Two weeks into my assignment from Hell, things aren't looking up. It was bad enough to be given a local government account, let alone the fanatically organised Milton Maynard - I'm even expected to fill in a timesheet. They'll want me to sign out for coffee breaks next. Milton Maynard's chief information officer, Lucy Livesey, was disturbingly frank: she had brought me in so that I'd get the flak if her scheme to provide electronic charging for cars went belly up. Ms Livesey dumped the whole project in my hands. Nothing started, nothing organised, just "here's the requirements, get on with it". She obviously doesn't understand the delicate balance of responsibility between a consultant and client. I advise, I recommend, I direct - I don't usually "get on with it". We make the decisions, she takes the blame - that's the standard contract. Unfortunately she's paying, though, and even the niceties of the consulting relationship give way to the prime directive - we'll do anything for money. I sat for five minutes in the little office they have allocated me (not exactly on a par with Ms Livesey's lush mahogany palace), contemplating the futility of panic. Then I went into overdrive. Amazingly, the phone, fax and PC were all in place and working. Email was set up. Everything was suspiciously efficient. Was this really local government, or was Milton Maynard Council a cover for some multinational organisation? Whatever, I was in business. I soon amassed a staff of nearly a dozen part-time workers to my cause. I ought to explain that, despite a natural loathing for local government, I had had some early experience (carefully expunged from my CV). An old local government hand taught me the secret of getting staff. As everyone had too much to do, they were always glad of an opportunity to take a day off from the pressure. As long as it was only a part-time activity (preferably for a special task force) they would drop their real job at a moment's notice - and it still works today. Brandishing Ms Livesey's name, I had all the staff I needed. It seemed as if everything was fine, when I went to report. I had groups looking at technologies, charging, distribution - the works. Admittedly I had no results yet, but it was all ticking over smoothly. Ms Livesey listened blankly. When I had finished, she nodded briefly. "So you will be able to give a demonstration of a prototype in a fortnight's time? We've got the Society of Local Authority Councils meeting at Milton Maynard. It would be an excellent opportunity to show how advanced we are. You won't let me down, will you?" This was not a question, it was a threat. As she showed me out, Ms Livesey stopped me. "Oh, by the way, you aren't marking coffee breaks on your time sheets. Get them sorted for next time." Why me?
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