"The secret to getting rich is being rich already" said Maher. "You start off with money, then you invest it and you get more. I had my dad's money - sorted." He took another swig of his drink and banged his glass down decidedly on the table.
Nancy tapped her pen irritably against her pad of paper. "Anything else?"
Maher considered. "Put your name on things. If people see your name everywhere it gets in their heads. When people see Maher, they think success."
Nancy waited. "Anything else?" she prompted at last.
"You have to lie" said Maher after a moment. "You don't get anywhere in business telling the truth." Nancy looked up sharply at Maher's puffy, florid face and slammed her pad down on the table in front of her.
"You do know this is a publicity stunt, right? You're meant to be giving tips for success, encouraging the public, being the friendly face of the one percent. You're not giving me much to work with here."
Maher gave an elaborate shrug and leant back with an easy smile, stretching out his legs and forcing Nancy to pull her chair further away from the table. "That's how it works sweetheart. It's not my fault if people don't want to hear me tell it like it is."
"So you're all about the truth?" Nancy queried, arching an eyebrow.
"I thought you said no one gets anywhere in business being honest?"
Maher guffawed heartily, his beer-tainted breath hitting her full in the face. "Nor do they," he said, "nor do they. Nice one, Lin."
"I try" she muttered.
"Let me get you another drink," Maher slurred, "anything you like, it's on me." He snapped his fingers for the waiter and Nancy winced involuntarily.
"No thanks" she said quietly.
"No?" He asked "well, I offered. I won't have anyone say I'm not generous. Hey," he added as he waved the exhausted waiter away and Nancy mouthed a noiseless apology, "generosity. Put that in your book, Lin."
"Your book," Nancy corrected through gritted teeth.
"My book" Maher conceded, easily waving away the distinction.
"Anything special you want me to include?" Nancy asked with an exhausted sigh. "Philanthropic work? Helped any small children? Given money to starving people in Africa?"
"No" said Maher "sorry." He paused for thought for a moment. "My secretary nearly drowned in a river trying to rescue a kitten when she was a kid, you could always steal that. She wouldn't tell anyone it was her story, she knows I'd fire her." Nancy's stomach did a nauseated flip.
"Don't you ever get sick of this?" She asked before she could stop herself.
"Firing people?" He asked, "well sure, no one likes doing it, but I have an image to maintain here. I can't have bad press out, I'm rich; people already don't like me."
"You don't say" answered Nancy under her breath.
"Oh come on, Lin, sarcasm?" asked Maher with a devilish light in his bloodshot eyes, "we were getting on so well. Are you sure you don't want another drink? I'm having one." He signalled at the waiter. "Can I get a whisky over here?"
"We're closed" the waiter replied curtly.
"Not if you want your tip you're not" said Maher sharply, then to Nancy "you having anything Lin?"
Nancy shook her head and before Maher could change the subject she persisted "I don't mean firing people anyway, I mean more generally. The lying, how do you do it? Why don't you ever give any of that money away?"
Maher snorted derisively and shook his head at her. "Nancy, sweetheart, you're a bright girl, you know better than this. Do you know how many people have ever given away enough money to come off the Forbes billionaire list? One. Everyone without money loves to think they'd give all their wealth away if they had it, but would they? No. When people get hold of money, they hold on to their hard-earned cash, and why shouldn't they? People aren't made to be philanthropists, why should I be an exception to the rule?" Nancy opened her mouth to retort, but Maher held up his hand angrily to cut her off, "I'm not done yet. How do you have the nerve to lecture me on honesty? What's the name of the next book you're writing? Remind me."
"Get Rich Quick" Nancy almost spat, "how it's really done."
"That's right," Maher purred, "and what name's going to be on the cover?"
"David Maher" he repeated. "You write the book, my name goes on the cover and you make a tidy profit from the royalties. Don't lecture me on lying, you make a living off it."
"I don't get royalties" murmured Nancy, "they pay me a fixed fee."
"Seriously?" asked Maher, "get a better agent."
"At least I don't relish lying" said Nancy weakly. "This is the only writing work I get. I'll stop once I write something original."
"And when was the last time you worked on 'something original'?" Maher asked. Nancy didn't respond, it had been months.
"I rest my case" Mayer laughed. "You're a liar, I'm a liar, we're all liars in the end. Why not be upfront about it? That way you're still being honest about something." He raised his glass, "to liars!"
Nancy wanted to slap him, but she knew then that she'd lose her job and, more likely than not, his lawyers would sue her for more money than she'd ever have in her bank account. She picked up her notepad and put the cap back on her pen, rising so quickly from her chair that she almost knocked her head on the bar's low, sloping ceiling.
"Going already, Miss Lin?" Maher drawled. "Aww, come on. Don't you still need something to put in your book? Or aren't you going to write it anymore?"
"Oh I'll write it," Nancy snapped, "we're all liars after all, what have I got to be ashamed of? But I've got everything I need. Your secret to getting rich will be believing in yourself. That and grasping opportunities. What the hell, I'll even throw in the puppy story."
"It was a kitten," Maher corrected.
"Oh it's a made-up story Maher, who gives a crap?" Nancy replied.
"Fair enough" said Maher, nodding his head thoughtfully. "Will that bullshit sell?"
"It'll be on the bestseller list," Nancy answered. She turned to go, but hesitated. She dug her wallet hastily out of her bag and threw a twenty pound note down on the slightly sticky table. "That's for you" she called to the waiter, "keep the change. He won't give you anything." She turned back to Maher. "I'll send you the first draft in three months."
"Goodbye Mr. Maher"
"It's been a pleasure, Miss Lin"
And with that, Nancy swept out of the hotel bar, slamming the door so furiously behind her that the bottles on the shelves behind the bar vibrated with the shock.
Six months later, Nancy woke up late morning to the phone ringing. She screwed up her eyes against the too-bright sunlight and groped blindly for the receiver. "Hello?" she answered groggily.
"Nancy!" exclaimed the perky voice of her agent, Sonya, on the other end of the line. "The woman of the hour!"
"What?" Nancy said, followed by a muffled "ow!" as she raised her head and bashed it against the headboard.
"Haven't you seen the reviews?" she heard Sonya say.
"Reviews?" asked Nancy, still not fully awake.
"David Maher's book, ring any bells? Wake up Nancy dear."
Ah yes. The Maher book. Nancy knew there must be a reason for her throbbing headache - she'd been out drinking with Oscar and Mackenzie the night before - making that man money left a bad taste in her mouth.
"The book's a smash hit, Nancy" Sonya continued, completely oblivious to Nancy's distaste for her work. "The Guardian called Maher 'the approachable face of Britain's elite.' The Guardian, can you believe it? They loved the 'you don't get anywhere in business doubting yourself' line. Listen to The Telegraph: 'American multi-millionaire David Maher is a shining exemplum to others in his industry.' They especially liked that bit with the drowning rabbit, wonderful touch that, by the way, genius, really humanising."
"Thanks" said Nancy without enthusiasm.
"Oh and Maher called me a few days ago, he said he had a fantastic time working with you."
"Really?" Nancy asked, surprised.
"Yes," said Sonya. "He said it was really refreshing to work with someone who's not ashamed of ghostwriting. There are so many people who equate it to lying after all. He said to tell you he'll be recommending you every chance he gets. He hopes to see you in the industry for a long time."
"Thanks" said Nancy numbly.
"Now, I've got your next project already lined up for you if you're interested" Sonya continued. Nancy rolled her eyes to heaven and wondered what it would be this time. Click-bait articles about weight-loss perhaps? Scripts for PPI salespeople? She'd got quite good at those.
"Now I know you've been asking me for a while now if I can get you some proper journalistic work." Nancy sat up lightening-fast in spite of her throbbing head. Could this finally be her chance to break into real writing, under her own name? Ghostwriting forever? No thank you. Take that David Maher.
"I've been contacted by Hello magazine," Sonya elaborated. "One of their journalists has called in sick. You'll have to write under her name, but they need someone to go and interview Stella Jordan, and I told them you'd be up for it."
Nancy couldn't avoid letting out an audible groan. So near and yet so far. "Stella who?"
"Stella Jordan!" said Sonya. "The actress? Semi-finalist on I'm a Celeb?"
"Not ringing any bells."
"Where were you last year, living under a rock?"
"Studying for finals at Cambridge."
"Oh well, it's alright for some. I have to say I thought you'd be more excited by this. It's journalism, like you asked for."
Nancy rolled her eyes again. " Yes but Sonya, I'm n-"
"They'll pay you decently."
There was an agonising pause. Nancy stared longingly at her writing notebook, untouched in months, gathering dust on her bedside table, and felt her dream slipping away and her life panning out just as David Maher had predicted. Then she thought of the outstanding rent bill lying on her bedside table. "Where and when?" she asked finally.