In the height of the summer, and now that the rain has stopped, the employees of this firm are still sweltering by strip-light; these Eighties-designed buildings, which from the outside look like they are composed entirely of glass with the odd red plastic classical-style portico, are dark as anything inside because the architects have crammed in as many floors as possible for the building materials available. Even if the goldfish bowls weren't hogging the windows, the low ceilings would produce marvellous Neanderthal caves with added full-power air-conditioning.
My desk is outside Mr Lucas's glass cage and arranged so that it bars the door; no one can get in there without going past me. Mr Lucas has made it plain that he is the old-fashioned, formal type of boss: no "call me John" with him. "I'm Mr Lucas," he said, the day we met, and he signs his letters "J C Lucas" to maintain the distance. No handshake, for that matter; I am to be his right arm for the next couple of weeks, but touching his right hand is out of the question. Mr Lucas is a company secretary, which means that he produces enormous quantities of legal documents, most of which have to be fished out of other enormous legal documents and arranged in appropriate order. Once you get the hang of where to look for things, it's pretty much a doddle.
Weirdly enough, though, there is something about this job that is far from a doddle. For Mr Lucas, who looks a bit like John Major - grey of skin, thick-rimmed of glasses, strangulated of the vowels - is obviously the horniest little devil to ever sit A-level law. Other than jumping from window to window, highlighting text and hitting CTRL-V, my main function seems to be controlling the harem.
Every third time I pick up the phone a different voice claims to be his wife. I have identified four separate wives so far: the real Mrs Lucas (I judge her to be the real one because she is the one who leaves messages about remembering to pick up the children from their tennis class), Mrs Sandra Lucas, Mrs Jenny Lucas and one other Mrs Lucas who just leaves messages saying things like, "Can you say his wife rang to thank him for the flowers." There's also a fifth Mrs Lucas, but from the way she snuffles whenever she rings, I'd say that she must be a former spouse. You'd never credit it if you glanced through the glass and saw him polishing his specs. No wonder he looks tired.
I wish someone had warned me; I know it's not the done thing for PAs to leave notes lying around saying something like, "By the way, the boss is a major shag-hound," but I nearly blew the gaff twice before I caught on. When you're answering the phone in a new office, it takes a while to distinguish between voices; it's only when there's a little silence when you've said something like, "Oh, hello, Mrs Lucas, I told your husband about the Rotary Club," that you begin to suspect.
Half an hour ago, the head of accounts, fortysomething, red hair and orange shins, marched past me waving a concertina file. One minute later, the venetian blinds that line his office whirred closed. I am pretending to type up the minutes of the board meeting and periodically smiling and saying, "I'm sorry. Mr Lucas is in a meeting. Can I get him to give you a ring when he's free?" They always say it's the quiet ones. I'd just love to know where he gets the energynReuse content