OK, I thought, the next morning, even before I'd properly woken up, so Ruth had decided to come on to me. Beautifully done by a beautiful woman but not exactly subtle. I mean, if I let my ego off the leash for a second I could have been flattered. No heterosexual male could have failed to be, really, but, equally, no hardened cynic could have failed to detect the slight odour of lurking rat. Ruth thought that I was attractive, witty and a borderline genius? Well, so do I, actually. Problem was that no other woman I'd ever met had formed anything like the same impression well, not for more than a week or so, at any rate and that set the alarm bells ringing. And reminded me of the basics of the situation: Such as the fact that her father had been playing silly buggers, with her active involvement, screwing my company and my 'reputation' so he could make some sort of killing from the remains. And looked at from that perspective, getting involved with the woman however numerous its other attractions was simply a Bad Idea.
I hoped, as I began to get coffee together, that I'd handled the situation reasonably well, rejected the 'offer' with sufficient grace not to have caused further problems in the future. And, as the caffeine kicked in, began to wonder. If Ruth had been trying to buy me off or, even, just to distract me then the gambit had failed.
So what would she or they try next?
When I got into the office delayed by a signal failure at Seven Sisters, this time I found it miraculously clean. OK, so the downstairs workshop was beginning to accumulate cobwebs there was still no sign of Tim but upstairs was a vision of corporate efficiency. Not only had all traces of the previous days wreckage and detritus disappeared I noticed that, touchingly, my Original Model had been returned to its shelf and that some effort had been made to straighten it out but the place had been vacuumed, perhaps even dusted. Hell, there was even fresh coffee in the pot and god help us all flowers in a couple of vases on a desk and a windowsill.
So not a miracle at all, then, I thought, collapsing into a chair and wondering where Maggie whose doing all this must have been might actually be. Not that she could have been gone long the coffee was hot and a quick glance at the e-mails revealed that everything more than twenty minutes old had been read and, mostly replied to. Which also meant that M had been in for a fair while and already dealt with a shit load of stuff that I'd been dreading even looking at ... and now had gone out.
It was a near Marie Celeste situation, I felt, maybe even a Sherlockian three pipe problem. Except it wasn't. While I was still pissing about with literary allusions, Mag herself returned, bearing a bag of bacon rolls from the café down the road.
"I saw the tube was fucked on the web," she said, simply, "so I thought you might appreciate these."
And I began to appreciate, too, just what a nice woman I'd been working with for so long...
Coffee and dead animals consumed, we turned our attentions properly to work. It was surprisingly easy. I had thought that it might be a tad embarrassing telling M about my night's adventures, and I wasn't exactly looking forward to asking about hers, but ... no problems.
In fact, Maggie had found Tim easily enough, sitting in one of his local bars, clearly on the outside of a substantial quantity of alcohol, and had had some sort of conversation. Which must have been a bit of a challenge T hardly being a brilliant talker at the best of time, when drunk he's ... Anyway, M had persisted at least long enough to establish that he was feeling a bit guilty about his role in recent events, having caught at least some of the shit that had been flying around almost as a sort of collateral damage. Well, I always told him that smart phones had their downsides and, I supposed, even the excess alcohol could be seen as a vaguely positive sign.
The conclusion, however, was that Tim was still more or less on board, if we wanted him I hadn't thought of it in those terms before but was clearly not going to be making an appearance today owing to what was presumably a pretty awesome hangover. I didn't ask just where he was doing his recovery at his own place or Maggie's, I mean. It just didn't seem ... appropriate.
Maggie herself, of course, was right back on board, as demonstrated by the cleaning and the flowers, though she did admit that she'd resolved to chuck it in when things between Tim and her had become difficult were they ever easy, I wondered? then thought better of the decision when things had started to get messy. Basic human loyalty, I think you'd probably have to describe it as, or maybe just yet another reason why she was such a remarkable human being. Anyway, she'd decided to stay and see if she could help, for which I was truly grateful. As I was, bizarrely enough, for the news that Tim could also be back around. Bloke might be a prize pillock and his recent behaviour would be grounds for sacking him several times over, but ... well, the famous generator might be 'my idea', but a lot of the technical details that made it work were indubitably Tim's. Also, of course, we'd started this together, and it seemed right, somehow, to see it through together as the two of us or, of course, I thought, looking at Maggie, as the three of us.
I didn't try to explain any of that to M she seemed to have understood my position simply through my reaction to her news of Tim's excesses but told her about Ruth instead. And even that didn't seem to throw her at all. She didn't even laugh when I told her about Ruth's description of me as, you know, attractive, intelligent, all that.
She just smiled. Knowingly.
And, having got all that out of the way, at least for the moment, we got on with things. Specifically, we both hit the phones, following up M's earlier emollient e-mails with personal contact. Phoned pretty much everyone in the alternative energy world, in fact, explained what we could, apologised for the bits that were our fault. A few people simply refused to take our calls, of course, and more than a few others took the opportunity to tell us a few home truths before putting the phone down. Nonetheless, by the end of a long, tiring day we'd gone some way I hoped to pouring a moderate amount of oil onto previously troubled waters. We'd also learnt a thing or two about Simon and his previous dealings with our "community".
By the end of it all, my head was spinning. I'd guess Maggie's was, too, as, when I finally being the boss called a halt to proceedings, she gave me only a weak echo of her usually rumbustious laugh.
Quite a nice laugh, even so, I felt, and I found myself unthinkingly asking her if she fancied a swift half after work?
In response, she gave me the sort of smile that would have made the reputation of any photographer lucky enough to capture it. And that was that. We went to the pub.
Just a local pub. OK, a nationally famous source of exotic real ales but, nonetheless, just the pub round the corner. Or round several corners, down the odd side street and ... hell, you could have taken a bus if you could be arsed to wait. But no very expensive rugs, no ludicrously expensive wine, no hovering, soft-soled waiters, just bare boards, a plain wood bar and a blackboard to advertise the available product. And a lot of large, hairy blokes shouting at each other.
"My idea of heaven," I said, as Maggie and I found a table in the corner, swept most of the spilled beer off the top of it and sat down with our respective pints. She laughed, taking a hefty swig from her glass.
"Well," she said, "not quite what the Fathers' had in mind, but I can see how it might appeal to someone like yourself..."
I was about to ask what that was supposed to mean when we were interrupted. Both of our phones rang at once.
After a while, I learnt that M's caller was Tim, requesting paracetamol, fruit juice and other essentials, but before finding that out I'd had to deal with my own. Who, inevitably, was Ruth. And not Ruth in femme fatale, sex-kitten mode. More Ruth-as-Valkerie, no longer quite so accommodating, more sort of ... demanding. Or maybe pissed off, possibly even personally hurt and affronted. To be honest, I wasn't sure all that bare wood and those shouty blokes made it quite difficult to converse but it appeared that some of the yokels had been revolting. Or rather, that some of the people we'd been talking to had been talking to other people, some of whom had come to their own conclusions regarding the rights and wrongs of the matter, and some of those conclusions had seemingly already reached the incredibly well connected ears of Ruth and her dear father. Who had, it appeared, been somewhat discombobulated by the news, even to extent of threatening their ability to sleep soundly in their superbly luxurious beds.
Or, at least, I think that was it like I said, the acoustics were terrible but whilst I was a bit hazy on the details I couldn't help noticing that I'd been fairly comprehensively harangued and that the words lawyer, slander and 'deep shit' had figured at various stages and more than once in the course of the diatribe. Staring at the phone when she'd rung off luckily she hadn't seemed all that interested in any sort of response from me I really couldn't work it out at all. I mean, all we'd done was correct a few misapprehensions like us having any prior knowledge of the stuff that Simon had sent out in our name and generally apologise a lot to people. Whilst this had clearly tapped into a fair amount of existing anger about the man and his methods, and presumably provided additional ammunition to those who would do him ill, nothing we'd said was remotely defamatory or even particularly controversial. But something had clearly touched a very raw nerve. I was still wondering what it might be when Mag finally ended her own call. Or, it turned out, calls. After dealing with Tim, and while I was having my ear bashed, she'd got another from Steve Steve from FlexEnBalls who'd apparently been trying to reach me, only I'd been otherwise engaged. And he'd always fancied his chances with Maggie, anyway, of course.
Which was good. I mean, it was good that Steve was talking to us, again, but, it was also quite pleasant, just as I was concluding that I hadn't the faintest idea what Ruth's call had been about, to have Maggie available, courtesy of what she'd just been told, to explain it all to me.