So, as you can imagine, this did little to lift the mood in our patch of the floor. "Brooding," Laura kept saying. Ominous. Poisonous. Foreboding." When I asked her what she was on about, she just said she was trying to find the perfect word to describe the atmosphere. "And have you noticed," she continued, "that people are suddenly all talking in huddles. Look around you. There's not a normal gathering in sight."
Even Jenny the Junior seemed unhappy, which is unusual because usually she just looks bored, as if she thinks everyone around her is mad or stupid. ("Well, she could be right, couldn't she?" says Laura, to which I say "No" because neither of us is stupid and I don't think we're mad. "Hmm," says Laura.) Anyway, when she came back from fetching our lunch-time sandwiches, she just handed them to us quietly: no sarcastic comments to Neil, no little quips for Laura and me. Not that it mattered; none of us had any appetite. The boys in Tokyo, who were working their usual insanely long hours, called in at this point to announce that they were going home. "Any word from Rory?" Jamie asked me, though he sounded as if he already knew what the answer would be. "Oh well," he replied when I told him. "Just another piece to add to the pile of gloomy information out here. Economy wobbling, IBJ downgraded and, worst of all, I've got to take Mr Kimoto and his colleagues out for dinner and drinks tonight."
I had to sympathise, having met the man myself on my last trip out east. Not only does he have an insatiable thirst for whisky; his favourite karaoke song is "God Save the Queen", and I don't mean the national anthem. It doesn't bother Mr Kimoto, either, that the backing for the Sex Pistols' classic isn't on any karaoke machine in Tokyo; he happily sings it with gusto over any old music. Apparently, the last time he did it he was beaten up in the gents afterwards by two drunk, disgruntled English ex-pats. No wonder Jamie was nervous.
I put the phone down more depressed than ever. While I'd been talking to Jamie, several of the big honchos had been down to sniff around. I've never met any of them before, of course, but they looked so pleased with themselves, they had to be senior management. I suddenly felt furious with Rory. "Why did he have to do this?" I asked Laura. "If he's having problems with the cheeses, he should stand up to them, not hand them a loaded pistol."
"Talk of the devil," is all Laura replied, and I turned round and there was Rory. "Hello, gang," he said. "What day is it?" As soon as we'd brought him up to date on that score, his secretary Gill rushed over and handed him a stack of messages and memos and he went off to his (now repaired) desk to bring himself up to date on all the other scores as well. That left the rest of us to speculate about what he'd been up to, since we longed to ask him but didn't dare.
Suddenly Rory piped up, "Oh look, boys and girls, it seems I'm back just in time for the monthly strategy meeting. Wish me luck in staying awake. It'll be the most boring afternoon of my life." And off he went.