Authors: David Moody
Tags: #Horror, #Zombies, #Virus
'Now you're taking the piss…'
'You go and ask Bob…'
I usually ignore these quick-fire conversations (most of the time I don't have a clue what they're talking about) but today I can actually add something because I was there. It's pathetic, I know, but the fact that I seem to know more about what happened than either Kieran or Daryl makes me feel smug and superior.
'He's right,' I say, looking up from my screen.
'Did you see it then?' Kieran asks. I lean back on my seat in self-satisfaction.
'Happened right in front of me. He might even have gone for me if I'd been a few seconds earlier.'
'So what was it all about?' Daryl asks. 'Is what he's saying right?'
I quickly look over at Tina. She's got her head buried in a pile of papers. It's safe to keep talking.
'I saw the old girl first,' I tell them. 'I nearly tripped over her. She came flying past me and smashed up against the window by the side door of Cartwrights. I thought it must be a group of kids trying to get her bag off her or something like that. Couldn't believe it when I saw him. He just looked like a normal bloke. Suit, tie, glasses...'
'So why did he do it? What had she done to him?'
'No idea. Bloody hell, mood he was in I wasn't about to ask him.'
'And he just went for her?' Daryl mumbles, sounding like he doesn't believe a word I'm saying. I nod and glance from side to side at both of them.
'Never seen anything like it,' I continue. 'He ran at her and stabbed her with an umbrella. It was gross. It went right into her belly. There was blood all over her coat and…'
Tina's looking up now. I look down and start typing, trying to remember what it was I was doing.
'Then what?' Kieran hisses.
'Idiot turned on the rest of the crowd. Started hitting out at the people around him. Then the police turned up,' I explain, still looking at my screen but not actually doing anything. 'They dragged him away and shoved him in the back of a van.'
The conversation stops again. Murray's on the move. For a moment the only sound I can hear is the clicking of three computer keyboards as we pretend to work. After looking around the room and staring at me in particular she leaves the office and Kieran and Daryl immediately stop inputting.
'So was there something wrong with him?' Daryl asks pointlessly.
'Of course there was something wrong with him,' I answer. Christ, this bloke's an idiot at times. 'Do you think he'd stab an old lady with an umbrella if there wasn't anything wrong with him?'
'But did he say anything? Was he screaming or shouting or…?'
I wonder whether it's even worth answering his half-asked question.
'Both,' I grunt.
'Was he drunk or on drugs or…?'
'I don't know,' I say, beginning to get annoyed. I stop and think for a second before speaking again. In my head I can still see the expression on the man's face. 'He looked absolutely fucking terrified,' I tell them. 'He looked like he was the one who was being attacked.'
There's a girl who sits on the other side of the office called Jennifer Reynolds. I don't know her very well. I don't have much to do with her from day to day. In fact I've only spoken to her a handful of times since I was transferred into the PFP. She's not here today and I hate it when she's out. When Jennifer Reynolds isn't here her duties get shared out between the rest of us, and the job I have to cover today is the worst job of all - Reception. The postal address of the PFP isn't actively broadcast but it's on some of the correspondence we send out and it's in the phone book and it doesn't take much for the general public to find out where we are. We get a lot of visitors, too many in my opinion. If someone comes here it's almost always because they've been fined or clamped. They've probably already tried to get the fine overturned or the clamp removed and by the time they reach us coming to argue their case in person is often the only option they have left. So those people who do turn up here are likely to already be seriously pissed off. Shouting, screaming and threatening behaviour isn't unusual. The first place these people reach is Reception, and the first person they get to scream at, shout at or threaten is the poor sod sat behind the desk.
So here I am, sitting alone at the Reception desk, staring at the tatty bronzed-glass entrance door, watching anxiously for any visitors. I hate this. It's like sitting in a dentist's waiting room. I'm constantly watching the clock on the wall. It's hung just above a large notice board covered with unread and unhelpful council posters and notices. Just to the left of the notice board, equally unread and unhelpful, is a small sign which warns the public against intimidating or attacking council staff. The fact that it's there doesn't make me feel any safer. There's a personal attack alarm stuck under the desk but that doesn't make me feel any better either.
It's four thirty-eight. Twenty-two minutes to go then I'm finished for the day.
I'm sure Tina enjoys making me come out here. It's always me who ends up covering for Jennifer. Being out on Reception is a form of torture. You're not allowed to bring any paperwork out here with you (something about protecting confidential data) and the lack of any distractions makes the time drag painfully slowly. So far this afternoon I've only had to deal with two phone calls, and they were just personal calls for members of staff.
Come on clock, speed up.
Almost there. I'm watching the clock all the time now, willing the hands to move round quickly so that I can get out of here. I'm already rehearsing my escape from the office in my head. I just have to shutdown my computer and grab my coat from the cloakroom then I'll sprint to the station. If I can get away quickly enough I might manage to catch the early train and that'll get me back home for…
Damn. Bloody phone's ringing again. I hate the way it rings. It grates like an off-key alarm clock and the noise goes right through me. I pick it up and cringe at the thought of what might be waiting for me at the other end of the line.
'Good afternoon, PFP, Danny McCoyne speaking,' I mumble quickly. I've learnt to answer the phone quietly and at speed. It makes it difficult for the caller to take your name.
'Can I speak to Mr Fitzpatrick in Payroll please?' a heavily accented female voice asks. Thank God for that - this isn't a screaming member of the public with a complaint, it's just a wrong number. I relax. We get a few calls for Payroll most days. Their extensions are similar to ours. You'd think someone would do something about it. Anyway I'm relieved. The last thing I want is a problem at four fifty-five.
'You've come through to the wrong department,' I explain. 'You've dialled 2300 instead of 3200. I'll try and transfer you. If you get cut-off just dial 1000 and that'll take you through to the main exchange…'
I'm suddenly distracted and my voice trails away as the front door flies open. I instinctively move back on my chair, trying to put as much distance as possible between me and whoever it is who's about to come storming into the building. I finish the phone call and allow myself to relax slightly when I see the front wheels of a child's pushchair being forced through the door. The pushchair is jammed in the doorway and I get up to help. A short, rain-soaked woman in a green and purple anorak enters Reception. As well as the child in the pushchair (which is hidden from view by a heavy plastic rain-cover) two more small children follow her inside. The bedraggled family stand in the middle of the Reception area and drip water onto the grubby marble-effect floor. The woman seems harassed and is pre-occupied with her kids. She snaps at the tallest child, telling him that 'Mummy has a problem to sort out with this man, then we'll get you back home for something to eat.'
She takes off her hood and I can see that she's in her late thirties or early forties. She's plain looking and her large, round, rain-splashed glasses are steaming up. Her face is flushed red and there are dribbles of rainwater dripping off the end of her nose. She doesn't make eye contact with me. She slams her handbag down on the desk and begins searching through it. She stops for a moment to lift the rain-cover (which is also beginning to steam up with condensation) and checks on her baby who seems to be sleeping. She returns her attention to the contents of her handbag and I make my way back around to the other side of the counter.
'Can I help you?' I ask cautiously, deciding that it's about time I offered. She glares at me over the rim of her glasses. This woman has an attitude, I can sense it. She's making me feel uncomfortable. I know I'm in for a hard time.
'Wait a minute,' she snaps, talking to me as if I'm one of her kids. She takes a packet of tissues out of her bag and passes one to one of the children at her feet who keeps wiping his nose on the back of his sleeve. 'Blow,' she orders sternly, shoving the tissue into the middle of the kid's face. The child doesn't argue.
I glance up at the clock. Four fifty-seven. Doesn't look like I'll be getting the early train home tonight.
'I parked my car at Leftbank Place for five minutes while I took my eldest son to the toilet,' she begins as she repacks her bag. No time for niceties, she's straight into her complaint. 'In those five minutes my car was clamped. Now I know that I shouldn't have been parked there, but it was only for five minutes and I was only there because it was absolutely necessary. I want to speak to someone who has the authority to sort this out and I want to speak to them now. I want that clamp removed from my car so I can get my children home.'
I clear my throat and get ready to try and respond. Suddenly my mouth is dry and my tongue feels twice its normal size. It had to be Leftbank Place, didn't it. It's an area of waste ground just ten minutes walk from our office. Sometimes it feels like just about every other car that's clamped in this town is clamped at Leftbank Place. The enforcement team who cover that area are notorious. Someone told me they're on some kind of performance-related pay scheme - the more cars they clamp each week, the more they get paid. I don't know whether or not that's true but it doesn't help me now. I know I have no choice but to give this woman a stock response from procedures. I also know that she's not going to like it.
'Madam,' I begin, tensing up in anticipation of her reaction, 'Leftbank Place is a strictly no parking area. The council…'
She doesn't give me chance to get any further.
'I'll tell you about the council,' she yells, her voice suddenly uncomfortably loud. 'This bloody council needs to spend less time clamping people and more time making sure that public amenities are in proper working order. The only reason I had to park at bloody Leftbank Place was because the public toilets in Millennium Square have been vandalised! My son has a bowel condition. I didn't have any choice. He couldn't wait any longer.'
'There must have been other toilets…' I begin to say, instantly regretting having opened my mouth. Christ I hate this job. I wish I was back dealing with rubbish collections, rat infestations or even broken street lamps again. My biggest problem is that it sounds like this woman has been genuinely hard done by and I'd probably have done exactly the same as she did if I'd been out with my kids. It sounds like she's got a fair point and there's nothing I'd like to do more than call off the clampers but I don't have the authority. My options now are bleak; follow procedures and get yelled at again by this lady or get yelled at by Tina Murray if I don't do things by the book. Chances are I'm going to cop it from both of them. Before she can react to my stupid comment I try and cover it up. 'I understand what you're saying, Madam, but…'
'Do you?' she screams, this time loud enough to wake the baby in the pushchair who starts to whimper and moan. 'Do you really? I don't think you do, because if you did understand you'd be on the phone to someone right now getting that bloody clamp removed from my car so that I can get my children home. They're cold, they're hungry and…'
'I need to just…'
'I don't want excuses, I want this dealt with.'
She's not going to listen. This is pointless. She isn't even going to give me a chance.
'I suggest you go and speak to your superiors and find someone who's prepared to take responsibility for this shoddy mess and come and sort it out. I was forced to park at Leftbank Place because of this council's inefficiencies. I have a son who has a medical condition and I needed to get him to the toilet urgently. If the council had done their job properly in the first place and had made sure the public toilets were in full working order then I wouldn't have been parked there, I wouldn't have been clamped and I wouldn't be stood here now talking to someone who clearly can't or won't do anything to help me. I need to speak to someone who's a little higher up the chain of command than the receptionist so why don't you do us both a favour and go and find someone who is actually prepared to do something before my son needs to use the toilet again.'