Part 1

ONE

 

Pete

Pete Swanson made the plane by the skin of his teeth. He’d kissed his wife goodbye on the railway platform of their Dorset home some eight hours previously and should have made it easily in the time. The train from Poole had been delayed, the railway company giving the all too common but nevertheless incomprehensible excuse of leaves on the line, and arriving into London Waterloo late enough even with the ten minute transfer to St. Pancras for him to miss his scheduled seat on the 6:55 Eurostar to Brussels. His choices were limited from then on as the next three trains were Paris bound. An exchange seat on a Brussels train wasn’t available for another hour and fifty minutes ensuring he wouldn’t make his airport connection. Paris it was then, and an express to Brussels. It would be a close one but it was do-able. Sometimes he felt like kicking himself, always taking the rail option, the one that gave him more time with his family. The always tucking that bit extra to one side for the day all this came to an end, always cutting the time fine.  A confirmed ex-patriate worker he spent nine months of the year away from home. It should have been only eight as he was on a two months on, one off cycle but more than 90 days a year in the UK attracted a tax burden he wasn’t ready for. Ellen and the kids benefitted from that absence through extended holidays in exotic locations, this year they had been to Dubai and Florida. Pete didn’t relish any more sun but it was a small price to pay to avoid a huge tax bill. This vacation had been in his favourite place, their little cottage in the Purbeck hills and he had left it with more than a degree of reluctance. 

Paris of course had been a nightmare, it always was. It should have been a doddle catching the Metro from Gare du Nord to Gare de l’Est, which was normally a ten-minute trip. Pete had not bargained for a mid day PSG Champions league match coinciding with his journey. The Metro was packed, him having to wait on an overcrowded station for three trains just for standing room. Last through the gate and onto the Brussels express he could at last relax a little. Usually he caught the bus from the station but on this occasion there would be no time. He knew however that there would be plenty of taxis waiting to take him to the airport. He would need one for the flight was due to close only forty minutes after the train got in.  They were calling the flight as he entered the terminal and check in rushed him through, unsure if the gate had already closed. Fortunately security was quiet and swiftly past the Gendarmes, a fast jog to gate B27 revealed an empty lounge and the barrier already across the gate, just one of the cabin crew remained ready to close the air stairs door. Thanking all that was holy that he travelled light, just a large carry on and his laptop, Pete was hurried down the air stairs and into the ageing Airbus. As fast as he was through the door the cabin staff shut it and began preparations for pushback as Pete made his way down the aisle to the only vacant seat on the plane.

 

 

 

Derek

Derek Brown had booked on the same flight as Pete Swanson. It had become a habit with them over the last year. It had been the same before when their on and off cycles coincided back in Nigeria and then Angola. Back then the airport had been Heathrow so Brussels was a bit of a comedown. They could have made it Paris but the Air France plane was always full and the prices higher. Knowing Pete was due he had looked for him at the gate then once in his seat watched for Pete to no avail. They closed the flight and then at the last minute reopened the doors to let Pete and his bag came on board. 

Derek wasn’t like Pete, although he got on with him and privately liked his unconventional ways. Derek was an organiser, a slave to detail and order. He would never risk being late for a flight or miss getting back in time to the survey section after his vacation.  As was his norm, Derek had stayed in a Brussels hotel overnight just to be sure there were no issues. He too had made his way from his English home, in his case the North Yorkshire village of Kirklington. His wife of thirty years had driven him to Leeds Bradford Airport and as usual kissed him dutifully goodbye. It had been that way for most of their married life, two months away one at home.  Firstly it had been the Navy then a shady company in the Middle East and now Occidental Prospect. They were used to the pattern and it brought in enough money for their lives to be comfortable and that comfort to be assured into his looming retirement. 

Sometimes though, just sometimes, Derek questioned their arrangement. It worked for him but from time to time a niggling doubt worked into his mind.  Each time he’d gone home over the last three or so years it had become different, almost been like sleeping with a stranger and not in any way a pleasurable experience. Derek actually wondered if Eve had an extra marital relationship he knew nothing of.

Dragging himself out of his thoughts Derek greeted Pete as he slid into the seat next to him. “Beginning to think you’d won the lottery.” 

“Fat chance.” Pete responded, stuffing his lap top under the seat in front and buckling up. “With my luck as it is.”

“You read your mail?” Derek queried.

“No.” Pete answered, a look of suspicion clouding his visage. “Something I should know?”

“Your luck took another down turn.”

Pete’s face fell. “What now?”

“When we get in, you have a little babysitting to do.”

“Babysitting?”

“The office sent someone. They want you to look after them.”

Pete groaned as the cabin speakers came to life. “Madame’s et Monsieurs, a votre securite” they announced and both Pete and Derek shut up and took note. Seasoned travellers they may be but anything that flew in African skies was automatically suspect. Technically a Lufthansa flight, this Brussels-Air Airbus was not a by any means a new aircraft and even though their time over water would be limited both Pete and Derek not only checked the location and presence of their life jackets, they took a look at their condition as well. Satisfied, they leaned back into their seats, ready for the seven-hour ordeal back to the hothouse.

 

 

George

George Adams had come in by a different route and via Istanbul. He had taken his month of vacation to actually holiday. He always did. He may be registered as a UK citizen and pay nominal tax and national insurance contributions there but no home existed in those islands for him any more. On the rare occasions he was required to actually report in person to the London office he stayed in a tiny bed and breakfast off the Pentonville road. Once long ago it seemed to him he had a life, had a wife and kids but that had gone in a messy divorce. It didn’t matter that he’d provided well for his family, his work had taken him away and Sarah had found solace in another man, one who stayed around. Sarah had accused George of neglect and he counter filed for adultery. Initially emotionally destroyed, George had got over it. He thought that it had been good while it lasted, but in reality he felt better off for the break. Never a gregarious man he had difficulty fitting in with the company Sarah had acquired in his absences and although hurt, in retrospect wasn’t surprised to find she’d been cheating on him behind his back. His one regret had been the kids, and the world travelling in his vacations were a means of putting that behind him. This time on the Greek Islands had however served to reintroduce himself. 

Hugely reluctantly, Sarah had agreed to packing the two boys off into his care for a week of sailing. In reality it would have been hard for her to refuse, as they were both of age. John was in University and James doing A levels. Any impediment to the adventure would have been more likely to come from two young adults with their minds poisoned by ten years of an absent father. According to Sarah he had never ever actually been there for them. In the event he’d met two strangers at Athens Airport and it had gone downhill from there. The boys had loved the sailing but they lived in a different world with different expectations, so much so that even cleaning up after them selves was a novelty. As to actually doing any work, well that was a non-starter. Ship shape was an alien concept and a lack of Internet or cell phone signal a complete anathema. 

Almost glad to be rid of them George had hit the bars for a couple of days then gone sailing again until the time came for him to go back to where he felt he belonged. At work.

Work would have to wait a day. Turkish Airlines flew in on a Tuesday, a day earlier than the European flights would come in. True the Paris plane came every day but the guys were not due back until the Wednesday. Why would they fly in a day early just because George did? 

 

 

Mike

Alone in the tiny hotel George was not. Mike Weinhart was already in the bar as George checked in. It was not really a bar, more a breakfast and coffee place that served canned or bottled beers in the evening. 

Mike had gone to the coast for his time off. Beer and brothels were the stock in trade of an ex patriate contract electrician according to Mike. The truth is he’d only had a week instead of the statutory month. Problems at the base had delayed his departure and to be honest he had nowhere else he wanted to go. West Africa has some beautiful beaches, most of which are tourist free. True there are no jet ski’s or Hobie cats for hire but scuba diving is common as most off-shore rigs use divers to check their gear and the equipment is readily available to the right people. Mike constituted one of the right people. Insinuated into the ranks of professional divers his dollars no longer needed to be spent in a brothel either, nor did he need hotel accommodation. It was the fifth or sixth time he’d gone to the coast to dive and the forth or fifth time he’d stayed with Malana. He’d never admit it publicly but Mike was in a relationship, a long time relationship. Was he sure that he and Malana had a relationship? Maybe, maybe not. 

It had started in a bar as an awful lot of relationships start. Drinks then dinner had led a few nights later to where these things go. She had spent the night in his hotel room and did so the rest of his stay. The next time he went down to the coast they put up in a shack near the beach and she moved in permanently. Was he sure that he was the only one she had a relationship with. Well maybe, maybe not.

 

 

Martin

Mike had not been the only one spending time down on the coast. Both Martin Baker and Mark Nuttal from the survey team had driven down this time. They had a shared boat acquired years ago from a Greek holiday company gone bust. Together they had refitted the thirty-eight foot French built sailing yacht to a genuinely seaworthy standard and sailed her to a temporary mooring in Tenerife then a year ago Martin had brought the vessel single handed to an anchorage in view of the myriad of off shore rigs.  On this break from work they had taken ‘Aphrodite’ down to the cape and back. Cape Town had a reputation and rightly so, of being a haven, a beautiful city to stop over. A place of peace and yet a place to have fun and by god they had fun there. All too soon they had to make the return journey, the wind and tides with them on the way back making a fast transit which in turn allowed a day in port to get the boat back into good order, ready for next time. Just like with the boat Mark and Martin had clubbed together in the acquisition of a beat up Toyota as their means of getting to and from the harbour. This pick up had become a common vehicle for anyone who needed it when in town and although the paint was dull and battered it was in good mechanical shape, faultlessly carrying the two men up from the coast. Martin pulled in to the hotel parking lot just hours after George’s taxi had dropped him off. 

 

 

Rob

Rob Greggson came in on the Paris flight. He’d caught a connecting United flight from JFK following an up town cab from LaGuardia where his commuter flight from Syracuse had landed. Already jet lagged and tired from a restless night in a downtown hotel, after boarding the Air France plane he crashed in his coach class seat for most of the journey. Like most contract workers Rob travelled light but not knowing if this was going to be longer than a month in station his bag was more than a carry on. He had checked it in at Syracuse to be transferred through JFK and Paris but as with all things involving Africa post flight it took time to appear. A full hour and multiple disagreements later the bag miraculously appeared on the carousel. The bag had clearly been opened, but no one was going to admit to where that had happened. It wasn’t by any means the first time Rob had been to Africa and he’d learned that this kind of thing was not atypical but it wasn’t right and heads would roll.  Rob was not a happy man and it did not bode well for his first time to this prospect and this country, in fact the first time for this company. 

The norm for Rob over the last five years had been Texas and the Gulf of Mexico. He was more used to overseeing geophone laying on the seabed than on land these days but on land was where he was going now, and he was going to see these guys did it perfectly. Prospect 40112 was an important part of Forward Oil’s future portfolio. They had missed out in the far north and the Gulf was drying up. Pretty much everywhere else was a closed shop and this one chance for Forward to get into Africa hinged on good data from 40112. Screw this up and concession 49273 and with it and the African opportunity would be gone too. Randy Miles had been pulled because the prospect was screwing up and he’d not got a hold of it with Occidental.  Rob wasn’t going to let that continue. 

Another night in a better than average downtown hotel but where the only thing he could stomach for dinner was a burger then with just croissants for breakfast it left him hungry and still tired when the cab dropped him off at the general aviation terminal. 

 

 

TWO

 

Joanne

Joanne Fletcher was grumpy and she knew it. To be honest she didn’t care if anyone else knew it either.  She had just come through six and a half hours of purgatory. That it wasn’t the first time she’d flown out to an off the beaten track operation wasn’t an excuse for the conditions she had to put up with.  It was all very well jetting from London to Paris and then taking a seven hour Air France flight on to a stinking hot third-world airport but onward from there was a nightmare. It wasn’t even like it was her job to come to this hellhole, she was a production analyst not a trouble-shooter and that’s what this project needed. 

Her every day life from a year out of university had been firmly based in the London office, firstly as an assistant on the geology team that made the strata maps and prospect drawings then moving into the more detailed data analysis direct from the survey teams and wellheads that the prospect team used to establish extent of a deposit. That some politico needed this prospect to be a viable field and that the survey teams were making heavy weather of getting good data should not have been her problem. Jason Tully had made it her problem.

 

Jason Tully of the impeccable Oxford accent and laughing eyes. Jason, head of geophysics and therefore Joanne’s boss and whom she would have bedded a hundred times given half a chance. Jason who was out of her class and out of her reach. Joanne and Jason always sounded to her like they belonged together, but Joanne had to live with the less covetous Joanne and Mike. Well sometimes. Mike was all right, good enough for now she supposed. They had been dating on and off for a couple of years, an affair that wasn’t satisfying and never lasted. Mike was more a friend than a lover, as a friend he was always there when she needed him, well, when he was in the country that was. As a lover Joanne felt he never gave of himself completely. She suspected, but never found any evidence, that Mike had a girl in every port. As flight crew on a major airline that would be every airport. Joanne had never thought of herself as particularly attractive but neither was she unattractive either. She had always been of a slight build, often wishing she had more of a bust. Her skin was clear and although she wore her mousey hair short it framed a face she would have described as stylish rather than pretty. Nevertheless she had never been a target for men and maybe it was because she wanted something more in a relationship than mere infatuation but she’d not had the romances, or for that matter the heart aches of her contemporaries.  

 

 

Monday

Monday morning, never a good day after another wasted weekend. Mike was in Tokyo and her parents still in their second home, a small house in the south of France, close enough to the Alps for winter and close enough to the Med for summer. They referred to it as a second home but the time they spent there made it more like their first. Joanne had been there enough times to know she hated the place and avoided it as much as possible. The weekend had been such a drag Joanne had almost been tempted. Instead she had spent Sunday afternoon at her desk, going over for the umpteenth time the data on prospect 40112. No matter what way she looked or how many times she went over it, the data was just as bad as it always had been.  Concluding once again that you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear she switched her attentions to the latest data in from the Canadian Arctic shelf. 

This morning in her booth among a dozen more in the open plan office, this was this data she was again dissecting when Jason came in.

“Morning Joanne.” He greeted, leaning over the low divider. His greeting was unusually bright and unusually singling her out. “My office in ten?” He said in a flat tone that was both a question and a statement. A sense of foreboding swept across Joanne as she mouthed a response to both the greeting and the summons. Jason had not waited for an answer, heading straight past to the glass fronted office that was his domain.  

Scrabbling for a reason, Joanne could only think of prospect 40112 and the damning report she had compiled last week. Not for the first time she regretted the scathing words she had used, in fact almost everything she had put into both the report and the presentation Jason had demanded of her. Incredibly fanciable Jason may be, but he was on the management ladder and to survive meant hogging credit for success and creating distance from anything even vaguely unsavoury, which meant dumping blame straight back on the originator. If it was the Africa case, that meant Joanne.

 

 

Jason

The door was open but Joanne still knocked on the glass before entering. 

Jason looked up. “Two minutes Joanne,” he told her. “Just got this mail to finish.” Joanne backed off. “Come on in,” Jason said, and flourishing his hand, “Take a seat while I type.”

Joanne went back in but did not sit. Mere moments later Jason finished his correspondence with a flourish and looked up to her. “So, four zero one-one-two.” He said, and Joanne’s heart sank. “And you’d better shut the door.” Jason continued. Now Joanne knew it was serious and her confidence hit the floor as she mentally prepared herself for the rocket of the century. 

The door shut, Jason spoke again. “I took it upstairs on Friday.”  Joanne breathed in expecting the worst, and she got worse than she could have imagined.

“The board wants an explanation of both your report and the presentation. I want you to give it.”

“Christ.” She croaked. “Me?” Jason went from a number ten to a zero in a heartbeat.

“You wrote it.” Jason told her, “No one better to explain it.”

“You bastard.” She thought but managed to refrain from voicing. Instead she questioned “When?”

“We’re up at ten.” He answered.

“Us?”

“When I said explain, I meant it. I couldn’t give them detail.” Jason said. “You can, and I’ll be there to make sure they don’t give you too hard a time.” 

“Oh Christ.” She muttered. “I’ll have to dig out the paperwork.”

“We’ll use the presentation you gave me.” He told her. “It’s already on the system and ready to run. All you have to do is speak.”

“But.” She started, “it’s an age since I sent that. I can’t remember all the slides or their sequence.”

“It’s a week.” Jason told her, his tone a clear put down.  Dismissively he conceded, “You’ve got half an hour to refresh your memory.” 

 

Of the half an hour Jason had given her, twenty minutes had been spent in the toilet. Joanne had seen, but never met any of the board members before. To a man they had chilling reputations and few were the people called to account who had survived a meeting with them. Although each of the eight members were addressed as ‘sir’ there were three genuine Sirs among them. Sir Giles was the oldest and reputedly the richest, which may account for his being the meanest both fiscally and in spirit. The most vocal was Sir John, who on a good day could be heard expressing his ire two floors way. No-one crossed Sir John and walked away a whole person. There were stories that in the past at least two people had committed suicide following a Sir John verbal castigation. Joanne knew with certainty that if she faced such a trial she would likely wet herself. That twenty minutes in the loo might mitigate the likelihood, it could not insure against it.

 

Trepidation was the understatement of the century for the mood Joanne had on her return to Jason’s office. Clearly he did not hold the same fear as he stood to join her. Immaculate as ever in his pristine pin stripe suit he merely donned and buttoned the jacket to complete his armour. Joanne felt naked in comparison; barely even tidy in the roughly ironed blouse and plaid skirt she had thrown on in the early hours.  It had been a difficult decision as to wearing the cardigan or not.  For, was that it would disguise any perspiration, against was its frumpiness. Joanne was frumpy enough when in the office as it was, but a woollen cardigan was a necessary accessory before the heating came on and tended to stay on her shoulders most of the day.

 

 

Board

Less cardigan and convinced she already had sweat marks Joanne followed Jason upstairs to the boardroom door. He in turn did not so much as hesitate in his progress, pulling the door open and ushering her in. Clearly they were expected as anticipation was written on the faces seated around the big table. Sure enough, Joanne recognised the three Sirs, the surprise was that among the other five faces one was a woman. Almost chivvying Joanne to one end of the room where a large white-board hung, Jason opened. “Gentlemen, ma-am. Your questions over prospect 40112 are as I explained last Friday, best answered by our resident expert in these matters, Joanne Fletcher.” His outstretched arm was an open invitation, an exhortation even for Joanne to speak.

She looked them in the face, all of them. “I, err.” She mumbled, then a wave of nausea hit immediately followed by a brilliant idea. “Could you show the presentation.” She enquired of Jason. “Please?” 

Jason merely picked up the remote sensor and touched a button. Immediately Joanne was bathed in slide one. Realising her position right in front of the display Joanne stepped sideways.

“I am told.” She started, “That you’ve already seen this so I’ll go quickly and you stop me when you have questions. Is that all right?”

Sir John grumbled his assent and Joanne took the silence from the others to be an agreement to her proposal.

“So,” she continued, “I don’t want to insult anyone or be teaching you to suck eggs but I included on slide two.” She paused for Jason to bring the slide up. “What we would normally see on a seismic trace. Now we do have to take into account that this trace is from sub tropical Africa where onshore conditions are more hospitable, but it suffices for us to see a pattern. Slides three, four and five.” Again she halted for Jason to catch up. “Show us classic sea floor readings from prospect 40112’s line 225-14, then as that line comes ashore. The third slide is of the line fifteen kilometres inland. As you can see.” She turned to Jason, “Go back to three please.”

“The patterns are what we would expect. This one clips reserve 7332 and that’s clearly indicated. As we move ashore, slide four please.” Jason clicked again to show another slide full of wavy lines. “Again all is normal and we can see the oil bearing strata entering the coastal uplift zone.”

Once more to Jason, “slide five please.” And as it clicked into place, “Here we have a mystery.” Joanne paused, looking for comprehension on any of the nine faces facing her.

“How so, Miss Fletcher?” Adam Grant, the operations director questioned at length. “It doesn’t look that different to us.”

Joanne plucked up courage to speak her mind. “It’s gobbledygook.” 

“It’s all gobbledygook.” Sir John grumbled. “But it’s your bloody job to make sense of it.”

Joanne took a breath, she had found her feet. In for a penny, in for a pound she thought to herself. “With respect Sir John, we already know the geology of the region. The prospectis located close to the north-western margin of the Congo Craton. The general area consists of three major stratigraphic units: Archean basement and Proterozoic supercrustals, and the Phanerozoic sedimentary cover, which is dominantly of Cretaceous age or younger. Data reveals a close match between the South American and West African margin basins with respect to their pre-salt depositional sequences, including reservoirs in the pre-salt tectono-sedimentary sequences.

We know the Brazilian fields are highly productive, so what this means for us is that in the pre-salt sequences we are highly likely to find large deposits of light oil and gas and this is borne out by reserves already tapped. The difference between Brazil and Africa is that Africa’s pre-salt region is found both offshore and onshore. However, it’s hugely unlikely that any significant oil will be discovered other than in the Phanerozoicsedimentary cover, which in turn does not extend more than a hundred kilometers from the sea. Nevertheless, and you will know why better than I, our survey lines go way beyond this region. The upside may be that the intimate data also tells us about mineral deposition, but we already know that and Gold, Uranium and Manganese are already mined across the supercrustal.”

Joanne may as well have recited the Quran for the comprehension most of the faces in front of her showed. 

“Politics.” Sir Giles interjected. “So we need this information to be plausible. Explain why you say it isn’t.”

“Erratic intermittency.” Joanne answered. Noting the lack of comprehension and the rising colour of Sir John’s face, Joanne went on. “It’s like someone was introducing interference. The picture is blurred our data is gobbledygook, but again it’s not everywhere.”

“Explain.” Sir John demanded.

“Slide, nine I think, please.” She requested of Jason. He flicked through until the requisite slide came up. One showing the prospect boundaries with the diagonally aligned survey line grid interposed. The grid had a three-colour legend and Joanne went on to explain it. “Black,” she told them was as yet un-prospected line, blue surveyed line with quantifiable results and red the sections that increasingly broke up the blue lines as they moved north eastwards and indicated corrupted data. 

“So as we get deeper into the woods we get lost in the trees.” Adam observed.

“Something like that.” Joanna concurred. “But I don’t know why.”

“Someone had better bloody find out then, and quickly.” Sir John put in.

Coloring, Joanne hit back. “There’s only one way to know, and that means going to the source of the problem.”

“The source.” Adam said. A non-committal half question.

“The source.” Joanne reiterated. “Africa. Something is seriously wrong with the data coming out of 40112. Why is it different to anything else we see?”

“It’s definitely different?”

“Yes.” Joanne asserted.

“How?”

“It’s intermittent. Some data is readable, some is rubbish.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know.” Joanne answered.

 

 

Africa

The following day in Jason’s office he opened by telling her she was going to Africa, like it or not. “Look Joanne,” He said at her instant retraction. “We don’t have anyone better qualified than you are to see what is wrong with all this data. The way I see it is the most reliable way we are going to understand this is to go to the source. You said so yourself only yesterday.”

“But.” She countered. “I didn’t mean that should go there. I can tell if what we’re getting is crap but that doesn’t mean I know why it’s crap.”

“Too late to back out now old girl.” He pacified, “The board listened to you and it’s what they’ve decided. Even I can’t change it now.”

“But.” Joanne returned again, “But no-one asked me what I thought, did they?”

“Oh come on.” Jason said. “It was you who demanded answers, not the board.” 

“Jesus!” Joanne came back. “How bloody unfair can you get? You drag me in there and then let them make it look like it’s my fault. What do you expect me to do? It’s not my fault that the data tells us nothing.”

“Maybe, but you made it your crusade, so now you’re off to find the Holy Grail.”

“Africa.” Joanne stated flatly. “My god! It’s full of disease, you can’t just pop off there like going to Spain.”

“Just as well you’re up with all your injections then.” Jason commented.

“You bastard.” Joanne told him. “How could you know that?”

“Funny feeling.” Jason returned. “Got Felicity to run a check last Thursday.”

“You knew last week?”

“Been expecting for it for a while.” He said. “Since your latest report hit my desk in fact.”

“I can’t go.” Joanne stated. “There’s too much still outstanding on 41017.”

“It can wait.” Jason told her. “You’ll only be gone for a couple of weeks.”

“A couple of weeks?” Joanne exclaimed in alarm. “You’re not serious?”

“If you can solve it quicker that’ll be all to the good.” Jason returned. “Somehow I doubt it, but even so, it would look wrong if we pulled you out too quickly and the problem came back.”

“But.” Joanne started again.

“Need to be sure.” Jason told her. “And we need to give you enough time. Three weeks should do it.” 

“Three weeks?” Joanne cried. “You just said two!”

“I actually said a couple.” Jason corrected her. “I suppose technically that could mean two.  I told Mike he had better give you three for starters.”

“But.” Joanne started again, her world crashing in around her. “What about 41017?”

“It can wait.” Jason reiterated. “Your plane can’t.”

“My plane?” Joanne half questioned.

“Felicity has found you a seat on Thursday.” Jason told her. 

“Thursday! Jesus, that’s tomorrow! It’s way too soon. I just can’t.”

“Joanne, you can.” Jason told her, his voice stern. “And you will.”

“That’s just not fair.” Joanne complained. “You could at least give me some time to get used to the idea, to get my act together.”

“Time is money.” Jason said. “It’s costing us a hundred thousand a day. That’s a good investment when we’re getting something for it. The longer it takes for you to get this sorted the more it will cost. We’re all relying on you and when, not if you get the results we are paying for, it won’t be forgotten.”

“Thanks a lot.” Joanne returned, the sarcasm clear in her words.

“Now we’re clear, you’d better get out of here. Go and pack.”

“I can pack tomorrow.” Joanne returned. “It’s starting to look interesting on the shelf.”

“Leave it.” Jason told her. “Go and pack. The bad news is you’re flying from Paris so we’ve got you a flight there this evening. The good news is you’ve got a night in Paris on us.”

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