Ben was enjoying some of his work. Peter had become a useful ally, but Joanna had remained impervious to his charms, so he was no closer to finding out what Gavin Slime was up to. The occupants of Room 19 remained a mystery as well; no one seemed to know who worked in the room or what those who worked in there did. Ben had considered going in there to introduce himself, but when he suggested this to Peter, his reaction of total horror acted as something of a deterrent.
As part of the local authority’s induction scheme, Ben had to go through a series of courses and talks designed to ease him into the policies and procedures of the local authority and its various departments. As part of his university degree had been designing induction courses, Ben was partly looking forward to the process in terms of curiosity, and part dreading it in case it turned out to be just as chaotic as everything else in the council seemed to be.
It would also give him the opportunity to escape the office and the unfortunate development that was Karen. It appeared that she had decided to abandon her online dating and to set her sights on Ben instead; cheaper and less effort involved as he was sitting at a desk within her eye-line, and easy prey as far as she was concerned. Karen was not his type. She was a redhead and he preferred brunettes; Ben liked his women to be rounded and cuddly. Karen was stick thin with her new and extremely enhanced breasts sticking out like a pair of coconut pyramids. Her permanently erect nipples protruded through the flimsy tee-shirts and blouses she wore with micro skirts or skin-tight leggings that made her legs look like pipe cleaners with curiously saggy tops.
It had taken her a whole day to decide that Ben was her soul mate. First thing in the morning she was standing by his desk with a cup of coffee for him; pouting with disappointment as he explained that he didn’t drink tea or instant coffee, and had already visited a coffee shop on his way into work. She then perched on the edge of his desk, twining her legs in what she seemed to think was an enticing manner. She was wearing strangely patterned tights that made her legs look as if she was suffering from a dreadful skin disease; her skirt kept riding up so that every now and then Ben caught an unwelcome glimpse of the reinforced gusset of her tights.
He had plenty of work to get on with and Karen’s bottom was well and truly planted on it.
“I – um – could I just get to those papers you’re – um – sitting on please?” Ben asked as politely as possible, noting that Karen’s pout was becoming more pronounced by the moment. He was unwittingly saved by Cheryl and Fiona who had spotted a posting on Facebook from their boss Mandy that glued them to the computer screen. Karen, hating to be left out of anything that her two chums were enjoying, jumped off the desk and ran over to them, pulling the entire pile of paperwork onto the floor as she moved.
Peter came over to help Ben pick up the scattered files, motioning Ben not to say a word and risk arousing the ire of Karen even further. Fortunately, Gavin appeared out of his office and signalled for silence in the office. Cheryl quickly clicked on the document she should have been working on and looked up at Gavin obediently.
“In the short time that I have been here, I have witnessed several practices that are not only unprofessional, but are also against the official polices of our employers. Changing the method of clocking on and off has not been popular with all employees, but it does give me a better idea of who has been seriously defrauding the local authority by feeding false information into the system.”
He glared at Fiona, Cheryl and Karen, who had the grace to blush and look down at their desks.
“It seems that this is insufficient; you will all be aware that staff have to pass my office and Joanna’s desk in order to take comfort breaks in the lavatories. Joanna has been keeping a manual log of who walks past, time spent out of the office, and whether the person was alone or not.”
Time for another glare in one particular direction. It was no secret who had taken to visiting the lavatory in a threesome, how long they took, or how frequent those trips were.
“I am not a harsh manager, and I am aware that female staff may have more reason to visit the lavatory frequently than male staff. I have no intention of overriding your human rights or causing anyone physical distress by denying them the right to use the lavatory when necessary. This is not a nightclub however, and there is no need for people to congregate in the lavatories when they should be doing the work that they are being paid for. From now on you must take your comfort breaks alone. As you pass Joanna’s desk you will be given a red pass card which you will return to her when you come back into the office. This will enable individual visits and frequency to be logged more efficiently. If Joanna is away from her desk, you must send her an email. If you are going out for lunch, a cigarette, or attending an external meeting, you must clock out manually at reception. If you are going to a meeting within the building, you must send Joanna an email stating where you are going, and who you are meeting with. You will all be receiving an email confirming this; a slightly different procedure regarding absence from desks is in the process of being adapted by other managers in all departments. Any questions?”
There was a stunned silence. Ben and Peter exchanged conspiratorial winks; the lavatory monitoring idea had come from them after an extended comfort break where Fiona and Cheryl were comforting Karen after Gavin had disciplined her for the sloppiness of her work.
Having decided that the path to freedom and fun lay in seducing Ben, Karen’s efforts increased as the day wore on; she made a beeline for him in a meeting, sitting very close at the conference table and rubbing her knee against his. He tried to move away but this involved him moving closer to Cheryl who shook her plaits in annoyance and tapped her long silver nails against the table whenever he inched in her direction. He was so distracted that he missed a question that Gavin fired at him and had to ask for it to be repeated. Karen smirking behind her hand didn’t help, and Gavin’s slow and emphasised repetition of his question merely made Ben look even more dense as he struggled to answer it.
He made it through to lunchtime and was struck dumb when Karen offered to take him over to the pub for a sandwich or whatever he wanted…? He was well aware of what else was on offer, but whilst desperately trying to think of a way out of his predicament, Fiona saved him by reminding Karen that she was supposed to be going out to a new coffee shop that was giving away free muffins. Gavin’s new policy about lunches meant that one of the three had to take a later lunch than the others; Karen had been nominated to go out first before all the muffins were gone. Fiona and Cheryl went out for their allotted half hour when she returned but were disappointed by the fact that the coffee shop was only allowing one muffin per customer, so they had to queue up and wait, leaving no time at all for their usual shopping spree.
When all three had returned, Peter asked Ben if he was coming out to get a sandwich, Ben shot from his seat like a bullet from a gun and was in the corridor and pulling on his coat before Peter caught up with him.
“I’m afraid you’ve caught Karen’s eye.” said Peter, a little too gleefully for Ben’s liking.
“No. Please no.” said Ben, his face a picture of abject misery. “Apart from the fact that she frightens the life out of me, she’s really not my type at all.”
“What’s your type then?” Peter asked as they walked quickly up the hill to the sandwich shop.
“Cuddly, sweet, non-predatory.”
“We-ell, yes but isn’t she having a thing with Gavin?”
“Don’t think so. I don’t think Gavin is having a thing with anyone apart from himself. Joanna was supposed to be getting married last year but she fell prey to the same issues as Karen. Bridezillas. At least Joanna’s bloke had the decency to dump her three months before the wedding, and before too much money had been spent. Karen used her share of the wedding money for her new boobs. What do you think of her new boobs? Success or not?”
Ben’s face took on a bilious look as he thought momentarily of Karen’s chest. He shook his head as if to dispel the vision.
“Horrible.” he said. “So false and hard looking. A woman’s breasts should be soft and pliant, not too big, not too small. My granddad always said they should be big enough to fill an honest man’s hand. Anything more is a waste; anything less isn’t worth bothering with.”
“For God’s sake don’t say that to Karen then. Do you have a partner?”
“Melissa and I were together for five years while we at Uni, but we split up when I got the job offer here. She works down in London and didn’t want to waste away in the sticks.”
“If I were you, I’d either get someone quick or let people know that you and Melissa are still partners and pining for each other. If Karen has decided that you are the one for her, only another woman will put her off, and she’ll have to be one hell of a woman.”
Ben made a mental note to call Sally as soon as possible and ask her advice. He paid for his sandwich and followed Peter back to the office. The rest of the afternoon passed more peacefully; Karen and her cronies were hard at work under Gavin’s eagle eye, whilst Peter and Ben were out at another pointless meeting. By the time they returned it was gone five o’clock, Cheryl and Fiona had vanished together with Karen who had left a note on Ben’s desk inviting him out for lunch the following day having adjusted the lunch rota.
Peter looked at the note and whistled through his teeth. “You won’t be able to wriggle out of that one mate. That’s a summons.”
“Perhaps she’ll behave herself in public?” Ben suggested plaintively.
Peter grinned and shook his head. “Wear your cricket box. She’ll be making a grab for them whenever she can. She gets very tactile when aroused. She had a bit of a thing for Mark in between being jilted and boob-jobbed. He’s well and truly married and made a complaint about harassment, as well as all the other things that Karen and the other two do. It’s very dark and miserable down in the post room. I saw him recently and although he’s miserable, he says he’s still happier being down there than being groped by Karen.”
“Oh God.” Ben put his head in his hands.
Peter patted his head, “Come on Ben. Time to go home.”
Ben turned off his computer, squared up the papers on his desk and locked everything personal away in his desk drawer, including Karen’s note. He followed Peter out of the building and to the pub car park.
“Coming in?” Peter asked.
“Not tonight. I – uh – have to go and see someone. Goodnight.”
As soon as he got in the car Ben pulled out his mobile and called Sally. She answered straight away.
“Sally! It’s me. Ben! Help me!”
“I know it’s you, Ben. Don’t tell me you have a crisis already!”
Whilst he felt disappointed that she obviously didn’t think he’d last that long; Ben was relieved that Sally wasn’t surprised that he had hit a problem.
“Can I come and see you please?”
“Of course, you can. Do you need feeding? Silly question. I’m doing chilli. Garlic bread or rice, or both?”
“Both. I had a sandwich at lunchtime but it was like eating cardboard.”
“Hmmm, I believe I know which sandwich shop you went to then. Come on. Tell me all your problems. I’ve got a nice bottle of Rioja open and it has your name on it too.”
Ben felt the relief surge through his body and out through his toes as he started the car and drove very carefully over to Sally’s house. He noticed a strange car parked outside, and felt a moment’s irritation that someone else was taking up Sally’s time and attention. He walked slowly up the garden path and put a smile on his face as Sally opened the door.
“Come on in. I’ve someone here that I want you to meet.”
Ben followed Sally into the front room where a young, very curvaceous brunette had risen to her feet to meet him. She smiled nervously and held out a hand.
“Ben, this is my Ruby. Ruby, this is my Ben and I think the two of you are going to have to form a support group very quickly.”
By the time Sally had warmed up the chilli, made some garlic bread, boiled rice and laid the table, Ruby and Ben had found some common ground in their detestation of Fiona, Cheryl and especially Karen. Ruby described her recent visit and how the morning was spent listening to the three of them plotting and cackling over a dating site. Ben updated the situation with the disturbing news that Karen appeared to have abandoned the online dating quest and fixated on him instead.
Ruby shook her head. “That’s not good. Do you have a partner?”
Ben shook his head. “Not any more. Her name is Melissa and she didn’t want to move away from London.”
“You’ll have to create one then.” said Sally briskly as she put a large tureen of chilli on the table and motioned for them to sit down whilst she fetched the rice and garlic bread. She left some in the kitchen for Ed, who was at work.
“Create one?” asked Ben as Sally ladled a large portion of chilli onto his plate. Ruby accepted a rather smaller portion.
“Yes! You won’t be the first bloke to invent a fantasy girlfriend in order to fend off a predator. From what I’ve heard about Karen, she won’t give in easily, and she won’t be fobbed off by any old fantasy girlfriend either. You are going to have to come up with something extremely believable.”
Ben paused, with his spoon halfway to his mouth, “I’m not that good at telling lies.”
Sally snorted. “And you’ve chosen to go into Human Resources!”
The look of abject misery that was clouding his handsome face made her instantly remorseful.
“Oh darling, I’m so sorry! I didn’t mean to cast doubt on your integrity but, help me here Ruby, the HR field isn’t exactly famous for truth and total honesty is it?”
Ruby grinned and nodded, almost choking on a piece of garlic bread.
“Sorry Ben, but I have to agree with Sally. If you’ve come to work for us with the intention of making our HR department into a textbook operation, then you are going to be sadly disappointed. At guess I would say that there’s only Peter in your team that has any integrity and it’s fast being drained out of him.”
The spoon had gone from Ben’s mouth to the table, and his appetite for Sally’s always delicious chilli was evaporating the more he heard about his employers.
“I should have spoken to you before I took the job, shouldn’t I?”