The Trader: Give me a stiff drink or I'll kill my neighbour

Neil never did understand how I could have refused to go out with him

IT COULD only happen to me. Overjoyed to be leaving New York after a hellish week, I bounded on to the plane home - and found myself sitting next to the odious Neil.

"Long time no see," he said, smirking. "You missed me?" Looking at him, shoes kicked off and enormous holes in his socks, I couldn't say that I did.

I remembered all the things I loathed about him: his existence, mainly, but not forgetting the back-stabbing and arrogance and stupidity.

"What do you think?" I replied with heavy irony, though sadly not heavy enough for Neil. He just smirked and said something about how I shouldn't be coy and he supposed the men at my new job weren't up to much. It was going to be a long flight.

Neil, in case you don't remember, is the former colleague with the reality problem: what he sees is not what you get.

And what he sees in the mirror is a babe magnet. He never did understand how, then, I could have refused to go out with him, particularly not after he took delivery of the Porsche.

Presumed I was frigid, I suppose, and proceeded to politic me out of a job.

So you can understand my lack of joy at our unplanned reunion. Unfortunately, the plane was full to bursting, so there was no way of escaping for a snooze either.

Six hours with Neil, and straight into work for Tuesday morning. I need a drink, I thought - no, make that two.

"So, how's tricks at the new gaff?" Neil asked me, but I'd barely got further than saying it was going fine when he interrupted. "That's great, good to hear it," he said.

Then he launched into a blow-by-blow account of what had happened to him since the trading operation at the last place had been dismantled.

The drinks trolley arrived. "What's the most anaesthetising drink you have?" I asked the nice man pushing it.

He looked hard at me and you could tell he was grappling with a moral dilemma.

He'd surely been told during his training that it was drunk passengers who cause the trouble, bottling staff and trying to open the doors at 37,000 feet.

If he plied me with drink, would I start singing "Danny Boy", or worse? (I could hear Laura's voice in my head asking if there was anything worse than me singing "Danny Boy", but it was imaginary, so I ignored it.)

I gazed up at the steward in desperation. Look, I wanted to say, if you don't ply me with drink until I'm numb, I will kill the idiot sitting next to me. Then Neil barged in with some comment, and the penny dropped. The steward gave me two vodkas with ice and with a "Neat all right for you, madam?" moved on.

More relaxed now, I tuned in to what Neil was saying. He was in a fine mood, pleased with some new scheme that was going to make him and his friends a fortune, all very hush-hush but it was going to make George Soros look like an OAP. Then I fell asleep.

At Heathrow, I lost sight of Neil until the queue at passport control. He was about 10 people in front of me, tapping his toes impatiently. But as he went through, a man in a grey suit broke loose from a cluster of other men in grey suits and put his hand on his forearm. I'd seen that gesture before, I thought, but where?

Then I remembered: on endless television detective programmes. What in the world did the police want with Neil?

I cleared passport control and walked as slowly as I could past Neil and the grey men. And that's when I heard the policeman tell him: "I think you'd better come with us. We'd like to ask you some quest ions ... "

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