Career Advice - A British Farce

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What is it like to live in the shadow of a successful, infinitely more popular sibling – and where does the git get off being younger and better looking?

Meet Bill Turrock; a balding, middle-aged community centre worker who likes nothing better than playing second fiddle to his brother, a best selling self-help writer, who, amongst his many achievements, helped save The Sunny Centre from closure. Living and working with his mothering mother Lily, Bill struggles with the locals constant fawning of his brother (‘Saint Robert’) and the day to day running of the place. Not helping matters are ditzy volunteer Deirdre and wise cracking cook Tracy. However, as bad as things seem now, it can only get worse for poor Bill Turrock…


Chapter 1

He’s desperate for an out. Bill knew he should’ve avoided Mr Grady. The man peeves him to the hilt and bloody well knows it – at least Bill suspects as much. He’s never certain whether the git does it on purpose. Either way, it never fails to test his patience (or blood pressure).

But no, Bill said to himself, this time, whatever the subtle barbs lined up, sod it. Let him try. Don’t let him think he’s getting under the skin.

Mr Grady, a spindly, rat like figure, is a semi-regular at the centre and hadn’t wasted much time since collaring Bill during the latter’s sly attempt to slip into the kitchen undetected. Relaxed in his seat, he’d caringly voiced concerns regarding Bill’s “tired skin”. Obviously in an attempt to get under it, one first had to poke at the surface.

The attire is now being given a disconcerting stare.

‘…Your shirt… is that the style now, having it half tucked in?’

What next, thinks Bill, frowning at a crease?

Mr Grady looks down to Bill’s feet. Eyebrows promptly go back the way they came.

‘Slippers…!’

‘They’re not slippers, they’re slip-ons.’

‘No need to be tense. Not really a high stress job this, is it…’

‘Not usually, no,’ agrees Bill, wanting to whack the sod over the head with his slip-on.

Grady is one of those people who invite thoughts of physical violence. The longer you remain in their company, the more your insides fill with contempt and visions of prolonged vivisection.

‘So, that brother of yours…!’ says Mr Grady, trailing off, his face lighting up with a dreamy admiration.

Bill’s face drops like a brick.

It’s the one topic Bill knew would be broached, and then thoroughly discussed; that of his oh-so-perfect brother, Robert. Grady never fails to bring it up. It’s like trying to avoid the subject of death while attending a seminar for aspiring morticians.

‘Lovely guy. Lovely lovely guy,’ coos Grady with disgusting vim.

Can no-one talk about anything else? Robert’s done this, Robert’s said that!

‘Smart too… and not just with the clothing…’

He now eyes Bill’s excuse for a shirt.

Forty, short, balding and podgy, Bill Turrock is hardly the cream of the crop. That being said, he does try every so often to make an effort appearance wise – today not being one of those days. But even when the attire does pass the MOT, and like it always seems to be, Bill gets compared to his younger, taller, trimmer, handsomer, and fashionabler (although it’s not a word) brother.

Now straining to suppress the self consciousness, Bill stays steadfast with the slip-ons. He does however fold in the tucked out bit of shirt. The current café companion meanwhile – who himself has a face only a mother, blind in both eyes, could love, looks poised to re-open the bazoo, ready to no doubt resume gushing, when, thank Christ, the phone rings at reception.

It’s the out silently prayed for.

Please be somebody selling insurance, thinks Bill. They might keep him on until Grady gets bored and scuttles back to his sewer. At least their questions won’t pertain to slippers and overrated siblings…

Bill now indicates the phone to Rat Features, feigning sadness while hiding the immeasurable relief. He then makes sure not to rush off, contrary to the strong instinct telling him to do so.

A leisurely pace is set, and Bill rewards himself with the seeds of a smile – but then, halfway, a stomach lurching sight strikes. The office door knob begins to twist. His mother Lily is, at this very precise moment, springing herself into phone answering action – and more importantly, currently closer to the receiver than he is.

No!

Bill rapidly accelerates, before craning a neck to Mr Grady to check the glaring example of desperation isn’t being witnessed.

Don’t look back, it’s slowing you down!

Lily pops her head out. Bill pounces for it (the phone) with his closest outstretched hand. Unfortunately, he doesn’t so much grab as knock and the receiver falls back behind the reception desk. Luckily, Bill’s already draped over the desk; so, like a parched rambler bringing up the well bucket, he grabs the dangling cable and starts pulling up the receiver with tiny, overwrought tugs, grateful the centre’s yet to make the leap to wireless. He then straightens back up, having regained the phone and most of his bearings, only to soon realise the all or nothing pounce and pull was in vain; Lily remains peeking out from the office door, not having moved a solitary sodding inch.

Bill waits stony-faced for his mother to retreat. Once she obliges, the phone’s brought to the ear with a rejuvenated, unabashed flourish.

‘Hello, The Sunny Centre! …Yoga?

Bill checks the schedule book.

‘Yes, back to normal this week. They’ve finished the road works. OK…’

Listening in, he waits. Then the face begins to drop, dread doing the opposite.

She’s wrapping up!

A check on Grady. Don’t send me back there, please, for the love of God…!

‘Any more questions, about the centre, in general…? What else would you like your local community centre to offer?’

Waiting, Bill suddenly brightens. The caller has resumed speech. He listens, rapt – but, after a moment, he comes over rather confused.

‘…Tai Chi? Well, I’ll have to ask the chef… hello?

Bill listens to the dial tone, doubly nonplussed.

The man currently placing down the phone isn’t the most cultured person you could bump into. It’s a sheltered life lived thus far, the elder Turrock brother never having the urge to discover and try new things. Although want to admit it, it’s a fear of the unknown. Bill likes routine, sticking to the things he knows and the confidence that brings. It’s unsettling enough having his mother think up unnecessary new classes to involve him in (“Learn Sign Language”, “Discover First Aid”, “Keep Fit”) without taking requests for strange exotic dishes!

‘Bill…?’

He doesn’t bother to turn, staring ahead, expressionless.

‘Yes, Mother…’

‘Who you talking to…?’

‘A nosy bugger,’ mutters Bill to himself.

One may also assume contentment has curbed a more open minded and outgoing approach to life – not so. Working with, not to mention still living with his sprightly mother Lily, he aches for independence like a sulky adolescent. However, the safety of the familiar and the fear of the unfamiliar keeps him entrenched. He’s been stuck in a secure but stifling rut for twenty odd years.

The jaunty mother has now fully encroached herself behind the desk, halfway through chomping a juicy green apple. She immediately clocks Mr Grady staring over, eyeing the former company’s return. Bill hasn’t noticed, having purposefully avoided the gaze that’s sure to be there.

‘D’you want me to help?’

Lily indicates the café.

Here she is again, bemoans Bill, sticking her cheery oar in.

‘No Mother, I’m handling it.’

She smiles maternally, takes a great chunk from her Granny Smith then disappears back into the office. Bill breathes a sigh of relief before glancing back to the café.

The heart sinks.

Frignow I’ve been lumbered with Grady again!

Spurning Mother’s help without thinking has become a force of habit. He looks back to the office, regretful, fighting the temptation to make a play for the door knob. He goes for it – but stops short.

No, you’re a grown man! Pull yourself together. He’s seen you… you can’t just ignore him… Robert wouldn’t ignore him! Mr Grady will tell you that Robert wouldn’t ignore him!

There’s also an urge to keep his mother away from Grady, solely to prevent the pair chatting All Things Robert, something Lily can make both light and long work of (and has done intolerably since the dawn of time).

And so, resigning himself to resumed torture, Bill takes a deep breath and turns to face his fate. Hesitant, and with a feeble smile, he edges over.

The lobby doors open behind.

A woman has entered!

Not missing a beat, Bill swings himself around, bailing back towards reception, struggling not to fling both arms out to the stranger in overjoyed welcome. He opens the mouth instead, and speech is about to emanate when Lily swiftly re-joins from the office, catches the visitors attention and the pair begin chin-wagging over the desk.

Bill comes to an abrupt halt. He glares over with a deep loathing, grating his teeth at the injustice.

Interfering frigger.

Fate is sealed. It’s a one-way ticket to Mr Grady. Or is it…?

Just look busy!

Plan forming, attention lands on the wooden island beside; the rectangular storage block centre of the room. Perfect. Plan formed, and still facing away from the undesired entity, Bill begins a timid two steps back, two steps across manoeuvre.

Destination is reached without incident. He now gets busy neatening up the already tidy island; nudging a pen pot half an inch to the left… turning one of the pens upside down then placing it back into the pot… taking the same pen out and putting it in his top pocket… taking it back out, turning it upside down then putting it back in his top pocket…

A cough from behind.

Bill continues as though he’s lost the use of his lugs, humming to drown out any future splutters.

Just then, the woman at reception becomes the woman passing into the café. Bill absently turns to observe and follow the crossover. Unfortunately, Mr Grady’s beady peepers take note and are rewarded when the onlooker accidentally makes eye contact.

Shit!

Bill remains completely rigid, clutching to the vain hope he’ll somehow blend into the surroundings.

But chameleon he isn’t. Mr Grady starts waving his little rat hand.

Foiled, the statue suddenly comes to life.

‘Ah! There you are…,’ says Bill, excuses on the fly not his forte, something he’s now all too aware of, his face matching the red wall behind like some sort of specialized lizard.

‘Still here…,’ says Mr Grady, squinting a smile.

Dessert?’

‘Thought you’d forgotten about me!’

‘No. No chance of that,’ says Bill, glancing away, sullen.

‘Ah, good. Well, we were chatting about your brother before, weren’t we?’

‘Yes, you were.’

Bill knew he’d bring it up again. Knew.

‘Before you ran off to wherever it was.’

‘Telephone.’

‘And forgot to come back…’

Mr Grady gives him the soft accusing eye. Bill turns away, rolling his.

‘…Well!’ booms Mr Grady with a sudden burst of energy, slapping a hand on the armrest. ‘I still can’t believe it, can you?’

Starting at the slap, Bill’s jerked back into the conversation.

‘Hmm?’

Robert! …His success! Read his Positivity book again last night. You must be proud.’

‘Yes. I didn’t know you could read…’

Mr Grady thinks he heard something but isn’t sure.

‘And his charity work too, what he’s done for this town… what he’s given…’

‘Do you want dessert…?’

I could take the order through to the kitchen, take temporary refuge…

With this in mind, Bill brings the pad and newly acquired pen from his top pocket. Mr Grady, meanwhile, seems to have sunk into a reverie, nodding his head with ardent satisfaction. Dreaming of desserts?

‘Well, Robert has a great love for the town, for the people, doesn’t he… people like me…’

‘A rare quality, yes,’ drawls Bill.

Play the git at his own game

‘Spoke to him a few months back. Book signing. So genuine, sincere too… you ask him something, you get a straight answer…’

‘A rare quality, yes,’ repeats Bill, twiddling pen on pad.

‘Well, you do get some who try the old avoidance tactics if they don’t like the topic. Not Robert.’

‘So, what would you like for dessert?’

‘Well, it’s obvious when you think about it.’

‘Apple tart?’

‘He’s just a great guy. Plain and simple. The sort that could have a chat with anyone about anything. He’ll always find the time. Now that’s a rare quality!’

‘Do you want anything for dessert, Mr Grady?

‘No, I’m full up. Thanks!’

Bill’s seething inside. He stuffs the pad and pen back in the top pocket with enough force to rip the stitching. He’s also unable to contain a huff of annoyance as he turns to leave the irritant, one who now slowly lifts the head with coy innocence, eyes drifting in the departee’s direction.

‘Just wanted a chat. Never mind.’

Bill stops dead at a table. He presses a hand down hard, nails digging into the wood surface. A murderous mist has descended. Eyes bulging, he swipes up a knife from the table, whips around and comes up behind. He now mimes stabbing Mr Grady in numerous parts of the head and upper body.

The intended victim turns.

The mime seamlessly transitions into an innocent polish of the blade, aided by the whipping out of an old wrinkled tissue from the trouser pocket – Bill realising the ‘don’t let Grady think he’s getting under the skin’ mantra might come unstuck if he’s found sticking the knife through his.

Just then, having descended the main stairs, Mr Brooking passes behind. A plain looking guy, distinguished only by his navy works uniform, he retakes the seat on the farthest table to the left, a fair distance from Stab Central.

Concurrent to this, Bill’s on the move himself, pondering what Mr Grady inferred. Is Robert friendlier than me? Is that how people see me… the moody grump? Bill’s had paranoid tendencies before, often thinking people were talking about his paranoid tendencies, but with a brother like Robert he can’t help worrying how he comes across in comparison. Although unsociable and introverted, the idea that people assume this about him doesn’t sit well, especially given his delusion that it’s codswallop. Bill tells himself it’s the pests that surround him (Mother and Grady for two) that make him such a withdrawn sourpuss. He feels in possession of, or at least the capability of, that genuine, down to earth charm his brother supposedly radiates with aplomb – more so in fact. While Robert’s shut off in his writing room or touring the local homeless shelters and hospital wards waving his chequebook, spouting the same empty small talk, Bill’s stuck in the community centre day in day out dealing with the common folk first hand – that makes him the grounded one.

Reminded if not reassured, Bill takes a heavy breathe in. Eyes then fix on Mr Brooking, the other café occupant, one currently perusing the menu.

He looks like a run of the mill ordinary man, or “bloke” as people say. I can talk with him no problem.

The impulse to prove himself right remains strong, as does the opportunity to prove a certain rodent otherwise. Bill shoots an insolent yet purposeful stare back at the aforementioned, effective if only he wasn’t staring at him from behind.

I’ll show that know-all.

Bill swivels to face Mr Brooking head on. He strides forward, confident, then detours at the last second to the drinks cabinet. The nearest bottle is swiftly glugged for Dutch courage. Then, after an undignified wipe of the chin, he whips back over, the wine having done its work.

Still holding the bottle, unblinking eye contact meets the gaze of Mr Brooking, who, having surveyed since the swig, looks on a tad perturbed.

‘Um… hello! Drink?’

‘Coffee please,’ says Mr Brooking, averting gaze back to the menu.

He then looks back up to find Bill filling his glass with Cabernet Sauvignon.

‘Oh.’

Grasping the faux pas, and quickly flushing with embarrassment, Bill takes the glass and proceeds to try pour it back in the bottle. He struggles. Now a darker shade than the plonk, Bill promptly gives up the ghost. He then decides to drink the remainder from the glass before sliding it back to the table centre as though the incident never occurred. Well, if you’re having coffee…

It’s nerves more than anything; the lingering doubts that he can’t be the smooth, easy-going natural like his brother – and the more he falters, the more the doubts linger… and thus the more he falters, and thus… you get the idea.

To make matters worse, Bill’s becoming acutely aware of the lingering silence. The brain is hastily racked for filler.

‘So… just been upstairs, have you? …Toilet, was it?’

‘Er, yes.’

‘Good for you. Well done. …So, um…’

Bill tries to cough the quiver from his voice.

‘I’ve ordered already,’ replies Mr Brooking, assuming that’s the reason for the approach. ‘The beef…’

‘Ah, yes! Meat. Um… so what do you do, your job? Mr…?

Brooking. Boilers mainly, radiators… if I never see another I’ll be happy.’

‘Ditto! …See that radiator by the kitchen door… keeps dripping, would you believe it? Had a complaint about a wet shoe.’

Bill shakes the head then smiles. Mr Brooking strains one. He wants to get back to rereading the menu, wondering whether he’s made the right choice. Plus what’s happening with the mug of joe?

‘Mother thinks I can’t fix it but I can.’

Bill strays a worried look to the radiator.

‘…What’s the call out charge these days, any idea?’

Mr Brooking stares straight ahead, chagrined.

Sorry. Bet you get enough questions at work. I’m the same! I mean the amount of times people ask me about that bloody menu, for instance…’

‘What salad comes with the beef?’

‘Yes!’ agrees Bill, wholeheartedly. ‘Every damn time!’

‘No, I’m asking. What do I get?’

Bill’s grin disappears in a flash, replaced with a flush of panic. He surveys the menu choice prodded.

‘Oh. Well, err… all the greens, tomatoes… cucumber!

He spots Mr Brooking looking startled.

Sliced obviously, you don’t get a full one sticking out of your salad!’

With that, Bill leans back and gives a hearty and entirely phoney guffaw, his eyes wandering toward Mr Grady in the desperate hope he takes note of The Real Bill. A chuckle from Mr Brooking would’ve been nice but still…

Eventually calming, Bill wipes a fake, laughed too hard tear.

‘Deary me, and we’ve only just met!’

Focus sways back to the other side of the café, waiting on a reaction; so much so he hasn’t spotted the company tensing up in discomfort, making a mental note to avoid coming here again. Just buy a sandwich from the corner shop…

Thankfully for him, Bill feels like enough has been done, bonding wise. Besides, he’s getting sweaty palms. Mr Grady’s fault, thinks Bill, making him doubt the social skills.

Reassured and relieved, he begins to move off.

‘Um…’

Bill spins back.

’And the jacket potato if it’s not too late…?’

‘Certainly. I mean, I’ll sort that out for you.’

And now, as if on cue, Deirdre descends the staff stairs carrying a tray. In her late twenties, the centre’s sole volunteer is short, blonde, slightly plump and possesses a brain the size of a large crumb.

Bill spots her.

‘Ah, Deirdre, a jacket for Mr Brooking.’

‘Is he cold? Must be that radiator.’

Eyes shutting in despair, Bill rubs his temple. Although she’s good natured and harmless, her overarching dumbness is a source of constant frustration.

‘A jacket potato,’ clarifies Bill.

Ah, yes,’ says Deirdre in agreement. ‘That’ll warm him up.’

She trots off. Deirdre, bless her, isn’t playing with a full deck, but, nonetheless, she seems happy with the card she has.

Ignoring the clot, Bill turns back to Mr Brooking, who, a tad surprised at the need to do it, has begun miming the drinking of coffee while indicating the departing member of staff.

Gist perceived, Bill shakes the head.

‘No, she doesn’t touch the stuff.’

Picking up the Cabernet as a point of reference, he leans in for a whisper.

‘Just a bit thick.’

He caps off the comment with a loopy motion around the ear. Mr Brooking resigns himself to the fact he isn’t getting caffeine anytime soon.

Bill now looks set to amble away himself; but then, he appears to become gripped by a sudden perturbing thought. He looks back to Mr Brooking.

‘I was joking before by the way. I’m committed. …Not that you aren’t committed to your job. Don’t know enough about it… and I don’t want to. Couldn’t care less.’

Satisfied, assuming he’s leaving the man similarly content for nixing boiler talk, Bill moves off towards the kitchen. Mr Brooking watches on, perplexed, indeed wondering on whether his server has ever been committed. At least he’s heading towards the kitchen…

The observation is correct. However, rather than flicking the kettle, the sole purpose for the direction of travel is to pass Mr Grady, smug. Unfortunately, the only way for a subtle pass is one from behind – and so, again, without any rear view mirrors attached to the table, Mr Grady seems annoyingly oblivious to current goings on.

Bill stops, affronted. He wants to lean around and bask in a reaction.

Maybe he isn’t turning because he’s been proven wrong? Pretending to read the menu…

Bill smiles to himself, fully convinced. He makes to glide away.

‘What salad comes with the beef?’ asks the voice in front, innocent.

The confidence drains like juice from a microwaved lemon.

Christ, he didn’t hear it all, did he? All the quieter, cringy bits, all the way over here…? God, he did, didn’t he…!

Bill tries to tell himself otherwise, not helped with the realisation Mr Grady sports ears that could double for dinner plates. The sinking feeling of the foiled is disrupted by a returning Deirdre beside.

‘It’s OK, Mr Turrock… the radiator.’

‘Is it? Right.’

‘Just one drip when I was there.’

Bill agrees with the assessment. He also turns away from Grady’s table, in denial that he wigged the earlier awkward dialogue, instead distracting himself with the task of giving the boilerman’s’ table the required cutlery. He makes for the back wall cabinet.

All the while, somebody’s watching. Instead of a renewed perplexment for the recent passer-by, Mr Brooking now has a searching sort of look for Bill, watching closely as he returns with the handful of silver.

‘Thank you. Um… do you by any chance have a brother?’

Bill clumsily drops a fork. Eyes immediately dart over to Mr Grady, hoping dinner plates aren’t burning. He’s talking on his mobile to somebody. It gives Bill the courage to submit his reply.

‘Um… no, no I don’t.’

The placing of cutlery is hastily resumed, the arranger unable to keep eye contact.

‘Oh.’

Mr Brooking is taken by surprise, not because he knows it’s a fib but given the strangely long pause for thought, the question not the sort that usually requires lengthy contemplation.

The aftermath finds Bill in surprise also, unable to prevent a visible crack of giddy excitement, the notion of the idea sinking in and the fact it’s been believed (it’s almost as though in this moment, the imagined utopia is actually true! No bro!)

Bill’s glee is quickly quashed upon glancing toward Grady. The man could and would gladly counter the claims – and Bill can hardly explain the deception away with “I couldn’t bare another chat about pissing Robert, alright!?”

Stay calm… I’ve said no, that’ll be the end of it…

‘It’s just the surname.’

God, can’t he leave it alone? Let it lie. Let me lie!

‘He’s quite well known. Robert Turrock?’

‘Never heard of him,’ replies Bill, tartly. ‘Can’t be that well known.’

And in Bill’s eyes, he isn’t. It would be a sad state of affairs if we’re letting derivative writers become big names; and non-fiction no less! Just because everyone says he’s famous doesn’t make it true.

His cheeriness a good deal dampened, Bill trundles off. This will keep him riled for the rest of the day. As he trundles, a delivery man enters via the lobby holding a peace lily flower. He stops at reception. Bill’s already making his approach. The delivery man puts the lily on the desk and hands over the signer, smiling pleasantly (he’s new). Still reeling, Bill doesn’t even look up as he scribbles. The signer is then handed back, gaze withdrawing straight onto the flower. The delivery man, stunned for a moment, turns on his heel and leaves, offended. So much for “Sunny Centre!”

The reason for Bill’s interest in the flower lies mainly with the stock note sticking out of the pot. He approaches and plucks it for a read. A gradual look of disgust soon creeps across the face. The hand holding the card begins to rattle with suppressed fury as he stares down at it.

‘Bill…’

It’s Lily, calling through from the office.

‘Who was that? …What’s that smell?’

The heart jolts with foreboding, anger having suddenly skipped town. Bill turns to the office door. Imagine if she saw this? Christ, I wouldn’t hear the end of it.

Gaze switches to Grady and Brooking.

Imagine if they did!

They’ll discover the only child fib. He has to act quickly before one of the three clocks the thing (i.e. If one does, they all would. “Here, look at this flower… and look again, it comes with a card!”)

Eyes begin to dart around in search of a solution. They land on a stack of plates on the far end of reception. Deirdre was meant to store them in the crockery cabinet but Bill isn’t complaining. He lifts one of the plates and pops the stock note underneath with the smooth swiftness of a pickpocket, albeit one who’s got the act arse about face.

Sighing with relief, Bill looks up. He flinches, nearly jumping out of his tired skin. Stewart, a tall, dark haired man with a long beard, stares back at him on the other side of the desk.

‘Afternoon.’

The visitor continues staring; waiting on a reply. Bill’s too preoccupied, eyes uncontrollably drifting to the plates. However, the worries forming (did he see and will he say anything?) are swiftly dismissed as unlikely and replaced with a sense of mounting pique. He doesn’t appreciate being unnecessarily agitated, accident or not. Unfortunately, Stewart has chosen to rock up at entirely the wrong time, but Bill doesn’t seem willing to let him off. He’s formed a quick and instant dislike for the man. The appearance doesn’t help.

Just then, Bill spots Deirdre approaching. He curtly indicates the tray of plates with his sternest “what have I told you about this…?” face. She quickly lifts the offending contents, scuttling off to the cabinet. Bill watches on haughtily, silently hoping she’ll forgo the urge to stack separately, come across the note and suddenly announce the fact.

‘My CV.’

Bill turns back. Stewart, ignoring the apparent indignance, confidently holds out his Curriculum Vitae. Bill doesn’t take it, gazing beyond the extended arm to the man’s attire; bright canary chinos, a faded white shirt under a beige cardigan, all topped off with a beard the size of France.

Bill knows, in all probability, the large tuft of chin wool is actually quite stylish – or what people think stylish nowadays. Not that Bill can be certain, having given up on trends before he’d even started. The applicants jet black beard is also well kept, same for the long hair on the top, worn down and nearly bothering his waist. He also smells rather nice, although it’s bloody strong. Had he doused himself in it? He sure wears a lot of aftershave for someone who’s lost his razor.

The easy-going demeanour also rankles.

The man, even just silently stood, exudes a cool, confident intelligence without seemingly trying – not that he would try given he’s cool. For Bill, it’s both secretly intimidating and a reminder that he himself lacks all of the above and couldn’t pull it off if he tried.

And what’s this now? Piercing, judging eyes…? Thinks I’m taking too long to answer, that he deserves prompt, effusive service? Thinks he’s God’s gift, does he? Well, not in here he isn’t!

The sharp ring of the phone snaps Bill from his silent derision. He makes to answer. Stewart inches closer, aware he’s about to be cut off.

‘The chef job? For the café? The sign’s still outside.’

‘Is it? No, been filled I’m afraid.’

Bill picks up the phone.

‘But…’

‘Easy mistake.’

Bill shoots him the quickest of curt smiles then turns away, uncovering the phone speaker.

Sunny Centre, how can I help? Ah, Mr Booth. Good afternoon.’

The CV arrives onto the edge of the desk, pushed forth.

‘I’ll hand it in anyway,’ says Stewart, a slight edge creeping into his voice.

‘No, that won’t be possible…,’ declares Bill in a patronising tone, gracefully flicking the CV over the desk edge.

Startled, Stewart’s forced to make a hasty lunge.

Now smiling superiorly, Bill suddenly realises he’s spoken the last cutting remark straight into the uncovered speaker, Mr Booth apparently unable to hold his horticultural meeting at Wednesday high noon. Bill stays calm, not wanting to show a mistake’s been made.

He listens in.

‘No… that’s right, um… well, we’re quite busy this time of day I’m afraid…’

Stewart takes in the virtually empty café and lounge. He then fixes back on Bill, eyebrows aloft.

Contrary to the fib (i.e. the truth), there has been a noticeable lack of people visiting the centre of late, evident in the struggle to establish new courses and classes. They’d have an idea, advertise it, locals would say it’s just what the community needs then none of the sods would bother turning up for it. Not that Bill minds – less chance of being roped into helping. Anyway, it’s Mother’s fault for thinking up silly classes. Who wants to paint cups? And the less said about Mastering Morse Code the better.

Now keen to save dignity and claw back the advantage, focus returns to Mr Booth on the blower.

‘…But I’m sure we can make time,’ adds Bill, adopting his most relaxed, charming and suave dulcet tones.

Just then, Lily comes over from the office, slipping behind the desk.

‘So, tomorrow, 12:30, terrific. Ta-ta!’

Bill swiftly hangs up.

‘I’m dealing with this, Mother…’

He now extends a snappy hand to take the CV. The holder holds off, providing a smug thin lipped smile instead, before turning his beard purposefully to the lady present.

‘Are you the manager?’

‘I am, yes.’

‘I’d like to hand in my CV. The chef job.’

Having successfully mimicked Bill’s smooth, drowning in syrup vernacular, Stewart gracefully hands over the vitae to mother manager. The subsequent sly glance makes it clear he’s grabbed the opportunity to turn the tables and bloody damn well knows it. Bill feels like giving the twit what-for, his initial unfounded hate for the man now given solid cause.

And Christ, Lily’s falling for it, blushing on both cheeks!

‘Certainly!’ gushes Lily, taking the CV and beginning to scan. ‘But it would be on short notice. Need someone by the end of today.’

‘You do…?

Stewart eyes a certain falsifier pointedly. Falsifier looks away, straining for blandness while inwardly vexed, unwilling to acknowledge the unravelled white lie.

‘Would that be alright?’ asks Lily.

‘Yes, fine by me…’

Another meaningful gaze gets shot Bill’s way. The receivers face can’t help but contort. Enough with the condescension, thinks Bill, just because I did it doesn’t give you carte blanche! And stop staring at me!

‘Wonderful,’ says Lily, reading employment history, nodding with approval.

She then stops to ponder.

‘Strange though… you’re the first we’ve had. The sign’s been out there all week…’

Stewart’s eyes wander yet again. Bill can’t help looking visibly guilty at this, the fact being he’d secretly sent a good few on their unmerry way, branding them unsuitable (i.e. not liking the colour of their shirt. One guy had a bracelet!).

Concluding the ogle of the printed credentials, Lily looks up.

‘I’ll leave it a few hours though. Just in case we get another. I’d love to do one of those cook-offs, like you see on the tele!’

She gets a little excited and does a jiggle.

‘Sounds good. Well, I’ll look forward to hearing from you…’

‘Lily.’

‘Lovely meeting you, Lily…’

A swish of the head goes to Bill. Stewart looks on the verge of extending the pleasantry but decides against it, his plan all along. Point made and triumphant with it, he makes to leave. Stewart then appears to find himself in the throes of an epiphany. He turns back to Lily.

‘…Oh, like the flower… ‘

Stewart points out the peace lily then glides out into the lobby, positively beaming through his beard. Bill shoots the departee a look that could curdle milk before it leaves the udder, now certain the aspiring chef saw the hiding of the note upon arrival and knew he was up to no good all along – even more annoying that the git felt smug enough to sit on his little trump card, not using it to his advantage but merely tease on the knowledge. The bloody smug git!

A decision now needs to be made.

What with the influx of activity in its aftermath, namely Fedor Jeftichew popping up out of nowhere, explaining away the flowers newly anointed anonymity hasn’t yet received thought. With this in mind (though an explanation not), Bill moves swiftly away from an intrigued Mother, finding himself in the café beside boilerman Mr Brooking once again.

Look busy!

‘So this job of yours, I expect they’ll be quite a boom given the wind.’

Mr Brooking looks up from his magazine, miffed.

Christ, not him again… look busy!

Too tense and distracted to notice the lack of enthusiasm, Bill glances over to reception. Lily’s begun inspecting the flower, no doubt searching for what’s no longer attached.

She suddenly makes eye contact.

Not expecting the look, Bill stiffens, his stomach knotting. The brain takes a second to reboot. Then, hoping guilt hasn’t been detected, he quickly twists back to Mr Brooking with a renewed interest in the central heating profession (before realising the quick twist doesn’t help the attempt for affecting innocence).

Don’t just stand… talk! Pretend to engage!

‘Yes …I mean when you think about it, if it’s hot you don’t need warming up but when it’s cold…’

Mr Brooking suppresses a huff.

‘Any sign of my coffee?’

‘Well, the beans are sourced from Africa… no call for boilers out there I’ll bet!’

The frowned reaction coincides with Lily’s arrival with the flower, leaning around to grab her eldest’s attention. He would be blind not to register it, but, for some reason, he seems to have tunnel vision for Mr Brooking.

‘Yes, I prefer the full bean myself. Do you grind…?’

‘Was there a note?’ asks Lily, indicating the flower.

Bill turns and feigns a look of piqued surprise.

‘Do you mind? We were mid-discussion…’

‘It’s quite all right…,’ says Mr Brooking, reassuredly, glad he’s no longer centre of attention, also hoping she’ll escort this inane bore away and double quick.

Unfortunately, she currently seems too busy admiring her namesake.

‘Now I wonder who sent it…’

‘We’ll never know,’ says Bill with firm finality, innocently cleaning a spoon with a serviette, praying she’ll drop the matter and bugger off.

‘Who else? …It’ll be from Robert.’

Bill drops the spoon on the table.

Just go! Just go now! Please… it’s not too late…“It’s a different Robert!”

Bill looks imploringly at his mother as she turns to Mr Brooking, proud.

‘My youngest. Bill’s brother.’

Thank you. Thank you so much.


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Author

Greg Webber

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