One of the advantages of your own business is that you can hide in your office without having to explain to anyone. The farming party had been on Saturday night, it was Monday and Gareth still felt like a herd of cattle were stampeding between his temples.
What concerned him the most, as he downed his second cappuccino thankfully brought in by Clare in accounts, who had seen him looking pale, was not that he was down to his last two paracetamol, but was he was sure he’d agreed to something on Saturday. Something that Kate wouldn’t like.
He wasn’t exactly scared of his business partner, but his preferred to stay on the right side of her. He’d seen the way she’d gone for Dave and some of the more junior members of the team when they’d done things more minor that he thought he had signed up for, so he dreaded to think how she’d react. The words ‘working for free’ were floating around his brain, and all the pain killers in the world couldn’t stop that bringing him out in a cold sweat.
Through the door he watched his partner stride across the office. Doubtless she had already been to the gym, an activity he found completely unfathomable. Maybe he was showing a little middle-aged spread, but that was the sign of a life well lived wasn’t it? Any of his friends suddenly becoming skinny tended to indicate some sort of crisis that would soon be accompanied by a trophy wife, sports car, divorce lawyer bills large enough to build a house and worst of all, the desire to wear fluorescent Lycra. The very thought of being clad in the stuff was enough to dull the hangover pain for a few seconds. What did they call it – MAMIL – middle aged men in Lycra, Gareth shook his head to remove the image that popped in to his brain.
No, you wouldn’t catch Gareth Forthrington-Thomas panting away in some sweaty room on a machine that belonged in a medieval torture chamber. Good, clean country living with the odd bracing walk should do the job. Almost as an act of rebellion, he considered heading down to the local cafe for a proper fry-up, then decided that a little more rest would be a better bet. Getting up to look out of his window he checked on what the noise was. Either the council were mending the road outside, or someone was hammering in his head.
Through the door, Kate spotted Gareth looking grey round the gills. Briefly she considered going in and wishing him a hearty good morning just to see the pained look but then decided against it. Her cross-trainer session had been particularly strenuous that morning and what she really wanted to do was take the edge off with the strong coffee in her hand and the bacon bap concealed in her bag.
Eventually Gareth felt a little more human and decided that he ought to put in an appearance in the main office. First though, he switched on his computer. More than once a company-wide e-mail from Kate had caught him unawares so he’d learnt to check before chatting to the staff.
Today brought no missives, but at the top of the list was a name he didn’t know for a few seconds. Freddie Coward? With a groan, the weekend’s events came flooding back, along with the stampeding herd. Time for another coffee.
Slumping back in his chair, fresh brew in hand, Gareth opened the message.
Good Morning Gareth
What an excellent evening Saturday was. I usually find these dos a bit dull, but chatting with you was a pleasant diversion from gruesome veterinary talk about calving. I’m feeling quite invigorated and keen to press on with matters.
Gareth groaned. “Invigorated”? Unless that was code for death warmed up, then Freddie Coward was one of those annoying morning people. To be fair, one who could handle his drink. The two had matched each other pint for pint as far as Gareth’s hazy memory could recall.
I hope you don’t mind me getting in touch so quick. I know I said I’d ring later in the week, but strike while the iron is hot and all that.
The clock is ticking and my new nemesis, the Councillor for arts and recreation has decided that we need to up our game or they’ll sell the site to one of these retirement apartment developers. Apparently the area needs the money more than artistic stimulation.
So, I am faced with needing to justify our funds for the first time in years. I’ve been told that if we don’t come up with a business plan that shows us making some money by March then its curtains, no pun intended. No more musicals for the old folk, no more panto for the kids.
I’ve never written a business plan in my life. Old Tubby Williams, our last Councillor, never wanted one. Sadly, he suffered a heart attack last year which is why we have this new woman. So, I wonder if you can help? As I said, I don’t have much in the way of funds, but I’m hoping I can persuade you to do this pro bono as a bit of community service. I’d happily stick your company name up around the place. In fact if this all come off, we could rename the bar in your honour. Just tell me what KOD stands for and I’ll have my man with the paintbrush emblazon it over the top.
Gareth read the e-mail twice. As the alcohol-fueled bravado had faded, he wondered what to do next. It was obvious that this job wasn’t going to bring in any money. Kate wouldn’t be impressed by that, and neither would Freddie be too keen to paint the words “Kiss Of Death” over the top any bar. Kate might have thought it amusing when she named the company after the effect she’d felt had on previous employers, but the good people of the West Midlands might not see the funny side.
On the other hand, it would be good to do something for the local community. Theatre was important. Arts mattered. Where would Britain be without Shakespeare? More to the point, this was the sort of enterprise that attracted a certain type of patron. Gareth imagined himself sipping a G&T with the great and good locally during the interval in a fine art deco theatre bar. Perhaps this could be what Kate called a “networking opportunity”. If you thought of it like that, it might be worth a punt.
Whatever else, Gareth was a man of his word, even when he couldn’t be sure that he’d actually given it. KOD would take the job on and make it a success. Sitting up straight in his chair, the last dregs of hangover were momentarily dissipated. The herds settled down to some peaceful grazing and even the council seemed to have stopped drilling.
“What are you grinning at?” demanded Kate as she walked into his office.
Gareth jumped. Then he gulped. The cattle in his head started to move again. “Sorry. You startled me.”
“Obviously. You look terrible. Big weekend?”
“Nothing of the sort. I’ll admit that Saturday night was a bit lively, but you know how cattle people are.”
Kate snorted. “No, not really. You’re the country boy, I like my beef cooked and on a plate.”
Smiling, Gareth decided to play his trump card. “Well, I was at one of my wife’s dos and I think I might have schmoozed my way into some interesting business”
Kate looked surprised. Gareth didn’t bring in business. Most of the time he took the term “sleeping partner” literally, just the way she liked it. “Really? Something farm related I assume.”
“Not at all. A little work in the theatre.”
“The theatre? Seriously? What on earth can we do for them? Are they looking for a jester? Perhaps we could send them Tracey. I’m sure she’d love to prance around on stage in fancy costumes. It’s pretty much all she does around here half the time anyway. Do you know I had to remind her she wasn’t to have on-line shopping delivered to the office again? I wouldn’t mind, but when the latest parcel turns up, she buggers off to try it on and then everyone has to stop work for a fashion show.”
Tracey’s outfits had always been one of the more entertaining parts of office life for Gareth and even though she was just about young enough to be his daughter, some of the more risqué efforts still stuck in his mind. Stifling a smile at the memory, he broke into Kates rant. “Oh, it’s not a major job, not like the ones you work on, but I thought it would be good to do something for the community. In fact I wondered about giving young Tracey the chance to help me out. Perhaps the girl just needs a bit of a chance to show us what she can do.”
“You might remember that she’s done that in the past. There’s at least one seaman who’s a little less able after her ministrations a few months ago.”
“I’m sure she has it in her, we just need to find something she can get her teeth into.”
Kate pulled a face.
“Anyway, I think it would be a nice idea if she and I worked on this one. I’ll let you know what we get up to of course and I’m sure you’ll want to give us plenty of advice.”
Kate suddenly remembered something. “Hold on. You said ‘doing something for the community’. What do you mean? Aren’t we getting paid?”
Blood rushed to Gareth’s cheeks. “Well. Um. Well, I don’t think they have any money as such, but there are I’m sure lots of other ways we can get a, erm, benefit.” He decided against mentioning renaming the bar.”
For a moment, Kate paused. Working for free wasn’t a concept that she really understood or approved of. Charity was lobbing a coin in a bucket shaken in the high street when you couldn’t get away. Why do people expect something for nothing? She’d dragged herself up by the straps on her designer shoes.
On the other hand, she had enough on her plate keeping tabs on what Dave was doing in America, plus a few side projects that were ticking over. If Gareth had a project, it would keep him out of her hair for a while. If it also gave Tracey something to keep her out of trouble, that might be a good thing too.
“OK”, she said, “Go for it. Let’s do our bit for the community. Just remember that if I need either of you to work on something that pays, the actors get dropped.”
Gareth was surprised. He’d expect much more fuss. “Thank you. I’m sure we’ll get along fine. You never know, perhaps we’ll pull it off and you’ll be back talking to those Lost Women again on TV.”
“Loose Women. And I’ll not be doing that again. We need gravitas, not gossip about cellulite.”
With that she turned and strode out into the office. “Tracey, I think Gareth has some work you might be able to get your teeth in to.”
Startled Tracey looked up from the chocolate muffin she was devouring, leaving her with a brown coloured moustache of icing. The accounts team giggled, before a hard stare in their direction silenced the laugher. Picking up a pad, she marched in to Gareth’s office, ignoring the gestures from the team who tried to tell her to wipe her top lip, though they didn’t try too hard.