Back To Bristol
Caution: This Drama Sex Story contains strong sexual content, including Ma/Fa, Consensual, Heterosexual, Tear Jerker,
Desc: Drama Sex Story: Chapter 1 - Chris Bennett is sent back to the city of his birth, marriage, divorce and where his ex-wife still lives with her new husband and Chris's two sons.
It was 11.30 in the morning of the second Thursday in February. I was sitting at my desk in ITI Corporate Headquarters in London's West End. I was just wondering if anybody would miss me for the afternoon, and whether I could sneak off after lunch and take my new car for a spin. A brand new Jaguar XK Coupe, it had only been delivered on Tuesday, and beyond driving it to the little flat I was renting, and parking on the street that night, I hadn't driven it a single mile. I commute by taxi, it's easier, and last night was a dinner with a colleague passing through HQ from the US.
The fact that they'd let me choose a new company car did imply they expected me to be UK based for a little while at least. But, I really wasn't very busy. This was my second week back at HQ, and they still didn't seem to know what to do with me. My new Jag maybe some reflection that I was fairly important to them, that I was wanted, but they weren't telling me what I was wanted for. They had brought me back to London because there was the possibility that they were going to takeover a prestigious soup manufacturer in London, and I was to be involved in the assessment and takeover. That promised well because the leading consultant on the team usually got installed as the Managing Director once the takeover happened. The negotiations fell apart two days before I got back to London. Now, there wasn't even a rumour of what I was to do next. I knew that I'd made a success of my spell in Holland, two years as Managing Director of ITI - NDF, but now I was back at HQ. I'd sorted out all the transfer stuff, I'd caught up with old friends and colleagues, and now I was twiddling my thumbs. I hoped that I wasn't going to be put back into the International Consultancy team, which is where I was before I got transferred to Appeldoorn, I wanted an executive management position again. Anywhere in the world would do, but my own show to run.
I hadn't even seen The Old Man, Stephen J Parkinson, CEO of ITI, since I'd been back. That was a bit of a disappointment, I thought he rather liked me. I was one of his protégés, and I'm sure I hadn't disappointed him ever since he'd made me Managing Director of ITI -Jamesons, back in Bristol nearly six years ago now. Only six years! It seems half a lifetime ago that I was an ambitious 29 year old, living in Bristol, when I saw the advert for an MD of Jamesons in the Sunday papers. I applied, not so much because I thought I could get it, but because it laid down a marker in my own life that I had applied, that I had declared publicly that I was ambitious and that I thought I could do that sort of job. And it was in Bristol, my home town, and where I was still working in those days. Of course I had a wife and family back then. A lot can change in six years.
I found out afterwards that I was by far the youngest candidate that they short-listed. Stephen Parkinson was on the interview panel, and I'm sure it was his influence that got me the job. I seemed to have a special rapport with him that I thought had lasted until now. But maybe not!
My phone rang: "Chris Bennett speaking" I answered.
"Hello Chris. It's Pamela. Could you come up and see Stephen now. He says you won't be too busy."
Pamela was Stephen's secretary, and by definition, probably the most powerful woman in ITI. I was heading for the eleventh floor.
I tapped on his open door and stepped in. ITI offices are not luxurious, it's not our style. But Stephen's is definitely impressive. In fact Pamela's outer office is impressive, the whole of the eleventh floor, the Director's floor, is impressive. But Stephen's is top of the list. He looked up, saw it was me, and immediately got up from his desk stepped round and held out both of his hands, shaking mine vigorously between his two.
"Welcome back to the UK, Chris. And well done on your performance at NDF. You did well, congratulations."
"Thank you, Stephen. It was fun, I enjoyed it, but it's nice to be back."
I took a visitors chair, whilst Stephen returned to his side of the desk.
"Well, don't make yourself too comfortable at your desk, I've got something for you. What's your degree in?"
"Physics. But I didn't think I wanted to be a physicist. Is that about to change?"
He ignored my question. "So why did you do it, and have you added to it?"
That was easy to answer, "Because I was good at it at school. But as soon as I graduated I trained and qualified as an accountant, but I didn't want to be a bean counter either. So, with an MBA under my belt thanks to a generous employer, I became a management consultant." I paused, wondering where this was leading, "But you know all this, and if you don't, well it must all be on my record. So why are you asking now?"
"I wish I had remembered how well you're qualified for what I have in mind, it may have saved a few arguments. When we brought you back from Holland we had something else in mind, but... Anyway, I've got something for you that maybe your track record qualifies you for better than I realised."
Now I was interested, "Tell me."
"We're going to send you back from whence you came. I hope you like that idea."
"Jamesons? I wasn't looking to go back there."
"No, not Jamesons, but back to Bristol. Actually, we're going to announce that all of Jamesons production will be switched to Peacocks Meat Products sometime next week, and Jamesons will be no more."
"PMP were always our biggest competitor in the South West. They have better distribution and a better site for expansion."
"Which is why we've bowed to the inevitable, and did a deal. It's not defeat, we take Peacocks' plant in Glasgow. It all makes sense."
"It'll be a pity to see Jamesons go, there were some good people there. Anyway if it's not Jamesons, I didn't think we had anything else in Bristol?"
"We didn't, but we do now. W R Franks & Sons. Do you know them?"
"A bit. They're into high tech medical kit aren't they? And aren't they owned by TDF, the German outfit?"
"There! You almost know as much as I do. Except they're owned by us now. If you remember, assuming you were awake at the time," He smiled "What we announced at the Group Conference in the Canaries about six months ago? It was agreed that we should open up the health field, it's a huge and growing market and we want our bit of it. Just as we were deciding that, TDF were probably in some other hotel somewhere deciding that they should concentrate on core industries and core strengths. Medical equipment was outside that definition. So, they wanted to sell and we wanted to buy. Good price too."
That upset me, "Oh! But, if I was marked as your man to take over down there, why wasn't I involved in the takeover and due diligence period? We always go in and draw up our own plan as to what we want to do and whether we want to buy it. I should have been a member of the team, Stephen, I haven't the faintest idea what you're putting me into."
In fairness to him, he did look a bit shamefaced at that. "First Book of Samuel, 26:21" He quoted under his breath, and looked at me and smiled.
This was a habit or skill of Stephen's. He could quote appropriate bits of the Bible at a moment's notice. Only he never gave the quote, he always gave the reference. Anyone senior in ITI kept a Bible in their desk draw. I didn't recognise this one, but I bet it was an apology. I'll have to look it up later.
I returned his smile: "So, what's the story?"
"Their old CEO was a Henri Bauer. A French-German, a bit stiff but a nice guy, I met him a couple of times. But, of course, we didn't want him to stay, we want our own man in there. So Herr Henri is back in Bonn. We were going to put in Charles Dyer, he was back from Spain; so he did the whole of the review stage, and seemed to do a good job at it. He certainly impressed TDF, they offered him a job and he's in Bonn too! So that leaves you. But, it's back to your home ground, you should be pleased. "
"Well I guess I am. I'll have to have a look at it. Do I have a say in any of this?"
"Of course you do. There's always the International Consultancy team?"
Stephen knew I was trapped. It was the price we paid for working for a major multi-national. You go where you're sent, smile sweetly and say thank you.
"Do I get a chance for any briefing, and when do they expect me?"
"How about Monday? You'll be getting Myra Hepsted, she's an accountant from the takeover team. She'll be coming down to join you. Have you met her? She's been here about a year now, may be a bit longer."
"Maybe, but I don't think so." I said, I didn't want to feel that I didn't know significant HQ staff.
"Oh, you'd know if you've met her. A very attractive young lady is Myra. You're not married are you Chris?" Stephen winked at me.
"I was once, you know that. But it's a silly game, been there, done that." I answered, making light of the tragedy of my life.
"Ooh, Myra could change your mind. Or she could mine. But then again, when I grow up I'm going to be a dirty old man. Just don't tell Frances, I want it to be a surprise for her."
Frances was Stephen's wife of God knows how many years. I lovely maternal lady that made all of Stephen's protégés (like me) feel that she's adopted us as a sort of extra sons. I always looked forward to the rare times of meeting Frances.
Stephen continued, "Anyway, Myra's on holiday at the moment, and she's still got things to do here, but she'll join you sometime in the next month. She comes from Bath and wants to get back to that part of the country."
"I look forward to meeting her. Any chance of some briefing papers and background reading? I know sod all about Franks or medical equipment?"
"Yes. They're being delivered to your desk right now. I can tell you that their strengths are a CT Scanner, made under license from the American originators, and laser eye treatment kit which comes out of their own research and patents. And I'm sure there is lots of room for expansion and growth of both products and services. They also are one of several operating theatre kit makers. I've told them not to release Charles's business plan, I don't want his thinking to influence you, go and make up your own mind. But as always, we will be looking for efficiencies as well as growth."
"I think you can rely on me to work out how I would want to take it. And will I have freedom to argue for radical change if I see it appropriate?"
"Of course, a completely free hand to propose anything you see fit. Just give us the market and the return we want. And by the way, I'd keep my head down if I were you when the shit hits the fan about Jamesons, PR department will tell you how. Now come back and see me in about a month's time and tell me how it's going."
"OK, Stephen. I guess I'd better go and sort out a hotel and the lease on my flat, and do lots of reading."
Suddenly he looked serious, "Oh, and best of luck, Chris. I won't say I'm out on a limb putting you in on this one, but I'm not on firm ground either. It's important, this is the start of a new strategic division of the Group. Don't let me down."
I shook his hand and looked him in the eye, "I'll do my best, promise."
"That's all any of us can do... Oh, and by the way, Genesis 3:23."
He sat down and immediately started working on some typewritten paper in front of him. My meeting was over, I was dismissed.
I returned to my desk, chanting in my head: 'First Book of Samuel 26:21 and Genesis 2:33' Sure enough there were three boxes of reports and papers on my desk.
I took out my Bible. The Samuel quote started to seem a bit odd, until I got to the last phrase: 'behold, I have played the fool, and have erred exceedingly'. How does he remember them all? I guess that's the sort of mind that can also instantly recall people, figures and facts that make him CEO.
The other quote was a problem, I suspected I'd muddled the reference, and was getting it wrong. I'll have to read a lot and see if I can spot it.
So, here I am: Driving down the M4 to Bristol and it's 11:00 on Saturday morning. This is the first time I've driven this car since I drove it home on Tuesday, and it's wonderful. I'd also noticed I was eyed by a rather attractive blonde in the car alongside me at the lights in Hammersmith. So, obviously an OK looking guy in his mid-thirties in a brand new Jaguar XK was catching the ladies' eye. Life may be getting better.
Once I was past Heathrow, heading west, the traffic thinned. I could take the car up to the statutory 70 mph, even push it a bit, but they get upset and take your license away if they catch you going over the 100. I took it up to 90, but then I took it back down again and put the cruise control on at 75.
Sitting there quietly cruising along, I started to think: she still lives in Bristol, with my two sons and the love of her life, Peter Fucking Davies. Yes, she's Mrs Molly Davies these days. They moved home about a year ago, I don't recognise the address, but I guess it's better than the little rabbit hutch they had when he first stole her, I wonder if it's up to the standard of the house we used to have before she transferred her affections, I hope not.
Well, at least a few years back in Bristol will give me a chance to re-establish my relationship with my sons. Jamie is eight, and Ben is seven now. I've got joint custody, but she has residency, which is what I wanted for their sake. My life wasn't suited to having them with me for weeks at a time. I haven't seen them for five months, but maybe I can start seeing them every week. Maybe I can become part of their lives again, I'd like that.
Then it occurred to me that there weren't any little half-brothers or sisters to Jamie and Ben. Molly always wanted more children, it was me that had called for a pause at two whilst I absorbed my new life working at Jamesons, and I got used to paying the huge mortgage we'd taken on, but it was still discussed occasionally right up to the end. Maybe dear Peter fires blanks. That's a cheery thought!
I must stop this train of thought. It's no good, Molly fell in love with another man, and you can't fight that. It was over four years ago now, so it's a bit late to even start trying, not that I would. I just wish I knew what I did wrong, why she went looking for love and a better life elsewhere. She should have sent him packing the moment he introduced himself. OK, he was a randy bachelor who fancied an attractive girl in her twenties, but he was wrong to insinuate himself onto her and chat her up. She was wearing a wedding ring, and he would have very quickly learnt that she had two young children and a husband. That bit of it makes me very angry. If I ever meet him on a dark night, -- well I certainly would alter the pattern of their sex life for ever - then he wouldn't be firing anything!
Instead, I think about Helene. I feel a bit guilty about her. She was my live-in girlfriend for the last eighteen months. She was sexy, beautiful and fun to be with. I never misled her, it was always meant to be just fun, good sex and companionship. And it was all of that. The sex wasn't as good as with Molly, I knew that. But Helene's body was better, but then it was five years younger and hadn't given birth to two sons. It was just that with me Molly had an ability to abandon herself to lust that was special... Damn! Bloody Molly again. Obviously being sent back to Bristol is stirring old thoughts.
Back to Helene: I knew that for the last six months I meant more to her than I should. I always said that when I go back to England, when my job in Holland is over, she wouldn't be coming with me, but it still hurt her and left me feeling guilty. When somebody loves you, even if they shouldn't, you owe them an obligation.
We had a good final holiday after I packed up work at NDF. I tried to leave her on a high, but I don't think it really helped much. We drove down to Paris for a few days, then flew down to South Africa for two weeks of sunshine. Then back to Holland and the big, final Goodbye. I think there were more tears than laughter in the last few days, it really wasn't fun. But I couldn't, in fairness to her, change my mind. I'm no longer the marrying kind, been there and it bloody hurts when it gets to the end, I'm not going back.
I owe Helene so much: It was her that took a guy who had been playing rather wild for a couple of years. I don't know how many girls, and I'm not particularly proud of some of the encounters. The 'If you want to get yourself some breakfast before you go then please feel free, but I'm off to work.' greeting in the morning rather gave them a hint of what I expected. I'm sure I hurt some of them who probably hoped for a little more, at least a little kindness. I came to realise that I was probably hurting people, nice people, innocent people, and I liked myself even less. That's why I took to paying for it for a while, it was easier and simpler and no one got hurt. Then I got posted to Holland, and for a few months I gloried in their liberal culture. My only real friend was my right-hand, but weekends in Amsterdam let me explore who I was sexually. So many live acts on stage, so many porn films, and a new and exciting world to explore. But, again it only led to self disgust. When you find yourself jacking off to a film of a middle aged woman, who you don't find particularly attractive and she speaks a language you don't understand, getting fucked by a large black dog, and your watching it in a little cubicle at the back of a porn bookshop, well yes, you cum, but you feel dirty.
So I took to alcohol for a while. I became a regular in a pleasant café-bar in Apeldoorn. As soon as I walked in on any evening, the bunch of regulars would switch to talking English for my sake. That was both friendly and humbling in itself. Helene was a regular with her boyfriend Dek (I doubt whether he spelled it like that, but that's how it sounded). Then one week neither Helene nor Dek were there, and they weren't there for three more weeks. Then Helene started to come in by herself. And we got together, two broken people helping each other.
It was her that proved to me again that not all women are bitches that cheat on you and go off and fall in love with other men. I guess I showed her that not all men screw their secretaries whilst telling you they love you. Between us we re-learnt that people do remember birthdays, that guys can buy I bunch of flowers for no real reason, that women can wear sexy undies just to please their man, and eventually we even learnt to laugh again. I remember the night when we saw something that made us both spontaneously laugh out loud, a guy missed his mouth and poured beer all down his shirt just because a rather pretty girl in a short skirt bent over to pick up her phone which she'd dropped in front of him.
I used to be a nice guy. I met a girl, I fell in love, I married her, I worked hard and paid the mortgage, I came home at night, and I gave her all my love. I think I'm a nice guy again now, thanks to Helene. I just wouldn't like to have to answer for the years in between.
Good Heavens! The M32 turn-off for the centre of Bristol. My thoughts of Helene, and the quiet ambience of this car had got me to Bristol quicker than I expected.
I'd done a deal with Admin, and swapped six weeks fully expensed in a classy hotel for three months in a furnished and serviced one bedroom apartment. Either way, under ITI rules, you're on your own for housing after that. This apartment was very impressive, it had read well on the website, but it was even better in reality. It was in a nice quiet square, near the University and in walking distance of the centre of town. And there was secure off-street parking, which made me feel happier about the Jag.
Having unpacked and inspected the flat, I went out to look around. On the way I stopped in the lobby to introduce myself to the porter. I was rather pleased, I hadn't ever lived in an apartment block with a hall porter before, even if they were only there for the daytime and not evenings and nights, like this one. There were a lot of rather nice coffee shops and bars close by. I stopped and read the menus and prices, and of course, this close to the University, they were all reasonably priced, students are always poor the world over. I found a little supermarket and bought myself some essentials, like some beer and bottles of wine. I also bought some frozen pizzas and lasagnes, but really my plan was to eat out by trying out some of the local eateries. Of course I also bought some good quality breakfast foods, well you never know when you might have a guest for breakfast! I staggered back to the flat with too many heavy bags, and stocked up the little kitchen.
I'd bought myself a sandwich, so I made a cup of coffee and sat and watched one of the news channels while I ate.
Well, as I was back in my home town, I should really announce my residency. And there's no time like the present. I could phone Molly and talk about the boys and getting to see them. I dreaded making that phone call. But anyway, weekends are precious family time, or they were when I was there, I guess it would be a tradition that's continued in my absence. I won't disturb them. However much I want to be back in the boys' lives, I don't want to interfere with their living in a stable and loving home. They deserve and need that. They lost their Dad once, they don't need him making waves now that he's back.
Beyond the exchange of Christmas cards, I haven't been in contact with anyone in Bristol since I moved away. And because of the divorce I lost contact with a lot of them well before I actually went to London. I decided to give Keith Walters a call.
Keith was probably my closest friend at one time. We both worked for Cheals International Management Consultants before I went off to join ITI at ITI-Jamesons. After that I tried to avoid any Cheals' employees, they thought that an ex-colleague now being the MD of a major local firm would mean lots of juicy consultancy projects for them. It all got a bit embarrassing, and avoiding them seemed easier. Then came the break-up of my marriage, and I certainly didn't need a bunch of old colleagues telling me how I got it wrong.
So I didn't see Keith or his wife Anne for some time. We had been good friends, they lived quite near us until we moved to the new bigger house. They had one son called Daniel, he was eight years old at the time. When he was born there had been some complication and Anne didn't dare risk ever having another pregnancy, so Keith had a vasectomy, with a lot of ribald comment in the office. But, in the same week as my decree nisi was declared tragedy struck: Daniel was killed in a road accident. A neighbour had collected both Daniel and her own son from school one afternoon. A lorry on the opposite carriageway had a tyre blow, and it jack-knifed. The mother walked away with just some bruises from her airbag. Her son was badly injured, and there was a lot of talk about him having to lose a leg, but it was Daniel who died four days later in hospital.
Well, with the state I was in from my own problems I couldn't comfort Keith as I should. Of course I went to the funeral, so did Molly. That was the last time I saw her as Mrs Molly Bennett. A few weeks later the Decree Absolute was declared, and five weeks after that she was Mrs Molly Davies. We did talk at the funeral, just a few words about the tragedy of Daniel's death. She did leave me thinking she wanted to say something more, but she never did. A 'sorry' would have been nice.
Anyway, I gave Keith a call which he answered immediately: "Keith and Anne Walters."
"And this is a voice from the past. It's Chris Bennett here."
"Chris! How good to hear from you. Where are you?"
"Back in Bristol."
"Great. Are you here long enough for us to get together?"
"Well I'm here for the foreseeable, so I would guess Yes to that. Any chance for tonight? Anne can join us, it would be good to see you both."
"Sorry, not a chance. We're a bit busy here and big things are going on. But I could make it tomorrow night. Anne's going off for a week to stay with her parents. I'm putting her on the 6:18 train tomorrow evening. So, how about six thirty-ish somewhere?"
"Great. Tomorrow night it is then. You suggest where, I'm out of touch with the best places around here, I've been gone too long."
"OK. Do you want to eat?"
"Might do, it depends how the day goes."
"Well I suggest there is a nice little Italian bar and restaurant about forty yards down from the Theatre Royal and on the opposite side of the road. It's called Il something or other, but you can't miss it, it's painted in the most revolting fluorescent lime green colour. But it's pleasant and the food's OK."
"See you there then. Oh, you better have my mobile number" So I gave him my number and rang off.
I then went out for a drive, checking out my route to Franks and just to look where I was to go. I pulled up outside and sat and watched. There were a sprinkling of cars in the car park, but the place looked fairly quiet. It was a grand Victorian factory or warehouse, but it had obviously been revamped to be rather swish modern office and factory. There was one big sign: 'W R Franks & Sons Ltd. - a member of the TDF Group serving the world'. Well that will be going pretty soon.
There was a maintenance guy working on the wall just to the left of the main office entrance, I couldn't really see what he was doing. But then he stood up and stepped back to admire his work, a paintbrush in one hand and a pot of paint in the other. He was admiring the writing on the wall 'RESERVED' and then my car registration number, for this Jag! That surprised me, someone had been co-ordinating things between London and Bristol. Mind you, I'm not sure I liked it, it was a bit too elitist for my style, but at least I knew I was expected.
I sat in my car thinking about all I knew of Franks, which wasn't much, and how the first few days of my reign were so important to define my style and build the team to create our future. It was going to be hard work. It would be good idea to make sure that I was as well briefed as I could be, so I went home and spent the whole evening re-reading all my briefing papers...
I woke early on the Sunday, showered and went out and bought a paper and found somewhere to eat breakfast whilst I read it. Eventually I retuned to the flat, made myself a cup of coffee and continued to read the paper for a while. Then I set about reading the Book of Genesis, it seemed appropriate, it was Sunday after all. One glance at Chapter 1 told me that I probably knew most of it by heart, I just didn't know I did, it's a bunch of memorable quotes strung together. So I started at Chapter 2, I was looking for an appropriate quote that the Old Man might have used. I got as far as Chapter 7 before I thought I might give up, I was sure it was an early chapter. I started again, reading each verse out loud so that I could consider it. I spotted it at Chapter 3, verse 23 and realised my mistake.
It was mid-afternoon, and I needed to get out of the flat. So I took a nice long walk that would get me to this Italian bar and Keith for six thirty. I walked around to Brandon Park and climbed the hill to Cabot's Tower, built to commemorate John Cabot's voyage from Bristol to America in 1497. The views were fading with the light, but the fresh air did me good.
As I approached The Old Vic, or Theatre Royal as some people call it, from the west, I saw Keith walking up the street. He spotted me and waited outside what truly was a horrid coloured bar frontage. We both shook hands and slapped each other on the back in a sort of hug at the same time. We were both firing questions at each other, pleased to be reunited. Eventually, we went in to be greeted by a waiter. Were we eating or drinking? I looked at Keith and suggested we might eat later. He sensibly suggested that we might eat with the second bottle if drinking wine was OK with me. That sounded like a plan.
Having told him that I was back in town as the MD of Franks, now proudly owned by ITI, I got onto his life and what was happening there. Much to my surprise, he told me he was leaving Cheals on the coming Friday.
"I thought you were going to be there for good. What's changed?" I asked.
"Well, after Daniel's death, life was pretty miserable for a long time. We expected that. Someone wise said to me 'You never get over the death of a child, you just get used to living with it.' And they were right. About a year ago it was the third anniversary..."
I thought that was about right, I knew I was just coming up to the fourth anniversary of my actual divorce, of course the bust up was some months before that.
"... and Anne and myself had a long chat. We couldn't have more children, and actually we didn't want anymore. It would have seemed like we were trying to replace Daniel, and that would have been a betrayal of his memory. But although we were over the shock and the grief, life had lost its sparkle. We got up in the morning because the alarm went off, not with enthusiasm for the new day. So we decided that we should make a big change."
"To what?" I asked, as I was obviously meant to.
"Well, Anne had gone back to work after Daniel, she's a fully qualified nurse and she went into the Paxton Clinic, they almost let her dictate her own hours, which was a good way back in. And I was still at Cheals. So we did wonder about a change in lifestyle sort of thing. You know, three goats and growing organic vegetables type thing. But that isn't us. We both want careers and the good life, we always did. So we started looking around the world for somewhere warm and sunny, where we fancied living, and where we could both get jobs."
"And you've found it?"
"Yes. We really wanted Cairns in Australia, somewhere really hot and sunny. But we could never get two jobs organised. Anne got offers, but there wasn't much for me. But, just over a month ago we got matching offers for San Diego in California."
"Great. It's certainly warm and sunny there. And it will be getting warmer with global warming. So, assuming the San Andreas Fault holds together, and San Diego isn't last seen sailing off into the Pacific, what are you going to do?"
He smiled, "I guess that's one way we might see Hawaii." Then he paused and looked serious, "Anne's got herself a job in a small hospital, actually on the admin side, organising the nurses which suits what she wants. And I'm to be the new Executive V-P of the San Diego office of Winfler Electronics. Seventy eight geeky computer guys to look after."
"Great. That'll be a hell of a shock for you. From consultancy to being boss man. It was for me when I went to Jamesons. When does it all happen?"
"Well, Anne's given up work already and is off to her parents for this week. I guess that'll be fairly tearful, so I'm glad I'm not there. I'm quitting Cheals on Friday. You must come to my piss up. It'll be at the Lord Raglan as usual, and a lot of people will be pleased to see you. Anyway we have one more week after that in the house, and then it's sold. On the Friday night we go into a hotel for a night. Then on Saturday the vicar is saying a few prayers with us at the grave as we say goodbye to Daniel. We both hate that bit, leaving him behind. But then we go straight to the airport and California here we come."
"Well, I can only wish you well. Of course I'll miss you, both of you, Anne as well. With me coming back I had hopes of some good evenings, but I can understand that the sunshine of San Diego beats Bristol anytime."
"Well, what have you been doing since we lost touch? I assume that was because I was being fairly anti-social, Daniel and all that."
"Partly, I wasn't exactly a party animal myself for quite a while after Molly gave me the big heave ho. So it was as much my fault as yours."
"You'll have to tell me what happened, if you want to that is. If you don't want to talk about it, then that's OK to." He looked into my eyes, questioning but sympathetic.
"We'll see, when we're on the second bottle. Although actually, I'm not going to drink too much of that. I'm starting a new job tomorrow remember. I'll see you again before you go, and I'll happily get pissed with you then, but not tonight."
He poured two more large glasses of wine, and held the bottle up to the light. This one hasn't got a lot more in it. I'll order another one and how about some bottled water to go with it?"
"Yeah, and when they bring that, I'm going to order some food. But there's no hurry. How about you?"
"I'll choose something light, but I'll have something. Now tell me, what have you been doing?"
So I told him a little about working at Jamesons for about another fifteen months after the divorce.
"I found it really tough going in the early months. You'll find this, Keith, when you get to San Diego. When we're consultants we swan around looking at systems, listening to ideas, checking numbers, and we have grand ideas about strategic issues. And we make recommendations and walk away. When you're the top man, every little shitty issue lands on your desk. And everyone wants you to take all the bloody decisions, then it's your fault not theirs if it goes wrong."
He smiled, "Now you tell me, when the house is sold and the plane tickets are booked."
"Well one good effect of Molly deciding the grass was greener was that it turned me into one of the biggest bastards, most short tempered bosses ever. Don't fucking bring me silly little worries that some girl on the 4th floor hasn't come in because her boyfriend dumped her last night, just sort it. Don't ask me to take decisions that you're paid to take, assuming that you don't want me to actually do your job and declare you redundant. If you can't meet the target, well maybe I'll find someone who is capable of doing the job properly." I paused and then smiled evilly, "And of course, if some people have to me made redundant, well I'd be delighted. They aren't good hardworking souls trying to do their best for their partners and kids. They're all probably screwing around on each other, not giving a damn about anyone, so why should I care about them?"
Peter looked up, "You weren't a bit bitter by any chance?"
"Bitter; hurt; angry; you name it." I smiled. "It's OK, I'm over it now."
"But it did mean that in the second year I hit every target, we met every success criterion that HQ had set. I was not only the youngest, but I was the best performing MD in the Group, and the blue-eyed boy of ITI. My success is based on Molly fucking up my life." I concluded wryly.
"So what happened next?"
"Well, as the blue-eyed boy, I was summoned to London to join the International Consultancy division. I doubt whether there was anyone in Jamesons sorry to see me go, I feel a bit guilty about what a bastard I was to them all. I don't work like that anymore, I achieve results in kinder ways. Anyway, for a year and half after that I lived out of a suitcase. It was always easy to send the bachelor, he didn't have family to worry about. I saw a lot of the world, met all sorts of interesting ladies, but it was no way of life. So I created hell at HQ, and they found me the job in Holland.
"Tell, me, what's ITI like?"
"It's huge. But our structure is lots and lots of medium sized companies, each run fairly autonomously, and all controlled within one of four divisions: Food, which is where Jamesons and NDF sat; Property Development; Energy and Financial Services. And now the start of the fifth division, Health. And, if I'm lucky, that'll need a Divisional Director sometime in the next few years." I smiled.
"Oh Chris! Haven't you run out of ambition yet?"
"Sorry, Keith. But no way, not yet. I'll let you know when I do." I answered with a smile and took a swig of wine. "Let's order some food."
Once the waiter had left with our order, Keith asked "What does ITI stand for anyway?"
"Well it used to be International Technical Industries, but these days its just ITI. Do you know, some people make out other meanings, like Is That It or Institute of Total Ignorance. I've even heard that some people have come up with suggestions that are rather rude."
Keith smiled, "Good Heavens, what naughty people! I am shocked"
We laughed, and then he asked, "Who's the chief honcho?"
"Stephen J Parkinson. He's hell of a nice guy, tough as old boots and has taught me a hell of a lot. And you need a Bible to work for him."
"Not particularly, or not that I've seen. But equally, I haven't seen him do anything particularly immoral either. No it's just that he has this ability to quote Bible references to suit every occasion. He'll go into a meeting, and none of us, including him, would know how that meeting was going to turn out. Yet, right at the end, he'll quote a Bible reference, Corinthians Chapter 22 Verse 43, assuming there is one, and we'll all go running to our desks and look it up. And you can bet your bottom dollar it will be appropriate. When he sent me down here, he finished the conversation saying Genesis Chapter 2 Verse 23. Do you know what it was?"
"You Heathen! I'll tell you, because I wrote it down,..." And I fished a bit of paper out of my pocket, "... 'Therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the Garden of Eden to till the ground from whence he was taken.' I suppose it was fair in the world of ITI for Stephen to consider himself the Lord God, but with no stretch of imagination can ITI HQ be thought of as the Garden of Eden"
Keith laughed, "I know John, 11.35"
"Yes, that gets used a lot at ITI. Jesus Wept. It's the shortest verse in the Bible."
After that the food arrived, he asked what my love life was like now. "Non-existent, but if you meant my sex life..." And I told him a couple of anecdotes of my wild period. I twisted them to present them as macho stories, and Keith laughed, but I'm pretty sure he saw the sad little episodes for what they were. I did tell him a little about Helene, just to show him that I'd calmed down and was on the straight and narrow.
Once I'd finished eating I went for a pee. When I got back to our table, the dirty plates had been cleared and there was a new bottle of water waiting. Keith was happily sticking to the wine.
After a period of silence between us, he asked: "Going to tell me about it?".
"Why?" was my only reply.
"Because it's more interesting than me fretting about the fact that in almost exactly two weeks I'll be in a country that I've only ever visited for about six weeks in my life, starting a new job, in a new company, in a function that I've never done before, and my whole life depends on it all being a success."
I conceded, "OK, I'll try. It's all a long time ago now."
"I guess that you would have noticed that something was going wrong. But you and Molly certainly gave the impression that you were well matched and happy."
"Well, I thought we were, and some. I've reconsidered some of the days that led up to the break, but it really all came out of the blue one weekend as a complete and total surprise."
"So, what did you notice and when?"
I paused and chose my words, "I've already told you I was really quite stressed and felt myself under pressure at work. Well Molly was great, the girl that had stood beside me when I took my accountancy exams, and then went on to put up with me when I did my MBA, must just have got tired of the support role."
"Just tell me what happened, not your conclusions."
"Yes, sorry. As I said, I was very stressed. Part of the solution, or I thought so then, was to work harder and longer." I glanced up, but before he could say or even think anything, I said, "I know what your thinking: that I just lost my family to work. Well I didn't, I put rules around myself. I always insisted that we had family breakfast, although I did move that forward by half and hour, but it meant I did see the boys everyday. I always made sure that I got home in time for a meal with Molly, normally at about seven thirty and never later than eight o'clock. Then we would watch a bit of telly, or she'd do her crossword and I might read some business papers. I never did any computer work at home so that I wouldn't cut myself off into the computer, and I never went into the office at weekends. I thought that, considering it was tough times, I was keeping to the right side of reasonable." I shrugged.
"Travel? Nights away and entertaining?" He asked.
"Not much. Maybe a couple of nights per month in London. And maybe another couple of nights a month taking someone to dinner, but I managed to take Molly along on about half of those occasions, and she was great making polite conversation with some buyer from a supermarket and his wife. I don't believe that was the problem."
"And how was Molly in that time?"
"She knew I was tired and stressed, I never hid it from her. And she was great, she kept everything calm at home, she always had a lovely dinner waiting for me in the evening. She always dressed nicely and looked great. She made sure weekends were kept clear to be a family time with no chores. She even took over my job of writing the weekly email for my Mum in Melbourne, just to take another job off my hands."
"And did you say thank you?"
"Yes I did." I said, somewhat indignantly. "I bought flowers, I took little presents home whenever I spotted something she'd like. I told her I loved her -- often! And I used to say thank you about once a week for all she did. I've always been a good boy like that."
Keith hesitated: "How about the bedroom, if I dare ask?"
I smiled, I had no problem answering, "Great. She was always there for me. I don't think Molly refused me once in our whole married life. We had a rich, varied and plentiful sex life. And she was as eager as I was, pregnancy times excepted. I would guess three or four times a week at about that time, which considering we had two young children I didn't think was bad."
"Oh." Keith looked disappointed. "So when did you see something going wrong?"
"Well, I guess I misunderstood it at the time, but about ten or eleven days before blow-up day, she seemed slightly over the top in mothering me in the evening. I did register that I wondered if my stress was beginning to spill over onto her. I wondered if her job at the Hospital was getting too much."
Keith frowned, "She's a dietician, isn't she?"
"Yes. And she was working at the Hospital part time, about fifteen to twenty hours a week. But I know she always felt some involvement and responsibility for some of the patients. Maybe I hadn't cared enough about that, I don't know."
I paused, to give him a chance to ask any question. When he didn't, I went on: "And then that weekend the boys seemed very clinging to me, do you know what I mean? Everything was Daddy, Daddy, Daddy. If Ben needed his food cut up, then Daddy had to do it. Daddy had to read the bedtime stories, you know the sort of thing."
"Yes, I know." He sounded sad in his remembrance. Then he saw my look, and said, "It's OK, you get used to being hit by sadness." And he smiled weakly.
"So, I thought the boys are the problem. However much I've tried, they've missed me. So, for the next week I made sure I was in early enough to at least read them their bedtime story. But Molly still seemed a bit off, distant but very caring towards me. Anyway we get to the blow-up weekend. I remember packing my briefcase on the Friday night at the office, filling it with papers to read. Then I thought 'Sod it, family comes first' and I purposely went home without it."
"Good boy." Keith muttered.
I ignored his patronising comment, "We had a great family weekend. On the Saturday we went to a Disney film and then out to a restaurant. It was Ben's first ever trip to a cinema, he had to sit on my knee to watch it, and even then he fell asleep. But it was a great warm family feeling, I promise you. And after we'd got the boys to bed, and had something to eat ourselves, we went to bed early - if you know what I mean."
I looked at him, Keith smiled and nodded, so I went on, "And we almost did it again on Sunday morning, except Ben woke up and started making a general nuisance of himself. Anyway, on that Sunday we took them down to the beach at Weston. I built sandcastles and we ate ice creams, and Jamie rode on the donkeys. It was great day out, and I'm sure everyone loved it."
"So, when did it go wrong?"
"Well, I had noticed that the boys were still very much Daddy's boys. A couple of times I had to correct them for what was almost minor insolence to their Mother. And I really didn't know what was causing it. So, after I'd put them to bed and read them their story, I came down stairs, poured a couple of glasses of wine, and started to try and talk about it to Molly. I wondered if this was just a stage they were going through, or had she done something to upset them, or what? I just didn't know."
"And after a lot of delving and talking and refusing to ignore it, with her saying 'they'll just get over it' or 'they've been a bit troublesome lately' I got to what I thought was a truth when she admitted that she'd been a bit hard on them recently, and had been shouting at them. So she was the rotten Mummy and I was the good Dad. So, now I knew, but that only raised more questions, and I teased away at it, and she got more and more short tempered and agitated, and she was almost in tears at one point. Then she said it: 'There's been someone else.' Well, if you want a conversation stopper between a married couple then that's it. There's a sort of pause while you re-marshal your emotions and get your head around that little gem."
Keith smiled, but was listening intently. I took a sip of water.
I smiled, "Choose any invective you like, associate it with a couple of really good profanities, and I'm pretty sure I threw it that night, and at fairly high decibels. She was sobbing her heart out about how she felt so guilty, and how she never wanted to hurt me. That's why she'd been so short-tempered with the boys for the previous week. And, yes, she had had sex with him, at his flat down by the waterfront. Eventually, I asked if she loved him. Somewhere along the line I'd learnt that his name was Peter Davies and he was doing some research at the Hospital. Actually I think I gave her a simple choice, did she love him or did she open her legs for every randy researcher at the Hospital? She said she had 'deep feelings' for him. To be honest, that totally deflated me. I felt utterly defeated, my whole life had just slipped through my fingers. There was nothing left to say, I just went to bed."
"What did you take her to mean when she said she had deep feelings for him?"
"Precisely what she said. That he was very important to her. Probably more than that, I assumed she would ease back a bit from the truth for my sake, to make it easier for me. I guess I assumed she loved him."
"Anyway, go on. What happened next?"
"I went to bed, she came up about half an hour later. She was still in tears, and saying how sorry she was that she'd hurt me. All I did was tell her that she wasn't welcome in any bed where I was. She should take her things and sleep in the spare bedroom. I think that hit her very hard, it really came home to her at that point that we'd suddenly got to the end. Then I lay in my bed, staring at the ceiling and wondering all sorts of thoughts. And I could hear her crying in the other room."
Keith was thoughtful for a moment before he asked, "I guess I should ask: Did she have any reason to maybe think you might be playing away? A serious affair maybe, or just one night stands. You've told me that that is exactly what you did after the break-up."
"Of course I've thought about that. I can certainly say there was nothing like that whatsoever in my life. But did she think there might be? Well, how do I know? She shouldn't have, because there was nothing."
"OK. Sorry, but I thought I should ask."
"Look, Keith, I don't want to make out that I was Mr Perfect, because I know I wasn't. Some weekends I was too tired to have two little boys bounce all over me with too much healthy energy. I know I took far too many work papers home to read. And I'm sure Molly had a long list of things I did wrong. I always wore jeans at the weekend, she was always sending me up to the bedroom to dress a bit smarter for whatever we were doing. The funny thing is that I don't even own a pair of jeans now. She also used to tell me that I wasn't in touch with my emotional side, just because I don't cry. Actually I did fill up a bit in the Delivery Room when both the boys were born, but it's not the sort of thing you make a show of, is it? Oh, and I hate gardening. Her father loves his garden, so I guess she grew up believing that that was what the man of the house did."
"None of that would seem to be a hanging offence." Keith smiled.
I returned his smile, "I didn't think so, but maybe they pissed her off enough to let a randy bachelor into her life."
"So what happened the next morning?"
"I got up early, I couldn't sleep anyway, and I had hopes of just slipping out of the house. But she followed me down stairs when I came out of the bedroom. She looked awful, and was still sobbing that she was sorry. I just walked out, sometimes being sorry isn't enough."
"OK, what did you think she meant by being sorry?"
I looked at him, and paused to choose my words, "It can't be easy for someone falling in love with someone else. Of course they're sorry for the poor schmuck they're leaving behind. Of course she didn't want to hurt me, we'd been happily married for seven years But being sorry doesn't change anything. Anyway, I went into the office, but I couldn't work and instead I phoned round and found a cheap studio apartment. It was basically a furnished room, down on the Brewston Road. It really was grotty."
"It's got worse in the intervening years down there, that whole area needs bulldozing and starting again."
"Anyway, late in the afternoon I went back home and packed some suitcases. In the middle of doing that, she came home. She screamed hysterically at me, it was almost frightening. Eventually, by me talking calmly she calmed down. I told her I'd see her at the weekend and we could talk then, but I needed a few days. Then I just left."
"Did you ever find out how they met?"
"Yes, I did ask, on that Monday evening as it happens. I won't swear that I got all the detail right, I'm not sure I was in a very receptive mood for listening, but as I understand it, he came and sat with her in an almost empty staff canteen one day when she was having a late lunch. That's the thing that still bugs me: he chose to sit down with a married woman and chat her up. OK, after that they fell in love, and I accept that's an unstoppable force, I was just collateral damage. But at that first meeting it was just a randy bachelor spotting an attractive woman eating alone, and he thought he'd try his chances. And I know Molly, if she's talking to anyone, you can bet your bottom dollar she will tell them about Jamie and Ben. So, he knew she was married, she was wearing a wedding ring, he quickly knew that she was a mother of two small children. I'd like to think that I got a mention, she was supposedly happily married after all. And he chose to chat her up. Everything else is consequential to that."
"But she responded?"
"I don't know. Did she? Or was she just polite and she didn't tell him to get lost as she should have done? It probably depends on how subtle he was, and what sort of mood she was in. But, yes, she certainly responded later, in his flat down by the water, one afternoon apparently. And my demise was inevitable."
"Anyway, you went off to your dingy room?"
"Yup. I refused to take her calls. I was a bit in two minds as to whether I wanted to talk to her, or whether I'd be better off having a week's time out. I thought: well if she really wants to see me or get through to me she'll find a way. But she never did."
"But you did go back at the weekend?"
"Oh, yes. On the Sunday. I worked Saturday, there was no reason why not. But I went back late on Sunday afternoon."
"So what did she say?"
"That Peter Davies was a really nice guy, that he reminded her of me in some ways, that he had a great sense of humour and he was intelligent. Oh, and he was a really good listener too. What was I meant to say to that? Congratulate her on her choice of lover? If there was one thing that I didn't want to hear at that moment, I think she hit upon it. I blew up again, not as bad as the previous week, but it wasn't a fun conversation. I did learn that she had seen him again, twice. They had lunch together on both Wednesday and Friday. I got out at that point, and saw my solicitor on the Monday."
"And that was it, she never tried to reconcile?"
"No. We had to go through showing that we'd made proper provision for the boys, but as my solicitor said: In this country if someone wants a divorce, then they get one. Of course I thought about the boys, but I don't believe in trying to hold a dead marriage together for the sake of the children. That would be a formula for everybody to get hurt. As it is they got a stable home where their mother and step dad are happy, and that's better for them."
"And it was smooth? I won't say painless."
"No, never. It was a mucky divorce. We argued about the boys. I'd suggested joint custody, but that she should have residency. But she wanted me to have joint residency. I couldn't understand that, I guess bloody Peter was influencing her, he probably didn't want the boys around all the time. We'd always agreed that a stable home life was important for them. Living some of their time with me, with my career going on, wasn't going to give them that. I thought they'd be better off with their mother, or even their mother and this Peter Davies if they were really going to get together. When I'd won that one, we argued about money. In fairness, I think that was more her lawyers than her. Remember that house we'd only just moved into?"
"Yes, I remember it. Anne was so jealous."
"Yes, it was on the back of me getting the ITI job. We'd decided to mortgage ourselves up to the hilt and beyond to buy the one big family house that we'd always wanted. We decided it would be worth it to give the boys the benefits of it right then, and financially things would get easier in the future. Well, of course, her lawyers started going on about her need to remain in the family home."
"I thought that was pretty standard, at least until the youngest is eighteen."
"It often happens, but it isn't a legal requirement, and doesn't always happen. The problem was I simply couldn't afford it. It wasn't that I didn't want to, it was a 'read my lips' situation about how much money I had coming in. One blip of the mortgage rate, and I'd have gone bankrupt, literally. I had to house myself, however humbly, and I had to pay formal maintenance. It was impossible, but her solicitor just wanted to squeeze me dry."
"But you sold the house in the end."
"Oh, yes. After this bit of the row had straggled on for a few weeks. Of course I offered to buy them a smaller alternative home, and that was being haggled over. Then I got a letter from my dear, estranged wife. Apparently 'Dear Peter' had asked to marry her. He would sell his flat and buy a house and marry her and make a home for them all, including my sons. Wasn't that generous of him? Anyway, she wrote that she intended to accept, so our house could be sold and the money split fifty-fifty, which it was."
"And that was it? Suddenly a great marriage, a great love affair was over?"
"Pretty much. I only saw her a couple of times after that. One was a bit odd, two days after I'd received the wonderful news that she was off to marry the love of her life, she was standing outside my front door when I came home that night. I wasn't sure what I was meant to say, she'd just told me that as soon as she could she was going to marry Peter. It was the end of any residual hope that I had; that somehow this was all a dreadful nightmare and I'd wake up soon. But she just stood there and looked at me without saying a word. I hadn't the faintest idea what I was meant to do or say. Our marriage had reduced itself so that we had nothing to say to each other, so eventually I congratulated her on her engagement and went indoors." I didn't tell him how I sat on the stairs, just inside the front door, and cried my eyes out for the end of a wonderful marriage.
"And so, dear reader, she married him?"
"Five weeks after the Decree Absolute she married her Peter. Actually, in some ways I find that comforting. I wasn't thrown over because of some silly fling, or worse still, some drunken mistake. They loved each other, you can't beat that. I'm fairly philosophical about it all. But I do wish I knew if I had done something wrong, if there was some underlying mistake of mine that made her vulnerable to his entreaties. And, of course I wonder: Did she ever really love me? But I guess I'll be taking those questions to my grave." I smiled gently and shrugged.
I looked at Keith, he looked at me. Neither of us said anything for some time.
Eventually, I spoke: "I know that ends the evening on a down beat. But truly, believe me, I'm not all bitter and twisted. Life really is fun, and I'm thoroughly enjoying it. But I do need my beauty sleep, and I've got a whole new world to conquer tomorrow. Let's pay the bill and be off. I'll definitely see you again before you go. And do give my love to Anne."