn’t stressed. Those who worked for him might be, but that was their lookout.

  ‘Sure you are. Stand.’

  Bryn’s thumb had completed its duties, but nobody had mentioned the fact to his circulatory system, which continued to push blood out through the miniature wound. Since no cotton wool was on offer, Bryn stood up, thumb in his mouth to stop the bleeding. Meantime, Wilde stood up too, surprisingly tall in her flat shoes, lanky as anything, her labcoat looking as if it hung on a hanger.

  ‘May I feel?’ She approached Bryn, putting out her hand.

  He opened his jacket, making it easy. With a sudden movement, her hand balled into a fist and shot forwards into the dead centre of his chest. The pain astonished him, rocking him backwards and momentarily winding him. He gripped the edge of the table behind him, careful not to’ dislodge any of its tottering piles.

  ‘Jesus!’ he said, as soon as his voice had emerged from a fit of agonising coughs. ‘Jesus Christ!’

  ‘Stress. That’s stress. Biological stress. Unhappy cells.’

  Bryn held his hands over his heart. The pain in the rest of his body had mostly washed away, although a general ache still sang its reminder. He was about to make some comment, demand some explanation, but Wilde had already moved away from him and was bending over the glass tray with a pipette. Following the drop of blood into each compartment was another drop of something else.

  ‘OK. Let’s look.’

  She thrust Bryn in front of the microscope and he forced his bleary eyes to focus through the eyepiece, as a glass slide slid into view. Round balloons swam in some kind of fluid, along with bigger, more ragged-looking shapes, gently shifting position in the warm currents generated by the microscope bulb. What the hell was he doing here, he wondered.

  ‘See the macrophages? Keep an eye on them.’

  ‘Macro- …?’

  ‘Macrophages. Not the round ones, they’re your red blood cells. The big, irregular white blood cells. They’re what protect you against flu.’

  ‘Right. Only not.’


  Wilde took the slide, added something from her pipette, and slid it back beneath the light. Little strands of blue had joined the throng beneath the lens, and Bryn watched as slowly, slowly, the macrophages sought out the little blue strands and began to engulf them.

  ‘They’re eating the little blue things. Is that good?’

  Wilde pushed him away and peered through the scope. ‘Hardly. Your white cells are barely moving. I’ve just sprayed them with a ton of foreign protein and they ought to be going crazy. They don’t know if I’ve given them AIDS, or just a bit of chicken.’


  ‘And what?’

  ‘AIDS or chicken?

  She glanced at him briefly, as though not taking the question seriously. ‘Chicken-derived polypeptides,’ she said. ‘It’s the reason why you got flu, now it’s the reason why you can’t shake it.’

  Bryn was blurry with illness, tired from too much work, and disconcerted by this strange doctor. His mind felt foggy and dull. ‘Chicken?’

  ‘Your white cells. They’re exhausted. We need to juice them up.’

  Rudely shoving Bryn aside, she began working with the glass tray. She’d scraped her dull, sandy-coloured hair away from her face and secured it at the back with a rubber band plucked from some packaging discarded in the wastebin. Unconscious of her appearance, unconscious of anything except her work, she took a few drops from each compartment, dropped them on to a slide, and studied the slide under the microscope. She took about five or six minutes, working in silence, with little tuts of dissatisfaction emerging as she failed to find what she was looking for. Bryn looked around for somewhere to sit. The chairs were mostly either inaccessible or piled high with research documents, so he eventually settled for a stack of paper tottering somewhere in the darkness. He watched Cameron working intently in her pool of lamplight, and as he watched, he felt the ache from the punch settle down and begin to mingle with his other aches, disappearing into them, making itself at home. Eventually, with the eleventh compartment tested, she looked up.

  ‘We’ve got something. Not a perfect match, but the best I’ve found.’ She looked him up and down, like a butcher at a cow. ‘And you’re not in such awful shape. It shouldn’t take too much.’

  She shoved him across to the microscope, as she went over to the larger of her two fridges. In the round image picked out by the lens, Bryn saw the same thing as before, only massively different. The lethargic white blood cells had gone hyperactive. As soon as they located a blue protein strand, they enveloped it and gobbled it, then went charging off to look for the next one. Even as Bryn watched, the microscope slide cleared of all invaders.

  ‘Wow,’ he said. ‘And what if that had been AIDS, not chicken?’

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