FICTION: Companions by Dave Alcock

The door of the regional office opened and Jamie came through it. He walked across the empty car park and stood in front of a line of five tired men. It was late and behind him the sun was setting. The men had to squint when they looked up from the ground.

“Right,” Jamie said. He had a broad Norfolk accent. “Let’s make this simple.” His index finger came up and pointed sharply as he stressed his words. “I’m gonna ask some questions, and you’re gonna give me some answers.” He pulled a notebook from his back trouser pocket, opened it, and from its pages took out a pen. “Let’s start with you, Gary–” he said– “and you, Patrick. What time did you two get picked up this morning?”

“‘Bout seven thirty,” said Gary vaguely. He looked at Patrick who nodded in agreement. “Seven thirty,” Gary said again.

“And what time do you normally get picked up?”

“’Bout six,” said Gary. Patrick nodded.

“Do you two normally arrive early?”

“Sometimes.”

“So you were probably there for more than an hour an’ an ‘alf?” Gary and Patrick shrugged. Jamie wrote something down in his book. “And what about you Paul?” Jamie didn’t move or look up, but he raised his voice and cast it further down the line.

“I was there at six fifteen and the bus arrived at seven forty-five.”

“That’s another two hours then.” Jamie scribbled something else. “Andy?” he shouted. “What about you?”

“The bus came at eight. I was there since ‘alf six.”

“Another two hours,” said Jamie quietly, and gravely he shook his head. He finished writing, then closed the book around his pen and replaced it in his back pocket. He hitched the waist of his trousers up over his hips, puffed out his chest, and looked up. “Right─” he said─ “you four.” His finger came up again and sliced through the air in front of the men’s faces. “You’ll get your pay for today, and you’ll get paid two hours extra for the waiting. You’re goin’ to a different factory tomorra – a brand new assignment in Suffolk. It’s further away, and it’ll take longer to get there, but at least you’ve still got your jobs.” For a moment his face brightened, then his smile vanished and a look of cruelty filled his eyes. He turned portentously to the fifth man in the line.

The man was old – tall and slight with stooped shoulders. A tonsure of thinning silver hair stuck out wildly from the sides of his head.

“John. What ‘ave you got to say for yourself?”

The old man’s hands opened and came up helplessly in front of him. “I didn’t mean to turn up late,” he whimpered. “My alarm clock didn’t go off.”

“Oh! Well, that’s a shame,” said Jamie softly, “because that alarm clock has lost you your job.”

The old man’s face crumpled and his arms dropped to his sides.

“And I’ll tell you something else.” Jamie took a step toward him. “Thanks to you and your laziness, our assignment with the company in Norfolk has been terminated. We’re lucky we’ve still got the contract. So when I pay these people for the time they spent waiting around this morning, I’ll be takin’ the money from your pay packet.” The old man’s eyes closed again. He groaned and his head fell forward. “You won’t be gettin’ paid anything for today, John,” said Jamie cruelly. “And after this, I don’t ever want to see you again. Now get lost. You can find your own way ‘ome.”

The old man looked up. His eyes were startled and his mouth had fallen open. He staggered backward and looked around at the closed office blocks, deserted car parks, and empty roads of the out-of-town business park where they stood. “I can’t get ‘ome from ‘ere!” he said pleadingly. “I live twen’y miles away!”

“You should ‘ave thought about that this mornin’,” growled Jamie, “when you decided to stay in bed.” He pointed at the road beside them that went up and over a hill behind the office. “Now go on.” He moved threateningly toward him. “Fuck off!”

The old man almost tripped as he backed away. Then he turned and started walking, but at the top of the hill beside the office he stopped and looked back. A wind lifted strands of his white hair and they turned gold in the light of the sunset. “I don’t even know how to get there from ‘ere,” he whined. Then he turned and tramped snivelling over the hill.

Jamie turned back to the other temps. He pointed his thumb over his shoulder and shook his head. “Don’t worry about ‘im,” he said. “‘E deserved it.” Then he smiled. “Now, who’s gonna drive the minibus tomorra?”

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Dave Alcock

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Dave Alcock lives in Devon, England, and writes about the ordinary people and places of the British provinces. His stories focus on psychological change and the seeing and acceptance of new things. His work has been published online at Every Day Fiction and STORGY Magazine.

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