The Gate Keeper: Chapter 17 (In which things fail to come to a head)
by Andrew Miller TBW Smith Jones Wallace Broadbent and Ndimande is an agency in crisis. Their ‘basket of boutique services’ strategy has bombed. Only a massive new project can keep the doors open – all eyes are now on the corporate tent at Mangaung. Far in the background, an emergency replacement executive PA with decades of experience makes important decisions. Interns rise, board members take unexpected steps and things begin to change…
Rumours fly like knives as the intern meets head to head with the boss, who acts in an unexpected manner…
In which things fail to come to a head
Well the little one is as nervous as Bambi in a crack den. I can’t say I blame her. He really does drill her with those beady drunk eyes of His. I can see she’s making an effort to play it all down, but the flower will not be disguised. She’s hopping from one toe to the other here in front of me as she waits. Ag shame – she hasn’t realised how it works yet. The power is all hers…
Mama E stopped tapping at her keyboard and gave Vati a long, meaningful look. Vati was unsure as to whether she was being offered a lead or not. She opened her mouth to speak, then shut it, then opened it again. “Sometimes, He…” she whispered at Mama E, “He… well it’s His eyes more than anything. I struggle to keep focus with those eyes on me, if you know what I mean?”
“My dear, I’ve been dealing with those eyes all my life. I know exactly what you mean,” Mama E tapped her nose knowlingly, like they were in a 60s James Bond movie. “Just keep a two metre following distance and you’ll be fine. Better than fine, in fact. The eyes can only go so far. Stay out of physical range and you control the meeting. Let His knee touch yours and you’re finished.” Vati nodded gratefully. It was good advice. Mama E might be extremely weird and old and fat and prone to horrific pastel colour mis-matches, but there was nonetheless something about her she was learning to respect.
The buzzer on Mama E’s desk rang. She picked up and nodded. “There you go my dear. He’s ready for you.”
Vati breathed deeply, pulled her dress firmly down over her hips and marched into His office. Mama E tapped her nose a last time as Vati passed.
Back in the creative commons Simon Shone was thinking about advertising as a career choice. About how little satisfaction he had gained from his work and, simultaneously, how much better copywriting must still be than life as a Marikana rock driller. He was also thinking about Phil, and Vati, and how it had all happened as it had. And, therefore, how his life, when viewed in the reflected light of this racially integrated young couple, could possibly have turned out to be this dull.
He had no girlfriend.
He hadn’t worked on anything other than chewing gum for three years.
He didn’t even have a decent drug habit.
“Hey Phil,” Simon leaned back in his chair and threw a crumbled paper ball at his partner. “Is it love?”
“Ke?” Phil lifted a can off one ear. “Sorry?”
“You and Vati. Love? Lust? General foolery?”
“Hai,” Phil dropped the earphone back and muttered something about basic human decency.
“Hey Phil!” Simon threw another paper ball at him. “You know she’s there right now hey? In His office. Going through the great Mangaung strategy. What you skim the chances are she comes out the same way she went in?”
Phil took off his headphones, grabbed his pack of Stuyvesants and went for a drive.
On the strategy side of the commons, similar thoughts were finding air, although in a less delicate fashion. Sizwe was explaining to the others just how freaky he thought those tie-die eighteen year old Newtown chicks in their crossover Ndebele neo hippie garb were. The conversation swung inevitably to Vati and her current one-on-one session in His office, with, Buntu noted, the door completely closed.
The girls clucked and tutted and tried to squash the whole thing but the ball was rolling by now. The boys chuckled gruffly, like old men really, even slapping their knees a bit as they returned to their work, filled with illicit thoughts about their new colleague.
The reality was nothing that anyone would have predicted, or expected, Vati included. He was stinking drunk.
She kept her two metre distance, shaking hands only lightly and then scuttling to the visitor’s side of His big and remarkably empty oak desk. Once the pleasantries had been concluded she extracted her laptop and powered it up, at which point He fell fast asleep, right there in his executive leather office chair.