Operation Camilla

By: Tabitha Ormiston-Smith

He looked up with a frown as he heard the outer door. “That you, Shelley?” he called.

“Yes, Mr Blackman.”

Blackman glanced at his watch. It was eight fifteen. “Get in here,” he roared. “Now!”

His secretary crept into the office.

“What bloody time do you call this? Hey? Hey?”

“I’m sorry, Mr-”

“Your hours are eight to five. That means you are here at eight every morning. Not swanning in halfway through the morning. DO YOU UNDERSTAND THAT?”

“Yes, Mr Blackman, I’m sor-”

“So what the hell d’you think you’re doing turning up at eight fifteen?”

“I’m really sorry, I-”

“Do you think that because you’re only nineteen you’re not expected to do a full job? Is that it? Think you can just loaf around and come in when it suits you?”

“No, Mr Black-”

“It’s not acceptable, Shelley. I pay you to be here and I expect you to be here, on time, every day. Your work’s shit, I left the Mulgrave file on your desk, the whole thing has to be retyped. If you paid a bit more attention to your work perhaps you’d be able to do a simple task without having to redo it five times. What kind of impression do you think it makes when you spell the client’s name wrong, hey? You stupid little bitch. Do you want to make me look like a fucking amateur? And you need to smarten yourself up, for Christ’s sake, you look as if you’ve been dragged through a fucking hedge.”

She was crying now, he saw with satisfaction, doing her best to hide it but he could see the telltale shine in her eyes, and hear the muffled sniffs. Good; serve her right.

“Get me a coffee,” he snapped. “At least that’s something you can do properly.”

He was engrossed in the paper again when she came back out, carrying a tall porcelain mug. She set it carefully on the corner of the rosewood desk, sliding a coaster under it as she’d learned to do when he’d stopped her wages to pay for its refinishing.

“What’s the matter, Shel?” His tone now was kindly, avuncular. Keep them off balance, that was what you did. They worked twice as hard that way, and besides, it was fun. “Boyfriend playing you up? Sit down and tell me about it. Get yourself a coffee, too.” She flinched as if he’d pointed a gun at her head. “Ah, come on, Shel, you don’t want to pay too much attention when I go off at you. Come on, get yourself a cuppa and sit down.”

Over coffee, employing the client interview skills he’d honed over thirty years of legal practice, he elicited the information that Shelley’s boyfriend had dumped her the previous evening. Pleased with this information, Blackman probed further, encouraging her to tell the full story of the relationship.

She’d met him through an online dating agency, it turned out. Blackman pressed his lips together to repress a snigger. They had gone out for dinner and to films a few times, and had slept together after their fifth date. Blackman bit back a yawn. The crisis had come last night, after she’d been seeing him for three months. He had taken her to a really flash restaurant, and it had all been so romantic, blah blah blah…. She’d thought he was working up to propose, and then when she went back to his place…. At this point Shelley broke down in helpless sobs.

Blackman was bored with the story and wanted to get back to his own work, such as it was, but he felt that as he’d invested nearly half an hour, it ought not to be a total waste. Whatever had prompted the breakup would be a major trigger for the girl, which could be subtly played on for his amusement and profit. So he made sympathetic tut-tutting noises, fetched tissues and a glass of water, and generally behaved like a kindly old uncle. It was good to keep his hand in at this crap anyway; family law clients often needed a lot of sympathy, especially the women.

Patience paid off when she finally finished snuffling and snorting. And what a payoff! Blackman had to hold his breath for twenty seconds so as not to burst out laughing. Instead of the engagement ring the silly bitch had expected, waiting for her in her boyfriend’s bedroom had been a leash and collar, and a whip! When she’d demurred, he’d taken the moral high ground by reminding her that her profile on the dating website had said she liked to try new things. Even better, she’d apparently tried to go along with it, but had evidently failed to perform satisfactorily as a dog, and had broken down completely when he demanded that she eat food out of a dog bowl on the floor. Now she felt used, she felt dirty, blah blah blah.