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Roger Partridge
Pfeuferstr. 36 • 81373 München (Munich)

Chance is a Fine Thing – or Playing
Machiavelli Is not for Beginners
(2006, Roger Partridge ©)

Chance has always fascinated me and I don't mean games of chance like poker or roulette but the little incidents that can change your whole life. At the age of nine this certainly happened to me when my class teacher at school suddenly died of a heart attack. There must have been a major reshuffle, for the following Monday we had as our new teacher the man responsible up till then for the eight-year-olds. By Wednesday afternoon I found myself yearning for the late Mrs Daniels. Her replacement seemed to delight in picking on me – for talking in class, looking out of the window, doodling in an exercise book or whatever else that didn't betray a hundred percent attention to every word he said. He never slapped or cuffed me – even thirty years ago this could have got him into a lot of trouble – but he was extremely sarcastic, much to the delight of most of my classmates. Something had to be done. I decided not to give him the slightest excuse for any more barbed comments. Every time I sensed at school that my thoughts were wandering I pinched myself hard. By the end of the summer term I had risen from somewhere around the middle to the top of the class. And I kept it up for the rest of my schooldays and then at university.

Over the years I noticed how similar incidents or events, minor in themselves, changed the lives of friends and colleagues. I always thought there must be a way to make use of such incidents – to exploit chance in whatever form, even a whole chain of chance incidents. And one day I did.

It was around four months ago when I met Julia. I'd been working for a month as marketing partner for one of the ten largest management consulting groups in the country – known to us of course as the 'terrifying ten'. As the partner heading the new logistics practice, Daniel Brown, an almost unbelievably unimaginative, hulking individual – my pet name for him was 'Trucker Dan' – had started at the same time as I, we decided to hold a joint office party. Office parties . . . don't we ever learn? Successful executives, men and women, revealing themselves as unmitigated technocrats, bores or drunks. And how often have the first steps been made at these 'celebrations' on a path that ended weeks or months later with a ruined marriage or its modern equivalent? As it turned out at this party, however, that is exactly what I hoped would happen.

Julia was there with her husband, our managing partner Anthony Henderson. It took me all of thirty seconds to realise the honeymoon had been over between them a very long time. Arriving late they entered the open plan office where the party was taking place and, without a glance at each other, split up to go over to different groups. Not that she showed any particular interest in me when I engineered a tête à tête an hour later – I didn't want to make my immediate interest in her too obvious. No big smile lighting up her whole face, no hand resting on my arm, and not even hundred per cent concentration on what I said in the five minutes we talked. But other enjoyable relationships I'd had with women had started even less promisingly, and at least I found out what kind of music, books and films she liked. I already knew that she and Anthony had no children because of some obscure woman's complaint she had. So much the better: I had no ambitions to be a father, either for my own or another man's children.

The following week a call she made to her husband was misdirected to me. This was it, the first link in the chain – I almost glowed with confidence. Serve Henderson right for being stuck in a time warp. When I found out on my first day at the company I couldn't be phoned directly from outside I suggested we upgraded to a state-of-the-art PABX. He just smiled. 'You know, Paul, it's not just the money – I like my calls to be intercepted by Jean. And if all the consulting staff could be contacted directly the head-hunters would have a field day.'

Well, today Jean was off sick and the temp was having problems with the switchboard.

'Anthony, could you pick up something on the way home?'

'Julia, this isn't Anthony but Paul Thomson. You remember? We met at the party last week.'

'Paul? . . .' The three second silence was hardly flattering, but it did give me time to think. 'Oh, of course. Paul. I didn't recognise your voice on the telephone. Are you in Anthony's office?'

'No, in fact he's just slipped out for an hour. Julia, I remember at the office party that you're one of the select few who appreciate Bruckner's music.'

'Well, I don't know about "select", but yes when I hear any of his symphonies, especially the "romantic", I'm in another world.'

'Well, I can't manage the fourth, but I do have a spare ticket for the ninth for tomorrow evening at the Albert Hall, as my girlfriend has the flu. Are you interested?'

'The ninth! You know, I don't think I've ever heard that live. And it's true, Anthony is off tomorrow morning on a trip for the rest of the week. Still, I'm not quite sure how he would react to my going off with you and having fun so to speak.'

'Let me tell him when he gets back. I can't really imagine he would mind. You said yourself, symphonic music is not his thing.'

'No, I'll tell him this evening. You're right, I don't think he would mind even if it were Robert Redford taking me out. – Oh, I'm sorry, that wasn't very gracious of me.'

'Who knows? – Perhaps Robert Redford doesn't like Bruckner.' She laughed.

I had only just read about the concert that morning and didn't have tickets, but after ringing five agencies, I was successful. We enjoyed both the concert immensely and supper afterwards in a nearby restaurant. My initial impression of her good looks at the party was more than confirmed. I would say she was a few years older than I was and had reached that stage which always fascinated me in the case of attractive women. When they are well past their first youth but show no obvious signs of age – no wrinkles on the face or neck, no thickening of the waist and still with a spring in their step. And on the other hand, complete self-assurance, a relaxed charm and the ability to talk interestingly on a range of topics. In my experience there are women who stay at this level for years on end, some well after the change of life. But in the relationships I'd had with women – and from my late twenties they had been all with women of this type – I lost all interest once they passed this stage. But with Julia in mind that was the last thing I was thinking about, any more than what would happen to my job if her husband ever found out.

In the weeks that followed we went to a few more concerts, always when Anthony was away to visit clients out of town

and, of course, when I was not. Each visit was less and less like a meeting between two good friends with a common interest and more like dates between people getting more and more sexually interested in each other. When she bought the tickets for us to attend a gala concert I felt sure there wasn't long to go. Three days after the concert she rang to suggest we had lunch together.

And that's when I heard her tale of woe. She'd tried time and time again to make her marriage work and, although Anthony was never rude or unkind to her, she felt she wasn't much more to him than an occasional lover and someone to keep the home fires burning. In answer to my question if she thought he had a girlfriend somewhere, she thought not although four or five years ago she had wondered if he were having an affair with a young woman at work. There had been tell-tale signs like coming home late, which normally he never did when he wasn't away on a trip, and a marked drop in frequency in his amorous intentions. But then the woman – hardly more than a girl – left to get a job in marketing somewhere in the Midlands. And back on the home front it was almost like a second honeymoon. She smiled but the smile had a touch of sadness. Perhaps, she continued, it would have been different if they could have had children. Yes, in that respect she was definitely the 'culprit'. And no, as if she were reading my thoughts, she knew all the arguments about self-fulfilment and one's duty to oneself. But she didn't feel she could leave Anthony just because they didn't have a perfect relationship – no matter whom she met, and here she clasped my hand. I didn't say anything but I realised I had to help events along.

Once a week, 11 o'clock Friday morning, the partners always got together for a meeting to discuss current problems or any other issues. Anthony always used to call it his cabinet meeting: there was certainly nothing self-effacing about him. Normally the formal part of the meeting ended at one o'clock, and we would all then go to the pub together, but after the first Friday meeting following my lunch with Julia, it happened that Anthony and I found ourselves in the pub on our own. Perfect.

'So you and Julia are both music lovers'. He smiled, 'don't worry, I'm not the jealous type, and I can't quite see Julia having a secret lover. Besides, whenever I'm in town I'm happy to stay at home in the evenings, which is very nice and cosy but perhaps doesn't make for an exciting relationship. Perhaps that's true of most marriages after fifteen years or so. Have you ever been married, Paul?' I just shook my head. 'Well, it's a strange thing: at the beginning you feel you're incredibly lucky being married to the most beautiful woman in the world but after a while, even though the beauty is still there, it's somehow no longer the big issue. Why is that? Maybe we have it too easy nowadays.' But I was only half listening. I wasn't in the slightest interested in his ramblings; still it must somehow be possible to take advantage of his state of mind.

Later that evening I had a brainwave. I was convinced Julia would never leave him, so why not make him leave her? He was ripe for being jerked out of his rut. And it probably wouldn't be difficult to find a woman who would fall for him. After all he was successful and good-looking, and although his friendly manner and tendency to bare his soul didn't work on me, I could imagine quite a lot of women would be charmed out of their panties (thongs?). But I couldn't see any possibility of playing the matchmaker, and

certainly not from behind the scenes. I would just have to wait for inspiration.

I didn't have to wait very long. Anthony was scheduled to give an address at a major conference on the consulting profession to be held two weeks later and as I intended to spend a couple of days at the conference myself I asked Jean – back on the job – to give me the folder with all the background material on the conference. Leafing through the documents I came across a flyer advertising a workshop on new marketing techniques, very much aimed at people with just a few years experience in marketing . . . that's it! The conference was to take place at the ICC in Birmingham – you couldn't get more Midlands than that. How could I make sure Anthony's former girlfriend would be there? I went over for a chat with Kay, our personnel officer. I was phenomenally lucky. Telling her I was trying to track down a young man, a friend of a friend, who had left the company a few years back, she went straight over to her PC to track back through the computerised personnel file. Sure enough, in the year in question we found three young men, but only one young woman. The passport size JPEG image on the screen at the top of the personal details fascinated us both. Not only because the woman was extremely attractive but because of the blonde strand in the middle of masses of dark brown hair.

Without thinking I said, 'it must be dyed, was that fashionable then?'

'No, Paul. I remember Jean once talking about her to me and the other girls and said the strand was quite natural, and that Patricia had decided never to change it "whatever the fashion of the day".' In the three seconds Patricia's details were still on the screen I made a mental note of the name of the company she had moved to.

Within half an hour I had found out both the address of the company and that Patricia was still working there. I posted off the marketing flyer anonymously later that afternoon – snail mail still has its uses. I did consider briefly sending a copy of the conference program including of course Anthony's name as a speaker. But that could arouse suspicion, and she would probably soon find out that he would be there. There was nothing else I could do but hope that a) Patricia would still be interested in Anthony, and that b) he would respond as a man in his situation could be expected to.

The week after the conference I was back in the pub alone with Anthony after work one day, although this time it was not by chance. We hadn't had a chance to chat at the conference and the one evening I'd been in the hotel where I knew he was also staying I hadn't seen him at all, either in the restaurant or in the bar. How could I find out if he had gone off somewhere with Patricia – perhaps even to his hotel room? But then I had another brainwave: one major dislike he and I both shared was the current fashion of many men of our age or younger going around with their heads shaved.

'It reminds me, Anthony, of a teacher I had at school.'

'Was he bald?'

'No, but I overheard him talking to another teacher once, saying he couldn't wait until he were.'

'Why was that?'

'Just imagine, he had black hair with a white streak running through it. He obviously didn't like it and – hey, whatever's wrong?' Anthony had almost choked over his beer.

That he'd given himself away was confirmed during his next business trip, when I met Julia again for lunch.

'Paul, I can hardly believe it, and I'm simply furious. The old signs were there again when he arrived home at the end of the conference.'

'Any idea who it is?'

'No, I thought perhaps you might know – after all you were there too.'

I decided it wasn't the right moment to tell her about my suspicions regarding Patricia. She gave me a big smile of unusual warmth. 'I've never cooked for you, Paul. Why don't you come to dinner tomorrow evening, Anthony rang yesterday evening to say he would be coming back a day later, Friday evening ' Well, it all seemed to be working out at last. I wondered if Patricia was the reason for the 'day later' – I certainly hadn't heard he intended to miss that week's cabinet meeting.

'Quick, Paul, don't just stand there on the doorstep. Dinner will be ready in ten minutes, and I've made a special effort.' She certainly had. First of all she'd obviously been to the hairdresser, but perhaps even more striking was her dress. In any other circumstances I would have said 'dressed to kill'. Her décolleté – I hate the word 'cleavage', it sounds like meat on the butcher's block – revealed what I always suspected: she had a spectacular bosom. I congratulated myself and followed her in to the flat. It was the first time I'd ever been there, as Anthony preferred to keep his business and private life separate – who knows, perhaps because of the Patricia episode. The standard of fittings and furnishings was at least two classes higher than in my bachelor apartment. There was no dining room, but the dining area was designed to make it somehow visually separate from the rest of the huge living room. The nearby kitchen could neither be seen nor smelt.

'Sit down and read the paper or whatever. I won't be long and here's something to be getting on with.' She put her arms round my neck but – just the way I like it – let me kiss her. Her response seemed to promise everything.

She really was a gifted and imaginative cook, but as I've never been highly interested in the technicalities of food I really can't say what we had. And the wine – more on my home ground – was outstanding, starting with the dry but not excruciatingly dry champagne and then wonderfully smooth and mellow claret. She even poured out several thimblefuls of a Trockenbeerenauslese for dessert. I'd been right not to bring any wine with me, especially as the two dozen roses I had bought were obviously a success. But then the last of the wine was drunk and, without making any sign, we both stood up. She came up close to me so I could get the full effect of her bosom and fragrance.

'I do hope you're not in a rush to get home.'

'Well, it is a working day tomorrow but I think I can manage a half an hour for a chat. After that marvellous dinner it would be rather churlish to dash off.'

'And rather a shame as well, Paul. Follow me'. Taking me by the hand she led me into what seemed to be the main bedroom. Now, although I hadn't minded drinking Henderson's wine, somehow making love to his wife in his own bed did make me feel rather queasy, after all he and I do work together. But still, he was probably in the arms of a woman young enough to be his daughter at this very moment, and the next kiss drove away the last misgivings. We helped each other to undress, Julia obviously not being

at all shy about my seeing her naked for the first time. No trace of a 'boy with breasts' about her. She had a genuine hourglass figure but, even in her mid forties, only the barest swell to her belly. She could hardly have dinner like this evening's more than once a year, although upon reflection I realised that she had eaten much less than I had. Within the following hour or so, in spite of all the wine, I made love to her a number of times – well, the circumstances were exceptional. I must then have fallen asleep.

I was having a terrible nightmare. Henderson had pulled the bedcover off me and Julia was nowhere to be seen, but . . . I wasn't dreaming. He was so furious I hardly recognised him. Without saying me anything he punched me – first in the chest and then in the stomach. I doubled up. He was both larger and heavier than I am and I felt extremely scared. I managed to roll away from the bed and then stagger to my feet. Being naked made me feel particularly vulnerable, and as he turned to face me I instinctively picked up the nearest thing I could find on the dressing table. A pair of scissors – not nail scissors and not kitchen scissors but the type with long pointed blades used in our office. I picked them up with both hands and instinctively placed them in front of me with the blades pointing outwards in defence as he rushed towards me. But he couldn't stop, and ran straight onto the long-bladed scissors – they must have gone straight into his heart. He fell to the ground. I went to the bedroom door and called out for Julia, but no reply.

And then another waking nightmare followed, and I'm still in the middle of it three weeks later, the whole of the time spent in custody. Several gruelling interrogations by the police, and two sessions with my lawyer, an acquaintance of mine, who is helpful and encouraging, but somehow I don't think he believes much of my version of my evening at chez Henderson.

After stabbing Henderson I dressed slowly, wondering what I should do, but the decision was taken from me, as just a few minutes later the bedroom's ceiling suddenly flickered blue like a huge computer screen and I heard the police siren. I went and let the police in, just as Julia came out of the kitchen, wearing only a nightdress torn at the neck. In spite of her convincing hysterics she was able to give an articulate – and highly credible – account of our evening together: As a 'family friend', on good terms both with her and her husband, I had been invited for a meal while her husband was away on a business trip, but with his knowledge and 'blessing' – after all she had also invited a married couple but they had cried off at the last minute. (This, according to the police, was later corroborated.) At the end of the meal I had suddenly produced the 'murder weapon' and forced her to go with me to the bedroom, undress and 'have sex – three times'! But not long after, her husband had come home unexpectedly, and discovered them both in bed. He realised straightaway she had been raped and naturally enough become extremely angry and had attempted to throw his 'trusted colleague and business partner' out of the house. But then, she sobbed, 'he didn't have a chance against this wretch's scissors'.

'Chance'. Yes, of course! Julia was as fascinated by the random events of life as I was. But compared to her I was just a beginner. She had used one opportunity after another: meeting me at the party and seeing straight away what made me tick, the misdirected telephone call and my first

invitation to the concert. But after that she didn't have to rely on chance. Instead she'd given me a master class in manipulation and duplicity. She'd guessed correctly that I would follow up the information she gave me on Patricia. Who knows whether Anthony had even met Patricia at the conference? His reaction to my anecdote in the pub could have been because of their old affair – real or imagined. So that was the 'what' and the 'how' but I still didn't understand the 'why'.

A prison officer appeared with David Simpson, my lawyer. Once we were alone David beamed and handed me a letter addressed to him. It was from the young woman herself, Patricia. She had read about the charges against me, and didn't believe them. Yes, she had had a short affair with Anthony at the time she worked for him, but because he hadn't wanted to hurt his wife he finally broke it off and she decided to leave the company. Only later she found out that Julia had been having a secret relationship for over six years. And yes, she had considered telling Anthony but then decided against it, after all she had met someone else, and what business was it of hers anyway? But now she had to speak out. Why? Anthony had not only been a successful consultant and businessman, but even when she had known him had already made a lot of money on the stock exchange too – and for Julia luxury is everything . . .