He was clearly high on something.
What it was could be anyone’s guess. Amphetamines, methylphenidate, sadistic ecstasy or sheer panic were all equally viable options. He had the disconcerting appearance of looking like he was about to leap out of his chair and start gnawing at the lamp. For such an unremarkable, short and potbellied little creature, he inspired an impressive amount of fear among his goons. Or, as he would refer to them, his colleagues.
His eyes swung around the room, looking for a victim. He fixated on a manager in front of him, as best he could with the manic squinting in his left eye. “Mark, your collar is a bit loose.” Mark stared at him, wondering unwisely whether now would be a good time to point out that his slave driver’s cheap polyester suit had butter dripping down the sleeve from the plate. It wasn’t. He fixed his collar and smiled nervously over his pad.
“Appearances,” said Goebbels 2.0 dramatically. “Are everything. You only get one first impression. If you ever cost me clients due to your cavalier attitude again, I’ll have to let you go.” The butter had melted, and was now dripping globulously down to his crotch. He didn’t seem to notice. “When we meet clients, I need you all to be alert and presentable.”
Alert was right, Mark thought, watching his boss fiddling wildly with a loose button. It could be caffeine. That was a strong possible maybe. They took bets in the lift out of the office. Nina had a tenner on speed, Alice had a tenner on coke. But caffeine was definitely possible. He had irritatingly invented a beverage for himself to be in line with the yuppie men he so admired, which consisted of seven espressos in one cup. “It’s a settespresso,” he’d say smugly, whenever anyone looked bewildered at his order. “I take it neat. I’m a fruitarian, you see, me. No milk. No dairy. No sugar.”
That was at least partly true, or an essential part of the myth. He was what Nina referred to as a Visual Fruitarian. To all external parties, he was vigorously, piously and puritanically anti-sucrose, violently opposed to cheese and dedicated to the doctrine of processed carbs. To everyone participating in his façade, he gorged cupcakes, ate croissants when he thought no one was looking and shrugged at a pastry. “It’s a vegan sugar free plant-based cronut, actually,” he had said unconvincingly to one bewildered secretary. Perhaps he’d been unable to find something passably fruitarian at the Ritz that morning, which, after six settespressos, had left him a little more crazed than usual.
“Then again, he’s no more off his rocker than usual,” Nina had mused in the elevator. “I mean, he did demand HR fired anyone who left work on time, but aside from that, nothing to say he’s taken anything to up the Caligula act.”
“What happened to the ‘We Don’t Work In A 19th Century Mill’ thing he read in management?” Mark asked. “What’s the logic behind this bizarre episode?”
Nina laughed. “He doesn’t need logic. He just needs someone weak and scared enough to do his bidding.” She sighed, lighting a cigarette. “Do you think he knows we all think he’s a reincarnation of fucking Stalin?”
Nina sat next to Mark now, curiously composed. Normally she stared down at her notebook trying to avoid any unpleasant comments or lewd sexual jokes at her expense. But now she looked her oppressor dead in the eye, smiling lightly. A decision she would come to regret.
“Tits are out today, aren’t they, Nina?” He said loudly, making two women turn around and glare on a neighbouring table. “Is your boyfriend okay with that? Your boyfriend that you have sex with?” He had seen Ricky Gervais once and never quite caught on that the punchline was that it was wildly inappropriate to do in public. In real life, it was just unbearably awkward. Nina looked like she was about to frown, but then smiled politely and pulled up her blouse. Alice promptly pulled her jacket around her. By now, everyone in the restaurant was looking at him in disgust. Perhaps he was immune to this after a lifetime of that exact reaction, because he kept on going.
“You’re a homosexual, aren’t you Mark?” he said sneeringly, in a way that suggested he was trying to be jovial. “You enjoy sodomy, right?” Mark said nothing, raising his eyebrows in acknowledgement. “You enjoy gay sex? With men?” Mark watched in horror as the prospective client appeared behind him. “You like taking it-”
“Mr Bassard. Is there a problem?”
He flushed bright red, leaping to his feet, the butter dripping from his trousers now, his eyes wild. The client stared at him, carefully eyeing him up. First impressions, it seemed, were important, because the client politely handed him a napkin and signalled for his coat.
“Thank you for coming down, Mr Bassard, but I don’t think we would be a good fit.” He turned on his heel, and, perhaps in the wisest decision ever made by a homo sapiens, left Bassard And Son standing there without a signed contract or indeed, a word to say.
The Dear Leader stared at his goons ferociously, his mind clearly calculating how this was their fault. “You-” he pointed at Mark with a trembling hand. “You just lost us a client. We had that in the bag. And you lost it. Through your grotesque-” he stopped, shaking with rage, or indeed, a complex barbiturate. “You’re fired. Now. Get out. Get out.”
Mark stared back. “What? I didn’t do anything.”
The Minotaur was in full bellow now, standing there with a pool of butter accumulating around his feet. “Yes you did. Your incomprehensible lack of awareness and misjudgement made us lose a client.”
“That’s rubbish and you know it.” Mark looked around him helplessly. “Nina, tell him he’s overreacting.” Nina stared at her shoes, shrugging. She couldn’t put her head on the chopping block, too. They’d all pay the price if they openly challenged the fuhrer.
“Fine,” Mark muttered. “I’ll go. Whatever.” He stood up to go, staring at Nina. This was a betrayal. Not since Trotsky had someone been so completely thrown under the bus. Mr Bassard stormed off to clean up his rather unfruitarian suit.
“Remember me, Comrade.”
Nina winced. “Mark, come on. I had to, I was-”
“Only following orderz?”