Being Inspired, maybe - 85

A picture paints ... well, as many words as you like.  For instance:


And, then, the words:


There's nowhere to run in a small room.

There shouldn't be the need, but the executive dining room where lunches and gatherings were held, could be, at times, a battlefield.

Not in the sense there were heated exchanges or battles of the traditional sort, it was more the place where schemes, plots, and alliances played out, to the success of some, and to the detriment of others.

I stood on neutral ground.  I wasn't really one of the boys, and only a team player when I needed to be.  I learned very early on that picking sides, especially the wrong side, could kill a career long before it got off the ground.

But, being neutral had its disadvantages.  I'd risen through the ranks, perhaps lower than some, the golden boys who knew how to play the game, but in doing it 'the hard way' gave me a certain status. I had the backing of the CEO, and having it, made the others think very carefully before crossing my path.

It also afforded me the opportunity of 'looking out for' another of the executives.

That person was Jacqui Barnes.  She had been in the company a year longer than me, had risen equally as slowly as I had, but for different reasons.  She was a woman, and women did not fare well in what was a male-orientated organization.

Not that, from the outside, it seemed that way.  In fact, on paper, the company was acknowledged as one of the more progressive when it came to women employees.  But, under the hood, it was anything but what it portrayed itself to be.

Jacqui should have been a lot higher up than she was.  Twice I'd seen her overlooked for the promotion that was hers for the taking, the last a few months before I was transferred to her department as 2IC.

It wasn't hard to see the machinations behind that move, and though she saw it as a positive strengthening of her position, it was a very subtle form of undermining her position.

Six months later, I walked into the executive dining room where on the one hand I expected to see one of the 30-year employees collect his gold watch, but fully expecting to see something quite different, a sacrificial lamb led to the slaughter.

Perhaps what had changed the mood in the room, the various players and groups arriving early, as the always did, was the fact I arrived with Jacqui, one of three women who'd won the right to walk on this hallowed turf.  I could feel the resentment bristling within the older generation.

It also cut short the whispered conversations that began when she walked in first and abruptly stopped when I followed her in.  I was s going to enter the room side by side but got a call about a small problem, easily solved, and didn't.

What I really wanted was to enter that room hand in hand with her, but I was never going to summon the courage to tell her how I felt because in that six months we'd become close and spoke a lot about things that were not necessarily within the purview of work colleagues.  But not so close that I could convince myself she was as equally interested in me that way.

But I knew enough to know that under that tough exterior she projected to everyone else she was not happy, and I could hardly blame her.

A nod to me, she continued over to the bar where her two female compatriots were standing alone. It would not be long before they were joined by what I called the try-hards, those executives who considered themselves eligible bachelors. Bi wondered why they'd say if they knew all three considered them major losers.

Perhaps I'd find out soon enough.

Max Phipps was the next junior executive to make the leap.  His father a friend of the chairman, his rise was assured despite limited management expertise, but the ivy league education helped.  I could have resented him but didn't.  He'd stumble soon enough.

With him were the acolytes, the chaps who recognized who to cling to on the upward path.

"You're late," Max said, eyes still on Jacqui.

He had made no attempt to hide the lust in his eyes for her, and it disgusted me.  At times it was hard to disguise my contempt for him.  Tonight, it was going to be particularly difficult.

"The usual storm in teacup problems."

"Caused no doubt by your fearless leader.  You have to make clear decisions; not prevaricate in the hope you'll get it right."

Better, I thought, than making no decisions at all, then saying it was everyone else's fault.  Or having your own opinion rather than parroting others who had no idea what they were talking about.

I bit my tongue, and simply said, "I passed it on to where it belongs."

He gave me a sharp look, one that told me he knew the circumstances and wasn't happy with the outcome.  Perhaps I'd allowed my resentment to bubble through, and in doing so, lost the element of surprise.  I'd know soon enough if I saw him scuttling across the room to warn his superior.

The look changed, back to the usual happy-go-lucky demeanor.  With eyes back on Jacqui, he said, "Perhaps my luck will change tonight.  What do you think, George?"

Max had been trying to get Jacqui to go out with him, and both of us knew exactly what his intentions were.  I also knew unofficially there was betting going on as to how soon and when she would give in.  There was no if as far as he was concerned.  I knew what what she thought of him.

"I'm sure if you believe it's possible, it will happen."

"You don't think it will?"

"I'm no judge of what women want, Max, so there's no point asking me.  I simply work with her."

"Lots of overtime I hear. Just what do you two get up to?"

Curiously, he hadn't asked that question before, but the subject had been raised by one of the acolytes the last time we were attending a function.  At the time, he was courting another female executive, one that had left several weeks later, a case, I'd learned, of either his departure or hers.

Sadly, the wrong person had been forced to leave.

"I'm sure if you let your imagination run wild, you'll think of something outrageously untrue, no matter what I tell you. "

Another strange if not curious look, and he had to know I was trying to annoy him.

"I could imagine a lot of stuff George, but not you two together.  Besides, George, you're not her type."

Neither are you, I thought.

"Finally we agree on something, Max.  But, as much as I want to see how you fare, it's late and I've got better things to do."

I had intended to say goodnight to Jacqui before I left, but Max had moved towards her.  I saw a bemused expression on her face because we had talked about Max and his intentions, so it would be interesting to hear how he fared, in the morning.


When 9 O'clock passed and Jacquie had not arrived, I didn't panic.  If she was late, there would be a perfectly good reason.

I could make a few discreet calls to find out if anything had happened at the party, but there was a chance my curiosity would be misinterpreted, so I didn't bother.  The last thing I wanted was to give Max any ammunition.

But I couldn't help but think something had.

Then Ferguson called all matter of fact, to say that Jacqui was taking some personal time off, and would be away for an indefinite period.  That meant that while she was away, I would temporarily take over the management of the department.  Was it the first move to replacing her?

I don't know what I felt just after I hung up the phone.

Anger?

That Ferguson could sound relieved that I would be looking after the department because he hadn't bothered to hide the fact he didn't like women in management.

That Max Phipps might have something to do with her sudden absence.  Every woman he approached in the company seemed to leave after going out with him, but I had thought Jacqui was smarter than that.

Concern?

Definitely.  Despite what anyone thought, she was very good at her job.

But probably what was worse was that she might not come back, and the fact that I might not ever get to say what I should have said a few weeks ago when I had the chance.  I'd let the fear of rejection and concern that she might think I was no better than the rest.

I think now if I got the opportunity, I would take it.



© Charles Heath 2020

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