This is the first installment of my 2013 challenge to write a section of my new novel every day (see previous post).
Next installment tomorrow.
Happy New Year to everyone.
“Claire, could you come into my office for a quick chat?”
Claire looked up from the stack of artwork on her desk and resisted the urge to frown, knowing it would leave creases in her foundation.
“Sure Carl, now?”
“Yes please,” he said over his shoulder as he headed back to his own, larger, glass cube on the other side of the office.
Intrigued that he hadn’t sent Julia or phoned through his summons, Claire slipped on her heels, pulled on her jacket and headed after her boss.
“Come in, sit down, would you like a drink?”
Carl was already seated when Claire scratched on his door and opened it.
“Earl Grey please, black, no sugar,” Claire said as she lowered herself onto the black leather chair, glad she was wearing tights.
Carl pressed a button on his desk. “Earl Grey and an espresso please Jules.”
Carl shuffled the paper on his desk and didn’t look up. “How’s the Birds Eye piece coming together?”
Claire looked at the bald patch starting to appear on Carl’s crown and answered in a monotone. “Fine. No dramas.”
“And the Vodafone ad?”
“Shooting next week.”
“Right.” Carl took an audible breath.
Just spit it out, Claire thought as she watched the words fighting to be released from his mouth.
“The Board would like you to hand over your existing clients to Steve.”
Claire sat forward. She hadn’t been expecting that. Aware of her movement she immediately sat back and looked sardonically at Carl.
“Am I being fired?”
“No,” he said quickly, “of course not. You’re one of our best Account Directors. No, think of it more as a change of direction. We’ve secured a new deal with Coca Cola.”
Claire raised her eyebrows before dropping them quickly. Coke? That was a big deal.
“They’re sponsoring the YHA.”
“Youth Hostel Association.”
Claire looked blankly for a minute, not making the connection. Then her brain kicked in. “That doesn’t seem a likely combination – isn’t youth hostelling all about being healthy and the great outdoors. Not something you associate with Coca Cola.”
“That’s the point. After the Olympics they want to improve their healthy image. They’ve decided a year’s sponsorship of the YHA will improve the perception of their brand in the UK.”
“So I’m getting that account? It doesn’t mean I have to hand over all my other deals, surely? Even someone as big as Coke must understand they’re not our only client.”
“Of course not. Actually you won’t be managing the account, I will.”
Claire felt her heartbeat begin to speed up. Something wasn’t right. Carl was looking shifty and he never looked shifty. It was as if he was bracing himself.
“So, come on then, what am I going to be doing?”
“Um. You’re going to be staying in the hostels.”
“What?” Claire nearly stood up but remembered at the last minute to relax back into her chair. Stay in control, Claire, don’t let him get to you.
“The bigwigs want someone on the ground, living the hostelling dream. They want someone to visit all the hostels during the year of promotion, to feedback stories on Twitter and Facebook, you know how it goes.”
“Why can’t you send one of the interns?” Claire could hear her voice sounded higher than usual. She swallowed and took some deep breaths.
“Polly and Molly have finals this year and Sally has a cat.”
Claire looked incredulously at Carl, then over his head through the glass wall of the office.
“What about Julia, she looks like she could use a holiday.”
“This is not a holiday and my PA is indispensable.”
“And I’m not?”
Their eyes clashed and fought before Carl smiled and leaned forward across his desk. “Come on Claire, be reasonable. Think of it as an adventure.”
“You want me to go and sleep in bug-infested bunk-beds in the same room as a bunch of smelly, over-sexed, students for a whole year? You must be mad.” She looked around the office as if seeking something to help her escape. The office was bare except for some piece of modern art and a photograph of Carl’s inexplicably beautiful wife.
“No Claire,” Carl said in a quiet voice. Claire turned to face him, her pulse beating loudly in her ears. Like any predator, Carl was at his most dangerous when he was silent. Forcing herself to meet his eyes she saw the glint in them and swallowed. Carl didn’t frighten her; she’d been around too long and knew she was good at her job. Even so she felt her palms getting clammy as Carl stared at her, one eyebrow slightly raised.
“Who did I offend?” Claire could hear the resignation in her voice. Resignation, was that her only option?
“No one my dear. Think of it more as an initiation challenge.”
It was Claire’s turn to raise an eyebrow. This was unexpected.
“The Board feel you have potential but they’re not convinced of your loyalty, to them or to our clients. Think of this as a sabbatical to consider your next career move.”
“Up or out?” Claire suggested, her lips twisting sarcastically.
“Well I wouldn’t put it quite so crudely but yes, as usual, you have encapsulated the essence in a pithy one-liner. That’s why you’re such a valuable member of the team.”
Right, thought Claire as she stalked back to her office. What a load of crap.