Spanish Groom(9)

By: Lynne Graham

Only as she shut the door behind her did she notice the little clutch of staff standing with dropped jaws further down the corridor.

'And you OK, Dixie?' Bruce Gregory enquired kindly.

One of the directors put his arm round her in a very paternal way to walk her away. 'We'll get you sorted out with a job some place else.'

'Not in a bank,' someone whispered ruefully.

'Ever thought of cooking for a living?' another voice asked brightly. 'You're a great cook.''A restaurant kitchen could be very stressful, though.'

'And I drop things,' Dixie muttered, a sense of being a total failure creeping over her.

'Imagine you telling Cesar to go to hell!' the director remarked bracingly.

'But he'll never let Personnel give her a decent reference now,' Bruce groaned as the older man slotted her into a seat in the office she shared with a couple of the secretaries. Just about everybody on the whole floor seemed to crowd around her then.

'He tried to blackmail me,' Dixie mumbled sickly.

'Say that again...' someone breathed.

Dixie reddened, and then turned very pale with fright at what she had almost revealed in her distress and buttoned her mouth. 'Don't mind me...I don't know what I'm s-saying,' she stammered fearfully.

And she registered then that her brain was in a state of complete flux. What Cesar Valverde had suggested already seemed completely unreal, a figment of her own fevered imagination. A fake engagement to please Jasper? A fantasy slim line Dixie Mark Two, united even in pretence with Cesar's icy sophistication? Did blue moons come up in pairs?

'I don't know what we're going to do for a laugh around here now,' someone lamented.

'You'll have to get your goldfish out of the fountain... wasn't the ideal environment for them anyway. Cesar raised Cain when he saw you out there feeding them,' Bruce reminded her ruefully.

'There's only one now, and I don't even have an aquarium!' Dixie sobbed, because it felt like absolutely the last straw. To take her goldfish out of the fountain below Cesar Valverde's office and never, ever come back into the building? Suddenly she felt completely bereft and cut adrift

Across the room, her desk was being cleared for her. One carrier bag grew into three as books, knitting, fish food and sundry items were removed from the crammed drawers. Tissues were supplied and a glass of water was pressed on her. 'We're all going to really miss you, we had a bit of a whip round.' She was mortified when a large fat envelope was thrust by Bruce into her shoulder bag. She realised then that everyone had known even before she did that she was getting the sack, and had been waiting to comfort her.

'I'll give you a lift home with your bags,' Bruce volunteered.

The chipped china jardiniere was filched from beneath the dying cactus on her desk, and the goldfish she had found abandoned at the bus stop in a plastic bag removed with some difficulty from the fountain and temporarily rehoused.

'I just can't get over how kind everyone's been,' Dixie confided as she climbed into Brace's car in the basement car park.

She clutched the planter with careful hands, gazing down at the single handsome goldfish she had secretly christened, Cesar. He had eaten his original companion, and even the one she'd actually bought for him, fearing that he would be lonely. Cesar the fish was up near the surface, patrolling with fast flicks of his tail. Dixie gave him a loving and abstracted smile,

'Cesar can be a real bastard. But the guy's a complete genius. You can't expect him to be human too. Try not to think about it. Go round and do Scott's washing...or whatever,' Bruce advised, striving to be upbeat. "That always seems to give you a lift.'

Yes, it did, she acknowledged ruefully, only this evening she would be waiting tables. But doing anything for Scott gave her the feeling that she had some small personal stake in his busy life. And in the right mood, if Scott didn't have a hot date or wasn't eating out, he might suggest that she cooked some supper and stayed to eat with him. She lived for those infrequent invitations.

'You were in with Cesar a very long time,' Brace commented abruptly.

'We talked a little about Jasper.'

'Dixie...why did you say Cesar tried to blackmail you? ''I must've been trying to make a silly joke...'

Bruce sent her scared face a covert appraisal. 'He never did approve of your friendship with the old man. Can't think why.'

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