(Sabotage: The Beastie Boys)
“You ready, wonder boy?” Gerry laid a hot hand on Nick’s shoulder, like an uncle about to give unwanted whisky-breathed advice on how to handle the girls.
Nick nodded, although he didn’t feel ready to speak, let alone give the most important presentation of his career. His throat was dry and tight, and a nerve jumped in his neck.
“Deep breath, son. Then walk in, head held high, shoulders back, and give the buggers what they want. This is your big moment, my son.”
Nick swallowed, and felt like he was going to choke. Gerry was right, now was his time. Deliver today, and he’d be in there himself, the youngest person round the walnut boardroom table. Paid more than he could think how to spend--although Jen would have plenty of ideas--he'd be locked in, tied down, committed. Give him another ten years and he’d be Gerry, with halitosis and a protégée, having spent a decade doing nothing but things that he didn't care about. He’d tried talking to Jen, but she’d just stared at him as if he was mad and said, “Nick, you don’t have to care. Who the fuck cares?”
Gerry slapped Nick’s back, the same way he did when he made a sexist joke about a waitress, and Nick took a ragged breath, pushed the heavy door open and walked into the boardroom.
A dozen men in dark suits looked up and nodded. Nick paused, gave them the hundred-watt smile, shot his cuffs, walked confidently to the front of the room. The laptop was on, his presentation already loaded, already checked, nothing left to chance. He felt as if there was thick glass between him and the world, like the last time he'd had flu. When he had run through his presentation with Jen the night before, he came to a halt at one point, as if he had forgotten how to speak. She frowned and made that shape with her mouth he didn’t like, and told him he had to do better than that on the day, their futures and all her plans depended upon it.
Nick pointed the remote, switched the projector on from stand-by, ready to go. Slide after slide of
graphs and charts and single bullet points that had taken him an hour each to get right. The white tape of the finishing line was in sight, and he knew what it would mean when he burst through it in triumph. One of the boys. A company man. Golf days and cigars. The new house that Jen had already designed a hundred times over, space on the drive for her Range Rover and his Lexus and still room for more when the other company men and their botoxed wives came for the regular dinner and drinks, lots and lots of drinks. It all came down to the next half an hour. Do this, and his life would be set, a triumphant procession from good school to good university to girlfriend to good job to fiancee to promotion to wife to a seat around this table until early retirement and nothing to keep him from the golf course other than angina.
“Gentlemen,” Nick said, and he didn’t need to add anything else because there wasn’t a single woman present. “I am here today to show you the sales plan for the Minerva Project, the single most important development in this company's history, and a project which will revolutionise the packaging industry forever.”
Nods around the room. An expectant silence. An encouraging wink, from Gerry.
“But I have to show you something much more important than that,” Nick said, and the fog lifted and he felt alive. “Gentlemen, I am going to show you something more awe-inspiring than the Minerva Project, something that will mean you never forget today, something which shows the depth of my feeling about this company, about you all as colleagues, about everything.”
As he undid his trousers and the shouting began, Nick looked out of the boardroom window, and watched a gull lazily drift and bank through a cloudless blue sky.