“Hello? No, Cheryl, I’ve not got time to see him. He’s in reception? I don’t care if he’s in bed with the wife, I haven’t got time.”
“Hello. Look, the office furniture is being delivered on Thursday, I told you that. I realise he hasn’t got a chair, but that’s because he broke it. You know why he broke it? Because he’s such a fat cunt. Tell him he can sit down on Thursday.”
“What is it!? No, I can’t come and take a look at the air conditioning. It’s too cold? The rest of the factory is sweating like Michael Barrymore at a pool party and you say you’re too cold? Put a fucking jumper on then. No-one wants to see your tits anyway. Oh, stop crying!”
“Grrr. The canteens on fire? How many people are in the queue? Ten? Well you can bet that if they’re in the canteen at this time they’re a bunch of piss-takers. Ask them to give a little back, and piss on the fire. It might improve the taste of your God-awful cooking. Shit! Was that an explosion? Hello? Look, there’s a fire extinguisher by the door, I’ll send someone up in an hour or so to asses the damage.”
“Oh, fuck off, will you?”
Bear was trying to get some work done.
He wasn’t getting very far.
The Maintenance Department was bit like the 999 switchboard.
For some reason, many workers in a factory are utterly incapable of sorting out the slightest problem for themselves.
Bins not emptied?
Bulb blown in the toilet?
In between sorting out the mundane, tedious crap handed down from feckless, dull-witted office workers and mentally sub-normal factory folk, Bear had to organize larger projects, such as machine installation, building extensions and redecorating.
Right then, he was trying to plan the refit of the board room.
It was God’s little pet project.
God owned the factory.
God paid the wages.
God called the shots.
Bear did as God asked.
Walls, pale ivory.
Everything was on order, the work would start at the weekend.
Something was wrong.
The phone had stopped ringing.
He didn’t usually feel the cold, but the temperature in the room had dipped.
His hackles raised.
The Shadow sat in the chair on the other side of his desk.
The Shadow was on the board of directors.
He was a nasty, cold-hearted fucker.
Think the bastard love child of Peter Mandleson and Joseph Goebbels.
Bear waited until the pain in his chest subsided before he spoke.
“Don’t… don’t sneak up like that.”
“I didn’t sneak anywhere. You were busy when I walked in. You simply didn’t notice.”
He was playing with the phone lead.
It had been removed from the back of Bear’s phone.
“Don’t fuck with my things, Shadow. I don’t like it!”
The Shadow laughed.
It sounded like sandpaper on a coffin lid.
“No need to be aggressive, Bear. It doesn’t wash with me. I’ll get to the point. I hear you are re-decorating the board room.”
“That’s right. We start work on Saturday. Everything’s ordered.”
The Shadow’s fingers crept inquisitively across the desk, stroking a pen, picking up a paperweight, fondling a broken machine part.
His eyes never left Bear, never blinked.
“Saturday? Excellent, excellent! I might have a little drive over, see how you things progress. I look forward to seeing the walls in a lovely shade of Soft Truffle.”
“Pale Ivory. The walls are going to be in Pale Ivory.”
“Hmm? Oh, I’m sure Soft Truffle would be a much wiser choice.”
“God wants Pale Ivory. God’s going to get Pale Ivory.”
The Shadow laughed, shaking his head.
Cracking sounds came from the pen in Bear’s fist. He glowered.
“Come now, Bear, God won’t notice. I’d like it to be in Soft Truffle. Won’t you do that for me?”
Bear snatched a note pad from The Shadows roving fingers.
The Shadow leant forward, staring intently at Bear, a whiff of menace drifting across the desk.
“Soft Truffle, I think. You’d be wise to change your mind, Bear. We are debating departmental budgets this week in the Board Meeting. Yours is under very close scrutiny. Very close scrutiny indeed. We wonder if you might be able to run a tighter ship in here, with a more… frugal crew, perhaps.”
Bear’s chair scraped across the concrete floor as he began to rise, the pen finally splintering in his grip.
“Tut tut, Bear. Let’s not resort to name calling! Why don’t we just say that Soft Truffle is the colour for the boardroom, and leave it at that? Perhaps you’ll order a little extra, just in case. Let’s say, four tins? Mrs Shadow is fancying a change in the dining room, and Soft Truffle would go wonderfully with our new dining table. You keep your budget, I get my paint. Understand?”
Bear slowly lowered himself into his chair. Shards of shattered pen fell from his hand. He didn’t speak, only nodded.
“Excellent! I’ll be here at ten thirty sharp on Saturday morning. Have that paint ready, won’t you?”
The Shadow clicked the lead into the back of Bears phone.
It instantly began to ring.
Bear glanced down at it, but when he looked up, The Shadow had gone.
Bear was at his desk.
The phone was silent.
That was the only good thing about working Saturday mornings.
A quiet phone.
Even without looking up from his work, Bear knew that The Shadow had entered the room.
“Good morning, Bear!”
“It was. You’ll be wanting your paint, then.”
“How perceptive of you! Soft Truffle, I trust?”
“Soft Truffle. Are you parked out front?”
“No, round the side. Thought it better to be… discreet.”
“I’ll send someone out with the tins. Wait in the car.”
“Will do. Thanks so very, Bear. Sorry for any… misunderstanding over the colour. I do hope this will not spoil our excellent working relationship?”
“I’ll send someone out with the tins, Shadow.”
“Of course, of course. See you on Monday!”
Bear watched him leave, then called for Jock.
“Jock. The Shadow’s parked round back. A black Jag. Do me a favour and put these tins of paint in his boot.”
“Will do, Bear.”
Jock picked up the tins, turned to leave.
“Oh, and Jock?”
Bear slapped a large screwdriver onto the desk.
“Make sure the lids are down nice and tight. Wouldn’t want them coming loose in the car, would we?”
Jock slipped the screwdriver into the pocket of his overalls and winked.
“That would be terrible, Bear. I’ll be extra careful.”
The car boot slammed.
Jock walked around to the driver’s side window.
“All safely stowed away, Mister S. Nice car, this. Is it yours, or the companies?”
“It’s the companies, so get your hands of the fucking paintwork, you ape!”
The Shadow stamped on the accelerator and roared out of the car park.
Jock shielded his eyes from flying gravel.
“Might want to take it steady, Mister S,” he murmured. “Don’t want that paint falling over, do we?”
Bear was working.
Shouting at people.
Jabbing a keyboard.
The Shadow burst in.
No sinister materialisations today.
He looked desperate.
“Bear! I need your help. That paint you gave me. It’s all over the car boot!”
“That’s where I said I’d put it. In the car boot.”
“No! I mean the tins fell over on my way home! I’ve got twenty litres of Soft fucking Truffle swimming about in the back of my fucking car!! The stupid monkey who put them there can’t have secured them properly!”
“Well he tells me he stowed them very securely, Shadow. He also said you drove out of the car park like a fucking maniac.”
The Shadow squirmed.
“Yes, whatever. Look, it’s a company car. The interior is fucked. I don’t know what to do! If God sees the paint in the boot he’ll know what we’ve been up to! He’ll string us both up for taking company property and for ruining a company car!”
Bear shook his head.
“Don’t know about this ‘we’ business, Shadow. I had to send Jock to the wholesalers on Saturday morning to buy twenty litres of Soft Truffle because four tins had mysteriously gone missing. Here’s the receipt.”
Bear waved it in the air.
The colour leeched from The Shadow’s face.
He tried to snatch the receipt.
He turned to leave.
Bear leant across the desk.
“I’ll help you out, Shadow. Just this once.”
The Shadow turned back. He looked desperate.
“Thank you, Bear! I’ll make it up to you.”
“Whatever. Listen. The garages are empty today. Take your car round and park it inside. Close the door. There are some overalls in that cupboard.”
He pulled a large plastic container out from beneath the desk.
“This stuff is called Varn. It’s roller cleaner. It’s designed to get shit off shit. It’ll clean your boot, but you’ll have to scrub it hard. Got it?”
“Got it. I don’t suppose you’ve got anyone free who might…”
“Shadow. Don’t take the piss, ok? Get your fucking car round to the garage, pronto, before I change my mind.”
“Yes, Bear. Sorry, Bear. Oh, and thank you, Bear!”
Bear carried on working.
The Shadow disappeared.
An hour went by, then another.
Bear looked at his watch.
He called for Jock.
“What is it, Bear?”
“Get a wheelbarrow, Jock. You’ll find The Shadow unconscious in the garage.”
“Unconscious? How come?”
“Because he’s been shut in there for two hours scrubbing paint out of his boot with Varn, that’s how come. The fumes will have fucked him.”
Jock started giggling.
“He’s going to have one fuck of a headache! Where do you want me to dump him?”
“In the board room. With this.”
He passed Jock an empty vodka bottle.
Jock’s eyes widened.
“That’ll teach the cunt to threaten me. Keep it to yourself, Jock, and keep your weekends free. I’ve got lots of overtime for you. Got it?”
Jock liked overtime. Overtime was big money to him.
Bear went back to work.
An hour later he checked his watch again.
God said he’d be taking a tour of the newly decorated boardroom about now.
“Good morning, this is Bear speaking. How can I help you today?”
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