Art Pact 81

I had learnt that when Sally was in a proper rant that it was best just to sit back and let it burn itself out - any oxygen I expended attempting to mollify her would just power the flames, which freed of outside influence would simply die out in their own time.

"...the motherfucker, the cheap son-of-a-bitch, the two-bit child of seven whores..." she continued.

I tapped my pen on the desk and thought about the possibility of transferring positions. There was a space coming up in accounting, and normally I'd have sawed my own head off to escape such a job, but it was looking increasingly comforting. I could just sit back, fiddle with my calculator eight hours a day, and go home on time having spent perhaps less than half-an-hour a day being shouted at. I tried to imagine how that would be, but I had spent so long working for Sally that there was no longer any part of my brain that wasn't attuned to constant tension.

"...shove his proposal up his arse, the slime cock-sucker, the brown-nosing shit..."

I could tell that she was just working up to the peak of her anger - it always tended to evolve in the same way, the sexual accusations working up to the thing she really despised, toadyism. Once she'd started accusing someone of working to climb the greasy pole, the wave would be about to break. I popped the pen I was holding into the little organiser on my desk and opened up a document.

" suck-up cu-" she stopped suddenly, causing me to look up in surprise. This was new. I'd never heard her just cut herself off in mid-flow before.

She was staring out through the office window to my right, looking into the sales pool at the sea of low cubicle walls. I followed her gaze, and immediately saw what had stopped her. Standing on the other side of the common office, looking directly at us with a stern expression on his face, was a tall handsome man in a dark suit. The other office-workers were still moving around, passing one side or the other so that he looked like an obsidian monolith emerging from a stream. I didn't recognise his face, but it was certainly striking - dark eyes, a firm jaw, perfectly balanced between being broad and sharp. His hair looked like he'd come here directly from the barber's shop, so finely was it arranged, and his suit fit him perfectly, a slender cut that emphasised a pair of broad but not over-muscled shoulders.

"Fuck me," Sally breathed, and I couldn't tell whether it was an expletive or an expression of desire. I looked back at her, then at the guy again, then back to her. Neither of them had moved.

"Uh, do you know him?" I asked. Always best to start with a lowball, something to which the answer is obvious.

"Of course I know him," she said, as I mouthed along with her.

"Who is he? Is he from HQ or something?" I suppose this was possible, although I'd met most of the people from headquarters, and most of those I didn't know I'd at least seen in the annual report (and therefore knew their names - we did live up to the stereotype that upper management had names, workers appeared without caption).

"He's my nemesis," she said. Again, that was strange. I don't think I'd ever heard her use the word before, it seemed unusually circumspect for her. I kept silent, hoping that there might be some sort of elaboration. Nothing.

"Uh, what group does he work for?"

She turned at that point, bestowing on me a look of utter contempt, the sort you might save for someone who'd turned to you in a board meeting and asked you whether it was profits going up or down that was the good one. I looked back, dumbfounded.

"So he's not company, then?" I asked.

"No, he's not company. He's my nemesis. The person appointed by the gods to bring about my doom. Get some education, girl, for fuck's sake."

"No, I understand the principle of a nemesis," I explained, "I'm just slightly surprised to find myself in ancient Greece all of a sudden."

"Well pay closer attention, then," she told me coldly. "That's your job, after all."

I should explain (if you are interested), that my job is in fact nothing like that. If anything, I'm paid not to pay particularly close attention. I'm the gatekeeper to Sally's domain, and anything I learn there I should generally speaking forget unless it is important to her. I decided to focus on the first of my duties rather than get bogged down in semantics.

"So I should probably not let him in, then?" I guessed.

"No," she said sullenly. "Let him in."


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