Doughnut - By Tom Holt

Part One

In The Beginning Was The Misprint

“One mistake,” Theo said sadly, “one silly little mistake, and now look at me.”

The Human Resources manager stared at him with fascination. “Not that little,” she said breathlessly. “You blew up—”

“A mountain, yes.” He shrugged. “And the Very Very Large Hadron Collider, and very nearly Switzerland. Like I said, one mistake. I moved the decimal point one place left instead of one place right. Could’ve happened to anyone.”

The Human Resources manager wasn’t so sure about that, but she didn’t want to spoil the flow. She brushed the hair out of her eyes and smiled encouragingly. “Go on,” she said.

“Well,” Theo replied, leaning back a little in his chair, “that was just the beginning. After that, things really started to get ugly.”


“First,” Theo said, “my wife left me. You can’t blame her, of course. People nudging each other and looking at her wherever she went, there goes the woman whose husband blew up the VVLHC, that sort of thing—”

“Excuse me,” the Human Resources manager interrupted. “This would be your third wife?”

“Fourth. Oh, sorry, forgot. Pauline dumped me for her personal fitness trainer while I was still at CalTech. It was Amanda who left me after the explosion.”

“Ah, right. Go on.”

“Anyway,” Theo said, “there I was, alone, no job, no chance of anyone ever wanting to hire me ever again, but at least I still had the twenty million dollars my father left me. I mean, money isn’t everything—”


“But at least I knew I wasn’t going to starve, not so long as I had Dad’s money. And it was invested really safely.”


“In Schliemann Brothers,” Theo said mournfully, “the world’s biggest private equity fund. No way it could ever go bust, they said.” He smiled. “Ah well.”

“You lost—”

“The lot, yes. Of course, the blow was cushioned slightly by the fact that Amanda would’ve had most of it, when the divorce went through. But instead, all she got was the house, the ranch, the ski resort and the Caribbean island. She was mad as hell about that,” Theo added with a faint grin, “but what can you do?”

The Human Resources manager was twisting a strand of her hair round her finger. “And?”

“Anyhow,” Theo went on, “it’s been pretty much downhill all the way since then. After I lost the house, I stayed with friends for a while, only it turned out they weren’t friends after all, not after all the money had gone. Actually, to be fair, it wasn’t just that, it was the blowing-up-the-VVLHC thing. You see, most of my friends were physicists working on the project, so they were all suddenly out of work too, and they tried not to blame me, but it’s quite hard not blaming someone when it actually is their fault.” He grinned sadly, then shrugged. “So I moved into this sort of hostel place, where they’re supposed to help you get back on your feet.”

The pressure of the coiled hair around her finger was stopping her blood from flowing. She let go. “Yes? And?”

“I got asked to leave,” Theo said sadly. “Apparently, technically I counted as an arsonist, and the rules said no arsonists, because of the insurance. They told me, if I’d killed a bunch of people in the explosion it’d have been OK, because their project mission statement specifically includes murderers. But, since nobody got hurt in the blast, I had to go. So I’ve been sort of camping out in the subway, places like that. Which is why,” he added, sitting up straight and looking her in the eye, “I really need this job. I mean, it’ll help me put my life back together, get me on my feet again. Well? How about it?”

The Human Resources manager looked away. “If it was up to me—”

“Oh, come on.” Theo gave her his best dying spaniel look. “You can’t say I haven’t got qualifications. Two doctorates in quantum physics—”

“Not relevant qualifications,” the Human Resources manager said. “Not relevant to the field of flipping burgers. I’m sorry.” She did look genuinely sad, he had to give her that. “You’re overqualified. With a résumé like that, you’re bound to get a better offer almost immediately, so where’s the point in us hiring you?”

“Oh, come on,” Theo said again. “After what I’ve done? Nobody’s going to want me. I’m unemployable.”

“Yes.” She smiled sympathetically. “You are. Also, you’re a bit old—”

“I’m thirty-one.”

“Most of our entry-level staff are considerably younger than that,” she said. “I’m not sure we could find a uniform to fit you.” He