The day outside was far too bright for Donna’s delicate sensitivities. She scrunched her eyes shut as the early morning rays got her right in the eyeballs once she entered the kitchen; shuffling about in her nightdress and dressing gown.
Days off are supposed to go better than this, even when they are enforced days off. Her previous temp job had finished the day before and she was left idling; waiting for the call from the temping agency. Already her mother had begun the accompanying litany about her getting a permanent position with the promise of a mortgage and future grandchildren; as if the two were linked. Donna huffed a sigh as she thought about the latest ear-battering she had received, the night before. Just what she needed. Not.
She took a sip of her first coffee of the day in a vain attempt to rally her spirits. Alas, it didn’t work. But a mini miracle happened; the phone rang.
“Hello. Donna Noble speaking. How can I help you?” she immediately broke into her well-rehearsed spiel.
“Hello, Donna,” came a smooth female voice she instantly recognised. “Patty here from the agency. Sorry this one’s a bit late, but we’ve just had a call requiring your services.”
“Gallifrey Productions, in Wembley Road. They need a secretary to cover some maternity leave for at least six weeks,” Patty replied. “Do you think you could get there as soon as possible? They’re a little bit desperate by the sound of it. Report to reception there and they’ll give you all the details. You know the ropes.”
“Will do. Thanks, Patty,” Donna confidently answered, and then politely ended the call.
As soon as possible, eh? She’d have to get her bum in gear and get dressed pretty sharpish, she realised. Donna rushed upstairs and surveyed her wardrobe for a suitable clean outfit.
Best to play it cool and go classical, she decided, and chose a simple white blouse and dark pencil skirt combo that would look the part. Secretaries were her forte after all, and she could learn the logistics of a new office in less than two hours; the office hierarchy in a similar time.
Grabbing up a pair of power dressing stiletto court shoes to take with her, she ran down the stairs to pick up her coat; and only then remembered that her usual wool coat was currently in the washing machine, having had some annoying brat of a kid on the bus drop their ice cream down the side of it the previous day. Damn! She would probably have to go with her parka, her old grey faithful Puffa coat, and dress better when the opportunity arose. Anyway, who bothered to look at the coat? Especially if she was hidden at the back of an office full of jobsworths. People who automatically judge you, a little voice in her head unhelpfully pointed out. But she had to ignore it because there was no other option unless she wanted to go without anything and risk getting soaking wet.
She opened the front door and peeped out. The miserable drizzle from a shower of rain had already begun, and things could go either way. Yep, best not to chance it, she decided, and made a grab for the Puffa and defiantly shrugged it on along with her comfy wellington boots. Sod ‘em if they wanted to deem her unfit! She’d be there to help with their paperwork, not swan up and down in a fashion parade. Anyone who criticised her choice of clothing would get the sarcastic retort she’d been saving up for such an occasion.
A few seconds later she was striding confidently down the road towards the nearest bus stop to catch the number 111 going to Hounslow, and greet her new commute for the next six weeks.
By the time the bus made its way passed the railway station and entered Wembley Road, most of the seats on the bus were completely empty and there as only one other person sitting on the bottom deck. They must have easily covered half of the route that bus normally took; travelling against the rush hour and further out towards the M25. Four hundred yards along the road, Donna’s destination loomed large and she frantically pressed the bell before the driver could ignore her bus stop and continue along the route. She didn’t want to have to walk too far when there was a deluge of rain teeming down
It didn’t look too bad so far; she consoled herself from beneath her hood. A large modern building that could have fitted in perfectly in Milton Keynes and the numerous business headquarters that were located there. This particular place had the name ‘Gallifrey Productions’ written across it in large blue neon letters. Very classy. The designer brickwork and huge tinted windows finished it off a treat.
Stepping into the building, the whole place reeked of money. Several photos of well-known actors, directors and writers tastefully adorned the walls as she flip-flopped across the marble flooring towards the reception desk and the air stewardess standard receptionist standing behind it. Apparently they weren’t allowed to actually sit at such desks anymore; it upset the aesthetic.
All style and no content, Donna thought as she got nearer. Or as her elderly great aunt used to declare: all top coat and no knickers. The stray thought made her want to giggle, but she managed to hold it in. It wouldn’t do to start her stint here as a temp on the wrong foot. Now sore feet, she considered as she eyed the impressively high heels that the receptionist wore, were a different matter entirely. Having done the job in the past, her full sympathies went out to the woman.
“Hello, I believe you are expecting me. My name is Noble. Donna Noble,” she supplied once she reached the desk.
There was an answering nod of acknowledgement after a generalised greeting accompanied by a waft of strong perfume. It was everything she had expected it to be; but the glossiness of the office reception failed to intimidate Donna as she stood awaiting further instructions about her latest assignment. All she had so far was an address and a name, and a can-do attitude.
The woman on reception scrolled her well-manicured finger down a list on her clipboard and then grinned encouragingly. “Ah yes, Miss Noble. You are to go John Smith’s office.”
“Can you tell me where I can find him, please?” Donna politely requested.
According to her name badge, it was Marianne who was assisting her. She pleasantly smiled and pointed towards somewhere behind her left ear. “Down the corridor, through the double doors and then third door on the right. Large brass plaque on the door. You can’t miss it.”
At that precise moment a dark suited figure swept up to the side of Donna, ignoring her presence in front of the desk as he picked up a clipboard from the topmost surface to tick something off and then asked the receptionist, “Did anything come in for me today?”
“No,” Marianne answered. “But…,” she began to add futilely, pointing meaningfully towards Donna in front of her.
But he wasn’t paying attention. Instead, he turned his head and strode purposefully away from them without looking back before she could explain further.
“That’s him,” Marianne hastily whispered to Donna. “Quick! Follow him.”
So she did.
Now normally someone would be acutely aware they were being followed; and in an office situation you’d expect them to turn and joke about you possibly doing so on purpose. In light of that, Donna was expecting him to turn to look at her and make some sort of enquiry.
Well, he turned his head. But he did little more than sniff dismissively and walk faster as though she was a bad smell. Not that she could complain that he smelt bad. Not in the slightest. In fact his after shave was rather delightful as it wafted down the corridor in his wake. She liked it. So much so that part of her was tempted to stop him and ask what brand it was. Once he’d sneered at her though she quickly changed her mind. He could keep his after shave and shove it where the sun don’t shine! Gramps would be getting something completely different for Christmas.
When he didn’t even hold the swing door open for her, she started to see red. How dare he? What an arse! By the time she entered the third door and the correct office with the plaque that told her she was entering serious boss territory, she was plotting how to poison his morning coffee. Or his tea, if that was his preference. It didn’t matter; she was adaptable.
The room she entered was light and airy, filled with a modern décor that included a desk, filing cabinets, and several cupboards. It led off to unknown rooms via two other doors, and one corner had a kitchenette. But her attention was grabbed by the man she had followed.
Perhaps it would be better if she didn’t think of grabbing in that moment. Mainly because he was bent low over the desk, as though he had forgotten his glasses or something, peering intently at an image on a computer monitor and raking his fingers through his artfully spikey brown hair. ‘Nice bum’ momentarily flitted through her mind; as did making a joke about recognising his face. Best not to do that sort of thing just yet either.
“I don’t have time to see you,” he testily stated without looking up. “My secretary isn’t here which means I’m having to cope on my own. Everything is frustratingly messed up, so you’ll have to email me or phone later for an appointment.”
It was only then that he bothered to look up.
What he saw was the woman in the saggy grey coat who had followed him down from main reception. Like one of those Potty Time characters that used to be on the television when he was a small child, all he could see was the huge decrepit coat, booted feet, and a nose peeping out from under the enormous hood.
Obviously he recognised her as the person who had followed him in the corridor, because it flickered across his face for a brief moment.
He only knew it was a woman because she had spoken a sarcastic “thanks” behind him when he had made his way to his office. Her footwear could have belonged to anyone. Well, anyone who tended to stomp the streets all day long in shapeless boots. More than part of him was at the ready to dismiss her from his sight as soon as she made her plea for a donation of some sort.
He then glared at her in silence, daring her to stay and further annoy him.
“I’ve already got my appointment, thank you,” she announced and set her bag down on the nearest chair. “Where do you want me to sit?”
His nostrils flared as he bit down on the response he oh so badly wanted to give about where she could sit in that precise second. “Did you not just hear me?” he spat out.
“Yes,” she drawled, dragging out the syllable to underline her sarcasm. “That’s why I’m here.”
He watched her unbutton her coat, with increasing contempt. “May I ask who exactly you are?”
As if him going all mean and nasty on her would put her off! What a div.
“I’m Donna,” she forced herself to brightly trill, taking down the hood off her coat and looking around for somewhere to hang it. She chose the back of a chair for now. “Donna Noble, your replacement secretary, Mr Smith. The agency said it will be at least a month’s worth of work, possibly two, but they only told me this morning, so I couldn’t get here any earlier.”
As she spoke, she brought out from her bag a pair of stilettos, toed off her boots and proceeded to put the shoes on. She then removed her coat, adjusted the fall of her long ginger hair to make sure it wasn’t in her face, smoothed down her skirt over her wide hips and turned to face him properly; pasting on a confident smile.
What! He stood gawping at her and he really shouldn’t have done; but he was caught totally off guard by the vision before him. It was like one of those transformations they do on daytime television. A touch of the “And tonight Matthew, I’m going to be….,” about it. And like with such shows, the resulting transformation was stunning.
A couple of his fingers flailed through the air. “This will be your desk,” he feebly informed her, placing a hand on said desk as though there was a choice in the room. “I tend to be through there,” he continued with a nod of his head towards a nearby door. “I’ve no idea where Susan keeps things out here but you’ll soon work things out and find your way around. There’s a small kitchen right behind you.”
She’d guessed as much, having swept her gaze expertly around the office space. It was a little bit daunting though, just him and her in there and no sign of anybody else to talk to during the day. On the other hand, IF she had to end up poisoning him there’d be no witnesses, she joked to herself.