Майкл Ридпат: The Partnership Track

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Майкл Ридпат The Partnership Track
  • Название:
    The Partnership Track
  • Автор:
  • Издательство:
    Michael Ridpath
  • Жанр:
    Триллер / на английском языке
  • Год:
    2016
  • Язык:
    Английский
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It is deep midwinter. Six ambitious vice presidents of Labouchere Associates are gathered together at an isolated mountain lodge in New Hampshire’s White Mountains for a weekend of corporate mind games. By Monday, one of them will become a Partner and earn at least a million a year. And one of them will be dead.

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Michael Ridpath

The Partnership Track

For Allan and Stephanie

Author’s Note

The Partnership Track is an expanded version of a short story that first appeared in ‘The Detection Collection’, an anthology of short stories by members of the Detection Club. The Partnership Track is a novella of about 20,000 words or 70 print pages.

1

‘I’ve had a dozen interviews here and in New York, I’ve met the head honcho twice and he loves me, everyone else thinks I’m perfect for the job. So tell me why I shouldn’t take it?’

We were sitting in the Bunker, the wine bar beneath the twenty-six-storey office block in Bishopsgate that Peter Brearton and I had occupied along with a few hundred other bankers several years before. Between us were two glasses, empty, and a bottle of Sancerre, almost empty. I refilled Peter’s glass. Peter was ambitious, energetic, highly intelligent, unfailingly successful in everything he did. He was thirty-one, a year older than me, although he looked younger, with his square face, short blond hair and round glasses. He was mellowing as he often did after a bottle of wine. I would get to the truth.

‘Don’t you trust me?’ he said.

‘Of course I trust you. I trust you more than anyone else I know. We’re old mates. That’s why I want you to explain to me why you left.’

Peter shook his head. ‘I told you, I can’t tell you.’ He had a soft voice of quiet authority, with a hint of a Geordie accent which became more noticeable when he got drunk, or when — and this was very rare — he lost his temper.

‘They have a great reputation,’ I went on. ‘They’re aggressive but fair; they’re cunning but people trust them. They might not be big, but they’re the best in the world in their market. Bill Labouchere is a genius. Everyone says so.’

‘Don’t do it,’ Peter said.

I took a deep breath. ‘My boss gave me a month to find another job.’

Peter raised his eyebrows. I squirmed; it was something I hadn’t wanted to admit. A last resort.

‘How long ago was that?’

‘Three weeks.’

‘Oh.’ He took a sip of wine. ‘Still don’t do it.’

I couldn’t conceal my frustration. Peter’s employer, Labouchere Associates, was a small, elite outfit that had been responsible for advising their clients on some of the most daring and imaginative takeovers and mergers in the oil business of the last decade. Where their competitors and clients had lost fortunes in an industry shattered by the oil-price crash, they had made money figuring out how to put the pieces back together. And they paid well. I would be doubling my salary as a vice president. Partners, of whom there were a dozen or so, were reputed to earn many millions of dollars every year. That was certainly something to aim for. The only thing that was standing between all that and me was Peter’s opinion.

‘I’m going to take it,’ I said.

Peter shook his head sadly. ‘You’re making a big mistake.’

‘If you can’t give me a good reason not to, I’m taking the job.’

Peter drained his glass, and stared at me thoughtfully. ‘You’re right,’ he said. ‘We are old mates. If I can’t trust you, I can’t trust anyone.’ It was true: Peter and I had started our first jobs at the bank on the same day. And the friendships and loyalties you forged at the beginning of your career were stronger than any built up in the ensuing years of job hopping. We had never let each other down; we never would. ‘But don’t tell anyone else, OK? Not a whisper. You’ll see why later.’

‘I won’t,’ I said, leaning forward.

‘OK. But first we need another bottle of wine.’

2

It was last March, Peter began. I had been at Labouchere just over two years and I was doing pretty well. The firm usually promotes new partners in April, and that year there was only one opening. They take the process very seriously — too seriously according to some of the partners, but not according to the only one that matters, Bill Labouchere. He insists on a weekend off-site session of role play, where the vice presidents on the partnership track are put through a string of exercises, all watched closely by him and a psychologist. The sessions are notorious within the firm, but unavoidable if you want promotion. And believe me, we all wanted promotion.

There were six candidates. Labouchere prides itself on its international staff: there were two Americans, a Canadian, a Brazilian, a Norwegian and myself. The session was to be held at Lake Lenatonka, some God-forsaken mountain lodge in New Hampshire. I flew over from London to Boston and drove in a hired car from Logan all the way up to the lake. I was knackered; I had only just got back from India, where I had been pulling several all-nighters on a big project financing we were setting up in Rajasthan. The last thing I was in the mood for was corporate games.

There was snow on the ground outside Boston, and it was getting dark as I crossed the New Hampshire border. Lake Lenatonka was fifteen miles off the main road down a dirt track, in what they call the White Mountains. And they were white, or at least a blue shade of white in the moonlight. I didn’t pass a single car on that track, just pine trees, thousands and thousands of pine trees. I stopped every few miles to check the map. I dreaded getting lost; I could easily spend the whole night driving around those back roads without seeing anyone.

It takes a long time to drive fifteen miles along a dirt track at night. Soon the moonlight disappeared, and a little later snowflakes started to fall, gently, softly, suffocating the road ahead. I considered turning around, but I had already gone half way, including a long steep climb that would be no fun slithering down, so I pressed on. I was relieved when the wooded valley opened up upon the wide expanse of the lake, a grey board of snow on ice, at the far end of which a series of fuzzy yellow lights trickled through the falling snow. The establishment that emerged as I drew closer was a series of a dozen log cabins clustered around a larger building, from which a welcoming column of smoke twisted.

The parking lot, or at least the usable portion of it, looked full, so I pulled into the cleared driveway in front of one of the cabins, next to a Porsche Cayenne that I recognized as belonging to one of the partners. There was indeed a roaring log fire in the reception of the main building and I went straight in to dinner, which had started without me.

The dining room was a large wooden hall, warmed by an even larger fire roaring in a fireplace painstakingly constructed out of odd-shaped river stone. The log walls were adorned with mountain bric-a-brac: dead fish and animals, snow shoes and old skis, black-and-white photos and oil landscapes, bookshelves of ancient hard-backed adventure stories, unread and anonymous. Thick log beams supported the vaulted ceiling above, and a balcony ran around one wall, high up, with doors leading off to bedrooms, presumably. The dining table itself was a handsome piece of thick oak, as old and tough as the mountains around it.

One dead animal stood out among the others: the head of a bear, mouth open, teeth bared, blank eyes surveying those gathered below.

There were eight chairs around the table: five occupied by the other candidates, one by Bill Labouchere, one by a woman whom I didn’t recognize, and an empty place for me. Everyone, even I, was wearing American corporate casual clothes: chinos and designer button-down shirts.

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