Back to Bristol Ch. 04byGaryAPB©
"Is that part of my divorce story?" I asked.
"Oh No. No way whatsoever. We stayed out of that. Our job was to just support Molly, whatever she did. In fact Susan was most insistent that we mustn't interfere. I wonder sometimes if I should have interfered more."
"It depends in which direction, but its all a long time ago, and it really wouldn't have made much difference."
We both sipped our sherry and looked at each other, I could see another question forming in Ralph's mind.
"You haven't remarried."
"Do you regret the divorce?"
"Not really. I didn't have much option, and it was all a long time ago."
"You know, Molly comes around here on your wedding anniversary every year, or she has since she married Peter. And she always finds an excuse to stay the night, she never wants to be with him on that night. And she always cries. She always sits at our kitchen table and cries."
"I have trouble on 23rd April as well. Shakespeare's birthday as well as our anniversary. Helene used to be very good about things like that. She just accepted that I'd be very quiet, and she never asked anything. It was like that on the boys' birthdays as well. I guess Molly does know that we had something very special, I just hope that she swapped it for something even more special on the other three hundred and sixty four days."
We looked at each other in silence for a minute, then I said, "I must be going."
On the Wednesday I had the second of my mixed staff lunch parties. Again it went very well. And a couple of my guests said that their managers were beginning to be more open with their staff. One joining them in the main dining room once in a while, and the other had been for a Friday night drink with his department for the first time in years.
One of the other things I noticed was that Carole had again left my afternoon flexible. I had a naughty thought.
At about three thirty, I phoned Marston Abbey, "Is Peter Davies there, please." My finger hovered over the disconnect button.
"I'm sorry, Sir, he's out, and won't be back until tomorrow morning."
What a surprise, he's out on a Wednesday. "Oh, could I speak to Sharon Booth then please."
"Sharon, it's Chris Bennett. I was wondering if I could possible honour my promise of coming and learning something about your project, I've got a little free time this afternoon."
"Oh, Well... Peter's out today. I suppose I could show you, with some help."
"Good. I'll see you in about half an hour."
I had a very good hour and a half looking at the project. I won't claim I understood it all, but some of it had me searching my memory for something I learned on my physics course. And I did say Um and Aah at all the right points, and looked interested. In fact I was the epitome of charm and interest with everyone I met on the project. When we finished I invited them all over to the George as a way of saying thank you for putting on such a professional presentation at short notice. In the pub I was as open, friendly and helpful as any politician seeking election. I shared dirty jokes with the guys, I flirted with the girls. I doubt whether they've ever met such a likeable Managing Director in their lives. Peter Davies will be so pleased to learn that his team think I'm a good guy.
Thursday was going well, in the afternoon I had a meeting with Neil Davidson and his Personnel team, mainly about problems they were meeting with transferring staff onto ITI contracts, or into the ITI pension scheme.
After it was over I was reading some papers, sitting in the comfortable armchair which I used almost more often than the throne at my desk, when Carole came in. "I've got Peter Davies outside, asking to see you." She looked worried.
My stomach hit the floor. I thought for a moment or two, "OK. Tell him I'll see him, but I'm a bit busy. Tell him to wait."
I thought about what this could be about and how to handle it. It forced me to recognise that however much I hated Peter Davies, there wasn't really very much I could do about it. I can't sack him for no good business reason. I can't chase him out, just to see him take my boys off somewhere else. I felt frustrated at being powerless.
I went and sat at my desk, ensconced on my throne. I looked around the room, then I got up and turned off the main light, instead lighting the room with the table lamps, and turned my desk light so that it pointed out and down and not at me. I wanted to be able to see every expression on his face, to be able to read his eyes, and to be in shadow myself. It took me over ten minutes to satisfy myself that I'd got it as good as I could, then I buzzed Carole to send him in.
He looked nervous, I could see beads of perspiration on his top lip. Making him wait probably hadn't helped. He was about my height, a slightly receding hairline, but that was almost attractive on his intelligent face. Nice pale green eyes, I thought, behind his glasses. He also looked handsome. I begrudged him the thought, but I could see that he was a very attractive looking man.
I looked at him, I didn't invite him to sit down, "Yes?"
"I feel we might need to clear the air between us."
"Because I feel that you have been avoiding me, because you may feel some resentment at my winning Molly."
I paused to think about it.
"What I feel is irrelevant. Have I had any cause or need to meet you for business reasons? Have you any reason to say that I've been avoiding you?"
"Well, no.....but ..... I do love her you know. I am trying to make her happy, and I'll go on doing that always. And I've looked after your boys, I know you always pay their maintenance, but contrary to popular opinion, I am very fond of them. They're the nearest thing I'll ever have to sons of my own."
He is shooting blanks! Oh that makes me feel so good. Thank you God.
"It can't always have been easy for you." I thought sympathy might surprise him. "Marrying Molly so soon after a traumatic divorce. And taking on two young boys."
I saw him relax, "No, it wasn't." He smiled, "I certainly learnt the meaning of the word Patience. But I love her and we have a good marriage." He obviously decided to repay my kindness with a compliment, "And you are a hard act to follow."
I smiled, "Then what is your problem? I don't particularly like you, but neither of us has to like everyone who works in this company. I understand you are good at your job. That's what you're paid for, so get on and do it. And if you feel persecuted by anyone, then report it to Personnel. ITI has very strict rules about that sort of thing."
I wanted to launch into him for the immoral, predatory way he had forced himself into my life, and broke my marriage. But I couldn't. It might not be judged well by Personnel if he made a complaint. I just felt helpless.
He was still standing there, I looked at him, his eyes were searching, I guess searching for some way of getting reassurance. "You came and saw the project yesterday."
I smiled, "Yes I did. And I was very impressed by the work. And by the team. I thought there were a couple of people on the team who really understood it all, who were handling the project well." Was that a big enough hint that he was replaceable? I hoped so. "I took them to the pub afterwards. We had a good time. The George sells a good pint, you are lucky to work so close to a nice pub."
He shuffled from foot to foot. I waited.
Suddenly, he stepped forward, and held out his hand. "Well, I guess that's all I came to say."
"OK then." I ignored his proffered handshake, and did The Old Man's trick of picking up a file on my desk and apparently becoming absorbed in it.
I heard the door close behind him.
That was quickly followed by the door opening again and Carole coming in, "Are you alright?"
"Yes" I smiled and got up and poured myself my first whisky from my decanter. My hand was shaking, and I needed this whisky. "Want one?"
"No thanks, I can't stand Scotch." She smiled, visibly relaxed.
"What did he say on the way out." I asked.
"Nothing. I think he looked worse coming out than he did going in."
"He didn't happen to mention that he was walking home on a route down some dark alleys did he?" There was hope in my voice..
"No, he would be in his car."
"How do you cut a brake pipe?" I asked, smiling.
No sooner had Carole left than I realised that I was too upset to work. I walked out, saying "I'm calling it quits for the day." as I passed Carole's desk.
I got into my car and started heading home. But my head was too full of thoughts, and I was restless. I turned left down the Avon Gorge, under Brunel's magnificent suspension bridge.
I felt powerless in dealing with Peter Davies. He had walked into my life, unannounced and unwelcome. In doing that he had changed my life irrevocably. There was nothing I could do about it then, and there seems to be nothing I can do about it now. I was angry. I pressed the accelerator in my anger. All that did was make the car in front get a lot closer a lot quicker and I had to brake. I thought I wanted speed. I headed out to the motorway and the bridge across the River Severn.
I was soon into Wales and heading into the Welsh border country. But motorway speed wasn't what I needed. I was still stuck playing by the rules imposed by society, the rules of the road. Just like I was limited by the rules of good HR in dealing with Davies! I turned off the motorway and headed north.
It didn't seem to take very long before I'd passed through Abergavenny, and the Black Mountains were on my right and the Brecon Beacons off to the left. I left the main road and started drifting upwards into the mountains on winding narrow country lanes. As I drove on I became more and more confidant, but it was dark now. With headlights on my confidence increased, I'd see any on-coming vehicles, and my right foot pressed the pedal harder. As long as I don't meet a tractor without lights I'd .... FUCKING HELL! That was a bend and a half! It scared the shit out of me. And there seemed to be a hundred foot sheer drop on the side of the road and no barrier. I sat where I stopped and realised that I'd broken out in a cold clammy sweat. Actually I don't think the car had moved one inch from the line I'd steered, but I certainly scared myself. Now is not the time to die, not just because Peter Fucking Davies had upset me.
I drove on a little more conservatively after that. The car certainly has better limits than I have, and I wasn't going to push it anymore. After a few miles I came to a junction with the road to Hay-on-Wye marked. I followed it and parked in the town centre. I could do with a drink.
A couple of pints and a very good steak later and I was heading back for Bristol.
I was in early the next morning, ahead of Carole. But when she arrived, she quickly made me a coffee and brought it in, "How are you this morning, Chris? Are you feeling better?"
I looked at her, "I just feel I was fighting a battle with both hands tied behind my back." I shrugged, "But then I don't know what I want, what winning would be. I don't want to drive him away, into getting another research job somewhere else and moving my boys far away. I've only just started getting to know them again. And I don't really want to drive a good brain out of the Company either."
She smiled gently, "Let it go. There's nothing you can do anyway. Shit happens."
I was slightly shocked hearing that phrase from her, I guess it showed on my face, because she continued, "Shit happens to all of us sometime. It's just that this is your bit of shit and it's happening now."
I smiled weakly, "I guess you're right."