Business-novel – chapters 13-18
Most of the chapters in this instalment are just ‘mood-setting’ pieces that might well end up on the cutting-room floor in the rewrite/final-edit. (The exception is Chapter 18, which is a key trigger-event in the plot.) But I may well keep some or all of them, if maybe moved around a bit in the book, because they do illustrate quite well the real context of so many businesses today.
Note that all of these I wrote back in 2013, as part of the development of the first half of the book. So whilst Chapter 14, for example, might seem a comment on the politics of the present day, it’s actually drawn almost verbatim from a real conversation three years ago, that was happening right behind me in my local cafe whilst I was working on that part of the book.
Over to you for comments and suggestions, anyway.
Out in town with Helen and the Mouse, I notice that the old lawyers’ firm has had a rebranding. ‘Kent Parwick Meldrum’, they used to call themselves: old-fashioned, yeah, with old-fashioned kind of signage too, but kinda reassuring for all that. Because of that, more like. Now they have a flat boring panel up above the front window, in a gaudy kind of purple and a flat boring typeface, says ‘Quality Solicitors KPM’. What’s that supposed to mean?
And the sign’s falling apart already, split across the middle, paintwork peeling even in just the week since I last came past the place. Quality? – yeah, sure…
Right next door there’s the auditors, who also have a new sign in the same kinda garbage style that says ‘Approachable Accountants’.
Someone’s been busy, wrecking old businesses’ reputations by ‘modernising’ them. I wouldn’t go those companies now, that’s for sure. Real clever, I don’t think… Whoever gave them that ‘upgrade’, they probably made a whack of money doing it, but they’ve really lost the plot, for everyone. Kinda sad, actually.
Gotta laugh, or I’d just cry otherwise. There we were, in the little Italian joint we like, Helen and I with our late-afternoon cappucinos, the Mouse making loud noises with her strawberry milkshake. And behind us there’s these two young guys with strong northern accents, winding each other up with pap-level blame-politics.
“It’s all them immigrants, innit? Bloody immigrants.” says one.
“Yeah, it is, yeah”, says the other. “Comin’ ‘ere an’ takin’ all our jobs, like!”
Helen tenses up, ready to swing round and give them an earbashing: her parents worked darned hard for forty years to get where they are today, and to get her to where she is today too. I put my hand on hers, gently: “Not our fight, dimps”, I whisper. “Especially not with the Mouse here with us.” She sighs; relaxes a bit. “Yeah. True. Right. Thanks, hon.” She squeezes my hand back.
Behind us, the conversation rolls along. One of them is extolling the virtues of some politician I’ve never heard of, and I’m probably glad not to have heard of, either. The other cuts in across this paean of praise.
“Yeah, but is he hard on immigrants? Is he hard?”
“Yeah, think so. Look it up on the net, you’ll see.”
“‘Sright, gotta send them immigrants back to where they came from. Takin’ our jobs.”
“Tha’s a poin’, how’s ya job-hunt goin’? You got anythin’ yet?”
“Nah, nothin’. Can’t be bothered, tell you the truth. Nothin’ goin’ that I wanna do. Ain’t gonna do nothin’ like what them immigrants do – ‘s all too much like ‘ard work, innit?”
“Yeah, ‘s all them bloody immigrants fault, taking our bloody jobs.”
Beside me, Helen convulses, halfway between fury and laughter. Unfortunately, she’d just taken a sip of her coffee, and it’s all she can do to stop it coming out of her nose. We glance at each other, just manage to stop ourselves collapsing in giggles; from the other side of the table, the Mouse looks back and forth at the both of us, face in pretend-horror. She probably thinks we’ve gone crazy. She’d probably be right.
Unawares, behind us, the disaster continues. “Right, yeah, don’t want not none o’ their foreign crap here, neither. I mean, look at that bloody Polack grocer’s on Paris Street, who would risk buying anything from those bloody wops?”
“Bought some of that flat-bread thingy, though, from the Turkish place on Canada Row, to go with that yellowy browny stuff, comes in a plastic tub, what’s it called…”
“…hummus…”, whispers Helen, under her breath.
“…tasted pretty good too, would go back there again. But he’s just another bloody immigrant, in’t he? Takin’ our jobs.”
“Yeah, bloody immigrants. Tell you what, though, you hungry? D’ya wanna stay an’ eat here?”
“Nah, had Italian yesterday. You wanna do an Indian? Got a good curry over at Ganesh’s place the other day. Jamaica Joe’s okay, too – sounds terrible, looks crap, but tastes bloody great. Or how about a Chinese, then?”
“I dunno. Howsabout you fancy that Turkish stuff? An’ a kebab to go with it an’ all?”
“Yeah, you’re right, that’d do the ticket, just nice like. Let’s go.”
They move off with a walk that’s halfway between a swagger and a slouch. One holds the door open for the other, still muttering to him as he goes.
“Gotta stand firm against them bloody immigrants, ain’t we? I don’t never buy nothin’ from any of them: no-one should. Not never.” A moment’s pause. “I’m hungry – where’d you say that Turkish place was again?”
Helen’s face: I wish I’d had a camera. Mouth wide open in a gorgeous ‘Huh???’ – and then laughing fit to bust. Like I said, you just don’t know whether to laugh or cry – but laughing’s a lot more fun!
I really like that shop. Makes such a difference, going to a place where they know me, they know what I like, what I’m likely to want to buy. And not just because some machine’s told them about me and my ‘buying-patterns’, but because they know me as me. It’s personal, not ‘personalised’.
So different from the supermarket at the mall, where it’s easier to do self-scanning because the service is almost more human, and the lines are shorter, too. Service, what service? – people as robots, disconnected, disengaged. And it really shows. And yet we go there because it’s cheap. Or cheaper, perhaps.
Gotta save the money, cut the costs, make the profit – same everywhere, I guess.
Though dunno that it is actually all that much cheaper in the mall, when we add up all the stuff we buy that we don’t actually need – especially the junk that Helen buys for Mouse when we’re stuck in the checkout lines. Huh. Perhaps ought to look into that some time. Maybe Helen’ll know, she’ll have all the accounts-paperwork somewhere, she’s a fiend for that stuff.
Not important, anyway.
Huh. Walking through the mall with Helen and the Mouse, stopped by the trash-bin to drop some trash in. The lid’s recessed slightly at the top, so smokers can stub out their cigarettes. Which, clearly, they have, all over the lid. How do I know this? It’s because the lid is made of plastic – and every cigarette-stub has melted into it. It’s a mess.
Plastic? For lit cigarettes? Who designed this joke? What the heck were they thinking? Was it just because it was cheaper in plastic? Ye gods…
Small details really do matter, sometimes. And this wasn’t a small detail, either.
Again, not important, obviously. But interesting, though.
Just taken a phone call from Charlie – Charlie O’Leary. They let him go on Thursday: not fired for anything, just ‘redundant’, he said. Such a hard word, ‘redundant’ – kinda like you’re no use any more, so just discarded like a piece of trash, like I put in the trashed trash-bin a few minutes ago.
Not his fault: government changed the regs a few months back, to make things better for the big firms again, he says, and now there are lawyers dropping like flies out of the small firms everywhere. Bigger scale is cheaper, I guess.
Not good for Charlie, though. He’s been a law-clerk since god knows when, and he’s worked his way up: he was on a good yearly. That’ll hurt. Worse, his kids are still in college, and his wife is still recovering from her cancer last year. They’ve just taken out that big new home-loan, too: he’s got no wriggle-room at all. And he’s fifty-one, and with the job-market flooded already with people just like him, he’s got no chance. Poor bastard.
Dunno quite why he called me: just a friendly voice to talk to, I suppose. Talk at. There’s no way I can help him, anyway, and it’s a real dog-eat-world out there right now, no time to be out of work, that’s for sure.
Yeah, poor bastard, all right. Being selfish, I’m glad it’s him and not me. Shit. Dunno why we have to do this to each other, have to live like this: I mean, who benefits? Apart from the rich, of course.
Jeez, listen to myself there, sounding like some crazy socialist! Let’s not go there! Charlie can look after himself, for gods’ sake, I’ve got my own job to keep, my own family to worry about! Keep focussed, Marco, keep the focus, you’ve got a job to do, get with the plan, the change-plan, Margaret wants that not just done but in action by the end of week, do it, just do it!
But will admit that call from Charlie has got me rattled. Dunno… perhaps irritated, more… Just, well, wrong – something like that.
It’s just that, well, Charlie was the most stable guy I know, the most steady job, the most steady worker, all the rest of it. And now he’s just cut loose like this, no warning, no nothing, just thrown away like he’s worth nothing too. If it can happen to a guy like that, it could happen to anyone. To me, that’s the point. To us. And I don’t know what I’d do if that happened. No idea. That’s scary.
Yeah, I guess that’s why it’s got me all jumpy like this. Scared like a little kid. Be a great joke if it was some kind of premonition, wouldn’t it? No, and no, it bloody wouldn’t – and there’s no such thing as a premonition, anyway. Snap out of it, Marco, snap out of it: get back to the plan, c’mon, you’ve got work to do!
But still: just… wrong…
“Good afternoon, Mr Pellegrini. And Mrs Pellegrini, I presume?” He smiles, a quiet greeting.
Oh the gods, it’s that old guy from the cafe near work. He’s not going to try and talk, is…
“I trust your work is going well?” That, toward me; he doesn’t wait for a reply. “And a good day to you all.” He smiles again, genially, to all of us, touches the edge of his old trilby hat in salute, and walks off. Gone. Just like that.
“Who was that, Daddy?”, asks Amber. I’d almost forgotten she was there.
“Just someone I met at work.”
“He’s nice. I like him lots.”
Which is nice, because I don’t.
It’s not like I’d say he’s sleazy or something – not an old pervert, or I really would be worried if Amber liked him. It’s just he’s, well, kinda weird, like he knows a lot more than I do, a lot more than he’s telling, certainly. And I don’t like that. Not one bit. Not one bit.
He’s right about the work, though: that isn’t going well, not yet, and it needs to. We’ve almost finished here in town, and tomorrow’s free for most of it, thank heavens, with the Mouse at a sleepover at Amanda’s. Helen’ll be busy anyway with her analytics-report to finish, too, so let’s just get home and get my head down to it: a lot to do before Monday.