No Future Ch. 28bybradley_stoke©
The Pursuit of Happiness
"Can I help you?" Alex asked the smartly dressed young woman he spotted striding through the office late in the evening. The fur coat and dress she wore was undeniably expensive, so she almost certainly wasn't a member of staff. Even this late in the evening it was curious that she'd been able to get past security. The only other people still in the office were middle managers like Alex, a few systems administrators and the cleaning staff.
Alex had recently adopted the habit of working late in the office. It was the only time he could find to do the boring management work for which he was paid after a day mostly taken up by interminable meetings. Unpaid overtime was also quite obviously one of the best routes to promotion at Reuters-Fox. It had paid well for Alex in the last year where his ascent up the ranks had mostly resulted from having reputation as someone who worked long hours. In truth, it was sometimes quite difficult to find tasks to do to justify his obsessive overtime but there were plenty of websites to surf whose perusal might seem just about appropriate for a news company manager.
Paradoxically, it was also true that now he was a married man there was less incentive to get home in good time. After the first few months of blissful married life, there never seemed a better time to arrive home than after eight by which time his wife, Isobel, would have forgotten all the things that had been pissing her off during the day.
It wasn't that Alex didn't love Isobel. In many ways she was the ideal woman for him. She was steady and reliable and she loved him. Furthermore, she was a woman who'd also brought with her a substantial inheritance. It wasn't a huge fortune, but it was enough to make Alex's life comfortable. What's more, Alex was sure that Isobel rather liked the idea of being married to a busy man. His apparent workaholism balanced her own guilt that her life might otherwise have been a little too comfortable.
However, even Isobel had never been accustomed to the level of comfort enjoyed by this mysterious woman. "I'm looking for my husband," she said in a slightly unsteady voice. "I thought he might be here."
"Your husband?" wondered Alex, who hesitated about adding the word 'Ma'am' but decided that however wealthy this young woman was she probably wasn't a member of the Royal Family.
"Yes," said the woman with a slight slur that suggested that she'd been drinking. "Eden. Have you seen him?"
Eden St John-Easton had only recently bought significant shares in Reuters-Fox UK, which was something of a coup for a relatively young man, but he still wasn't a majority shareholder. Nevertheless, he'd already gained a reputation as a man who took an active interest in his media assets although his appearances at the office had been few and sporadic.
"I don't believe I have," said Alex.
"Eden always says he works late," said the young woman. "I thought he might be working late here. He often tells me about his ideas for the business."
"I'm afraid I haven't seen your husband," said Alex. "Is there anything I can do for you, Ma'am?"
Alex immediately cursed himself. He'd tried so hard to suppress an honorific title that he knew was totally inappropriate, but the young woman giggled. She obviously didn't mind his mistake.
"Just call me Zara," she said. "Look, I don't want to waste your time but could we just check the offices to be sure he isn't here somewhere?"
"Erm..." said Alex who wasn't sure that this was such a good idea even if Mr St John-Easton was in the building. In fact, it would almost certainly be a huge mistake if he was. "Well, if he was here," Alex continued uncertainly, "he'd be meeting with the senior editors on the top floor."
"Let's go there then," said Zara.
Alex glanced nervously about him.
"Come on then," Zara insisted.
"OK," said Alex as he slipped on his jacket. He probably wouldn't be returning to his desk this evening, but the screen would lock up before anyone came into the office and could discover exactly which websites he'd been browsing.
He led Zara to the escalator and accompanied her as it rose to the top floor. He'd only ever been there before to attend meetings where he'd felt very much like an insignificant cog in a giant multinational wheel. Zara strode out of the lift while Alex dawdled behind and watched as the young woman pushed open every door that could be opened and looked through the windows of those that couldn't.
"He's not here," she said at last.
"No," said Alex with relief. "Perhaps he was never here in the first place."
"He always goes on about Reuters-Fox," said Zara. "I thought he might always be here."
"Mr St John-Easton has many other business concerns," Alex remarked.
"He doesn't go on about any them so much, though. He says he's got plans for the company. Plans that will not only improve the business, but also improve the country."
"Eden is very concerned about the country's welfare," said Zara. "He doesn't like the direction it's going. The unions are too strong. The environmental nutters are always proposing new taxes that'll only throttle business. The European Union is forever sticking its nose in. It's not right."
"I see," said Alex, who was sure that Reuters-Fox was exactly the kind of news organisation that would chime with opinions like that.
"Well, look," said Zara. "I'm sorry to have troubled you. I'll take you to the bar to compensate."
"The bar?" wondered Alex.
"There is a bar round here, isn't there? This is like a newspaper, isn't it? There's always booze where there are journalists."
"There's a wine bar across the road," said Alex, who knew of an especially pricey and exclusive one nearby. What he didn't know was whether it had a members-only policy.
"We'll go there," said Zara.
The Zenith was one of a new breed of wine bar that had emerged from the desire of senior management to dissociate itself from the scrum of middle managers who were competing for their attention. Its exclusivity was guaranteed by a very strict door policy that Alex wouldn't normally qualify for and by selling drinks at extortionate prices. Even so, any fears Alex had about being allowed in were dispelled when Zara and he were greeted with a polite murmur from the be-suited door attendants.
"Have you been here before?" asked Alex, who was impressed by the ease with which they'd entered.
"No," said Zara. "They probably recognise me, though."
"I think Eden owns all the posh wine bars in Docklands. They turn a good profit and they provide discreet venues for business discussion."
"I see," said Alex.
What he also got to see was just how much Zara liked her drink. She had no qualms about ordering the most expensive cocktails, which were put onto her expenses account, though Zara confided that they probably wouldn't actually charge her for them. "You can imagine how that might look if Eden ever got to look at the accounts." She had even fewer qualms about knocking back the cocktails in rather less time than it took to make them, while Alex resisted temptation and maintained a very modest level of consumption from the bottle of ludicrously expensive red wine that Zara had ordered for him. It wouldn't do to get even slightly tipsy in front of an important shareholder's wife.
"Are you married, Alec?" asked Zara.
Alex didn't want to correct her. For this evening he was happy to be Alec, Alan or even Aled.
"Yes, I am," said Alex. "We've been married for about six months."
"I bet like most people these days you'd been living together for years."
"Not really," said Alex. "We met at a party, got on well and more or less got married less than six months later."
"A whirlwind romance, Alan," said Zara. "A whirlwind romance. Like mine with Eden, only it's like being married to a fucking tornado, if you don't mind my French."
"Or typhoon. Well, Eden is a tycoon. Typhoon. Tycoon. Tornado. He's always doing something and it's impossible to keep up with him. I mean, we sleep together every night, although not always in a Biblical sense, and then he's always off somewhere. He's got a fair amount stashed away in the Caymans and Jersey and Lithuania and all those other places where taxes are low and property prices are through the roof. He's even talked about buying a yacht."
"Yes, Alec. A yacht. Somewhere to stay where no taxman need ever venture. Eden hates paying taxes. There are two things he really hates. Taxes. And my mother. Oh, and scroungers, unions, Euros, Brussels, homosexuals, Greens and a whole load of other stuff. I don't know how much he gives to the Tories. A lot, I think."
"Why doesn't he become a politician?" suggested Alex.
"I dunno, Alan. I've asked him that myself. What better way to change things? Eden says that the House of Lords isn't what it was and he wouldn't want to take the risk of contesting a seat in a general election. Winning votes isn't the same as buying them. Anyway, Eden says he can get other people to do all the politics stuff for him. He's a professional businessman, not a politician."
Zara was in no hurry to leave the Zenith and even though Alex didn't have to actually pay for the expensive wine he was drinking, he had no wish to match Zara drink for drink. She increasingly slurred her words as the evening progressed, but she wasn't actually losing it. She was evidently someone who knew how to knock it back. But she did become steadily more indiscreet. She looked into Alex's eyes with open pupils and her focus was mostly on his face.
Then she placed her hand on his crotch. She did so firmly enough for her to tell whether his penis was erect and thereby ascertain his interest.
"Did you say you were married, Alan?" she asked.
"Yes. Six months."
"Does your wife mind you being out at night with strange women?"
Alex burst into a cold sweat. He knew exactly where this could lead and he didn't want to fuck it up. There was too much at stake. Isobel would naturally be suspicious and she might even detect another woman's scent on his body.
"I think she would," said Alex diplomatically. "As I say, we've not been married long."
Zara kept her hand on Alex's crotch. It was obvious that she enjoyed playing with him and was amused by the dilemma she'd put him in.
"What's your wife like, Alan?"
"She's slim and pretty and about the same age as me."
"Old then. Have you got children?"
"Do you want children?"
"I guess so."
Zara removed her hand from Alex's crotch and swivelled around on her seat. She decided to steer the conversation away from the dangerous direction in which it had been heading.
"We want children too, Alan," she said. "At least I do. If only Eden would fuck his whores less often and fuck me more then we'd have had one by now."
Alex realised this was a better direction in which to take the conversation. "I think it's best to wait a few years till you have children," he said.
"Fucking conventional wisdom," Zara retorted fiercely. "That's what Eden says. That's what they all say. Have your fun now. Have your kids later. You obviously don't know what it's like to be married to a fabulously wealthy man. I can be dropped at a moment's notice. Eden would probably find another wife within days if he wanted one. A wife needs a bit of insurance against the future. Especially when her husband's a selfish bastard like Eden. And what better insurance policy is there than to have a child or two?"