This is a serialisation of the novel Marcello: Love in the City. After accidentally insulting a well-connected woman at a networking event, Marcello must face his boss’s wrath.
“Oh, look, it’s the male Carrie Bradshaw. Good morning.”
Jess was sitting at her desk, fiddling with her phone.
“Why do I tell you anything, Jessica? Honestly.” I threw my man-bag down. “How are you, good weekend and all that?”
“Yes, it was my sister’s birthday. We went out in town. How was yours? Your face is telling me the date was rubbish.”
“Unfortunately, you’re right. My mouth can also tell you, if you like.”
“It’ll have to wait. Rita wants to see you.”
“Already? My god, it’s nine o’clock on Monday morning, and already the blue ruin is folding in.”
Jess shrugged. “This is what happens when your boss hates you. It seems urgent, so if you need any help drumming up excuses, we’d better get onto it now. I have a meeting at half past.”
“It’s fine,” I said, backing out the door. “I’ll freestyle it.”
It had been a couple of weeks since I had insulted Phillip Brenner’s niece. In the meantime, I had done my best to keep a low profile. I approached this by doing actual work. Previously, I liked to break up my HR activities with snacks in the canteen, rapid-fire tweeting, and trips to Costa.
“Thanks for coming, Marcello.” Rita took her glasses off. “Please close the door.”
As any corporate worker knows, being asked to close the door is a sure sign of trouble. Not necessarily for those in the room – but trouble all the same.
I sat down, leaned back and steepled my fingers.
“How are you today?” I said.
Rita allowed a long silence to eat into the air. She looked at her BlackBerry, then back to me.
“I just wanted to talk to you about the other week.”
It could have been the week I arranged Jess’s birthday collection.
“The networking event. You were, I’m sure I don’t have to remind you, quite intoxicated.”
“Ah yes. The dangers of free wine, eh?” I laughed. Rita was unmoved.
“Yes, quite. Now, I want to tell you something off the record…”
Why do people do this, I thought. I want things to be on the record.
“…Phillip was very upset with you. He still is, in fact. He wanted me to take some action, but I’m sure you’ll be pleased to know, I talked him out of it.”
Rita paused but I said nothing. Presumably, I was meant to thank her.
She said, “Firstly, I don’t think it was the worst thing in the world.”
I gave an assenting nod.
“Secondly, I thought to myself, if someone is going to initiate disciplinary action against you, it’ll be me.”
“I like to keep this kind of thing in-house.”
“Oh, absolutely,” I said. “In-house is best.”
The room felt hot. I considered removing my jacket then decided against it. Hopefully, I wouldn’t have to stay much longer.
“Marcello, I’ve been here now, what, eleven months? And I’ve noticed a few things. I’ve noticed, for instance, that people like you. You’ve been here a while and you’re essentially a nice guy.”
I shifted in my seat, hoping she would leave it there.
“But I’ve also thought to myself what does this man do exactly? Yes, you handle the difficult employee issues, but does your work really add value?”
I remained quiet.
“Oh, sorry, I thought that was a rhetorical question. Well, yes, of course I think it does. I add value in everything I do.”
She raised her eyebrows. “All I am saying to you today is be careful. The clock is running down, Marcello.”
A vein throbbed in my temple. Unsure whether a response was required, I said nothing. After a couple of seconds, Rita looked at her computer screen and started typing.
“That’ll be all,” she said.
I got up and walked out slowly. At the door, I paused.
“You want this open or closed,” I said.
Without looking up, she said, “Marcello, you know my door is always open.”
Next week: Why online daters claim to love travelling
You can read more of Marcello’s book on WATC here.
You can purchase his book here.