"Well, he'd obviously never worked in finance, had he?" I reply, licking the last crumb of Mrs Hughes's homemade carrot cake from my top lip. "Just think how many different types of fibbing go on around here on a daily basis. Only I suppose you have to call it `spinning', the way politicians do."
"They should know; they're the experts," Laura says, sighing with all the emotion of someone who once believed, for a heady moment, that things can only get better. "Still, we mustn't be too cynical. After all, we're a pretty honest crew round here, aren't we? Perhaps the odd little lie - like when one of us asks if we look as ghastly as we feel and all the others say, `No, you look fine', but nothing serious."
And she's right. While I regularly refuse to divulge the contents of my trading book to competitors who have the nerve to ask, that's merely sound business practice. Everyone knows that not telling the truth isn't quite the same as lying.
But I can't imagine any of us deliberately trying to mislead a customer, say, to win their business. Life, you see, has a way of paying you back: you know, you'd win that deal, but lose out on a much bigger one when the punter found out what you'd done. "And they always do find out, don't they?" Laura says. "I wonder how? Anyway, it doesn't matter. No one here would be that stupid." And she goes back to waiting for the US jobless figures to be released.
It's a busy afternoon, and not until Mrs Hughes rattles in again with her coffee-and-cake trolley is there time for a breather. Simon, our pushy junior salesman, comes sidling over and asks for his coffee black and two pieces of cake. We raise our eyebrows as he scurries back to his desk. "That's not a happy young man," Mrs Hughes says, rearranging her cups.
"No," Laura says, trying not to sound pleased. "Rory's decided to get involved in this big deal Simon's been arranging with a client. I suppose Supersalesboy is a bit nervous about having the chief honcho breathing down his neck."
Mrs Hughes looks thoughtful. "Well, you may be right," she says tactfully. "But I wouldn't be surprised if there's more going on than meets the eye. I always said that one would trip himself up." And she rattles off and we head to a meeting that limps on until home time.
The next morning, there's no sign of Simon although he's usually the first in. "How odd," I say to Laura. "Has he gone down with flu? Only I didn't know any of us were allowed to be ill."
"No," Laura replies. "We're not. But it turns out that when Rory rang Simon's top client last night, the one with whom he's supposedly `like that', the chap had never even heard of the deal. Remembered Simon, though. Asked if he was that incredibly annoying young man who kept pestering him. It seems he makes his assistant take Simon's calls, and she always pretends she's on the other line. Anyway, that's what Findlay says."
Well, I think, no wonder Simon looked so nervous when Rory wanted to help.
"That's not the worst of it," Laura continues. "Rory rang Simon's other `top contacts' after that. Turns out none of them speak to him either. So Rory suggested he stay at home today. It seems there is something worse than lying to a customer - and that's lying to your boss."