Kate Smith squealed in surprise and nearly fell over the chair in her four-inch Louboutins.
Dave. How could Dave be working here? Didn’t Gareth remember what happened at Christmas? Oh my God, this was going to be a disaster!
In the world of control-freak Kate, surprises were not permitted.
This was (almost) her company. Gareth might be her business partner but only in a strictly silent sense – if he knew what was good for him.
Dave Thomas was a nearly forgotten university flame who’d just happened to come back into her life during a project last year. After snogging Kate’s rather drunken face off at the closing-down Christmas party he’d scuttled off to his estranged wife in the States. He was certainly not supposed to be back in her office, let alone being announced as a partner in the firm.
Tracey Dunn-Jones, office tart and general nosy parker, sniggered in the corner. She’d worked out what Gareth had been up to by sneakily checking his diary when he’d mentioned a solo trip and meeting in London. Who did they know who was based in London? Only the disgraced aide of an MP who’d recently lost his job over the closure of a certain vegetable research station. Putting two and two together made a potentially very exciting five. Time to sit back and watch sparks fly, she thought.
On the other side of the room, IT nerd Kelvin was flummoxed by the whole situation. He remembered this Dave guy from their last job and considered him far too cool. He’d preferred the company of the researchers with their tractor-emblazoned jumpers to this cut-price James Bond clad in designer clobber. There had been some hoo-ha at the Christmas party apparently, but he’d been too busy with the tech guys, checking out the latest gadget, to work out what all the fuss had been about. To be honest, the moment people had started flashing their arses he’d ducked out for some fresh air.
The scene seemed to roll out in slow motion.
Dave had walked in to the room all smiles and was about to open his mouth when the shriek came from the side of the office. From the corner of his eye, he saw Kate – looking rather fetching in a pencil skirt and pleasantly form-fitting blouse – stumble and then right herself. As he turned to face her, she lost her footing again.
Kate’s favourite designer footwear wasn’t designed for such reactions. Putting all the pressure on one shoe had caused the heel to snap off, and she was suddenly falling backwards towards a desk. Kelvin, standing behind her, was slow to react and she’d hit the edge of the furniture before he could catch her. Her head hit the desk with a resounding thud, causing her to spin sideways and hit the floor with a crunch. There was a resounding oh! from the rest of the team as they ran over to see how she was.
Gareth Fothrington-Thomas, the fifty-something owner of KOD who was more renowned for his contacts than his business nous, might have the words “Managing Director” on his card but right now he could neither manage nor direct, just stand watch things unfold. A thought flashed across his mind – if only his wife was here. As an animal expert she’d done mouth to mouth on cows; he wasn’t even sure where the first aid kit was.
As everyone crowded round a stunned Kate, she just lay there looking up at them. Although her head hurt more than when she’d had too many cocktails and ended up in the ice bar in Spain, she was OK.
“Back off everyone,” she said in strident tones that could be heard across the office. “I’m absolutely fine.” She began to stand, pushing helpfully offered hands out of the way. Dave had joined the throng and was trying to get past the gapers to help. However, as Kate began to rise he spotted something through the crowd. Blood was trickling down the side of her face from a cut on the side of her head.
As everyone backed off – Kate was not a woman to argue with – she heard a few murmurs about her bleeding head. She touched her crown and her fingers came back red. Oh bum, she thought, that’s really going to ruin my Dior base.
The crowd turned round to find what had sounded like a sack of potatoes hitting the floor. They looked at each other trying to work out where the noise had come from. A pair of Hugo Boss brogues could be seen peeping out from behind one of the desks. Kate leant over the desk to see what was going on, and found Dave flat on the floor, pale as a sheet and out for the count.
“Oh God!” she groaned. “What are you doing down there, Dave?”
KOD Associates, business change consultants, occupied the top floor of an office block in a bland part of Solihull town centre. The name meant ‘Kiss of Death’ and was a private joke. Kate had tried and failed to get her post-university career off the ground for a while and then, always a self-starter, she’d teamed up with Gareth, an old work colleague who had some contacts and money, to bring her ideas to life. Sensing an opportunity provided by the downturn in the economy, they had set themselves up as the go-to company for those who wanted to slim down a business. Their breakthrough job had been managing the spectacular closure of a government-run quango, the Horticultural Investigation Agency (HIA for short), after the last general election.
It had been a memorable job in many ways. Not just because of rioting staff, radioactive potato disease and an MP more concerned with climbing the greasy pole of power than telling anyone the truth, but because of the damage inflicted on Kate’s wardrobe. The rough and tumble of their countryside activities had not been kind to her raft of designer skirts and high heels, and the mental and financial scars were still healing.
And then there was Dave Thomas, aide to the MP who had commissioned the work.
Kate had thought she’d traded all that hormone rubbish for a cool, calm business mind. Suddenly, the one who’d got away years before was back on the scene and her body discovered a supply of oestrogen.
Working on the quango closure had brought media attention that had continued over the last few months. Kate and Gareth were regularly asked for interviews but, annoyingly for Kate, hers seemed to centre on the contents of her wardrobe and being a woman in a man’s world. Gareth was the one who was asked about the company, even though he was ill-equipped to answer questions with anything other than “I rely on Kate to do all the thinking.” She was still pondering whether or not to accept the invite to Loose Women but on balance thought there were some loose ends she might prefer to tie up before being stuck in a television studio with a bunch of hormonal C-list celebrities.
However, with the hubbub of the HIA debacle dying down, KOD needed to find something else to get their teeth into and replenish the dwindling coffers: having expanded rapidly off the back of that job, they had higher rent and more staff to pay.
The crowd had reassembled. Dave was still out cold and Kate was trying not to drip on him. Why wouldn’t her stupid cut stop bleeding?
Come back for Chapter Two next week