London in the rain: a black-hearted winter morning, heavy clouds inches above the rooftops, pissed off commuters, psycho bus drivers. Monday, 7.00am, too early for this do or die shit.
A black cab shoots out of a side road and cuts me off. The bike slides across wet tarmac, neon puddles shatter and my knee smacks the side of the taxi. "Shit." For a moment I think we're going down, but the impact bounces me upright. Eyeball to eyeball with the girl in the back of the cab, lipstick in one hand, phone in the other as she checks her face, mouth wide open, caught between a scream and having a go at me for ruining her makeup. I can't help grinning at her.
Mistake. Next moment, the driver's door slams and the cabbie is running round to check the damage. I glance down and see the dent. No time for this now. I stand on the peddles, the gear's too high but somehow I get a bit of traction.
"You cut me up, dickhead," I shout without looking back.
The cabbie's curse follows me, but there's no way he can in this traffic. I thread through the multi-lane snarl towards Marble Arch, dodging buses and lorries, still grinning. But retribution is close at hand.
A black Range Rover comes up behind me, rain glistening on the tinted windows. I glance back to check the number plate, certain my luck can't be this bad. But of course it is. Headlights burn across my back as the Range Rover closes in.
One chance, twenty feet away the traffic lights at Marble Arch turn red, it's going to hold the Range Rover for a bit and I get a moment of inspiration. Instead of stopping I slew the bike across the road and onto the central island beneath the Arch. Pigeons rise in clumsy flocks. A sharp left turn, back wheel sliding, and I'm in Hyde Park, weaving through pedestrians and overtaking Boris bikes. I look back, trying to track the Range Rover as it heads down Park Lane.
"Watch out you idiot."
The angry voice whips my attention back in time to swerve and avoid a head to head collision with a Bowler-hatted man on a horse. His foot skims my shoulder and the horse's tail stings my face. An iron shod hoof flicks out. My breath sticks and I miss a couple of heartbeats. Then I'm out onto the road that runs through the park and it's all under control, sort of.
A procession of high-end cars speed through puddles, and a wall of spray leaves me drenched and worrying about the package. It's double wrapped but if it gets wet then I'm screwed. No time to stop and check. But the thought's in my head. Did I wrap it well enough?
Out the other side of the park, round the Albert Hall and I pedal flat out down to Kensington. Another sliding turn and the bike's aquaplaning downhill into the sinister lights of the under building car park.
I chuck the bike in the corner. Both lifts are six floors above me and climbing. No choice, have to take the stairs. Pissed off, I hit the door so hard it nearly breaks my wrist. Dumb and dumber. First two flights, not so bad, by the fifth my breathing starts to get ragged and beneath the layers I'm sweating blood.
Reach the eighth floor and crack the door to check the corridor. Sweat and rain drip off my nose. Corridor looks clear, but my nerve is shot. Deep breath, I slide through the door and make a run for it. The place is an obstacle course of plants and display cases. I slalom between them and skin round corners. Behind me the lift doors ping. A last burst, silent on the inch deep carpet.
With the goal in sight, I misjudge my speed and burst through the glass doors like I'm scoring a touchdown at Twickenham. The outer desk is unattended. I don't know what waits on the other side of the closed office door. I slip the backpack off and reach for the door handle. Do or die.
The office is dark. A shuddering reflex breath and the urge to puke almost chokes me. I cross the room on shaky legs, sliding the package free of the backpack.
It looks good. Holding it away from me so it doesn't get wet, I rip at the wrapping but my wet fingers slide off the plastic. The bloody thing is too well wrapped. It takes a major effort not to rip at it like a madman.
A corner of the plastic gives; at the last moment I look for something to dry my hands. Nothing. Desperate, I bend to wipe them on an oriental rug. I hear voices in the outer office. I freeze, with a mind of its own the report squirms free of the plastic and spills to the floor. I bend to gather the pages as the door handle turns.
"What time is the conference call with Hong Kong?"
The door opens.
"I'll be at my desk. Buzz me when it's set up, Cora."
Frozen, I just about resist the urge to crawl beneath the desk. I'm dead. It's time to stand up and face the music like a man.
Cora says, "Mr Simon is in, I think he wanted to see you …"
A moment's silence. I hold my breath. A muffled curse and the door snicks shut.
With shaking hands I gather the pages and place the folder on the desk. A last look, my hand shakes as I wipe away a smudge of water.
I walk out making like it's no big deal. She looks up at me. They call her the Pit Bull. The scariest Executive Assistant on three continents.
After a long moment, she looks down. A wet handprint decorates her desk. I wait, frozen, and she winks.
Somehow I don't faint.