Today’s story is written by Revell Cornell. Enjoy!
Andy walked humbly, apologetically. In between rows of desks, he walked down the middle; equidistant. Walking beside one row of desks, he walked at the furthest point away from them, head bowed, treading softly. Andy liked to be ignored.
The man in Purchase Ledger attempted conversation; Andy smiled, nodded, avoided eye contact, and then moved on to the Sales section of the open office. The young girl nearest to him, turned on her chair, reached behind her, and gathered up a bundle of orders. She attempted conversation as she passed them to Andy. He smiled, again without eye contact, said ‘Thank you’, then turned left toward the workshop; a route which took him past the office manager’s work station. She scanned her desk as he approached.
‘Got a minute, Andy.’ The question was rhetorical, but her expression was friendly enough.
He smiled, as he always did, then looked down, as he always did. She indicated the chair at the side of her desk. He sat on the edge of the seat, ready to move off immediately. He shuffled the papers he held, and made as if he were examining the detail on the sheets of A4.
Heather looked at the form in front of her and compared words and figures against the real Andy. Six-feet two-inches, thirteen stone, light brown hair, and green eyes.
“How’s it going? Any problems?”
He glanced up, the permanent smile on his face, then quickly looked down again. “Yeah, fine, no problems.” He paused for a moment, Heather did not speak. Andy looked up. “Sorry, got to go…” He waved the papers in his hand, and stood. “… men waiting to be given jobs.” He turned slightly
Heather reached out a hand toward him. “Whoa. Hang on a minute. I need a few details for your employee file.”
Andy’s smile faded, and his brow furrowed – then the furrowed brow became a scowl. He sat again.
“What?” said Heather.
“I didn’t say anything. What do you want to know?” His voice had softened. His intonation was as a sigh, as though he had suddenly resigned himself to some inevitable action.
Heather smiled, not unkindly as she said, “Is there a problem? I just need to fill in the blanks.”
Andy turned his head away from her, closed his eyes for a moment, then, barely perceptible, shook his head. “Yeah, okay. Carry on.”
She looked at the veins sticking out on the back of Andy’s hands and thought, ‘Workout, or manual labour?’
She reached for the form. “You didn’t fill in your date of birth on your application form.”
“Is it necessary?”
“Well, I guess you know we can’t demand it, but it would help… you know, pension fund, company insurance scheme, hospital scheme…”
Andy held a hand up. “Not interested.”
Heather paused, blinked, then scanned the form again. She forced a smile. “Place of Birth?”
“Newcastle. Upon Tyne.”
Heather looked up, eyebrows raised. “You…”
“Haven’t got an accent? Family moved to London when I was eight.” Heather entered the information on the sheet. Andy said, “Is that it?”
Heather tried another smile. “Err… just one more.” She scanned Andy’s application again, then looked to him again, still smiling. “Your track record, Andy. It shows you finished one job in 2011, and started another job in 2011.”
“And? Is that a crime?”
Heather looked him in the eye; a sympathetic smile. “Why so defensive, Andy? I’m asking simple questions. And please, don’t treat me like a fool.” She looked at the form again. “There’s a gap. Sure, you finished one job, and started another in the same year, but… we checked, there’s a nine month gap in between. Do you want to tell me what you were doing in those nine months? Which company you were with?”
“Is it important?” Andy’s voice was soft, and low.
Heather studied him for a moment. Was he pleading? “Of course it’s important, Andy. The business we’re in…”
Andy thrust his palm toward her again. “Okay, I know, I know. I… does it have to be now?”
“Well, it is important. And seeing as how you haven’t given an instant response, maybe we should…”
Andy stood, suddenly. Heather stiffened.
“Let me give these jobs out to the lads. I’ll be straight back.” He turned and walked off.
She smiled, waved her hands airily. “Well, that’s it, Andy. All done, Andy. Thanks for your co-operation, Andy. Fancy a coffee, Andy? Not!”
Heather watched as he strode away. She thought for a moment, then, shaking herself, reached for the next form in her in-tray.
Andy pushed open the door to the factory stores. The storeman looked up, then stood, cup in one hand, half-eaten sandwich in the other.
“No, you’re okay, Tommy. Finish your break.” Andy looked around Tommy’s make-shift desk. “Orders in?”
“Left hand tray. The green one.” Tommy pointed as he spoke.
Andy began splitting duplicates. “I’ll put your copies in the tray, Tommy, and if you could pass the others out to the lads as they hand in completed jobs, I’d appreciate it.”
“Are you too busy?” It was a gentle question, no malice or resentment.
Andy dragged his hands down over his face, thinking. He stopped with his fingers resting on his jaw line. “No, no… I… I’ve got some thinking to do. I’m gonna take the rest of the day off. Can you manage?”
“’Course I can” Tommy peered at Andy over the top of his spectacles. “You been to the docs yet, about not sleeping? You’re as black as the roads around your eyes.”
Andy took a deep breath, and then released it slowly. “No, no, I should… but, anyway, see you tomorrow, Tommy. Anybody wants me, I’m at home, and the phone will be switched off. Catch you later.”
Heather checked her watch again. It was two minutes later than when she’d last checked it. She lay back in her chair, and pitched her pen on to her desk. She scanned the office, deciding, then stood and headed for the stores.
Tommy was sorting receipts on the serving hatch as Heather approached. He moved the receipts to one side, then raised the flap and let her in.
“Wotcher, Heather. Not often we see you down here. How are yuh?”
“Fine, I’m fine, Tommy.” She scanned the factory floor from the view point of Tommy’s hatch. “Have you seen Andy? He had an appointment with me two hours ago, and he hasn’t turned up yet.”
“Oh, he’s gone off sick. Didn’t he tell you?”
Heather’s jaw dropped. “You’re kidding me. You’re bloody kidding me.” Tommy shrugged, Heather continued. “The ignorant… I let him off the hook to gather his…” Heather shook her head. “I don’t believe him. I don’t understand him.”
Heather thought for a moment, with a regular shaking of her head. She turned to Tommy. “Has he got any mates, Tommy? Does he ever speak to anyone? I’m asking you because for someone who is staff, he has very little to say to his colleagues.”
Tommy squeezed between Heather and some steel racking, then sat at his desk. He looked up. “I talk to him, about sport, cars, stuff like that, but he never speaks about himself.” Tommy shrugged. “He’s friendly enough though. Just doesn’t give much away.”
Tommy paused. “Yeah, s’pose so. He’s pleasant enough with the lads, but that’s it, no pals. They all like him, he’s good at his job, and he can do everything they do, so, he gets respect that way.”
“What about socially?”
“Nah, never mixes with them. I’ve had one night out with him, and that was by accident. I bumped into him in a pub. Just a couple of pints.” Tommy paused a beat. “He’s… err… he’s got a hell of a temper on him. Quick like. Boom, Up in the air. Instantly.”
“With the employees?!”
Tommy flapped a dismissive hand. “No, no, like I say, they respect him.” Tommy smiled to himself.
“Was that funny? What I said? Heather forced a smile as she spoke.
“No, ‘course not. I was just thinking. That night in the pub. A couple were arguing at a table. We just watched; well, I did, he tried to ignore them. In fact Andy moved his chair so that his back was to the couple. Anyway, the girl stood, and left. Ten seconds later, the fella, a big bloke, stormed off after her. A minute or so after that, the bleed’n’ girl came running back through the pub, flappin’ her hands, shoutin’, ‘Help me, somebody help me.’ Then the geezer comes storming after her. Round the bleed’n’ bar they ran, then she dashed out the door again. Most people laughed – except Andy. He sat for a moment, then stood, said, ‘Back in a minute, Tommy,’ then left me with me pint. Didn’t see him anymore that night.”
Heather waited a moment, as Tommy mused. “So? Was that it? Was that funny?”
Tommy looked at Heather, sombrely. “Five minutes after Andy left, the fella staggered back into the pub – face like a butcher’s block. Cor, what a bleed’n’ mess. Got himself cleaned up in the toilets, then left. Five minutes after he’d left, the fella’s girl friend walks in, all flustered like, and says to me, ‘Thank your mate for what he did, will yuh? It was good of him.’ Get the picture, Heather?”
“I think so.”
“Yeah, well I knew so when he came into work the next day. Not a mark on him, apart from his swollen knuckles. And the other geezer, he weren’t no Ronnie Corbett either. Like Man Mountain Dean, ‘e was. And Andy never said a word about it. Didn’t even apologise for not coming back into the pub.”
“And his temper?”
Tommy shrugged. “The girl said he went ballistic. Took two other geezers to pull him off.”
Heather stared at the floor, eyebrows raised. “I see. So, he can be violent.” She raised her head and looked at Tommy.
Tommy stared back, and shrugged.
Malcolm leaned over his desk, and pointed at Heather with the blunt end of his pen. “A mistake, Heather. On the side of both parties. He could have forgotten that he had a job in between those dates, and you should have checked before we started him. And that violent episode in the pub. What’s it got to do with us? For heaven’s sake, it’s not as though he discredited the reputation of the company, is it?”
Heather looked to her Managing Director, silent for a moment. “Um. Maybe. But why did he run off when he said he’d come back and see me?”
“Well, okay. He didn’t run off, but he went home, claiming sickness. And he didn’t even tell me. You know… courtesy…”
Malcolm reached to the right-hand side of his desk, and picked up an inch-thick file. “Heather, any other time, yes. But, not today I’m afraid. This file contains one quotation. If the quotation is successful, I can guarantee work to one hundred and twenty personnel for two years. You’ll have to handle it yourself, I’m far too busy. But, whatever the outcome, I’m on your side.” He opened the file. “Now, if you don’t mind? Oh, and if I was you, I’d be around his home now, knocking on the door, and getting a few straight answers to a few straight questions.” He pointed. “And please shut that door on your way out. Thank you.”
Heather gathered up her papers, along with Andy’s file, and left.
Heather scanned the doors on both sides of the street. Where the doors were made of UPVC, there was no number shown. Her finding Andy’s front door, and his house, was being done by mentally calculating in twos, from an old fashioned door that still had a set of digits screwed to it; Andy lived on the even side of the street. Finding the house was relatively easy; finding a parking space was a problem of a different magnitude. Hackney may have been going up market for the last few years, but higher valuations did not increase the availability of parking. She parked one hundred metres further down the street.
Heather knocked for the third time, and then looked up to where she’d imagined the bedroom to be. It was the only room on the front of the house that had its curtains closed.
She heard movement inside, where she imagined the stairs to be in the ‘two up, two down’ terraced house. Seconds later, Andy opened the front door.
He shook his head, and sighed. “It couldn’t wait, eh?” He stared coldly at her.
Heather stared back, defiantly. “We need to get his sorted, Andy. One way or another.”
He turned his back on her and walked toward the stairs. His mumbled voice just carried back to Heather. “Come in. Front rooms on your right. I’ll be down in a minute.”
Heather entered and shut the door behind her. She turned off the passageway, and into the front room. She stopped, and frowned. She looked at the basic sofa and two chairs, along with what she appeared to be an original fifties fireplace. Decoration and ornamentation was non-existent. Walls painted in a shade of Magnolia, ceiling white, doors white, light-grey carpet, all reflected the light that was no doubt intended; but, the ambience of the room was… sad. She looked at the minimal show of personal items. A laptop, a carriage clock, and a T.V. on a stand, with what looked like every possible ancillary attached to it.
“You can sit, if you want to.”
Heather startled. “Aargh! God. I didn’t hear you.” She looked to his stocking feet. Andy pointed to his shoes lying in a corner next to the fireplace. Heather moved into the room and sat on the edge of the sofa, on the middle cushion. She watched as Andy sat on the chair next to his shoes, and slipped his feet into them. He sat back, looked at her, and waited; a fixed, grim expression on his face.
Heather smiled, nervous, but putting on a good show. She opened her arms to him. “Straightforward, Andy. I need to know where you were during those missing nine months.”
Andy leaned forward, laid his elbows on his knees, and put his head in his hands. He ran his fingers through his hair. “Is it vitally important? Can’t you go off what you’ve seen in the past month? Am I not giving off the right vibrations?”
Heather leaned forward toward him, conspiratorially. Welcoming body language, helpful body language. “Andy. What I feel has nothing to do with anything. I just need the facts.”
Andy stood, quickly. “Christ! You’re talking like a bloody copper.” He paced the floor, looking down on Heather. “Where I was, eh? Not why I was there. No reasons. Just why I was there, what had I done. No compassion, no feelings. Just right or wrong, Andy. Just right or wrong. What did you do? Yeah?”
Heather nodded, rigid. Andy moved nearer to her. He leaned his face toward her, smiling. “You want to know where I was, Heather? Or should that be Miss Green?” He laughed, a snort. “What a laugh. Heather Green. Green.” He leaned closer, his voice rising. “It’s purple, Heather. Heather is fucking purple! White, pink, or purple, but never bloody green.” A fleck of saliva shot from his lips, and landed on Heather’s brow. She did not move.
Andy stood tall again. “You’re asking where was I? Where the fuck was I? I was another world, Heather. A dark place.” He looked for a reaction. Heather sat in silence. “But that could be anywhere, couldn’t it. A tunnel, a hole. It’s not where I was, it’s why I was there, isn’t it.” He paced the room. He slapped his hands against his thighs. Slap. Slap. Slap. Slap. His voice rose to a near shout.
“Where was I? I don’t know. But, I know what I did. I can see…” He stopped, staring into nowhere. His voice softened again, “…the blood, like a fountain… but I didn’t mean to kill her… her husband… it was him… I wanted to kill him.”
Heather sidled along the sofa. She saw the open sitting room door out of the corner of her eyes. She judged the distance to the front door. She tried to remember the door lock. Was it Yale? Was it deadlock?
Andy turned to her, grinning, like a clown. He spoke in a sing-song voice. “I can see you. I know what you’re thiiiinking.” His smile faded. He closed his eyes, then blinked them rapidly. Tears were forming. Salt water pooled on his lower lids. It spilled over. It ran down his cheeks, white water against flushed flesh. He sat, not looking at her, but pointing in her direction. He shouted again. “Don’t move!”
He began to cry. Heather watched as he wiped his eyes, now looking at her. “It was an accident, an accident. I told them. It was an accident.” He put his hands on his knees, and looked at the floor, staring, remembering, seeing nothing tangible, but filling his mind’s eye. He stood, raised his hand, thumb raised, index finger pointing at Heather. “I aimed it, he was coming toward me. I warned him, I shouted, I fucking warned him. Then it was too late. She ran in front… I… the trigger.”
Andy dropped his hand. His body began to shake. He wailed, like a baby. “She was beautiful. And I killed her. I fucking killed her.” He pleaded through his sobs. “Jesus, help me. Fucking help me. I see her… every night… I see her.” Andy dropped to his knees, his body racked with sobs.
Heather felt the vibration of her phone. She looked at Andy in front of her. Could he see what she was doing? She reached into her jacket pocket, slowly. She pulled out the phone, still looking at Andy, and felt for the receive button. She pressed it. Andy groaned. The crying stopped.
Heather raised the phone to her ear, smoothly, still slowly. She spoke in a whisper. “Yes?”
“Heather. It’s me. Malcolm. Can you hear me? It’s a bad line?”
“Yes. Well. Young Andy. It’s not a problem. Well, it is a problem for him. Those missing nine months. He was in a mental institution. You still there?”
Heather spoke softly, succinctly. “Yes. Tell me.”
“Before the job he had before those missing nine months, he was a squaddie wasn’t he, in the Army. Remember? Bloody Afghanistan. Anyway, he killed a young woman. Terrible situation. The husband is going toward Andy with a hand gun firing like Billy-O, bullets flying everywhere, and our young Andy is playing it cool, taking aim, breathing steady, and all that sort of stuff, and just as he pulls the trigger the woman jumps out and, bang, she’s dead. The husband got the next one. Apparently Andy bottled up his feelings for a while, guilt and all that, then, it just blew. Hence, nine months in the institution. Actually it was only six, then three months care in the community.”
Heather stared at the young man in front of her. “I see.”
“Good. Okay, got to go. This damned quotation has got to be done today. Catch you later. Oh, and take it easy with him when you see him. Okay? Bye.”
Heather clicked the phone off. Andy was in the fetal position, staring, unblinking, at the light coming in from the window. She pushed forward and dropped to her knees, alongside him. She leaned forward and looked into his face She stroked his hair.
“Andy? Can you hear me? I know where you were. What it was all about.” Heather waited. Andy lay still.
“You’re fine, Andy. You’re going to get well.” She smiled directly into his face. “We’ll get you help. I promise you. I’ll get you help. We’ll lay the ghosts. Yes? No more dark places.”
Andy stared at the light.
I live in the North East of England.
Being a finalist in an Alibi T.V./Harper Collins crime short story competition spurred me on to increase my then leisurely output of short story writing.
My novels, ‘Speedy Emi’, ‘The Borders’, ‘Easy Killing’, and ‘The Pilgrim Seed’,’ are all available as e books on Amazon Kindle. Books that I have unpublished for periodical checking are ‘The Addiction Line’, ‘The Chosen One’, and ‘Rejected’.
See Revell Cornell’s Author Page here.