"Roberts! I want that preliminary list of materials for the Galdwin Annex on my desk before you leave."
"But Ms Coulter, it's Friday and I have a date tonight..."
"Cancel it or find another job."
"That list won't be wanted for another week and will probably change when the design is finalised," I interrupted.
"You think I don't know that?" She turned her attention to me, "That's why I asked for a PRELIMINARY list. Sometimes I wonder how you ever made it to head the design department, Pearson."
"At least I made it on merit and not because I was related to someone with influence." The rest of the design department stopped and stared. I'd had a gutful of the young woman who'd been appointed as our manager a little over a month previously without my having any say in the matter. Since then she'd been trying to make a name for herself with the hierarchy by sending them frequent reports and being totally authoritative with us and doing so in the most objectionable way. Morale in the department dropped dramatically and several of my staff talked about leaving. I'd thought about it but decided to give it a little longer. I liked what I did and got on well with the rest of my design team but the bitch in the office delighted in making things difficult for us, and particularly for me.
Jennifer Coulter's face flushed red with anger but to save face she retorted, "Let me have a progress report on the total development before you leave today Pearson. I don't care if you do have to work after five to get it done." Abruptly she turned and went into her office.
"God, what's got her knickers in a twist? She's in a worse mood than usual and that's saying something." Kate McIntyre and I had worked together for many years and were good friends. I'd even thought of courting her now her divorce was final but wondered if it would devalue our friendship. "You going to do a report Tom?"
"Of course. Must do what our manager tells us." I grinned but continued with the design work until 4:50 and then emailed my report to Kate while I put the printed version in a smart folder.
<The Galdwin project is well behind schedule largely because of managerial interference, requests for unnecessary reports and work repeated for minor alterations>
Kate gave me the thumbs up sign when I took the report through and placed it on Ms Coulter's desk and beat a hasty retreat. Quickly I shut my computer down, tidied my desk and reached for my coat. "Pearson! My office now!" My hoped for two minutes delay didn't materialise. Without speaking I continued to put on my coat and made ready to leave. "Pearson! Didn't I make myself clear! My office NOW!"
"If you wish to see me Ms Coulter, it will have to be in at 8 o'clock Monday morning. I am leaving now."
"You're fired. Leave the premises and don't come back. We'll forward any wages due." Fist clenched, her face red with anger, she turned to go back into her office, I presumed to inform Personnel.
"Ms Coulter, please call security. I have the statutory right to take my personal possessions from my desk but security has to check I do not take any company stuff." My reply took her aback. She obviously thought I would plead to keep my job but I was pretty sure that with my reputation, I could get another or start up on my own.
"You're going through with this?" Kate asked. I nodded.
"What will happen to the department? Will it be disbanded? Who will take your place?" John Roberts asked a series of questions I couldn't answer. As a young man, I knew he worried about getting another job that paid as well.
Even the security guy expressed his shock at my being sacked. I bade sad farewells to my colleagues and went home, in many ways relieved the stress and tension of leading a department and having a bitch for a boss, was over.
7:30 the doorbell rang. I cursed silently. Mandy, my nearly four-year-old daughter, sat on my lap waiting for me to read a story before I put her to bed. With Mandy hugging her arms around my neck, I answered the door. My ex-manager stood on the doorstep. "Come in Jenny..."
"Ms Coulter to you."
"At work, maybe, but not in my home and not when I'm not an employee. Come in, this ones not dressed for being outside." Mandy shyly looked at the visitor and I semi-formally introduced one to the other. "Come in and sit down. Would you like tea or coffee?"
"Coffee. Something stronger would be preferable or perhaps we can get straight down to why I've come?"
"There's no booze in this house, not since the drunk driver killed my wife. And we won't be able to do much talking until I've put my daughter to bed."
"You hav'ta read'a story before I go'ta bed," Mandy spoke for the first time.
"I'll make Jenny's coffee first."
"Can she read f'r me?"
"Yes, I expect she can but you have to ask if she will read to you."
"Jenny will'ya read me a story please?" As soon as Jenny nodded her agreement, Mandy climbed on to her lap and thrust the book in her face. I couldn't help grinning at the twenty-something woman in a business suit struggling to control a squirming young girl trying to get comfortable against her. The situation made her uncomfortable and embarrassed but that amused me further. "Do her good to have a couple of kids of her own," I thought.
"You don't read very well, what stage are you up to?" I couldn't help laughing at Mandy's comment but I knew what she meant. Jenny read in monotone, with none of the emphasis or change in character voices I tried to use. I took over while Jenny sipped her coffee.
"Will you come to the zoo with us tomorrow, Jenny?" Mandy asked, stopping me in mid sentence.
"No, I don't go to those smelly places."
"They're not smelly — 'cept when the effalants do a big poo," Mandy hotly retorted, "You can see all the nice animals and they let you stroke some."
Eventually I got her to bed and Jenny started. "Mark Chattiswick our MD asked me to see you and apologise and ask you to consider returning to work for us. He would like to see you first thing Monday morning." I wasn't unduly surprised by the request and had considered it a possibility on the drive home, but I was surprised that she came around personally to deliver it but a later remark indicated that Mark had ordered her to do so. I knew too that a lot of design time would be wasted getting things back on track even if one of the present team took over. The actual job was an interesting one and we'd worked well enough without the need for a department manager until a shareholder in one of the top bosses pockets, decided we needed someone to co-ordinate between them and us. Jennifer Coulter knew nothing about design work, although she had a business degree, but her communication skills were lacking to say the least.
"And are you going to?" My question startled her.
"Yes, I'm sorry I lost my temper with you this afternoon and hope that you will consider returning."
It didn't sound sincere but I let that go and decided to tease her a little more and see how she reacted when not in her workplace environment, when not being my overlord. "Yes, I'll consider it but no promises, and only if you agree to accompany us to the zoo tomorrow. We want to leave about eight o'clock so we can get there soon after it opens at nine. It's about 45 miles but it usually takes an hour because the Brightchester by-pass is usually choc-a-block."
"You're blackmailing me to accompany you? Why?"
"Thought you might enjoy a day out in a family situation and perhaps work out some of our animosity to each other."
What a disaster! First she arrived late and then I had to transfer Mandy's car seat from my car to hers because she wouldn't travel in my old Ford. Fortunately, that only took minutes but it was still ten o'clock before we arrived and the crowds had thickened and car park spaces were at a premium. All morning she showed her dislike of the zoo and complained about the smells, the people there and how appalling it was to keep animals under such conditions. After lunch I bought Mandy a chocolate ice cream and gave it to her to hold while I paid the vendor. Momentarily out of my grasp, Mandy tottered towards Jenny, tripped and splattered chocolate ice cream down Jenny's light fawn coloured trousers.
"You stupid little brat," she screamed getting everyone's attention, "Now look what you've done." Just as Mandy managed to get to her feet, Jenny slapped her face hard and knocked her to the ground. She hit her head on the gravel and grazed her cheeks making them bleed profusely. "Find your own way home, I didn't want to come here in the first place." Jenny headed towards the car park.
A man and a woman from zoo security arrived on the scene quickly and while I tried to comfort my screaming daughter, one radioed for the police and the other took names of the witnesses. A policewoman arrived, took one look at Mandy and said, "I'm taking her to the hospital. The grazes need cleaning and she's going to have a black eye." Turning to the security guy she asked if he had witness details. He hadn't finished but she took his name and said she'd be in touch and handed him her card. "What is the woman's name that assaulted your daughter?" she asked as we got into the patrol car. I told her and gave the car's make and registration number. She was vain enough to have a memorable custom one, CEO 100. Perhaps she thought she'd get to be CEO one day. Jacqueline, our policewoman, radioed the information, started the blue lights and sirens and we made the twenty miles into Brightchester faster that I would have done. Mandy cried the whole way.
At the hospital, at Jacqueline's insistence that this was an assault case, photos were taken before they cleaned and treated her wounds. Afterwards, with my permission, they gave her a drink that would ease her pain. "She should be fine in a few days," the doctor informed me, "She'll have a black eye for longer and scabs on the scratches but they'll all disappear without scarring." That she'd not be scarred for life, was a relief.
Our policewoman drove us to the police station; I noticed Jenny's car parked outside. Jacqueline quickly took a statement from me and agreed to get someone to remove my baby chair from Jenny's car so that I could have a friend pick us up and take us home.
"Thanks for coming Kate," I whispered as I fitted the seat in her car while she cradled the sleeping girl.
"We'll stop at my place and put this one to bed for a bit and get you something to eat. You look exhausted. You can tell me the details then and I'll fill you in on what happened after you'd left." Kate lived in Pixton about halfway between Brightchester and Klopton where I lived and we worked. I carried Mandy in and settled her in the spare bedroom. She hardly woke so I guessed the pain killing medicine contained a sedative.
Over a hastily improvised meal, I related my tale. Kate expressed her view that I was stupid to expect a family outing to change Jenny and I had to agree with her. "What happened after I left then Kate?"