Office 87

Office 87 by Chris Green

Fluffy and the Chargers may not be the worst band Guy Chapman has ever seen. That honour would surely go to The Sluggs, whose bid for the title was at Riot years ago. Not only could The Sluggs hardly play a note, they could hardly stand up. They were booed off-stage. But Fluffy and the Chargers would offer The Sluggs a run for their money. It was as if they were deliberately bad.

It is unlucky the occasion should be Guy’s first date with Lucy. He has been working up to asking Lucy Love in Sales out for weeks. A Fluffy and the Chargers gig is not the ideal way to start a relationship. This is 1987 and there is a range of entertainment on offer. They could have gone bowling at the Top Rank, seen a play at the Everyday Theatre, or gone to see Fatal Attraction at the Empire. Well, possibly not Fatal Attraction on a first date. But it’s the film everybody at work is talking about. What is the expression? Bunny boiler? They could have just hung out at one of the bars on Fascination Street.

Guy and Lucy are fortunate only that the PA packs up halfway through FATC’s set, allowing the pair to get away to a more intimate venue. They are able to see the funny side of it.

The name should have been enough to put us off,’ Lucy says. ‘I mean, have you ever come across a worse name for a band than Fluffy and the Chargers?’

Sorry, Lucy. My fault. You’re right. The name ought to have given me a clue.’

I saw a band called Not Here, Bruce at the Worston Rock Festival,’ Lucy says.

At least that has an element of creativity about it. Fluffy and the Chargers is just plain bad.’

Bad doesn’t really do it, Guy. And not just the name. They were terrible.’

With the atmosphere lightened, Lucy feels relaxed enough to open up a little. Guy is taken aback to discover that she has often tried to attract his attention when he is zipping through her department.

You always seem to be lost in thought,’ she says. ‘You never return my gaze. I was beginning to think you didn’t notice me. But perhaps you are just shy.’

Do I really come across as shy?’ Guy says. ‘That’s strange because people often remark how confident I seem. And not always in a good way.’

Lucy tells him that while she realises there are two hundred people at Tyler Hoffman and it is easy to escape notice, whenever she has business on the third floor, she makes a point of asking after him. It seems his PA, Sophie has not got around to passing the messages on. Such are the ins and outs of sexual politics in an office environment in the nineteen-eighties. Petty jealousies are rife.

Why does Sophie have to be so bitter, Guy wonders. She has no reason to be. He likes her. She looks pretty good when she makes the effort. He often gives her a compliment. But this is as far as it goes. Surely, in this day and age, you can like a colleague and complement them without wanting to see them outside of work. Surely that’s enough. Sophie shouldn’t have read more into what happened at last year’s Christmas party. It was very nice at the time and all that, but that was then. These liaisons mean nothing in the cold light of day. You don’t hang on to them. Office Christmas parties have nothing to do with real life.

With Sophie out of the picture, Lucy finds she can get to grips with her charm offensive on Guy, who it seems is a shy kind of fella after all. When it comes down to it, he is a bit of a pussy. It often works that way with men like Guy, her girly friends agree.

Men have on-off switches,’ Emma says. ‘The only difficult part is getting in close. Once you have done that, it’s plain sailing,’ Stacey says. ‘You are in charge.’

Simple psychology,’ Emma says. ‘No complicated program there with Guy.’

Wish me luck, then,’ Lucy says. ‘I’m seeing him again later.’

Good luck, Lucy! But I can tell you, you’re not going to need it.’

Go, girl! You can do it, babe.’

It is easier than Lucy expects. She is able to find Guy’s switch straight away. No digging deep needed. Just a little fine-tuning to age-old feminine wisdom. She makes Guy think that her ideas are his ideas and that he likes the things she likes until he is of the view that he has thought this way all along. In no time, she has him wrapped around her little finger. He seems to do whatever she asks him to do. And take pleasure in doing it. He lets her have a key to his well-appointed apartment in Bougainvillea Heights to come and go as she pleases, and bit by bit, over a week or two, she moves in. He lets her choose his clothes and gets him to throw out the ones of his she doesn’t like, to make room for her own. She gets him to let her drive his new 635i to pop along to the hairdressers in town or to swing by Waitrose to stock up on provisions for their intimate dinner parties. The menus, the themes and the guest lists are of her choosing. Not only does she get Guy to do all the preparation for the dinners, she even gets him to iron her dresses for the occasions. The beauty of it all, her girly friends agree, is that men like Guy don’t even realise they are being manipulated.

Sophie meanwhile does not take the new development in Guy’s love life well. Rejection is not in her playbook. She is determined to get her revenge. Guy might be her boss, but she can be single-minded when she is up against it. Hell hath no fury like Sophie Rogers scorned. She need to teach him a lesson he will not forget him a lesson he will not forget. Guy Chapman needs a fall from grace. She systematically sets about poisoning departmental colleagues against him with allegations of things he is meant to have said about each of them. Malicious rumours about his conduct circulate unchecked. The atmosphere on the third floor quickly sours.

Distracted by his new dalliance, Guy is slow on the uptake to what is happening around him in the office. despite warnings that he needs to keep an eye on Sophie.

You need to rein in that PA of yours, Guy,’ Nick Easter in Advertising tells him.

That Sophie Rogers is up to no good,’ Betty Cash from Finance says.

You’re going to have to watch your back with that one,’ Tony Singleton says. ‘My advice would be to get rid of her, PDQ.’

Guy dismisses their concerns. He tells them there’s nothing to worry about. He has everything in hand. He is determined that no one and nothing shall spoil his party. Ignoring things, of course, does not make them go away. When the reality of the situation finally sinks in and the scale of Sophie’s poisoning is brought home to him, it hits him hard. How can she be so vindictive? After all he has done for her. All the times he has stood up for her. Put himself out for her. All the times he has overlooked her mistakes, or let her go early. The complimentary tickets to The Empire he gets with his club membership that he gave her because he knew how much she liked movies. Not to mention his being so nice to her at the Christmas Party. And for all his efforts, this is the thanks he gets. He is incensed. He is not going to be humiliated. He has no alternative but to fire her. No other arrangement will be workable. Keen to avoid a face-to-face confrontation, Guy’s diffident nature takes over, and he gets Personnel to do the deed. Guy still holds some clout at Tyler Hoffman. Sophie Rogers is given thirty minutes to clear her desk while Guy is out of the office. Supervised by Security.

Sacked she might be, but as far as Sophie is concerned, this is not the end of the matter. She can go to tribunal for unfair dismissal, and she might even win, but that in itself is not going to be enough to right the heinous wrong. Who does the jumped-up lily-livered pimp think he is? Not that she is looking to draw parallels with Alex, the femme fatale in that film she saw at The Empire last week. The one everyone’s talking about. Fatal Attraction. But Alex has the right idea. She knows at what level a woman should retaliate and how. While Guy may not have a pet rabbit for her to boil, she is certain there are other ways to settle the score.

Meanwhile, Guy takes on a new PA. Natasha is experienced, capable, and efficient. All the qualities you require in a PA. She is attractive and witty and has a welcoming smile. Natasha is a dream. She is personable. She is a little older than her predecessor but appears less excitable, and so far as Guy is aware has no history of bunny boiling. More importantly than all these perhaps, she knows instinctively when and how she should cover for him. When he should be unavailable or out of office. She is well worth the extra salary. She will do the job properly.

Co-workers only become acquainted on a superficial level in an office environment. There is little room for spontaneity. When Guy and Natasha become delayed at a conference they are attending and miss their last train, they are given the chance to get to know one another on a social level. Something about the dynamic hits the spot for each of them on their evening on the town. They decide on a shared room at the hotel. These things sometimes happen when unexpected circumstances are thrust upon managers and their personal assistants, so Guy and Natasha’s coupling should not be surprising. How much Natasha knows about his relationship with Lucy at this point is not clear but it does not prevent her from going through with their clandestine liaison.

Lucy is annoyed not to get a phonecall from Guy to explain his absence. When he returns home the following evening, she launches her attack.

Why didn’t you phone?’ she says. ‘That’s not much to ask. I was worried about you.’

There were no trains back and I couldn’t get to a phone,’ Guy says.

You could at least have called this morning,’ Lucy says. ‘No one in the office knew what had happened or where you were.’

It’s a long story but I’m here now.’

I suppose that butter wouldn’t melt PA of yours was with you in the hotel.’

Natasha came, yes.’

Look, Guy! This is not how you are going to behave around me. If this happens again, I’m going to go to that Lovehoney shop that’s opened in the High Street to buy one of those cock locking devices. My friend Stacey told me about them. I think she uses one on her Rod to keep him out of trouble. I’m going to make you wear it when you go away on work jollies. I’ll have the key, and you will have to ask me to unlock you on your return. And then and only then will I decide if you deserve it.’

Oh come on, Lucy! Now. You’re being silly.’

Am I? We’ll see! For the time being, it’s no sex for a week and a city centre shopping trip at the weekend to buy me a new wardrobe. And you will be grateful you’re getting off lightly.’

Although he had not considered it at the time, Guy now wonders if Natasha may have engineered it so that they ended up sleeping together. Had she deliberately taken the train times down wrong so they missed the last through service home by five minutes? In much the same way that Sophie had tricked him into a restroom on the top floor where she was waiting in a state of undress at the Christmas party. Was he being naive about the extent of feminine wiles? Might he be underestimating the propensity for stealth that ran through the nineteen-eighties Cosmopolitan discourse? Was there some kind of badge of honour involved in personal assistants sleeping with their bosses? Was this a ruse that secretarial staff the world over were catching on to? Did it make them feel more powerful? Was it tied in with the wider feminist narrative? Did it in fact make them more powerful and the men less so?

More to the point, perhaps, what was he going to do about it? What could he do about it? He supposed it might be best to discuss the situation in a frank and honest way with Natasha before she too exercised her power over him. Or was it already too late? Had she already done so? With Sophie likely to be plotting revenge for her dismissal and Lucy already showing bunny-boiling tendencies, was there a danger of Natasha going down the same road?

What happened at the Premier Inn. That was a one-off,’ right?’ Guy says.

Of course, Guy,’ Natasha says. ‘I understand. That can be our secret. I mean you wouldn’t want Lucy to find out, would you?’

This disarms Guy. He is not sure what Natasha is implying but he no longer feels he can suggest she deliberately got the train times wrong.

I think Lucy already suspects,’ he says.

If I see her, I’ll tell her that nothing happened between us,’ Natasha says. ‘I’ll say I don’t think of you in that way at all. It would be best all round if I play innocent. And then if it ever looks like it could happen again, we can make sure we have a proper cover story prepared.’

Once more Guy wonders what Natasha is implying. What is this doublethink that seems to have infiltrated women’s conversation? Is it another element of the burgeoning ruse?

Lucy has taken the day off to catch up on some things around the house. Guy arrives home early to try and mend fences. A surprise awaits him.

Was that Dean Runner’s Audi I saw disappearing up the road,’ he says. Dean Runner is a managerial colleague of his at Tyler Hoffman.

No. I don’t think so.’ Lucy says. ‘I would have thought Dean Runner would still be at work. Where you ought to be.’

I wondered if perhaps he had called round,’ Guy says. ‘Not that there’s any reason why he would call round that I know of. It’s just that you don’t see many orange Audis.’

No. No Dean,’ Lucy repeats. ‘And you seem to have come home without flowers.’

The next morning Natasha tells Guy that she has heard that Dean has been sniffing around Lucy for weeks and she wouldn’t be a bit surprised if there was a story to tell.

More likely now perhaps,’ she says. ‘Because you are on, what shall we call it, a penalty week. You might want to drop by mine later to have a chat and see if there’s anything we can do about it.’

Is that a good idea?’

It’s a good idea. Trust me!’

Guy doesn’t reply. He has some calculation and recalculation to do. He is deep in thought. Is this something he can take a rain check on or is it a case of the devil and the deep blue sea? But there is a positive side too. There is a lot worse company of an evening than a flirty Natasha.

About eight would be good,’ she says.

Some say Guy is his own worst enemy and they may have a point. There are times in life when you need to be firm both in your resolve and in your behaviour. You have to act decisively. Guy often seems to be either unaware of this wisdom or determined to ignore it. But he should remember that decisions based on indecisiveness court peril.

I bumped into Sophie Rogers yesterday,’ Tracey says. ‘She hasn’t calmed down one bit. It looks like she is going after Guy big time. You’d better watch out too, girl. She’s got the bit between her teeth. Bunnies to be boiled there, and some.’

Oh well, what goes around, comes around, I suppose,’ Lucy says. ‘I don’t know about Guy, but I’ll be ready for Sophie. She’d do well not to underestimate me.’

How’s it going with Guy?’ Emma says.

There’s been a bit of a setback there,’ Lucy says. ‘Guy may have slept with his new PA.’

Oh dear,’ Emma says. ‘I didn’t see that coming. You seemed to have him right where you wanted him.’

So I’ve started seeing his work colleague, Dean,’ Lucy says. ‘I could tell Dean was interested, and there’s no love lost between the two of them, so I invited him round.’ I’d put him off several times before. Nice guy! Considerate.’

Guy knows, does he?’

I think he suspects but there’s not a lot he can do about it,’ Lucy says. ‘In the meantime, I’ve changed our sleeping arrangements. He is in the spare room. He is going to have to work hard to get back to where we were.’

You need to treat them mean to keep them keen,’ Stacey says. ‘I’ve started giving my Rod a good thrashing when he misbehaves. It sounds like that’s something this Guy Chapman might benefit from.’

Lucy is out. No message. No note. Guy can see nothing to keep him at home. As Lucy has taken the BMW, he has to make do with her Mini to get him round to Natasha’s for their chat. It is clear straight away that chat is probably not quite what she has in mind. You don’t need a lace bodycon, soft lighting, floating candles and lotus flower incense for chat. This, it seems, is a full-on date.

Office sexual etiquette has undergone a big turnaround in his time at Tyler Hoffman. Women have become the predators. They are now the ones calling the shots. Guy wonders if perhaps this has always broadly been the case. After all, consensual relations depend on them. It is women who decide on the level of intimacy. They are the ones who grant the favours. But the balance of power has shifted in recent years. Male supremacy may have always been a myth, but it is no longer even a suggestion. If anything, the reverse is given more focus. If Fatal Attraction is anything to go by, the old adage Hell hath no fury is more relevant than ever. One thing is certain, Guy will not be buying a pet rabbit any time soon.

Copyright © Chris Green, 2023: All rights reserved



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