Shut Up and Drive!
Chapter 4: Stella at her Office
Walter Peel had just returned to his chair after making himself his lunchtime coffee. Walter’s job was a cross between doorman and receptionist. He would vet visitors and direct them to the floor the companies they wished to visit were on. His secondary -- and probably more important -- role was to watch over the vehicles in the car park via the monitors on his desk.
It was a movement on one of those monitors that caught Walter’s eye. A black estate car was reversing into one of the reserved parking bays. What’s more Walter instantly recognised that it wasn’t the vehicle that had exclusive use of that particular parking bay.
No matter what else Walter was doing – or whom he was speaking to -- the arrival of that particular vehicle in that parking bay would prompt Walter to pick up the phone on his desk and dial an internal number. He’d then shout the two words, “She’s here!” into the mouthpiece at whoever answered the call, hang up and then rush over to be ready to open the door to allow Her Majesty to make her entrance.
It was a well-rehearsed routine designed to prevent Walter from receiving a public tongue-lashing from the dreaded Estelle Cooper.
However, although Walter did pick up the handset that day, he did not dial. “She” had never reversed a car into that parking bay, or any other parking bay as far as Walter was aware. In fact, it wasn’t unknown for her to dump her vehicle right outside the front door, and then send one of her minions down to park it after she’d reached her office.
Besides, the vehicle was a medium priced run-of-the-mill family car (an older model at that), to Walter’s eye. Her Majesty only ever travelled in top-of-the-range model vehicles, or black cabs.
However, Walter did leap to his feet. If she was to arrive and find an alien vehicle parked in her private spot, Walter would be for the “high jump” and he knew it. So he also knew that he would have to go outside and see this miscreant off.
“That’s my bay there, Marie; would you mind reversing in to it, please?” Stella asked.
“I’ll do my best, Stell, but reversing isn’t my forte,” Marie replied.
“Mine neither, but if you drive in forwards the security man might recognise me on the camera. I’d like to keep my arrival in the office as a surprise. He telephones and warns them I’m ... Estelle is on her way up.”
Marie smiled back at Stella. She was aware of her friend’s rough plan for the rest of the day.
After Marie had parked, the two women sat in the Passat and awaited Walter Peel’s arrival at Marie’s door before either made any attempt to exit the vehicle.
“I’m sorry, Miss, but you can’t park here...” Walter had just begun to say, when Stella’s head appeared above the roof on the passenger side.
“Oh, I’m sorry, Mrs Cooper. I didn’t realise that it was you in the passenger seat.”
“You weren’t supposed to see me, Walter; that’s why we reversed in. Now you will please stay with us until we are inside the building. Today is one day I do not wish you to warn my employees that I’ve arrived.”
Once inside the building, Stella asked Marie to stay with Walter to ensure that he did not use the telephone while she made her up to her offices. Then Walter and Marie watched Stella enter the lift, then the indicator as it ascended to the sixth floor.
“But her office is on the fifth,” Walter exclaimed, without thinking.
“She’ll walk down. I doubt that there’s a bell that rings when the staircase door opens on the fifth. Stella really is hoping to catch them on the hop today!” Marie grinned back at him.
Meanwhile, five floors above, Stella was looking through the little window in the fire door, studying the reception area of her own offices.
Young Hazel, the pretty young gofer/girl Friday/receptionist, was sat behind her desk, while young Anthony was ... Yeah well, it was obvious that Hazel had an admirer. Possibly a budding office romance, Stella suspected.
It struck Stella that very suddenly she was seeing romance everywhere, and she wondered why she hadn’t done so before? But then she had to admit that she herself had not been in-love the last time she’d visited the office.
Very slowly and quietly Stella pushed the door open just enough to slip through the gap, then let the door close gently. She’d crept across the foyer and was stood not five feet from Hazel and Anthony when they finally became aware of her presence.
Both youngsters were totally shocked to find themselves unexpectedly confronted by the dragon herself. Like everybody else in the office they’d assumed that the advance warning system was infallible.
Hazel leapt to her feet, her mouth opening and closing, but not uttering a sound. Anthony tried to back away; he could think of no excuse to give Estelle for being out of the main office ten minutes after lunch hour was over, and just wished he was back sitting at his desk.
“Don’t you dare move an inch, young man!” Estelle’s usual voice instructed, albeit rather more quietly than either Hazel or Anthony had expected. But they accepted that their saving grace was the fact Stella had no wish to advertise her presence in the main office, just yet.
Stella moved her attention to the young woman and, with a subtle wave of her finger, instructed Hazel to sit back down in her chair and remain silent. Then -- in the same commanding but unusually quiet tone -- she instructed Hazel to call the main entrance and ask Walter to send Marie up. The fact that Estelle added the word “please” confused Hazel.
Then they all remained where they were awaiting Marie’s arrival.
When Marie did arrived on the fifth floor, it was by the same surreptitious route that Stella had used herself.
As she exited the stairwell, Marie glanced through the glass wall into the main office. It was instantly apparent to her that nobody other than the two petrified looking youngsters Stella was standing guard over was yet aware of her presence in the building. It looked to Marie like most of the rest of the staff were milling around main office, chatting.
“Don’t look so worried you two, things might not be as bad as they appear!” Marie consoled Stella’s two captives, with a smile. “What now, Stell?”
“You go first Marie, Tony and Hazel will walk together behind you. Then I will hide at the back, and with any luck none of them will spot me until it’s too late. This should be a real hoot. Will you look at them all in there?”
Stella did have the outline of the plan for the afternoon in her head; surprise had been a pivotal point in the exercise. Discovering Anthony sitting on Hazel’s desk had been extremely fortuitous. Stella had wondered how she was going to get across the foyer and into the main the main office without being seen.
One or two of the office staff did notice Marie enter the room, but Angela and Tony’s presence didn’t lead to any of them reacting to her arrival. However when Estelle stepped out from behind the three newcomers, a wave of stunned silence seemed to sweep across the office. Only one telephone’s persistent ring broke that silence.
It was probably the sudden silence that accentuated the sound of that telephone in the office manager’s -- Sarah Parker’s -- mind. Seated in Estelle’s private domain, she’d been studying some paperwork.
Sarah looked up wondering why the telephone had not been answered, and saw her job evaporating before her eyes. Estelle was glowering at her from the far end of the office.
“You two remain here,” Estelle, commanded Hazel and Anthony. Then she barked at everyone else in the office, “All of you will remain exactly where you are, please. Come along, Marie, this way, please.”
The fact that Estelle had used the ‘please’ word to her (mostly unrecognised) companion didn’t surprise anyone. But the fact she’d terminated her command to them with the word, totally confused them. It was unknown for their Lord and Empress to use either ‘please’ or ‘thank you’ to any of her underlings.
Sarah having risen from Estelle’s plush chair on first sight of the witch herself, began to inch her way toward her allotted side of the desk.
On entering the office, Estelle instructed Sarah return to seat she had been unofficially occupying, with her customary pointing finger and stern expression. In fact, Stella herself wondered where and when she’d learnt the art of controlling people with a wave of her finger.
Estelle then seated herself on the secretary’s chair and invited Marie to take the visitor chair. Then with a hostile expression on her face she stared into Sarah’s eyes.
“This is just not good enough, Mrs Parker, why is everyone milling around out there?”
“They’ve only just come back from lunch, Mrs Cooper. Thirty minutes isn’t really long enough for them to get to the nearest food establishments and back again. I have ... requested in the past that we change to a one-hour lunch break,” Was the only reply Sarah could come up with.
“Hmm.” Stella replied at the same as she winked at Marie. “Now if I recall correctly, the other day you mentioned the annual salary review, Mrs Parker. Have you got the file handy?”
Sarah reached into Estelle’s in-tray and, removing the top folder from it, placed the folder on the desk before her boss.
Stella didn’t even open the folder, she picked up a pen and wrote ‘Five percent across the board!’ on the folder and then she signed the remark. Then she crossed out the signature and replaced it with words Stella Warender. But then, after smiling at Marie, she crossed that out and signed Stella Harper, adding nee Warender in brackets.
“From this day forth lunch breaks at this company are one hour long, Sarah and there will be no change to our start and finish times. Oh and you, my dear, should you want the position ... Well that is your seat now from now on. You are not the officer manager anymore, you are the boss. That’s of course providing you wish to accept the position. You do everything anyway. I just come in now and again to wind you up and make myself feel important. Oh we will have to renegotiate your salary of course, to reflect your newfound responsibility.
Sarah did not reply she just sat in the big chair with her mouth open, trying to understand what had come over her employer.
Eventually her eyes moved to Marie, an old (somewhat vague) acquaintance from their college days.
Marie grinned back at Sarah and then said, “Yeah, scary ain’t it! But would you believe that Madam Fauntleroy has fallen in love with Teddy Harper?”
Having attended the same college, Sarah Parker knew exactly who Ted Harper was. Sarah’s eyes moved to the now beaming Stella who nodded.
“But your husband?” Sarah almost mumbled.
“Not for much longer, Sarah. No one could really call that cheating weasel a husband anyway. He’s gone, if only unofficially, and Ted Harper is my new life partner. Soon to be husband if I can hang on to the bugger. Although I must admit, that I’m quite concerned that everybody -- well every female at least -- seems to know him.”
“We all lived in hope back at college, Estelle. But that man appeared to have tunnel vision or a very discerning nature; very few of the girls managed to catch his eye,” Sarah replied.
“Yeah, his eyes were on Miss tight-arse.” Marie offered but she enlarged no further.
Sarah glanced toward Stella and nodded in understanding.
“Right, girls, we can’t keep that lot standing out there all day; I want to take them all over the Rose and Crown for a quick drink to celebrate my recent good fortune. I think Teddy would approve of that. And Sarah, please do not mention the salary increases or the extension of lunch breaks until I’ve left today. I’m sure some of them have their cars with them; we don’t want anyone getting carried away, do we?
Oh, and my last action as de facto manager here. Are all the office chairs as uncomfortable as this ... bugger?”
“All the employees’ seats are the same, Estelle!”
“Stella, Sarah! Well bugger the cost, upgrade the bloody things A.S.A.P. Now come on, let’s go scare the crap out of that lot? They’re all looking terrified.”
All three women were conscious of the murmuring that came to an abrupt halt as they exited the office.
Later, back at Ted’s Studio
“How’d it go at the office?” Ted asked as Stella arrived in the gallery.
“Well, it was fun. However I’m not too sure that all of my employees believe that it’s true.”
“That the old Estelle is no more.”
“Christ, even I’m not convinced of that one, kiddo. They should learn to take what good fortune they can find.”
“Well, I have given them all a raise, and I’ve extended their lunch time to an hour.”
“Hey Stell, I think this newfound altruism might be going to your head. You don’t have to buy friendship, just be ... well, civilised with folks.”
“I was not trying to buy their friendship, Ted. At least, I didn’t think I was. But I have been one tight-fisted employer, you know, who was never satisfied no matter how hard they worked. I can see that was a mistake now. Hey, I’ve even arranged to upgrade all their work chairs, as well.”
“That might be the definition of altruism, Stella.”
The Following Morning
By prearrangement, Marie had arrived at Stella’s house after dropping her children at school. Stella had to go to the house to get changed and, while making the pair of them coffee, she was thinking it might be a good idea to move some of her clothes to Ted’s Studio.
Marie was carrying out a tour of inspection. Although she’d visited the house the previous day, Marie hadn’t had the chance to get a good look around. It was as she was descending the stairs that she spied the large black limousine as it pulled to the curb outside property.
Then she watched in fascination as Douglas -- following his usual dress routine -- formally marched around the monstrosity and up to the front door of the house.
Curiosity had led Marie to open the door before Douglas had even rung the bell. He bowed his head courteously, and handed Marie Lady Toddhunter-Brown’s visiting card, before saying, “Her Lady Toddhunter-Brown wishes to know if Mrs Estelle Cooper is available to receive visitors. Her ladyship desires a meeting with Mrs Cooper, most urgently.”
Somewhat taken aback -- Marie had recognised the vehicle and knew exactly who Lady Toddhunter-Brown was -- she retreated into the kitchen where Stella had been making them both coffee.
“Christ Stella, you’ll never believe who’s outside. Only that Toddhunter-Brown woman ... and she wants to see you. Er, shall I tell her man to ask her to come in?”