Dee stepped out into the 6am gloom and surveyed the quiet road ahead of her. The weather was turning and the chill in the air reminded her that her birthday was round the corner. Despite veering towards the bug three zero, she felt no qualms about plunging into the darkness, the feeling of muscle stretching the lycra, responding to every footfall with the gentle pinch she was now so familiar with. Every heel impact on the pavement was a welcome jolt, shocking her exhausted brain into action. Her blood thudded in her ears, drowning out the day’s to-dos in a pulse of ecstatic living. She was powerful. She was secure. She was independent. Mantras born in self-esteem and days-worth of hours with an expensive life coach. She was complete.
As she passed the lone dog walker, she smiled and said hi. It was all part of her morning ritual. Dee stepped quickly aside as a clutch of tired looking night-shift worker made short shrift of spilling the bus. The Big Issue seller was early this morning, eager to claim his pitch in the path of early morning commuters. Greeting him, she promised to catch him another morning, making sure she had change and a chance to chat. Around her, shops were opening and the smell of sub-par coffee oozed out of the invading chain stores, making Dee’s nose twitch.
As the day light sqirmed its way through the fug, she felt the pavement change beneath her. Solid slabs giving way to indecisive cobbles. The weight of her day, of incoming responsibility and out-going contracts, began to weigh her down. But Dee knew she was good enough. Better than that, she knew she was brilliant. That every penny she earned, resented by her teacher friends and nursing acquaintances, kept the engines of finance greased. She deserved what she had and more.
Dee let her mind wander. Remembering carefree days of grad schemes and rosé. Knowing the ease of that time was an illusion. Even then, all eyes were on her waiting for her to slip up, leaving a rung of the ladder free for the hungry Freddies and Tarquins whose proverbial bodies now littered the post-Lehman, post-Brexit landscape.
She caught herself smiling, just a little. Play nice, she thought.
Finally she turned into a glass-and-metal monstrosity, glowering over the old city’s ragged-edged streets and alleys. Francis, the building’s loyal lieutenant, nodded sternly at her. This recognition wasn’t granted to everyone at Peer & Mayer. Just those kind enough to recognise his existence with a bottle of rum at Christmas or a share of unwarranted swag from a grateful client.
Down the steps to the showers, and then jogging into the changing rooms. There Dee washed and primped, egging herself on into working day. With a final glance at her tailor-made silk shirt and a run-of-the-hand down her pinstripe pencil skirt she was good.
Her heels clacked on the metal staircase, as she bounded up the steps to the fourth floor. Work pass out, and through the door, Dee was now all bustling efficiency as she fished her phone out of her bag.
Three missed calls. Dee squinted at the screen, not recognising the number but suddenly dubious that some asian market had gone into melt down and an irate client was trying to call her.
Morning, she trilled as she walked past the pig-pen of a trading floor.
Alright ho-bag, called one of the Freddies good naturedly.
Dee! When are you going to she me your tits? You promised! Another ogled from across the bank of desks.
Dee did what she did every day. She smiled and ignored them. There were policies for this kind of this. Not that anyone had ever had the gall to enforce them. It was all banter after all.
Engrossed in a chain of emails from an invest-tech financier in Dubai, Dee pressed the button on the stainless steel coffee machine. Groaning into life, thick, rich, life-giving coffee trickled into an angular white cup. Dee grabbed it, a wave of nauseating tiredness threatening to engulf her. Too many late nights. To many favours granted to panicking colleagues. But play nice was the motto she lived by. Be better, beyond criticism.
Then, a second later, she was dripping with coffee. Cascading down her blouse, she could feel the first warm droplets through the lace of her bra.
The words had left her lips before she had time to moderate.
Dee, said a voice in front of her. I need to talk to you. My office. Now. Please.
Dee looked up. Dickie. Her boss. A single tiny splash of coffee laced his immaculate lapel.
Dee help the sticky coffee cup away from her, dabbing at the ruined material of her work-uniform, as she strode to catch up with him.
Along the curling carpet tiles, and into Dickie’s ostentatiously large office. The glass door slammed behind her.
Never before had Dee realised how much like a fish take the room was. Grassy plants embellished the sub aquatic brown-blue of the walls. Through the glass walls she could see the pig-pen throwing stationary at each other with wild abandon.
Dee fell into the chair. Still holding the coffee cup, she wanted to put it down on the desk between her and Dickie. She didn’t. She didn’t dare leave a mark.
You didn’t pick up my calls.
So they were Dickie. Calling her.
Sorry. I jog into work.
We’ve had a complaint.
Apparently you were rude to Pargiter.
Pargiter? Did he mean one of the Freddies?
The complaint says, when he asked you to turnaround some emergency legal mumbo-jumbo, you said no.
Dee looked at Dickie. She blinked.
If this is about Friday, i did review it. But there were mistakes, so I passed it over to be reviewed. As it was, 9:30 there was no one to pick it up. It was returned corrected by 9am Monday and was passed by 9:30.
There’s no need to be defensive.
I can show you the email chain.
Email chains do not excuse bad behaviour. Given your highly emotional outburst this morning, I am recommending you take holiday while we refer you to occupational health.
Dee could feel the acid crawling up her throat, just as any warmth left her body. Everything was white, cold rage.
You can’t do that!
Take this as you first and only warning. I recommend you think long and hard about your future at Peer & Mayer and tailor your behaviour accordingly.
Dee looked long and hard at the man sitting opposite her across the table. His grey thinning hair. His immaculate suit, slightly bulging above the dark snakeskin belt. His slick red face.
As she made up her mind, through the glass wall behind her, she could hear the calls from the pig-pen: for fuck’s sake, you utter cunt-hound Freddie. Play nice.