Excerpt 1 of 3.
Paul O’Brien was working the room. There was no time for him to enjoy the party, even though it was a “family affair”. Some of the women smiled and nodded to him. He was not an unattractive man. In fact, some women said he was handsome in a bland kind of way.
No, he had to work the room! It’s what he did and the guests at the party were all influential people within the City.
Everyone was wearing evening dress and the grand room of Paul’s father-in-law’s house glittered with celebrities and influential people. After the introductory drinks, the select group would gather in the large library and listen to the chamber music of an up and coming quartet the Chairman had decreed the company was now sponsoring.
The Chairman, Paul’s father-in-law, was focussed on the arts as a tax deduction and enhancing the reputation of the business.
Looking around the room, Paul saw his wife, Lara, gorgeous in a red evening dress, talking to a group of wives. The women were all laughing and looking very fine in their expensive evening dresses.
Lara was excellent at these functions as she had been schooled by her father, the Chairman. Completely at ease amongst the rich and influential, Lara moved from group to group, smiling and chatting.
If she had been born a boy, her father would have moved her into the business. She would probably make a better Business Development Director than Paul and told him so when they argued. They were arguing more and more lately.
If Paul was honest, he had to admit Lara was probably right. His wife would be better at business that he was! Paul sometimes thought she hated the fact her father would not allow her into the business at all.
The problem was that Lara’s father was a misogynist and a bigot! He did not believe in equality in any shape or form! What’s more, as well as being anti-female in the workplace (a woman’s place is supporting her husband and raising a family), he hated the idea of homosexuals or people of colour working in the company! He practically hated everyone that was not male, straight, white, Anglo Saxon and Protestant!
Of course, he did not openly reveal any of these prejudices and kept them hidden but one of the “perks” of being the son-in-law was that William spoke honestly every now and again in front of Paul, especially after one or two glasses of gin and vermouth!
Still, Paul had the job, the beautiful wife and a big house and a Jag. All of it provided by his father-in-law’s money!
William, Paul’s father-in-law nodded in greeting to Paul as he spoke to some ambassador and Paul looked around for someone to talk to, when Simon approached him.
Simon was, technically, Paul’s boss. At least he was the person Paul reported to as Paul saw himself as fireproof. After all, he had married the Chairman’s daughter.
‘Doing any business, Paul?’ Simon asked casually.
‘Oh, a bit of this and a bit of that, Simon,’ Paul said.
‘Good to hear,’ he said automatically as he looked around the room. ‘I need to see you tomorrow, old boy,’ he said with an insincere smile. ‘We need to have a chat.’
‘If you say so…’
‘I do, old boy, I do. Let’s make it at ten tomorrow, eh?’
He didn’t wait for an answer and moved off, greeting some people with a warm smile and handshakes.
Paul looked around for his wife but Lara had vanished. He assumed she had gone to the bathroom or into the library in preparation for the boring music everyone all had to endure with fixed smiles.
Excerpt 2 of 3.
At the end of the day, Paul sat in his office when everyone else had gone home with his head in his hands.
His last call to the cool Ms Bao had achieved the same result. No cancellations.
Despondently, he looked at his watch and saw it was half six.
He was about to leave the office and drive home when he thought he should call one more time!
Each time Paul picked up the telephone to call, he felt a surge of hope. It was a brief sensation of hope as Ms Bao regularly and quite cruelly destroyed it.
It was a different voice! Female, brisk and clearly not Chinese.
‘Could I speak to Ms Bao’
‘Afraid she’s gone for the day.’
‘Is…is that Ms Plume?’
Paul held his breath and, if he could have, he would have crossed all his fingers and toes.
‘Yes, it is. Who is this, please?’
Paul almost pumped the air with excitement.
‘This is Paul O’Brien…’
‘Oh yes. Ms Bao told me you have been pestering her for an appointment.’
‘I have been calling to gain an appointment, Ms Plume as I wish to discuss a…’
‘…vital matter. Yes, yes,’ she said dismissively, ‘I have heard all of that before, Mister O’Brien.’
‘I urgently need to see you, Ms Plume…’
‘Oh dear,’ she said and Paul could swear that there was laughter in her voice. ‘You sound rather desperate!’
Is she laughing at me?
‘Perhaps I am,’ Paul heard himself say. ‘Desperate to discuss…’
‘I know about the company you represent, Mister O’Brien. We do our research, you know. I can’t see there would be anything vital for us to discuss!’
It was, he thought despairingly, all going to shit!
All he could manage in response was a weak, ‘Oh…’
‘However,…’ Heidi Plume said after a long moment, ‘…I could manage to give you fifteen minutes of my time.’
Elation and relief soared through Paul!
‘The only time I have available will be at six tomorrow evening.’
‘Of course! Any time you wish…’
‘Do you have the address?’
‘I…I think I do…’
‘Let me give it to you.’
She rattled off an address and Paul scribbled it down, his heart swelling with triumph!
‘Fifteen minutes, Mister O’Brien,’ she said. ‘If I were you, I would not be late!’
She hung up and Paul waved his fist in the air in a silent celebration.
Excerpt 3 of 3.
Ms Plume rose from behind her desk and walked to the sofa in the middle of the room. The lights of the city landscape shone through the large window and Paul inhaled a small sniff of her exotic perfume as Ms Plume walked by him.
She sat on the sofa, crossed her legs and adjusted the hem of her skirt so it rested just over her knee.
The black nylon of her hosiery gleamed in the room lights, as did her glossy black high heel shoes. Behind her, through the window, Paul saw a distant blue neon sign on a building in the darkness that shrouded the city.
Hesitantly, he stood up, clutching the presentation folder and waited, unsure what he was expected to do or say.
Paul only knew he had to gain the second appointment if he was going to have any chance of saving his life, saving everything!
‘I think, Mister O’Brien,…’ she said calmly, ‘…I pity you.’
He blinked and felt his cheeks warm. His stomach was twisting and turning, a reflection that inwardly he was possessed by turmoil and fear.
One of those brief flickers Paul recognised as a smile appeared on her lips and vanished without lingering.
‘Does that embarrass you?
Paul uneasily shook his head and this time the smile did linger on her lips.
‘I see. Are you beyond embarrassment, Mister O’Brien? Have you moved beyond the humiliation of revealing your rather precarious position?’
His cheeks now burned and he managed to croak, ‘Please, Ms Plume, I am desperate…’
‘So you said,’ she said with a curt wave of dismissal, the slim bracelet on her wrist tinkling softly. ‘I think we are now both aware of your desperation.’
Paul shifted nervously and took a tentative step forward, not knowing what else he could do or say to make her help him.
She smiled coldly.
‘And now, I believe your time is up!’
‘Please…oh please, Ms Plume,’ Paul babbled. ‘Please give me a second appointment! I…I…’
‘I will consider giving you an appointment, Mister O’Brien,’ she said, cutting through his raving pleas.
Paul shut his mouth and, heart pounding frantically, waited.
Ms Plume looked at her high heel shoe, her hands rested on the knee of her crossed leg.
‘There appears to be a spot on the toe of my shoe, Mister O’Brien. Clean it.’
Her voice was so crisp and confident, it almost had a slight metallic ring to it.
She looked at him with those bright blue eyes.
He looked around the office nervously.
‘Is…is there a cloth…I could use my handkerchief,’ Paul babbled, putting the folder down and reaching into his pocket.
‘No,’ she said softly.
‘Not a cloth,’ she said in that low voice that now suddenly and weirdly reminded me of Meryl Streep in “The Devil Wore Prada”.
Paul stared at her and she smiled thinly.
‘You can use your tongue. That is, if you really are desperate for a second appointment.’
He could not believe what he had just heard! For a moment, Paul wondered if he had misheard her, if her habit of speaking so softly had encouraged him to completely confuse what she had said.
But, if she did not want him to use his tongue, what had she meant, what had she actually said?
Paul wilted under her startling eyes and mumbled, ‘My…my tongue…?’
‘Yes,’ she said crisply in that now familiar low voice. ‘You will kneel and use your tongue to clean my shoe. That is,…’ she said with another brief smile, ‘…if you are desperate enough. Once my shoe is clean, I will consider whether to give you a second appointment or not.’