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."
.... There is more of this story ...