Better than yesterday, she thought. Yesterday it had been at 87, which was getting close to numbers that would be cause for concern.
The monitor swivelled on its stand automatically as she walked around the desk so that she could see it directly no matter where she was stood. It impressed her more jejeune visitors, but it had taken her a moment’s reflection on attaining this office to realise that there must be a camera tracking her for the monitor to manage this trick, and that the founder, Jeremy Diseased-Rat, was definitely reviewing the footage from those cameras. Of course, knowing that gave her an advantage but then you had to factor in that Jeremy wasn’t stupid either and would recognize that at least some of his staff would think this far ahead. It wasn’t long thinking like that before you found blind-fold three-dimensional chess to be relaxing, and Jeronica had very quietly signed up for an evening class in Philosophy a year ago. Six months later she’d employed the teacher privately, covering her tracks from her employer by making the lessons appear like a discreet affair, but even now thinking through the levels of knowledge and self-evaluation gave her a headache and caused well-meaning passers-by to shy away from her as though she were possessed.
She sat down. The chair was corporate standard: comfortable, capable of rotating on enough axes to qualify as a gyroscope, and designed by an elegant Dutch gentleman who wore houndstooth-check suits, shirts from an obscure American tailor, and had been given a tour of the offices that had required him to retire to a nearby bar and drink Absinthe for an hour afterwards. It was exactly the right height for her, as was the desk: the facilities staff came in with laser-measuring tools to make sure it was all correct. The visitor’s chairs, on the other side of the desk, were fractionally too short for most people so that they had to look up very slightly in order to make eye-contact, and their cushioning was deliberately thin in places to keep the visitors shifting their position. Behind her were three pictures hanging on a polished concrete wall; at first glance they seemed unrelated, probably a job-lot from a Chinese art-factory and identical in every office. Except they weren’t; they were once again commissioned by Jeremy with exacting specifications: as you spent time looking at them elements in one picture became apparent in the others, and what seemed like three random paintings became a triptych with a disquieting theme. All the offices had different pictures, and the colour schemes of the furnishing were chosen to harmonise. Serious clients came to Jeronica’s offices once and then suggested meetings off-site. She avoided sitting in her colleague’s offices for the same reason.
The keyboard for her computer unrecessed itself from her desk and her fingers blurred over the keyboard as she entered her passphrase: the first sentence from her favourite novel. The numbers on the monitor vanished to be replaced by her email client and moments later she was intent on prioritising the demands on her time. Her personal assistant, a stick-thin woman with carmine fingernails like claws, came in and placed a cup of coffee and a saucer of water biscuits on the desk and left again without Jeronica consciously noticing, though her hand reached out after a minute and picked the cup up.
“Knock knock,” said a voice. Jeronica set the cup down, wondering briefly when she’d picked it up. The computer automatically locked itself, replacing her work with the number 90 again, as a security measure.
“I hate jokes,” she said, looking over at Manguy.
“No joke,” he said, holding his hands out, palms upward. “I think Jeremy might have banned them after the last corporate retreat anyway.”
“Were you invited to that?” Her words were casual, light even, and her gaze flicked away from him to her cup, but returned fast enough to catch the shadow of irritation that crossed his face. “I don’t remember seeing you there.”
“Maybe we were in different meetings,” he said. Before he could get his next sentence out she lifted the plate of water biscuits as an offering, distracting him and giving her a chance to speak instead.
“I did seem to be in with Jeremy a lot,” she said. “So you might be right.” She set the plate down, its job done, and carefully didn’t smile at the fractional tightening at the corners of Manguy’s eyes and mouth. “Please, have a seat.”
“No need,” he said. “I just thought I’d mention that Stephanotte has left us.”
“Already?” Jeronica smiled though she wanted to frown. “The AHA—“
“Change of president,” said Manguy. “The political situation—“
“Yes, of course,” said Jeronica. She nodded, the first genuine gesture she’d made since finding Manguy in her office. “Didn’t she reach out to Knuti?”
Manguy raised an eyebrow in reply.
“Any word on who will get Soft Power, Furnishings and Touches then?”
“Margoyle has been getting in early lately,” he said. “I’m sure you ought to be busy, I’ll see myself out.”
She waited until he’d left and the doors has closed behind him before she allowed her a hiss of frustration.