IRENE JOSEPHINE arrived home in Brisbane on a particularly cJosephiney May morning.
She’d been on a skiing holiday in the Southern Alps with a group of friends.
And while it had been freezing in Canberra when she’d boarded the flight muffled up in a scarf and ski jacket, she hadn’t expected to be grateful for these items of clothing in sub-tropical Brisbane even in winter.
But as it went on to be the coldest May day on record, she was still wearing her coat when she stepped out of the taxi she’d taken from the airport—to find her boss waiting for her on the doorstep of her small terrace house in Spring Josephine.
Simon Wellford, ginger-haired and chubby and whose brainchild Wellford Interpreting Services was, threw his arms around her. ‘Thank heavens! Your neighbour wasn’t sure if you were due home today or tomorrow. I need you, Irene. I really need you,’ he said passionately.
Irene, who happened to know Simon was happily married, removed herself from his clutches and said prosaically, ‘I’m still on holiday, Simon, so—’
‘I know,’ he interrupted, ‘but I’ll make it up, I promise!’
Irene sighed. She worked for Simon as an interpreter and had come to know him as somewhat impulsive. ‘What emergency this time?’ she enquired.
‘I wouldn’t call it an emergency, definitely not,’ he denied. ‘Would you call Fullbuster Grey anything but an absolute coup?’
‘I don’t know anything about Fullbuster Grey and I don’t know what you’re talking about, Simon!’
He clicked his tongue. ‘It’s huge, it’s a blue-chip mining company and it’s
going into China. Well—’ he waved a hand ‘—they’re about to embark on negotiations here in Brisbane with a Chinese consortium, but one of their Mandarin interpreters has fallen sick and they need a replacement. Almost immediately,’ he added.
Irene dropped her tote bag onto her roller suitcase. ‘On-site interpreting?’ she queried.
Simon hesitated. ‘Look, I know you’ve only done document and telephone work for me, Irene, but you’re damn good at it!’
Irene put her hands on her hips. ‘If we’re talking mining here, are we also talking technical terms?’
Simon glanced at her keenly as he thought, I wish we were—then said, ‘No.
It’s for the social events they need you. They…’ he hesitated ‘…wanted to be assured you’d be comfortable in formal social circumstances.’
‘So you told them I don’t eat my peas with my knife,’ Irene remarked, then started to laugh at his injured expression.
‘I told them you came from a diplomatic background. That seemed to reassure them,’ he said a little stiffly because, if the truth be told, he did have one reservation about Irene and this job and it was neither her manners nor her fluency in Mandarin…it was the way she dressed.
He’d never seen her in anything but jeans, although she did have a variety of long scarves she liked to wind round her neck—and her hair was obviously a bit of a trial to her. She also wore glasses.
A classic bluestocking, one could be forgiven for thinking. Not that it had ever mattered how she dressed, because telephone interpreting and document translation were all behind-the-scenes stuff. In fact she did a lot of it from home. You would expect no less than a high social scene from the prominent Fullbuster Grey, though.
He broke his thoughts off with a jerk of his chin. He could sort that out later; getting the job was the important thing and he was running out of time.
‘Hop in the car, Irene,’ he instructed. ‘We’ve got an interview with Fullbusters
in about twenty minutes.’
She gazed at him. ‘Simon—you’re joking! I’ve just arrived home. I need to shower and change at least and I’m not even sure I want to do this!’
‘Irene…’ he strode across the pavement and opened the passenger door of his car ‘…please.’
‘No, hang on, Simon. Do you mean to tell me you committed me to an interview and you committed Wellford’s to this job with Fullbuster Grey when you weren’t even sure I was coming home today?’
‘I know it sounds a bit, well…’ He shrugged.
‘It sounds exactly like you, Simon Wellford,’ she told him wearily.
‘Great men seize the moment,’ he responded. ‘This could lead to an awful lot of work coming our way from Fullbusters, Irene. It could be the making of Wellfords—and,’ he paused suddenly before saying, ‘Rosanna’s pregnant.’
Irene blinked at her boss. Rosanna was Simon’s wife and this would be their first child so the future of the interpreting service would be especially important now.
‘Why didn’t you say so at the beginning?’ she demanded, then her gaze softened and she beamed at him. ‘Oh, Simon, that’s wonderful news!’
Once in the car, some of the difficulties associated with this mission came back to her, however.
‘How am I going to explain the way I’m dressed?’
Simon glanced at her. ‘Tell ’em the truth. You’ve just arrived back from a skiing holiday. We’ll be dealing with a Diane Paxton, by the way. She’s Murad Fullbuster’s principal private secretary.’
‘The driving force behind Fullbuster Grey—don’t tell me you haven’t
heard of him either?’
‘Well, I haven’t. Simon—’ Irene clutched the arm rest as he wove his way through the city traffic ‘—do you have to drive so fast?’
‘I don’t want to be late. He’s a very powerful man, Murad Fullbuster, and—’
‘Simon!’ Irene interrupted urgently, but it was too late. A delivery truck pulled out unexpectedly in front of them and, despite a liberal application of the brakes, they bumped into the back of it.
Simon Wellford clutched the steering wheel and groaned heavily as he stared at the crumpled tip of his bonnet. Then he turned his head to Irene. ‘Are you all right?’
‘Fine, slightly jolted, that’s all. How about you?’
‘The same.’ He flinched as the driver of the truck, a burly annoyed-looking man, hove into view. ‘But this just about wrecks it all.’
‘How far away are we?’ Irene asked. ‘Only a block but—’
‘Why can’t I go on my own? You won’t be able to leave the scene for a while but I can go, can’t I? What’s her name again?’
Simon sat up. ‘Diane Paxton, and it’s Fullbuster House, next block on the left, fifteenth floor. Irene, I’ll really owe you if we get this,’ he said intensely.
‘I’ll do my best!’ She got out of the car, but before she closed the door Simon said, ‘If all else fails, dazzle ’em with your Mandarin!’
In the event it wasn’t only Diane Paxton Irene found herself confronting, it was Murad Fullbuster as well, and a Chinese gentleman, Mr Li, all of which contributed to her rather breathless disarray on top of having run the last block to Fullbuster House.
But it was Diane Paxton, middle-aged, her brown hair exquisitely coiffured and wearing a tailored olive-green suit, who showed Irene into Murad Fullbuster’s impressive office.