Manguy told his secretary that he was off to gym, left his office with his gym bag, but then doubled back when he was out of sight and told the receptionist at the entrance door that he was just coming back from the gym and asked her if he looked presentable for a meeting with Jeremy Diseased-Rat, head of Data Analytics Marketetic Normalisations. The receptionist, who probably had a name but Manguy hadn’t bothered to ask for it, smiled and said that she thought he looked just fine. Manguy smiled back and had to duck into the toilets to check exactly how he looked, but it gave him the opportunity to put his gym bag in one of the stalls, lock the door and climb over it, and then sidle out and down the fire-escape stairs to the canteen on the third floor. There, sat alone at a table that looked out on the London street that their building kept in perpetual shadow, was Margoyle. She didn’t stand as he approached, but she did push one of the cups in front of her forward an inch-and-a-half towards the chair she expected him to sit in, opposite her.
He sat next to her, and took her cup. Then he put it back and took the cup she’d offered in the first place. Then he put that down on the table again.
“It gets to you,” said Margoyle. “I’ve seen it happen to people higher up the tree than you. You’re now so paranoid that you think everything had to be at least a triple bluff. I bet you can’t even hire your own prostitutes any more, can you?”
Manguy took a sip of the coffee from the cup she’d initially offered him, just to prove her wrong, but in the back of his mind a voice was screaming at him that she could have drugged it with anything. He knew he’d have to go and see his doctor after this.
“Can you?” she pressed, smiling. It was the smile of a preying mantis, and Manguy knew all about them. Jeremy Diseased-Rat had a vivarium in his secondary office that contained them, and they’d all spent time watching them when meetings got especially tedious. If you wanted paranoid, then the CEO of Data Analytics Marketetic Normalisations was the perfect place to start.
“No,” he admitted finally. The coffee tasted pretty good, dark and bitter with a hint of stone-fruit. Margoyle sipped her own coffee and smiled too. “I get a girl to get her pimp to hire another girl.” Margoyle arched an eyebrow, but Manguy wasn’t biting. It wasn’t always girls, but he’d revealed enough to Margoyle as it was. When he said nothing, she sipped her coffee again, studying his face.
“You’re worried about Jeronica,” she said finally. “Well, that’s not news. We’re all worried about Jeronica. She’s climbing the ladder faster than we can explain, and I alone have six analysts working on this. Stephenotte’s pulling her hair out over this one, and it’s costing her a fortune in wigs to cover it up. She’s got some trick up her sleeve that none of us have fathomed.”
“Yes,” said Manguy. “She was the same level as me six months ago, and she wasn’t steady. I had plans, and they should have worked. She should be no higher than me still, and I should be in a corner office already.”
Margoyle sniffed. “Corner offices aren’t all they’re cracked up to be,” she said. “And I rather think I would get one ahead of you, if only because I’m more ruthless.”
Manguy said nothing, as Margoyle would have done if he’d made that claim. All employees of Data Analytic Marketetic Normalisations were ruthless and psychopathic as it was the only way to progress in a company that made a habit of running the world for other people and not letting anyone else know about it. He was aware that she’d asphyxiated her last intern when she’d found out that she’d been working for Jeronica on the side, but it hadn’t been enough to get her a promotion at the last meeting. Of the two that had been promoted, Jeronica still seemed to be a star in the ascendant, and Hille, a small mexican man reputed to train alligators, was dead. The police reports said that he’d committed suicide, but everyone thought that it had been assisted. There was a book running on who’d assisted him, and whether they’d find out before the police did.
“So what do we do about Jeronica?”
“I’m waiting for her to fall,” said Margoyle. “I can afford to play the waiting game. I’ve got three years on you.”
Manguy cringed, he hated the fact that he was nearly 40. That age was practically retirement age in a company this cut-throat. “And me?” he said. Then he answered his own question, but only to stop Margoyle from thinking that he really didn’t have any answers. “If I push Jeronica down, and I don’t immediately get on top of her, then I’ve just opened the way for the rest of you. That doesn’t seem like a percentage play to me. What will the rest of you do to support me here?”
“Nothing,” said Margoyle. “There’s not enough to be gained, and Jeronica can’t go much higher without the Rat deciding she’s a threat.”
Manguy smiled suddenly and knocked his coffee back like a shot. It burned the back of his throat, but he controlled his response and didn’t show it.
“That’s it,” he said. “I shall give Jeronica all the help I can. Let’s see her work this trick on the Rat himself.”
“By the way,” said Margoyle, casually changing the conversation. “Did you hear that Stephenotte has taken control of Dentures and Fissure Politics?”
“No,” said Manguy, immediately assuming that Margoyle was lying. “I did hear that Cathartic Coups might be coming up for grabs in the next two months. Dimitrion doesn’t seem to know about certain photographs that might have there way to a newspaper.”
“Indiscreet,” said Margoyle. “Very Dimitrion.”