Okay the first time it happened it took me by such surprise that I really didn't take much notice. Well now, that isn't exactly true; it came at me from nowhere and to be honest I'm still not sure of what went down that day.
The second time it happened well ... I figured that it had to be a case of mistaken identity or something.
But the third time, that a complete stranger walked up to me and slapped me around the face, I really thought it was about time I talked to the lady in question and found out what her problem was.
Look okay the first time I saw her, or rather felt her distain. I was out with the lads on Ronnie's stag do, and it was highly probable that one of the guys might have taken a verbal liberty with the young lady that she had mistakenly attributed to me. So, when I'd regained my senses, I kind-a took my punishment with a grin, and laughed it off.
Well I have to admit that evening with the quick glance I'd got of her, I'd observed that she was one very tast ... er, desirable looking female. And the guys were getting a little on the horny side; after we'd visited three of London's less reputable strip clubs in quick succession. So it was highly possible one of them had overstepped the mark.
I'll add, we'd been unceremoniously requested to make ourselves scarce from each club in quick succession. Anyway there we were, discussing which purveyor of intoxicating liquors establishment we were going to get thrown out of next, when this gorgeous brunette walks up to me and without a by your leave, clocks me one right round the kisser; much to the amusement of my mates. Then as quickly as she'd appeared, she was gone again.
Several months passed and I was standing by the exit gate to the passport and customs control area in Heathrow airport one afternoon, when the brunette made her second appearance. Once again I didn't really see her approaching, because I was watching out for my sister and her husband's imminent arrival. The brunette was suddenly standing there before me, and then, without uttering a word, she up and clouted me one again. The smack came from nowhere; well, I never saw the bugger coming anyway!
"What got her knickers in such a twist Toby?" My sister, who had unfortunately managed to witness that incident, asked.
"Buggered if I know! But I think that's the same bird who left that red mark on my face after Ronnie's Stag night."
"So, just what did you do to upset her so much that night?"
"Honest Sis, I told you at the time, I never said a bloody word to her. Shit, it was just like this time, I never even saw her until she upped and clocked me one."
"And you expect me to believe that?"
The look my sister gave me announced that my reputation as Mr Nice Guy had taken a little bit of a knock, in her eyes. I'm not too sure what her in-laws, who were also on the plane with her, made of it either.
Okay, several more months passed and there I was at a big company do at a flash hotel in town. Every bugger I work with on a daily basis was there, plus all the company top brass, including the big boss himself, and almost everyone's respective spouses as well. As a company we were celebrating an extremely successful year and several of us minions were supposed to be receiving presentations of some sort for our valiant efforts on the company's behalf; hopefully big cash bonus's.
This time I actually did spot her coming, but far too late to take any kind of avoiding action.
"Smack!" my head snapped around like Cassius Clay had just landed me one, and I staggered backwards for a few paces, almost falling over.
Something had to be done about this, I kinda had it figured that the bird had to be either working out at the gym, or she was getting more proficient at landing her slaps with practise. Whatever, I was getting just a little bit pissed that she was forever using my face to practise on.
And besides, she had embarrassed me somewhat first in front of my friends, then my family and finally in front of my work colleagues
"Just a bloody minute miss?" I said chasing after her and taking firm hold of her arm as she tried to make her usual smart get away. "What in heaven's name was all that in aid of?"
She turned and looked me directly in the eye; boy, could I see that there was real contempt in her expression. But before she on I had the chance to say anything much else, my department manager John Hewlett, an arse-kisser who I was not particularly fond of, was on the scene.
"Toby, unhand Wendy this instant. How dare you touch Miss Montague in such a manner?"
"But she just..." I tried to explain.
But Hewlett wasn't in listening mode.
"Toby I'm disappointed in you, you do not manhandle ladies like that; especially the new chairman's daughter. Well, not in my presence anyway."
"John, she just slapped me around the face for no reason whatsoever."
"Oh don't talk rubbish lad. What did you say to upset her?"
"Nothing, I've never spoken to the girl in my life. She just upped and smacked me one."
"Don't give me that sh ... rubbish boy. Nice young ladies don't go around striking people without just cause. Most likely you said something out of turn. Your trouble is young man that you're far too headstrong, I've warned you about that it the past. God, you'll be lucky if Mr Montague doesn't demand that you're contract is terminated over this! I've got a good mind to terminate it myself anyway."
Now up to a point, John Hewlett is right; I am naturally headstrong. I'm a decision maker, and that's what had made me so successful in my job. Whereas, some of my colleagues tend to procrastinate, rather than commit the company to any particular course of action; I don't beat around the bush. I make snap decisions on the information that's available at the time and usually they turn out to be correct. Of course I'd have studied every angle anyway and consequently I'd prepared for almost anything that goes down. That was the main reason I'd risen to number two in the department at such a young age, hard work and preparation, whilst the rest of the guys were wittering away to one another
Headstrong I might be, but something that I have never been, is short tempered. Unfortunately everyman has his breaking point though.
This Wendy bird striking and embarrassing me in front of my peers on three separate occasions, and without any reason that I was aware off, had pushed my self-control to the extreme limit.
John Hewlett -- never my favourite person, who had regularly taken the credit for my hard work -- stepping into the fray and making threats of dismissal, was the proverbial straw that broke the Camel's back.
"You can stuff your fucking contract right up your bleeding arse." I found myself replying. "This ain't the only company in the fucking world!"
With those words I found myself heading out of the hotel reception room, alone. None of the other guys dared come after me to try and calm me down. They knew me too well, and they were also scared shitless of John Hewlett.
I'm not completely sure of where I went for the rest of the evening. A couple of pubs to start with I think, and then at least one nightclub where I could drink until I lost track of everything.
Wherever I went, I somehow managed to get home safely and get my mobile phone lifted as well. Well, possibly I mislaid it! Anyway on the Sunday afternoon, I was awoken by the telephone with a headache to rival all others before or since.
"Toby mate, where the fuck did you get too?" A so-called mate from the office asked.
"I dunno Tony, I tied one on a bit."
"Jesus mate, I've been calling you all bloody morning, was there some hell to pay after you done a runner last night. You were supposed to be the number one star of the show, you know?"
"Who gives a shit?"
"Jesus mate, Montague was standing up on the stage singing your praises and telling everyone that you had made the greatest contribution to the company's success this year and you were a no show. He looked like a real prune when someone told him you'd left earlier."
"Did they also tell him I'd quit?"
"No, I don't think anyone dared. Anyway it was in the heat of the moment; no one believes you meant it."
I told you that I'm a snap decision maker, maybe what I didn't say was that once I've made a decision I bloody-well stick with it. Probably that was the reason that I did so well in my job; at work I was decisive and didn't get cold feet later and change my mind.
Regretfully, I hadn't always been as astute when it came to the female of our species and of late had been avoiding emotional involvement with any of them.
"Have you ever known me to change my mind Tony?"
"Oh come on Toby mate. This is a little different; your career is involved here."
"Tony, Markham's isn't the only company in the world. And besides, John Hewlett and me have been at loggerheads for so bloody long, I'm sick of it. I'm gone mate and that's the end of it!"
"But your bonus?"
"They can stuff their effing bonus right up their bleeding Jacksey's for all I care. Look Tony, I've only just woken up and I need the loo rather urgently, right now. I'll see you Monday to say good by; when I come in to pick up my gear!"
With that I hung up the phone. Tony was one of John Hewlett's arse-kissers; I couldn't really be bothered with the man.
During the afternoon, until I pulled the plug on my landline, I received several other anxious calls from concerned work colleagues. I had no idea where my mobile phone had gone and eventually figured that I must have lost it during my binge session. I never did see the thing again and had to get a replacement a few days later.
Anyway, besides hearing repeats about the debacle of my presentation that didn't happen. I picked up on some rumours about the reason why Wendy Montague had chosen to clock me one. The consensus of opinion appeared to be, that it concerned an incident that had occurred on the island of Martinique.
"Martinique, what the fuck was supposed to have happened there? Where is the place anyway, ain't it one of the places the poseurs go to? Can you imagine me going to a place like that?" I asked to the guy who first mentioned the island to me.
"I don't know for sure. In the Caribbean isn't it. Christ mate you're the bloody sailor; I figure you know where your going."
"Yeah round the coast and down to the bloody Med when I can get the chance. I ain't likely to risk taking my little boat across the bleeding Atlantic, am I? Anyway I'm not even sure Martinique is in the Caribbean, it could be one of those flash places in the Indian Ocean, for all I know."
"I weren't in any hurry to arrive at the office on the Monday morning. The boxing of your own gear and walking out with it, is always the most embarrassing part of leaving any job. I kind of hung around in a local café until I figured most people would have gone off to lunch."
"Hi Toby. John would like to see you. He told me to ask you to go to his office the minute you arrive."
"You told me Claire, and I don't give sweet FA about what Hewlett wants. I'll be packing my gear and then heading up to personnel. If he wants me, he better find me before I'm done."
Poor Claire, the department's communal secretary and PA, didn't know what to say. I don't believe she had seen me angry before. Well not openly hostile anyway.
I was waiting for the lift up to the fifth floor, when the two security guys arrived in a lift that was on its way down. At the time the significance of the lifts direction didn't strike me as important. Neither did the fact that they got into the lift with me for the ride up to personnel on the fifth floor. After all, I'd seen employees who'd been fired, escorted from the building a few time in the past.
What did strike me as odd though, was that one of them hogged the control panel and pressed the button for the seventh floor, where all the big knobs hang out.
"I want the fifth." I told the donkey.
"No mate, you are wanted on the seventh floor!" He replied, with a, you really don't want to argue with me, tone to his voice.
Taking into account the size of the guy, and the fact that there were just the three of us in the lift, and consequently there would be no independent witnesses; I chose to take the advice implied by his tone.
On the hallowed seventh floor, a place I'd rarely had the opportunity to visit, it was indicated that I should proceed towards the chairman's office. An inner sanctum, I knew of no man who'd ever entered and lived to tell the tale.
An very tasty, but at the same time extremely efficient looking secretary leapt from behind her desk as we approached and tried to wrestle my precious cardboard box from me. Eventually she conceded that it was my damned cardboard box and I was bloody keeping it; then she opened the gigantic door to the chairman's domain and ushered me inside.
"Toby! There you are at last, my lad. I was getting a little worried that you weren't going to put in an appearance today." Mr Montague said rising from his seat and coming around his massive desk, whilst holding out his hand in welcome.
I couldn't exactly shake the proffered hand, because I was holding my precious cardboard box of junk, wasn't I?
After a little confusion, Montague took the box from me and placed it on his desk. Then he shook my hand, somewhat overenthusiastically.
."Now, what can I get you to drink Toby; Scotch or do you prefer Brandy?"
"Suzy can make us tea or coffee, if you'd prefer. Now, which will it be?"
I didn't want anything really; I just wanted to know what the fuck was going on. But I found myself replying. "Coffee, I think sir!"
Hitting a button on his desk Montague asked the lovely Suzy to make two coffees, then he turned back to me.
"Now sit down, my boy?" He said, indicating towards a massive three-piece suite that adorned one corner of his office. I sat on the sofa and he settled himself into one of the armchairs.
Almost at the same instant as Suzy his sexy secretary, taking me by surprise, appeared in the office and went round behind Montague's private bar. Every time I looked in a different direction I spotted something else, and the room appeared even bigger than I'd first thought it was.
Suzy smiled at me and began making the coffees, whilst Mr Montague muttered inconsequential pleasantries to me, I think. I'll admit, that as overwhelmed by being in the big cheese's presence as I was; my concentration was all but taken up by the gorgeous Suzy. Eventually she placed a cup before both Montague and myself; then left the office again, carrying the third; for herself I assumed.
"Now my lad, are you one difficult man to get a hold of? I've had people trying to get in touch with you since first thing this morning." Montague said with humour in his voice.
"I've been a little busy, Mr Montague. I do have to find alternative employment after all."
That was a lie of course, my telephone back at the flat was still unplugged, and as I've said, I'd lost my bloody mobile. But I figured it kind-a sounded the right thing to say at the time. Sort-a rubbed the point home that I was no longer one of his humble minions.
"Now, now lad, that is a silly and short sighted attitude Toby. Sometimes, we all may say things in the heat of the moment that we don't really mean." He suggested with a grin on his face.
I had never met the man in person before. Well he was the new chairman who had the reputation of being a ruthless businessman; so I was a little surprised at his demeanour and the conciliatory line that he was apparently taking with me. But I was still on the offensive and distrusting of the bugger.
"Mr Montague. Sometimes, in the heat of the moment we get the inclination to say things we should have said much sooner. Personally I can't stand John Hewlett, I never have liked working under the guy since he took over the department. What happened on Saturday evening was bound to happen at some time or the other; the incident with your daughter was only the catalyst."
"Ah yes Wendy. Hmm, well, I'm afraid she can get a little headstrong herself now and again; a little like yourself actually. I'm not sure what happened between you two out on Martinique, whether it was just a misunderstanding or something. Whatever it was, she'll get over it eventually."
"Mr Montague, I've never been to bloody Martinique in my entire life. If you don't mind me saying, that sort of place, just isn't my scene!"
An expression of surprise came over Montague's face.
"That's odd, Wendy doesn't usually lie. She seemed pretty adamant that you and her were involved in a lia ... er, incident on Martinique last year."
"Then she's mistaken sir. I've never been to the place. Actually I'm not even sure where it is."
"Oh my, how odd." Montague looked thoughtful for a few moments, and then went on. "Oh dear, your sister said that Wendy had ... er accosted you in a similar manner at the airport, some weeks ago as well as on Saturday evening. That is embarrassing."
"And outside a club in town a few months back. That time she chose to clock me one, in front of my friends. Your daughter sir, is extremely efficient; she's managed to make a scene in front of my friends, my family and then finally my work colleagues. I'd call that a full house wouldn't you? My problem is that I have no idea why."
"Oh my god, the silly girl. You could have had her charged with assault."
"Yes I could have; but I'm unusually patient with the mentally challenged. I just thought she'd escaped from Shenley or somewhere."
"Yes, it's a special hospital out near St Albans."
"Oh, somewhat along the lines of Bedlam I presume. That's where her mother and I thought we were go to finish-up several times when Wendy was younger. She always has been a bit of a handful!"
"Yeah, you're on the right track. I'd never seen your daughter in my life before the first time she assaulted me. I was with some friends and we laughed that encounter off.
"After our brief encounter at Heathrow, I figured that she was just a nutcase and ignored it as best I could. Although that particular incident did carry some unexpected repercussions for me. And then at the reception on Saturday evening I figured it was time to have it out with her. I had no idea who she was, but I really can't go through the rest of my life wondering when she's going to pop up out of the woodwork, and clock me one again.
"I'm afraid that John Hewlett intervened before I had a chance to challenge her."
"Oh I see, and John Hewlett's intervention escalated the situation somewhat, did it?"
"No, not exactly sir, it changed the encounter's direction. I'm a great believer in fate Mr Montague. I'd say that your daughter's action only brought forward by a few months something that would have happened very soon anyway. John Hewlett took all the credit for the Thomas account, didn't he? I worked my bloody arse off on that one, and him coming on all righteous on me on Saturday evening was the last straw.
"Daniel Thomas is a personal friend of mine Toby; we play golf together every Sunday morning. John Hewlett might have tried to take the credit for the account. But Daniel told me all about the work you did to smooth troubled waters. Why the hell did you think you were getting that damned great bonus anyway?"
As Montague was speaking, a thought suddenly struck home in my mind.
"Just a moment sir. Did you just say, that my sister told you about the incident at the airport?"
"Yes. I told you, I've had people trying to find you all day. Your PA turned up your sister's telephone number, and I had a little chat with her this morning. Oh, you'd better give her a call by the way; she was most perturbed that we couldn't locate you this morning. She mentioned something about a yacht."
"Probably, she thinks I might have sailed off into the sunset again. My sister's never been very nautical, even when we were children and she came sailing with my father and I. She insists I let her know exactly where and when I'm sailing."
"I'd say she loves you very much, and is concerned about your health and safety."
"Following that little incident with your daughter at Heathrow airport. I'm afraid that my sister doesn't think as highly of me as she used to do sir. She's is convinced that I had to have done something to precipitate your daughter's behaviour that day."
"My apologies. Wendy can be difficult and a real trial on occasions; but I've never known her become violent with anyone before. No matter what else results from our meeting today Toby; I think we need to get you and Wendy together so you can thrash this out between you. I try to make a point of not meddling in my daughter's social life anymore. I'm sure that when she was younger, she'd take up with the most unsavoury characters just to spite me. But I feel this has to be an exception; she can't go on striking you every time you encounter each other. God man, you've every right to have her arrested. Are you free for dinner this evening?"
"Er, well, yes sir; I suppose I am." I replied.
I had no idea why I was still calling the old fart sir, or why I'd so readily accepted his offer of dinner. I had quit the company after all.
But then again, reputedly a complete bastard in the business world; Montague appeared to me to be a very nice guy. So I sat there and listened as he (after producing a mobile phone from somewhere) called his wife, and explained to her that they had a guest for dinner that evening. He also asked her to ensure that their daughter Wendy was present for the meal.
"There, that was simple; you and Wendy can sort out whatever gripe she's got with you over dinner. You seem like a personable young man to me Toby, and from what Daniel Thomas told me, you could talk the hind legs off a donkey if you wanted too. If you two sit down and talk about whatever is eating her, then we should be able to bring an end to that little matter.
"Right, now, we'd better move on to the matter of your employment."
"No buts young man. I'm used to dealing with the likes of John Hewlett. There's a lot of dead wood around in every company. Now I suggest that we forget all about your resignation the other night. It wasn't in writing anyway, and that is how you should have submitted it, as stipulated in your contract of employment."
Montague smiled as if he'd just laid the winning hand on the table in a game of cards.
"But I don't think you can remain working with a man who you obviously dislike so much in the mean time. Even if it is for the short period he remains with us. So, for the time being at least, I'm thinking upon the lines of moving you up here to the seventh floor."
I have no idea what kind of an expression came on my face.
"Oh, don't look so surprised Toby. You sweet-talked one of the toughest businessmen I know around, and made a mighty big impression on him."
"But I've never met with Mr Thomas."
"Yes you did, a rather overweight gentleman; he sits in on discussions and doesn't appear to say very much. Actually, he watches everyone very closely and instructs his mouthpiece with a collection of subtle hand signals. Look, Toby if I don't keep you, Daniel Thomas will be after adding you to his payroll; he's all but told me as much.
"I haven't got anything specific in mind for you up here at the moment; so my personal assistant will have to do for the time being. With a salary befitting that station of course. What do you say to that, young man?"
"Um, well I..."
"Good, that's what I wanted to hear. I know as well as you do that the offer is far too good for you to turn down. You might be headstrong on occasions, but you are also a realist.
"Now you take the rest of this week off, as a reward for all the hard work you put on the Thomas account, and we'll see you at the house this evening at seven-thirty for eight shall we say? Oh, and you can leave that little box of tricks of yours with Suzy; she'll see that it's waiting in your office for you on Monday morning."
I kinda gathered that I'd been dismissed; so I picked up my little cardboard box and left Mr Montague's office.
"Gets to you doesn't he?" Suzy said as I stood outside the door in a daze.
"Yeah, I'm not quite sure what happened in there really. I went in expecting a fight and I think I got sweet talked back onto the firm."
"You never left, your resignation wasn't in writing. Mr Montague's a stickler for formality in those kinds of things. Now, when you come in next Monday that will be your office over there, Toby."
"Christ, did he have it all planned before I even got in there?"
"Well, in a way yes. He'd worked out what he wanted, it was how you reacted to his job offer that mattered."
"But how do you know that I accepted it?"
"You'd be a fool not to accept it, that was obvious to everyone. And of course, I do have the advantage of wearing this." She lifted her long hair to reveal that she was wearing an earphone in her left ear. "Every word that is said in that office is recorded, and I have to take notes as well."
"No, just Mr Montague being suitably careful."
"Thanks for the nod Suzy. Is my office going to be bugged by the way?"
"Only if you want it to be. I'll show where the relevant switches are on Monday. Now run along and enjoy your week's vacation, Mr Montague will probably run you ragged next week.
It wasn't really a very big house, on the outside. Not a bloody great mansion like you'd expect to see out in the country. But spread over four floors and with a large basement below, it was a surprisingly spacious building.
Mr Montague himself let me in, and immediately insisted that I called him Monty. Then he led the way into a very large lounge and introduced me to his charming and remarkably beautiful wife, Silvia. I could see where Wendy had got her good looks.
We were still stood in the lounge drinking dry Martinis' when Wendy made her appearance in the room. She took one look at me and stopped dead in her tracks.
"Father how could you invite that animal into this house?" She demanded. "I cannot tolerate being in the same room as him?"
Then she turned as if to leave the room again.
"Just a moment young lady? You owe Toby here an apology!" Her father said with a commanding tone to his voice.
Somewhat surprisingly, Wendy did check her step and turned back to glower at me.
"Oh Toby is it now? It was Gerard the last time I encountered the bastard!"
"Wendy, there's no need for that sort of language. Toby is a guest in this house." Silvia Montague admonished her daughter.
"Well he shouldn't be. He's nothing but a damned philanderer. That man toyed with my emotions mother. He seduced and assaulted me, then deserted me after promising to marry me."
Well that explained the animosity Wendy felt towards me, even to me. The problem was she'd obviously mistaken me for someone else.