The stars are bright tonight, thought Cardboard Supervisor. Brighter than usual.
The air was stifling but he didn’t mind that. It was like… Hawaii, or some other exotic location where deep space telescopes peer into the inky blackness, their astronomers picking out dots of light from stars long burned out, giving them names, charting them, remembering them.
There was Cassiopeia, it’s familiar ‘W’ shape easily distinguishable amongst the mist of galaxies. In the opposite direction was Ursa Major, the Great Bear, containing the familiar shape of the Plough. High above was the Pole Star, the North Star, but…
It wasn’t there.
His breathing became heavy. Chest tight.
It was happening again.
Calm yourself, breath slooowly, he said to himself. It’s alright. You are safe.
He looked again and the Pole Star was definitely not there.
In its place was a large, black mass, darker than the surrounding space.
Fucking hell, he though. I’ve got to tell someone! We’re all going to die!
The black shape in space then began to move, buzzing angrily.
“OH CHRIST!! OH JESUS CHRIST!!”
Cardboard Supervisor pulled the bin off his head, gasping for air. The cold strip lighting of his office blinded him temporarily as he scrabbled at the desk drawer for his pills. He crammed two, then a third into his mouth and took a gulp from an unlabeled bottle of clear liquid. It burned as it went down, causing him to wince and his eyes to water, but The Fear quickly began to subside.
He wiped his eyes with a handkerchief and looked up.
Dogsbody was stood in front of his desk, holding a clipboard, grinning.
Cardboard Supervisor nearly shat himself. “Fucking… FUCK!! What the fuck are you doing there, you utter cunt! Haven’t I told you to knock before coming into my office??”
Dogsbody said, “You’ve got things on your face.”
“On your face. Things. You’ve got things on your face.”
Cardboard Supervisor fumbled at his face. A large bluebottle took off from his forehead and blundered against the ceiling lights. Then Cardboard Supervisor found something stuck to his cheek. He peeled it off.
Dogsbody said, “What is it?”
Cardboard Supervisor whispered, “The Pole Star.”
He picked up his bin and carefully placed the luminous sticker in it’s rightful place at the bottom. He could see the other glow-in-the-dark stars flickering, and he felt an urge to put his bin back on, but he knew Dogsbody wouldn’t understand.
He put the bin under the desk, straightened his tie and said, “What the fuck do you want?”
Dogsbody waved the clipboard. “Overtime roster.”
“Excellent!” said Cardboard Supervisor. “It’s double shifts all round if I remember rightly. Shit loads of work, all weekend. The lads were happy I imagine, the greedy, grabbing set of twats. Let’s have a look at it then, Dogsbody.”
Dogsbody handed him the clipboard.
Cardboard Supervisor ran a finger down the names, shifts and hours of work.
His finger began to tremble. His eyelid began to twitch.
“Dogsbody,” Cardboard Supervisor said to Dogsbody. “Dogsbody, there are gaps in the roster. Big gaps. Gaps that, if left unfilled, mean we won’t get the fucking work out. And if we don’t get the fucking work out, Dogsbody, I’m fucked. You’re fucked. We’re all fucked! So please, Dogsbody, tell me what the fuck do these gaps MEAN??”
Dogsbody gave his trademark I-Couldn’t-Really-Give-A-Fuck shrug. “It’s Bill McDonald, Cardboard. He don’t wanna work.”
Cardboard Supervisor let his mouth flap a few times like a dying fish. “Bill McDonald? BILL FUCKING MCDONALD? But I thought he lived here! I thought this factory was his fucking home! That fucker is here more often than some of the fucking print presses! He’s done double shifts, seven days a week for three fucking years and even then he crams in a few more hours! He gets paid more than Chris fucking Evans! If he doesn’t work then I’ll have to find… what… three other blokes who will, but everyone else is working flat out so basically we’re fucked!”
Dogsbody nodded. “Yeah. Basically.”
“Why won’t he work??”
“Dunno. He just told me to go fuck meself. Said he got summet else on.”
“Something else on?? What does a bloke do, other than work, when all he ever does is work?” Cardboard Supervisor plucked nervously at his moustache then stopped himself. Last time he did that he got carried away and spent the day looking like Hitler.
He said, “Ok, ok. He won’t work. So who isn’t working?”
Dogsbody picked up the roster and studied it. “Only one bloke who ain’t working this weekend and might cover.”
Cardboard Supervisor brightened up. “Really! Oh, oh good! Who is it?”
Dogsbody grinned. “You.”
A wave of different emotions played across Cardboard Supervisor’s face. Horror, anger, fear, despair, then a gray mask of resigned acceptance.
“Alright. I’ll do it.”
Cardboard Supervisor quietly vomited into the blackness of space and shoved the bin back under the desk.
Over the weekend he’d worked thirty hours out of the forty eight and he was beyond exhausted. He felt like death.
The door opened and Bill McDonald walked in, a half smile on his face. Three fat bluebottles buzzed into the office with him and blundered around the small room.
“You wanted to see me, eh?” Said Bill.
Cardboard Supervisor watched the flies zig zagging over his head for a moment, a thin stream of drool hanging from his lip.
He blinked, wiped his mouth. “Bill. Bill! Yes, yes Bill, Billy Boy. Sit down, Bill. Coffee? No? Right, okay. It’s about the old overtime situation, Bill. Feeling a bit off it this weekend, were we? Can we rely on you to get stuck in next weekend? Hmm?”
Bill McDonald leaned over the desk. “You can shove your overtime up your fucking arse, Cardboard. I’m fucking done wi’ it. Flat hours from now on, that’s what tha’ll get out o’ me. I’ve done me fair share an’ more. You got what you wanted out o’ me, aye, but I got what I wanted n’all, so I’m back on seven an’ an’ ‘alf. I’ll not be killin’ meself for thee.”
the chair scraped across the cracked tile floor and Bill Mcdonald was gone.
Cardboard Supervisor stifled a sob.
“Bastard,” he whispered. He wanted to put the bin on his head but it was full of puke.
He thought for a moment then called the reception desk.
“Hello, Susan. Put a call over the Tannoy for Flint and Hugs, will you? Ask them to step into my office.”
It took Cardboard Supervisor ten minutes to tell the whole sorry tale to Flint and Hugs.
They grinned throughout.
Flint and Hugs are borderline psychotics of a particularly Northern variety. They never seem to sleep. By day, these sort of men work long shifts in factories throughout Yorkshire and Lancashire. Then, at night, they go out into the countryside. They have a strange affinity with nature. They can track it, observe it, watch where animals are likely to appear and observe their ways.
Once they have finished observing these animals they often set dogs on them, shoot them, stab them, gut them, chop them up and sometimes eat them. They even occasionally fuck them, if the mood is right.
“So what d’yer want us to do about the Bill McDonald situation, boss?” said Flint.
“Yeah, what has Billy Boy got to do wiv us?” said Hugs.
Cardboard Supervisor flapped his hands at a fly. “I want you to find out what he’s up to, that’s what! You don’t work every hour God sends for over two fucking years and then just stop – you don’t do that. Bill McDonald is fucking me about, lads, and no-one fucks me about!!”
Flint and Hugs grinned at each other. They knew that everyone fucked Cardboard Supervisor about, themselves included.
Flint said, “Don’t worry, Boss, we’ll watch him.”
Hugs said, “Yeah, we’ll observe ‘is movements.”
Flint said, “We’ll track for yer.”
Cardboard Supervisor frowned. “Alright, but you know not to kill him, yes? I’m not asking you to do that. I just want to make that clear. Don’t kill him.”
Flint and Hugs grinned at Cardboard Supervisor then grinned at each other.
As they left, Flint called over his shoulder, “You reckon Billy Boy not working O.T. might have owt to do wiv that new shiny motor wot he bought?”
The door slammed shut.
Cardboard Supervisor jumped up.
“Shiny new motor?” He spluttered. “New shiny motor? What? What motor that is new and shiny?”
He stumbled to the window and scrabbled at the blinds. Through the grime streaked windows he could see rows of parked cars. There! A Land Rover Discovery. Brand new, almost top of the range. Best car in the car park.
“Is that it?” he hissed. “Has he worked and slaved all these months and years, for THAT? No… I don’t think so…”
Cardboard Supervisor sat back down at his desk. He needed to relax. He needed to think. He reached under the desk, found his star bin and put it on his head.
Flint and Hugs had gone to the fair.
Flint had been on the carousel and Hugs had won a rabbit on the coconut shy. They had both gone on the dodgems but got chucked off for knocking fuck out of a lad who didn’t like being rammed by them.
Hugs had some candy floss. Flint had his face painted like a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle.
Flint said, “You feelin’ hungry, Hugs?”
Hugs said, “Starvin’, Flint. Watcha fancy?”
Flint grinned, and they both stared at the huge, chromed burger van with the shiny new Land Rover Discovery parked behind it.
“Let’s see what Billy Boy’s got on the grill.”
They had to queue for half an hour. There must have been eighty people waiting for a Billy Burger. Eventually they got to the front of the queue and grinned up at Bill McDonald in his apron and hairnet.
Hugs said, “Afternoon, Billy Boy.”
Flint said, “You look a cunt in that hairnet.”
Bill didn’t bat an eyelid. He said, “What can I get you, lads?”
“Two Billy Burgers, Billy Boy!”
Bill flipped two thick slabs of sizzling meat off the hot plate and into bread buns.
Flint and Hugs squirted ketchup into their burgers and shoved crumpled fivers across the counter.
Bill gave them change. “Enjoy. NEXT!”
Flint and Hugs bit into their burgers.
Then they looked at each other, eyes wide.
“Fuckin’ Hell,” said Flint.
“Double Fuckin’ Hell,” said Hugs.
Flint and Hugs giggled silently at Cardboard Supervisor, who was sitting quietly behind his desk with a brand new bin on his head. The occasional snore came from inside.
Flint picked up a steel ruler and looked at Hugs.
Tears of laughter flowed down Hugs face.
“Do it!” he whispered.
Flint hammered on the side of the bin with the ruler and screamed “FIRE!!!”
Cardboard Supervisor howled like a dog and flailed his arms around. His chair flipped backwards and he fell to the floor, thrashing around with the bin on his head.
Flint put the ruler down and tried to look innocent.
Cardboard Supervisor pulled the bin off and blinked at the two men in front of him. He looked like shit. He hadn’t shaved for days and his skin had gone a yellowy gray colour – shift pallor.
“You alright, boss?” said Flint.
“Sounds like you was ‘aving a nightmare, boss.” said Hugs.
“I was… resting my eyes,” croaked Cardboard Supervisor. “I’ve been here all fucking weekend. I… I think I’m dying. I can’t take much more of this shit. Please tell me you’ve found out what the fucking hell Bill McDonald is up to.”
Flint dropped a brown paper bag on the desk. It had grease marks soaking through the bottom. Cardboard Supervisor looked confused. “What’s this?”
“It’s what Billy Boy is up to.”
Cardboard Supervisor opened the bag and took out a half-eaten burger.
He said, “Burgers?”
Flint nodded. “Yup. He’s in the burger game. Got a big van, does all the fairs an’ racecourses an’ shit. He’s workin’ all hours an’ makin’ a mint, way more than he can make ‘ere. Go on. Take a bite.”
Hugs said, “Sorry we had a bit. We Couldn’t resist.”
Cardboard Supervisor waved a couple of flies away from the cold burger. “I’m good, thanks. I’m… not hungry.”
“Take a bite, boss.”
“Yeah, you gotta. We bought it for you.”
Cardboard Supervisor picked it up, sniffed it, then took a tiny bite.
He looked at Flint and Hugs.
Then he took another bite.
He crammed the cold burger into his mouth.
He said, “Mmmff fffmmm mmmfmm MMM ffmm!” (This is fucking amazing! It’s the best thing I’ve EVER tasted!)
Flint said, “Yeah, they’re fuckin’ lush, ain’t they? Dunno how he does it. You can’t compete wi’ that, boss. He’s makin’ thousands on a weekend. Punters are queuing round the block for a Billy Burger. You gotta accept that he ain’t gonna work weekends no more.”
Cardboard Supervisor slumped behind his desk, his mouth full of cold burger. Billy’s Burger.
Right then he almost quit. He wanted to pick up his bin, walk out of the office and never look back.
Maybe he could build a telescope in the shed, spend his times nocturnally, staring at the stars.
Then he thought of his pension, his mortgage his wife, his kids, his car, his golf club fees, his…
Cardboard Supervisor spat burger across the desk. The flies quickly land on the sodden morsels.
“Fuck that shit!” he shouted. “You find a way of stopping that cunt and make him work again, you hear?? I’ll make it worth your while lads, believe me. I’ll look after you like you were my own fucking sons. I’ll clock you in on weekends while you’re out killing things. I’ll sign your cards to say you’re at work when you’re in bed. Do this for me and you can have my fucking soul, just get Bill back to work!”
Cardboard Supervisor panted, Flint and Hugs looked at each other.
Flint said, “Fair do’s. We’ll get him.”
He slammed his hand on a bluebottle, killing it.
Cardboard Supervisor said, “And while we’re about it, where the fucking hell are all these flies coming from??”
Hugs shrugged. “Dunno. Maybe from all them bags of guts in the skip.”
There was a silence in the office, except for the buzzing of the remaining flies.
“Bags of guts?” said Cardboard Supervisor. “What bags of guts?”
“The bags of guts in the skip out back.” said Flint. “Skip’s been full o’ guts for a few week now.”
“Where the fucking hell are the guts comin’ from? We’re a print works, not a fucking abattoir!”
“Dunno, boss,” replied Flint. “they’re just there.”
Cardboard Supervisor paused. He thought for a moment.
“Find out where the guts are coming from, lads,” he whispered.
Hugs said, “Righto.”
The two men lumbered out of the office.
Cardboard Supervisor sat at his desk, smiling, watching a fly skitter over the partially chewed burger on his desk
The back yard was illuminated by a car’s headlights.
The cracked concrete glistened and steamed in the cold night air. Above the sound of the asthmatic air conditioning units that laboured in the yard, the sounds of chopping could be heard, along with the grunts and pants of a man working hard.
Flint and Hugs slipped from the shadows, grinning.
“Evening, Billy Boy!” called Flint.
“Lovely night for… whatever!” shouted Hugs.
Bill McDonald stood up, breathing hard. A stag lay butchered on the ground before him, entrails steaming with the last of its life.
He stood up, wiping his hands on his gore smeared apron.
“What you lads want?” He said guardedly.
Flint nodded at the butchered beast. “How about a few venison steaks off Bambi there?”
Bill McDonald said, “You can fuck right off.”
Hugs shook his head. “That’s not right nice, Billy boy. We’re yer mates! Mates sort out mates, y’know. All we want is a slice or two.”
Bill stepped towards them, a large hunting knife in his right hand. “I’ll give both you cunts a slice or two if you fuck with me.”
Flint and Hugs stopped smiling.
“That’s not nice, Bill,” said Flint.
“Not nice at all,” said Hugs.
“I’m not here to be nice,” replied Bill. “I need this meat. Every pound of it. You don’t get owt for nowt.”
He bent down and started shovelling the entrails into a bin liner, then slung the bag into the skip. A cloud of flies rose sluggishly from the mounds of black plastic then settled again. Keeping an eye on the other two men, Bill then carefully bagged up the cut meat and heaved the bags into the back of the Land Rover.
Flint said, “How’d you kill it, Bill? Got a shooter?”
Bill nodded to the front of the Land Rover. The bull bar was slightly bent and a mist of blood covered one headlight.
“It weren’t quick enough getting out of me way on the Otley Road.”
“Fair game then,” said Hugs.
“Aye,” said Bill.
Flint said, “A fair bit of meat there, Bill. Keep your family fed for a bit, eh?”
Bill ignored him. He went to the garage at the far end of the yard and dragged out the pressure washer. He began to blast the gore smeared concrete. A mist of water and blood rose up.
Flint and Hugs disappeared into the shadows.
It was around this time that a lot of animals went missing. You might remember it. Ponies, dogs, cats, even a couple of llamas from a petting zoo just vanished off the face of the earth. The only thing that thrived was foxes, grown fat on the piles of guts that appeared in lay-bys and so-called beauty spots around Yorkshire. There was a big scare about a horse ripper. Stories appeared in The Yorkshire Post about stabbed horses, mutilated mares were found trembling in their paddocks on misty mornings, dead foals ripped apart at secluded stables. Parts of dead deer were a common sight, and people reckoned it was the work of a big cat loose in the countryside, but Flint and Hugs knew better.
It would have been a simple job to contact environmental health but that would have been grassing, and Flint and Hugs were not grasses. They sorted things out in their own way, on their own terms.
Bill started to miss work mid-week, coincidentally on the same days as race meetings at Ripon, York and Beverley.
Cardboard Supervisor was distraught. He could see Bill McDonald was close to leaving and no-one would cover the hours that he would work. He’d have to hire three men, but the money wasn’t there for that and besides, prospective employees took one look at the shambolic hell hole that was The Factory and they walked straight out.
Cardboard Supervisor had worked four weekends on the trot and was convinced the work had given him cancer. When he wasn’t running print machines he was whacked off his head on anti-depressants with a bin full of stars on his head.
He was close to the end.
Bill McDonald had never been happier. He’d worked like a dog for nearly three years with this one goal in mind – his own business. It had cost him every penny he had and he’d even had to remortgage the house in the end, but now he had a dream burger van and a reliable 4×4 to pull it there was no stopping him.
He could have gone cheap on the van, started out with a little second hand job, but that wasn’t the Bill McDonald way. No, he was either 100% in or 100% out. Shit or bust. When he’d seen that big double-axled chrome-panelled beauty for sale, he knew that was what he wanted. He’d had to work another year, a whole twelve months of Hell in that god-forsaken shit hole, but it was worth it.
He’d started out using shit from the wholesalers but it ate into his profits. Those burgers were crap as well, full of god-knows what. Arseholes and snouts. Mechanically reclaimed shit.
No, the future was free-range, fresh from field to plate. Nature’s harvest.
The best word in free-range being ‘Free’, as in costing nowt.
He checked his watch. It was a Friday but he’d thrown a sicky to attend the big race meeting at Doncaster. It was a nice day so the Pimms should be flowing, and once the race goers got a bit fresh the first thing they wanted was a burger.
A big fat Billy Burger.
Bill opened the secure lock up warehouse where he kept the van and reversed the Land Rover. He coupled the burger van up to the tow ball. He carefully pulled out of the lock up then walked back, whistling, to close the warehouse doors.
As he bolted the roller shutter doors he heard the unmistakable roar of his Land Rover Discovery’s engine.
He looked around, horrified, just in time to see the Discovery tearing out of the industrial estate, the shiny chrome burger van bouncing along behind it.
Bill started running, chasing his life’s work as it disappeared around the bend.
With a friendly toot of the horn, his burger van, his Land Rover and his whole world disappeared around the bend.
The police were cunts.
Bill told them that he’d been jumped by thieves but the fucking CCTV didn’t marry up with his story, and he finally had to admit that he’d left the keys in the ignition when he’d locked the warehouse up.
The pigs actually fucking LAUGHED when they told him that his insurance wouldn’t be valid. He’d tried to offer them a back hander and they offered to take him into custody and kick his teeth out.
He was clutching at straws, trying to salvage anything of his investment but they just couldn’t give a shit.
“We’re sorry, sir, but it’s your own fault. In future you should turn off the engine, take the keys from the ignition and keep them on your person at all times…”
“Find the van? Ha ha ha! Bless my soul, sir, that’s a good one! We’re very sorry, sir, but your van is most likely being stripped down by hordes of gypsies as we speak, but we can’t go over there and kick their arses or they’ll scream DISCRIMINATION! Sad state of affairs, sir, but our hands are tied…”
They said there was no way of identifying the perpetrators, but Bill felt certain he recognized the two men on the CCTV footage who scurried from behind a skip as soon as his back was turned, even though they were wearing balaclavas.
The police offered to drop him off at home, but on the way he had second thoughts.
He thought of the remortgage on his house.
He thought of the over-draught.
He thought about bankruptcy.
He had the police drop him off at work.
He had some grovelling to do.
The stars were brighter than ever.
The constellation of Orion was particularly fine tonight, with Betelgeuse shining like a small, red beacon. Cardboard Supervisor felt rested and happy, the weekend over time roster was full and he had a blissfully empty couple of days ahead of him.
He’d enjoyed making Bill McDonald squirm. He’d made him beg. After a while he tossed him the over time like it was the scraps from his plate. Bill had almost cried.
Cardboard Supervisor lifted the bin a little so he could see his watch.
It was twelve o’clock.
He put the bin back under his desk and opened his drawer.
He looked inside a brown paper bag and smiled.
It was still warm.
Mouth watering, he sank his teeth into a large, juicy burger.
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