The Crash: Chapter Eleven
In last week's post Jason's receptionist was called away due to a family emergency, leaving Gaby, the new PA, covering her role, while Jason and his Engineering Manager Brad struggled to retain a long-standing customer who'd threatened to leave the firm due to issues with the quality of the car parts Jason had supplied him. This week, Jason draws the attention of a journalist from the Sheffield Gazette...
Through the doors of the conference room, Gaby could hear the rise and fall of Brad and Jason's voices. As time went on, they got louder and seemingly more heated but, tantalisingly, they still sounded like a muffled drone from which she couldn't isolate distinct words.
Finally, as she tried to get on with typing up some scribbled minutes from the pile that had been lying in Lucy's tray, she saw the door swing open.
Brad emerged first, and mouthed, "Watch out, Jason's on the warpath."
Gaby rolled her eyes.
Jason emerged next, took one look at Gaby sitting at the reception desk, and erupted.
"Where's Donna? Isn't she back from lunch yet? It's ten past two."
Gaby felt her shoulders tensing under the onslaught and told herself to relax.
"Donna's had to leave. Family emergency. I didn't think you'd mind because it's very important to her, and I know you wouldn't have got where you have today without knowing that a happy employee is a productive employee. You can depend on it, Donna wouldn't take a second off that she didn't have to. In fact, I had to twist her arm to get her to agree that I could work down here and cover reception so she could go."
Jason stared at Gaby for a long moment and his mouth worked furiously, but didn't quite reach the point of shaping an intelligible word. Whatever he and Brad had been discussing had really wound him up. It wasn't going to be pleasant, passing on the message about the journalist who'd called. But she'd worry about that later. One problem at a time, and for now the problem was making sure he didn't take his fury out on Donna when she came back.
"You told her to go?" Jason finally managed. "Since when was it your decision? You're my assistant, not my replacement."
"I'm sorry," Gaby dipped her head in acknowledgement of her wrongdoing. "I know it was presumptuous of me, but you'd expressly asked not to be disturbed by the phone call earlier, so I didn't think you'd be keen to be called on to discuss such an easy decision. I knew you'd want things arranged so that Donna got to be with her family at a difficult time, without the company's function being interrupted, and as it happened, everything I had to do could be done here just as well as upstairs, and it's been quite a quiet day so far, so I didn't think it would be a problem if I worked down here and covered reception."
Jason made a huffy noise and banged his hand down on the desk.
"You DO NOT make my decisions for me. This once, I'll let it go. But I'll be thinking hard about why I employ both a receptionist and a P.A. if it's so easy to spare one of them."
Gaby laughed. Brad, who'd taken his time shuffling his folders and moving across to the doorway, gave her a smile and a nod behind Jason's back, presumably congratulating her on her handling of his tantrum. She smiled back and raised a hand to Brad as he left.
"I can understand that," Gaby said calmly. "All I can say is, I'm covering the phones and door, which is fine for an afternoon, but I'm sure there's lots more to Donna's job that I don't know about, and even if I did..."
"All right, all right," Jason cut her off. "Whatever. Since you're receptionist this afternoon, any messages?"
"A call from the secretary of APME checking dates for the spring meeting. I checked your diary and told her which ones were suitable. If that's OK. I wouldn't want to make your decisions for you."
Gaby held her breath to see if another eruption would be the result of her gentle teasing, but Jason let it go with a casual reprimand.
"That's fine. Diary management is part of your job. Staff management is not. Any other messages?"
"A journalist rang from the Sheffield Gazette. Peter."
Jason rolled his eyes. "What does the sleazeball liar want now?"
"A quote about the crash yesterday."
"Bloody nightmare. Roads were jammed solid for half an hour just getting through Sheffield. Can't imagine what it must have been like if you were trying to get to Doncaster."
Gaby, who'd been doing just that, said nothing.
"Anyway," Jason went on, "what does it have to do with me?" There was a pause while Gaby tried to work out how to word the answer. In the end, she didn't need to. She saw the penny drop, and Jason groaned, "Oh no. He thinks it was our parts that caused it and he's trying to trap me into some kind of an admission, right?"
"Something like that, I think."
"You didn't say anything, did you? They're like leeches. They'll seize on the slightest hint of anything live, and then suck and suck until all the life's gone out of it."
"I just said you were in a meeting and you'd give him a call later. Here's his number."
Gaby handed over the piece of paper.
Jason almost snatched the paper off Gaby and glanced at the number.
"No time like the present, right?" He gave a falsely cheerful smile and pulled the phone on the reception desk towards him. Before Gaby could point out that he'd be blocking the main line for customers calling the company, his index finger was already punching out the digits.
"Listen and learn from a master," he grinned. "First lesson of dealing with journalists: never let a wound fester."
Once again, Gaby opened her mouth to speak but found herself forestalled as Jason lifted one finger to silence her, while with the other hand he held the phone receiver to his ear, tilting his head on one side to hear better. Gaby might have ignored his order of silence, as she was curious to know what he meant, but at that point someone answered the phone, so she sat back down awkwardly at the reception desk to 'listen and learn' as Jason paced, more or less on the spot due to the restriction of the phone cord.
"Yes," Jason said after a pause. "I'd like to speak to Peter, please."
A pause. He listened for a moment, his expression blank.
"That's right. Jason Jackson-Jones. Yes, he's expecting my call. He rang me earlier for a quote."
There was longer pause, presumably as the receptionist transferred the call.
"Peter! How are you?" Gaby cringed at her boss's fake enthusiasm, although in all honesty, she couldn't imagine Peter objecting to it, since he'd seemed equally slimy during her brief conversation with him that afternoon.
"Good, mate, good. Never better. Business booming and all that. What about you? Enjoying the ambulance chasing, I hear?"
Peter said something and Jason let out a loud, sudden laugh.
"No, mate, course not. You want to have a good long chat to your lawyers before you try naming any names. Libel's an expensive business."
"Hearsay, mate, hearsay." Jason's verbal tic of referring to the other man as mate made Gaby cringe, but from what she could hear of Peter's tone on the other end of the phone, he was lapping it up. "You wouldn't. You wouldn't dare." Jason sounded colder now, delivering something of a warning.
"Don't be stupid." The gloves were definitely off now and the fighters squaring up. "You can't prove anything. There will need to be proper investigations and everything. Investigations you could jeopardise by letting police enquiries become public before they're finalised. I thought you were all for having the negligent parties brought to justice."
A long pause, presumably as Peter ran through some counter-argument.
"What do you mean? No, we haven't started any investigations. There's nothing to investigate."
Jason's forehead knotted into a frown.
"Well, of course we would if there was anything to investigate. We've not had word that we're implicated in any way, we don't believe we're implicated in any way, but if we are given any reason to believe we are, then a full investigation will be conducted. That's my last word on the subject."
"No, mate. I'm not going there. You've got all I'm saying for the time being. Will you be covering the APMA AGM?"
Another pause, during which Jason relaxed visibly. He'd been standing for the majority of the call, but now he leant on the desk beside Gaby and began twirling the phone cord in his fingers.
"What do you mean, not news?" Jason laughed, sounding more genuine this time. "I'll have you know we're voting on some revolutionary new innovations."
"What? Well, no, I know there's no such thing as old innovations. You're the words man, mate. So, how about it? Come over yourself if you can, and we'll have a drink. Or send one of your lads over if you're too busy."
Jason's tone showed what he thought of that possibility. Privately, Gaby agreed. She didn't have the impression that there were so many newsworthy events in Sheffield that Peter would struggle to get to one evening meeting. At least, not for any work-related reason. If he wasn't there, it was probably down to his kid's parents' evening, or a drink with his mates.
"See you then. Maybe."
Jason put down the phone and stared at it for a long moment, with an expression of distaste. Gaby knew how he felt. The journalist had exuded an air of unpleasantness, and it had run as a nasty undertone throughout the apparently civilised conversation. She wondered whether Jason really wanted the guy to come to the APMA AGM, or whether that too was just part of the ritual dance of buried antagonism.
"He won't be printing anything," Jason said, seeming just now to have remembered he had an audience, and had promised Gaby a lesson in handling journalists. But his tone didn't sound as confident as he seemed to expect, and Gaby wondered whether he was trying to convince her, or himself.