I suppose what first intrigued me about Elena was her long jet-black hair. The hair always was the hook for me. Sure, when she flashed that cosmic-ray smile her skin seemed to vibrate with a golden radiance. That helped. That helped enormously, but it was definitely the hair. The hair. Despite her advancing years, she looked like a Disney princess. She had a manner about her that wafted away all the problems of the world in one breezy flash. I imagined she had an army of little animal helpers who did the washing up at home while she sang sweet songs and busied herself tossing and brushing her tresses and looking pretty. On more than one occasion, I had found myself lingering a little longer than was decent on her siren features. I must rein that in I thought. Mustn't make it too obvious. She effortlessly held my undivided attention throughout the entire morning.
Other blokes in the office had warned me about her though. They said she was a 'cow'. Geoff Breen had had a nasty run-in with her a few weeks back. He'd fantasised about her long enough before making his move but she'd cut him dead in an instant. He still thought about her every day but was so screwed up. "I don't know whether I want to shag her or punch her in the face", he'd told me. "Maybe both, maybe neither. I don't fucking know. She's a right cow. Probably a lesbian." We'd laughed about that but the problem was that Geoff doesn't understand women, not like I do. I know the score, know the drill. You have to be a bit smart, and you know, sensitive. Women don't always like the caveman approach and Geoff's as subtle as a brick through a window. Now I was seeing Elena for the first time I could see what all the fuss was about, but I had her sussed.
If the shimmering hair had provided the initial hook, the shiny and attractive bait that first drew me in, it was a curious dichotomy I saw in her personality that started to hold me captive. She was an unlikely mix of cultural references, an unholy alliance of disparate ideologies, but you know, a woman's a woman's a woman. I understood this lady.
She had this strict Catholic upbringing thing about her, so evident in the slightly pinched features she projected when making a serious point; the cross and chain necklace she allowed to drape over the top of her clothes. Not so much Madonna, more Mother Teresa if you will. No, no, not Mother Teresa, God no, more like Joan of Arc, probably. Hard but still feminine, you know. The buttoned up blouse and the sensible shoes were the obvious legacies I thought, of disapproving nuns and staid Sunday school rigour. I got all that.
And yet more dominant than this was a seemingly Bohemian outlook on life, personified by the deliciously floppy hat she had tossed onto the coat stand as she announced her arrival for our meeting. That, and the madly erotic whiff of her musky perfume spoke to me of exciting things, perhaps of something molten beneath the skin, a throbbing sexuality? It just needed the right man who understood. I fixed the knot in my tie. The one in my throat was harder to deal with. And Christ, was that a marijuana plant she had tattooed on the back of her neck?
"So", she said (and she seemed to be looking specifically at me), "What do you think Michael? You've been very quiet. Cat got your tongue?"
"Oh, I'm in complete agreement", I heard myself croak. "We have to make concessions. We can't always be seen to be beating our staff with a stick."
"You've changed your tune", sighed Martin. "You were all for cracking down hard this morning. 'Give them the fucking dole queue if that's what they want', you said."
Elena smiled. Without taking her eyes off mine she announced, "Martin, you have to remember that changing one's mind requires one to have a mind to change. I think Michael's being sensible, very sensible." She ran slender fingers through her hair and a fresh rush of perfumed silk hit my nostrils. And, God, did she really wink at me then or was it just a facial tick? Clearly, I had her in the palm of my hand.
"Michael, this is bollocks. Think about it from the company's point of view", said Ian. "We can't back down now. We'll look like fools. The press will slaughter us."
"Well, Michael and I now see eye to eye on this", said Elena. "It's clear there's some mileage in talking this thing over a bit more."
Elena fixed her gaze on Martin and tossed her hair again. I knew she was doing it for my benefit. It was like candy from a baby. I fumbled for the knot in my tie. Geoff Breen's going to be so jealous I thought.