© Eamon O'Leary
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Simply the Best
The early morning news confirmed a guilty verdict in the trial that had kept tongues wagging for weeks. A middle-aged, high profile businessman charged with murdering the attractive au pair. Although evidence was mostly circumstantial phone records confirming a sexual angle and suggestions of blackmail had the gossipers busy.
"I knew the bastard did it," said James as he dressed.
"Hope he rots in jail," said Julie.
"Not a chance. Here life means he'll be out in about ten with good behaviour. I'd castrate the scumbag for a start."
Putting on his cuff-links he added, "My father was right when he said that there are two things that'll get a man into trouble, his mouth, and his willie."
"You'd better be careful so love," said Julie with a smile as she packed his bag, a simple Burberry leather number. A pair of Ralph Lauren chinos, matching polo shirt, casual sailing shoes, a change of shirt and underwear were neatly folded in. For the regular monthly meeting, he’d decided on a dark suit with a hint of pinstripe. Leaning over she gave him a peck on the cheek.
“You’re no George Clooney love, but the navy always does something for you.”
Life’s not bad, he thought. Batteries recharged after the family holiday in Sorrento, a perk having exceeded target for the first quarter. As the gates opened, he barely touched the pedal and the new Merc C class responded powerfully yet silently. Family, work, rugby, golf and discussing the opposite sex over a few pints with the lads were his priorities. Nothing ever happened on the sex front; just a bit of craic.
With schools closed, traffic was light, and he covered the fifteen kilometers from Glenageary without once using The F-Word. He met Helen in the car park and shared the lift and pleasantries with her. A quiet, plain looking girl who always wore her hair tied up in a bun and did little to improve the situation by wearing clothes more suited to her mother.
James did concede however that she had a lovely ass. She worked as PA to James’s boss Adam, vice-president sales.
Medway was the talk of Dublin. An innovative and progressive high-end medical devices company, their new European headquarters was equally imaginative. Visually stunning, wing-shaped glass balconies seemed randomly affixed to the sides of the six floors. Awesome views with the Pigeon House and Howth to be seen from the higher floors. The design team was already winning plaudits for their work.
Each floor had what James called a small kitchen, but he was soon corrected.
“It’s a pod,” explained Adam. “A great spot to brainstorm a problem or just take a coffee and de-stress.”
The pod was fine but James had other ideas about the balconies.
“I don’t care how thick that glass floor is, it looks like it’s only hanging on by a few brackets. And those walls are so low you’d get blown over by a good easterly. No, I’ll take my coffee indoors, thanks.”
Nor did he like all the security in the new building.
“Sensors everywhere with passes and fobs to move around between floors, special codes to get into R&D. CCTV everywhere. Yeah, we’ve got sensitive data to protect, but this is like Guantanamo. I bet they’re filming us taking a dump.”
James handled Irish sales. With the latest MRI machines costing in excess of three million securing a sale was a slow and tedious process but the pressure for results was constant. He’d built up good connections, gained success and unlike some colleagues held no fear over these monthly sessions. The meetings started at two pm on the last Thursday after the overseas sales execs had arrived. It continued over dinner in the adjacent five-star hotel where copious bottles of wine and pints disappeared.
“Good for team morale to relax and have a few beers after we’ve finished with business,” was how Adam put it.
This was the first sales meeting to be held in the building and all arrangements were handled by Helen. The boardroom on level six resplendent with black oval shaped table and grey carpet was the venue. Coffee and the usual handshakes to begin with before the overseas guys squeezed onto the balcony for a look. James stood at the door where Helen handed out hard copies of the agenda.
Giving one to James she looked up and whispered;
“Would you like to touch my breasts?”
He looked at her in disbelief but said nothing. She smiled.
The meeting took its usual course. New prospects, Current orders, Developments in the Marketplace, Technical Issues and Finance.
Coffee again in the pod at four. James checked his phone. The usual plethora of emails and missed calls but also a text.
“Hi, you’re booked into room 360. Can be there thirty minutes after we finish here if you’d like.”
When the meeting resumed, he caught her eye and nodded.
He hung up his jacket, kicked off the Grensons and lay back on the bed undoing his pink and mauve tie. This has to be a wind-up, he thought. I’m at least fifteen years older and certainly no oil painting.
The gentle knock disproved his theory. Standing in the middle of the floor they both laughed nervously before she took out her bobble letting her unkempt hair cascade down over her shoulders. Giggling, she shook her head wildly before lying provocatively on the bed. There was little conversation or foreplay but despite her quiet fragile appearance, Helen knew what she was doing and quickly had James in a lather of perspiration. She moved and explored with confidence until they climaxed together.
He fell back onto the pillow trying hard to catch his breath. “Wow, that was something else. Was it ok for you?”
Kneeling on the bed, she leaned forward and kissed his hairy chest.
“The best, simply the best,” she replied before adding “must go now, meeting George in an hour.”
“Who the feck is George?”
“My fiancé George, George Ferguson. Don’t you know I’m getting married in six weeks?”
“You’re taking the piss. What’s this all about then?”
“Well, George is a sweet gentleman and I love him dearly but he’s awfully like his parents, old-fashioned and conservative. They’re Presbyterian you know. Kissing and cuddling are all ok but we haven’t slept together. He wants to wait until we’re married and I wanted a little action before settling down.”
“Jeez, are you serious? And why me?”
“’Cos you’re fun and you’re low-risk James. With a lovely wife and two young children, I don’t expect you’ll be going around bragging about riding the boss’s secretary, will you?”
Remorse hit him like a plane smashing into a mountain. A vivid picture of Julie and the kids playing by the pool flashed in front of him. A knot in the stomach with the ferocity of a boxer's punch sent him running to the bathroom where he puked. Staring into the mirror he felt nothing but disgust as the bodily fluids began to dry. The bedroom door closed gently. He stood under the shower for an age trying to wash away the guilt. The ultimate stab in the back. Yes, he’d often wondered what it would be like and how he’d love to give it a go but he’d never in seventeen years betrayed Julie. And yet even now somewhere deep in the recesses of his mind, he could feel a sense of exhilaration. He knew this couldn’t be, shouldn’t be, wasn’t right but he couldn’t help it.
He joined the others for dinner and drinks before spending a sleepless night. Should he perhaps talk to Colin, one of the UK based execs and his best friend? Colin had two unsuccessful marriages behind him and so far had slept with at least three of the girls in the company. He liked to talk about his exploits. James decided to keep his news to himself.
Early on Friday Helen produced the latest sales returns and the league table flashed onto the big screen. James, as usual, was above mid-table. Life was not so easy for those in the relegation zone, plenty of reasons for sleepless nights and nails eaten back to the quick. Anyone here more than a year and the farewell collection wouldn’t be far away.
Over the following weeks, as business and family life resumed normality, he slowly got back to his old perky self. A popular guy always with a joke or a bit of banter to share. An email from Adam asking for contributions to Helen’s wedding present helped cheer him up. They’d barely spoken since the fateful event, but she’d soon be out of the way for a while. Fifty per head was the suggested figure. He was tempted to get a card and send it to the wedding signed “Simply the Best”, but thought better of it.
At month end Julie prepared his bag as usual.
“Should be home by three tomorrow; let’s do a BBQ if the weather stays like this.”
“Sounds good. Bye pet, love you.”
“Love you too.”
The Thursday meeting followed the usual pattern.
The text came through the next morning as he and Colin walked the short distance from the hotel. Both had thumping headaches.
“Hi, can we meet? I’m late.”
With difficulty, he managed to draw breath before reading the message a second time. He didn’t respond but made his way to the sixth floor. With heart thumping, he kept his composure before confronting her.
“What the fuck are you up to? Surely you’re on the pill?”
“I am, but only for a month. I thought I’d be fine but, unfortunately.”
“Well, you’ll have to ride him senseless after the wedding and convince him that it’s his.”
“George might be naïve and innocent, but he’s not stupid. He’s an accountant for God’s sake.”
“I don’t fecking believe this is happening to me. You stupid bitch. What do want me to do? Work a fucking miracle.”
As the meeting reconvened, she presented the stats as per usual without displaying any worry or anxiety. Adam, a Harvard graduate, wrapped up matters with his usual pep talk before releasing his troops at noon. The executive floor, despite the warm weather, was soon eerily cool and quiet.
He sent a text, “We’ll talk later.”
“Great, I’ll be here for the afternoon. Must get the figures to the States.”
A text to Julie. “Hi love, the meeting has gone on longer than usual. Don’t think I’ll be home before five.”
“No prob love, see you later.”
After buying a packet of cigarettes he went for a walk, a long walk along the Grand Canal. He smoked six of the fags and felt sick after each. His mind in turmoil, a solution had to be found but other than crazy thoughts there was no easy remedy. Tears came, he wasn’t sure if they were of regret or anger. As a pair of swans glided by proudly displaying their young family he inhaled deeply and concluded; I’ve really fucked up this time.
Helen smiled when he arrived and stood at her desk.
"Figures are great,” she said.
“Figures my bollocks. Is that all you can think about? How can you be so fecking calm?”
“No point in getting angry. That won’t solve anything.”
“Hate to admit it but you’re probably right. I need a cigarette; I’ll be out on that balcony yoke, bring us out a coffee when you’re finished.”
“Didn’t know you smoked.”
“I only started a few hours ago. First fag in over twenty years.”
She followed a few minutes later and gave him the coffee. James was leaning over the side lighting one cigarette off the other.
Hours later he sat on a rigid chair in the front foyer. His breathing was laboured; the pristine white shirt clung to his back. Nosey onlookers faces against the windows got brief glimpses helped by a lazy moon and flashing lights. Hands trembling, he took his phone from his pocket. Palms moist and sticky, he dialled Julie’s number.
“Hi love, where are you, is everything ok?”
“I won’t be coming home for a while. There’s been a terrible accident at work. One of the girls fell from a balcony; it was Helen the girl I was telling you about. She was due to get married next week.”
“Oh my God, how awful. Was she badly injured?”
“She didn’t survive. Helen’s dead and I can’t leave until the police are finished. They want to interview me ‘cos I was a witness….. The only witness.”