The room was beginning to fill up with people. Several groups of business owners had formed, coffee cups in hand. The chatter of small talk buzzed back and forth.
It was Jane's first networking meeting. She had been employed by others for years, but now she had taken the plunge and struck out on her own. She knew she had to get out there and meet people.
“Come along with me,” Sam had said. “There's coffee and a breakfast roll, and they're a friendly bunch.”
So here Jane was at Sam's elbow at some ungodly hour of the morning, clutching a coffee cup and trying to look like she felt confident. A grey suit hovered on the edge of their conversation, over-filled with a portly chap in his fifties.
“Jane, have you met Nigel before?” asked Sam. It looked like Sam was great at this networking stuff. She seemed to know everybody in the room, and Jane was grateful for it.
“Wow, you're short, aren't you?” said Nigel, shaking Jane's hand a little too firmly.
“And you look like a pig in a wig,” was how Jane wanted to reply, but she actually said, “Yes, I am. I shouldn't have started smoking in infant school, I suppose.”
Nigel guffawed heartily and thrust a business card into Jane's hand. “If there's ever anything I can do for you, legally speaking, give me a call. I'd be happy to help.”
He gave Jane a toothy grin and walked off to stand with several other grey-suited gentlemen by the coffee table. Jane blinked at Sam.
“What?” Sam asked.
“What do you mean, what?” said Jane. “'You're short, aren't you?' And he didn't even ask what I do.” She looked at the bendy business card in her hand. Nigel Jones, Corporate Law, it said. Phone number. Email. That was it.
“Oh, that's just the way he is,” said Sam.
Jane looked at the back of Nigel's head as it nodded sagely at something a tall, suave looking man was saying. All the men in Nigel's group were looking up at this tall man. Mr Suave Suit laughed. Then Nigel and his buddies laughed too. Jane's mouth twitched into a half smile and she turned back to talk to Sam again.
But Sam was turned sideways, talking animatedly with the only other woman in the room, a smart lady in a navy skirt suit. Before Jane could move around to join them, she spotted another grey suit, slightly darker grey than Nigel, making a beeline for her. He was still fifteen feet away, but he was clearly locked on to his target. A business card was clutched in his hand. There was eye contact; there was no escape.
“Hello,” he said, arm outstretched as he approached.
She took the proffered hand. “Derek,” he said. “Nice to meet you.” This particular suit didn't seem to go for the shaking method of handshake. Instead, he kept his right hand and hers still, and he crossed over the handshake – or hand grasp, rather – with his left in a well-practised maneouvre. Between the first and second fingers was the business card.
Jane took it hastily, but he kept the handshake tight.
“I'm Jane,” she said. “I'm -”
“Lovely to have another woman at the meeting,” said Derek. “Do you have your insurance taken care of, may I ask?”
“Yes, public liability, professional indemnity, all that kind of thing. I have twelve years' experience and I have some of the biggest companies in the area in my portfolio.”
“That's... good,” said Jane. She wriggled her fingers. He released her from the hand grasp.
“I'd love to meet to discuss how I can help you, Jean,” Derek said.
“It's not Jean. It's Ja-”
Just then a bell rang.
“Can we all take our seats, please?” called a voice which turned out to belong to Mr Suave Suit. “Let's stay on schedule, if we can.”
Jane took a deep breath and followed Sam to their table. A lamb to the slaughter.