James Markham did not have many hidden powers. Only quietly manifest ones. European Director of the major construction company, Contrac, he made £60 million sound like the price of an evening newspaper. ‘If I decide that something needs doing, it gets done,’ he said, matter-of-factly. Across the expanse of an executive desk, he faced a research investigator from the University of Central Wapping, Paul T—?, he couldn’t remember his second name, and it didn’t matter. He only remembered on a ‘need to remember’ basis.

‘We like your research idea, Paul. I’ve already taken it to the Board, and they like it too. We want you to do it for us. It fits our needs.’

Paul T stalled before he started. ‘How do you mean, do it for you?’ he asked, thinking that scientific objectivity was about to be violated without putting up any resistance.

‘It’s simply this. We are undertaking a strategic review of the company’s operations, and we want you to talk to our workforce. We don’t want it to appear like it’s coming from us. It’s got to look independent, completely independent. That’s why we need you. Your proposal fell on my desk at just the right time.’

Paul T was more accustomed to having to be ingratiatingly persuasive to employers. This was a new problem. He couldn’t figure out what a strategic review had to do with an obscure piece of academic research. He also couldn’t figure out what the strategy was behind the ‘strategic’, and he wasn’t about to find out.