I move around my desk which guards the entrance to his office, subsiding into my comfortable, leather chair with a sigh of satisfaction. “I don’t think I quite caught that, Sir.”
He pauses at the door, looking at me intently. “Yes, you did. Nothing gets past you. You’re the most astute man that I’ve ever met.”
He vanishes into his office, leaving me in silence for a second, as I try to process the thought that Gabe has just paid me a compliment.
“Where the hell is my spare suit?” comes the roar from the office, and I make sure that he hears me sighing heavily.
“It’s in the cupboard where it normally is.” I come to a stuttering stop at the sight that greets me. His wet jacket is gone and he’s shirtless, with the wide, hairy expanse of his chest visible. I swallow hard, trying not to look at the tanned skin stretched tight over his hard, abdominal muscles, the visible v of his pelvis, and the way that his trousers hang from the swell of his backside as he turns around.
“Earth to Dylan,” he gripes, snapping his fingers at me. “Where’s my suit? It’s not in the bloody cupboard where it should be.”
“Do you want me to find it, or do a flamenco dance?” I ask sharply. “Because I’m sure that’s the only possible reason that you could have for snapping your fingers at me.”
“Or maybe I just want you to come to heel,” he says wickedly, looking at me closely with his eyes full of malicious amusement.
“It’ll take more than a couple of fingers to do that,” I counter under my breath, turning to rifle through the cupboard where he keeps his spare clothes. The man is such a workaholic that he had once slept at the office for a whole week when there was an important deal going on, hence the need for spare clothes. “Here it is,” I exclaim triumphantly, as I pull out his navy blue, Hugo Boss suit. “It was behind your coat, which you never noticed, as you tend to look for things at a distance of three feet away from anything with your eyes closed.” I turn to find him watching me closely, his eyes seeming darker. “What?” I ask.
He shakes his head impatiently, as if dismissing what he had been thinking. “You’re very pert all of a sudden.”
I stare at him for a second. “Well it’s not every day I get a compliment like you just paid me.” I pause. “Actually it’s not every year either.”
“I compliment you,” he says crossly, shrugging into his shirt and covering that chest to my secret dismay.
“’Why the hell does it take four hours to get my coffee? Are you actually grinding the beans with your feet?’ and ‘Did Dopey the third dwarf type up this contract?’ are not compliments,” I say patiently, standing with his jacket held out so that he can slip into it.
He snorts. “The thought of your face when I said that still has the power to make me laugh.” I shake my head at him and he grins, his teeth white in his tanned, angular face. “No really, I was at a business luncheon with one of the senior partners the other day, and it made me laugh out loud.”
“What did he say?” The senior partners are not known for possessing any sort of sense of humour.
“I had to pretend that someone had fallen and broken their leg.”
I throw my head back laughing, but when I recover and turn back to him he’s staring at me intently again. “What?”
“I know I don’t give you a lot of compliments,” he begins slowly.
I lean forward eagerly. “Yes?”
“But I just want to say -”
“Are you ready, Mr Foster?” comes a nervous voice from the door. It’s James, the new intern, or victim, depending on what you want to call the young men who enter Gabe’s office arrogantly, and then shortly afterwards race back to university with their tails between their legs. “You said to meet you here, and that you’d walk down to the meeting with me?”
I put up a hand. “No, he isn’t ready yet, James. He was just about to give me a compliment, and as I’m sure that Margaret Thatcher was the Prime Minister the last time that happened, the meeting can wait.”
Gabe laughs and bats my hand down almost playfully, making James and I look at him like he’s grown two heads. “Sorry,” he says, moving towards James, who promptly straightens as if he’s standing in front of the firing squad. “Senior partners wait for no man’s compliments. Grab the forms from Dylan, James, and I’ll meet you at the elevators.” Buttoning his jacket he saunters off, amusement written all over him.
Silence falls, and I look up to see James staring at me in what looks like awe. “What?” I ask, gathering the folder with the papers that Gabe needs from my desk, and holding them out to him.
“You?” he whispers, coming to get them from me. “I can’t believe how you talk to him, Dylan.”
“What do you mean?”
“Last week I heard you tell him that never mind getting another degree, he ought to go back to primary school and learn how to write properly.”
I laugh. “Well he should. His notes look like a five year old did them.”
He shakes his head. “Why aren’t you scared of him like everyone else? He can be so utterly vile.”
I sober instantly. “No, he isn’t,” I say sharply. “He’s one of the fairest men that I’ve ever met. All he expects is for people to put one hundred percent into their work, the way that he does. He didn’t make the youngest partner in the firm’s history without being driven. He gives everything to the company, and all that he expects back is hard work and diligence. If you give him that, he’ll respect you.”
I can’t let his criticism go. Gabe might be a complete bastard, but I sort of think of him as my bastard, and I don’t like other people criticising him.
My message might have gone in more, if Gabe’s voice hadn’t snapped behind him at this point. “Are you ready, James, or would you like me to make you and Dylan a cup of tea so that you can continue your cosy chat? Maybe you could plait each other’s hair, and do your nails while you’re at it.”
James jumps about a foot in the air, before muttering apologies and rushing past Gabe. I shake my head disapprovingly, but Gabe just stands there for a second, staring at me with an inscrutable look on his face. Finally he speaks. “You forgot to mention loyalty.” I raise my eyebrows questioningly. “What I value most amongst employees, what stops my wrath, is loyalty.”
Not saying another word, he turns and silently vanishes down the corridor, leaving me staring after him.
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