218. Whirlpool

We’re sat in the maintenance department again, necking tea.
It’s 6am, again, as it always seems to be.
Again.
That fucking word.
Again.
Highlighting the Groundhog Day quality of my existence.
Rinse and repeat.
Same shit, different day.
You don’t have to be mad to work here, but… actually… yes you do.
I’m sat necking tea with Bernie who is always working. Slowly, methodically, stripping machines that are older than me, putting them back together so they’ll probably be working long after I’m dead.
The door opens and a bloke hustles in, reeking of cheap aftershave and dressed like an American golfer from the nineteen seventies.
Loud sports jacket, bright shirt, wide tie. He’s wearing two-tone shoes with an unfashionable stack heel and his heavy gold watch hangs loosely on his wrist like a bracelet, just so he can jangle it.
He’s wearing a half sovereign pinky ring.
He’s got a greying horseshoe moustache and his glasses are unbelievably thick, a good inch of solid glass between his eyes and reality. As he turns his head his eyes swim in and out of sight, like anaemic goldfish.
He places a battered trilby onto his grey hair and pushes a cigarette between his yellow teeth.
He says to Bernie, “Right, kid. I’m off. See you Monday.” He winks. “Don’t do anyone I wouldn’t do!”
He picks up a small leather suitcase and pushes off through the door.
Gone.
I look at Bernie. I say, “Who the fuck was that? Huggy Bear?”
Bernie laughs. “That’s Whirlpool. Engineer on nights. You won’t see him much, he works at one of the other sites half the time, depending what machine is down. They broke the mould when the made Whirlpool. Possibly a good thing too.”
I say, “Where’s he off to dressed like that?”
Bernie says, “A party. Whirlpool loves parties.”
I say, “What kind of party? Fancy dress? He looks a bit of a cunt, if I’m honest.”
“He’s a peacock. A dandy. Loves his clobber. And the parties he goes to… well… he seems pretty well received. He’s quite the ladies man is our Whirlpool.”
I look doubtfully at Bernie. “Ladies man? That seems a bit unlikely!”
Bernie waggles a spanner at me. “Don’t judge a book by it’s cover, Luci! You’d be surprised. Our Whirlpool has made more housewives scream in joy than a Barnsley Bingo caller. Y’see, he’s a swinger. He goes to all the sex parties, travels a lot too. He’s off to Dundee this weekend. Mark my words, by five o’clock tonight he’ll be balls deep in some old bird from Carnoustie whilst her husband wanks like a demented chimp in the corner. That’s what Whirlpool does – he’s an absolute fuck monster.”
I’m pretty stunned. I thought Whirlpool looked like a washed up used car salesman, not a swinging stud. I say, “But… don’t the lasses find him… creepy? I mean, he looks a bit of a paedo with that ‘tash and those glasses. Maybe he looks a bit more normal when he takes them off?”
Bernie shakes his head. “Those glasses never come off. I’ve know Whirlpool over twenty years, on and off. I’ve never seen him once without his gegs on.”
Bernie turns to me, puts down his spanner. “Example. Y’know young Pete, used to drive the forklifts, good looking cunt.”
“What, Pistol Pete? He was a fucker too, wasn’t he? I heard he’d fucked his way around the factory a couple of times over!”
Bernie snorts. “Ha! That’s not difficult. It’s hardly dripping wi’ fanny out there, is it? And what there is… well… what pretty young lass wants to work in a shit hole factory on shifts? Nah, fucking your way round that lot is like shooting fish in a barrel. Whirlpool… He’s an artist, like. He takes it to another level.”
I take a slurp of tea. It’s cold. “So Whirlpool has standards then? Only goes for the cream of the crop?”
Bernie pulls a face. “Not exactly… If you look like Whirlpool you can’t really afford to be choosy, like. No, it’s what he does with the material at hand, if you get my drift. Getting a fine tune out of an old fiddle, yeah? He’s an artist. He can take a dried up old bird and have her dripping like a fucked fridge within ten minutes. He knows all the buttons to press.”
Bernie leans closer. “He’s a Cunt Whisperer.”
I blink.
It’s a lot to take in.
Bernie continues. “Anyway, where was I? Yeah, that Pistol Pete. He was boasting about his swordsmanship to Whirlpool, reckoning he’s fucked more women than osteoarthritis, but of course he’s talking to The Master. Our Whirlpool decides to take the lad under his wing, show him the ropes, pass on his skills to an apprentice, like.
“So he takes Pistol Pete to these parties. Pete says Whirlpool was a sort of warm up man, got stuff going when everyone was still a bit shy at the start of the night. There’s all these cups of tea and small talk, but next thing you know Whirlpool is muffing out Mrs Wilberforce on the couch, indicating for Pete to get his length down her throat, without a by your leave! Seemed to work though. That’s when it all kicked off apparently and it was this monster fuckfest. Cocks and tits and fannies and arse going at it all over the shop. That’s what Whirlpool is renowned for – getting the party started.”
Bernie shoves his glasses up his nose. “But then Pistol Pete stopped going with Whirpool. I asked him why, but he didn’t really want to say, so I pressed him and he told us. Well, they’d been to fuck this housewife that Whirlpool serviced on a regular basis whilst her husband was away on the oil rigs. He knew about it, apparently, said he’d rather someone who looked like Whirlpool were ploughing her rather than some stud down the street who might whisk her away whilst he’s jacking off in the middle of the North Sea. So they go round and fire into her, and it’s going great! Pete’s banging her from behind, Whirlpool’s getting noshed off up front. They’re high-fiving and having a laugh, and Pete says he looks down to get it back in the right hole, but when he looks up Whirlpool has disappeared. He didn’t really think about it, just concentrated on the task at hand, so to speak, but suddenly his bollocks go freezing cold. He says it was horrible. Like ice.”
I’m intrigued. “What the fuck had happened?”
Bernie leans in. “Pete looks down and sees Whirlpool down there, in a sixty nine. He’s lapping at this lass’s clit like a dog with a hot chip whilst Pete’s Pistol is going in and out like a fiddler’s elbow, far too close for Pete’s comfort. The thing is, his bollocks were resting on Whirlpool’s glasses. A horrible, cold sensation, by all accounts. Pete climbed out of the saddle and fucked off home. That was it for him. Whirlpool finished the job, glasses still on but I’m guessing things were pretty blurred for a while there. What I’m saying is, if he don’t take his gegs off for that then he never takes ‘em off.”
It’s a lot to take in. Quite an image. I say, “He’s getting on a bit though, now. He must be, what, late fifties? is he not slowing down?”
Bernie shakes his head. “Nah. The old cunt is speeding up, if anything! He’s got what it takes, Luci. He knows all the skills. That little suitcase he has with him? It’s got no clothes in it, y’know. He takes his kit off as soon as he arrives and chances are he won’t get dressed again till Sunday evening. No, that case is full of dildos. Rubber wangers. That and knob hats. He takes precautions, does old Whirlpool. He showed us once. Y’know how a photographer – or a hitman, yeah? – y’know how they have a case with a camera or a rifle in shaped slots in the case? Well it’s like that. Fake dicks of all sizes in their own custom case. He’s got a spring loaded johnny dispenser too, for fast access!”
I laugh. “Yeah, and a sack of Viagra I’m guessing!”
Bernie frowns. “Don’t let Whirlpool hear you say that! He’s dead against blues. Reckons it’s cheating. He says the day he needs to take a pill to get a hard-on is the day he hangs up his boning boots. He’s a big believer in ‘Use it or Lose it’, and the amount he uses it, I can’t ever see him losing it.”
I’m pretty impressed, if I’m honest. But then I think it must get a bit lonely, roaming the A roads of Great Britain for a weekend of anonymous banging.
I say, “Has there never been a Mrs Whirlpool? Did he not get married?”
Bernie concentrates, snaps his fingers. “Not married, but he got close. There was this one lass, Doreen something, I can’t remember. Not much to look at, like, but she could bang like a shit house door after a night out in Bradford. She was insatiable, according to Whirlpool. She was game for owt. He started falling for her, missing parties just so he could go round and rattle her. He couldn’t get enough. Pushing the boundaries, like. Threesomes, foursomes, more. Doing it in public, no holds barred. There was nowt off menu. Well, almost nowt. It was always going to end in tears.
“Whirlpool came in one Monday evening looking really off. Quiet, like. Usually he’s full of his weekend escapades, y’know? But not this time. Well, I quizzed him, and he finally gave in. He says he’d been shagging Doreen as normal, nowt weird, as he puts it, just up the arse from behind. Well, he pulls out to jizz in her face, like you do, apparently, when he notices this big lump of turd sat on his bell-end. They both kind-of look at it, y’know, embarrassed. I mean, what do you say? But Doreen had an answer. She says to him, ‘Here, let me sort it out love,’ and she grabs his pipe… bends down…. and…”
“No!”
“Yes. She sucks it fucking clean.”
I dry heave a bit. “That’s bleak.”
Bernie nods. “Very. Old Whirlpool was sort of shocked, but him being him, sort of turned on. But then she tries to kiss him.”
I say, “Fuck that!”
“That’s what Whirlpool said too. He had his flared trollies on before you could say ‘sweetcorn’ and he was out the door. He says the last he saw of her she was sat there in bed, face dripping with tears and jizz with her own shit stuck between her teeth. It’s not a look many people can carry off, to be fair, and it sounds like poor Doreen didn’t have what it takes.”
I feel queasy.
I say, “You can’t question her commitment I suppose, but… fuck me, that’s really horrible.”
Bernie nods. “I guess Whirlpool found his limitations the hard way. I mean, it could have been the beginning of a beautiful relationship…”
“… or a bout of Hepatitis. I’ve got a weak stomach at the best of times, Bernie. I can’t do with all that shit… literally.”
Bernie nods. “I’m with you there, Luci. I’m pretty vanilla myself and not ashamed. I’ll leave the freaky stuff to Whirlpool.”
He plugs in the machine he’s been working on and it putters into life. He unlocks the wheels underneath and starts pushing it to the door.
“Bernie,” I call over to him. “I was just wondering, why is he called Whirlpool? I’m guessing it’s because he’s fucked loads of lasses in jacuzzis and hot tubs and all that.”
Bernie shakes his head as he pushes the machine out into the factory. “Nah. It’s because his glasses look like washing machine doors.”

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217. Pike

Nine o’clock.
A shrill, persistent bell rings throughout the factory, louder than the print presses, louder than the hissing compressed air pipes, louder than a scream.
Home time.
Men shuffle out into the late August evening, trying but failing to hurry, no longer able to move quickly in any direction.
Despite the warmth they all wear coats, out of habit more than necessity, and they all carry Bags For Life containing grubby mottled Tupperware that once contained their dinner, taking them home for their wives to wash.
I’m on my bike and away down the road before they’ve reached their cars, pushing the pedals downhill, careful of the clay that is smeared across the tarmac, dropped by the huge quarry lorries that thunder constantly along that road like massive lumbering dinosaurs.
Tight left, across the Leeds Outer ring road with the lights on amber then up, climbing, out of the saddle, through council estates and row after row of claustrophobic red brick terraces, then half-empty industrial estates, a Londis, a chip shop, a boarded up church, the sky coral-pink over the soot blackened stones and lines of telegraph poles, a trickle of sweat running between my shoulder blades and my breathing steady, bike swaying with the rhythm of the pedals, still pushing, and now descending.
Streets gradually becoming darker, not yet dark, sinking as if through water, trees above now, tall sycamores, an empty park, now the bridge by the empty factory where the boy fell through the roof and broke everything and died, and now on to the canal.
And breathe.
The pressure is off down here, by the canal.
No cars, no foot-deep potholes filled with black water, no chance of an overloaded skip wagon mindlessly grinding over you at the traffic lights.
Still have to be wary.
There’s people about, in the dark.
Stoned students sneak spliffs behind halls of residence that were once vast satanic mills.
Gaunt wrecks in market sportswear shamble in the shadows where needles crunch underfoot.
A girl with huge heels and huge hair stands with a nervous middle aged man, waiting for me to fuck off so they can get it over with.
The canal winds on, past the industry, and now through fields of corn, the tangled and cracked copses of goat willow that hide feral horses, deer and foxes, the huge skeletons of pylons striding and crackling overhead into the imminent sunset.
I keep riding, past the locks where the estate kids go swimming in their undies during the school holidays, where teen girls in soaked see-through bras stare back defiantly while the lads share fags and backflip into the oil streaked water.
Past the ghost of Kirkstall Abbey, past the rail tracks, towards the rising ladder of locks in the near distance.
I’m gaining on another cyclist, his flashing red light and hi-viz vest glowing ahead of me. The sun is behind the trees, the pinks fading to dove grey, shadows growing longer, air cooling.
The red light on the bike in front of me suddenly swerves.
I see a thin figure up ahead, standing in the path at a strange angle.
He’s shouting something at the cyclist, who pedals quickly away.
I slow down.
It sounded like the man had said, ‘Help me’.
I think for a second.
The towpath is now deserted apart myself and the man up ahead.
If anything were to happen there would be no witnesses, no-one to help.
I ride closer.
The man is rail thin, skin and bones wrapped loosely in an open threadbare shirt exposing a chest like tripe. He looks twenty-five going on fifty-five.
He’s pulling on a cheap little fishing rod, but he has no box of bait, no kit, just a rod.
I scan the nearby bushes and trees, looking for accomplices, some chancey little prick with a Stanley knife looking for scag money.
There is no-one. This man, this kid, is alone.
He catches my eye.
He says, “Mate, give us an’ ‘and! I got a fish!!”
I slow, put one foot to the ground, look closely at him.
He’s young, but fucked. Broken.
If he sees thirty I’d be amazed.
He’s a half starved wreck who reeks of all day drinking and that sickly sweet ‘other’ smell, the smell you get when drugs push chemicals out through your pores in a thin oil.
His teeth, what’s left of them, are blackened stumps.
He hasn’t had an upbringing.
This kid managed to push his head between the paving slabs of life like a weed, surviving but not really living, not nurtured, not fed, but not dying, not yet.
And here he is, with his fishing rod and opened shirt, staggering around on a towpath in the middle of nowhere.
Again, he says, “I got a fish! Help us! Please!”
There’s something in his eyes that makes me wait a little longer.
If he goes for me I could batter him in a second.
I’m sixty pounds or so heavier than him, maybe ten inches taller.
If he’s got a knife, though…
But I wait.
What fish could he have on that shitty little rod?
I sigh, lay down my bike.
I say, “What fish have you got?”
He grins, madly. “Pike!”
I’m doubtful, step towards the black water, careful not to turn my back in the kid.
The hair-thin line is taut, quivering, twitching back and forth in the slick blackness.
Now, I like to watch fishing shows on TV.
I find them… restful.
I’ve never actually fished in my life.
I do know what sort of rod and line you might use to catch a pike and this kid’s rod and line were not the right sort.
his rig is something you’d buy off a bloke down the market for nine quid and would probably snap on the first strike.
I continue to squint into the gloom, then step quickly back.
“Fucking Hell.”
The pike looms out of the dark like a freshly forged blade.
It glitters, green gold, tiger striped, a murderous grin with a dead eye.
“I told yer! I fuckin’ told yer!” The kid dances on the spot, carefully playing the huge fish with trembling hands.
The pike sinks, then turns again, tail like a rudder, lazily pushing the water, deciding what to do about the hook.
It’s body looks around a foot thick, over three feet long. It screams ‘predator’, forcing an instinctive reaction deep in my gut from a time when humans were prey.
The rod bends, creaks slightly.
I say to the kid, “Ok. I’ll help. What do you want me to do?”
He watches the fish intently, and says, “I’ll get it close, then you reach in, get your hand in it’s gill and pull it out.”
I say, “Fuck that. I’m not putting my hand anywhere near that bastard.”
The kid looks pained. “Go, on, give it a go. I seen it done on telly loads of times!”
I say, “I’ve seen it done too, but I know a bloke who’s thumb got chewed to the bone in less than second trying that stunt. No fucking way. You got a net?”
The kid shakes his head. “I only got this.”
He lets out a little more line and the rod twitches towards the reeds on the opposite bank. He carefully, so carefully steers the running fish away, guides it back around to our side of the canal, reels in the line.
Sweat beads across his forehead, pasting his thin hair to his scalp. His pale chest heaves, gulping air. But he is focussed, fighting a superior creature with a rig meant for minnows.
I’m impressed.
He pauses, then says, “Okay. Okay. I’ll do it. Take this.”
Before I can protest he hands me the rod.
I’m instantly aware of the power on the other end of the line.
It thrums with life, electricity, a fine filament connecting to something of immense power and I feel awed.
I start to reel in some line and the kid stops me. “No! Just let it play… gently… gently…”
He crouches, suddenly catlike. For all his flaws the kid has cunning, a sixth sense for an opportunity. He wants the pike, so he’ll get the pike.
Under his instruction I move the rod, let out line, reel in a bit, but all I can think of is that long, grinning mouth filled with tiny knives, and the kid’s hand, reaching nearer…
The pike surfaces, closer than ever. It’s body leans over slightly and that eye takes us both in, calculating.
It is every bit as large as I guessed.
I wonder what the fuck we’ll do with the thing when we get it out of the water. It feels similar to dragging a leopard out of a tree.
It slides through the water towards the kid.
He’s holding a fistful of turf with one hand, straining to reach to the black water with the other.
“Closer, mate. Slowly!! Closer…”
I do as I’m told.
The pike lays there, grinning, huge jaws agape. I pull it closer.
The kid can nearly touch it.
Suddenly the pike’s jaw closes neatly.
It flicks its thick tail and the last of the day’s dying light glints across the green scales along its wide flank, and it is gone.
The kid is still reaching, but all the strength goes out of him. He falls backwards, sitting on the ground, one hand outstretched, the other loosely entwined in the grass like a lover’s hair.
The line dangles limply from the rod in my hand, cut neatly as though with tailor’s scissors.
The pike would never have allowed us to land it.
It had played us.
The kid stands up, chest heaving, tears springing to his eyes.
It’s off! The line snapped! It… it were mine! It… did you see it? Did you see it though, mate??”
He suddenly starts to cry, great heaving sobs, and I put down the rod and hold him, smell the reek of drugs and booze and sweat, feel that troubled heart thumping feverishly in his thin chest, his tears soaking my shirt, and I say, “It was yours, mate. I saw it, I saw it. It was your fish, a monster, and you caught it. You did good, mate. You did really, really well. It was a beast, no-one could ever land that, not on that rod. You did your best.”
He stands up and wipes his tears off on his sleeve.
He half-smiles and says, “Thanks for helping us, mate.”
By now it is dusk, almost night.
The kid squats on his haunches and looks into the canal, hoping for another hint of what is in there. I pick up my bike, suddenly tired, and pedal home in the dark, leaving the kid to his fresh defeat, his brand new ‘almost’.
I know exactly how he feels.

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216. Don’t Stand So Close to Me

It’s 6am, yet again.
What a shitty time of day.
Don’t get me wrong.
I don’t mind the dawn, I don’t mind cold mornings with burning sun searing through the frozen blue, drinking hot tea that billows steam endlessly, the tired-alive feeling that will fade by ten, leaving you empty. I don’t mind it on MY time, but 6am for some thick twat of a boss who thinks he’s a genius because he’s at the wheel of a bus that drives itself, a thick twat who earns so much money that he can only think to buy a sports car, then ANOTHER sports car, then ANOTHER and ANOTHER…
That man can shove 6am up his fucking arse.
My tea isn’t looking too pretty under the flyshit-spattered strip lighting that flickers overhead, and the sound of fans struggling in ageing computers begins to grate if you notice it.
I try not to notice it.
I notice it.
Most people stumbling through the factory at this ungodly hour leave each other well alone. Like bears fresh out of hibernation, they know things can turn ugly very quickly if you get in someone’s face at this hour.
Most people.
The door bangs open and Eddie the Reader hustles in, whistling, with armfuls of jobs that have been read overnight.
“MORNIN’ LUCI!” he shouts.
I mutter something.
He slams the jobs onto the desk.
I flinch.
He whistles.
I hate him deeply.
He’s oblivious.
I hate him for not noticing my hatred.
It is entirely ineffectual.
Eddie flicks through the jobs, trying to find one with comments on it.
While he does this, he flatly sings, “DOOBY DOO, DOOBY DOOBEY DOO.”
I grind my teeth.
Eddie isn’t singing because he likes to sing, he’s just making noises for the sake of making noise.
The thing is, he worked as a printer for most of his career, taking up reading after getting laid off from one of the many Northern printers that have folded over the last twenty years or so. He’s used to the machines, the constant clatter and roar, he’s used to blokes shouting bollocks at each other and shouting bollocks back, shouting stuff for the sake of shouting stuff, shouting instead of thinking.
So now he’s in this silent world of humming fans, dripping taps, whistling nostrils, keyboard clicks, creaks, tuts, harrumphs and sighs.
It does Eddie’s head in.
So he makes loud noises – milkman whistles, DOOBY DOOs, bangs and clatters and shouty answers.
It gets right on my tit ends.
“AH!” shouts Eddie as he finds the job with the comments on.
He says, “Luci! The night bloke saw this problem on THIS job an’ he wondered what were wrong, or were it right, or, well, either way, he wanted me to ask you to take a look.”
He stands there, blinking at me.
I look back at him.
He jabs a finger at the job.
THUMP THUMP THUMP.
“This job, Luci. He wants you to take a look.”
Blink. Blink.
Eddie is about sixty but thinks he’s a thirty. He’s got a white military buzz cut and a dubious Tinder profile. He goes to the gym most days and orders work shirts a size smaller, rolls up the sleeves an extra turn to show off his guns, and likes to place his hands on his head to pretend he’s thinking just so he can give his biceps a twitch.
Eddie is a bit of a lothario.
He’s dated more divorcees than I’ve had canteen dinners, and rather like canteen dinners, I try not to bring up his dates too often.
They invariably end in disaster.
I don’t know what he does, but the divorcees rarely come back for a second date.
I do know that part of the problem is, Eddie lacks boundaries.
He can’t tell when he’s being an annoying little twat, which is pretty much all of the time.
At Christmas parties Eddie is the first on the dance floor, chatting up other people’s wives half his age and trying to spin them around or grab them by the waist. He shouts in women’s ears leaving a fine mist of Tetley’s and pastry across the side of their faces and touches thighs as he talks.
He has that slightly rapey quality, where a woman might have to actually smack him with her handbag or pepper spray him before he gets the message that his advances are unwelcome, and then he’ll throw a sulk and blame womankind for being ‘contrary’.
Eddie is a Jack Russell dry humping every available leg, a Jack Russell who looks hurt and bewildered by the invariable whack on the nose with a rolled up newspaper.
I look at Eddie, blinking and jabbing the page, and I sigh.
I say, “I’ll take a look.”
Eddie doesn’t move.
When I say ‘I’ll take a look’ I generally mean I’ll take a look after I’ve had a cuppa, stared at the internet for a bit and had a scrape around in the bottom of my frying pan of motivation to see if I can gather enough burned bits of enthusiasm to give the job my attention.
But no, Eddie hears ‘I’ll take a look’ and he waits around to take a look himself.
I sigh, turn to the computer and start taking a look.
I find the file, open it, scroll through the artwork…
“IS THAT IT THERE??”
“Fucking Hell, Eddie!”
Eddie has leaned in right next to my ear. He’s an inch away from the side of my face.
When I look round he’s a blur, filling my vision, blinking at me.
He says, “What?”
I say, You’re too close!”
He says, “What?”
I say, “You’re too close to me, Eddie! I CAN’T WORK WITH YOU SO CLOSE!!”
He says, “What?”
Eddie is also deaf as a post.
I give up.
I keep checking the artwork with Eddie breathing in my ear.
His nose brushes my face.
I can smell chewing gum, Old Spice and a slight whiff of halitosis.
I feel like I’m going to scream.
My personal boundary is roughly two feet in diameter.
Any closer and I feel like we’re either going to fuck or fight.
I don’t mind a hug, I’m not a monster, but make it quick.
I don’t want to hug Eddie.
I don’t want to fuck him either.
I want him to get the fuck away from me, at least to a distance of two feet away, preferably a different room entirely.
But no, Eddie is relentless. He perches at my shoulder like my conscience on a Monday, making my skin crawl, appalling me.
His finger shoots out and starts tapping the screen.
“THERE. IT’S THERE. SPELLED WRONG. SHOULD BE AN ‘A’ IN IT.”
He is gripping my shoulder with his boney fingers and leaning on me.
I say, “Fucking Hell, Eddie!!”
I prise myself out of his grasp and lunge from the chair.
Eddie looks confused. “What?”
I say, “Nothing. I’ll fix it and bring it down.”
He shrugs. “Fair do’s. Oh, by he way, I hear there’s a new lass starting in the Account Execs. Have you seen her yet? Is she bonny?”
I say, “She’s twenty five, Eddie.”
He blinks. Grins. “Is she bonny, then?”
I grit my teeth. “I’ve not seen her, Eddie.”
He winks. “I’ll pop back later for the job, Luci. I might bump into her. DOOBY DOO, DOOBY DOOBEY DOO.”
He hustles away with a spring in his step, a spring with the slightest hint of a hobble, I notice.
Eddie is starting to show his age, which isn’t such a bad thing. Older men should know when to stop playing silly bollocks and reel their neck in a bit. Eddie has squared up to half the young bucks in the factory at one time or another, red faced and chelping, offering to give them a good hiding in the car park. It’s always met with pitying laughter, but it doesn’t seem to slow Eddie down.
Everyone knows when he’s got a date because a bloke from the finishing line slides into the Reader’s Department with an envelope for Eddie which is discretely exchanged for cash.
Little blue pills.
What kind of bloke chucks dick pills down their neck on a first date?
A bloke with a nefarious agenda, that’s who.
I hear laughter behind me.
It’s Scorcher.
I groan inwardly, then I groan outwardly.
Please, God, not now.
Scorchers says, “You got Eddie makin’ out wi’ you n’all, Luci? Fuckin’ ‘orrible, innit? Creeps me right out.”
I sigh. “Yes, Scorcher. It’s horrible. He’s got no concept of personal space.”
Scorcher nods sagely. “Does it to me all t’time. When I’m fixin’ summat, like on a machine in t’readers, he’s there, ‘ovverin’, stickin’ ‘is fuckin’ beak in all t’time. Like ‘e wants to bum us.”
I look at Scorcher, gnarled and knackered in grease caked jeans with a pot belly flopping over the belt.
I say, “I reckon you’re safe on that front, Scorcher.”
Then I frown. “Wait a sec. Fixing stuff? Fixing what stuff? You’re a bagger and tagger. You’re only qualified to put stuff into bags. It’s all you’ve done for twenty years.”
Scorcher looks offended. “I’m a fully qualified ‘lectrical engineer, Luci! I only pretend to be a thick cunt to fool T’Man in this shit ‘ole.”
“You’ve successfully fooled him for twenty years, Scorcher.”
Scorcher looks sly. “That’s a sign of ‘ow good I am at foolin’ T’Man! Any road, we got that new supervisor now, an’ I were tellin’ ‘im ‘ow I built me own motorbike from scratch, stuff like that…”
“You CLAIM you built your own motorbike in your cellar, Scorcher, and gave it a few too many revs up the cellar steps only to land it on the roof of Matalan over the road.”
Scorcher snaps his fingers. “An’ that proves what an ace ‘lectrical engineer I am! I can turn me ‘and to owt, Luci. That’s wot I were tellin’ the new bloke – I says to ‘im, I says, I can turn me ‘and to owt.”
I say, “And this new supervisor… what did he say?”
Scorcher shrugs. “Naturally ‘e thought I were wasted chuckin’ stuff in bags. ‘E’s givin’ us a trial doin’ some maintenance. Changin’ bulbs, fuses, a bit o’ wirin’, that sort o’ shit.”
“And naturally he wanted to see your qualifications, certification, that sort of thing?”
He replies, “Well, yeah, but I lost all me papers that time me ‘ouse burned down.”
“Why did your house burn down, Scorcher?”
“Dicky wirin’,” says Scorcher.
I shake my head. “Great. We’re all going to die in a massive fire.”
Scorcher ignores me. He says, “Any road, did you see that Britain’s Got Talent thing on telly?”
I say, “No.”
He says, “How come?”
I say, “Because it’s shit.”
Scorcher blinks a bit, then goes on. “Well, there were this bloke that’s a soldier an’ ‘e’s a magician ‘n’ all, an’ he pretends ‘e can do this psychic shit, an’ what he does is ‘e kind o’ touches one o’ them fit judge lasses who sit wi’ Simon an’ that queer bloke that writes kids books, but when he touches one ‘o the lasses they get this little shock, y’know? There’s like a little crackle. Dead fancy. So ‘e does this little shock then reckons on ‘e’s read their minds but it’s all shit cos I reckon magicians are mostly paedos.”
I open my mouth a couple of times, then say, “Riiight… and your point is?”
“Well, you could do wi’ a little shock thing for Eddie. Y’know, when ‘e’s doin’ that thing where ‘e sticks ‘is nose right in yer ear, ‘e gets a crackle thing, yeah? That’ll learn ‘im!”
I’m dubious. “But we don’t know how a magician makes that crackle thing, Scorcher. It’s probably a closely guarded magician secret.”
Scorcher snorts. “Fuck off, Luci! You can buy all that shit on t’interweb! It’s static stuff! I looked it up mi’ sen! I builds up static then it crackles off stuff y’touch! Piss easy! It’d sort Eddie right out!”
I shake my head. “I don’t like it, Scorcher. Sounds a bit dodgy to me.”
Scorcher winks at me. “If a magic paedo soldier can crackle someone, y’can bet yer bottom dollar ol’ Scorcher can!”
He swaggers off.

It’s a few days later.
I’m walking down the factory, taking jobs to the machines.
The whole factory is desperately behind schedule, the presses are rattling like they’ll shake themselves to pieces, the cracked concrete rumbles menacingly underfoot.
They’re trying to cajole the staff to work 24 hours through the weekend to make up time but they’re on a Work to Rule over disputed overtime rates and tensions are high.
Managers prowl amongst the machines like hunting sharks so I avoid them, keep my head down, get my shit done quickly.
On my way back I can see Eddie a way up ahead.
He’s holding a knackered fan heater.
He goes into maintenance.
I get closer.
And closer.
And…
Bang.
The factory power shuts down.
Every single machine in the factory trips out and rumbles to a halt.
Men run around, flicking switches, making phone calls.
I can see a manager weeping in frustration.
From the door of maintenance I can see a mist of blue smoke drifting from the doorway, a smell of ozone in the air.
I think, Oh No.
No.
Scorcher stumbles out, looking slightly bewildered.
Black soot stains the side of his face.
He sees me, grins, gives me the thumbs up.
I say, “What the fuck have you done, you stupid cunt??”
He says, “Eddie won’t be stickin’ his nose in yer ear no more! I got ‘im good!”
I look through the door, see a pair of short legs sticking out from behind a workbench, twitching.
I say, “I’d make yourself scarce, Scorcher. If you get caught for this you’re fucked! You might have killed him!”
Scorcher tries to move, but he jerks to a halt.
He looks down.
I look down.
I say, “What’s that sticking out of your leg, Scorcher?”
He grins. “Extension lead.”
I splutter. “An extension lead? A fucking… extension lead?? You mean…you’re… wired to the fucking mains???”
He frowns. “O’ course! How else would you get a good crackle?”
I back away, shaking my head. “That’s it. You’ve killed him. You’ve killed Eddie. You’ve gone and killed Eddie. Great. Well done, Scorcher, your bullshit has finally taken a human life. You’ve fucking killed Eddie!”
Eddie suddenly sits up and looks at me. The opposite side of his head to Scorcher’s is blackened with soot.
He blinks.
He says, “What?”
I grab Scorcher by the shirt and say, “Blame it on that fucking fan heater!”
And I hurry away into the gloom.

It’s 6am, yet again.
It’s still a shitty time of day.
I’m grimacing through a hangover and a pint of horrible coffee.
Things couldn’t be worse.
The door bangs open.
“DOOBY DOO, DOOBY DOOBEY DOO.”
Things are worse.
Eddie the Reader hustles in, whistling, with armfuls of jobs that have been read overnight.
“MORNIN’ LUCI!” he shouts.
I say nothing.
He slams the jobs onto the desk.
I do nothing.
He whistles.
I feel nothing.
Eddie flicks through the jobs, trying to find one with comments on it.
I wait.
Wait for death.
He finds the job, crowds in on me with it.
“This job was read through the night, Luci. Night bloke reckoned the colour were wrong. Will you check it for me?”
He pushes closer.
I feel what I dread to feel.
His rock-hard cock pokes me in the shoulder.
I shudder.
Ever since the incident with ‘The Faulty Fan Heater’ Eddie has had a permanent and pretty impressive erection.
Everyone’s seen it, you can’t miss it.
Eddie has taken to yawning in an exaggerated manner, leaning back and pushing his groin out.
Several women in the office have attempted to complain, but it is technically classed as an industrial injury so the gaffers are keeping a lid on everything.
Eddie hasn’t put a claim in and they want it to stay that way.
As it happens, Eddie couldn’t be happier.
He’s got what he always wanted.
A permanent boner.
It’s saving him a fortune in dick pills and he’s been on a date every night since the accident.
When the gaffers realised Scorcher was fucking around with electrical equipment they sacked the new supervisor on the spot and put Scorcher back to bagging and tagging, to everyone’s relief.
The only person unhappy with the situation is me.
Eddie leans in some more.
I sigh, turn to the computer and start taking a look.
The screen flickers slightly with static.
I find the file, open it, scroll through the artwork…
Eddie shouts, “IS THAT IT THERE??”
He leans closer, closer… and…
I tense up, but it’s no use.
CRACKLE.
I yelp.
Eddie says, “What?”

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215. Boxer Beat

The office is silent except for the staccato plastic tapping of keyboards and the occasional shuddering sigh from whoever happens to be hungover at this particular time.
I say the office is silent, but of course, it isn’t.
It isn’t because Batley is working.
I say working, but of course, she isn’t.
Batley works, at most, a fifth of the time she is actually at work.
The rest of the time she is either talking, or conducting her own business whilst talking.
Batley is always talking.
She’s got a right gob on her.
She treats the office like, well, an office, only she doesn’t do the office’s work, she does her own work.
Her work is dog work.
She’s into dogs, big time.
Boxer dogs.
I don’t like boxer dogs. I was once viciously attacked by a boxer dog that was dancing with a naked girl I’d just fucked. It’s a long and confusing story, but suffice to say it left me with a bloody wound and a deep dislike for that particular hyperactive moron of the canine world.
Batley always wanted kids, you see, but a magic combination of there being ‘somethin’ wrong wi’ mi’ tubes’ and her being about twelve stone overweight has sadly left her unable to spawn a squirming litter of small fat Batleys to suckle contentedly at her swollen teats.
I think she considered adoption, but her and her husband weigh in at a combined weight of around fifty stone and the chances of the morbidly obese getting a child are pretty slim – possibly out of fear that they might eat it – so they chose another route.
They bought a shitting machine.
Pearl.
Pearl the Boxer Dog.
Then they got another, a male called Dean, then another female, Roxy.
And now that’s all she talks about.
“Last night our Roxy were sat there starin’ at us sayin’ ‘mam, let us out cos I need a shite!’ but I were all settled on t’sofa wi’ a big Dairy Milk an’ a bottle o’ Blossom ‘ill an’ there were no way I were off out onto t’astro-turf to pick up a big shite in mi’ PJ’s givin’ t’neighbours a bloody eyeful so I says, ‘Barry! Barry! Barry! Barry! but our Barry were busy wi’ ‘is Carling and bettin’ on t’football in t’kitchen diner so I decided it were no good an’ I were gonna ‘ave to go out mi sen but then our Roxy looked at us wi’ ‘er ears flat an’ she’d gone an’ shat on mi’ slippers but I couldn’t get mad at ‘er, bless ‘er, so I just opened t’patio doors, flicked the shit out an’ finished watchin’ Love Island.”
This charming monologue is delivered at a Brian Blessed volume, punctuated with a chattering, braying laugh.
Batley had worked for half her life as a barmaid in her father’s pub.
Hefty barmaids are used to talking to anyone, talking to everyone. She’s chatted cheerfully to horrible old men who are taking a suspicious length of time ferreting in their filthy trousers in search of coppers to pay for their half of mild, she’s held sparkling conversations with massive racists who could easily explode into incredible violence at the very sight of a person who’s complexion isn’t gammon pink.
Office conversation comes easy to her, even though she still delivers it in a tone designed to be heard over a Leeds United goal in a packed pub at four o’clock on a Saturday afternoon.
As such, her business is everyone’s business.
“So I says to her, I says, I says, ‘Mam,’ I says, ‘Mam, I got enough on wi’ t’dogs without ‘avin’ to go chasin’ round after me grandma ‘cos she forgot where she lives again an’ she’s walked three mile over to ‘Unslet tryin’ to find the terrace ‘ouse she lived in wi’ me grandad, God Rest ‘is Soul, back in nineteen seventy two but which were torn down twenty year past to make way for a fuckin’ mosque!’ Me mam lives over at Brid now, y’see, since me dad retired, so they rely on muggins ‘ere to drop everythin’ every time me gran ‘as a funny turn, an’ that’s just not on!”
Whilst she’s talking, Batley types feverishly on her Facebook page.
She is part of a vast community of Boxer dog enthusiasts from across the world who spend an unsettling amount of time online talking about, well, dogs.
I don’t think it’s healthy, personally.
Dogs are fine – great even – but you have to know when to draw the line.
For example, recently, Pearl fell ill.
It had fits, seizures. Horrible to see, by all accounts.
But that’s what happens with years of concentrated inbreeding to create pedigree dogs.
Their legs pack in, they get tumours, they can’t breathe properly, their brains turn to putty.
It’s a fucking dreadful business, canine eugenics. If you were to suggest that only certain humans should be allowed to breed due to their ‘superior’ physical characteristics and that their children would be awarded a certificate and higher social standing due to this breeding then you’d rightly attribute it to something the Nazis liked to dabble in, and you’d be damn right, but when it comes to other species we’re more than happy to turn a blind eye to some obsessed oddball in a tatty fleece trying to get a mother dog to fuck it’s own son in a shed outside Doncaster in the hope the progeny’s eyes will be even more bulging and swivelled and that it’s nose might look like it’s been kicked in by a coal miner’s boot.
It’s totally fucked up.
So Batley’s precious little angel Pearl started to foam at the mouth and shudder uncontrollably, pissing all over the place as horrible seizures tore through her body.
She couldn’t walk the dog any more, for fear it would have a fit, so she bought a giant pram for it and wheeled it through the streets of Morley.
Imagine that.
What a sight.
A very large woman waddling along, pushing a giant pram containing a dog having an epileptic fit.
What a time to be alive.
Batley took her dog to the vets and they prescribed potion after potion, treatment after treatment, and such was Batley’s love for that damaged mutt, she tried them all.
Nothing worked.
And when they didn’t work she tried a different vet, then another, and another.
Now, none of these vets told her the cold truth.
If the dog is fucked on a genetic level, nothing is going to fix it. All that inbreeding has completely screwed it up. The kindest thing to do is pat it’s head, shed a tear and give it one last injection.
But no.
Those cunts, those snake oil salesmen, kept trying increasingly exotic medicines in the hope of curing the incurable and Batley kept paying.
Until finally, it worked.
The seizures halted. The dog was cured.
Then it dropped down dead.
She had spent just short of ten thousand pounds on vets bills, not including what the insurance paid out.
Ten thousand.
On a dog.
Those vets, those so-called animal lovers, they didn’t see a sick dog, they saw a cash cow.
But, at the same time, Batley was happy to pay.
She now has a carved wooden casket on her window sill containing the dog’s ashes, a casket that cost her several hundred pounds.
So after a horrible experience like that, what do you do?
That’s right.
You go straight out and buy another fucking Boxer dog with an even more distinguished pedigree for an eye watering sum of money and you start all over again.
You’d imagine Batley would be skint after all that, but you’d be wrong.
Because Batley’s business is Dog Business, and even when you are a fucking moron willing to spunk thousands of hard earned pounds on dogs and dog accoutrements, you’ll find there’s always somebody even more moronic than yourself out there, willing to spend even more than you on things even more stupid and pointless.
Her phone rings.
She picks it up.
“Hiya! Yeah, yeah, that’s right. Where to? South Africa? That’s fine. Price? Six ‘undred, wi’ shipping. Air Mail, be there in two days. Send us y’details an’ I’ll get on it. Yeah… ace… bye!”
She puts down the phone and types furiously, her tongue sticking out in concentration.
There is a job on her desk.
It has been there for an hour.
The print press is stood still, waiting for the job.
Her boss, a man called The Belly due to his ridiculously huge gut, glances nervously at Batley, then at the job, then at Batley.
He checks his watch.
Then he sighs, heaves himself from his reinforced chair and lumbers over to Batley’s desk.
He begins to speak but her phone rings.
She holds a hand up.
She grabs the phone.
“Hiya! Yep, yep, no probs. Where to? Los Angeles. Right. That’s Six ‘undred, wi’ shippin’. Be a couple o’ days, so be wi’ y’around Tuesday. Email us y’details an’ I’ll get crackin’. Yeah, cheers!”
Again she slams down the phone and types furiously.
The Belly sighs again, picks up the job from her desk and thumps his way back to his desk to do the job himself, the soft cunt.
I can see Tommy working next to Batley. He’s at the end of his tether. I really don’t know how he does it, sitting next to her all day as she rabbits on incessantly, doing little or no work while he has to take up the slack.
He catches my eye, shoves his chair back and walks over to me.
“Let’s get a cup of fucking tea,” he growls.
We go over to the kitchenette, click on the kettle and he leans against the counter, shaking his head.
“I can’t take much more of this,” he says, rubbing his face with both hands. “It’s driving me fucking mental, dogs dogs fucking dogs, every minute of every fucking day!”
I say, “Have you had a word with your boss?”
He barks a mirthless laugh. “What, The Belly?? Have you seen that soft cunt? He does three quarters of her work for her because he’s frightened of her! He hates any kind of confrontation!”
We hear Batley take another call, another quote for six hundred quid, this time shipping to France.
I say, “She seems to be selling a lot of something for six hundred quid a pop! That’s nearly two grand today, and it’s not even lunchtime yet! What’s she flogging?”
Tommy’s face lights up. “Oh, you don’t know? You’re gonna like this. Well, she’s got those two male dogs now, yeah? And both those fuckers have got some sort of rosette at Crufts, and they’re kind-of-like dog royalty, so they’re quite a commodity. Now, Batley was all about the lady dogs at first. She’d find some stud to come over and fuck her bitches and they’d all stand around on her fake lawn in the back garden watching these two dogs fuck each others brains out like it were a floor show. Thing is, it takes a lot of time and effort, raising pups. She was living out in her shed with them twenty four seven, making sure they all got fed and didn’t get cold. It must have been fucking exhausting!”
I say, “Wait a sec, you say she slept in a fucking shed?”
Tommy shakes his head. “Not just any shed. This is a big fucker, fitted with electricity, heaters and hot fucking water to boot. She could live in there forever if she wanted. She got a bed in there, the lot. But she’s up every two hours to feed the pups, sort them out, fuck knows what you need to do with dogs, but it sounds like a fuck of a lot of work. The other thing is, those mad cunts who love Boxer dogs, they want a certain look, a certain colour, apparently. So they’ll pay top dollar for a particular dog, but won’t touch another with a barge pole, depending what it looks like. It doesn’t make a bit of sense to me.
“But now she’s using her head, and got these two boy dogs. So what she was doing was getting people to bring their bitches round and they’d all stand around and watch while one of her boys fucks the girl dog, then the owner pays Batley five hundred for the privilege!”
I say, “So basically, she’s a dog pimp. She’s setting up dog fucking sessions for money.”
Tommy laughs. “Yeah, something like that. But anyway, she’s worked out an even easier method. A way of cutting out the middle man, so to speak.”
I frown. “There’s not many things more basic than two dogs fucking in a back garden, mate.”
“Yeah, well, what if one of those dogs that needs fucking is in Mexico? Or Spain? What then? Our Batley’s worked it out. She just gets these special insulated and chilled containers and ships the dog jizz across the world, special delivery! Charges six hundred quid a pop, quite literally!”
I shake my head. “That is fucking clever! Shipping’s the only proper outlay, everything else is free! A fairly unlimited supply too, I suppose, at least for a few years. She’s not as stupid as she looks!”
Tommy is still grinning. “Yeah, but think about it, Luci. Shipping the dog jizz is one thing, but how do you suppose she gets it in the first place?”
I frown. “Well.. I suppose you… I reckon there’s this machine or something… and…”
Tommy is shaking his head. “No, mate. That’s not how they do it.”
I shudder. “But… whenever she talks about the dogs it’s like they’re her kids! When she says they give her a look it’s always ‘mam, I want to go for a walk’ or ‘mam, I want my dinner’! If she’s doing what you say she’s doing, then she’s basically wanking off her kids and selling the spunk to the highest bidder, which is fucked up on so many levels!”
Tommy nods. “Yep. I wonder if there’s a special way of doing it. You know, different to humans. And if there is a special way… I wonder… you know, in the bedroom… I wonder if she’s ever inadvertently wanked off her Barry like she wanks off her dogs…”
“Fucking Hell, mate!” I say. “What a thought! Mind you, you wouldn’t get six hundred quid for a tube of Barry’s spunk. He’s no pedigree.”
Tommy nods. “I agree. But we now know Batley’s price. She’s basically wanking dogs off for cash. She’s gone from dog pimp to dog whore. Her C.V. would be a right read these days.”
I say, “I couldn’t do it. I mean… wank off a dog. Wouldn’t it start looking at you a bit differently? You’ve gone from being the person who takes it for walk and gives it a bowl of Pedigree Chum to basically being it’s sex partner. It’s all wrong.”
We look at Batley.
She’s on the phone again. We hear her quote six hundred quid again.
Tommy says, “That’s at least five dog wanks today alone. She must have strong wrists…”
Tommy walks off with his cuppa.
I sit down at my desk.
I’m thinking.
It surely can’t be that basic.
There must be a… device, or something.
Secretively, I bring up Google.
I type in, ‘How to collect dog semen…”
I look around.
Click ‘Search’.
I don’t realise what’s going on at first but a video pops up.
This bloke is sliding something onto a dogs cock and it suddenly goes mental, fucking his hand for all it’s worth.
I splutter with laughter, half horrified, when I realise someone is behind me.
Soulless Boss glowers.
He hisses, “What… the … fuck… is… that??”
I look back at the screen.
The dog is jizzing.
I sigh.
I say, “It’s a Dogwanker.”

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214. DOWNTIME

“Not there, THERE, you thick twat! There!! Put it THERE!”
Soulless Boss stalks around, waving his arms, getting in people’s faces.
It’s far too early for all this but he doesn’t care.
He’s on a mission.
He’s on the shop floor orchestrating the configuration of a large digital print press.
Some parts are interchangeable – a huge glue unit can go at one end of the machine to perform one task, or slot in somewhere in the middle to perform a different task.
The same with cutter units, folding units, varnish units.
But changing these things around takes down time, time in which the machine isn’t running, and a machine that isn’t running is a machine that isn’t earning.
Soulless Boss glances nervously at the huge red LED sign above the machine.
It reads, ‘DOWNTIME: 1h 47m CAUSE: Maintenance.’
Cardboard Supervisor has already been over to ask what type of maintenance is being carried out.
Soulless Boss explained that by reconfiguring the machine he can cut the overall run time of the job down by twelve hours.
He glances back up at the LED sign.
Make that Ten hours, thirteen minutes.
He screams, “You two, get over here and push this with me. It’s going there. No, not there, THERE!!”
Cyclops and Freshmeat share a glance but don’t say anything. They start to push.
Pob the engineer shuffles over waving a spanner. “Woah, WOAH! What y’doin,? Can’t move it yet! There’s ‘ealth ‘n’ safety, to think of! We need t’forklift, an’ strappin’, an’ a pot ‘o’ tea won’t go amiss…”
Soulless Boss looks back up at the LED sign again.
DOWNTIME: 1h 55m.
Fuck.
He can’t let this happen.
It’s his big chance.
After years of wallowing in the doldrums of the studio he’s been chosen to manage the new digital wing of the factory, working on million pound digital print presses that, if all goes to plan, will see the conventional litho presses consigned to the scrap heap.
Putting Cardboard Supervisor out of a job.
Putting Soulless Boss at the top, or near the top, just underneath the directors, where he spends a lot of his time anyway, figuratively speaking.
He has to make it work.
The gluer unit is big, nearly half a ton, but with enough men they can maybe just… maybe inch it into place, carefully, without the hassle and wasted time…
“Get the forklift if you want,” he spits at Pob, “but by the time you get back we’ll be done!”
He starts to push.
The lads start to push.
The gluer unit grates across the dusty floor, gradually coming closer to the bay where it needs to be.
“A bit more.. left… left… a little more…”
Pob shakes his head. “Go easy! We don’t want to accidents! You’ll get fucked if there’s an accident, Soulless!”
Soulless Boss pauses. He knows Pob is right.
He looks up.
DOWNTIME: 2h 01m.
He shouts, “Alright! Keep pushing, but be very, very careful. Don’t take any risks! We can do this.”
The gluer unit grinds and groans, the lads heave and sweat, two inches to go, one inch, and with a final heave it clunks into place.
Soulless Boss is elated.
“Yes! Well done! We did it!”
He shakes hands with the lads.
All except Freshmeat.
He holds his hand out but Freshmeat doesn’t take it.
Soulless Boss frowns.
He looks down.
Freshmeat is holding one gloved hand tightly over the other.
Soulless Boss says, “What’s wrong?”
Freshmeat says, “It’s me finger.”
Soulless Boss says, “What about it?”
Freshmeat says, “I think… I think it’s come off.”
Blood drips steadily from the soaked glove, dark and syrupy.
Soulless Boss blinks at it for a moment, then says, “Oh. Oh… fuck.”
The lads spring into action.
Pob rushes to get a van, Cyclops fetches the First Aid kit and carefully ushers Freshmeat to the exit. He calls over his shoulder, “We’ll be half an hour, Soulless. We’ll drop him off then get back.”
Soulless Boss nods, open mouthed. It has all happened so quickly.
He suddenly snaps out of it.
DOWNTIME: 2h 12m.
“Right!” he shouts. “Back to work! We need to connect the power to the gluer then run a quick test. Where’s the engineer?”
He looks around.
Loose Cannon, the labourer, is eating a biscuit. Around a mouthful of crumbs he says, “T’engineer’s drivin’ t’van.”
Soulless Boss’ mouth flaps open a couple of times.
Then he whispers, “Shitcakes.”
He grits his teeth.
“Fuck it. We can do it.”
Loose Cannon shakes his head. “No we fuckin’ can’t. If we touch owt lectric we get fuckin’ sacked. Not bollocked, not warned, fuckin’ sacked, an’ I don’ wanna get fuckin’ sacked coz I’m a thick cunt an’ thez no chance of me gettin’ another fuckin’ job. Wanna biscuit?”
“No I don’t want a fucking biscuit,” snarls Soulless Boss.
Loose Cannon says, “What you need is a Lectrishun.”
“A what?”
“Lectrishun.”
Soulless Boss snaps his fingers. “I know! We could get an electrician to connect the power!”
He runs off to find Bernie.
Loose Cannon watches him go, then crams another Custard Cream into his already full mouth.
Soulless Boss finds Bernie.
Bernie is under a machine.
Soulless Boss says, “Bernie, I need you to connect power to the gluer unit on the digital press.”
From under the machine, Bernie says, “Aye.”
He keeps working.
Soulless Boss hops from foot to foot, wringing his hands.
“Ha ha! Actually, It’s quite urgent. I need it doing now. A job is waiting.”
Bernie keeps working, says, “Funny how it’s all urgent. This job’s urgent, your job’s urgent, the dicky light in the offices is urgent coz Clarence gets a migraine… It’ll get done, Soulless, but only when this urgent job is done, an’ the urgent light in the office gets fixed, THEN I’ll look at YOUR urgent job.”
Soulless Boss looks at the man laid under the machine and imagines kicking him as hard as he can in the balls. He imagines Bernie’s head jerking up and becoming churned to a pulp by fast moving machinery.
He glances across at the digital press in the distance. He can see the LED sign.
DOWNTIME: 2h 32m.
He feels sick.
“Look, Bernie, this is really, really important. If this job doesn’t start printing, like, now, then everybody who’s responsible for it not printing will be deep in the shit. You get what I’m saying? Hmm?”
Bernie slides slowly from under the machine and looks at Soulless Boss with a deadpan expression.
He says, “When I checked the roster this morning it said your machine was fine, and it should be running. Tell me, Soulless, why isn’t it running?”
Soulless Boss turns red. “I… I.. calculated that by reconfiguring…”
Bernie interrupts. “So you took your machine apart and now you want me to put it back together?”
Soulless Boss says nothing, looks sheepish.
Bernie says, “Sounds the only one in deep shit is you, Soulless. Right, I’ll connect your gluer to the power…”
“Oh, thank you, Bernie! Thanks!”
“…after I’ve finished this job and changed the light in the offices.”
Bernie slides back under the machine.
Soulless Boss walks stiffly back to his silent digital press.

An hour later, Bernie flicks the power switch and steps back.
“Your press is ready.”
Soulless Boss looks up at the screen.
DOWNTIME: 3h 41m.
Technically, if everything goes to plan, he’s still over eight hours ahead of schedule, with his new machine configuration.
He beckons to Loose Cannon, who’s just polishing off a pack of Bourbons.
“Loose Cannon! Give the printers a shout. We’re ready to run the job!”
Loose Cannon chews slowly, then swallows. “Can’t.”
Soulless Boss blinks at him. “Can’t? What the fuck do you mean, can’t?”
Loose Cannon says, “Can’t, cos Cyclops is one o’ t’printers an’ ‘e’s in t’van wi’ t’other printer Freshmeat oo’s finger just got chopped off.”
Soulless Boss goes pale and holds onto a desk to steady himself.
“Oh… shit…. But… but Cyclops said he’d only be half an hour! They’ve been gone… what… about an hour and a half! I know Freshmeat is a write off but where the fuck is Cyclops??”
Soulless Boss fumbles for his mobile phone, jabs at Cyclops’ number.
A phone begins to ring in the desk drawer under his hand.
Soulless Boss stares at it for a moment, then lets out a small sob.
Loose Cannon slowly offers Soulless Boss a biscuit.
Soulless Boss takes one and eats it, staring into the distance.

The LED sign reads DOWNTIME: 11h 45m.
Soulless Boss is sitting on the floor next to the silent machine.
He has biscuit crumbs around his mouth and tear stains on his cheeks.
He looks up as the door crashes open and Cyclops lumbers in looking sweaty and flustered.
Soulless Boss scrambles to his feet and rushes over.
“Where the fucking Hell have you been??” he hisses. “Were you re-attaching that clumsy cunt’s finger yourself, or were you just waiting for the fucking thing to completely heal up before bringing him back to work, to save yourself making two fucking trips??”
Cyclops glowers. He looks like he’s ready to tear Soulless Boss’ head off and physically he’s more than capable of such an act.
“Fuck off, Soulless!” He bellows. “I’m in no fuckin’ mood for your ‘big man’ shite!”
He pushes past Soulless Boss and opens his locker. He grabs a bottle of diluted orange squash and gulps deeply.
Soulless Boss throws a small tantrum. He stamps his foot and screams, “You tell me where the fuck you have been or I’m sending you home right now!!! TELL ME!!”
Cyclops growls and grabs Soulless Boss by the shirt, lifting him off the ground.
“I’ll tell you where I’ve been, you little cunt! I’ve been to the fuckin’ LGI with that poor twat who’s finger you cut off coz yer in such a fuckin’ rush to get yer glorified photocopier up an’ runnin’ to impress those gaffers who’s arses y’keep nice an’ clean with y’forked fuckin’ tongue!!”
He drops Soulless Boss who stumbles backwards, gasping.
Cyclops says, “At the ‘ospital the car park were full, as fuckin’ usual, so I ‘elps Freshmeat out o’ t’van an’ Pob says he’s gonna find somewhere t’ park up, so I check Freshmeat in, get ‘im all sorted then I waits for Pob. He don’t turn up so I goes lookin’ for ‘im. After about ‘alf an ‘our I see this trolley down a corridor an Pob’s laid on it. I go up to ‘im an’ ask what ‘e’s fuckin’ doin’ but ‘e just lays there, holds t’van keys an’ just stares at us. I takes the keys an’ the next thing I know these doctors rush up an’ whisk ‘im away! I’m shoutin’ at ‘em, askin’ what t’fuck’s goin’ on, so one o’ these doctors turns an’ tells us they found ‘im collapsed in t’car park an’ it turns out e’s ‘ad a fuckin’ stroke!”
Soulless Boss blinks, shakes his head. “A stroke? Fuck. Lucky he had it at the hospital…”
Cyclops says, “Exactly! That’s what I thought!”
Soulless Boss says, “Yes, because if he’d had it at work we might be liable. Hang about though, all that can only have taken you an hour or so! Where were you for the other… nine hours??”
Cyclops goes beet red. “I was wandering around all t’fuckin’ car parks o’ Leeds tryin’ to find where Pob ‘ad parked the bastard van!! I’m up an’ down the fuckin’ multi stories, clickin’ the clicker an’ looking for t’lights to fuckin’ flash! It took me all fuckin’ day!”
Cyclops grabs his coat.
Soulless Boss grabs his arm.
“Woah!! Where are you going?? We got the job to run!!”
Cyclops nods at the LED sign over the machine.
DOWNTIME: 12h 00m.
He says, “My shifts up. Twelve hours. I’m off ‘ome.”
Soulless Boss is frantic. “But… but who’s on the other shift? Where’s the printer??”
Cyclops grunts, “In the fuckin’ ‘ospital, gettin’ ‘is finger put back on. Freshmeat’s on twelve hour nights but this mornin’, when ‘e should of been goin’ ‘ome to get some kip, you go an’ rope ‘im in to ‘elp shift that fuckin’ gluer! All that to save a bit ‘o time. Look where it got yer. Anyhow, I’m off. Good fuckin’ luck.”
Cyclops heads for the door.
Soulless Boss scampers after him, promising the sun, the moon, untold riches and the blood of his first born.
He may as well be talking to the print press itself. Both are as silent and as unmoving.
Cyclops gets into his fucked Ford Focus and leaves in a cloud of diesel fumes.
Soulless goes back inside.
DOWNTIME: 12h. 07m.
His lip trembles.
Cyclops will be back in the morning, when the clock will read DOWNTIME 24h 00m.
Soulless Boss is fucked. He knows it. Cardboard Supervisor is going to spit roast him in front of the board of directors for this.
But…
He has twelve hours.
He makes some calculations.
If THAT unit was moved THERE, and THOSE two units moved over THERE, and the distance shortened a bit, then he might save a few hours, maybe six…
All is not lost.
He can do this.
Soulless Boss screams at a couple of assistants to come and give him a hand.
It’s going to be a long night.

 

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213. Northern Exposure

“Keep the change.”
I push the crumpled tenner into the mini-cab driver’s hand and climb out of the battered grey Toyota Corolla into the battered grey afternoon, silver drizzle drifting in soft sheets across the rocks and puddles of the unmade road.
I light a cigarette and lift the collar of my cheap black suit before picking my way down the road to the cottage.
The funeral service was… well, they’re never good, are they? I can’t recall a funeral that was a blast. I suppose if it’s a laugh-a-minute the vicar is probably in the wrong job. Still, there’s a part of me that wishes it all was a bit more light-hearted.
This one was cancer.
Cancer is never light-hearted.
A lass I’d grown up with, it was her mother. A lovely woman. I’d known the family all my life so hearing of her illness, slow decline and eventual passing was a grim, drawn out affair.
She left three daughters.
The father lives in America now and has little contact, so the girls are on their own, but they’re a tight clan and fiercely loyal to each other. They’ll be ok.
But the cottage…
Their father has decided to sell it, the family home they’d grown up in, and this has caused an unforgivable rift in the family.
He wasn’t at the funeral.
He was not welcome.
The eldest daughter is taking the youngest into her family home and the middle girl, my friend Janice, she ‘s got plans.
They’ll be ok, but it won’t be easy.
I half expect to see a ‘For Sale’ sign outside the cottage, and if there was one I might well have kicked it down, but thankfully it’s not gone that far yet.
The mourners cars are parked up the grass verges and along the rough gravel drive. Beyond the house, the arthritic fists of apple trees contort themselves in the mist, the remnants of their crop rotting amongst the yellow leaves on the wet ground between their moss-clogged trunks.
A plume of smoke drifts amongst the trees and I see a figure in black standing there, hunched, pulling on a cigarette between his lips.
The lights are on in the house, warm in the chill afternoon, and figures in black clothing pass too and fro in the kitchen carrying paper plates, cups of tea, glasses of sherry.
The figure in the orchard looks familiar.
As I get closer I hear running water, then he gives a little shiver.
I say, “Is that you, Dave?”
Fucking Amazing Dave jumps and spins around. “Fuckin’ hell, Luci! Don’ be doin’ that, man! I nearly shat meself!”
“Well, in for a penny, in for a pound.”
He grins. “There’s a right queue in there for the bogs. It’s all them biddies drinkin’ tea. Goes right through ‘em.”
I say, “More to the point, Dave, what the fuck are you doing here? I didn’t know you knew the family.”
“I do an’ I don’t,” he replies. “Me mam knew their mam, like, through church. When I were a nipper I’d go over an’ play wi’ Janice, like, while us mams ‘ad a natter. I’ve not seen ‘er in donkey’s years but I always ‘ad a soft spot for ‘er.”
Dave sniffs and inspects the glowing tip of his cigarette. “If things ‘ad been a bit different, an’ us paths ‘ad crossed again at some point, like, well, y’never know ‘ow things might ‘ave turned out, wi’ Janice an’ me. I never said nowt at the time, like, but mebbe I should ‘ave, mebbe.. y’know…”
Dave suddenly looks a bit lost. I reach into my pocket and find my hip flask and pass it to him. He nods at me, unscrews the lid and takes a slug.
I say, “I think we’ve all felt that way about Janice at some point or another, Dave. Not taking anything away from you, mind, just that she’s a fine lass.”
Dave nods and takes another swig. “Aye, she is, mate. A fine lass. There’s somethin’ about funerals that gets you thinkin’ though. Time wasted, opportunities pissed away, all that stuff. If I got… I dunno… arse cancer tomorrow, I’d be well naffed off. All that shit I plan to do but keep puttin’ off. Sometimes y’just gotta seize the day, yeah?”
I nod. “Yeah. You’re not wrong, mate.”
We are looking off into the mist when the front door opens. “David? Are you out there? Come in and say hello to everyone!”
Fucking Amazing Dave rolls his eyes. “Fuckin’ hell, it’s me mam… I hate all this shit, Luci…”
I say, “Me too, mate. Let’s get it over with and maybe we can sneak a couple of pints after?”
Dave grins. “Ace idea, Luci!”
We go inside.
I give Dave’s mum a peck on the cheek and she tells me she wishes I’d have a word with Dave and get him to sort his life out and Dave mumbles uncomfortably under his breath.
I shuffle through the house, meeting people, passing on condolences, listen to obscure aunties telling Fucking Amazing Dave how much he’s grown.
I’ve never seen Dave so far out of his comfort zone. He keeps pulling at his collar and messing with his tie. Every time we make eye contact he looks like a dog reluctantly performing humiliating tricks for it’s master. He’s behaving, but under duress.
He nips over to me while his mum is talking to someone.
He says, “I can’t take much more o’ this, Luci. Quick, give us another nip.”
I slip him the flask and he takes a discreet pull on it.
He smacks his lips and glances around, then his eyes widen.
“There she is,” he whispers.
I look over.
Janice is moving through the room, pale faced but dignified, looking beautiful in a figure hugging black dress.
Fucking Amazing Dave is transfixed. I can see a little shine in his eyes, as if he might shed a tear.
“Ain’t she amazin’ Luci? So brave! So strong! A fella could go places wi’ a lass like that, y’know. Some blokes just need… need a bit o’ guidance, someone to show ‘em the way…”
He takes the hip flask off me and takes another pull on it.
He says, “She’s comin’ over, Luci! Quick, how do I look?”
I check him out.
An ill-fitting and obviously borrowed suit, fake leather shoes, scruffy hair streaked with grey, nicotine stained teeth, blood shot eyes.
I sigh. “You look fine, Dave. Just… fine.”
He takes a deep breath. “Cheers man.” He’s looking at Janice with a determined expression.
I feel worried.
I say, “Now listen, Dave…”
But it’s too late.
Fucking Amazing Dave steps forward.
Janice’s face lights up when she sees him. “Davey! It’s so good of you to come! I haven’t seen you in years!”
He grins sheepishly at her. “S’good to see you n’all, Janice love. I mean, it’s rotten an’ all that, like, under these circumstances, y’know, but it’s good t’see you, yeah?”
She smiles. “I know. It’s always the way – funerals and weddings! Still, you find out who you can depend on at times like these. The people who count.”
I see Dave’s chest swelling with emotion. His lip is trembling a bit.
I think, ‘oh fuck, don’t say anything, Dave, not now…’
Fucking Amazing Dave steels himself, then plunges in. “Listen, Janice, it’s sad n’that, but sometimes, like, these things, they can bring folk together, like, coz they ain’t seen each other for ages, like an.. an… y’know…”
As he stumbles on I notice something.
I look down.
When Fucking Amazing Dave had gone for a piss he hadn’t zipped up his flies.
On top of that, Fucking Amazing Dave doesn’t own a single pair of underpants.
So now, as he talks to Janice, the moment seems to get the better of him, the excitement of seeing her is just too much, and slowly but steadily his increasingly erect penis noses it’s way out of his trousers and into the daylight.
I freeze.
I am unable to react.
Time stands still.
Then suddenly Dave’s mum is there.
She hisses, “Bloody Nora, David!!”
She grabs him by the cock.
Dave yelps.
She spins him around using her handbag as cover, and, still gripping him by the offending member, drags him unceremoniously from the room.
Janice looks confused.
She turns to me.
I snap my gaping jaw closed.
She says, “Is Davey alright? He was acting… strange!”
I say, “He’s fine, Janice. I just think he was a bit… overcome.”

An hour later, I bring fresh pints to our table in the pub.
Fucking Amazing Dave is still ashen.
I repeat what I’ve been saying. “Honest, mate. She didn’t see it. No-one saw it. You’re in the clear.”
“But what if… what if she’d… but…”
“She didn’t so don’t worry. Now drink up.”
We take large gulps of our pints and stare out of the window.
The drizzle is turning to sleet.
After a while, Dave says, “I suppose if she didn’t see it… if no-one saw it, then it might be ok to talk to her then. Maybe call her in a bit, go for a drink or summat…”
I don’t say anything.
I don’t say that Janice told me she’s moving to America, that she has a son already. I don’t tell him that by the time he tries get in touch she’ll have gone.
Dave smiles out of the window. He says, “If she had seen it, Luci, it wouldn’t ‘ave been the first time, y’know?”
I’m shocked. “Really?? You and Janice? I mean… when? I had no idea!”
Fucking Amazing Dave grabs our empty glasses and gets up to go to the bar.
He winks at me. “Aye. When we were five, naked as t’day we were born, in an’ out of ‘er paddlin’ pool in ‘er back garden! I seen ‘ers an’ she saw mine! We didn’t care! I still remember. Happy days. Y’never know, Luci! There might be chance yet for another look!”
He goes to the bar and I look out of the window.
The sleet has turned to snow.

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212. Flinching at Volvos

I shift the battered leather suitcase from my left to right hand, take the half smoked Lucky Strike from my lips and exhale, walking, cowboy boots kicking the litter that blows across the oil-stained bus station forecourt from the stinking, shouting maw of Leeds Market.
People are shuffling.
They shuffle looking up at bus numbers, terminal numbers. They shuffle looking down at tickets, coins, notes, purses.
I’m walking, striding out, boots making a satisfactory click and clack across the cracked tiles of the bus station, head and shoulders taller than everyone else, confident, young, cocky.
I am in my pomp.
Just turned twenty one, thick dark, curly hair falling over my shoulders, leather jacket, tight jeans over cowboy boots that cost me two weeks wages, their heels pushing my height close to six foot six. I am an exotic bird compared to the dull bus station plumage, a peacock amongst pigeons.
I am would wear sunglasses but even I can’t pull them off in an early nineties Leeds. Sunlight is a rare visitor, the North being smothered by constant cloud and the last remnants of two century’s of smog. Wearing sunglasses in such low light might end in an ugly demise beneath the wheels of a National Express coach destined for Darlington – a most un-Rock ‘n’ Roll way to die.
With unhindered vision and a sense of purpose I find what I’m looking for. Gate 3, the 9.45am National Express Coach to Newcastle.
I check my watch.
It leaves in twenty minutes.
I think about refreshments, then I think about coffee and the effects it might have on my notoriously fickle digestive system, then I decide to pass.
I shudder.
I don’t want anything to go wrong.
I climb onto the coach, slide my case into the overhead compartment and settle into my seat.
As I stare out of the window I hear a wheezing and mumbling in the isle. I glance up at a young couple, a similar age to me yet somehow infinitely older.
Heavily anoraked, matching haircuts from a market barber, dumpy and dull, they shuffle and mutter and mumble their way into the sets across the aisle from me.
Carrier bags bulging with clothing and tat are squashed overhead before they ease themselves into their seat with faux-octogenarian groans.
She says, “Are you alright, love?”
He says, “Ooh, I think so, love. I think so.”
She says, “Is it your back, love?”
He says, “It’s my feet, love, my feet.”
She says, “Ooh, not your feet, love. You’re a martyr to your feet.”
He says, “I know, love, I know. But what about you, love? Are you alright?”
She says, “Yes, love, I think so, love. But my hips, love. Ooh, my hips…”
He says, “I know love. You and your hips. You’ve suffered, love.”
She says, “Eeh, love, what with my hips and your feet…”
He says, “I know, love, I know.”
These people are Nana People, brought up by their nanas. I know the type. They’ve spent so much time around OAPs they’ve become weird young-old hybrids, possessed by the spirit of the pensioners who looked after them throughout their childhood. They are infused with an odd mixture of infirmity and Dunkirk spirit, both feeble and stalwart.
Wincing then sighing, treating one other to slightly pained but affectionate smiles, they each produce thin carrier bags, filled to bursting, half transparent with thick blue and white stripes.
Market bags.
In the market bags are market biscuits, market snacks, broken things and food just past Sell By, familiar crisp brands in Arabic script, bottles of lurid green pop that look as palatable as Paraquat. Before boarding the bus they browsed the stalls of Leeds Market for cheap treats and now they settle down to systematically plough through them.
A steady barrage of rustles, crunches, pops and fizzes begins.
“Fucking Hell…” I mutter under my breath.
There’s a loud hiss, the doors of the coach close and the heavy diesel engine kicks into life. With a beep..beep…beep the coach reverses.
Across the aisle, He says, “Ooh, we’re off, love!”
She says, “Yes, love, we’re off!”
He says, “Are you alright, love? Are you?”
She says, “I’m coping love. Coping.”
He says, “Get comfy, love. Get comfy.”
She says, “Yes love, I will, love.”
The smells of salt and vinegar, chocolate and cola are joined by a new odour. Ripe and pungent.
I glance across.
They have taken their shoes off and the thick reek of unwashed feet gently permeates the back of the coach.
It’s going to be a very long trip.
I decide that I hate the Nana People in the seat opposite. I hate who they are and what they represent. Wallowing pigs, content in their own shit, snuffling though bags of leftovers.
I’m not them, I’m better than them. I want more. I’m young, I’m good looking, I’m going to Newcastle to have sex with a beautiful woman.
I get an electric tingle of excitement, a stirring of the loins.
I rummage in the pocket of my jacket and take out a torn envelope. Inside, two pictures and a note.
The first picture is blurred.
It is me and a blonde girl. We are smiling. We are laid on a bed in a hotel room, our hair spilling around us.
We had met a few hours before the photo was taken in the Mayfair nightclub in Newcastle, a legendary Northern rock club that I’d save up to visit every month or so. My mate and I would stay in a half decent hotel then go out on the town, prowling the rock bars and clubs, chatting up the lasses.
This particular night was a little hazy.
Drinks, pubs, clubs, dancing, drinks, then…
The blonde girl was there in a dress with fruit printed on it, which I thought was a bit strange. Her hair was long, all the way down her back, and she had… well… there’s no subtle way of putting it, massive tits.
You really couldn’t miss them. They were like a dead heat in a Zeppelin race.
She said her name was Tanya.
We danced, we drank, we went back to my hotel room.
Get in.
But… I didn’t get in.
We made out but Tanya said she’d never do it on a first date.
I was left wanting.
Badly.
I took a picture of us together on a disposable camera, a blurred photo of a blurred night.
we talked on the phone and she sent me a letter, along with another photo.
A sexy photo.
In the picture Tanya is scantily clad, showing lots of cleavage and stocking. Her long hair cascades down her back.
This picture is slightly blurred too, but clear enough.
The letter is a saucy letter.
In it she describes what she wanted to do to me in great detail, and asked me to visit.
Naturally I accepted.
That’s where I’m going.
I’m going to Newcastle to have sexy time with a girl I met at a rock club.
I cannot wait.
I lean away from the fetid reek of the Nana People’s feet and look out of the window as the streets of Leeds become dual carriageways, then motorways, the houses become fields.
It’s going to be a long journey.

About four hours later the coach wheezes into Newcastle Coach Station.
The Nana People put on their shoes and sweep thick drifts of crumbs from their cardigans onto the floor of the coach.
“Are you alright, love?”
“I’m alright love, I think. Bit stiff. Are you alright, love?”
“I’m alright, love, I suppose. Bit stiff.”
Etc.
I stand up, grab my case and stride down the aisle of the coach, down the stairs and into the cold Newcastle air.
I light a cigarette, take a drag, look around.
It’s a similar scene to Leeds.
Shuffling, shuffling. Two people hugging, someone’s mum waving, a tramp looking through a bin.
I look again.
The mum is still waving.
Waving at me.
I squint.
Do I know her?
She looks vaguely familiar.
Oh.
Oh no.
Tanya comes clip clopping across the car park on impossible heels, her massive tits bouncing alarmingly under her sweater.
People stop and stare.
I want to crawl back onto the coach.
Her hair is scraped back into a messy ponytail and she has no make up on, which is absolutely fine, but it reveals that she is older than I originally thought.
By about twenty years.
“Yoo hoo! Luci pet! Over here!”
An old man wheezes behind me. “You lucky wee cunt!”
“Yeah…” I reply.
Now, I know it’s a popular fantasy – the older woman, Mrs Robinson, Milfs, cougars – and I’m definitely up for it, but something doesn’t feel right. I knew she was older than me, but I’d thought by five or six years.
This woman is over twice my age, and she looks hungry.
I gulp, stepping forward.
“Now then, love…”
She lunges at me, pressing her tits against my chest and pushing her tongue down my throat.
She tastes of chips.
She pulls away and grabs my bag, swinging it around as if it were empty, and pulls me towards a battered Volvo parked illegally in a bus bay.
“Safe journey, pet?” she asks, grinning an impossibly wide grin. “All good? Y’eaten yet, pet? No? Y’need y’strength, y’know?”
She winks at me.
Everything she says is a double entendre. I find it confusing, not knowing wether to drop into the Carry On vibe or just answer honestly.
So I say, “Erm…”
I’m not often lost for words but I’m all at sea.
She winks at me again and licks her lips, bats her lashes.
It just looks ludicrous.
There’s food crumbs on her sweater. A coffee stain.
She giggles, “Hey, me eyes are up here, cheeky!”
I realise she thinks I was staring at her tits.
I feel myself blush. “Oh, no, I was…”
“Don’t worry, pet. I’m used to it!” She winks again, slides a hand behind me and nips my arse.
I accidentally let out a rather camp, “Ooh!”
She giggles again, opens the Volvo and slings my case in the back.
“Hop in, pet!” she says, climbing into the drivers seat.
I get in, and barely get the door close before she floors it.
“Fucking Hell!”
I fumble with the seatbelt as the Volvo lunges into traffic, screaming brakes and beeping horns coming from left and right.
She presses a cassette into the tape deck and hair metal blasts out, Mötley Crüe or Poison or some other shit.
I shout, “SLOW DOWN A BIT!”
She winks again and shouts back, “I’LL SHOW Y’THEM LATER, CHEEKY!”
I give up.
We hurtle over the Redheugh Bridge and I can see the Tyne Bridge in the distance out of the passenger side window.
We are leaving the city.
I shout, “WHERE ARE WE GOING?”
She just grins and winks.
She changes gear, leaves her hand on the stick for a moment, then moves her hand over onto my thigh.
Her hand creeps, finds my crotch and begins to gently rub.
Despite my worries I’m instantly hard.
I see this as terrible treachery on my penis’s part.
There are problems, things occurring that are out of my control, yet my cock behaves like a stupid lap dog, panting and wagging at the slightest attention.
Bad dog.
We are now on the A1.
I still don’t know where we are going.
I wonder if I’m being kidnapped.
She’s still rubbing my crotch.
There’s a little wet spot of pre-cum soaking through my jeans.
I feel wretched.
Without slowing, we veer off onto a slip road.
I grab onto the door handle to steady myself and attempt to hit brakes that aren’t there with both feet.
Tanya nods at something up ahead. She shouts, “THAT’S WHERE WE’RE GOING, PET!”
I blink at the horizon.
Oh, good, I think. We’re going to IKEA.
I’m a bit past caring anymore.
I wonder if I’m going into shock.
The car sails past IKEA and swerves hard left.
We shudder to a halt in a parking space.
She kills the engine and the stereo goes quiet.
My ears are ringing. My heart is hammering and I feel like I can’t breath.
I manage to stammer, “Where the fuck are we??”
Tanya giggles again. It’s already getting right on my nerves. Middle aged people shouldn’t giggle. It’s creepy.
She says, “Open the glove box.”
I pause, shake my head, then open it.
There’s a photo inside.
I take it out.
It’s blurred photo of what looks like a valley, taken from over head, maybe from a plane.
I look puzzled. I say, “Where’s this?”
More giggles. “It’s my foofee, silly.”
I say, “What… what’s a foofee?”
She waggles her eyebrows and winks. Again.
I look at the picture again.
I sigh. “It’s your fanny, isn’t it?”
She laughs loudly. “Yes! You can have that, pet!”
She get out of the car.
I sit a moment longer and look at the photograph of a woman’s fanny I just got out of a Volvo glove box and wonder if I have in fact gone mad.
I reluctantly put the photo in my pocket and get out of the car.
It’s freezing cold.
The wind moans over IKEA and hits me side on.
We are stood in front of the Marriott Hotel.
Tanya is already walking towards the doors. She shouts, “Grab y’bag, pet!”
I do as I’m told and trot after her.
I ask, “What are we doing here?”
She says, “It’s where we’re staying tonight, pet.”
I say, “I thought we were stopping at your house.”
She says, “We can’t stay at mine!”
I say, “Why not? Wait… you’re not married, are you?”
She laughs. “No! I live with me parents!”
She says it in a way that suggests she’s far too young to have moved out yet, but this is clearly bollocks.
I say, “Oh.”
We enter the hotel lobby.
It’s warm, and for the first time since I got off the coach I feel a little less tense.
Tanya says, “Wait here, pet.”
I do as I’m told.
She walks over to the desk and talks to the receptionist.
She is given a key.
She walks to the lifts and beckons me over.
The doors open.
We get in.
The doors close.
As the lift rises I’m suddenly slammed against the wall.
She is on me.
Kissing, grabbing, mauling, I feel like she’s trying to eat me.
I reciprocate as best I can but it feels like it wouldn’t matter if I fought back or went limp, it was going to happen anyway.
The lift stops, there’s a pinging noise, the doors open.
She releases me.
She takes my hand and pulls me towards a door at the end of the corridor.
We go inside.
I look around and say, “What the fuck is going on?”
The room is… ridiculous.
It is decorated like a Bedouin tent, with tasselled ropes and swags of embroidered cloth covering every inch of the room. The huge bed has an enormous canopy of sheer white material over it, and all the furniture is ornate and gilded.
Tanya is delighted. She skips around and twirls, laughing. “Isn’t it MAGICAL, pet! It’s the Arabian Nights room! It’s like a scene out of a FILM or something! Isn’t it AMAZING!!”
It’s ridiculous, but I also imagine it’s very expensive, so I don’t complain.
I say, “Yeah, it’s quite something.”
Suddenly she’s on me again.
I think, here we go.
She mauls me for about ten seconds then jumps up.
“Right!” she says. “I’ve got to go but I’ll be back in a bit. Bye!”
She runs out of the room and slams the door.
I get up, confused.
I open the door and check the corridor, wondering if it’s a joke, but it’s deserted.
I go back inside.
I look out of the heavily draped window onto the wind blasted car park and see the Volvo racing away to the main road.
I let go of the curtain and mutter, “What the fuck is going on?”
I light a cigarette, tap the ash into Aladdin’s lamp.

She is gone for hours.
I have no way of contacting her.
I am abandoned in an strange, twilight existence of Sahara indoors, Siberia outdoors.
I contemplate raiding the mini bar but I worry that,
It will be exorbitantly expensive, and
I won’t be able to get it up after a dozen miniature Jack Daniels & Coke.
I prowl the room.
I’m considering fucking it off and getting a taxi back to the station when the door suddenly bursts open.Tanya staggers in, but now she’s transformed.
She has poured herself into a skintight minidress and her hair is down. She has full warpaint on, expertly applied, and I can see how – after a skinful – you might mistake her for someone considerably younger.
She is laden down with a ridiculous array of items so I rush to help, grabbing armfuls of equipment and paraphernalia.
I say, “Where have you been? And while we’re at it, what’s this lot?”
I notice a cloud of annoyance pass over her face, a slight iciness in her perma-grin.
I take note.
In a slightly brittle tone she says, “It takes time for a girl to look this good, y’know, pet.”
I say, “Sorry, yeah. You look fabulous, by the way.”
She brightens instantly. “Thank you! And all this is my camera equipment!”
She proceeds to erect a tripod in the middle of the room and lock a large camcorder to the top.
I frown. “Camera equipment? What do you need camera equipment for?”
She turns to me with what is supposed to be a smouldering expression.
“To record our love, of course.”
I feel a terrible lurch in my stomach.
I say, “Beg… beg your pardon?”
She slides a mini cassette into the side of the camcorder, snaps it closed and presses a button.
A red light goes on.
She whispers, “To record… our… love.”
She pushes me backwards onto the bed.

Two hours later I’m in the bathroom, catching my breath.
I’m exhausted.
I look at the face in the mirror and struggle to recognise him.
I’m trying to get my head around what has just happened.
Tanya had started by stripping me down to my pants before stepping back, turning on a CD player she had brought with her, and, to the sounds of Madonna’s ‘Justify My Love’, she performed a striptease.
It was very awkward.
I lay there on the bed and watched, glancing occasionally up at the red light on the camera, as a woman in her mid-forties performed a dance she’d probably learned in her mid-twenties, but now she’d become somewhat heavier than she once had been.
The furniture rattled as she thundered around the room and I wondered what the people downstairs thought was happening.
I wondered what I thought was happening.
The camcorder bounced on the tripod alarmingly and I imagined the ‘recording of our love’ would probably resemble shagging during an earthquake.
The dance finished with her naked at the end of Madonna’s ‘Justify My Love’ which was immediately followed by Madonna’s ‘Justify My Love’.
At the third playing of Madonna’s ‘Justify My Love’ I commented on this.
It turned out that she really really liked Madonna’s ‘Justify My Love’, and as such she’d recorded it onto a CD, over and over, for a full ninety minutes.
After the dance she told me she was going to give me a sensuous massage.
With her tits.
To the dulcet sounds of Madonna’s ‘Justify My Love’.
She made me lie down and she poured essential oils over her truly titanic tits.
Then, starting with my feet, she rubbed her oily tits all over me.
It wasn’t unpleasant, but it was a bit odd.
I lay there, face into the pillow, as her huge orbs slithered up and down my back.
Then I had to turn over and it all started again.
Yes, it was lovely and everything, but it was still bloody awkward. She kept grinning at me, then I’d kind-of smile back, then look at the camera, then look at her again. Her huge tits kept creeping closer and closer to my face, up my body, until her grinning face loomed over mine, then went past, and suddenly the lights went out as the tits arrived.
It was a bit like being in a carwash.
With tits.
After that we did all the other stuff.
To the sound of Madonna’s ‘Justify My Love’.
Whatever we did, no matter what position – and please brace yourself for this – she kept putting her fingers in her own fanny and slurping her fingers.
It was pretty grim.
I know they do it in porn films but when confronted with the bleak reality of someone incessantly pushing their fingers into their own fanny before slobbering them, it’s a bit stomach churning.
I lost my rag. I said, “Do you want me to call room service for some bread to go with that?”
She said, “I love the taste of my own foofee!”
I thought, ‘You’re Radio fucking Rental’ but kept banging away.
Every position was performed.
It was very orchestrated.
It’s the reason I didn’t climax sooner, what with all the moving around, lifting legs, putting THAT just over THERE, no, not THERE, I mean THERE, yes THERE now DO IT!
When i did finally finish after a full hour, none stop, it was with a sense of exhausted relief, more surrender than triumph.
I lay there, a sweating, wheezing, trembling mess, and I feel her whisper in my ear, “How long before you’re ready to go again?”
I said, “Wha…?”
“How long before you’re good to go again, pet?”
I said, “Dunno… maybe a week.”
She laughed. “Ha ha ha! You’re funny, pet! No, seriously. We haven’t even started with the toys yet!”
She pointed to a black hold all on the floor.
I make a worried croaking noise.
She walks across the room to the mini bar and pulls out a bottle of champagne.
She pops it and pours me a glass.
“Get this down you, pet.”
I neck it.
She pours again, and as I drink, she reaches down and slips a finger up my arse.
I blow champagne everywhere. “Fucking Nora, love!”
She wiggle her finger, and I get an instant hard on.
“There we go, pet! We’re off!”
I’d been hot wired.
I stare furiously at my erection.
‘You fucking Judas,’ I thought, as Tanya straddled me and lowered herself…

So now I’m looking at a pale shadow of my former self in the bathroom mirror.
There’s love bites all over my body, my back is a mess of scratches and my cock looks like it’s been trapped in farm machinery.
“Serves you right,” I whisper at it.
I could cry.
There’s a tap on the door. “Run us a bath, pet! I need to get ready for tonight!”
I forgot that we’d probably be going out to the bars and clubs, Trillions and The Mayfair.
I wearily put in the bath plug and run the taps.
I just want to go to sleep.
The door opens and Tanya is prancing around, naked. She looks as fresh as a daisy. I look like I’ve been in a car crash.
She adds bubbles to the tub and slips in.
She bats her lashes. “You joining me in here, pet?”
I look back at the mirror. The bedraggled, haunted person looking back at me shrugs, climbs into the bath, and it all starts again.
An hour later and I’m dressed, smoking a cigarette, waiting for Tanya to emerge from the bathroom.
I’m wearing standard rock regalia, mostly black, band t-shirt, leather jacket.
I look sharp but I don’t feel it.
I’m exhausted.
She comes out of the bathroom wearing a skin tight cocktail dress that finishes only just below her knickers, fishnet stockings and six inch heels.
I complement her.
She beams that insane beam of hers, and within minutes we’re in a taxi.
Heading away from the city.
I say, “Where are we going?”
She giggles. “My surprise, pet!”
In the darkness of the back of the cab she fumbles with my fly, unzips me, and goes down.
I’m thinking she’s flogging a dead horse, but no.
She does something, I don’t know what, and I’m instantly hard.
It hurts.
I catch a glimpse of the taxi driver waggling his eyebrows at me in the rear view mirror.
I mouth the words, ‘fuck off’ at him.
He goes back to watching the road.
I stare out of the window with an empty gaze until it’s done.

We arrive at another hotel.
There’s a function on.
Men in smart suits escort women in frocks through the main doors where they are greeted with a glass of bucks fizz.
I say, “What are we doing here?”
She says, “It’s my company dinner dance. That’s my surprise!”
“Dinner dance?” I hiss. “These people are suited and booted and I’m dressed like Jon Bon fucking Jovi! They’ll never let me in there, and even if they do, I’ll look like a proper tit!”
She grins that huge, mad grin.
“You’ll be fine, pet! Trust me!”
It isn’t fine.
There’s an argument with the door staff and if it wasn’t for Tanya’s gigantic tits they would never have let us in. The bouncers are mesmerised by about a foot of incredible cleavage, and when they drop their guard I hustle in.
Tanya appears with two glasses of fizz.
I neck mine.
Then I neck hers.
I say, “Where’s the bar?”

The evening is a long, slow nightmare.
No matter how much I drink I cannot get pissed.
Tanya drags me around all her friends and colleagues, introducing me as her ‘Toy Boy’. She doesn’t seem to notice the pitying glances.
They seem to think I’m some sort of rent boy.
At one point, at the bar, a drunk man in a suit nudges me and asks, “Come on then – how much is the old tart paying you?”
I pick up my drink and empty it. “Not enough,” I reply.
I decide I’ve had enough.
I try to slip over to the reception desk to get them to order me a cab, when suddenly Tanya is there.
She hurries me along a corridor, then into the bathroom.
I know what’s coming.
Me.
Before I know what’s happened she’s bent over a toilet with her skirt up.
She’s not wearing any knickers.
I say, “Woah, now wait a minute…”
But it happens anyway.
As I kick her back doors in I wonder if I’ve actually been trafficked. Maybe this was it. My days would be spent mindlessly shagging until I’m all done in, like a knackered race horse, and I’ll welcome the man who comes to pitch a tent around me and finish me off with a shotgun.
From the other toilet cubicles I can hear stifled giggles.
I realise she’s told her friends this was going to happen.
I finish the job, pull up my trousers and head back to the bar.
There’s a buffet on the go but I’m not hungry.
Tanya, however, is insatiable. She keeps going back for more, ploughing through quiches, scotch eggs, piles of rice and pasta, cocktail sausages, cheese. More and more food disappears down her gullet and I feel queasy.
Then she starts on the cake.
I’m morbidly fascinated. How can one human being eat this much?
I say, “You do know that’s the eighth slice of cake you’ve had, don’t you? You’re going to fall into a diabetic coma at this rate.”
She just laughs and takes to the dance floor with another drunk executive, who’s wife glowers at her.
I realise the mood of the room has changed somewhat.
She’s been doing this all night, dancing and flirting with all the men, but now their wives are a few glasses deep they’ve started to get fired up. Some are muttering together and I fear there might be a lynching.
Part of me wants this to happen.
But…
When the song finishes I grab Tanya’s arm.
I say, “I don’t want to be a party pooper, but it’s time we left.”
She grins. “I know what you’re after, you randy sod!”
I grimace. “Yeah. That.”
We take a cab back to our ridiculous Arabian tent room.
I sit on the toilet for a while, just to get a bit of peace, but when I come out of the bathroom I see she’s dressed as some sort of mad dominatrix and she’s pressing the record button on the camcorder.
I say, “Oh no.”
She says, “Oh YES!”
I think about locking myself in the bathroom, or bolting for the corridor, but it’s too late.

I little while later I catch sight of myself in the wardrobe mirror shuffling around on all fours as Tanya rides me around the room and whips my arse with a riding crop.
And of course, Madonna’s ‘Justify My Love’ is playing for what feels like the one hundred and thirty seven thousandth time that day.
Tanya was having the time of her life.
I was dying.
I wonder how this happened.
What went wrong?
I had done things in the last twenty four hours that I would never have consented to in a sane world.
Everything was sore.
All I wanted to do was sleep.
Eventually I did sleep.
It was the sleep of the dead, interrupted only by occasional dark dreams of bizarre sex and by Tanya waking me up for some more bizarre sex.
She was utterly insatiable.
I was utterly spent.

Dawn filtered through the tent flaps of our Arabian encampment, and I winced as the dried blood from the scratches on my back pulled away from the bedsheets.
“Morning, lover!” Tanya is sat at the table devouring one of two gigantic Full English Breakfasts.
Bile rises in my throat.
“Hungry?” she asks.
“No,” I reply. “You have it.”
Waste not want not!” she giggles and pulls my plate towards her.
I mumble, “I’m going for a shower…”
“Oh, good!” she says. I’ll join you in a min…”
I slam the bathroom door and lock it.
I take a long, long shower.
I hear her try the door handle a couple of times and shout my name, but I ignore her.
When I open the door she is pretending to sulk.
In baby talk, she says, “Why did you lock the door? Have you fallen out with me and foofee?”
I dry my hair with a towel, mutter, “Sorry, I thought I’d left it open.”
I see both plates are empty, all the toast is gone.
Tanya has no make up on. She looks her true age. Talking baby talk… it just seems ludicrous.
I walk over to the window as she heads for the shower.
“Don’t get too dry, pet!” she shouts as the water starts to run. “Why don’t you join me and you can… scrub my back?”
“In a minute,” I reply.
I start to get dressed.
She keeps talking. “I thought this morning we could go to the aquarium, maybe a pub lunch afterwards? I’m already starving! We’ll settle the bill here first. I’m happy to go Dutch, unless you feel like being the gentleman and paying? I don’t mind! Ha ha!”
I freeze.
Did I just hear that right?
She is still talking in the shower, planning our next date.
But I’m thinking, Dutch, on a room I didn’t know we were taking? Dutch, on a penthouse suite? An Arabian Nights themed penthouse suite, at that??
I spot the empty bottle of champagne from the mini bar and flinch.
Dutch, or do I feel like being the gentleman?

My boot heels clatter crazily across the hotel car park and my wet hair feels like it is freezing in the wintry air as it whips behind me.
I run past the Volvo, vault a low hedge and keep running, my leather bag swinging in my hand and banging into my shins.
With my other hand I try to zip up my jacket and soon give up, preferring the biting cold to the prospect of being caught by Her, the succubus.
I’m exhausted but adrenalin drives me on, dashing blindly across the slip road and around the side of a huge shopping centre, just trying to get as much distance between me and Her as I possibly can. I run and run, gasping and wheezing, checking behind me every few paces to make sure I don’t get mowed down by a speeding Volvo.
Up ahead I see a row of buses.
I run faster, almost sobbing, legs buckling like a boxer on the ropes, just wanting to get away.
I stumble along the row of buses, trying to fathom numbers and street names, then I give up and just jump onto the one that is about to pull out.
Heaving and coughing, I gasp, “Anywhere near the coach station, mate.”
He nods. “Aye. Two quid. Here, you alreet?”
I say, “Yeah, why?”
He say, “Well, y’cryin’, like, an’ y’ look like y’been in a feet.”
I shake my head. “Rough night. I’m alright, thanks.”
I get a ticket and go to the back of the bus.
All the way into town I keep my head down, occasionally glancing out of the back window.

My ticket back to Leeds is for four o’clock.
I’m six hours early.
They don’t mind, there’s space. The driver asks me if I’m alright. I say I’m fine. He gives me a tissue anyway.
I find my seat, pull the curtain half closed and shut my eyes, but jerk awake as the engine fires up.
The coach slowly pulls away, but not before I see a blur that could have been a Volvo heading into the coach station.
Or I could have imagined it.
Then I realise I’m being watched.
From across the aisle, he says, “Hey, love, are you alright?”
She says, “Yeah, are you alright, love? You look shocking, love.”
He says, “He does look shocking, love, doesn’t he? Are you alright, love?”
“No,” I sniffle. “I’ve had a bit of a bad experience, and, and my back hurts.”
The Nana People look at each other. She says, “Ooh, not your back! My hubby’s a martyr to his back, aren’t you love?”
“Ooh, I am love. Nothing hurts like it. What have you done to it, love?”
I say, “I girl rode me like a donkey and put things up my bum at two o’clock this morning.”
She says, “Ooh, not your bum as well, love. My hubby’s a martyr to his bum too!”
He says, “But to be fair, you don’t put stuff up it, love.”
She says, “Only your ointment, love.”
He says, “Oh yes, there is that, love. Only my ointment.”
She says, “Listen love, you look shocking. Would you like a biscuit?”
I nod my head. I reach into the market bag and pick out a broken biscuit and I take a bite.
It’s wonderful.
She says, “Have another, love.”
I take two.

Leeds.
Sunday afternoon.
I say goodbye to the Nana People and they head off to catch another bus.
I loiter for a minute, look round, then reach into my pocket.
I find the letter and the photos and I tear them up into tiny little pieces, drop them into a bin.
Finally I take the little camcorder cassette from my pocket, drop it on the floor and stamp on it over and over again with the heel of my boot until it is utterly shattered.
I carefully collect all the bits and drop them in the bin.
Then I walk through town, heading for home, feeling tired, weak, and flinching at Volvos.

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