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Office block near Archway.

Picture by alistercoyne: Archway

Alistair Wilmington has a chess-set on his wide dark desk. He’s quite good. “Business is a game as well, in its way,” he likes to say, and he’s right.

Alistair Wilmington doesn’t realise he’s a pawn.

On the other side of the glass wall, sales and admin sit in their separate clusters. “Good morning, Wilmington Assessments, how can I help?” Rachel says. “Can I ask your name? I see, thank you. And what do you need to speak to him about? I see. Have you spoken to Mr Wilmington about this before? All right, just let me see whether he’s available.” She puts the phone on hold and swirls her mug around, watching turbulence patterns. When she looks up, Jake from the sales team is staring at her from across the room. She takes a sip of tea and smiles, as kindly as she can, then sets the mug down. “I’m afraid he’s in a meeting at the moment,” she says, pulling the call off hold. “Can I take a message?”

Jake looks at his list of data. He’s up to Parkway PR, Partell Ltd, Partridge Consultancies. Granam Todd is listed as Parkway financial director; Jake takes a gamble, asks for Graham, and loses.

“Granam,” he says. “Who’s called Granam?”

Bob shrugs. “Granam Todd is, I guess.”

Jake scrolls down. “I suppose I should just trust the data.”

“You’d think so. But I trusted it on Mr Leigh Madison this morning, and she turned out to be Ms Madison Leigh.”

Jake winces. “That’s nasty.”

“Especially when the MD answers the phone, you assume she’s a PA, and you tell her you met Mr Madison at a networking event a couple of weeks ago and he told you to get in touch.”

“You need to cut down on your lying,” Jake says.

“It’s okay,” Bob says, “I’ll be fine, when she asked for my name I said I was you.”

Jake laughs and goes back to his phone. “Hello,” he says, “it’s Jake Qatar here, I work for Alistair Wilmington, could you put me through to Mike Partell? It’s about a piece of software he wants. Okay, does he have an email address I can send that information through to? No, okay, could you get him to call me back then? He should have my number, but just in case…”

Between their next calls, Bob leans across, hand over his mouth. “Cass says she took the little blonde admin out to lunch and pulled an all-girls-together. Word has it the password this week is ‘anchovy’”, he whispers, glancing over at the desks opposite.

“They can’t lipread,” Jake says.

“I bet they’re learning.”

Jake is never quite brave enough to try the password, anyway. He isn’t sure it exists, and if it doesn’t then saying “anchovy” in the middle of a sales call isn’t going to help his credibility.

On the other side of the room, Dana doodles pictures of fish on a piece of paper. Her loyalties aren’t to be swayed by a bowl of spaghetti carbonara and some banter about lipstick, whatever Cass might think. “Marigold,” she says quietly, and on the other end of the line Rupert puts her through to his director. She transfers her end of the line to Wilmington.

Rupert sits back to go through the post. “Private and Confidential”, as usual, means “junk mail”: it goes straight in the recycling (administrators are responsible people).

At the end of the day, phones down, scores on hold till tomorrow, they all file down the same staircases and along the same hallways and into the same carriages, avoiding each others’ eyes. Bob turns a page of You’ve Got To Make Them Want It: Sales Secrets of the British Empire. Rachel opens a free newspaper, and watches him over the headlines.

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