THERE was a serene quality about the city from this height. The hustle and bustle of the teeming streets below could be seen, but not heard. The steady motion of vehicles gave the city a pulse, making it a living thing; a silent being, surging with life and purpose; a single, collective heart, beating towards the betterment of the nation, the kingdom, and the world.
Mac suddenly laughed aloud at his own bewildering thoughts. Existentialism had never been his strong suit. In fact, he tried to avoid it wherever possible. God only knew how it had managed to worm its way into his mind.
Shaking his head to clear it, he returned his gaze to the London skyline. The view from the thirty-fifth floor had always provided a sense of comfort, a way to regroup and rekindle his thoughts throughout the long work day. Business was his element, where he felt most at home, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t do with a small break every once in a while. Even if it was just to think such ridiculous thing.
Unconsciously, he straightened the framed diploma hanging on the wall beside him. The golden letters glimmered in the late day sun; “Augustus James MacIntire V, Graduate Double First Class Honours of the University of Cambridge.
That name. A constant reminder not only of who he was, but what it meant to be a MacIntire. Five generations of men with his name. Five generations of prestige, prowess, and wealth. Five generations looking at him to carry on the family traditions and legacy. A legacy he never asked for.
He sighed openly. No wonder he preferred the moniker “Mac”.
A soft rap at the door caused him to stiffen. Resuming his normal, stoic demeanour, he straightened his tie. ‘Come in.’
With all of the carriage and confidence of a frightened deer, Zachary Higgins walked into his boss's office, pushing his glasses up his nose. He tried to hide his trembling hands by quickly putting them behind his back, but the reflection in the window betrayed him, making Mac smile ever so slightly. Clearing his throat weakly, he spoke with an understandable, but thick, Welsh accent. ‘Sir, I have the reports from this morning's-- well, reports.’
Mac hid a smirk by shifting his gaze back to the Thames. ‘Yes. Thank you, Mr Higgins. You may leave them on my desk.’ His assistant nodded, placing the folders as requested and turned to leave. But Mac had a sudden thought and, with a sharp intake of breath, he turned. ‘Actually--‘
The younger man stopped, turning on the spot. His eyes were the size of dinner plates and the tension in his shoulders was evident, as was the sheen of sweat just below his dark mop of hair. Mac tried desperately not to grin, repeating the mantra that had gotten him so far in life. Presence, MacIntire, always presence. ‘How long have you been with us, Mr Higgins?’
‘Se-- Seven months,” stuttered his assistant, “and I think-- six days?’
Letting out a small humph, Mac looked at a note on his phone. ‘Well, then, congratulations are in order.’
‘S--sir?’ he stammered again.
‘Yes. Congratulations. You have officially become my longest running assistant.’ The resulting sigh of relief from his employee's lips was oddly satisfying. With the smallest of smirks, Mac continued. ‘I'm sure you've heard the stories. I know how the office gossips. Senior Digital Information Director for only three years and, yet, I've been through fourteen assistants.’
The Welshman gulped audibly. ‘That's-- that's--‘
‘An average of two months and nineteen days.’ He'd always been quick with numbers; another reason he was the youngest person to hit his position in company history. ‘I know what they say about me, Mr Higgins. So, let me set the record straight: I didn't fire a single one of them.’
His jaw dropped, though he tried to disguise it by speaking. ‘You're-- you're joking, surely. You mean to say that-- all fourteen of them--‘
‘Quit. Quite so. Do you know why, Mr Higgins?’
‘No, sir. I'm afraid I don't.’
Mac gave a grunt. ‘I'm afraid I don't either. Although, one of them told me I was the “hell spawn of Lucifer”, if I'm remembering correctly.’ His assistant suddenly became very interested in the ground, not seeming to disagree with that description. Mac simply sighed, turning back to look out the window. 'I'm tough, Mr Higgins, to be sure. But I have to be. It's how I keep myself-- and this company-- in check. It's how I operate. It's how I've always operated. “A tough nut to crack,” as my mother always says. Regardless, what I'm trying to say, badly… is thank you.'
Higgins’ eyes doubled in size once more. ‘Th-- thank you, sir?'
Mac let a small smile creep onto his face as he turned. 'Yes. Thank you. If I'm being honest, finding new assistants and training them every few months is a huge bore and a pain. Not having to do so has been a great relief. That, and--' He took a breath, ignoring the relentless mantra pounding in his ears. 'I believe that you fit here. More so than any of the others. I can't seem to put my finger on it-- it's like you were the missing piece to the puzzle. One that finally completed this company and this team. And, I know I've never said it in the past… in fact, I may never say it again, but that doesn't make it any less true:' He took another deep breath, finding the words more difficult to say than he had anticipated. 'You are appreciated. A great deal.'
'I-- I don't know what to say, sir.'
'You don't have to say anything. Just please, when I am being difficult, which I know is often, just-- remember that: you are appreciated.'
He nodded. ‘Well-- thank you. I really do appreciate the opportunity and--' At that moment, Mac's phone went off, loudly, and he immediately grabbed it, looking at the screen and laughing softly at the message from his friend. He all but completely missed the disappointed sigh from his employees lips. 'Is there anything else, sir?'
'Hm? Oh yes! Send the reports to the entire team, but make sure to highlight their mistakes, noting the lowest numbers first.'
'Yes, sir. Right away, sir.'
'And… just one more thing, Mr Higgins. What is the date?'
'Fifteenth of May, sir.'
'Right.' He reached into his desk and pulled out an envelope, handing it to him. 'Many happy returns, Mr Higgins.'
He took the envelope hesitantly, opening it to reveal a crap store-bought birthday card with a clear look of surprise. 'Th-- thank you, sir!'
'Sorry about the sub-par card. Normally I'd send you out to get that sort of thing, but, it didn't seem appropriate, making you do that.'
'No, it's great. Perfect. Thank you.'
'Yes, of course. You're the first of my assistants to actually make it to their birthday. I figured it was warranted. Do you have any plans this evening to celebrate the occasion?'
'Yes, actually, my sister and I are--'
'Wonderful, wonderful,' Mac said, not wanting to spend too much more time on the encounter. 'Feel free to grab dinner for yourselves on the company card. But… do make it reasonable. Less than three hundred pounds, there's a good chap. Now, if you'll excuse me, I've some calls to make, so--' Mac shooed him out of the office as the still-stunned assistant closed the door behind him.
The executive settled back into his view of the city, attempting to shake off the previous moment. Presence, MacIntire, always presence. Never let them see you flinch. Why such personal encounters with other people made his heart race, he couldn’t say. But it was just one more reason to avoid them at all costs.
THE small Poplar home was so crowded with family and friends that the only choice left to Zac and Zelda was to sit on the sofa as happy well-wishers found them to give their regards and a steady flow of drinks. The twins had many a birthday party held in their honour, but as their mother had put it ‘What is the point of turning thirty if you can’t live it up?’
So, there they sat, an island of two, surrounded by those that loved them most. Their mother was busy in the kitchen, as always, despite Zac’s insistence that she should relax and enjoy herself. Several nieces and nephews ran wild, while their parents struggled to have even a moment with their siblings. Amongst the chaos, a multitude of friends swapped stories about the good old days of Uni. All in all, a pretty typical party with the Higgins’.
It always made him smile to see the house full like this. The family home had known its share of turmoil over the years, ranging from financial to personal loss, but the house had remained a constant, nonetheless. It was a physical reminder that, no matter the circumstance, they would always have it and each other. Yet another reason Zac worked so hard to defend its existence. To see the four worn but sturdy brick walls so filled to capacity made it all that more important to uphold.
After nearly an hour of trying to tell his sister the story, Zelda finally seemed up to speed enough to respond, though by now she was highly lubricated. Her speech was slightly slurred and her Welsh accent was growing heavier by the moment. 'So, let me get this straight: your horrible, overbearing, ridiculous, self-centred, overly-critical, narcissistic, micro-managing, self-important, egomaniacal, patronizing, ill-willed, self-serving, grasping, snotty, loathsome, snobbish--'
'Zee, as much as I love these descriptors, is there going to be a point somewhere, soon?'
She frowned, starting again. 'This diawl bach has been putting you through shite for months, but it's suddenly fine with you because he gave you a crappy birthday card and called you pretty?'
Zac laughed. 'Well, no, it's not “fine”, but it just made me think I might have misjudged him, you know? Been too hasty in looking for a new job, just yet. The pay is pretty good, better than I've found so far. Plus, just one year working for that diawl bach will look like ten years experience to anyone that knows him. I’m just saying it might not be a bad thing to stick around a bit longer. See if it pays off in the long run.'
'You're thirty, Zac, how much longer do you want to bum around doing nothing?'
'Hey, it's not nothing! I handle so much for that man, I’m basically doing his work for him. And I'm only three minutes and fifteen seconds older than you. Not like you're exactly a spring chicken, either.'
'I have a job in my career, thank you.'
'So do I!'
'No, you work in your career. There's a difference.'
Zac stared blankly at the wall for a moment before blinking slowly. 'Sorry, but I'm way too drunk to follow that logic.'
Zelda laughed loudly, resting her head on his shoulder. 'I'm just saying: you deserve better than working for Stuffy MacSnooty-pants, sweetie.'
He pressed a kiss to his sister's hair. 'Love you, too, sis. Love you, too.'
'I will say one thing for the grumpy old sod.'
'And what's that then?'
She smiled, looking around at their family and friends fondly. 'He throws one hell of a party, even for “under three hundred pounds”!'
Zac laughed, not able to argue with that.
She relaxed into his shoulder and her drink. ‘So what’s he look like, anyway? Like, if I had to fight him. Who would win?’
‘He would. Hands down. Maybe 190 centimetres, fit, built like a tree, blonde…’
‘All right, you can stop drooling now, I’ve got the picture.’ With a sleepy yawn, Zee curled against her brother, giving him a delightful whiff of lavender from her hair. 'Ok, out with it. I've been waiting all week to hear! What are the latest tales of “the nightmare boss who’s built like a tree”?'
Zac grinned widely. 'Well, funny you should ask—’
(Chapter To Be Continued...)