Most of us have been in situations at our work, where someone has been parachuted in on us from above, given a position of responsibility and/or authority not merited by their ability. It is particularly galling for those of us to have to stand by and watch a project fail, powerless to intervene because of the nepotism invested in such situations. To intervene so, would be to invite self-destruction, something the job is certainly not worth. How can you change the course of events, without being radically altered yourself in such circumstances?
A phenomena in Chemistry, known as Catalysis, is used to bring about a significant change in a chemical process, whilst the catalyst itself remains (effectively) unaltered. I bracketed the ‘effectively’ because I feel the need to stress that contrary to popular belief, the catalyst is altered, though the final result may belie this. A succinct description of the process can be found in Wiki as: ‘Catalysts generally react with one or more reactants to form intermediates that subsequently give the final reaction product, in the process regenerating the catalyst.‘
Quite simply, the catalyst is effectively consumed in the process, only to be re-formed at it’s conclusion. Could a saviour in our office perform the same feat? And would they be the same person afterwards? Could they act alone?
A group of chemicals that increase the activity of catalysts are know as ‘promoters’. Could such a ‘promoter’ be found in our office, or close to it?
Would our catalyst and promoter survive ‘intact’ and unchanged by the events they brought about? The question doesn’t really need to be asked.
Fly too close to the Sun, and at the very least, some feathers on your wings will be singed.
Alice feels doomed. Faced with the delivery of a project for which she has been forced to use the services of an Architect who is less than useless. Her partner, Samantha, is deeply concerned at Alice’s drinking. Neither see a way through the crisis.
This short story contains explicit sexual references that some readers may find challenging and/or offensive. You have been warned.
She lifted her glass, sipping the juice, and watched him over the rim. He was listening attentively to one of her young engineers speaking, slight movements of his head a quiet encouragement.
She glanced at Curtis. She watched, fascinated, as the young man’s eyes moved around the table as he spoke, but inevitably rested longer on Doug’s face, clearly wanting his approval, and taking strength from the subtle non-verbal support.
“Damn him.” she almost spoke the words aloud, though her eyes went back to his face – this time to meet his across the table.
He smiled at her, picked up his glass of wine and raised it is a subtle, silent salute, and she lowered and raised her glass to him, finding herself smiling back, looking into his deep brown eyes. A slight dip of his head toward her, and his attention turned again to the young man speaking.
The brass had gone, and Alice looked around at her team relaxing. Apart from the small group involved in technical discussion, several other conversations were evident – faces animated with good humour at their success and the free booze.
She sat back in her chair, letting the good-humoured murmur wash over her, feeling herself beginning to relax, for what seemed the first time in many months.
She knew that their success had been almost entirely engineered by him, and although her gratitude towards him was heartfelt, part of her resented him, even hated him, for the apparent ease with which he had turned her to-hell-in-a handcart project into an astounding success. Perversely, most of all she hated the quiet, unassuming manner in which he had operated – praising those around him, taking no apparent credit for himself.
She hadn’t interviewed him for the job – that had been left to her Team leader and Technical architect, but over the first two weeks, they had only exchanged nods and smiles, whilst he had been given time to bring himself ‘up to speed’.
He wasn’t at the meeting where, yet again, she had felt frustration and anger as an aching acid in her belly, at the apparent non-progress currently being discussed.
Feeling numb and lost, she had asked with cold fury “Does anyone understand the system we are trying to implement?”
Twenty minutes later, everyone had filed out of the meeting room, leaving her alone with the Architect.
With a few deftly drawn diagrams on the white board, and a quietly-spoken, confident, though unprepared dialogue, Doug had explained the DRM to everyone, and answered every question that had been put to him. The relief in the room had been tangible, and she had picked up on the friendly and respectful relationship he had apparently already made with her young production team, and the small team of software consultants.
She had left the building quietly, and walking quickly, made her way to the pub – a now-familiar journey. The rest of the day had become a blur, only recalled and understood by having the events related to her by her partner Samantha, and the following day by her PA at work.
She had vaguely remembered him lifting, then carrying her, putting her gently onto her office sofa – his face above her concerned and anxious. She remembered his lifting her feet up onto the sofa. A delicious cool dabbing of her forehead had opened her eyes again, and he had smiled at her, encouraging, but enquiringly.
She had woken up again to the sound of Sam and him talking quietly. She was stretched out on her own sofa at home, a blanket over her. Her head hurt, and she had reached up, feeling the sutures above her left eyebrow.
They had rowed of course, but Sam had finally relented and after making her some supper, had helped her to bed, only to greet her at breakfast the following morning with what amounted to an ultimatum. With quiet resignation, she had answered Alice’s questions, finally to remind her of the enormity of the situation of having to explain to Alice once again, what had happened to her the day before.
Finally, Sam had left for work, leaving Alice shocked and bewildered. She had dressed and left the house, dreading what she might find at work, but everyone had appeared to be unaware of what had happened, only one or two of the engineers making concerned enquiries about how she had hurt her head.
She had stood just inside her office. It looked subtly different. She realised the short filing cabinet was now behind the sofa, not next to the door. A quick scene flashed through her mind. She was falling, she couldn’t stop falling, and the sharp grey edge of the filing cabinet was rushing towards her. She sat down, shaking.
The outline of the heavy cabinet was imprinted in the carpet near the door, and just in front was a slight, but distinguishable stain. She shuddered, closing her eyes.
There was a knock at her door. Shakily she said “Come in.”
Her PA, Janice, was obviously embarrassed, but had been persuaded reluctantly, to relate what she had seen, praising Doug, it seemed, with every breath, before finally leaving.
Alice had realised her rescue had been a close call. Her meeting with the brass had been cancelled of course, but they weren’t aware of the real reason for her accident. She walked over to the filing cabinet, opening the bottom drawer, but the bottles and glass were gone.
“Close the door, Doug.” she had said, after he had knocked and entered.
He had sat back in the chair and simply nodded, again waiting for her recovery.
He had waited while she considered his words. She looked at him. There was no trace of bravado, just the calm, assured and friendly face she had seen over the last two weeks. But she believed she understood.
He had asked quietly “Anything else Alice?”
Two days had gone by, and she was looking forward to the weekend, planning to continue her attempts to convince Sam about going on the wagon. Two days in which she hadn’t touched a drop of booze, despite being intensely aware that nothing had apparently changed in the direction of the project.
Loud voices broke into her office despite the heavily soundproofed door, and she opened it and stepped into the corridor.
They stood face to face, her team leader and the architect. Spit was issuing from the architect’s mouth as he yelled profane abuse at Chris. She looked on in horror. Chris was a big man, powerfully built, clearly very angry, and she expected the worst. Then just as quickly as it had started, the architect strode off, ignoring her, and the several engineers who had been watching.
Chris looked at her – he was clearly furious. She nodded at him, beckoning with her hand, and re-entered her office. He followed, closing the door behind him and began. She sat down and listened. As she heard Chris threatening to leave, the feeling of dread she had felt initially had fallen away, to be replaced with one approaching a guilty glee, as she realised what had taken place.
She reassured Chris that his grievances would be addressed instantly. He was somewhat surprised.
Later, after a dry lunch, she had come back, and looking through the meeting room windows, had seen Doug in front of the white board, dry marker in hand, together with the other software consultants and several of the production team. He had seen her through the glass. He smiled at her, and nodded briefly, before turning once again to his audience.
In the weeks that followed, Sam had relented, seeing Alice drink only juice, and arriving home sober each night, but there was an edge to their relationship that hadn’t been there before. Then it was Sam’s turn to get drunk. Alice had been kind and forgiving, but this had only irritated Sam. The argument had persisted after dinner and then finally Sam had blurted it out.
The next morning it was Sam’s turn to apologize. Both of them were subdued. For the first time since her ‘accident’ weeks before, Alice asked Sam about the afternoon she had come home and found him watching over her sleeping, injured partner.
“He said that he smuggled you out of the building, driving you to the hospital in your car, where you were given a scan and stitched up. The medics realised you were simply very drunk, not unconscious, so he was allowed to bring you back here and watched over you like a mother hen until I arrived home.”
“You talked to him?”
She reached forward and picked up her glass, sipping the remains of the juice. The guys were starting to drift away, leaving for an early start to the weekend, a reward for a job well done. A few stragglers still sat with Doug, who was talking quietly, his eyes moving from face to face, engaging each of them.
“Damn him.” She heard herself saying inwardly. She understood. As much as she understood she resented it. The man was a bloody Pied Piper – he had the precious gift of making a person he was speaking to, feel like the only person in the room, very special and important. What was so irritating to her, was that it appeared to be genuine, and she couldn’t, wouldn’t, believe that.
She listened as he spoke, and felt herself being drawn in. She tried to analyse what it was that drew her in – it couldn’t be the subject matter – that was technical and completely beyond her. She stopped trying to analyse him, and instead concentrated on examining what she felt. She felt a warming in the pit of her belly as she listened. She let herself stare at him, unblinkingly, though aware that he was including her with brief, facial acknowledgements.
The warmth in her belly grew. She’d felt it before when listening to him. She felt it as though it was a caress. She wanted to be angry at him, to tell him she knew his game, but she couldn’t. The warmth had become an ache, then mild contractions. She felt the blood filling her face , felt the back of her neck growing warm.
All the time the sound of his voice, cadences rising and falling, washed over her ears. As she looked at him, the others around the table seemed to fade from view. She was breathing heavily now, and was no longer angry, didn’t want it to stop. She leaned forward, propping her elbows on the table top as the contractions peaked and she came. Wave after wave. She put her hands over her face, feeling it’s heat, barely able to stifle her long moans.
A gentle hand touched the top of her arm.
Alice looked across the table. If anyone had been aware of her special ‘moment’, then they gave no sign of it. She picked up her empty glass and headed for the bar.
He poured her some Perrier water, and they both sat down on the bed.
She felt angry, and drew her hand away. “Do you know, that I sat in the pub and orgasmed, just listening to you speak and looking at you?”
Suddenly, all her anger fell away. “I’m sorry. I had you wrong. I thought you were playing with me.”
She shook her head and laughed. “No. On that I do agree with you.”
She was unused to his power and size, feeling the hard muscles of his chest against her and the large biceps across her upper arms. She felt weak – knew she was weak compared to him, but instead of her usual ready resentment toward men, she gave in and bathed in a wonderful belief that his only instincts were to protect and love her. Someone who would proudly stand or fall by his actions, not on what he said.
As they kissed, she remembered her words to Sam about him being more of a father to her. She understood now why she had found that so easy to say, because he had protected her, had stood by giving unquestionable, non-judgemental support. Had, done what was necessary, unpleasant as it might have been. He couldn’t have done so if he’d been some squishy, touchy-feely, man-boy of the type she usually preferred as male friends.
She felt her heart pounding in her chest, her breath coming in gasps. He continued kissing her, his tongue probing around and deeper into her mouth, his strong hands stroking her head, neck, shoulders and back, in gorgeous sweeping caresses.
She unbuckled his trousers, pulling his shoes off, and then standing up, she pulled off his trousers and boxers, ripped off her knickers and sat astride him. She moaned slightly as he sank inside her, then there was a brief pause as she looked down into his dark, dark eyes. He smiled at her. “Are you sure?”
Her mouth greedily sucked and nibbled his right nipple as they moved together.
They lay awhile before he gently rolled off, cuddling her from behind.
He looked at her, his lovely dark eyes now sad. “You must know it will not work. You will lose your partner. Her love is important to you, more than I believe you understand. I cannot be an instrument in the destruction of your relationship.”
Sam was making supper in the kitchen when Alice arrived home. Despite her afternoon of blissful carnality, she felt no guilt, which surprised her. A calm and tranquillity about her set Sam immediately at ease, and they embraced gently.
The following morning was different. An aching awareness that he would be leaving the following Friday, made her nervy. She spent the morning at the supermarket and rang him just after noon.
After a quick lunch, she announced to Sam she was off shopping. A quick foray, and several bags later she was standing inside his room held in his arms.
It was different than yesterday. She found a confidence she hadn’t been aware she possessed. He seemed to know. She was literally lifted off her feet, supported by his strong arms and they made love, him standing, her wholly supported by him, sometimes straddling his belly, sometimes like a baby in his arms. When it was over, they lay together, with her curled up against his powerful chest. He spoke to her, softly and gently, and she drifted, half-hearing, half-listening, as his soft voice seemed to caress her very core.
She woke, still in his arms. The exhilarating feeling of well-being she had felt yesterday was back, even stronger. He gently caressed her temple, kissed her neck, until finally she had to leave.
She called on him again on the Sunday, then at work on Monday had telephoned him – just to touch him and be held by him in her office. Each evening after work, they had made love. By Thursday, the feelings of anxiety and doubt about his leaving had gone, and she was at peace. More tranquil and calm than she had ever felt in her life. That he would soon be gone didn’t seem to matter – she felt his closeness even when they were apart.
On the Wednesday evening, after making love with him she had arrived home, finding Sam standing in the lounge, a glass of red wine in her hand. Sam had said nothing about her absences, but neither had she been catty or nasty.
Then it was Thursday. Again she lay in his arms, listening, as he talked. She drifted, until finally she fell asleep.
Waking with a start, she realised it was dark. She reached across the bed finding a warm, soft back. A delicate scent confirmed she was lying next to Sam. She moved a little closer and ran her left hand down Sam’s back, across her buttocks and back up her side, touching the beautiful soft tissue of Sam’s left breast. Sam moaned softly.
It was several weeks later, as she was tidying up a drawer in their bedroom that she came across the envelope addressed to Sam.
The handwriting was familiar, intriguing her, then she knew. He had written it.
You probably hate me, but that doesn’t matter to me as long as you don’t hate Alice. She loves you more than anything, or one, on this earth. I know you belong together.
There must be many questions in your mind about me. Some I can answer, some I cannot. We have a mutual friend – a friend you spoke to several months ago about your concern over Alice’s well-being. That friend spoke to me, and the rest, so it is said, is history.
You were very right to be concerned. Because of the actions of a certain individual, Alice’s very existence was being threatened. I had to act, was glad to act, because an old enemy of mine was involved. Unfortunately to be of help, I needed to get very close to Alice, and she found something in me that she didn’t want to let go of – despite my warnings.
Be assured she is yours Sam, she will always be yours.
You will be happy together, I know you will. You will probably never see or hear from me again, but believe that I will be thinking fondly of you both.
Best wishes always from Doug.”
The letter was on the coffee table when Sam came in, laughing and loaded with bags of new clothes.
“Oh!” she said.
Alice dropped the note on the table and swore. “Christ, I don’t know. Who did you talk to Sam?”
“That day, that awful day you hurt yourself, when you were out of it, and him and I talked. I felt all of the things you have told me since. My knickers were wet when you finally woke up.”