The trial had tongues wagging and now a guilty verdict. The middle-aged, high profile businessman charged with murdering the attractive au pair. Although evidence was circumstantial, phone records confirming a sexual angle and suggestions of blackmail kept the gossips busy.
“I knew the bastard did it,” said James.
“Hope he rots in jail,” added Julie.
“Not a chance. He’ll be out in about ten years. I’d castrate the scumbag for a start.”
Putting on his cuff-links, he added, “My father was right. He always said two things could get a man into trouble; his mouth, and his dick.”
“You’d better be careful so, love,” said a smiling Julie as she packed his bag, a simple Burberry leather number. A pair of Ralph Lauren chinos, matching polo shirt, casual sailing shoes, and a change of shirt and underwear were neatly folded in. For this month’s meeting, he’d decided on a dark suit with a hint of pinstripe. Leaning over she gave him a peck on the cheek.
“After all, you’re no George Clooney, 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 the target for the first quarter. As the gates opened, he touched the pedal and the Merc C class responded powerfully yet silently. Family, work, rugby, golf and discussing the opposite sex over a few pints were his priorities. Nothing ever happened; just a bit of craic.
With schools closed, traffic was light, and he covered the fifteen kilometres 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 wore her hair tied 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 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 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, to me it’s only hanging on by a few brackets. And those walls, a good easterly and you’d be blown over. No, I’ll take my coffee indoors, thanks.”
Nor did he like the security in the new building.
“Sensors everywhere with passes and fobs to move around, special codes to get into R&D. CCTV everywhere. Yeah, we’ve got sensitive data, but this is like Guantanamo. They’re probably filming us taking a dump.”
James handled Irish sales. With the latest MRI machines costing over three million securing a sale was a 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 arrived. It continued over dinner where copious bottles of wine and pints disappeared.
“Good for team morale to relax over a few beers after we’ve finished with business,” was how Adam put it.
Helen handled all the arrangements for the first meeting to be held in the new building. The boardroom on level six, resplendent with black oval-shaped table and grey carpet was the venue. Coffee and 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 in the pod at four. James checked his phone. A 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 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 on the bed undoing his pink and mauve tie. This must 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 over her shoulders. Giggling, she shook her head wildly before lying provocatively on the bed. There was little conversation or foreplay, but despite her 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 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 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? 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. Pictures of Julie and the kids flashed in front of him. A knot in his 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 felt a sense of exhilaration. He knew this couldn’t be, shouldn’t be, but he couldn’t help it.
He joined the others for dinner and drinks before spending a sleepless night. Should he talk to Colin, one of the UK based execs and his best friend? Colin had two unsuccessful marriages behind him and had slept with at least three of the girls in Medway. He liked to talk about his exploits. James decided to keep his news to himself.
On Friday Helen produced the latest sales returns and league table. 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 for 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 got back to his old perky self. A popular guy always with a joke and a bit of banter to share. An email 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 fine.”
“Sounds good. Bye pet, love you.”
“Love you too.”
Thursday’s meeting followed the usual pattern. Friday morning’s text came 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 again. He didn’t respond but made his way to the sixth floor. With heart thumping, he kept his composure.
“What the hell 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 believe this is happening to me. You stupid bitch. What do want me to do? Work a fucking miracle.”
When the meeting reconvened, she presented the stats 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 remedy. Tears came, he wasn’t sure if they were of regret or anger. As a pair of swans glided by proudly displaying their 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,”
“Figures my bollocks. Is that all you can think about? How can you be so fecking calm?”
“Getting angry isn’t going to solve anything.”
“Hate to admit it, but you’re right. I need a cigarette; I’ll be out on that balcony yoke, bring us 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 with 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 against the windows got brief glimpses, helped by a lazy moon and flashing lights. Hands trembling, he took out his phone. 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.”
Released early from a life sentence working in financial services, I started writing short stories. To date, it's been much more successful than my golf, which is terrible. No particular genre. An eclectic mix.