‘Why have you done that to your hair?’ the bad, white boys taunted.
‘Because I like it,’ she said so coolly and with such confidence that their opinion no longer mattered. She became a law unto herself and changed her name to Billie knowing that it would be shortened to Bill. Then she found a tattooist in Kilburn High Street, who agreed to tattoo a spider on her left shoulder.
‘Wouldn’t a butterfly have been better? Spiders are so creepy,’ her mother worried. But more and more spiders crawled onto her back, down her thin left arm, and eventually a few small but intrepid ones began to climb up her neck. Now Bill Black has given up the Afro, but her hair is still dead white and her lips perpetually crimson.
‘Wake up, Bill,’ I say.
Billie mutters something. It sounds very much like f**k off, but I know to be persistent.
‘I’ve got something to tell you,’ I say, and shake her shoulder firmly.
‘What time is it?’
Billie extracts her crown of white hair from under the pillow. ‘This better be good,’ she grumbles and hangs her head off the side of the bed with her eyes still shut.
‘Come on, Bill. I’ve only got thirty minutes.’
‘Pass me a fag,’ she mumbles, and makes a silent snarl with her lips. I take a cigarette out of a box I find by the bedside, light it and put it into the curve of her snarl. She inhales lustily.
I stay silent until Billie has sat up, propped up some pillows behind her, and is leaning back against them. ‘OK,’ she says, ‘did you do it?’
Billie’s eyes pop open. ‘Whoa…. You did….? And you got the money?’
Billie almost chokes on her cigarette. ‘I don’t believe it! The fat bastard agreed to cough up fifty grand?’
‘Actually, it wasn’t him.’
Billie holds a palm up. ‘Back up, back up. What?’
‘OK, I did ask him, but he turned out to be a total perv; you won’t believe what his idea of a good time is. Fortunately, someone else cut in and offered double what I had asked him.’
‘Bloody hell!’ screams Billie.
‘Keep your voice down,’ I whisper. ‘Your mother’s in the kitchen.’
‘Double, as in a hundred thousand pounds?’
I nod a lot.
‘So who is this guy then?’
‘Have you heard of the Barringtons?’
I walk to the laptop sitting on Billie’s messy desk and, flip it open. When the familiar Google emblem pops up on the screen I type in Blake Barrington. As the page starts to load I carry the laptop over and hold it out to Billie. Billie grinds out her cigarette in an overflowing ashtray and takes it wordlessly.
She whistles low and long and looks up at me with shining eyes. ‘Oh! Mr. Bombastic, call me fantastic. I thought all the best-looking males were g*y?’
I blush. ‘Pick the Wikipedia entry,’ I advise.
Billie hits the Wikipedia link and proceeds to read aloud from the screen.
‘The Barrington banking dynasty, also referred to as the House of Barrington is one of the world’s oldest existing banking dynasties with a history spanning over four hundred years. The family is descended from Lord John James Barrington.
‘Unlike the courtiers of earlier centuries, who financed and managed European noble houses, but often lost their wealth through violence or expropriation, the new international bank created by the Barringtons was impervious to local attacks.
‘Their strategy for success was to keep control of their banks in family hands through carefully arranged marriages to first or second cousins. Similar to royal intermarriages, it allowed them to maintain full secrecy about the size of their fortunes. By the late nineteenth century, however, almost all of the Barringtons had started to marry outside the family into other great, old families.
‘The family is renowned for its vast art collections, palaces, wine properties, yacht racing, luxury hotels, grand houses, as well as for its philanthropy. By the end of the century, the family was unparalleled in wealth and luxury even by the richest royal families.
‘The Barringtons are elusive. There is no book about them that is both revealing and accurate. Libraries of nonsense have been written about them. An author who planned to write a book entitled Lies About The Barringtons abandoned it, saying, “It was relatively easy to spot the lies, but proved impossible to find the truth.”
Billie pauses and lets her eyes skim down the screen. ‘Well, the rest seems to be stuff about their international investment banking activities, the mergers they have been involved in, and is as interesting as a man in a wet T-shirt. Yup, and more shite here about them being one of the oldest institutions operating in the London Money Market.’
Billie yawns hugely.
‘It just goes on and on about their…hedging services…worldwide assets… Boring, boring… Holding companies…Swiss registered. Boring, boring, primarily a financial entity but…largest shareholders in the DeBeers…a virtual monopoly of quick silver mines. Ah! Here is something a little more meaty. In 2008 the group had one hundred billion in assets! God! Can you imagine having that kind of money? No wonder the great, great grandson is spending it like water.
‘Oh look. Some pictures. Wow! Get an eyeful of how the rich live.’
She turns the laptop around so I can look at the images as she scrolls down.
‘Just some of their chateaus, palaces, castles, garden-mansions and city houses. Wow! Look at this one in St James’ Park.’
There is silence for a while as we gaze in wonder at the photos.
‘Do you think you will get to visit any of these places?’
‘Definitely not. I have to sign a confidentiality agreement.’
‘Still, it’s an unbelievably exciting prospect, isn’t it? Just don’t fall for him.’
‘I won’t,’ I say confidently.
‘Let’s skip back to Google and go to about…page three…and see what the conspiracy theories have to say about this august family. Oh dear…blood-sucking crew.
“If my sons did not want war, there would be none.” His grandmother said that. Very nice.”
Billie shuts the laptop. ‘OK, quite enough of this. Let’s not spoil a good thing. Let’s celebrate your total brilliance, instead.’
I open my mouth to protest. I know exactly what Billie means by celebrate.
‘Aaa-aaa… Don’t say another word,’ she says, reaching under the bed to pull out a bottle of vodka. She opens the drawer of her tiny bedside table and rummages around until she finds two dirty shot glasses. She puts the two glasses on her bedside table, which is marked with leftover circles from other vodka full glasses. These glasses will make new moons that overlap the other moons.