CHAPTER TWO: Role reversal
Georgia’s transformation from ‘film extra’ to ‘star’ – and more abhorrently from Neil’s perspective – to ‘purse strings’ came out of the blue. It seemed like a decade ago – so much had occurred – but it was really just over three years.
Georgia had become an ‘author’ almost overnight. Neil had at first been dismissive and implied that she ‘must have misunderstood’ the chance meeting and out of the blue conversation with a client of the law firm that she worked for, Gareth Owen-Smythe. She had known Gareth for some time because he was a life-long client of Georgia’s boss, David Clarkson, a company and taxation law specialist, as had Gareth’s father been before him.
On that occasion, David had been delayed by a derailment and it had fallen to Georgia to proffer coffee, and chat whilst they waited. In the course of that conversation, it had cropped up that she ‘wrote’. He asked ‘if she was any good’ …. which was a difficult question for an otherwise humble and subservient Georgia to answer! She said – bravely – that she was not sure, but she really loved to write, and hoped that she could at least string some interesting words together! He asked what kind of things she wrote – inwardly thinking that she was a Mills and Boon type of writer, and was surprised when she answered, ‘Mostly crime’ … murders, who-dun-its ….’. He was appropriately taken aback and said he had a cousin in the publishing game and asked if he could read something she had written. She had no idea whether he was being polite, or whether he was trying to pick her up, but she thought he was very nice, and very genuine … and in any case he was quite respectable because he was well known to them as a client.
She thought for a minute and then she walked across to her desk and pulled out a folder and handed it to him. He looked taken aback, and she wondered again – more sure this time – whether he had just been killing time. However, he thanked her in a manner that seemed sincere, and put it carefully in his briefcase.
Then David arrived, full of apologies, and Georgia considered once again that she had just handed ‘her baby’ to a poor misfortunate man who had merely been trying to make conversation. She felt embarrassed and angry with herself.
The only conversation that she remembered having with David about Gareth Owen-Smythe was as a result of them receiving some documents relating to his tax status, and which mentioned a wife … Deborah Jane Owen-Smythe. She had spontaneously looked taken aback – a look that must have registered on her face – because David – who was not one for laughing generally – smiled despite himself, and just said ’All that glitters … Georgie, All that glitters ….!” And laughed.
Georgia had been all but certain that Gareth Owen-Smythe was gay … as David should very likely know, having been ‘in the closet’ himself for over 40 years.
When Georgia had first started to work for David, she had (stupidly as it turned out!) invited him to dinner. Neil – drinking as usual – had been a complete embarrassment. With his usual antenna, he had deduced David’s (unadvertised) orientation, and had spent the whole uncomfortable meal making veiled references, innuendos and cracking dubious jokes. Georgia was never more delighted for a meal to come to an end and was completely sure that when she got to work the next morning, she would be given her marching orders. However, David had not mentioned it since. Georgia had never invited him again. And David had made sure that any ‘event’ that Neil might accompany Georgia to, he found a reason to be ‘unavailable’.
So, David was probably right about Gareth. When Georgia had told David about the book and wondered in an embarrassed way whether she had just made a complete idiot of herself, David had told her that she need not worry. Gareth was not likely to have pretended to show interest. He was a thoroughly nice man, but without too much of a sense of humour! He had no ability to flatter or finesse – and indeed he did have a cousin – Martin Reid – some biggish wig in a publishing house.
Out of interest, and for no reason that she could think of at the time, Georgia asked how it was – under the circumstances – that he was married. David did frown at that point and looked slightly embarrassed. It was clear that he was misinterpreting Georgia’s motivation for asking such a question. She herself felt embarrassed because she understood her real reason (whether she owned it or not!) was pure nosiness in order to press David on what he knew about this man that could hold her future in his hands. Was he a Jack the Lad? Was he likely to have been having a laugh at her expense?
David seemed to ponder this – perhaps for a moment or two too long, and Georgia was about to apologise for her curiosity and for putting him on the spot. But then he continued. He said that although he was – on paper – married – David thought it was more a marriage of convenience to appease his grandfather. The still authoritarian Bernard Owen-Smythe, though 89, still wielded almost total power within the family. He was referred to – within the family – as Boss – not just because of his initials, but because he had always enjoyed that level of reverence, and still demanded it. With the wealth, kudos, property and entitlement at stake, nobody in the family was going to quibble – and even those biting their tongue, and screaming in silence, kept telling themselves that he could not live for ever. Surely the end must be in sight! Boss apparently still held tight to much of the family fortune, and the purse strings were very firmly within his grasp. He had outlived his sons – three of them – and he had no daughters (though he likely would not have considered them ‘suitable’ to take on the responsibility for the ‘family’ since his views on the role of women had not changed any more than his views on ‘loose morals’ ‘doing one’s duty’ and ‘producing an heir’). Most definitely homosexuality would not have been acknowledged – let alone welcomed – by this dinosaur.
So that was the reason for the ‘marriage’. And indeed, according to David, the subterfuge had resulted in two sons one over the required number: an heir and a spare. Plus a daughter – but sadly the baby had died very suddenly – unexpectedly and inexplicably – when she was 8 months old.
So, married he was. Though Georgia was not going to applaud such a deception – and a person really should not have to pretend to be something they are not – she thought that if his ‘wife’ did not mind (assuming she was in on the deception!) then it was none of her business. If one ignored cowardice and obfuscation, then nothing else could be levelled against him.
Then to assuage all her doubts, the very next day she got a phone call from ‘Martin Reid’ – who introduced himself as Gareth’s cousin. He was very flattering about her book and enthused about its likelihood of success. He said he had been seeking something along these lines for ages, and she was a very talented young lady. (Since he only sounded about 25 himself, she did not know whether to laugh or take offence!).
Naturally Georgia rushed home full of excitement to tell Neil. He listened, then with half closed eyes, he shook his head slowly and said “There you go again. You are not safe let out on your own! You’d believe anything. Anyone! It’s a wonder we have not been scammed out of every penny we ever had!
With such lack of enthusiasm from Neil, her only thought was to think ….and pray! …’
“He’d soon see! If he didn’t like it, he’d have to do the other thing! Perhaps it was not a question of her moving away. Away from him, away from Cavendish Avenue! Why should she? Maybe the better question was ’should he not think about moving away from her! She was here first! Why should she move?
When the £30,000 advance and retainer arrived, it was obviously ‘fact’ rather than ‘fiction’. She did not tell Neil and opened a separate savings account in her own name – though at the same bank. She was not wanting to be mean, but she did need to take her time to be fully clear in her own head what she wanted to do. How did she really feel about Neil? She was honest enough to realise that the things she ‘liked’ about him when they first met had gradually receded over the years and had been replaced by just familiarity. It was true that many couples are content with ‘familiarity’ with some of them preferring it to the stomach churning chaos and rollercoaster feelings that one can experience in the first throes of passion. She was not really sure either that she had ever experienced those ‘first throes of passion’. In retrospect, it just seemed that she had merely acquiesced and gone along with some kind of misinterpretation of the blessings of ‘security’, ‘companionship’ … in short having somebody around … anybody … well anybody that seemed keen to have her in his life. And in fact, at the time, Neil had given every indication that he did ‘want her in his life’. She was flattered. She was relieved to have solved the problem of her relatives, her friends, all asking her – pitying her – about her lack of ‘a man in her life’. She had frequently longed to say … “Why not a woman?”, but she was not brave enough, and at the time her mother (who was only five months away from her untimely death (at 53) ) would have been upset and would have just been given unnecessary worry – and really just for sarcasm!
So all this new money, this new ‘career’ was completely new to Georgia. She had no idea that she needed ‘an agent’ … she had not given any thought to the financial and more importantly the taxation implications. She assumed she would now need to be ‘self-employed’ … no more relying upon David to sort out her PAYE for her. She would remain at work .. of course she would .. what would she do with her time otherwise? Being home all day with Neil was not going to work. Neither for him, nor her …. However, working for a company and taxation lawyer would make like easier. She would not have to look far for that kind of advice and representation if she needed it!
Those thoughts were at best fleeting notions and she was not wasting her worries on them. Despite that, however, within days of Neil’s dismissal of her ‘idle fancy’ that she could be a successful author, her phone rang. When Terence Long-Martin rang her – since the call came in on her work phone – not her mobile, nor at home – she assumed he had been put in touch by Martin Reid or Gareth.
It was only later – much later – that she had found this assumption to be unlikely. It was much later before she realised that somehow Neil had discovered the £30,000 in the savings account and it took a catastrophe and a death for her to find out just how she had acquired her ‘Agent’ and just who that ‘agent’ was working on behalf of.
When she had visited the publishers at the time of her first book being lauded and raved about, Martin (who was delighted with his own judgement and the book’s success) seemed surprised that there was an agent involved, and did not seem to know Terence Long-Martin at all. She adjusted her thinking and had to assume then that it must be Gareth. Because the call from Long-Martin was so timely – and so fast upon the deal being a fact rather than a fancy – she had to assume that it was somebody with ‘the inside track’. Not Martin. Must then be Gareth. In a kind of voyeuristic way then she wondered if Terry was a ‘man friend’ of Gareth’s … though if he was gay, he certainly hid it well!
So she had acquired an agent (with no effort from herself) and she already had a three book deal (with a goodly retainer in the bank) … and unknown to Martin, those books were already written …as were others … the work of years and years … just for fun, and because it came naturally. Never had she thought they would be read by anybody else – let alone be enthusiastically anticipated by ‘the reading public’.
With ‘proper money’ in the bank, she could realistically consider her situation. She was no longer ‘financially dependent’ on Neil. She had no reason to be ‘scared’ to step out into the cold, hard world on her own … because it was not cold, or hard, it was welcoming and applauding! So, with an alternative literally at her fingertips, she realised that she was probably staying with Neil because she wanted to … at least for now. She was not staying because he was a safety blanket, or her only option, or because she was too scared to take what was a leap of faith. Now she knew … she was her own safety blanket, she had other options, it would be no ‘leap of faith’ … but still she was not running for the door. Well not permanently any way. And indeed if anybody was heading for the door, perhaps it should be him?