© 2000 Veronica McLaughlin
“Drinkies at Euro, don’t forget!” Jacqui McLeod cocks her perfectly coifed head and flashes a brilliant smile at Sami, who sits lost behind a pile of manila folders, telephone nestled between her ear and shoulder, frantically making notes. She glances up and nods. Jacqui glances at her Rolex, 5:18, and lays a heavy folder on the desk. “Darling, I meant to give this to you earlier but I’ve been flat out and it slipped my mind – some last minute changes here. I need eight bound copies for tomorrow’s board meeting.” Sami grits her teeth but says nothing. Jacqui repositions her Versace shoulder bag so as not to rumple the collar of her silk jacket and picks up her Louis Vuitton briefcase. “It won’t you take long. See ya in a bit.” She glides through the glass panelled doors of Galway and Simpson Media Associates and pushes the button for the lift, careful not to catch a perfectly manicured fingernail. Ten seconds later she pushes it again, tapping her toe impatiently.
‘My lucky day.’ Jacqui eases her 1954 ruby red Aston Martin into a parking space half a block from Princes Wharf. She fine tunes her lipstick and blows herself a kiss. Oh, I do hope Hugh’s there, and Garth. Of course Alana will be there, but what can you do?
She strolls through the Americas Cup Village, obviously perfect. Until a boy with a shaved head emblazoned with a tattooed snake careens from nowhere on a skateboard and grazes her shoulder with his spiked leather jacket. Clutching her purse strap, Jacqui discovers a gash in the exquisite silk. Little arsehole. I hope you get hit by a truck. She smoothes the tear with her fingertips and sighs. Scotties will just have to take it back.
“Hellooo,” Alana calls from across the bar, grinning and waving wildly. “It’s about time, Jacqui. We’ve been waiting for you!”
Oh God, what is the silly cow wearing? A pink and green floral number. From Katie’s? Rendell’s? No, this one must have come from The Sally’s. There’s Garth, but no Hugh. Who is that scruffy little man sitting with them? Looks like a courier for Godsake. Alana, your taste in human beings is worse than your taste in clothes.
“What a day!” Jacqui cries, shaking her head. “I thought it would never end.”
“Oh, you work much too hard, Jacqui,” Alana says, “It’s time for fun. What’ll you have?”
“Sauvignon blanc. Make it something wonderful.”
Alana heads for the bar as Jacqui settles in to chat with Garth, ignoring the dark little man sitting across from them. “When are they going to make a decision on the new Operations Manager? They must be looking in the States. Local talent just isn’t good enough these days. You posted for it, too, didn’t you?”
Garth runs a hand over his balding head. “Not me. That’s your line of work. I’m a nuts and bolts man.”
“Oh, I don’t know,” she tilts her head coyly. “You’ve got Rupert eating out of your hand.” Because you kiss his arse.
“Eh, you think so?” He smiles like he knows a secret.
Alana’s round bottom is bent over the bar. Darling, Les Mills will take your money. Honestly, Garth you could do so much better, and if I had any use for you, you would be. Alana returns balancing two beers, a white wine probably Diva and Jacqui’s Chardonnay. “Thanks, Alana, you’re a doll. By the way, great proposal for the BNZ! Still no answer?”
Alana shrugs and grins blankly. “Not yet. Maybe tomorrow.”
If you only knew what I know… Last week Hugh told Jacqui the BNZ had tossed out Alana’s proposal and gone over to Harris Associates; Galway’s biggest client taking its seven million dollar account across town, because Alana thought robots were cute. “They’re nothing like the old ASB robot,” she insisted. So Jacqui’d burned the midnight oil putting together a real upmarket campaign, killer stuff. No way would they move once they got hold of this. Okay, it wasn’t her concept, but by the time she was done, Alana couldn’t tell. The board would approve it in the morning and have it in front of the BNZ by noon. She’d save the day, come out a hero. Sweet!
A few others from Galway and Simpson drift in, no one Jacqui cares about. She tries to engineer the conversation back to business but Garth and Alana are chatting nieces and nephews. Ugh, children. She snubs the stranger in the cheap suit, pretending not to hear him ask her name. Where’s Hugh? Apart from a quick appearance Monday, when she was too busy to chat, he’d been out all week. The stranger speaks to Garth, so low Jacqui can barely hear.
“So there won’t be any charges laid then?” Garth asks, surprise in his voice.
“Naw, it’s not worth the trouble. We’ll just gloss over it tomorrow morning,” he answers, far too sure of himself.
“Gloss over what?” she demands, suddenly aware she’s been eavesdropping.
Garth turns, grimfaced. “Sorry, Jacqui, I didn’t mean you keep you out of the loop, but you’ve been flat tack, I didn’t want to bother you. Hugh’s been terminated. Breach of confidentiality.”
Jacqui catches her breath in mid sip and chokes. “What do you mean?”
He forces a laugh. “Old Hugh was playing both ends and got himself caught. Lost us the Sky account, who knows what else? We’ve just scratched the surface. Jacqui, I don’t think you’ve met Miles Bragg?”
Jacqui looks at the oily little man with horror and reaches for a smile. Miles Bragg, the new CEO? What is he doing here? “No, we haven’t met.” She extends her hand. “But it’s lovely to meet you, Mr Bragg.”
“Miles is up from Wellington for the rest of the week.” That smile again.
Miles Bragg laughs softly. “I like to meet the folks on the other end of the telephone. So you’re Jacqui McLeod.” He borrows Garth’s shady grin, sending Jacqui’s heart sprinting around the room. “I’ve been looking forward to meeting you.” Why? What do you know about Hugh and me? I didn’t do anything wrong. Hugh did the legwork. I just used the information. “Your campaign for Briarwood Development was stellar.”
“Why thank you, Miles. But it was a team effort.” She nods to Garth. “Garth came up with the radio angle.”
“Ah, but it was your idea.” Is Garth distancing himself, washing his hands of his biggest success? Briarwood was a real coup, marketing that treeless mudflat nightmare as continental living to nouveau riche wannabes. The builders sold out so fast, they were building two more just like it on the North Shore, if Briarwood didn’t rot and bankrupt them first. All she had to do was recycle the campaign. Hugh sure helped with that one, tangoing with that little Goth girl Harris called a secretary. The little witch gave him everything he wanted, including a couple of discs full of client details. The concept wasn’t exactly mine, either. Well, I worked my arse off on it. Whose concept was it? Jacqui looks across the table. Alana is staring right into her. Self righteous bitch!
“Another round?” Jacqui queries as the waiter approaches. “Again,” she orders without looking at the woman’s face. This could be trouble. Be cool. Never show your cracks.
“Forty two dollars”, the waiter says, placing the drinks on the table. Jacqui slips her Visa card onto the tray and lets her wine sit. This is no time to get tipsy. Garth and Miles are talking future direction. Alana shifts her chair to join in. When the waiter returns Jacqui looks expectantly for the charge slip, but the woman squats beside her and whispers, “Your card was declined, ma’am. Can you pay another way?” Declined? How dare they? But it could be maxed out. Nine hundred dollars for this jacket, eight hundred for car repairs, that dinner party at Mikano last week…
“Hey, Jacqui, if there’s a problem I’ll get it,” Garth offers.
“No, no, I’ll just go see what’s wrong.” She stands, brushing the waiter aside.
“I’m sorry, ma’am, but this card is also declined. Do you have cash?”
“Of course I have cash,” Jacqui snaps. Do I? A twenty, a five, a ten. I must have some change… yes, two two dollar coins, two one dollar coins… she dumps the change on the bench and counts it out. Forty-four dollars and fifteen cents. Thank God. “I don’t know what’s wrong with my bank. They keep cross posting my payments.” Stupid bitch, making ten dollars an hour, and I’m apologising to you!
“Major shake-up…” Alana is saying as Jacqui returns, but when she sits down, Alana changes the subject. “Got it straight, Jacqui?”
“Yeah. Stupid banks.”
“Can’t live with them, but we sure couldn’t live without them.” Garth and Miles chuckle as if Alana has actually said something clever.
“What major shake-up?”
“Oh, it’s nothing you can’t handle.” Alana has that grin, too. They know something! I’m out too and they all know!
Sami strolls in, her eyes all shiny and pulls up a chair. 6:20. No way could she have finished those changes by now. The girl was good, but no one was that good. “Hi, hope I’m not too late. Jacqui gave me a last minute job and I’d have been there ’til morning if Rupert hadn’t told me to call it a night.”
“But Sami, I need that proposal first thing tomorrow.”
“Oh, didn’t Alana tell you? The meeting’s moved to Monday. We’re having a staff meeting instead. We’ve got time.” Alana shakes her head at Sami, obviously trying to be discreet.
Time? More like no time. Inside her purse, Jacqui’s cellphone beeps. Damned thing won’t hold a charge any more. What was happening? If Hugh is out, I’m next. No point in hanging around for the funeral. “Darlings, I hate to run, but I have to pick up the cat at the vet’s by seven!”
“Oh, no, Jacqui, don’t leave yet.” Alana and Garth both look sorry. Real sorry, you vultures.
The Aston Martin stalls three times before Jacqui pulls out onto Quay Street. Bloody mechanics! Hell, at least tomorrow is payday. I just have to make it ‘til the end of the month. But what about next month? She turns onto Queen Street and slams on the brake as a truck cuts her off. Damn, didn’t see that coming, must have drunk more than I thought.
K Road is quiet. Home, I’ve just got to get home. So I can have a goddamned whiz! Jacqui wriggles in her seat. It’s beginning to rain, spitting. Damn! Sometimes the ride out to Titirangi was too long. But her bungalow is perfect, right in the bush, better than Parnell any day.
Western Springs. Hugh must have ratted to cover his own arse.
Point Chev. How much did they know?
Avondale. Who else could be in on this? Good old Garth. Everybody’s mate Garth. Garth who hadn’t had an idea in ten years. Screwing Alana Garth.
New Lynn. Maybe stop at the Mall for a quick pee? And use the public toilet?
The car stalls as she crosses onto Titirangi Road, but starts again with a low rumble, continues for another kilometre when the engine groans, sputters, and dies. No! This can’t happen here, I’m nowhere. Not even a dairy. And no cell phone. Jacqui manoeuvres to the side of the road as the car wheezes to a stop. Now what?
Grabbing her purse and briefcase, she marches to the nearest house and knocks on the door. An old woman calls, “Who is it? What do you want?”
“Can I use your telephone? My car’s broken down.”
“I’m sorry dear, but I don’t have a telephone.” The light goes off.
What’s this world coming to when old ladies are telling lies? The next three houses are dark. The fourth is lit, rap music vibrating the windowpanes. Jacqui knocks cautiously, then harder and harder until the door swings open on three large island boys.
“I, my car broke down and I…” She stares at their bare brown chests, at their cigarettes, at their beer cans, at their wide grinning faces and runs down the steps. Who knows what boys like that have in mind? The door slams, cutting off their laughter.
It is raining hard, the sky pelting her with icy drops. My jacket! And my briefcase! They’ll be ruined. A bus approaches. A bus! Can I run for it? Maybe the driver will wait if I wave. Faster faster. Her bladder throbs. Yow! She stumbles as a heel snaps off, but keeps running, waving. The bus pulls to a stop, splashing her with muddy water. “Titirangi?”
“Caught out, eh?” The driver gives her a pitiful look. “That’ll be one fifty.” She drops a handful of coins onto the tray without answering. “Your ticket, ma’am.” Jacqui snatches the slip of paper and topples into a seat as the bus jerks back onto the road. Look at these people! Jacqui gazes in horror at a woman nursing an infant while two rugrats fight over who will rub the condensation off the window. An old man in need of a shave coughs, gasping for breath. A few dirty teenagers sit at the very back. Jacqui has to pee so badly her bladder feels as though it will give way, and the vibrations of the bus amplify the pain. Can anyone see? She slips a hand up her skirt and presses it against her crotch.
Titirangi. Everything is closed. Her watch has steamed up, Damned fakes! but she can make out 7:45. The lights in the Hardware Cafe are still on, waiters sweeping up, wiping down tables. They’ll let me in to use the toilet. I can call Andrea to pick me up. She’s always dying to be helpful. Jacqui taps on the window. A waiter looks up and shaking his head, mouths the word, ‘closed’. What? How dare he? “Please,” Jacqui cries, bouncing up and down. The waiter looks through her. She is invisible.
As she passes the bakery, Jacqui catches her reflection in the window; mascara streaked down her cheeks, lipstick smudged. The tear in her jacket has grown so the shoulder hangs loose. Its dyes have run, staining her beige skirt with muddy blue streaks. My God, what if someone sees me?
Crossing the roundabout, Jacqui begins the climb up Kohu Road. One step, two steps, bladder screaming. A spurt of urine escapes, trickles down her thigh. This can’t happen to me, I’m Jacqui McLeod. I was Dux. I was head girl at Lynfield College! I won the Holbrook Prize at Elam. I am perfect. She looks up at the sky. Don’t you understand?
Alana’s round face appears, accusing her. So I stole your ideas! You left them sitting around, never finished them, never followed through. I worked like hell to turn them into something. You stupid cow! But Hugh knew. They’d run it by Briarwood ahead of time, after he’d underbid Harris. Damn it! Hugh and Garth were sharing an office then. Hugh must have left Alana’s draft in his desk and Garth found it. They did it. The two of them. Two little nothings, nobodies.
Just around this bend. Just down the driveway. One more minute. Crotch aching, throbbing, fumbling for her key, jamming it into the lock, breathing hard. They can’t do this. I’ll find a way to stop them. Accuse Alana and Garth. Turn it around. They always hated me, right from the start!
As the door swings open her bladder gives way. Stumbling inside, Jacqui flicks on the light and catches herself in the full length mirror; dirty, ragged, soaked to the skin, as the unstoppable stream gushes between her legs, splashing a bright yellow puddle onto the white carpet.
Jacqui McLeod is wearing a navy blue Chanel suit, a white silk blouse and pearls. There’s a dozen agencies in town who’d kill to have me on staff. I’ll be sweet talking Harris by lunchtime. “Good morning, Sami. Please let me know when my proposal is ready.”
“Oh, Jacqui, Miles wants to see you in Rupert’s office.” Of course.
“Fine. I’ll just drop off my briefcase.” Vuitton was worth his stuff, the leather was unscathed.
“Oh no, they want to see you right away.” Sami is nervous.
Jacqui ignores the girl and marches into the office she and Hugh share. Shared. It is empty. Even the telephones are gone. How dare they treat me like this? And they are all there, everyone. Alana and Garth smile knowingly. Breathe, nice and slow. It will be over soon. She raps at Rupert’s door. Miles Bragg opens it with a broad grin. Even she wouldn’t enjoy giving someone the sack this much.
“Jacqui,” Rupert is grinning, too. “You ran out last night before I got there.” Jacqui doesn’t respond. “Oh come now, don’t look so surprised. You must have known this was coming.” Yes, but just you wait. Payback’s a bitch, and you don’t know what I’ve got in store for you. He gestures for her to leave ahead of him. Jacqui marches through the door, her head high. How happy you all look now. See how happy you’ll be in a month’s time, when you’ve been made redundant. The room breaks into applause.
Miles Bragg takes her arm and guides her through the lobby. To Galway’s old office. He opens the door. Galway’s ancient kauri desk is covered with her things. And an enormous bouquet of gerberas. She isn’t being fired! She’s been promoted to Operations Manager!
“No one deserves this as much as you do, Jacqui,” Alana whispers, kissing her on the cheek.
Jacqui stares at the happy faces surrounding her, and then at Alana. How could I have been so wrong? “I, I could never have done it without you, Alana.” She throws her arms around her, burying her face in Alana’s shoulder, overcome by an emotion she’s never experienced and doesn’t even have a name for.