i 51ddca29df3edad1 (6 page)

Harry looked away from his father-in-law's face before saying quietly,

"I don't think they are sudden." Then he dared to add, "A decent profit, that's business, but ... but this is Jiggerypokery. And have you thought what this man's going to say when he discovers that Peamarsh and Lovell are one and the same firm." "I don't care what he thinks." Dave Rippon was standing straight now and his voice sounded calm and cold.

"The point stands that Lovell's was a high class firm and had highly skilled workmen, we've taken them over; nothing has changed."

Oh my God I Harry groaned to himself. What could you say, how could you come back at this kind of twisted thinking? Half of Lovell's men were scattered among Bradley and Kershaw's. Whatever good work Lovell's men had done as a combined force was finished, but could you convince a man like Dave Rippon that this was so.

"Look." Dave Rippon's voice came in sharp and high.

"What you want is a holiday, or'--he poked his face forward again-- 'a change of job."

"Perhaps you're right."

Harry got to his feet, and Dave Rippon, sensing the battle of words he'd have with his daughter should her husband for any reason leave his protection, swallowed deeply and his tone, conciliatory now, said,

"Come on, come on. Look, leave this to me. I'll straighten it out to fit your conscience. It's Christmas;

come on, forget about it. " He put his hand on Harry's shoulder and walked him towards the door, and as he opened it he reman sea casually, " I'm oft to York this afternoon; I suppose Esther told you.

"

"Yes, she did say something about it."

"It's a blooming nuisance. This fellow--he was my Colonel, I hadn't seen for years until we met at a reunion a little while ago--he's in a bad way, dicky heart, lives on his own ... well he's got a housekeeper, sort of. Anyway, he phoned me yesterday begging me to come up. And what can you do at Christmas, somebody lonely eh?" They were passing Miss Bateman's desk and he turned his head towards her now and asked,

"Oh, by the way did you get me the reservation?" And when she answered, "Yes, it's here," he turned to Harry again and said,

"There'll be thousands travelling today, and if this keeps on I can see us being stranded in some siding over the holiday." He laughed his other laugh, a deep belly laugh, then added, "But I must look in on the jollification for a little while, so see yolt again at three then."

"It's beginning at two-thirty today." They both looked at Miss Bateman, and she added, "I'm having word sent round, so that everyone can get away earlier."

"Half-past two it is then." Dave Rippon nodded at Harry and Harry returned the nod, then went out and down the passage and to the lift and when he was inside he leant his head against the wooden partition.

He had never felt so small and inconsequential in his life before.

From the beginning to the end of the interview his father-in-law had treated him like a cross between a young clerk and a man depending on his livelihood from the perks of his wife's father.

When he opened his office door a girl was standing at the corner of his desk. He said, "Oh, hello," and she said, "I'm Betty Ray. Miss Bateman sent me in."

"Oh yes. Sit down, Miss Ray."

Seated behind the desk; he picked up some letters from the in-tray, saying, "There's only about half-a-dozen, they won't take long." He smiled at her now and said, "Nobody wants to work this morning." And she smiled back at him and replied, "Oh, I don't mind. I'd rather work, it passes the time away."

"Yes," he inclined his head towards her, "There's something in that.

Now then, this is to Farrow, Barrett and Soames. "

As ne dictated me icllcjl nc luuis-cu cu'll1,1 cinu i. injm. iiL, kjni, o the one that sits farthest away from the window. The girls in the pool were mostly faces to him; they came in before he did in the morning and they went before he left at night. Sometimes he passed them on the stairs at lunch time but he had never managed to put a face to a body until now. Miss Ray looked a vivacious girl, medium height, black hair with a fine pair of eyes. Brown or black? He waited until she looked up again. Brown.

When she had finished typing the letters and she was about to go, he said, "If it wasn't for the party you could go home now I suppose," and she answered pertly, "But what would I do there .,. Well I mean, I've got nothing to do at home; I'd rather stay for the party and risk being snowed in."

"You would?"

She nodded at him, "Yes," and they both laughed, he freely.

"How long have you been here?" he asked.

"Just over two months."

"Do you like it ?" } She shrugged her shoulders.

"It's a job."

Yes, they were all jobs, just jobs. He looked at her now as a whole.

She was what they would call petite. She sounded lively, different from poor old Ada. But Ada was twice her age. He guessed this girl to be twenty. When he said, "Thanks, Miss Ray," she said, in a manner which would surely have caused Miss Bateman's back hair to stand on end

"Any time, any time, Mr. Blenheim," and went out.

He found himself still smiling as he straightened the papers on his desk. For the moment he had forgotten about Halliday, Lovell's and his father-in-law.

THREE

The basement storeroom was crowded with staff, ranging from the second director to the tea boy. A transistor was blaring forth dance music, but no one would have thought of dancing; they didn't dance at the office party, they just drank, talked and laughed.

Harry, carrying a tray of filled sherry glasses, stopped in front of a group of men and one of them said, "Well, there's no need for the old seasonable advice today, Mr. Blenheim, eh?"

"What's that. Barney?"

"Well, if you drive don't drink, and if you drink don't drive."

"Oh yes, yes, that's true. Well, we're going to get something out of the snow after all, you could say."

An elderly-looking man said, "I've seen some snow in me time but never anything like this. I've never seen it so thick that you couldn't get your cars out of the yard."

"They say the buses are only running on the flat; they can't tackle Brampton Hill or the cemetery road."

"Well the weather's not going to worry me," said another man.

"I mean to get bottled and stay corked for the entire four days."

Harry moved on amid laughter and went to a corner, where two girls were sitting on upturned boxes. As he neared them one got to her feet, saying, "I'll go and bring Ada," and Harry, offering the tray to the remaining girl, said, "Well, Miss Ray, how are you doing?"

"Quite well, Mr. Blenheim, quite well; I've still got some." She raised her half-filled glass; then putting her hand out she added, "But I'll take another, just to keep the kettle boiling."

"To keep the kettle boiling!" Harry laughed down on the girl.

"It's a long time since l neard mat one. Wtncn part are you from?"

The pert face pushed up towards his and the voice, hushed a little, said, "I'd better whisper it, Bog's End."

"No I Well, the same here."

"You, Mr. Blenheim 1' The brown eyes were stretched wide, the mouth agape.

"Yes, I was born there."

"Well, I never. Small world. Some go up, some go down, and some just stay put. The last's me. Although we don't live actually in Bog's End, but not a kick in the backs ... Oh lord!" She put her hand over her mouth and spluttered, "Aw well, it's Christmas, I might as well say it."

Harry was laughing freely again. She was a card, this one. He wondered how she ever became a shorthand typist; her kind always ended up in a store or a factory. There was nothing of gentility, faked or otherwise, that he had come to expect from the typists in Peamarsh's.

And she was a looker too, full of personality.

When her companion and another girl came scurrying back and sat one on each side of her he offered them glasses of sherry, and they giggled as they said, "Oh, thanks, Mr. Blenheim."

He smiled widely at them, saying, "It's my pleasure, ladies." Then, again amid laughter, he moved on.

When he went to the trestled table to replenish his tray his father-in-law was standing talking to Graham Hall. Hall was senior to Dave Rippon, but by how much was anybody's guess. He suffered from a stomach complaint, and it was rumoured he was going to retire long before his time. Harry knew that his father-in-law could hardly wait for Hall's shoes, or for that matter Mr. Walters, whom everybody said should have retired years ago.

Dave Rippon, showing his consideration for the staff, called in a voice that he aimed to raise above the din, "You're seeing to everybody, Harry? How about Miss Bateman?" He pointed to where Miss Bateman was standing condescending to talk to Jim Whelan, it being the one day in the year when position and seniority were supposedly forgotten.

Harry looked towards Miss Bateman, but she was looking at her boss"

and her boss was smiling at her and waving his hand. The atmosphere was very genial, very.

Mrs. Streatham, who saw to the tea each day, was now busily filling glasses, As she piled half-a-dozen on to Harry's tray she said, "What about yourself, Mr. Blenheim? I haven't seen you take a drink yet."

"You must have had your eyes closed then'--he poked his head towards her" --I've downed three so far, and there's still time to double it.

They're saying back there we've no need to worry about drinking and driving today. "

"That's true, Mr. Blenheim; we're going to get something out of it anyway."

"That's exactly what I said." They laughed together as if at a hilarious joke.

When he handed a glass of sherry to Miss Bateman she smiled thinly at him and said, "Thank you, Mr. Blenheim," and he thought, "That's your fourth to my knowledge and not even a sparkle in your eye." She could certainly carry it.

As he was threading his way through the groups sitting and standing about the storeroom he bumped into Tom Vosey. He, too, had a tray in his hand and he bowed to Harry, saying, "Can I press you to a drink, Sir?"

Vosey was the youngest of the directors. He had risen to where he was because he was related to Graham Hall. Nevertheless, to Harry, Tom was all right. They were buddies. And now, with a number of sherries down him, Tom was being skittish and playful; and Harry answered him in like vein. Assuming a pompous air, he said, "Thank you, my boy, thank you.

Well, just one to keep out the chill, or let's say because there won't be any bill. Hah! hah! hah 1 Doesn't sherry make you witty?

Drink it, my boy, drink it. "

Tom Vosey put out his hand and pushed Harry in the shoulder, almost upsetting him and the tray. He was spluttering as he said, "You know, that's old Walters to the tee; I could even smell the board room."

Then he added, "I say, how are we going to get home? ... We'll have to shank it, won't we?"

"I'm afraid so."

"God, I've got a mile to go. But you've got two, or more.

. -----^, ^ ^^. la^. w wuispcring now conndentiatly.

"Do these affairs bore you? Honest now, honest."

Harry considered a moment, then said thoughtfully, "Yes and no. At one time I used to look forward to them, but now ... well."

The too. I know what you mean. We enjoyed them when we were young, boy, when we were young. " Again he pushed Harry in the shoulder; then went on his way laughing.

At a given signal someone called for order and Mr. Hall said his usual few words, apologising for the absence of their esteemed head director and thanking the staff, one and all, for their faithful service to the firm of Peamarsh.

Immediately this ritual was over, Dave Rippon came up to Harry and spoke as if the altercation in the office hadn't happened.

"Well, I'm off, Harry," he said.

"Give my love to them all at home. It's a damn nuisance having to go to York on a day like this, but there it is. We let ourselves in for these things and have to stand the consequences.

Well, have a good time," he slapped Harry between the shoulders.

"And by the way, if it thaws, come down and take the car to the garage, will you?" He hiccuped slightly, then laughed as he added, "It's going to be yours anyway, so you'd better look after it... Happy Christmas."

He slapped him again between the shoulders, then cried-loudly to those about him, "Happy Christmas everybody. Happy Christmas."

"Happy Christmas, Sir. Happy Christmas, Sir."

When he came opposite to Miss Bateman he actually took her hand and shook it, saying, "A happy. Christmas and she, looking into his face, replied " A happy Christmas, Mr. Rippon. " Then waving his hand about him he went out.

"That should have given her a thrill," said Jim Whelan nonchalantly as he passed Harry, 'having your hand shaken by God. By the way, did you see him about that business? " and Harry replied, " Yes, I'll go into it after the holidays, Jim. "

"Good. Well now, I'm off an' all. Happy Christmas, Harry."

"Happy Christmas, Jim."

Ten minutes later he was back in his office. His head was buzzing. He did not know how many sherries he had got down him, at least half-a-dozen. He had never taken on that many berore. ne a oeicer gci a <-up ui ica ; juii-wti'-i>- ^>-j--^v- . ^ arrived home; it wouldn't do to greet Esther starry-eyed. He gave a little laugh to himself, then sat down at his desk and rested his head on his hand. He felt he could just drop nicely oft to sleep; but he'd better not do that, he had a trek before him.

He rose and got slowly into his outer things, looked around the office, switched out the light, and went down the stairs to the main hall.

The hall was quite empty and he stood listening for a moent. There was no sound in the whole building. Funny, fifteen minutes ago the laughter and chatter had been rising to the top floor. He went out through the glass door and into the porch, and was met by a flurry of snow. It was still falling in thick, steady flakes, and although it was only a quarter to four it was almost dark.

As he stood pulling his collar tightly up around his neck a small figure darted up the three steps in front of him, and as she brushed past him, she said, "Oh hello. Hello again. I've forgotten my bag.

Other books

The Fallen Crown by Griff Hosker
Malice in the Cotswolds by Rebecca Tope
The Saffron Gate by Linda Holeman
This Book Is Not Good For You by Pseudonymous Bosch
Pleasure's Offering by Moira Sutton
Game Changer by Melissa Cutler
Unmasked by Nicola Cornick