" ... as you are all aware, I booked you into this hotel with a conference room facility close to the site so we could expedite the design and costing of the conversion of the old Victorian clothing factory into premises suitable for a modern mail order company on two floors and accommodation for the owner and his family on the third, without losing the character of the old building. Having you all in one room should have promoted a speedy interchange of ideas and over the week you have been here I expected the various disciplines within the group, to have coalesced into a single, vibrant team that worked and bonded together, both on the job and socially. Sadly this has not been the case with several members of the team," he paused slightly and looked at Pauline Collins, his secretary who we heard refused to go to bed with him but she didn't look up and he continued, "And unless they get their act together we could well lose the contract. This morning when I spoke to Geoffrey Pinkerton, the owner of the property, he indicated his displeasure at the progress of the design departments particularly when it now looks unlikely that we will have even draft plans by the end of next week, like I promised..." Ben Chavington, the project manager, gave what he considered a 'pep talk' to inspire and chivvy the group into action but for some it had the reverse effect.
"What a lot of old bollocks!" I muttered, "Ben smarty-pants straight out of university not two months ago with a degree in business studies and an uncle who happens to be the CEO of the firm, thinks he knows everything about organising a project and we who have been doing the job for a good many years, know nothing; we're considered Luddites, dinosaurs who are not up to speed with the latest technologies and ideas. Hell, he couldn't even organise the accommodation at the hotel without a balls-up. To him we were just a list of names with a job on a computer, not humans with relationships."
With four men and four women in the group, to save money he booked four double rooms expecting us to share although he booked an extra room for himself, I suspect more because he wanted to attract women to his bed rather than to distance himself from the 'workers'. On paper, the arrangement might have worked but Roger Thompson, the 25 year-old the junior architect and Jodi Carson, a fiery redhead whose job here is to estimate materials and source supplies, were partners and have lived together as man and wife for a number of years. I hadn't started to unpack when she stormed in and ordered me out and when I complained she laughed, "I guess you'll have to sleep with the big white chief and you can do a bit of brown-nosing at the same time." Knowing Jodi, I knew the words were teasing and not malicious, particularly as I had already made known my feelings about him.
Ben vehemently refused to consider it or let me travel from home each day and in the end, when none of the others would move around, it took all the force of his authority to quell the storm that broke out and threats of sanctions, to get Rachel Catalan our 24 year old IT expert and confirmed lesbian to allow me to sleep in the same room as her which I did with the threat of a rape charge if I so much as looked at her sexually. After a failed relationship many years previously, I'd decided not to go that route again and assured her that she would be safe with me. In any case our ten-year age gap and the difference in our professions; with an IT background and heavily into computers she eschewed my preference for a pencil and a sketchpad even though my work as an interior designer means that I must perforce use a computer too, would restrict our closeness.
All went well for the first three days and with each of us changing in the bathroom, I barely glimpsed any of her flesh that wasn't normally on view. On the fourth afternoon, I came into the room early and decided to shower and being alone, didn't bother about walking naked into the room to get my clean pants. She chose that moment to enter the room with Sarah Goodson our liaison officer. Rachel yelled at me to get my trousers on but Sarah, looking unashamedly at my firm but not erect, prick, commented, "Geez Tom, I didn't think you'd be so well equipped," and before dinner that evening everyone in the group knew about my 'enormous weapon' that grew larger with each telling, whereas in truth it's only a little above normal at about 7 and-a-bit inches when hard.
While I'd mentally recalled my stay at the hotel, Ben reviewed the progress of each worker praising some particularly Sarah who did sleep with him and Bob Newsom who meticulously surveyed the structure. From the way things were going, I knew it would soon me my turn, not to receive praise but to be lacerated with the sharp edge of his tongue, however, he attacked Richard 'Dick' Stevens, our 45 year old chief architect, first. "After a week here you and your assistant have nothing but a few vague outlines and drawings of the place as it is now, to show for your time. You've been sitting around pretending to make notes or wandering over the site measuring this and that and yet have produced nothing in the way of a draft plan. I hope you intend working over the weekend to make up for the wasted time."
I knew Dick wouldn't put up with comments like that but wouldn't get angry or abusive and he confirmed this by pushing his bulk up, scraping his chair noisily out of the way to allow his pot belly to clear the table and in his usual quiet way said, "Male bovine excrement!" before pushing his way around the others and out of the room. I've never known him to actually swear and those that understood his terminology, covered their faces to hide their smirks from Ben.
"Your job is just as much at risk as everyone else's," Ben yelled after him and we knew the simple answer had rattled his nerves. Then came his assault on me. "As for you Tom Harris, you designers are all the same, you think you are outside the team and have the right to sit around doodling on scraps of paper to try and make us believe you are thinking. Well you don't fool me..." Taking a leaf out of Dick's book, I turned my chair around and faced away from him while he, red faced, continued to lambaste my work and me. Maybe I should have told him that the whole concept of the time away was wrong, but I didn't, he could find that out the hard way. I couldn't design the interiors until the architects determined the size and shape of the rooms and Dick couldn't really get started until Bob completed the structural survey to determine which of the inside walls could safely be knocked down. I also needed to talk with the owners although I had a fairly good idea of their requirements because I knew them and stayed with them several years ago but at the moment to keep the peace, I went along with the advice Sarah said she'd received from the him and didn't let her or Ben know of my inside knowledge.
"You leaving Tom? Going home after Ben's comments?"
"No, Pauline, I'm going away to another guest house for a few days, the atmosphere here is depressing and demoralising. I work better where it is quieter and I don't want him to think I'm resigning. You don't look very happy either."
"Ben and Sarah left me this pile of work so it will be midnight before I get to bed. I don't know how much more of this I can take. Reports, reports and more reports and most of them I suspect are not read."
"Bin them and come to the guest house with me. I've a twin room and like with Rachel, you won't be raped or anything."
"I'd lose my job."
"You'll lose your mind if you stay for long and end up with a nervous breakdown and in any case, the future of this project hangs by a thread. Go and pack your stuff and let's get the hell out of here. I doubt you'll get the sack and if it went to a tribunal his behaviour would be closely questioned and because he invited you to his room, you could play the sexual harassment card."
"I don't know, Tom..."
Seeing her wavering, I picked up the pile of papers and theatrically dumped the lot in the wastepaper basket, jumbling and mixing them until it would take a considerable time to sort them again, such was my certainty that she really wanted to get away and my anger at the way Ben treated us. "Go pack," I ordered quietly.
"They'll think we've gone away for a dirty weekend." Pauline sounded part worried and part amused but I couldn't look because of the heavy traffic on the narrow road.
"It's probably best if they do." She looked puzzled but didn't question the remark and I didn't explain.
"Sarah will be disappointed, she intended to seduce you this weekend."
"I thought she slept with Ben."
"She does, but only to further her career. She said he's nothing to speak about in bed and she's gone on at great lengths about the size of your manhood and I think at the last telling, you had enough to service an elephant, so I may well have to stay in my own bed for safety." I heard her giggle.
"It's your choice as to which bed you sleep in, I won't force or coerce you."
"Am I not attractive enough to warrant a little coercion or would you rather wait for Sarah's attentions, assuming they ever let us back into the group?"
"God forbid that I would partner Sarah, she'd bully and try to dominate me more than Mary, my ex, ever did. You're far more attractive than that skinny, painted up bitch."
"Do you really think so?"
"Yes. You're no glamour girl, you're too short and not slim enough for that, but attractiveness is more than your bodily shape, it's personality. You have all the qualities that Sarah hasn't; kindness, a willingness to help even when it would be better to refuse, and a loving reliability." I tried to find other suitable adjectives until we arrived at our guesthouse and I introduced Pauline to the landlady who seemed more than pleased that I brought a girlfriend after visiting three times on my own.
"We've been missed, Pauline." I showed her the text message on my phone; we'd both turned them off during our escape.
<Where are you Harris? Is Pauline with you?>
<Yes, abducted by aliens and we're several hundred miles above earth>
"I'm worried, Tom, I don't want to lose my job and have to give up my little cottage because I can't keep up the payments."
"It won't happen, Pauline, it's all in hand."
"You're hiding something from me!"
"Only this." I put my hand over my groin. That didn't bring the smile I hoped for, instead she looked on the verge of bursting into tears, until I hugged her close and reassured her that I would shoulder the blame if it didn't work out. With her clutched tightly to my body I couldn't resist the temptation to give her a kiss, and then another. "Have I to coerce you into my bed tonight?" I whispered in her ear.
"Yes, with a few more kisses like that, I won't be able to resist your charms or your elephant prick."