Or was it that feckless eejit that had bailed out on me; the eejit that had run like a scalded cat without as much as a bye or leave? He’d gone to ground and was proving to be more elusive than the fabled Yeti ever was. At least a Yeti supposedly leaves a footprint here and there for everyone to marvel at but no, no such courtesy from the great magician that I now realised I had lived with for all those years. One miserable telephone call comprising of two words and then poof! Gone! disappeared back into the ether – ‘The Great Ivedunabunko’ had pulled off his best trick ever. I was beginning to realise that it would be easier to find Lord Lucan long before getting a sniff of the trail that Ivedunabunko had blazed when he moseyed off into his own little sunset. Can you trail blaze and mosey at the same time? Probably, if you suddenly acquire magical skills as he seemed to have done.
The call was a shock, he’d caught me way off guard and I was seriously beginning to wonder if I had imagined it. I hadn’t been firing on all cylinders and it was so surreal that I felt as though I’d had a visitation from a bloody ghost – the ghost of partner past. I’d waited for two excruciatingly long weeks for a hint that he was okay, pleaded over and over with a higher power to make him get in touch and even bargained with the devil that he could have my soul if I could just talk with him one more time. I didn’t need much I’d promised, as if that would make a difference; ‘just give me enough’, I would implore, to gain some small insight as to why we were suddenly in this hell of a mess. But I was given nothing for my sins, until now that is. Amy knew immediately there was something else wrong when she saw me sitting dazed, head in one hand, and the phone receiver resting limply in the other. She brought me another cup of rancid coffee and somehow it was comforting in a strange sort of way. Odd really, how the human condition adapts to stuff in life. I mean, you could remove the worst kind of stains from a toilet bowl with this concoction, but I felt thankful just having the familiar smell around me, reassuring me that some parts of my life had remained the same even if the coffee did make me want to heave up my stomach lining.
By calling the office, he’d broken my golden rule and brought my car crash of a personal world thundering into my stable working world. Why the hell hadn’t he the guts to call me at home? Christ, he knew the number well enough - after all, he’d lived there all those years. It didn’t take a genius to surmise that his spine had deserted him and legged it to find someone who would make much better use of it than he had; he knew that I couldn’t rail at him from behind my desk because you could hear and see a multitude of stuff from my glass fronted office and he’d banked on me remaining calm. ‘Good, God, how calculated’, I thought and then despaired at his stupidity and despised his insensitivity. My stress levels rose to a dangerous level and I was suddenly consumed with such a force of anger that I could have easily hurled my coffee mug at the glass fronted wall. ‘No point’, I reasoned, it was toughened glass and with my luck it would probably just bloody well bounce back off and smack me in the head for my trouble. It was the final straw. I was sick of haemorrhaging emotions for this self centred bastard that didn’t deserve the time of day let alone another minute of my anguish at losing him. Two words, two bloody words after all those years together and I was no better acquainted with the reasons he had left. ‘Yeah thanks for the call mate; your two words “I’m sorry” really hit the spot, really put me in the picture; you must be hugely proud of the extensive powers of communication that nature bestowed upon you, there you are you feck - blessed with all the vocabulary skills of a blow up rubber doll’, I muttered away sarcastically to no one but myself.
I wasn’t up for any real productive kind of work and I was relieved that for my first day back I hadn’t scheduled anything more demanding than a few project update meetings. It was just as well for I would have had trouble concentrating on the details on the back of a bus ticket, let alone complicated project plans, such was my deep distraction and obsession with where he had run to and why he had gone. Bugger, I could have done without my first meeting, for now that he had called, I needed to escape to think things through. My mind raced and I was perplexed as to what the hell was he doing calling me now just to say sorry. Did he regret leaving and maybe, just maybe, he was making a move to soften me up to come home? My heart skipped a beat at that little thought. Even after the nightmare of the last two weeks I wanted more than anything to see his face, to run into his arms and tell him that I knew it was a silly mid-life crisis, that he had made a mistake and bolted when all he had to do was to come home so we could talk, sort it all out. I reeled at the sheer intensity of my feelings and volume of thoughts that were racing through my head. Within a matter of moments, my emotions had see sawed between abject hate and immense love for him and relief that he was okay. My head throbbed at this constant analysis of what it all meant and I agonised over where it might lead to. I was like a beaten dog waiting at its master’s feet for a sign, no matter how small, that he still loved me and a surge of hope began bubbling up inside me. I felt sick and dizzy and the heat in my office was stifling. I made my way to the loo and commandeered a cubicle where I sat quietly with my head lowered in my hands. I couldn’t think about it any more. I needed work to distract me and I resolved to try and concentrate on something other than this hellish mess; there would be time enough when I was home alone to asses my next moves. The adrenalin pumping through my veins eventually slowed and I felt stable enough to straighten myself out and gather my thoughts before making my way to my first meeting of the day.
The day dragged on as I suspected it would. I went through the motions of meeting and greeting colleagues who would pop into my office to say hello and welcome back. I was on auto pilot as I dealt with the politics and minutiae of office life and wondered if this was how people in the public eye got through the day when they’d had a setback of rather big proportions – ‘stiff upper lip old chap and a strong snifter or two at the end of the day – that’ll sort you out’ would seem to be the war cry of the seemingly unemotional and totally in control. In an odd sort of fashion it was working for me and although I was withdrawn no one had commented that I was at odds with the world and everyone in it. ‘Hah, all that bloody am-dram at school had paid off after all! I could hack it with the best of them’, I mused. And to think that it had all started with me playing the starring role of a donkey in the school nativity play at the age of five; who would have thought eh?
I was close to exhausted by the time the last meeting of the day came round. My mood had improved slightly but not enough to get me through this last event without wanting to go ten rounds with Lynne – a hostile and ill-mannered project manager that I had inherited when I joined to head up and modernise the I.T. and business services organisation. I was just in the right mood for her I thought bad temperedly; one ‘off’ word from her and I could visualize me helping her take a flying hike over the balustrade and landing slap bang in the marbled reception area below us. We had a largely contentious relationship that never improved beyond a mutual loathing for each other. I had tried to win her round when I had taken up the role but she was resistant to any offer of friendship or even a truce and she would regularly test my tolerance levels to the limit. If I was to be completely honest, I would have fired her in a heartbeat but she had etched out a comfortable little niche and entrenched herself so deep that it would be hard to shoehorn her out of it without a law suit of mega proportions. Given that we were an internationally renowned law firm this would have been a poor show and she was vindictive enough to fire off a salvo that would rend as much damage to our reputation as she could muster. It was a case of slowly, slowly catchy monkey.
She was undoubtedly clever but rather than use her intellect for good she would expend a great deal of energy finding ways to do the bare minimum required whilst schmoozing anyone of board level that might somehow be useful to her. I had lost count of the times the team had bailed her out when her projects threatened to disintegrate and it was a rare event to hear her acknowledge the help with any kind of words that resembled a thank you. She was more likely to try and blame those who had straightened out her mess as being at fault in the first place. And yet I had also seen her shamelessly take the credit for something she had absolutely no involvement in whilst others stood watching with mouths agape at such audacity. Clearly she had survived by the smoke and mirrors technique of project management and so far so good. There were a handful of old duffers on the board that were flattered by her attention and the promise of something more. It was common knowledge that they were much too enchanted by her to realise that every failed project she had managed had cost them tens of thousands of pounds in delays because staff turnover was high as she became more truculent and impossible to work for.
I had a strong ally in the managing partner who had brought me on board and as far as he was concerned, she was top of the list to be fixed. I was making steady progress and inroads into lynne's power base. These gains were beginning to unsettle her and the more threatened her position became the more she fought like a feral cat to keep a grip on her crumbling empire. But the writing was on the wall and this only served to make her more acerbic and deeply unpleasant to work with. The fact that she was acting as the architect of her own demise and wielding the sword that would eventually do for her had not occurred to her.
Her project meeting was the usual mixture of excuses, blame, belligerent backchat and put-downs to anyone who challenged her – a bloody awful bun fight at the O.K. Corral as usual. I didn’t have the stomach for it and called a halt to the meeting, sending everyone home with the task of returning the next day with suggestions for a plan to get yet another failing project back on track. I watched as a demoralised team of talented young techies, with shoulders hunched, sloped out of the room. I decided there and then that she had to go and that I would do my utmost to find the most expedient and painless way possible to get shot of her. Life’s too short to tolerate and asshole I had decided.
Rather unusually for her she held back, watching me pack up my notes in my attaché case. There was always something about the way that she stared at me that made my hairs stand on end. I sensed that she had something to say and I really wasn’t up for passing pleasantries with her let alone entering a combat zone of words again. I’d had enough of people using and abusing others for their own gain and as far as I was concerned they could all go to hell. I’d volunteer to poke her over a cliff if asked.
‘So’, she said tentatively, ‘had a good holiday then?’
‘Not bad thanks, usual sort of thing, you know too much to drink, eat etc’, I answered abruptly, trying to close the conversation down and not wanting to give her an iota of a clue as to what had happened in my life. I was desperate to get away and this banal chat was beginning to make me tense because I would no more choose to spend a minute with her than I would with Jack the Ripper.
‘You look tired, kind of old and washed out’, she offered as a further rather rude stab at conversation. Christ she had the social skills of a halfwit. ‘Is everything alright’? ‘How are things at home, you know, are you and the old man still loved up’? she asked, continuing to probe.
There was something about her tone, the way she asked, that made my blood run cold and I turned to look directly at her. ‘Why do you ask Lynne? What’s the sudden interest in my home life? You never cared a jot before so why now’? I threw back at her.
‘Oh nothing really’, she said with a half smile, half sneer on her face. ‘Just some gossip that I heard, erm, well I sort of heard that he’d left you and you don’t know where he is.’
I felt the colour drain from my face as I stared open mouthed with incredulity that she, her, the busiest woman on Halloween and the last person in the world I would want to know would have any idea that my life had fallen apart. Dear God, if she knew then who the hell else did?
I sat motionless whilst I digested this shocking development. I was marginally aware that she had crept from the room, her work here was done.
I finally made a dash for my office to catch Amy before she left for the day. I knew she wouldn’t have told anyone; it wasn’t possible; she was as loyal as the day was long. And I certainly hadn’t told anyone other than Amy. I felt bad asking her if she might have let it slip but I had to know for sure. She was as shocked as I was that Lynne knew and we sat shaking our heads in disbelief. I couldn’t work it out. None of my friends had any link at all with work so it couldn’t have come from there.
‘Maybe she’s bugged your office while you were on holiday’, she offered. ‘Nah, too far fetched even for that old trout’ I responded. Besides, it’s a goldfish bowl and we’re manned 24/7 so she’d have been too scared to be seen getting up to mischief. She’s devious but she’s not stupid’, I said. We looked at each other and in an instant almost got jammed in the door together as we rushed into the office just to make sure.
I moved quickly down two flights of stairs to her office and was told that she had left for the day. ‘I bet she has’ I thought - best she head off home on a high at the speed of light to celebrate her little victory. I needed to know, needed to know how the hell she of all people knew. I couldn’t go through an evening with yet another question unanswered on my mind. I made my way down to the car park just in time to see her haring out in her red sports car almost catching the poor old Janitor up in her slipstream as she went, What a look it conjured up – Cruella Deville had nothing on her.