Author's Note: The general theme of this story is based on an anonymous story written in 1993 called 'Al & Mary' but otherwise bears no resemblance to it. As 21st Century writers we sometimes forget the debt of gratitude we owe to the early pioneers of erotica. Much of it was anonymous and much of it very bad but there are names we shouldn't forget like M1ke Hunt, Friar Dave and Pussybarber. In the days before StoriesOnLine, ASSTR and Literotica, these brave souls posted their text to the various newsgroups via primitive modems and unreliable telephone lines. They sowed the seeds and we reap the harvest. But I digress...
For reasons I won't go into, I had to up sticks and leave the city I'd lived and worked in for over ten years. I can't say I was too happy about this but needs must, as the saying has it. In a fit of pique, I decided that, if I was going to have to move anyway, it might as well be as far away from where I was as it could reasonably be. It couldn't be a little village in the back-of-beyond, though I was tempted, as I needed to work and there's not much call for my skills in a little village. On top of that, I was a city person at heart and the thought of spending the long evenings engaged in lively philosophical discussions about, or maybe with, sheep was not one that filled me with enthusiasm. I had the choice of east coast or west. I chose the east.
The next tasks were to find somewhere to stay and something to do. Finding somewhere to stay proved to be relatively easy. I simply phoned round various letting agencies until I was offered a short-term lease on the right-sized property at a rent I didn't think was extortionate. As it happened, I was choosing the right time of year to move. In three or four months, I'd've paid over twice as much as the tourist season got into full swing.
Finding a job was less easy. Not that there was a dearth of them; it was more about the terms and conditions rather than the actual job. I could have applied for a full-time vacancy but I didn't want to be tied down; after all I might hate the place and want to move on. Freelance was the answer and, here again, I had choices. I could either sign with a large national agency or a small local one. Large agencies with well-known names were much safer. They ran things by the book and you knew you would be paid at the end of the month. The downside was that clients tended to 'bulk buy' so you could end up in a team of half a dozen or more slogging away to meet some deadline that had been drawn in the sand my the MD or whoever after he'd had too many G&Ts at some business dinner. Smaller agencies tended to be more personal. The good ones often had more interesting assignments and looked after their people better. The bad ones just fucked everybody around. The problem was that, unless you knew the scene, you couldn't tell which was which.
I chose a smaller agency. I had a number of reasons for this. If they turned out to be crap I wasn't really in any worse a position than I was just now. If they were good, then at least I stood a chance of enjoying the assignments. I made my choice on gut instinct. They did have some good clients and the work sounded interesting but the main factor was the voice of the woman on the phone. She came across as honest and genuinely interested in signing me up.
I had all the usual hassles with packing and storage and lawyers and the gas board and the phone company and Uncle Tom Cobley and all but, eventually, I was on my way North. I picked up the keys from the letting agent and, after a few wrong turnings, found the flat. It wasn't quite what I'd expected from the particulars. Funny how agents' descriptions never quite match the real thing though you couldn't ever accuse them of out-and-out lying. It was comfortable enough, I suppose, but it was small; an almost square box divided into three rooms, kitchen and bathroom by partitions, two layers of plasterboard, rather than proper walls. Still, it was only for three months.
I had a 'settling in' day then I had to report to my first client. As I'd acquired a local A-Z, I didn't have any trouble finding the place. The job turned out to be exactly as described. The people were friendly and let me get on with my work without undue interference. I made a couple of tentative enquiries about the agency and was given a big 'thumbs up'. That was a relief for it meant I stood a good chance of getting paid.
The month whizzed past. Unlike some bigger companies, this one was grateful for the assistance provided by outsiders and I was included in all the usual social activities both inside and outside work. In fact a couple of the staff, learning I was a heathen from the South, took it upon themselves to remedy the sad lack in my education regarding the many benefits and proud history of their city. People like that can be a bore but, as a new boy, I was grateful for their input, especially as it was done in a light-hearted manner. Another effect of being a new boy was that I went out of my way to be helpful even in areas that weren't really my concern. If this agency was as good as the company believed, I wanted a good report to go back to them. If I got my feet under the table, I would be well set for future work. We parted with genuine regret. I think I did a good job. No, I know I did a good job.
I know I did a good job as, the next day, I had a phone call from the agency telling me so. They also asked me a favour. I'd been scheduled to go to another small company in a nearby town for the next two weeks. However, one of their star people had been involved in a car accident so they were short of a body to do some work for a major client in the city. Could I, possibly, help them out? Now I can smell a con when I hear one. I don't mean they were lying, the poor bugger probably really had been in an accident and was in hospital with his leg in plaster or even worse, but it was clear they weren't giving me the whole story. The clincher was when they offered me more money. I was tempted to tell them to piss off. I was new and I didn't owe them any loyalty, but I said yes. I don't know why.
The job turned out to be as bad as I'd suspected. For a start the company was large and bureaucratic. They had their own way of doing things, a way that bore no resemblance to any generally accepted standards, and were adamant we worked that way. It's not my favourite way of working. With non-standard procedures you waste a fair amount of time getting in tune with them to the detriment of the work you're supposed to do, but I can live with it. The killer was the project manager. She was, to put it politely, a pompous idiot. There were three of us from the agency involved in a six-week project and we spent most of the first morning in her office while she told us, essentially, that we were the lowest of the low and good-for-nothing time-wasters and she would be keeping a close eye on everything we did. I glanced at my fellow inmates. They'd been here before so knew the score. Their faces were carefully neutral.
We started work and, sure enough, I wasted time trying to understand why I had to complete Form AB123 when I wanted X and Form UV789 when I wanted Y, when X and Y were two parts of the same thing. Mrs Buffoon, as I christened her, was not happy and made certain I knew about it. She had her deadlines and her expectations and I was damned well going to make them. I did, through the simple expedient of working late more days than not. It was clear she was trying to rattle me to prove her theory that all contractors were useless bastards and I was damned if I'd give her the satisfaction. My team-mates were no help either. They took this job because of the pay and were only grateful that, because I was in the spotlight, they were allowed to get on with their work in relative peace. I say relative for Mrs Buffoon was a great believer in 'teams' despite the fact that she didn't have a clue about how to run one. We had to complete weekly forecasts, daily diaries and weekly progress reports, all of which were examined in great detail and publicly criticised at the weekly 'team meeting'. After ripping our current progress to shreds, she would then tell us, in great detail what we should accomplish next week. That this bore no relationship to the work that actually needed to be done never seemed to impinge on her consciousness. I quickly discovered that the other two had developed the technique of slanting their reports to make it appear that what they actually did was what she thought they ought to be doing.
The six weeks passed ... eventually. As we left the building for the last time, my team-mates invited me for a drink. I didn't quite tell them where to shove it though I was tempted. Why should I want to socialise with them when they'd let me be their fall guy for a month and a half?
I phoned the agency the next day to tell them I wouldn't be available for several days. I was taking some time off.
"Take a week. You deserve it. I'll pay you half-fee as a thank you."
That wasn't unusual; it was unheard of. "You don't need to do that."
"You helped me out of a really sticky situation. I appreciate it."
"Well ... there's an old adage about gift horses."
"Then you'd better avert your eyes quickly. Take it. I insist."
"Thanks. That's very generous."
"Thank you. I've got something lined up for you a week Monday. Call me later in the week."
Well, that was an interesting conversation. I'd always talked to the same woman on the phone and I'd assumed she was just someone who liaised with the contractors. However, she had said that she would pay the bonus and she insisted I take it. Employees, unless they're very senior, don't make that sort of offer so who was I dealing with? An intriguing little mystery.
I spent the week looking for better accommodation. Maybe it was my lucky week for I found the ideal place; a four-roomed flat in an old Victorian tenement. I didn't quite follow the story about how it came to be vacant but I wasn't really bothered. Even better, in exchange for moving in at the end of the month and committing to a twelve-month lease, I got a few pounds off the rent. As it was a bit more expensive than my current place, every little helped.
I phoned the agency on Friday to tell them about my pending change of address and get details of the next assignment. My intriguing contact complimented me. Apparently I'd struck it even luckier than I'd thought for my new flat was in a reasonably desirable area.
"You're planning on sticking around, then?"
"So it would seem."
She didn't elaborate. She seemed in an unusually chatty mood and I had no objections for she had a very pleasant telephone manner and was easy to talk to. I hung up even more intrigued than before. Why was she pleased that I was going to be here for the foreseeable future?
The new job was much more to my liking, as was the one after that and the one after that. By now, the summer was beginning to wane and the hordes of tourists were thinking about packing their bags and returning to wherever they had come from.
Then I got another call from my mystery lady.
"I'm going to impose on your good nature again," she said without preamble.
"Oh, no," I groaned. "Not Mrs Buffoon again."
"The project non-manager on the last crappy project you dropped me in."
She laughed. It was the first time I'd heard her laugh. It was a very pleasant sound. "No, not Mrs Buffoon. I need a team leader urgently. I know you've done that sort of thing before. Would you help me out again?"
"What sort of team and what sort of company?" I asked cautiously. In fact I'd already made my mind up I'd take the job.
The company was a large financial institution and the assignment was to fill in for a permanent staff member who'd gone on long-term sick leave. This was not a good position to fill. First you've got to get up to speed with on-going projects in no time flat. Second, you've got to placate the ruffled feathers of all the existing team members who think they should have been given temporary promotion rather than bringing in an outsider. It never seems to occur to these people that, if they'd been able to do the job, they'd already be up for promotion. Third, ... Well, let's just say I was going to have to employ all my people skills and then some. The contract was an open one but guaranteed to be at least two months.
It turned out to be not as bad as I'd feared. I had a good team, most of whom realised the necessity of my presence. There was the usual jockeying for position among my peers and the usual attempts to dump the shit projects on the greenhorn. I'd been around enough to avoid most of the major pitfalls. I think my acceptance came when, about three weeks after I'd started, I came back from a management meeting and called my team together. I told them we'd been asked to take on a new project and what it was. Around the table faces blanched and the temperature dropped by several degrees.
"I told them to fuck off," I announced casually.
The expressions changed to ones of incredulity.
"You didn't, did you?"
"I didn't actually use those exact words but pretty close. Listen, guys, I may be new here but I'm not exactly inexperienced. I can spot a can of worms at a hundred paces and that project has the words on the tin in big bold letters."
I was invited for a drink that Friday and I knew I was 'one of them' for the duration.
The other thing that happened was that I rediscovered my appetite for women. The circumstances that had led to my flight north had rather soured me of the species and then I'd been too busy finding my feet to be bothered. However, I bumped into an attractive blonde girl at the coffee machine one morning. It was being it's usual temperamental self; 'communing with the mother ship' was the expression used when it suddenly decided not to work then, just as suddenly, decided to start again. We got chatting and I realised, with some surprise, that the old spark was there. It seemed to be mutual for we kept bumping into each other, seemingly by accident. I asked her out. She accepted. We had a good time which led to a second date and a third and pretty soon it was accepted that Debbie and I were together. Neither of us expected much. She had been bruised as I had, though not quite as badly, and neither of us was looking for a long-term commitment. We dated for just over a month then moved on by mutual consent. The relationship signalled, however, that I was available and from then on I wasn't short of female companionship. Some of the would-be contenders fell by the wayside when I passed word through the grapevine, Maggie, the IT Director's PA, that I wasn't looking to tie any knots but there were enough to keep me amused.
The third thing that happened had more far-reaching consequences. I was asked to come up to the Operations Director's office. Being invited to a director's office was generally regarded as 'a bad thing' except I didn't work for the Operations Director ... I didn't even work for the company ... so there was no obvious reason for the summons. He began with the usual softening-up questions. How was I doing? Did I like working here? How was I finding the team? Was everything going okay? I gave him the usual non-committal answers. What did he expect? That I would say I hated the place and was about to jump off a tall building?
Then he dropped his bombshell. Would I like to come and work for him as a special projects manager? For once I was completely lost for words. I spluttered about the agency and my commitment and that I didn't know whether I'd want to permanently settle here. He waved it all aside and asked me to give it serious consideration. If I was interested in pursuing it, we'd talk about a precise job definition, pay and all that stuff. His only commitment was that I would earn as much as I did as a contractor and have the pension scheme and perks to boot. I walked out of his office in a daze and I don't think I heard a word anyone said to me for the rest of the day.
I felt no better in the morning. The offer was tempting, of that there was no doubt, but ... The two biggest 'buts' were ... did I want to go back to full-time employment and what exactly were 'special projects' which led to a third 'but' ... what would happen to me if there weren't any because, say, his budget had been cut? A fourth 'but' was the question of what responsibilities I would have and how much authority I would be given to follow my ideas through. I needed to talk to a friendly voice at the agency though I suspected it would become less friendly once I'd said my piece.
"Congratulations and shit," was the surprising response.
"Congratulations. You deserve it. I'm only surprised it's taken this long for someone to recognise your worth. Shit because that's my instant reaction to losing you. Can you come and see me after work?"
The address she gave me was down near the old docks. At one time a bustling port, the area had deteriorated with the decline in sea transport and acquired a most unsavoury reputation for a while. Now urban regeneration was all the rage and the old docks had been turned into up-market housing. Trendy wine bars had replaced the spit-and-sawdust pubs and Thai restaurants the fish-and-chip shops. I felt a bit sorry for the original inhabitants and wondered what became of them after the 'okay-yah' invasion started.
I entered a non-descript door in the plain façade of a grimy Victorian building just off one of the main streets and climbed the stairs. The stairs were in good repair and the stairwell well lit. The first landing had two doors; an anonymous one and one with frosted glass and the name of the agency. I opened this one and stepped into fantasy land.
Instead of an office reception area, I had entered someone's living room; at least that was my first impression. The décor was green and gold and deep pink. There was a patterned carpet with a nice pile on the floor, there were curtains at the windows and decorative net curtains. There were several comfortable tan leather armchairs and two large pot plants and a coffee table. To prove it was an office, however, there was also a wooden desk and some filing cabinets. Behind the desk, which had no modesty panel, regarding me with an amused smile, was a refugee from the Playboy Mansion. No, that isn't fair for she was no brainless blonde bimbo. For a start she was brunette and there was more than a hint of intelligence behind her brown eyes. In short the room looked like something out of 'House Beautiful', or 'Office Beautiful' if there's such a publication.
"Can I help you, sir?" she asked.
"Yes." I swept my gaze round the room. "For a start you can pay me more money." The smile slipped. "I mean if you can afford this on the back of my fees..." I winked at her to show I was joking and the smile returned.
"That's why we don't normally let you in here."
"Mutiny in the ranks and all that?"
"Well, I'm actually here by invitation. I've an appointment with ... with ... You know, this is most embarrassing. I've been speaking to the lady on the phone for six months and I don't know her name."
The receptionist was openly grinning now.
"I could wind you up and embarrass you further by insisting you prove that you really do have an appointment but I won't as I know who you are and Miss Boswell is expecting you."
"Hah. And I could foil your dastardly plot by the simple expedient of making a single phone call," I retorted. "Will you tell Miss Boswell I'm here?"
"Curses. Foiled again," she said with a laugh. "I already have. She shouldn't be long. Take a seat."
I felt curiously light-headed. This place seemed so unreal. I'd worked for agencies before and they always seemed to be shoe-string affairs, even the large ones. How could a small agency like this afford such luxury? And the receptionist! A model girl in a model office. Coming on top of the shock of yesterday's job offer I felt I had stepped into a dream world. For a second the room around me faded.
"Are you all right?" The receptionist was looking at me with some concern.
"Yes," I said, blinking a couple of times. "Yes, I'm fine, thank you."
"You'd better sit down. Can I get you anything? A glass of water?"
"No, thanks. I'll be fine." I took a deep breath. "I don't know what came over me."
"You sure? You looked a bit ... overwhelmed."
I managed a grin. "Well, you're a pretty overwhelming person."
"I assume that's a compliment." She was smiling.
"In which case, thank you. It won't get you any more money, though."
"I suspect it won't even get me a date."
She made a little moue. "Unfortunately, you're right."
I gave an exaggerated world-weary sigh. "I thought as much."
At that moment a woman entered from behind the reception area and advanced with a smile and outstretched hand.
"I'm sorry to keep you waiting. I'm Natasia Boswell."
Despite having spoken to her on the phone fairly regularly, I hadn't formed a mental image of Miss Boswell. If I'd been pushed I'd probably have said she would be forty-something and somewhat motherly. That's the impression her voice gave anyway. The vision before me couldn't have been more different.
"I'm pleased to meet you at last," I said faintly as I shook the proffered hand and took in the well-filled, exquisitely tailored blouse and skirt, the perfectly made-up face, the expertly coiffed dark blonde hair and the glamour-model figure. But it wasn't just the looks. She had the air of a woman in her prime who had total confidence in herself and her abilities. I realised I'd subconsciously straightened my shoulders and sucked in my tummy.
"Come through and we'll talk."
She led the way down a short corridor, opened a door and gestured me inside. She looked equally impressive from the back. Her high-heeled shoes emphasised the length of her shapely legs and added an attractive sway to her hips.
"Take a seat. Can I get you anything? Tea? Coffee? Something stronger?"
"I'm not sure alcohol would be a good idea right now," I said with a deprecating smile. "Coffee, perhaps."
"You mean I might ply you with liquor and have my evil way with you?" Her smile was teasing.
"Not at all," I said in the same spirit. "Liquor-plying's my job."
"Ah, but we live in an age of female equality."
"So we do. In which case you can ply away to your heart's content ... but later."
She touched my arm. It was only a fleeting touch but she made it seem distractingly intimate. "I'll be back in a minute."
This room was, if anything, even more luxurious than reception. My feet sank into the cream and green carpet. The brocade chairs and settee certainly didn't come from IKEA. The wide-screen TV looked top-of-the range. The bookcase and side tables were of real wood. On the walls were pictures of young women. I couldn't tell if they were photographs or paintings but, although the poses were decorous enough, there was something oddly erotic about them. I sank into one of the armchairs and tried to gather my wits. I felt I was going to need them.
Miss Boswell returned with a tray and proceeded to pour the coffee. She pulled a side table to my chair and set the coffee cup on it. It was a simple act but she did it with infinite grace. She took the seat opposite, stretched her long legs out in front of her and crossed her ankles. I did my best not to look for I realised she was doing it to distract me.
"Are you in a hurry?" she asked.
"Not particularly." I was surprised at the question.
"Good. I confess I've wanted to meet you for some time."
She grinned. "I don't normally deal with my contractors face-to-face but you are an exception."
"I can understand why ... you don't want your contractors here, that is. The other I'll suspend judgement on." She raised an enquiring eyebrow. "I suspect their reaction would be much like mine." I gestured at the luxurious room. "A bigger cut."
"I wasn't being entirely serious, you know?"
"I know. But others would be."
I nodded. I sipped my coffee and waited. We looked at each other over the rims of our cups, sizing each other up, each waiting for the other to speak. I was content to wait. She was making the provocative comments, not I.
She put her cup down and smiled. "I expect you're wondering why I regard you as an exception."
She re-crossed her legs, revealing a bit of thigh. I glanced at her legs then went back to her face. I wasn't going to let myself be distracted.
I shrugged. "I'm curious but I can contain my curiosity."
"You've lost me, I'm afraid."
"I hope not. Let's take it from the top. You came in to the office. It wasn't what you expected and you were a bit ... overwhelmed, yet you managed to flirt politely with Rowena. I appear. I'm clearly not what you expect yet you don't ogle..." she held up a warning hand. "I'm under no illusions about the effect I have on men. I've given you every opportunity to stare at my legs ... nice, aren't they?" She crossed them again, slowly and deliberately. This time I looked. They were nice legs; the sort you like to imagine curled round your back or your head. I was feeling a trifle warm. After an appropriate time I raised my eyes to her face. She was wearing an enigmatic smile.
"Very nice," I agreed. "And your point is?"
"My point is ... focus. You don't let yourself be distracted. I've had seriously good reports from every company you've worked for ... yes, even Mrs Buffoon."
That did surprise me. It must have shown on my face for her smile broadened.
"It's a bit warm in here, don't you think? D'you mind if I open the window?"
"Go ahead. I'll take my jacket off, if that's okay?"
"Feel free. This isn't a formal interview or anything."
She had to stretch to reach the window catch. The pose made her breasts push out against her blouse. They were larger than I'd first thought. I had no idea what age she was, probably mid-thirties. Even still, she had a superb figure.
"Would you like me to get that?" I volunteered.
"No. It's just a bit stiff, that's all. There. Got it."
The catch wasn't the only thing to be a bit stiff. I did a bit of hasty adjustment before resuming my seat. She turned and parked her bum on the window sill. The evening light turned her hair into a dark blonde nimbus. I smiled inwardly. She was doing her best to push all my buttons in a very subtle way. Until I knew why, I was determined not to react.
"Not Mrs Buffoon heself, of course," she resumed. "But others noticed."
"Why are you here?"