Ruby’s department had been organising a sizeable conference for some months; speakers had been booked, a venue arranged and funding agreed by Michael. Ruby had even managed to acquire some sponsorship from a new agency that was anxious to form links with the local authority. Publicity had gone out and the date was marked in the official online calendar, then Ruby received a call from Bumptious Bob, an operational manager whose responsibilities slightly overlapped into the areas that the conference was covering.
“Hi – erm Ruby, isn’t it? Someone tells me that your department is thinking of setting up a conference.”
“Well, more than thinking about it. We have a venue, speakers, refreshments and the list of potential attendees has been drawn up for circulation.”
“Strictly speaking, you lot are treading on our toes.”
“We are what?”
“This is our area and we’ve been talking about having a conference for ages.”
“The plans for the conference were submitted to senior management months ago. The acting director gave his blessing and I’m sure Margaret was at the meeting where the funding was agreed.”
“Was she? She doesn’t remember the details, but she told me to phone you and tell you to cancel your conference.”
“She what!” Ruby held the phone away from her ear and looked at it in disgust.
“She thinks that we would make a better job of it – as we’re experts in the field rather than generic workers like yourselves in the training department. Adam has a PowerPoint demonstration that he’s used before, and I have some very good statistics.”
“Bob,” Ruby said, trying not to let anger and disgust creep into her voice. “The conference we’ve planned is a whole day; you’d need a bit more than stats and an old PowerPoint demo that everyone has already seen to fill the day. We have speakers arranged already, and all the content for the sessions has been sanctioned by Michael too.”
“Margaret is quite adamant about this. She won’t take no for an answer.”
“She’s going to have to take no from me.” Ruby replied, rapidly texting her boss Kathy as she spoke. “I don’t have the authority to cancel something as large and high profile as this conference. She’ll have to talk to Kathy, who will not be pleased at all.”
“Righto, so we’ll just have to let the ladies fight it out themselves – handbags at five paces and all that. I do like a good scrap! Let me know what Kathy says. See you!”
Ruby chose to ignore this comment, said goodbye fairly tersely and carried on texting her boss, hoping that Kathy would be able to pick up her text quickly; she was usually so on the ball. Kathy didn’t disappoint on this occasion. She texted back within a minute:
“Heard it on the grapevine. Michael not happy. May have to collaborate with Bob et al. in order to salvage our hard work. Leave it with me x”
It suddenly occurred to Ruby that this could be Margaret’s way of stamping her authority over Ruby – and the rest of the training team at the same time. She knew that Margaret viewed her with suspicion anyway because of her being Sally’s supporter. Rumours of Michael’s anger with Margaret over Sally’s appeal had leached its way around the building, together with more detailed accounts of the current state of disgrace lurking over Karen, Fiona, Cheryl and the strategically sick Mandy. Gavin was an unknown quantity to most, but the new rule regarding clocking in and out had already impacted on the workforce as a whole, and the smokers and shoppers in particular, were very upset about their subterfuge being uncovered.
Silly to think that Margaret would just sit back and sulk after being reprimanded; her strategy was always to bully and confront. Obviously, she had decided that hijacking the conference for her department would be a good way of getting back into Michael’s good books. He usually went down to a more bearable simmer after he had blown up at anyone.
It was down to Ruby to let the rest of the training team know that they were going to have to include input from Margaret, Bob and the truly Apathetic Adam, who obviously hadn’t bothered to do anything other than resurrect an old presentation that was way out of date when he first presented it. The rest of the team were not happy; some of them had crossed swords with Margaret before, they all knew and loathed Bob, and whilst most people quite liked Adam it was universally acclaimed that while he was a nice man, he couldn’t manage his way out of a wet paper bag. His presentation skills were sadly lacking too. ‘Death by PowerPoint’ could have been invented with Adam in mind. His idea of doing a presentation was to set up the demonstration and then read each bullet point in a monotonous and patronising manner. Most attendees asked if he would be doing handouts at the end of the session, and when this had been confirmed, they switched off totally, fell asleep or spent the time playing Patience, or checking Twitter on their mobiles.
What made it so bizarre was that Adam was actually quite a funny man; he sang and played guitar at open mike nights, his knowledge of music, old films and comedy was extensive and on a social basis he was great company. Ruby could only surmise that his poor presentation skills were linked to a total lack of interest in his subject, and she wondered if there was any way she could get him up there singing his way through the conference.
The training that Ruby and her colleagues had set up was varied; punchy, demanding and gave no opportunity for playing on mobiles. They had engaged speakers who were likely to inspire and challenge; the day was broken up into sections that would ensure participation from everyone who attended, and the attendees were chosen as much for their own input rather than the usual suspects that were invited to everything merely because they fancied a day out, and were not known to be dynamic workers within their own teams.
For Ruby; having put all this effort into organising the day, the thought that it was all about to be ruined by Margaret’s machinations, Bob’s bolshiness and Adam’s apathy made her grind her teeth in anger, and wish that Sally’s serial killer was more than just a character in a book.
Ruby and Kathy called the team together to formulate a plan of action that would keep Margaret sweet, appease a volcanic and rumbling Michael, and utilise the dubious talents of Bob and Adam, as well as keeping the major content of the conference that they had organised. Kathy was of the opinion that it could be done if Margaret and her henchmen could be manipulated into thinking that they had come up with the content of the conference, and that Ruby and the team had merely facilitated. It was a good idea in theory, but whether Kathy and Ruby could actually put into practice was another thing.
That was when Ruby had one of her particularly bright ideas.
Sally had worked with Bob and Adam before; in fact, she had been very good friends with Adam when they worked in the same office. They were the same age and had many of the same interests and experiences. Bob had actually worked for Sally when he was younger and newly qualified, and whilst Sally said he had been a total pain in the neck, Ruby had a feeling that if she picked Sally’s brains, she might find a clue as to how to deal with these interlopers, and maintain the integrity of the conference.
Aware that phoning Sally from work was not a bright idea, however good her intentions were, Ruby told her colleagues that she was going out to pick up some lunch, and drove up to the nearby cemetery to get some peace and privacy. She kept her fingers crossed that Sally would come up with a magic formula. Sally was pleased to hear from her; Ruby had tried Sally’s mobile first, which was just as well as she was currently sitting at her favourite beauty spot whilst her husband and the dog ran around more energetically.
“What’s up sweetheart? You sound a bit rattled.”
Ruby explained the issues and asked tentatively if Sally had any ideas.
“Hmmm. Get Adam to write a song and perform it. If you ask him, he’ll do it, he likes you.”
Ruby was momentarily silenced by this revelation. “Really! He likes me? Why?”
“Oh! I expect because you are bright, beautiful and he finds you interesting. I know this because he told me – long before all the crap started – but I doubt if he’s changed his opinion. Poor Adam. He really is a round peg in an incredibly square hole. You know he’s got stuff on YouTube?”
“What sort of stuff?” Ruby asked, her interest piqued.
“Music. He used to be in a group. He had long hair and extremely tight trousers, not to mention an interesting line in military-style jackets. The music wasn’t bad either. They got into the charts and had a record deal.”
“What went wrong?”
“The group fell apart. The need for real money and employment. Adam started here at the bottom, same as Bob; Adam endeared himself to people, whereas Bob just put everyone’s backs up by being contentious, and asking far too many stupid questions. Try to be nice to Adam?”
“Do I really have to be nice to Bob?”
“Get Kathy to deal with Bob. He’s so vain he won’t want to deal with anyone below team manager level; far too demeaning. Trouble is, Bob is so tactless and outspoken, if you put him anywhere near your attendees, he’ll just offend everyone, so you need to keep him in the background. Have you organised the printing for the conference yet?”
“Not yet. Not quite finalised. Why?”
“I know it sounds strange, but get Bob to negotiate with the printing department. That’s where his strength lies. The printing department are notoriously awkward, but Bob does awkward really well.”
“Okay. That brings us to Margaret. I can’t understand how she’s managed to bypass Michael. He won’t be happy about letting them take over our conference.”
“That will be because she’s having an affair with the chief executive officer and he is Michael’s boss.”
“How on earth do you know that!”
“Aha!” Sally laughed. “I cannot divulge my sources but one of them is currently a missing person and believed to be somewhere in the Russian Steppes.”
“The very man. The CEO and Margaret go out to lunches and dinners on a regular basis. Talking of which, that could be the answer to your problem with Margaret.”
“The CEO? I’ve never even met him. I don’t even know what he looks like.”
“Large, dyed black hair and cheap suits that are always far too tight. Totally incompetent. They let him loose with the bin men for a day. He lasted an hour before the lads got fed up with him and sent him back to the Town Hall. He was lucky that they didn’t upend him in a remote countryside bin. That’s beside the point. It’s Margaret’s partner you need to focus on.”
“The very man. One of the loveliest men I know, and for some strange reason, thinks the world of his wife. You need to surreptitiously get him onside. Flatter him. Offer him what looks like a key role in your conference, and he’ll be able to persuade her to go your way. She doesn’t really want to do any work or spend any money, and she will appreciate the fact that Desmond is being kept occupied. She just wants to be in control, get all the glory and indulge herself with some CEO time.”
“Wish me luck?” Ruby felt sick at the thought of all the work ahead of her.
“You’ll be fine. Just don’t get cross with them or make them feel stupid. Hard to do in Bob’s case I know, but you can do it. Let me know how you get on. Oh, man and dog alert. I’ll speak to you later. Bye.”
Ruby sat in the car thinking for a little while then dashed off to the sandwich shop to give some credibility to her absence. After a short meeting, Kathy and Ruby had formulated their plan of action and were ready to do battle at the meeting arranged for the following morning.
This was a meeting that Ruby was dreading. How to retain the fabric of the conference without alienating Margaret, Bob, Adam, Michael or the CEO. Using Sally’s strategies, combined with Kathy’s wisdom and patience, and some ideas of her own, after two hours the plan for the conference was sorted. Ruby had spent some time the previous afternoon cajoling Desmond into helping out, principally in areas that had already been planned by her team, but would benefit from his affable presence. His enthusiasm and pride at being asked to play such an important part had won Margaret over. It also meant that it would give Margaret an excuse to have a lazy lunch with the CEO to discuss the conference that SHE had planned.
Bob was a little annoying; well more than a little actually, but Kathy dealt with him, and he was fighting a losing battle once Margaret and Adam came around. Adam was already scribbling lyrics and humming to himself happily, so Bob had to give in and agree with the plans. He seemed to quite like the idea of negotiating with printing; unknown to Ruby he had crossed swords with them before and lost, so this time he was determined to be the victor.
Ruby and Kathy left the building feeling drained, but triumphant. Kathy sent a quick email to Michael as Ruby drove them back to the office and was gratified to receive his usual economic response.