Her old green car was found by the side of the road. The hazard lights were flashing and eventually a police car pulled up behind it. But the car was empty and Mary was nowhere to be seen. It was a dark rainy night and perhaps she had stumbled into the woods, blinded by the headlights of the oncoming cars. Perhaps she had even been knocked down by an impatient driver on the busy dual carriageway, annoyed by the obstacle to their Friday night homeward race. Charles imagined her standing there on the hillside, by the road, facing into the wind, her dark hair blowing, the rain lashing her face and he thought perhaps she just suddenly caught the scent of a new challenge and walked out of this life and into another.
Later, after her car was taken away, he drove to the spot and stood there on the verge. The police would not tell him what had happened. They said it was in the hands of the insurers and that the owner did not wish to pursue the matter. Charles told himself the old car must have been stolen by joyriders but he still hoped to catch a glimpse of her hair or her blue coat from this height. Maybe he would see broken branches where she had climbed over the fence and walked across the fields. But there was nothing.
She had made it clear the last time he saw her that she would not play a permanent part in his life, but he still found it hard to accept that she had gone for good. It was not that he wanted to further his relationship with her, although he would remember that intensely sensuous experience forever, it was just that he longed for her approval. He knew he would have been happy simply to hear her voice, to have her endorse the changes he had made and the many projects he was about to undertake.
It had been hard work and he had made many sacrifices. He so wished he could have told her how his new initiative was succeeding and how he really was, at last, able to make a difference. Driven by his initial optimism after his last encounter with her, he had held an exploratory meeting with his partners to outline his ideas for the future development of the agency.
“Charles, you’re off your trolley,” exploded Tom Young, one of the agency’s founding partners. “Ditch blue chip clients! You’ve really bloody well lost it this time mate! I don’t know where you’re coming from! Are you really the same guy I set up with ten years ago?” Tom was red in the face from too many years of long executive lunches, but now he was even redder with anger.
“But with green issues and ethical policies becoming such hot topics, it might even be an area for expansion,” Charles said. “We could be shifting the agency into a new area of growth.” But every one of his carefully weighed arguments met with derision.
“We’re at our peak, Charles,” asserted Harry Firth, the creative director, running his hands over his polished shaved head as if he was conjuring up ideas. “The clients you’re thinking of would never have the budgets anyway! Then we wouldn’t be able to do any TV so we’d be reduced to low cost print and little else! And then how would we keep the talent? The profits would plummet! I can’t see it working. You’re out of your fucking mind mate.”
“Why don’t we all just think about it calmly. At least give it some thought,” Charles pleaded. “We don’t have to make any major decisions right away. I just wanted to throw out a few ideas.”
“Throw out? You’ll be throwing out all we’ve done to build this place up, if you carry on with this! We’ll be worth nothing if we go down that route,” Tom fumed, pulling off his jacket and throwing it down viciously on the glass conference table, causing the wine bottle to spill a pool of accusing blood across its surface.
to be continued May 30