I spent the next day talking to my lawyer. At first, he was happy enough to set up an escrow account for me, explaining how much interest he'd be charging on the capital to keep the money safe, and producing enough paperwork to fill an entire in-tray that apparently was needed so that no-one would think I was attempting to launder money. When he asked me what the account was for, I dodged his questions neatly, and he stopped asking shortly afterwards. Then I explained that Isabella Bonfontaine was to be the recipient of the keys to the account and his face closed up like a mousetrap on the mouse.
"There must be. Some mistake." he said, flapping a pale, pudgy hand near his face in lieu of a fan.
"No, I know who she is," I said. "She's an old friend of my mother's, fallen a little on hard times."
"You had your mother go on a coach trip to Hastings," said my lawyer, who had an inconveniently long memory sometimes, "where she inexplicably took magic mushrooms and was last seen floating out to sea, mostly unconscious, on an inflatable dinosaur."
"The police did say that they thought they'd had a sighting of her in Portugal," I said, but my lawyer flapped his pudgy hand in my face now, waving away my excuses.
"If they did," he said, "I'm sure you know much more about it that you're telling anyone. But that's a distraction to try and get me off the subject of Mx Bonfontaine. She is most certainly not 'fallen on hard times' as you phrased it."
I stiffened when he said Mx, figuring that if he knew enough to call her that he knew enough to call my bluff, but I decided to brazen it out anyway. "Look, Joel," I said, tempted to reach out and put my hand on shoulder but deterred from knowing how sweaty he got indoors, "She told me she was having a hard time making ends meet. She's very thin you know, and she's got a droopy eye. You can't help but feel sorry for her."
"So the shark has a toothache and you think you can pat it on the head and make it all better?"
"It's not like tha–"
"Oh good, because it sounds. Like. You're. Paying her." His face was a mottled grey by the end of the sentence, and he was wheezing like mouse-eaten organ bellows. He patted his pockets, hunting for his asthma pump.
"I'm setting up a little account for her, an emergency fund, in case she needs it."
Joel's coughing fit had Mandy out of her chair and striding determinedly towards my office cracking her knuckles, all ready to go Heimlich on him. I was tempted, but I wasn't sure he'd finished all the paperwork yet, so I waved her off and found his pump for him. He squeezed it a few times into his mouth, heaved a huge breath that set him off coughing again, but gradually it died away without taking him with it.
"These forms," he said, indicating them with a hand gesture that delicately sprayed them with sweat, "why are we bothering? Letting Mx Bonfontaine access the funds is as good as declaring ourselves best pals with the Mafia."
"Does it matter?"
I had to concede that it probably didn't, and that similarly I needed the fund set up anyway. Joel produced even more paperwork now, most of it indemnifying him for everything, up to and including acts of God and the declaration of open hostilities resulting in war.
As I was finishing up my signatures, my hand aching, Skype chimed with a message from James.
"Read it out?" I asked Joel shaking some blood back into my fingers.
"Boss: the broad just bought a broadsword." Joel looked at me and I smiled. "Is that code? Or should I be worrying about you dating people with antique weaponry fetishes? Your life insurance won't cover that, you know."
"Neither. Though now you mention it, let's check over the life insurance papers, I might be doing something fun this weekend."