Deanna, the most senior woman in the admin team, who would almost certainly beat me to death with a stapler if she heard her described in that way, turns sixty in a few weeks. There’s been a collection organised by Sara, the youngest in the team. And I have to say, Sara is pretty ingenious. In an effort to generate as much money as possible – no doubt keen to avoid the usual excuse of ‘I haven’t got any cash on me at the minute’, accompanied by the universal ‘patting of the empty pockets’ mime – has set up a Paypal account. All we have to do is arrange a transfer via email, and then all she has to do is go out and buy the bunch of flowers, horse and revolver or whatever else it is she’s got planned. And it’s because of this that Rachel, the second most senior admin person, has come to see me now.
‘Can you do me a favour?’ she says, leaning in and whispering. ‘But you’re going to have to be a bit creative.’
‘What’s it about?’
‘Sara’s had a big amount of money donated by someone called S Avery, and no-one knows who they are. We’ve tried everyone. All the old hands. But we’ve drawn a blank. If I ask Deanna she’ll just grill me and I’ll end up breaking and giving the game away. You know what I’m like.’
‘So what do you want me to do about it?’
‘Think of a way to find out who S Avery is.’
‘I don’t know, Jim. Be creative.’
I think about it, but nothing comes to mind.
‘I could tell her I had a dream. I’m standing in an aviary, wearing a T-shirt with the letter S on it. And then Deanna turns up and says Who’s S? And I say That’s what I was going to ask YOU!’
‘No,’ says Rachel. ‘That’s not going to work. She doesn’t dream.’
I think some more.
‘I know! We’re going to sign a card, aren’t we?’
‘So why don’t we draw a picture of a shadowy figure at the bottom? Someone wearing a trilby and raincoat, but everything shaded in. With claws. And then we sign it With love from S Avery. And she’ll either say Who the hell is this S Avery? Or she’ll say S Avery! I thought she was dead…’
I shake my head.
‘That’s it. That’s all I’ve got.’
‘Well you’re a fat lot of good.’
‘Does it matter, though? You’ve got their money.’
‘Maybe it’s – you know – one of those things.’
‘One of those fishing expeditions.’
‘Really? I don’t think so. S Avery hasn’t been asking for anyone’s bank details. Have they?’
‘They don’t need to. Sara’s pretty much handing them out on a flyer. She was in the canteen the other day going table to table. You can’t fault her. She’s very dynamic. It’d be nice to know who they are though. S Avery… I wonder what the S stands for?’
‘Stanley? Sheila? Or maybe that’s just what people knew them as. Maybe their first name was completely impossible but they shortened it to S. That’d be cool.’
‘Like you, then. Everyone knows you as F.’
‘What’s that short for?’