At just before eight o'clock, on a chilly November morning, Henry Shepard sat in his cubicle at OFS Software and opened his laptop. The large open plan office was empty, with the rest of the thirty-strong workforce not due to start trickling in for another hour. The only other employee in the building at that time was the doorman, George Hobbs, friend and confidant, who had just presented Henry with a cup of decaf roast and an apple bran muffin which he'd acquired from Starbucks downstairs. George knew the reason why Henry was in early this morning - he needed time to mentally prepare himself for a meeting with the company vice-president, Kristin Hartman.
As Henry peeled the plastic lid from his coffee, he noticed that his hands were shaking. Once again, he tried to convince himself that there was no need to worry. He was still a valued member of the sales team and he had been at the company far longer than the relatively inexperienced vice president. Indeed, Henry had taught her most of what she knew about the company. Even so, no matter how hard he tried to rationalize it, the simple fact remained that he was apprehensive about this meeting - because he had a gut feeling that today he was going to be fired.
How different things had been a year ago. Henry had been the top sales executive in the small, but upwardly-mobile company, and the CEO, Brian Waterman, was paving the way for Henry to step up as his number two.
But all that began to change the day Kristin Hartman arrived. Henry should have smelled trouble the day they were introduced in Brian's office. He had already been informed that he would be working closely with this new hot-shot sales kid who had recently come over from one of their competitors. What he hadn't been prepared for was the fact that his new colleague was not only female, but also an absolute knockout. He vividly recalled the moment when they first shook hands and he was instantly struck by her poise and bearing. Even though she was dressed in a conservative business suit, it was clear that the young lady had a body to die for. Her skin was pale and flawless, and her hazel, almond-shaped eyes were the most captivating Henry had ever seen. His first reaction had been that things were looking up. How wrong could he have been?
Over the following months, Henry had guided Kristin through the inner-workings of the company. He'd reveled in the envious looks he was receiving from the other male employees as he went about his day accompanied by this voluptuous and well-heeled brunette. Certainly, Henry had initially entertained ideas of developing their relationship further. Who wouldn't have under those circumstances?
But Kristin had established the ground rules quickly. Through her polished manner, she had quickly made it clear that their association would remain strictly professional. Admittedly disappointed, Henry was both old enough and realistic enough to understand that the girl was way out of his league.
Apart from that side of things, Kristin proved to be bright and inquisitive. So much so, that after a few weeks, a little alarm bell had started ringing in Henry's head. Since joining OFS some four years earlier, he had been unrivalled in the sales and marketing department. Now he realized that he might have some serious competition here.
With the recession in full swing and clients everywhere tightening their belts, Henry's own figures had taken a bit of a downturn. He was not unduly concerned because situations like this, he knew, were cyclical by nature. But just over a year ago, three things had occurred which Henry had had no control over, and from which he had never recovered.
The first, which he observed to his dismay but not complete surprise, was the way Kristin used her considerable charms to influence the decisions of Brian Waterman. He was not the only one to notice, and in fact everybody could see what was g