I heard the lift coming. It could’ve been anyone, security for instance, or a cleaner. They did their rounds about that time. But it could also be him? He worked late sometimes. There was always plenty of employment for the sinful. Keeping an eye on the door I searched with patient urgency. Light filtered in from the corridor through the office’s frosted glass. It was barely enough still in that semi-darkness I rifled any drawer I could get into. My search was harder as I didn’t have a clue what I was looking for. I tried a last drawer in the pedestal of his desk. It was locked. As I touched it, though, I thought I heard a voice. I looked about. No-one was there. A long the corridor the lift pinged. My hand pulled the locked drawer again. A scent like sulphur, I think, drifted about me. And I felt… elated. An urge washed into me, an urge to get whatever was in that drawer and take it. Desire and hunger for success gripped so keenly my mind that I stopped and stared at the blackened desk.
Soft footfalls came up the corridor. Someone was approaching. I focused my attention on the drawer once more. It wouldn’t open, but resolutely rattled on it runners, stayed by the lock. I grabbed my bag and headed for the door. It would be hard enough selling an excuse if he found me on this floor. But being caught in his office…?
As I picked up my bag I heard a bump.
I’d dropped it.
I couldn’t leave it there. The game was up for sure. My heart pounded in my ears as I frantically felt about the carpet. The whiteness of the phone’s cover winked mischievously at me from under the ostentatious sofa he had in his office. I stretched an arm under the leather-clad seat, my fingers tapping on the irritating carpet for my errant device. In my haste I pushed it away. I reached further in, under, into the dusty cauldron of anxiety. My mouth caressed the hairs of his floor. I spat as my clammy fingers clasped the cold plastic of my I-phone. And as I turned to stand, I found a shadow filling the oblong pane of the door. Gently, it swung open.
“Well, well, well. What have we here?” he said.
We sat and stared at each other. The glow from his desk lamp set us both in contrast and pushed the faint light from the corridor away. It made him look demonic, too. His eyes seemed to burn above the shadows on his cheeks. He didn’t buy my story about being lost and taking a wrong turn. I couldn’t say I blamed him.
The silence between us got too much, and I said; “How have you done it, Robert?”
“How have I done what, babe?” Robert said.
“My name’s Evelyn. I would appreciate it if you stop calling me babe. Unless, of course, you want another sexual harassment case against you.”
“Makes no odds to me… babe.”
“Whatever… Bob,” I said, and delighted in the crease of his solid brow: “So, how did you get here: to this office; to this position? I bet you have a very interesting tale to tell.”
“Remarkable, I think you’ll find, babe: romantic, even,” he said, grinning as he sat in his Bengal stripe shirt, navy-blue Etro suit and Church’s Sheldon shoes: all purchased in person from Harrods of Knightsbridge.
“The Post Room, wasn’t it?” I said, trying to tease him, provoke him: “That’s where you started at Bushall’s. And now you’re here. A Non-Executive Director of Sales.”
The scent of his Yves Saint Laurent La Nuit Eau-de-Parfum drifted through the air between us and mixed with… something else an aroma I couldn’t quite identify but remembered from not so long ago. As Robert looked at me I could feel his pawing predatory eyes.
“That’s right, babe,” he said, toying with a metallic ball from his desk, rolling it between his fingers. It was one of those trendy calendars, the kind that lights up each day, each month, each year: “I started as a post boy, at sixteen. I pushed the mail trolley around for fifty quid a week. I was just a kid, but I watched and I learned.”
“You were a post boy for six unspectacular years,” I said, still trying to provoke a reaction.
“If you say it was that long, babe,” he said. “I really don’t remember.”
“Then six years after that, you’re here, in a Director’s chair.”
“Yes, and the youngest ever Director at that,” Robert said.
He didn’t appear to want to bite, so I decided to take a different approach. The risk was palpable. It was his word against mine. I’d already seen one female colleague leave his office in tears, and then have a claim for harassment thrown out. I got up and walked towards him, then slid between him and the desk. Resting against the edge, I propped one foot on his chair and said: “I think you’ve got something. I don’t know what it is, but it seems pretty potent to me. It’s got our superiors all tied up in knots over you and allows you to get away with murder. What is it, Robert? What do you have over them?”
The pedestal with the locked drawer was directly beneath me. I was certain that his prized gift sat in that drawer. Robert leaned forward, then stopped. He opened then closed his mouth, like a goldfish waiting to be fed. The furrow of his brow deepened, as he said: “Oh, you mean this.”
He placed his hands on my knees easing them apart, his tongue moistening his lips as his fixed my eyes with undisguised relish. He produced a key, slipped it in and twisted. There was a click and the drawer rolled effortlessly open… slightly, but just enough. A metallic silver light burst into the yellow-stained darkness. I bent forward for a better look and that urge, that desire to take it, gripped me again. It was overwhelming. Frightening.
I pulled away.
But I’d seen it.
Robert’s hands gripped the drawer and pulled it out, then reached in lifting the object. It seemed intangible, yet it landed on the oak desk with a heavy, dull thud. According to the laws of physics and gravity surely it should have rolled one way or another but it just sat there oozing a sickly bitter-sweet scent of sulphur. The Orb was about the size of a large grapefruit, smooth and perfectly formed with symmetrically sublime dimensions, its surface eddying like clouds of ethereal quicksilver and freezing fog. Robert accepted this without question and I saw in it promise. I saw life, my life. My future. My destiny. The Orb created an image of everything I craved and whispered to me, You can do it. You can become more than you’ve ever dared to dream. I leaned forward and my fingers brushed the surface of the desk, and Robert’s cool digits. I stopped myself.
“Isn’t it beautiful?” he said, his words barely audible in the silence.
“Yes,” I said.
“Touch it,” he said, earnestly.
A hand lifted of its own accord and drifted over the Orb.
“No,” I said.
“Go on. Touch it. You know you want to.”
“What … What is it?”
“It’s power and wealth, babe,” Robert said, “and all the things you’ve ever desired. It is me, and I am it. It gives me energy and drive. It lives within me, and all about me. And there’s plenty of it to go round. Touch it, babe, and follow me to the stars.”
“No. Absolutely not,” I said: “I’ll get to where I’m going through my talents and abilities.”
“Oh, babe, you will,” Robert said, sounding like he was pleading: “Believe me, you will. But with our little friend here you’ll go all the way, and beyond. The sky really will be the limit, sweets. Our little friend will give you power to overcome any obstacle that will stand in the way of a girl with your … obvious talents. It will pave the way, guide you like a map. It will lift you. What do you say, babe? Go on. Touch it.”
I could feel that delicate breath of destiny that had caressed me before, there in that office, by that drawer, before he came. The Orb was singing to me soft saccharine tunes of achievement. It sang sweet harmonies washing away the bitterness and disappointment of memories of rejection. They grew distant becoming obscured by a swirling fog.
“How many women occupy senior posts at Bushall’s?” a distant voice said.
Robert was close to me, standing next me, his eau-de-cologne should have overpowered me but that bitter-sweet sulphuric scent hung between us. I stared at the Orb as he said: “How many times have they ignored you, babe? How many promotions have gone to lesser people?”
Robert no longer looked at me as he spoke. His eyes were fixed on the Orb.
“To men you mean,” I said.
It was a statement of fact. The Orb had washed away all resentment.
“You know, there are other companies,” I said.
“Not as good as this one,” Robert said.
“This discrimination can’t go on,” I said.
“Touch it and it won’t.” And my hand almost did. The Orb was seducing me. I felt its beauty, felt the love it had for me. “Go on, babe, touch it,” Robert was saying: “It loves you. It wants you. It longs for you, babe. Love it too. Touch it and smash that glass ceiling. Bury these Bushall fossils under a shower of shattered crystal. Follow me, babe. Follow me to heaven.”
Yes. My hands longed to caress its smooth surface. Oh, to touch it. I could hear Robert’s soft voice in the distance. The sickly bitter-sweet scent filled the space around me and I breathed deeply. I wanted it. Damn, I wanted it.
But I resisted.
“No. Never,” I said, and took my hand away… a little.
The Orb’s freezing fog eddied beckoning me. From the depths of this curious entity came a vision, an image of truth that could be… if only I dared to reach out and take it. I saw a woman wearing a bright red tight fitting top under a cream-white Armani jacket and skirt with a higher hem than I would normally wear. She walked purposefully down the corridor. Light shimmered on her sheer black tights like ghostly neon. Slender fingers held a black attaché case with assurance and confidence. Heads turned as she passed. As her hand reached out to open the door to the CEO’s office I caught her face. I saw myself. Scented air filled my lungs and I drank wantonly. And I wanted more. I felt light and giddy.
“No. I have to stop this,” I said.
Blood rushed to my head. My breathing grew shallow and rapid. A pounding echoed in my ears like the beat of someone’s heart. I looked at Robert. He just stared at the Orb.
“Where did you find it, Robert?”
“You know,” he said, smiling blissfully, “I really don’t remember.”
Hermione, my PA, escorted Julia Reynolds into the Board Room. As I stood, hand extended, I could see her take in my smart dress suit. The journalist’s practiced eyes appreciated the status presented by her host’s attire.
“Julia, how are you?” I said.
“Fine, thank you, Evelyn. It’s very kind of you to take the time to see me.”
“Not at all. Please, take a seat.”
Julia sat adjacent to me, and the leather of our executive chairs creaked as we both reclined. My hands brushed my cream-white Armani suit and down the sheer stockings on my crossed legs. I felt Julia’s eyes following their progress.
“Well, Evelyn,” Julia said, coughing abruptly before taking a sip from a glass on the table. “It’s been quite a journey for you, hasn’t it?”
“Bushal’s couldn’t be described as … how can I put it diplomatically … liberal?” she said.
“No. No, it couldn’t,” I said
“What was it? Five … five … sexual harassment cases against the company and one of it’s former Directors, Robert Adamson, in just six years…”
“And now everything’s resolved,” I said.
“Yes. All thanks to you,” Julia said.
“Three years ago, wasn’t it, Evelyn,” Julia continued, “that you became the first female Board member at Bushall’s, and as its CEO. That is an incredible achievement in itself. Now, you’re practically in control of the whole empire. It’s not the largest empire, true, but that looks likely to change soon. With unprecedented growth for five consecutive quarters, there’s a take-over bid on the table from one of the bigger fish. A deal that’s reportedly set to make you a multi-millionaire. But what the readers of World Women magazine are dying to know, Evelyn, is how? How did you achieve all of this in such a short time?”
The faint, misty image of Robert’s old office swam about my memory like eddying fog. The air filled with a bitter-sweet sulphuric fug and I could feel my lips curl into a smile, as I said: “Well, it’s simply a feel for success.”
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