For three years, Beth, Alex, Nigel and Simon were all pretty good mates, beavering away happily in the marketing department at the head office of high street electronics giant Sorrex. Or so Simon thought. Now, from the chilly grandeur of his new office, he finds himself wondering if they were pals in the way that the constituent parts of Yugoslavia seemed to rub along while Tito ruled the roost. But maybe he's being paranoid.
It all started four months ago. Giles, their capricious and very obviously in-the-closet boss (flew to Ibiza every weekend, wore tight denim socially, perma-tan) started to act even more skittish than usual: a lot of closed doors and strange manoeuvrings. Then the announcement came. He was leaving to join a major clothing retailer. So his little team toasted his leaving with Tesco's own-label champagne.
Work was great for a while, but then the foursome started hearing rumours – no replacement for Giles... er, make that no external replacement for Giles. They started eyeing each other warily. Then Beth – who everyone thought would fight for this tooth and nail – said cagily that she thought her future might eventually lie elsewhere.
Alex also ruled himself out by wearing his lifestyle on his sleeve, and he is moving to a firm where his pill-popping dipsomania will be less celebrated. And Nigel... well, poor Nigel was never going to get the key to the executive washroom. So Simon found himself in all sorts of high-level meetings. People congratulated him on the promotion he had no idea he had got. He found out officially a month later, the last to know.
After the initial euphoria – an £8k pay hike and company Audi TT, thank you – reality has started to bite. He has to ask them to do things – his old muckers! Not that they're his muckers any more. Before, they'd often gone to the pub for lunch, but he has been only once in the month since his elevation. It was uncomfortable: he bought all the drinks and conversation was forced. Alex, serving his notice, has asked him to lunch a couple of times, but Simon has said he's too busy and he senses the mutual relief. Of course, they'll have a replacement for Alex soon who will fill the fourth seat, both at work and at the Anchor & Rope.
He hears their banter as they return from lunch. Are they discussing him? Probably. Are they laughing at his executive decisions? He hasn't made any yet. Maybe that's why they're laughing. It's lonely two rungs above the bottom, and the weight of Sorrex's sales targets sits heavy on his shoulders. Around the bosses, he feels like the new boy. Over lunch, they talk confidently about strategy and major projects. How does he get to where they are? Can you get gravitas from the Economist, as they say in the ads? Should he ditch FHM for MT? Who does he have to impress? To ignore? To suck up to?
First on his executive to-do list, he supposes, is to interview for his replacement. He can probably busk that. That only leaves... well, he doesn't want to think about that. He's going to have to. He takes out his diary... three weeks away... his palms are sweaty. In three weeks' time, he has to give his old team an appraisal and salary review. This is bad enough in itself. He has lunched with super-confident Will, who oversaw his transition, and they have action-planned what he must do. Beth is OK, but Nigel... he's sweating again... Nigel needs to be told that he needs to consider his position. How can he do this to hopeless old Nige?
Sitting in his office, the glass wall between him and his old team seems to recede into infinity. And then it hits him. He can't be mates with them any more, not real mates. So he may as well start bossing. And maybe, when he has hired his replacement, disappointed Beth's salary expectations and, yes, bollocked Nigel to within an inch of his career, maybe then he'll have a little of that boss magic.