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The Business - Prologue
' ello?' 'Kate ?'
'Itsh Mike.'
'Mike! Mike Danielsh! Chrisht, Kate, don't....'
'Mike, it's . . . it's four thirty-seven.'
'I know what time it ish!'
'Mike, I'd really like to get back to sleep.'
'I'm shorry, but it'sh fucking important!'
'You should get some sleep too, maybe whatever it is won't seem so important after you've slept. And sobered up.'
'I'm not drunk! Will you jusht lishten?'
'I am. I'm listening to a drunk man. Go to sleep, Mike. Hold on, aren't you due in Tokyo today?'
'Right. So get some sleep. I'm going to switch the phone off now, Mike. I didn't mean to leave it on in the first....'
'No! That'sh what I'm calling about! Tokyo!'
'What? What about Tokyo?'
'I can't go!'
'What do you mean? Why not? You have to go.'
'But I can't!'
'Calm down.'
'How can I be fucking calm? Shome fuckersh taken out half my teesh!'
'Say that again?'
'I shaid shome fuckersh taken out half my fucking teesh!'
'Is this some sort of joke? Who the hell is this?'
'It'sh me, for Chrisht'sh shake! It'sh Mike Danielsh!'
'It doesn't sound like the Mike Daniels I know.'
'Of courshe not! I've had half my teesh taken out! Fuck'sh shake, Kate, wake up!'
'I'm awake. Prove you're Mike Daniels. Tell me what you were going to Tokyo for.'
'Oh, Chrisht . . .'
'Ah, pull yourself together. Tell me.'
'Okay, okay! I wash going to Tokyo wish X. Parfitt- Sholomenideesh to shign the firsht part of the Pejantan Island deal with the Kirita Shinizhagi, Shee-Ee-Oh of Shimani Aero-shpace Corporation. Shatishfied?'
'Hold on.'
'What? What are you....? Hello? Hello? Kate?'
' ....Okay. Go on. What's this about your teeth?'
'Your voish shounds echoey. You're in a bashroom, aren't you?'
'Very astute.'
'Where are you? You here in London?'
'No, I'm in Glasgow. Now tell me what the hell's going on.'
'Shome bastard'sh taken out half my teesh. I'm looking at it in zhe mirror now. My moush ish all pink and . . . the fuckersh!'
'Mike, come on. Get it together. Tell me what happened.'
'I wash out. I went to a club. I met zhish girl.'
'Well, we ended up back at her playsh.'
'Clubbing and picking up some floozy. Perfect preparation for the most important business trip of your career.'
'Don't fucking go shanctimonioush on me!'
'Don't go what?'
'Shanctimonioush! Shancti-fucking-monioush!'
'Right. So you went to a club and you scored. How did this lead to you losing half your teeth? Were they full of gold fillings?'
'Well, was there a jealous boyfriend waiting for you back at her place?'
'No! Well, I don't know! All I remember ish having a shnog and a drink and then nexsht shing I know I'm waking up in my own flat and half my teesh are mishing! What the fuck am I going to do? I can't go to Tokyo like zhish!'
'Hold on, you woke up in your own flat?'
'Yesh! In my own bed! Well, on it. About ten minutesh ago!'
'Nobody else there?'
'Have you checked your wallet?'
'Eh? No.'
'Check it now. And try to find your keys.'
The phone clunked down. I sat frowning at the tiles on the far side of the bathroom. Mike came back.
'All zhare.'
'Keys? Money? Credit cards?'
'Everyshing. All zhare.'
'Nothing missing in the flat?'
'Not zhat I can shee. Everyshing'sh here. Apart from my fucking teesh.'
'I take it you'd never met this girl before.'
'No, I hadn't.'
'Can you remember the address of her flat?'
'Notting Hill shomewhere. I shink.'
'I . . . No idea. I wash . . . I wash being dishtracted while we were in the takshi.'
'I bet. You go to that club a lot?'
'Fairly oshten . . . Kate? You shtill there?'
'Still here. Mike, are you in pain?'
'Mental fucking anguish. But my moush ish numb.'
'Bleeding much?'
'Nnn . . . no.'
'See any puncture marks on your gums?'
'What? Umm, hold on . . .'
I shivered. I pulled a towel from the chrome rack above the bath and wrapped it round myself, then sat on the toilet again. I could feel my frown deepening. I looked in the mirror. Not attractive. I pulled a hand through my hair with some difficulty. On the phone, Mike Daniels said,
'Hmm. Could be. Few of zhem. Maybe four.'
'So your teeth weren't knocked out, they were extracted.'
'What short of fucking nutter takesh out half shomebody's teesh? Was zhish a dentisht?'
'Sounds like it. A central London dentist working serious overtime in the small hours of the morning. You better hope they don't send you the bill.'
'Thish ishn't funny!'
'No, actually your voice is quite funny, Mike. It's the implications that aren't.'
'Well, I'm sho fucking glad I'm shtill able to amushe you Kasherine, but what the fuck am I going to do?'
'Have you reported this to the police?'
'The polishe? what, you mean shecurity?'
'No, the London Metropolitan Police.'
'Uh, no. I didn't think-'
'Have you told anybody else?'
'No, jusht you. Shtarting to regret it, now.'
'Well, it's up to you whether you call the civilian police or not. Personally . . . well, personally I don't know if I would. But do call company Security and let them know.'
'Swhat can zhey do?'
'Nothing, I guess. But you'd better let them know. And call the company credit-card hot-line. It's twenty-four hours. You on platinum?'
'Gold twenty-four.'
'Well, if they give you any shit, tell them you're calling on my authority. They might be able to find you a dentist who can do something.'
'What, half a moushful of teesh before ten a.m?'
'Is that when the flight is ?'
'That'sh check-in time.'
'You on scheduled?'
'Could we find you some more time by sending you on a company jet?'
'Been dishcushed before all zhis happened. Too many fuel shtopsh or shomeshing.'
'How long after you arrive are you supposed to meet Shinizagi?'
'About four hoursh.'
'Hmm. Mike?'
'Exactly which teeth were removed?'
'Eh? Well, I don't know! I mean I don't know what zhare all called. One of my front teeth . . . molarsh . . . left vishdom . . . jusht about half of zhem. Looksh random. Can't shee a pattern or anything. Disherent on top and bottom, disherent on each shide . . . well?'
'Well what?'
'Any ideash?'
'I've told you: call the hot-line. And call Adrian; Adrian George. You should have called him in the first place. I'm on sabbatical, remember?'
'I know you're on fucking shabbatical! I'm shorry I dishturbed your beauty shleep, too, but I shtupidly shought you might be able to help me.'
'I am helping you. I'm telling you to call Security, the company credit-card hot-line and Adrian. So do so. But, whatever happens, you have to make that flight.'
'But I can't go like zhish!'
'Stop wailing.'
'I'm not wailing!'
'Yes, you are. Stop it. You have to be in Tokyo tonight. Tomorrow night; whatever. It'll look very bad if you don't show up. Kirita Shinizagi is a stickler for these things.'
'A shtickler? A fucking shtickler? Swhat about being a shtickler for executivsh having all their teesh? What if it'sh shome horren-dous crosh-cultural inshult in Japan to turn up to shign a deal wish only shishty per shent of your shmile in playsh?'
'I thought as well as speaking the language you were well versed in Japanese culture, Mike. You must know whether that's the case or not.' 'Look, can't we shend shomebody elshe? It'sh Parfitt- Sholomenideesh who'sh doing the shining, not me; I'm jusht there ash a glorified bag-man.'
'I don't think so. You've been in on this from the start. Kirita Shinizagi trusts you. And Mr Parfitt-Solomenides doesn't speak Japanese. Frankly even if Mr Shinizagi wasn't expecting you, you'd have to go because Mr Parfitt-Solomenides's expecting you to be there and if you ever hope to leave Level Four, you don't go upsetting Level One executives because you have a dental problem. And Mr Shinizagi is expecting you. If you didn't show we might . . . Never mind.'
I didn't quite succeed in stifling a giggle.
'Are you- ? You're laughing! I can't fucking believe zhish!'
'I'm sorry, I was going to say we might lose face.'
'Swhat? oh, very fucking funny, Kate!'
'Thank you. Now, make those calls. And make that flight.'
'Oh, Jeshush.'
'This is no time for superstition, Michael. Orthodontics is your only hope.'
'You vishish bitch, you're enjoying zhish, aren't you?'
'Not in the least. And never call me a bitch again, Michael.'
'I'm shorry.' 'Make the calls, Mike, and be sure you have some pain-killers to hand for when the anaesthetic wears off.'
'Okay, okay. Shorry to have dishturbed you.'
'That's all right, given the circumstances. I hope it all works out, and give my regards to Kirita Shinizagi.'
'If I can shtill talk Japanezhe with no teesh.'
'Just do your best. I'm sure they have very good dentists in Japan.'
'Good night, Mike. Safe journey.'
'Yeah. good night. Umm . . . shanks.'
The phone went dead. I looked at it, wondering, then I switched it off. I draped the towel over the side of the bath, unlocked the door and returned to the bedroom, feeling my way across the unfamiliar space to the bed. 'What was that?' a deep, sleepy voice said.
'Nothing,' I said, slipping between the sheets. 'Wrong number.'

The Business © Iain Banks 1999

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