A Question of Pride(5)

By: Michelle Reid

Clea looked miserably down at her typewriter. 'Sometimes you are,' she replied heavily. 'As you and I both know.'

She went back to her typing, tapping away furiously, while Max stood by the open door, watching her.

He wanted to say something, defend himself. He was angry—taken aback by her sudden attack on him.

It happened so rarely that, when it did, he didn't know how to handle it. He glanced at his watch, then back at Clea's bowed head. The tension around them sharpened to an unbearable point, then Max sighed impatiently and left the room without saying another word.

Clea stopped typing and pulled the piece of paper out of the machine. She had written gibberish, unadulterated gibberish.


Cleasat for a full five minutes staring at the wall opposite, seeing nothing. Outside, the sounds of the usual mass evacuation that took place every evening around this time went on without her being conscious of it.

She felt cut off, isolated by the weight of her problems.

They began crowding in on her, dragging her down into a deep depression. Distress made a fluttering attempt at taking hold of her, and she stood up abruptly, her chair scraping on its castors, echoing shrilly in the too quiet office.

She then did something she had never done before. She went into Max's office, closed the door behind her, made for the walnut cabinet where he kept his private stock of spirits and poured herself a neat whisky. She took it with her over to the big window, sipping shakily at the drink, to look down on a busy London beneath her. The rush hour was in full swing and, though she was too high up to hear any of the noises that went with that Friday night rush, she could see the way traffic had already come to a near standstill, how the crush of human bodies rushed along like armies of busy ants.

The executive offices of the Computer Electronics Company took up the whole of the top floor of the six-storey building. Max owned the lot. Each floor was taken up with some specialised computer process or another, design, electronics, data process. The huge typing pool, where she had originated from before ending up up here as his secretary. It all went on beneath them, the finished product being belched out on the ground floor where Max would go to inspect, run and re-run his latest creation until he could use it as well as his highly paid experts. Then his garrison of salesmen would go out to sell the product, while Max concentrated on bigger things. It was he who landed the more lucrative contracts—the computers designed for tailor-made functions. It was he who kept the company moving for ever upwards. He was its jugular, its heart, its life and soul. Without his driving force behind it, the company would collapse ... as she felt she was about to do now.

It had all begun so innocently. She had been nothing but a very junior secretary, working on the second floor as a 'floater' for the troop of salesmen to use when they needed her. She had only ever seen Max once in those first six months that she worked for him, and then it had been from a distance, when he'd made one of his very rare visits to the typing pool. He had paused by the glass partition, outside in the corridor, his dark face peering in at the two long lines of busy word processors where girls of all ages, shapes and sizes sat working. She had noticed him looking in, because at that moment she had been walking towards the paned glass that partitioned the main corridor from the large typing pool. Their eyes had caught and held for a split second—a second in which she learned the meaning of all the drooling the other girls did over their elusive boss. She'd received an impression of black hair, black frowning brows and a pair of piercing blue eyes that had rendered her breathless. They had also stopped her in her tracks, pinning her to the spot while he, in his arrogance, had inspected her from head to tingling toes.

She'd been so young, she realised now when it was too late. Too young for a man as worldly-wise as Max. He'd packed too much living into the fourteen years separating them for it to be a sensible thing for her to get involved with him.

It had been he who had broken the eye-to-eye contact that day, he who had lifted the corner of his mouth in that mocking smile he liked to use to make people feel ill at ease, and it had been she who had been left there feeling foolish, her face hot with colour. The rest of the girls had stared at her as though she'd just physically attacked their beloved boss. They had teased her about the incident for days afterwards. But, as the weeks went by, and they were not treated to any more visitations from the revered employer, life settled back to its normal humdrum calm and all was forgotten. Until Max's secretary left to emigrate to Canada with her new husband, and Clea was offered the job.

She had been barely twenty, and as naive as they came then. Not so now, she realised wryly. It was amazing what one could learn within a few months of Max's influence. She had gone from a girl—who saw a man only as someone to enjoy a pleasant evening with before she left him at her flat door with a thank-you peck on the cheek—to a woman, in every sense of the word. A cool, very controlled, sophisticated lady who had learned how to temper her emotions to suit the man she loved.

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