"There's an orgy in your office: everyone has taken off their clothes and is engaging in wild sex. What, as their manager, are you going to do about it?" Join in? was her first thought. Her second was that this was not the sort of question he should be asking her. As she had travelled down to Southdon on the train that morning - an unusual experience in itself, and a contrast to her normal sweaty battles on the underground hell of London's Northern Line - she had wondered what form her interview would take. It was the first time she had been invited 'to come in for a chat' by a potential employer, rather than apply for an advertised job along with everyone else. Although some of the usual adrenaline was missing as a result, she felt pleasantly in control of the situation for a change - instead of offering herself as some kind of sacrificial victim to her interviewer and potential employer. In a sense this made the whole process of being interviewed one of seduction. She presumed that potentially he wanted her to work for him, and so was engaging in this curious courtship ritual, trying to find out whether he did in fact want her, and if he did, whether he could persuade her she wanted him. Nonetheless, as in other courtship rituals, there was a certain sense of limits, things you just didn't do, and she felt that his last question had overstepped the mark. Still, she was inclined to play along, if only because she could view the whole thing as much more of a game than usual. "Well," she replied, "to answer your implicit question of to what extent I believe in letting people relax in the office, I'm a great believer in judging people by the work they do, not by how they do it. I also think that if people work hard they deserve to play hard." She certainly worked hard on Employment Magazine, her current title, but she was not so sure about playing hard. She had so little time for that as editor of a title with limited staff and limitless ambitions for it. Which was why she had been attracted as well as flattered when Martin had phoned her up out of the blue and asked whether she would like to come in for this 'informal' chat. She knew Wright's, Martin's employers, as everyone did: one of the biggest international players in the publishing market. It had a good reputation, an impressive portfolio of titles, and a good track record of investing in magazines. If the 'right' job came along, so to speak, she could imagine herself moving there. And she needed a new challenge: Employment Magazine was running nicely now, thanks to her hard work, but it was never going to change the world. She wanted something bigger, and she wondered whether this might be it. However, if the morning so far was anything to go by, she was not meant for this new job - even though it was Independence Day in the US. First her alarm clock had not gone off, so when she did wake up - luckily not so late - she found herself rushing to get washed, dressed and ready to leave, which she disliked. Then when she had taken the tube south, rather than north, down to a British Rail station, and caught her train by a narrower margin than she liked, she found herself sitting in the middle of nowhere while the train and its driver meditated on whether to proceed. She began to feel the minutes ticking by: she had a connection to make which meant passing from a station in the east of some anonymous suburban centre to one in the west. When the train finally moved, it was ten minutes late, and she would have to take a taxi across town to make her connection. Inevitably she got caught in traffic, and so had to endure the taxi driver's chatter as her mind became increasingly focussed on the remaining minutes and seconds before the train was due to leave. The prospect of being late, even for an informal chat rather than a formal interview, was unthinkable for her. As a journalist, punctuality, whether of her words or herself, was central to her discipline. Fortunately her train was waiting for her at the second station when she arrived, but only because it too was mysteriously delayed. As a result, she finally arrived at Southdon some fifteen minutes after she had intended. Wright's was immediately next to the station, so her final sprint was relatively short, but the end result was that she had no time to carry out the usual preliminary research she liked to engage in - reading notice boards, company magazines in the foyer, and any background information there might be. Instead she was ushered straight up to Martin's office on the tenth floor of one of the two tall buildings that made up Wright's. The entrance hall was an impressive if deeply inefficient glass pyramid - cold in winter and like a greenhouse in summer - that had been put there between the two gleaming towers to form a huge 'W' as you approached. A nice conceit, she thought, but typically one whose consequences the poor employees would have to live with. She made a mental note to write an article about this kind of vanity architecture sometime. As she was led to Martin's office by his secretary, Cristina, a tiny bird-like thing with delicate bones and a gentle smile, she passed an office with its door open. She heard one of those odd snatches of conversation that offices give rise to: "It's about the carpet, you see," a man was saying rather forcefully into a phone. Before she had to think any more about this, she found herself being greeted by a man in his late 30s, smartly dressed in an expensive suit, and a gaudy tie, his hair beginning to recede and paunch beginning to swell. "Hello, you must be Bernice. Martin Davis. Pleased to meet you." And he really was. Not just because she represented an initiative he was taking, a small publisher's act such as he was paid to carry out; not just because he genuinely admired her journalist skills; but also because on meeting her now for the first time, putting a face to the name he had seen so many times in print, he was pleasantly surprised - rapturous - to discover that Ms Bernice Stuart, current Editor of Employment Magazine, turned out to be very tall, very slim, blonde and stunningly attractive in her dark-blue and form-hugging jacket and skirt. "Please, make yourself comfortable," he said as he ushered her in to his office. Please, please, please, a rather un-publisher-like part of him echoed internally. She had hoped to do precisely that before coming up to meet him, and now began to regret that second cup of coffee she had gulped down before leaving. Martin's office was typical of publishing management. From countless journalistic assignments where she had met similar middle managers, she quickly took in the basic elements. As well as his own desk, covered with papers, and with a computer perched on one corner, she noted the separate circular table with comfortable armchairs - a sign of some prestige in a strictly hierarchical company as she imagined Wright's to be - and even a vase of fresh flowers on it, surely evidence of Cristina's touch. One wall was covered with a magazine rack that was full of various titles, including several copies of a magazine which seemed to be called Better Rape. She was so taken aback by this, that she barely took in what she later realised was the only really personal element in the room, a framed picture of a city built on a lake, rather like Venice, but looking nothing like it in detail. She would come to know this map and its significance well. "Right then," began Martin, as they settled down round the table - plus points for not using confrontational desks, thought Bernice, using her professional knowledge of the dynamics of such situations. "Thanks a lot for coming along - oh, sorry, can I get you a coffee?" - by which he meant could Cristina get one, she thought - "No, thanks very much, I had one before coming out" - unfortunately, she added mentally, conscious of the growing pressure. "Right," continued Martin, obviously a little unsure of how to deal with the situation. Job interviews have a simple structure, and a simple balance of power. This was more complicated. "Where to begin. Well, here at Wright's - I assume you know something about Wright's?" - yes, he could assume that, her nod and smile indicated - we're always on the lookout for new talent" - it made him sound like an A&R man trying to discover the next Madonna - "and so I've been following your work with interest." She was genuinely flattered, believing him perhaps a little too readily. One of the journalist's worst fears is that nobody reads what he or she writes apart from the production department and his or her mother. To meet somebody who reads your articles is always a simple and real pleasure. And there was more. "I've been really impressed: your pieces manage to make a difficult subject clear, interesting even - and God knows that's not always easy with employment matters which can be as dull as ditchwater," he said. A little strong, she thought, but thanks for the compliment anyway. "And there's a good balance to the book as a whole". The book was not some thick volume she had written, but Employment Magazine: one of the curiosities of the publishing world is that people tend to refer to magazines as 'books'. "What I was wondering was whether you are fully engaged at the moment" - surely a rather some personal question? - "with the magazine that is. I mean, are you looking to move on at all? Forgive me being so blunt, but if you're not absolutely then perhaps we had better stop here..." A little brutal, she thought, but full marks for getting on with it - something she was increasingly concerned about at that moment. "Well, I am quite happy where I am at the moment " - and God bless the English language for the wonderful ambiguity of the word 'quite', she thought - "but I won't disguise that fact that I am ambitious, that I would want to move on if the right job with the right company came along..." She was rather pleased with the reply, in that it was scrupulously fair to her current employers, implicitly flattering to her potential employers, and managed to convey neatly her own sense of drive - one of the vital elements that needs to be prominently displayed as a kind of mating plumage in all interviews. "OK, then," said Martin, clearly encouraged by this reply, as he was meant to be, "Let's take that as read for the moment, and just put details aside" - let's not, thought Bernice, but recognised that he was driving things at the moment - "and let's talk about you for a bit." She could feel the mood shift slightly, as he started talking to her about her family background (born 29 years ago, mother and father still alive, younger sister and brother, etc.), university education (English at York), her career so far (editorial assistant and reporter jobs on various small professional magazines before moving on to Employment Magazine as Assistant, then Deputy, then Editor). But to a certain extent this was all a formality: simply by virtue of the fact that he had asked her to come in she knew that he was trying to confirm an opinion rather than judge her. Nonetheless she recognised that almost as a matter of habit he wanted to exercise the little power he had over her, and so would proceed to ask her a series of vaguely pointless questions that would supposedly help him gain a better understanding of her. There were the usual ones about personal strengths and weaknesses - the standard trick question of "What is your greatest failing" to which the standard answer is "I must confess that I tend to get carried away by my enthusiasm at work", pressing the enthusiasm button again and again - or vaguer ones about desire: "What exactly do want from this job/this company/your career/your life?" that were harder to answer truthfully, especially nowadays when she was far less certain what she really wanted. But in some ways that made interviews like this all the more valuable, forcing her to articulate some kind of answer. The interview as therapy: another article there she thought, filing the insight for later use. And then there were the downright naughty questions - like his about orgies in the office: the only kind of orgies she knew about were orgies of work, and they were only too common. Fortunately he didn't go further than this kind of abuse of his power, asking about her personal life, whether she had a 'steady' boyfriend (are you likely to get married and have babies? being the subtext, and therefore quite out of order). Martin too knew that such questions would have been quite unacceptable, though he was tempted to ask them - but for purely personal and unprofessional reasons. He stopped himself, but was vaguely worried by the thought that having met Bernice 'in the flesh', so to speak, he was now no longer judging things from a purely object viewpoint. This worried him. "Right then," he said, "let's get back to specifics" - at last, thought Bernice, who was beginning to suffer seriously from her overindulgence in liquids earlier that morning. She was acutely aware that the discussion was building to a climax: the thought of having to break its rhythm and rush out to the Ladies was too embarrassing to contemplate. "What we're talking about here is a launch - we're looking for an editor, and as I've indicated, yours is a name that has come up in this context." Aha, she thought, this is more like it. A launch is something that every editor dreams about, the chance to create something from scratch, to put your own mark on it; the thought struck her that perhaps it was just a kind of surrogate maternity, and added the thought to her already extensive list of worrying indications that she was becoming broody. "Could you tell me a little more about it please?" she asked, since launches in the abstract were all very well, but if she were to be offered to the editorship of a successor launch to Better Rape - Best Rape? - she was going to be less interested. "Right, well, it's something I've been working on for some time, actually," - 'here we go', she thought, 'his entire life history', but she was being unfair. It was true that this launch represented something important to Martin. After all, launches represent a kind of public demonstration of potency for publishers. The first one was an initiation rite into a priesthood, those that had 'done' it. Martin had not yet 'done' it, and felt the poorer for it. It certainly affected his standing within the company, and blocked his further rise in the hierarchy. "It's something quite new - well for me, anyway. As you can see from my current portfolio..." - he gestured broadly towards the magazine racks - "I have a wide range of titles." He hoped that he might leave it at that, but feared that she was too good a journalist to let him off so easily. "Sorry, which ones exactly do you have?" she asked with a faint smile that was at once impertinent - she had guessed that he was unwilling to go into details - and yet also enchanting, as she vaguely knew, though would not have dreamt of trying to be 'winning' in this way had she suspected the effect it was indeed beginning to have on Martin. "Well, there's Better Rape an agricultural title you understand," he said all in one breath as if keen to clear up any possible misunderstanding about this magazine, " there's Rubber International - very interesting that, I mean from the global chemical industry point of view - and there's Dog Lover's Weekly, more of a consumer title - if you see what I mean." Yes, it was Martin's turn for what the other publishers at Wright's jocularly called the 'top shelf' portfolio: a series of titles, each of them quite serious in their own way, and yet which when put together became just seriously unmentionable. The company believed in rotating its magazines among its publishers every two years or so, and unfortunately it was Martin's slot currently. However, since the average number of titles for a publisher was four, this did at least mean that he had a little time free to plan his launch. "And your new one?" asked Bernice, fearing the worst - Practical Sewage or something similar. "The new one is - " but before he could continue, the phone rang. This disconcerted him, since he knew that one of the first rules about giving interviews (or even chats) was not to allow yourself to be interrupted. And in fact he had asked Cristina to block his calls. He was most disappointed. "Sorry about this, not at all right," he said, and picked up the receiver rather angrily. "Yes?" "Hay-ley hee-yer." Bernice was surprised to see him shrink visibly when he heard the voice at the other end, as if a snake were about to emerge from the earpiece. Filling the job of principal telephone operator, Hayley was the voice of Wright's, and was infamous for her undulcet tones. "Look, Hayley, I said no calls this morning, didn't Cristina give you the message? What? Well, that's not my problem. No calls, right? Thank you." He put the phone down. "Sorry about that, breakdown in communications. Where were we? Are yes, the launch. - " And before another word left his lips there was most tremendous wail that seemed to rend the whole building. Was this Hayley's revenge? Bernice wondered, or just the start of World War III? "O God help us," muttered Martin. "Sorry about this, it must be some damn fire drill. Cristina -" he shouted through the connecting door to his secretary. Cristina appeared, all smiles and birdlike movement. "Yes, Martin?" "Remind me, is the fire alarm going off today?" This seemed a highly rhetorical question given that he could barely be heard above the din of the screeching. "No, I don't think so. I think you had better evacuate, it might be dangerous." She looked genuinely concerned. "Righty-ho," said Martin in his best Spitfire pilot manner. "Afraid that means a wander down the corridor to our scenic car park," he said to Bernice. As they went out into the corridor they found themselves part of a stream of people moving towards the stairs. One or two figure with armbands stood directing people unnecessarily, their moment of glory come when they could order their erstwhile bosses around with impunity. It was strange to see this kind of coordinated movement; the normal pattern within an office is of groups of people stationary within rooms. Seeing them all walking briskly like this reminded you that business was made of living people, not just abstract headcounts. Bernice filed all this for further use. The scene in the car park was in some ways even more striking. Overshadowed by the huge glass 'W' formed by the entrance hall and two tower blocks - the latter known familiarly to the publishers as 'Profit' and 'Loss', with the managers in the former and workers in the latter - literally thousands of people were now gathered in a huge amorphous group as they stood in the glorious early July sunshine. Although there was no smoke visible, a couple of fire engines had arrived clangorously, and there were now smartly-dressed firemen marching around, adding another layer of command to the situation as they took charge. As Bernice and Martin were standing there, admiring all this buzz of activity, they heard a voice behind. "Excuse, I'm a journalist with the Southdon Chronicle, do you mind if I ask you a few questions?" Bernice turned to see a skinny youth, thin and a sallow, brandishing a reporter's notebook at Martin. She half expected the lad to have a card saying 'Press' stuck in a hat. "Fire away," said Martin benevolently, glancing with a conspiratorial smile at Bernice. "Can you tell me what caused this evacuation?" No, he could not. "Would you like to speculate on the possible causes for this evacuation?" the youth continued. No, Martin would rather not. "What about your feelings during the evacuation - would it be true to say that you are in a state of shock?" Yes, Martin said, I am pretty shocked at the moment - glancing again at Bernice. "That's all, thank you very much" the boy said suddenly, as if he had found his scoop and had to hurry off to the printers before it got cold or he was beaten to it by a rival. Martin and Bernice looked at each other. "How very curious," Martin said. "I don't think you will be wanting him on you new launch," Bernice added. "Speaking of which..." Bernice was beginning to get tired of this game now. "Right, yes. Well, it's going to be monthly, glossy, lots of colour, hot news, big features, plenty of opportunity for innovation, new area of market, not really been tapped before..." "Yes, called..? "Called Actuaries Update." He looked at her expectantly; her heart sank; her face fell. Actuaries Update: was this the title she was waiting for, the one that would change the world? It seemed unlikely. She felt sorry for Martin when she saw his face fall in response to hers, and suddenly had a vision of him as a lonely child who has been told that nobody wants to play with him. Hell, he was human after all, she thought, let's try a bit harder so that at least his landing is softer. "OK. Well, tell me a little more about it," she said with as much interest as he could muster. He talked her through the market, the figures, the readership, the potential. By now the all-clear had been given by the fire brigade to the fire marshals who now proceeded to herd everyone back into their glass-walled pens. A false alarm it seemed. Rather like the job she had been hoping for. When they got back to Martin's office, she knew that she would say no, that she would have to disappoint him. It was a basic tenet of her journalistic faith that she would only ever work on magazines that interested her and that provided a genuine challenge. Employment Magazine had been valuable experience for her, and she could at least console herself with the thought that employment was at least central to most people's lives especially in these heady days of economic boom. As far the actuaries, well.... "I can see that you are not convinced, Bernice." Dammit, he thought to himself - don't go. "Can I ask what the problem is?" Although a journalist by training, as a publisher he had seen enough salespeople in action to have learnt a few of their techniques, like the objection handling he was trying now. "It's, well, just not me. Sorry that I can't be more specific" - the perfect way to counter such techniques, though she did it unconsciously rather than otherwise - "I think it's important for journalists to be committed to their titles" - as a kind of mental asylum, perhaps? she thought flippantly. Martin was disappointed, doubly so. He really wanted her to work for him, though he feared that it was for the wrong reasons in part. And yet in his heart of hearts he could not blame her. He had to recognise that writing about actuaries was not the most exciting of prospects. But he felt duty-bound to try once more. "There a lot of hidden benefits to working at Wright's. For example - ." But just as he was about to launch into a heavy sell of the company, the phone range again. Annoyed that he had lost his momentum, and incensed that his repeated requests - no, commands - not to be interrupted were being taken so lightly, he grabbed the receiver and began shouting down it. "Look, you waste of space, I bloody well told you I absolutely oh, sorry, hello Charles, how are you, no of course not, not inconvenient at all..." Charles was Martin's boss, the divisional Managing Director, and only a one level below God himself, the Chief Executive. Charles was a company man, a fact that seemed to have been predestined by his name, which was in fact Charles Company. Martin had a lot of respect for Charles, even though those lower down the chain of command mistakenly found him superficial and remote. In fact his incomprehensible corporate-speak masked a profound understanding of how big companies work, and made him extremely effective as a senior manager. As such, he was very concerned about the welfare of his staff, though admittedly from a slightly theoretical rather than personal level. Since Bernice was quite relieved by this distraction, she could sit back and enjoy the strange performance that was taking place before her. From Martin's transformed attitude she guessed that he was speaking to a superior. But of the subject of their conversation she was able to gather only a little, other than that Martin was under pressure. "Some figures, certainly anything I can do to help." Martin gestured vaguely towards the phone and then to the ceiling, shrugging his shoulders to suggest the vagaries of management. "Right, monthly, 200 pages, 60/40 ed/ad, £2000 page yield, circulation 100,000, ad and circ prom pro rata, teams standard - what, Charles, the bottom line first year launch costs? Well, if you could just give me a couple of hours or so I'll run that up on my model - " for Actuaries Update he had created an amazingly complex and comprehensive model of costs and income on his computer. As a publisher he knew that planning and organisation were of the essence, and was proud of this model and its potential. "You need it now, I see. If I ring you back in ten minutes? Ah, now, now." Martin had gone pale, and beads of sweat had started to appear on his forehead. Real pressure, Bernice noted. In fact so much pressure that she had ceased to exist. He was now scribbling on the back of an envelope, muttering figures to himself, checking numbers with Charles, correcting himself, referring to pieces of paper on his desk, the phone cradled under his chin as if it were some kind of life support system. Which in some ways it was, and not just for him. Finally he said: "So that's it then, about a million down. Is that what you were expecting. You wanted less? How much less? 500K? Looks tough to me. I'm sorry? I don't understand. Could I do it? Well, I have got this other project on - Actuaries Update - you remember we talked about it a few months ago, you said that approval of the proposal should be a formality? This is more important?" - Bernice was impressed at how Martin's conversation seemed to consist mostly of questions, rather as if he were talking to some oriental potentate who could only be addressed indirectly, and to whom direct questions would have been an insult. "Well, Charles, if it's more important I'll do it, of course. The budget 500K down? Well, the figures do say a million...could we split the difference?" he suggested tentatively, "that's good of you Charles, 700 it is. Oh, timescales, we didn't say anything about timescales. I was working to six months for AU - sorry, Actuaries Update: given that this is rather bigger, and of course there's the rival to consider, a strong one, too: could we say nine months perhaps...? Nine weeks...." Martin had gone white; his eyes were a blank, unfocussed, unseeing. In fact he was seeing his career in ruins when he failed to meet this impossible deadline. Bernice moved towards him instinctively as if he was about to faint. But now he was talking again. "Charles, it can't be done, nobody's done a launch in - I mean I haven't even got an editor" - he looked up suddenly a stared at Bernice with a strange kind of fixed look. "You promised The Board that it would be done, I see. Yes, I quite understand, you don't want them sniggering, honour of the division, yes, yes. Well, is there anything else I need to know? If not I'll just get on with it, shall I? Right, thanks, Charles, good to speak. Thanks. Bye." He put the receiver down without speaking. He leant back in his chair, breathed slowly in, then exhaled rapidly. "Sorry about that." "Not at all. Look, I'm sorry not to be more enthusiastic, but I really need to be, er, going now - " and she meant it, the pressure was becoming unbearable. "Listen, Bernice, as you may have gathered, major developments are taking place, even as we speak." Martin was back in publisher mode, and publisher-speak. He felt as he had often felt when ski-ing very fast: out of control, just on the point of wiping out completely, but exhilarated all the same. "What do you know about Business Monthly?" Martin asked suddenly. Bernice's ears pricked up. "Big, bullying, brash, boring. And very, very successful." Where was this leading? she wondered, desperately trying to see where Business Monthly fitted into things. It was one of flagships of the publishing world, hugely profitable, vastly powerful in the influence it wielded in the business community, and yet deeply dull, and magazine great in size but not in achievement. "Why? she asked, hardly daring to hope. "We're going to launch against it." Martin let the words sink in. To launch against such an established leader was a brave if not foolhardy undertaking, a real David and Goliath job. She wanted it. "'We' as in Wright's, or 'we' as in us?" she asked. 'We' as in Charles using the royal 'we', Martin thought ruefully to himself, but answered loyally "Well, certainly the former, and perhaps the latter. Would you be interested?" Martin could feel the power flowing back to him after losing it earlier in the interview. Of course she wanted it, any journalist would. He knew he would love to be the Editor of a launch against Business Monthly. Well, he would except on the schedule he had been given. "It's certainly something I'd like to explore further." Despite that fact that she was dying get somewhere else. Luckily Martin was not interested in exploring it further. "What is there to explore? Wright's is going to launch a glossy 200 page monthly title against Business Monthly. I've just been given the resources for this, and I'd like you to be editor." This was too good to be true, she thought. The opportunity to take on one of the highest-profile books in the market, with the backing of one of the biggest names in publishing - there had to be a catch. "What staff would I have?" she asked cautiously, expecting half a secretary and a dog. "What would you need?" countered Martin. "200 pages you say? 60% editorial, 40% advertising" - now the conversation she had heard began to make sense - "so 120 pages a month, let's say 50 pages bought in from freelancers, that leaves 70 pages in-house, so Editor, Deputy, Features, News, three reporters, art editor, Production Editor, chief sub and sub..." A little excessive, thought Martin, but she's right to try it on. "I think we might have to trim that slightly.." "To?" asked Bernice, not entirely surprised, but waiting to hear how much he had in mind. "Let's say, two reporters plus production department of two?" Hmm, thought Bernice, tight but possible. OK, next question: "Salary?" "What sort of figure are you looking for?" countered Martin in time-honoured fashion. "For this kind of job, responsibility etc, I would have said £30,000," Bernice offered. "Bit high that, I'm afraid," said Martin, thinking she was worth every penny, but knowing that he would never get it past Charles, who was pretty hot on comparative salaries. "The best I could do is £25,000 - plus a car" he threw the latter in, expecting it to be something of a trump card. In fact for companies it was a cheap way of boosting salaries. But Bernice had a surprise for him. "Sorry, cars don't interest me. That is, I really don't approve of them," she said firmly. Oh God, she's not going to get bolshie, is she? wondered Martin. He took a chance, trusting to his publisher's instinct. "I'm sorry, 25 is the best we can do - " the full might of the corporate 'we' now " - though obviously there is scope for review later on..." he said, holding out the standard employment carrot. Luckily for him, money was not the most important aspect for Bernice. The job itself, and the people that came with it were far more important. And here she had the opportunity to create the job and choose the people. Or did she? "I presume that I would have a free hand in choosing the editorial staff?" "Of course, of course," said Martin, his heart beating perceptibly faster as he scented victory. He wanted this beautiful woman and he nearly had her. "Oh, yes, one thing of course: " - she suddenly recalled something worrying in that last phone call of his - "what's the schedule?" Ah, he hoped she wasn't going to ask that. "Well, you understand that time is of the essence, and that it is important to move fast so as to catch the opposition off guard," he improvised wildly. "Yes," she said, guardedly, knowingly full well that something bad was coming. She tried pre-empting him: "but for a launch like this, which must be done properly if it stands any chance of succeeding, you'd need at least six months, nine preferably." Yes, you are quite right, he thought. "Well, I can give you nine - weeks." Now it was her turn to be silent. Nine weeks? Nine? Was he crazy? Or just making fun of her? Nobody launched a real magazine in nine weeks. Pamphlets perhaps, the odd newsletter, yes, but a full-design magazine to be sold on the newsstands in nine weeks. Completely not on. "It's impossible, and you know it," she said finally. Yes, he knew it. But he also knew that he had promised Charles that it would be done. And that, after all, was what a publisher was there for: to make things happen. "For anyone else, yes, but not for you." It was a cliché, of course, and yet he meant it this time: he knew that she was special, rather more special than he had suspected when he had telephoned her, asking her to come in for a chat, and that she could indeed do it. "Flattery is all very well, but doesn't change the impossible time-scale. It's simply impossible." Or is it? part of her brain was thinking. If I could get Dibbs we might be in with a chance... some insane rebel aspect of her was calculating. "Could I make a phone call please?" she said suddenly. Martin was surprised, not quite sure what this meant, but said of course, and offered to leave her alone to make the call. Bernice said it wasn't necessary. She rang the number, and mercifully got through straight away. "Hi, Kate, Bernice here. Yes, fine thanks. You? Good. Look, I know this is rather short notice, but any chance of meeting up for a drink tonight, there's something I want to talk to you about. You can? Great. Listen, how about meeting in Southdon - you're nearby I know, and I don't want to disturb your freelance more than I have to. Something near the station. Where? The 'Dog and Duck' - sounds great - what? It's dump, eh?, ah well, never mind. Eight o'clock, great, see you there." She paused for a moment after replacing the receiver, and then turned to Martin. "Let us for the moment assume that you and Wright's are serious about this launch - about the staffing, even about the deadline. There is not a hope in hell of getting this book out without the best production editor in the business. I have just rung up an old friend of mine who is probably the best. Luckily she's freelance at the moment. Unluckily I cannot think of any reason on god's earth why she should take on this venture. However, " and here she paused theatrically to savour Martin's widened eyes and slight movement towards her, "however, just supposing - for the moment - that she says 'yes' to this venture, then you might just have yourself an editor, and - who knows? - you might even have a magazine..." Martin beamed triumphantly. Even though there were huge obstacles still to be overcome - including persuading this production editor to join - he felt in his bones - that authentic publisher's sixth sense - that it was all going to happen. That this gorgeous, stunning blonde was going to come and work for him, and that it was all really going to happen. He could hardly contain himself. "Well, even though it's a bit premature, how about breaking open some champagne - you know, just to smooth the way," he added weakly and not entirely logically. But by now Bernice's bladder was becoming imperative in its demands. She had to get out of there. And it all depended on her meeting with Kate that evening anyway. "No, I'm sorry, I really must be going - back to work, that is. Are you around this evening, is there a number I can ring you on?"- Martin gladly gave her his home phone number, and foolishly hoped she might give him hers - "OK, I'll call you this evening and let you know one way or another. But I'm not promising anything, right?" she said with that blinding smile of hers. O yes you are, he thought, you are promising a lot. And even though he tried once more to press some champagne on her, she managed to make her escape from his office. As she ran down the corridor in desperate pursuit of the Ladies, the man in the office next to Martin's barely looked up from his heated conversation about carpets.
It had been a strange day for Bernice after that beginning, and so it felt appropriately odd to be coming back to Southdon from her central London office at the end of it for her meeting with Kate. Before, the town it had presented itself as nondescript suburbia giving way to something that looked like it had dropped out of New York: a dense and rather incongruous patch of tall and gleaming office blocks that led to Southdon's nickname as the Manhattan of Surrey. Now it was dusk, and the office buildings were variously lit up in the random patterns picked out by the lights left on by the departed workers. As she idly took these in she thought what a waste of electricity, and made a mental note to write a stern editorial on the subject at some point.
As Kate had indicated, the Dog and Duck was truly awful, its unique virtue being closeness to the station. It was one of those characterless buildings from the 1930s that had no real architectural style, and what little it possessed once had been scraped away during its conversion to a pub. As part of a chain, it followed the established designs, which amounted to a kind of absence of style. When the chain had gone bankrupt some years back, it was sold off and bought by an independent who removed some of the fittings without replacing them with anything more attractive. The result was a bizarre hodge-podge of elements, none of them really matching anything else.
As she entered this no-man's land Bernice found herself sitting in a long rectangular space lit by strip lamps, decorated with freckled mirrors or reproduction Victorian music hall bills. One or two anaemic plants cowered in the corners. The plastic seats were pitted with cigarette burns sporadically, and the whole place was soaked in a general smell of stale beer, stale tobacco and disinfectant from the Gents. Mindless and unrecognisable pop music from a juke-box periodically sent out thumps and yelps into the room. The place was nearly empty, with just a few melancholy souls drinking at the bar, and a few groups scattered around the tables in the corners and odd angles made by pinball and cigarette vending machines placed here and there. She wondered who they were, what their histories were, and why they were here. At least she had an excuse.
Bernice always felt slightly constrained when she met up with Kate. They had worked together for some years, and already been through a lot during this time, and she loved her dearly, and yet Kate was so reserved in many ways, especially at work - Bernice didn't even know when her birthday was. She knew only that she had read German or something similar at London University, that she had been married many years ago, was now divorced, and that she lived near Southdon. Neither she nor the friends they had in common knew much more about Kate's private life, and Kate never volunteered much. Which was frustrating for someone as inquisitive as Bernice, both on a personal and professional level.
When Kate arrived at eight o'clock on the dot - she was even more fanatical about punctuality than Bernice - a few greasy male heads turned at the bar to observe the latest piece of female flesh that had appeared for their delectation. In fact though very diffident about her looks, Kate was extremely attractive: small and compact with short dark hair, flashing black eyes and a full-lipped mouth that was usually puckered into a sardonic smile, she seemed to give off a kind of controlled energy that almost made her glow in the dark and drew glances to her everywhere she went even though, as now, she was usually dressed in the most anonymous of jackets and jeans. She ignored her new admirers and joined Bernice.
"The usual?" asked Bernice.
"Absolutely," said Kate.
The usual for Kate was Guinness, another thing that Bernice never quite understood. For her, of course, it was gin and tonic, which though something of a cliché for a journalist, she drank without even the slightest self-consciousness.
"So, how are you doing?" she asked with that high, enthusiastic voice of hers.
"A difficult question to answer - and one that rather depends on you," answered Bernice.
"Hm, mysterious tonight, are we? Do tell." Between the two of them had sprung up a mythology that Kate was the sensible serious one, while Bernice was some kind of nervous wreck prone to assuming outrageous positions. Which tonight was not so far off the mark.
"But first of all, how are you? I haven't seen you for ages," Bernice replied, not quite sure how to introduce this madcap proposal.
"Ah well, you know, pretty much the same. My life doesn't change much - the usual bits and bobs of freelance."
"How are you enjoying that?" asked Bernice pointedly.
"A strange question. Depends: on the copy I get, how good it is, who it's for, what the cretinous typesetters and printers are likely to do with it - the usual stuff."
"Ever thought of doing something different?"
"What, like sumo wrestling? What's this all about, Bernice?", asked Kate with interest rather than annoyance, her eyes narrowing as she raised her chin interrogatively.
"Well, I have been asked by a certain publishing company not a million miles from this pub - "
"Writing for Wright's, eh?"
"Right.... Anyway, strictly between you and me" - she added unnecessarily, since Kate was the soul of discretion - "they want me to launch a business title against Business Monthly - "
"Really? Tough one. Mind you, deserves to get knocked out, full of errors - they wouldn't know a subjunctive if it bit them in the leg."
"Quite. So I said I'd do it if I had the right production editor: you." Bernice paused.
"Flattered. But I'm not really sure I want to go back to being a salaried employee - that sense of somebody owning you. I rather like my freedom."
"I know what you mean, but I live under the delusion that we could make something a bit different between us - you know, put together our own team."
"What is the team - just as a matter of interest?" asked Kate, clearly more than a little interested.
"Well, art editor and sub only on production I'm afraid."
"Hm, pagination, what, 150?"
"Nearer 200 overall."
"Hm. Possible, but hard work for all concerned. Still with the right people. When would all this be happening?"
"Oh in a couple of months' time," said Bernice as casually as she could.
"Yes, sure. But seriously, I need to know time-scales."
"Er, I wasn't kidding, Kate: we would have ten weeks to be precise. Starting from now."
Kate said nothing. Her gaze rested above Bernice's head as if there were a sign up there warning people not to get too close with this lunatic. Except in certain special circumstances, she tended not to lose her equanimity. And yet the silence she favoured instead was often worse than an violent expressions of rage or disgust.
"Kate, say something." Bernice was unsure how this was going.
"Why?" Kate asked finally.
"Why ten weeks? What not ten days - let's make it a bit of a challenge...."
"Who knows, some corporate timetable, some complicated cross-linkage, tax avoidance, tax evasion - it could be any one of a thousand reasons. But look, it doesn't really matter does it?" continued Bernice. "I mean we're just the hired hands; everything that comes down to us - deadlines, budgetary constraints - are arbitrary in some sense. Part of the fun is beating the system - the structure - on its own terms."
"Yes, but those deadlines and budgetary constraints must at least be feasible. Three months isn't."
"I've thought it through today, and it can be done," said Bernice a little defensively.
"Thought it through on the back of an envelope, it sounds like," said Kate unimpressed.
"Kate - " Bernice had hoped that Kate would be supportive, but now felt the impossibility of the task before her redoubled by this clear-headed thinking and refusal to deny the facts.
"Sorry, I'm just trying to work it through myself. What have you got so far in the way of staff, or launch materials?"
"Everything that I have is in this bar."
Kate looked around with exaggerated desperation. "Bloody hell," she said, "you have got problems." Bernice's spirits rose at this obvious sally.
"Well, that was why I was hoping you might share them."
"Hm," said Kate, thinking deeply. Bernice began to see hope in these ruminations.
"Well, I have to say that I cannot see any reason on earth why I should join this madness. It is certainly going to be absolute hell over the next few months, and we might even fail at the end of it all - good as we are, we are not gods, you know?" Bernice realised this only too well. "You do realise this might well be a case of what we in the trade call hubris - pushing your luck too far and getting thumped as a result?" Both Kate and Bernice were grinning now. "But on the other hand, my diary was pretty empty for the next few months anyway, and as a freelancer I hardly have a lot to lose, have I? So hubris or not, let's give the bloody thing a try."
Bernice just had to hug Kate, who was suitably embarrassed as all the greasy males turned to observe these girlish high jinks.
"We must have another drink to celebrate. Do they have champagne in this place?" she wondered out loud.
"Champagne? In the Dog and Duck? I think you really are crazy."
Bernice pulled herself together: it must be the euphoria of the moment - or perhaps Martin's residual influence. Talking of whom, she remembered her promise to call him.
"So what is it then? The same again, or something a little more risky?" Asked Bernice " - Remember it's on expenses now."
"Right, let's live dangerously, make mine...two Guinnesses - and have a double yourself."
Bernice didn't mind if she did - even if the lugubrious barman eyed her suspiciously when she ordered them, as if such quantities were unbecoming for unaccompanied ladies in his establishment.
After she had carried them back to Kate at the table, she said she had a phone call to make. "Got to check in with your boyfriend, eh?" said Kate with unwonted cheekiness.
"I should be so lucky," said Bernice, " - I'll tell you about it afterwards." Not that there was much to tell about her slow and worryingly painless separation from her long-standing live-in boyfriend Rick. But now she wanted to pass on the good news to Martin.
She found the public phone box just inside the door, a rather disgustingly dirty little space with crushed crisps on the floor and one or two cards offering various 'professional services' stuck around the phone. Ignoring these and other distractions she called Martin. When he answered, she could barely hear him for the extremely loud - and outdated - pop music in the background.
"Sorry, I can't hear you," she said.
"Sorry," Martin said, "I'll turn it down." Which he did. "I just like to relax with a drink and a little progressive rock in the evening, you know, 'Yes' and that kind of thing."
"Yes," she said uncertainly, worried about Martin's failing grammar: how much had he been drinking? And only drinking? She hoped that she was not going to have any nasty surprises working for Martin.
"Anyway, I thought I'd let you know that I've just got myself a production editor - " Martin wanted to shout 'yippee', but decided that it would be unpublisher-like - " and so it looks like you've got an editor."
"Fantastic. Great. Pity you can't join me in a quick glass of champagne - " he toyed momentarily with the idea of inviting her over for a drink, but then remembered the other one, Kate, there, and was unsure what protocol demanded, so decided to let it drop. Besides, something else had come into his mind.
"Er, one thing we forgot to mention - partly because things were up in the air - was starting dates. I suppose you are on a pretty horrendous notice period as editor...." Martin, realising to his horror that this might mess everything up.
"Well, funny you should mention that. I checked today in my files when I got back to work. Curiously enough - and rather ironically for a company that publishes magazines advising companies about employment matters - it seems that my notice period has never been changed from when I first joined the company. It's still one week. So I think that I'll be able to join you next week," she said rather pleased with herself.
"Great. Well, I really think we are on the way, Bernice."
"Yes, Martin" - he just loved it when she said his name - "I really think we are." God knows where we will end up though, she thought. "Bye, then, enjoy the champagne and see you next Tuesday unless you hear to the contrary. Oh, by the way, can we please get a multiple ad in The Guardian next week for the editorial staff? Do you want me to draft one?"
"No, that's OK, thanks," he said, he would do that - he preferred to retain control over such things. Just as he would start the advertising, marketing and production wheels moving. Yup, he thought pondering these matters as he turned up his music again and broke open another of the many bottles of champagne he kept in his fridge - 'a case just in case' as he put - this is what being a publisher is all about. He raised his glass in the faint glow cast by the Lava Lamp he had kept from his university days.
"A toast. To -"
And then wondered out loud to himself: "Hey, what are we going to call this bloody title? "Hm, executive decision required, I think: business title, what can we call a business title that's memorable, short, snappy." He paused for barely a second: "Got it: The Business. Perfect. Yeah: so, to The Business, and to all who sail in her - particularly to my brilliant, bold and beautiful Bernice..."
He was mildly drunk now, and not just on champagne.
Bernice's first day looked likely to be her last. She had given her notice in to her current employers on Tuesday, the day after her meeting with Martin and Kate. At first they were surprised that anyone would want to leave their haven; then they were outraged that she wanted to leave in a week; and finally they were rather shamefaced to discover that they had indeed forgotten to change her terms and conditions, and that one week's notice was all she needed to give. Some hurried checking up of other contracts was soon carried out.
Though she acted responsibly throughout the remaining five days with the company, and tried to make the transition to the new editor as painless as possible by leaving the magazine in good order, inevitably her mind was elsewhere. Most of her waking hours and quite a few of her sleeping ones were devoted to thinking about the magazine she would launch in two months' time. Luckily there was a lot she could do, even without an office or an editorial team.
First she tried to get clear in her mind the readers she would be writing for. Then she tried to understand what their needs and interests would be, and how she would cater for them. Finally she began to draw up a list of articles that she would use in the coming issues. Within a short time she had over 80 of these, enough for nearly a year's worth of issues, with subjects ranging from the serious - Violence in the Office - to the frivolous, like Office Romances, and from old chestnuts like Making Speeches to currently trendy topics like AIDS. Once she had this list, even though none of the articles existed other than as a title, she felt happier: one of an editor's greatest fears is that there will be nothing to put in the next issue; with her list Bernice knew that she would not have this problem for a while yet.
More specifically she began planning the dummy. This was the mock-up of the first issue that would allow them - whoever 'them' turned out to be - to try out different ideas before deciding on final versions of design, layout, structure etc. It was also invaluable for advertising and marketing departments who needed something concrete to wave around and shout about. She had roughly three weeks to produce the dummy: again, some of this could be done now while she was tying up the loose ends on Employment Magazine. During the evenings and at the weekend before joining Wright's she wrote a couple of articles that were representative of the kind she hoped to put in the launch. These could be used in the dummy, repeating them several times to pad the magazine out to the necessary length.
With these preparations behind her, and with a copy of the reasonably well-drafted ad for the outstanding editorial staff that had appeared the day before in the Creative and Media pages of The Guardian in her briefcase, it was with real excitement that she took the train down to Southdon again the following Tuesday.
Now that they would be the background to the drama of her daily existence, she tried to look more closely at the scenes that passed by her. She noted the back gardens of the semi-detacheds and maisonettes, some tidy epitomes of middle-class repression, others rough patches of barely controlled Nature. She saw the loft conversions, the blatant double-glazing, the ugly refacings. As they pulled into the stations, she saw how cruel time had been to these monuments of Victorian capitalism: the paint was flaking, the ironwork rusting or decayed, the walls covered with mindless graffiti. And when she arrived at Southdon, she saw the familiar anonymous little shops - the newsagent's, the optician's, the baker's, the off-licence - that filled countless other similar towns, and she saw the faceless offices that so often sat above them: unloved, unexceptional offices, unnoticed except by those for whom they formed the centre of the universe.
She was struck by how many of these houses and shops and offices there were, and by the fact that each of them represented lives and histories. She had a renewed sense of just how many people there were in London's suburbs, going about their daily lives, minding their own business, and she wondered idly how many of them might read her new title.
Potentially very many of them. She had decided that there was a huge gap in the business magazine market, not served by any of the current titles. They were aimed mainly at 'serious' business people - the suits - who controlled companies and workers. But what about the millions of people who worked in offices - just as she did? They might be middle managers or they might be staff, but they all shared common characteristics as people who spent most of their waking hours in offices. She wanted to create a magazine that served them, that helped them understand how business worked, and helped them get more out of it. Although a million miles from being a Thatcherite, she did believe that the current ferment in the business world made now an exciting time to be working in companies, and she wanted to capture some of that excitement in her features, and help others to enjoy it.
With so much to do she obviously arrived early at Wright's for her first day. Already her diary was quite full, what with meetings with Martin and other departments. She hoped that she was not going to lose control of her days, a victim of the Dire Diary syndrome whereby it is the diary that controls you, rather than vice versa. She had written an article about it once for Employment Magazine, and it had generated a lot of sympathetic letters from people - particular senior managers - who recognised the symptoms only too well.
The receptionist recalled her from her previous visit, and when Bernice explained that she was starting today, Brenda introduced herself and welcomed her to the company. Buxom Brenda had striking hennaed hair and was heavily made-up, as if she felt that as well as representing a visitor's first encounter with the company she was also in some sense an incarnation of its image, like a bosomy ship's figurehead. Although Brenda held an apparently unimportant position in the company, Bernice knew from past experience that receptionists were often the eyes and ears of an organisation, noting who came in when, in what state, and more particularly with whom.... Bernice resolved to be friendly to Brenda - something that came naturally to her anyway - expecting her to be a handy source of information in the future.
Bernice was due to attend a standard company induction that afternoon - indoctrination was her term for it - and first she had a meeting with Martin to go over basics. She was beginning to find her way round the buildings as she went up to the tenth floor of the North building again, and saw the publisher next to Martin in his office, who this time was down on his hands and knees looking at something intently. On the way she passed a strange, shabby figure, an extinguished cigarette hanging on the edge of his lip beneath a huge, bulbous nose in the middle of a red fleshy face topped with thin grey hair, heavily slicked back. As he peered out of pebble glasses like a confused nocturnal animal, she wondered who he was, what part he played in the pageant that was Wright's. But by the time she had reached Martin's office she had forgotten all about the sad creature for the moment.
"Hello," she said to Cristina, surprised to see her in so early. A truly dedicated secretary, she thought, which was true, though not just in the way she imagined. Martin was busy with the micro on his desk. He was desperately trying to make the numbers come out for the new launch. Some of his earlier calculations had been a little optimistic, and he was juggling things like marketing spend and paper weight in an effort to get the right bottom line. He was conscious too that in busying himself with his computer he was trying to avoid the discussion he was about to have with Bernice.
After preliminary greetings and welcomes and offers of coffee accepted this time, Martin edged towards the subject he had been dreading ever since Charles had explained the situation.
"I've got some good news - well, at least I hope you'll think it's good news. I'm sure you will. Because one of things that worried me about the launch schedule was that it was so back-end loaded. I mean you were down to do almost everything yourself for the first issue, allowing for a certain period to bring in new staff. Well, I am pleased to say that as a result of some changes here" - that is, because of titles being closed or merged or simply shaken up a little - "we able to bring some journalists across to start working straightaway." Martin knew that this was not going to go down well, and it didn't.
"What? Are you telling me that I can't choose my own staff as you promised?" demanded Bernice, her anger rising and her heart sinking: only a few minutes into the job and already they were shortchanging her.
"No, of course not. As you saw, the ad appeared in The Guardian yesterday - and we've had a pretty good response so far. I was going to talk to you later about organising interviews. It just that we that is I thought that it would help if you could hit the ground running - " Bernice immediately detected the corporatespeak - "so we've managed to find a few staff to help you."
"What, temporarily?" asked Bernice, still unimpressed by this turn of events.
"Well, not exactly in the true sense of the word 'temporarily'...." Martin hated this; he knew that she was right and that he was wrong, but his hands were tied.
"You mean 'no', Martin. You should practise saying things in a straightforward manner. I have no difficulty saying short, simple phrases - this one, for example: 'I resign!'" Although Martin was conscious that his authority was being threatened here, he ignored this for the moment as he admired how wonderful Bernice looked in her anger, her nostrils flaring, and her brows contracting, her long hair flying with élan as she shook her head angrily.
"Come on, come on, come on, Bernice," he said, "you can't resign, you've barely joined the company. Look, aren't you being a little hasty, prejudging things in this way? Why not meet the people concerned and see what you think?" he asked reasonably.
"And if they're not suitable I don't have to take them?"
"It's not as simple as that. There's been a bit of a reshuffle here, and basically we might have to let some people go - " Bernice snorted: she hated these weasel words.
"Fire them, Martin, you mean fire them."
"OK, make redundant," conceded Martin. "Now these are all perfectly good journalists, some with many years' experience - "
Sure, thought Bernice, that's why you're planning to get rid of them.
"It's very difficult. One of them has a young family, another an elderly sick father...."
Damn you, thought Bernice, for using emotional blackmail. And yet despite herself she found her anger receding. She never liked seeing people fired if it could be avoided, and if there were just a couple of them...they could be useful, she conceded.
"What job titles have these two got?" she asked cautiously, trying not to appear too mollified.
"One is currently an Assistant Editor - very reliable, another is I'm not quite sure," Martin said, searching for a file on his desk amidst the sheets of printouts - "ah, yes, here we are...well, basically a features editor," he said fudging the issue.
"So that would leave me with an art editor, sub, news editor, and two reporters to find, right?" she could feel herself giving in. Did she want to launch the title so badly, or was she so confident she could use these journalists? In fact Martin's underhand appeal to her sympathy for those under threat had done the trick. "Unless you intend dumping anyone else on me, of course..."
"Of course not. Though I should clarify one thing: there are actually three journalists that we got for you, there's also another reporter. Brilliant mind I'm told. His previous publisher said to me that we would be really lucky to get him to work for us." Which was true; in a sense....
"I feel very unhappy about this. I hope that it will not set a precedent for the way that Wright's works," Bernice said. Martin insisted that this was an exceptional situation. "OK, I had better meet them then, hadn't I?"
"Of course. They're in your new office which in South Tower, tenth floor coincidentally. I'll take you over there myself. Then perhaps we can meet up again for lunch - I've booked us in for the Directors' dining room - the food's pretty good considering."
Separate dining rooms, Bernice thought ruefully, remembering an editorial she had written some time back in Employment Magazine inveighing against this kind of divisive practice. Ah well, just another disappointment.
As was the situation in 'her' office. It turned out that nobody had told the three journalists that she would not be turning up until the Tuesday, so they had spent the whole of Monday stewing in there, bouncing their resentments off each other until they were in a fine state when she met them late on Tuesday morning. She also felt as if she was being admitted to their office, since they moved comfortably in it, and had already taken possession of several desks.
When Martin opened the door and they went in she was slightly annoyed to see that in addition to the three journalists, who were all men, there was a secretary. Typical, she thought, for a male manager to ignore the presence, indeed the existence of a female secretary completely. She was introduced first to Peter Lawnesley, who seemed about 35, had mousey coloured hair and long sideburns, and looked rather sad, even when he came forward with a rather overdone enthusiasm towards her. He was dressed in a rather old-fashioned suit that was beginning to shine in certain strategic spots. Apparently he was her new Assistant Editor.
George Benington, on the other hand, was smartly dressed, a triangle of handkerchief peeking out of his jacket pocket, in his mid fifties, with thinning, Brilliantined hair, fiery salt and pepper eyebrows, and a rather suspicious expression emerging from behind his squarish glasses. She got the distinct impression that he was not happy about reporting to what she suspected he would have called a 'slip of a girl', and saw that she would have to work hard to win his confidence. However, he at least looked rather more promising than the last of them, introduced as David Mowley. In his late thirties, dark, thin, hollow-eyed and rather ill-looking, he was almost a parody of journalist: badly-dressed, unkempt, unshaven and smoking continually. And yet he was supposed to be the one with the brilliant mind.
At least the secretary, whose name was Janice, had a smile for her. She was probably in her early twenties, but looked older, as if the life had taken its toll. She wore a tight-fitting sweater that rather emphasised her full bust, and a short skirt that did the same for her legs. Whether it was just female solidarity, or something more, Bernice felt heartened by the presence of Janice. As far as the others were concerned, she was conscious of the full weight of her position: as a manager she knew that it would be her job to cajole, to flatter, to threaten and to be endlessly sympathetic to these and others in order to get the best from them. She also knew that this would be tremendously draining.
After the preliminary introductions Martin ran off, leaving them to 'get to know each other'. Before doing so, Bernice cast a quick glance round 'her' office. It was a large-ish open plan room with windows that would have had a fine view of South London suburbia were it not for the other office blocks that faced them. From the window she could just see the station and its railway lines fanning out into the endless neat housing estates of Surrey. Desks and chairs were standard, and bore the scars of numerous previous owners. Above them the strip lighting buzzed annoyingly: she would have to get that fixed immediately.
"Right then," she said, "is there somewhere around here where we can talk a little more privately?"
"There's a lounge of sorts nearby the staff canteen," offered Peter.
"OK, how about if you and I go there then for a chat? she said brightly. "I don't suppose they have coffee there, do they?"
In fact they did, which was more than she had dared hope for. The lounge itself was anonymous in the extreme, and reminded her of countless hotels she had visited for press conferences. A vague kind of decor pervaded the place, with a few potplants and framed posters advertising soap and French Railways on the walls.
"Well, Peter," she began.
"Please, call me Pete, everyone does. Well, not everyone, my wife... - there's one thing I'd be grateful if you could help me with - not that I want to cause any bother, you understand, but I do just like to have these things done properly," he said, not entirely clearly.
"Of course, Pete, what exactly can I do for you?" she asked, slightly mystified.
"Well, it's just a letter - confirming all this, my position, I mean. Just so that I have some proof, I mean something in writing."
Bernice was already beginning to read Pete, and could see that he had this insecurity in the face of the world. She said that she would either write one herself of get Martin to do so straightaway This seemed to calm Pete somewhat, who soon responded quite freely to Bernice's gentle probing. In particular he spoke about his wife, Elaine, who was the centre of his life, along with his two small daughters Denise and Katrina. He seemed to feel somewhat ambivalent about his career; on the one hand he wanted badly to succeed, to be able to provide for his family, but on the other he was afraid of having to spend too much time away from them. Bernice recognised it as a basic dilemma of working, and one that they would explore in the new magazine. In fact she encouraged Pete to start thinking about some features on this subject, and this seemed to cheer him up considerably.
George was more problematic. He was unwilling to expand much about himself or his family apart from the fact that he had one, and was very proud of 'his boy'. He was obviously very unsure how to deal with this young woman who was suddenly his manager. As she gathered later from his files, which she looked at in Personnel afterwards, he worked most of his life on one title, The Retired Gardener, and had established a simple, safe rhythm of work there under his (male) editor. Like Pete, he was fortunately unaware that he had been close to redundancy; he had been told simply that he was needed on an exciting new launch, and that he was being transferred immediately.
David, or Dave as he insisted on being called, knew only too well that his move was lucky. He had no illusions about his security of tenure, and knew that he was being dumped on Bernice. However, he did not seem particularly grateful. In fact in general he seemed to feel no strong emotions either way; he made no bones about the fact that he wanted an easy life, and preferred to be left undisturbed. Bernice would have gone straight to Martin to demand his removal were it not for the fact that just as her publisher had said, Dave did show flashes of insight and understanding as she talked things through with him that suggested he was worth making an effort for. Part of the job of a manager, Bernice knew, was being able to judge people and their potential and then how to realise it fully. She guessed that Dave would be a pain to work with, but also, sometimes, a great pleasure. She was right on both counts, though underestimated the strength of both.
If she had taken an immediate shine to Janice, her secretary, she found that the more they spoke the more they got on. Something of a rough diamond, Janice may have looked the archetypal dumb blonde with a big bust, small hips and tiny brain, but in fact possessed a quick mind and a ready wit. Like the vast majority of secretaries her many skills were almost completely unused, and Bernice resolved to help Janice to grow as quickly as possible. Janice, in her turn, was touchingly grateful for the attention which Bernice showed her, and resolved on her part to follow her new boss wherever she led.
As she was coming back from the lounge with Janice, they met a small, roly-poly, nervous man with eyes that seemed to be popping out of his bearded face with amazement or fear or both. An old-fashioned kipper tie hung askew about his neck. He introduced himself as Bob 'Cheap at Twice the Price' Percival. He turned out to be the new advertisement manager on the launch. Although Bernice claimed no special competence when it came to judging ad managers, she was deeply worried when she met Bob. He seemed to ooze lack of sincerity. Even his beard looked strange, as if had been stuck on afterwards. He was also appallingly chummy as only desperate salespeople can be, and she found it hard to imagine creating a new magazine with him. She was also disconcerted by his parting remarks.
"Oh, and by the way, if I can ever be of assistance to you, in other areas - if you need anything at all, just call Bob - and cheap at twice the price. No, but seriously, if you want to buy a car..."
"A car?" she asked.
"No, of course not, they'll give you one won't they - what do you get? Never mind, no, I mean if any friends or family need a car. What about your parents, for example, do they need a car?" he continued, unable to stop his patter.
Why is he going on about cars, she wondered? "Well, my father is a car salesman, so...." This was true, actually, and also convenient.
"Oh, is he then? Ah well, never mind." Bob seemed disconcerted by this information, as if he had committed an indiscretion in talking to the daughter of a rival.
"Anyway," he continued, "how about a quick snifter over lunch - just so that we can get to know each other better. After all, we will be working together quite closely..." he said with what could only be described as a failed leer.
"Sorry, Bob, I'm having lunch with Martin. Perhaps some other time." She replied, again grateful that the truth was also convenient. And after saying goodbye to Bob, who moved away with a strange kind of nervous bouncing movement, and telling Janice that she would see her later, she went to lifts that would take her first down to the entrance hall, and then up to the famous Directors' Dining Room at the top of the North building.