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By David Moody
St. Martin's Press Copyright © 2006 David Moody
All rights reserved.
Lunatic. bloody hell, I've seen some things happen in this town before but never anything like that. That was disgusting. That made me feel sick. Christ, he came out of nowhere and she didn't stand a chance, poor old woman. He's in the middle of the crowd now. He's outnumbered fifty to one and yet he's still trying to fight. This place is full of crazy people. Fortunately for that woman it's also full of police officers. There are two of them down with her now, trying to stop the bleeding. Three more have got to the guy who did it and they're dragging him away.
Damn, it's three minutes to nine. I'm going to be late for work again but I can't move. I'm stuck in this bloody crowd. There are people bunched up tight all around me and I can't go backward or forward. I'll have to wait until they start to shift, however long that takes. There are more police officers arriving now trying to clear the scene. It's pathetic really, you'd think they'd show some respect but people are all the same. First sign of trouble on the street and everyone stops to watch the freak show.
We're finally starting to move. I can still see that guy being bundled toward a police van on the other side of the street. He's kicking and screaming and crying like a bloody baby. Looks like he's lost it completely. The noise he's making you'd think he was the one who'd been attacked.
I know I'm a lazy bastard. I know I should try harder but I just can't be bothered. I'm not stupid but I sometimes find it difficult to give a shit. I should have run across Millennium Square to get to the office just now but it was too much effort so early in the morning. I walked and I finally got here just after quarter past nine. I tried to sneak in but it was inevitable that someone was going to see me. It had to be Tina Murray though, didn't it? My sour-faced, slave-driving, unforgiving bitch of a supervisor. She's standing behind me now, watching me work. She thinks I don't know she's there. I really can't stand her. In fact I can't think of anyone I like less than Tina. I'm not a violent man — I don't like confrontation and I find the very idea of punching a woman offensive — but there are times here when I'd happily smack her in the mouth.
"You owe me fifteen minutes," she sneers in her horrible, whining voice. I push myself back on my chair and slowly turn around to face her. I force myself to smile although all I want to do is spit. She stands in front of me, arms folded, chewing gum and scowling.
"Morning, Tina," I reply, trying to stay calm and not give her the satisfaction of knowing just how much she bugs me. "How are you today?"
"You can either take the time off your lunch hour or stay late tonight," she snaps. "It's up to you how you make it up."
I know I'm only making things worse for myself but I can't help it. I should just keep my mouth shut and accept that I'm in the wrong but I can't stand the thought of this vile woman thinking she's in control. I know I'm not helping the situation but I just can't stop myself. I have to say something.
"What about yesterday morning?" I ask. I force myself to look into her harsh, scowling face again. She's not at all happy. She shifts her weight from one foot to the other and chews her gum even harder and faster. Her jaw moves in a frantic circular motion. She looks like a cow chewing the cud. Fucking heifer.
"What about yesterday morning?" she spits.
"Well," I explain, trying hard not to sound like I'm patronizing her, "if you remember I was twenty minutes early yesterday and I started working as soon as I got here. If I'm going to make up your fifteen minutes for today, can I claim back my twenty minutes for yesterday? Or shall we just call it quits and I'll let you off the five minutes?"
"Don't be stupid. You know it doesn't work like that."
"Maybe it should."
Bloody hell, now she's really annoyed. Her face is flushed red and I can see the veins on her neck bulging. It was a stupid and pointless comment to make but I'm right, aren't I? Why should the council, the city government, have it all their own way? Tina's staring at me now and her silence is making me feel really uncomfortable. I should have just kept my mouth closed. I let her win the face-off and I turn back around to sign on to my computer again.
"Either take it off your lunch hour or work late," she says over her shoulder as she walks away. "I don't care what you do, just make sure you make up the time you owe."
And she's off. Conversation's over and I don't get any chance to respond or to try and get the last word. Bitch.
Tina makes my skin crawl but I find myself staring at her rather than at my computer screen. She's back at her desk now and Barry Penny, the office manager, has suddenly appeared. Her body language has completely changed now that she's speaking to someone who's higher up the council pecking order than she is. She's smiling and laughing at his pathetic jokes and generally trying to see how far she can crawl up his backside.
I can't help thinking about what I've just seen happen outside. Christ, I wish I had that bloke's umbrella. I know exactly where I'd shove it.
Sometimes having such a dull and monotonous job is an advantage. This stuff is way beneath me and I don't really have to think about what I'm doing. I can do my work on autopilot and the time passes quickly. It's been like that so far this morning. Job satisfaction is nonexistent but at least the day isn't dragging.
I've been working here for almost eight months now (it feels longer) and I've worked for the council for the last three-and-a-half years. In that time I've worked my way through more departments than most long-serving council staff manage in their entire careers. I keep getting transferred. I served time in the pest control, refuse collection, and street lamp maintenance departments before I ended up here in the Parking Fine Processing office or PFP as the council likes to call it. They have an irritating habit of trying to reduce as many department names and job titles down to sets of initials as they can. Before I was transferred here I'd been told that the PFP was a dumping ground for underperformers and, as soon as I arrived, I realized it was true. In most of the places I've worked I've either liked the job but not the people or the other way around. Here I have problems with both. This place is a breeding ground for trouble. This is where those motorists who've been unlucky (or stupid) enough to get wheel-clamped, caught on camera violating a traffic rule, or given a ticket by a parking warden come to shout and scream and dispute their fines. I used to have sympathy with them and I believed their stories. Eight months here has changed me. Now I don't believe anything that anyone tells me.
"Did you see that bloke this morning?" a voice asks from behind the computer on my left. It's Kieran Smyth. I like Kieran. Like most of us he's wasted here. He's got brains and he could make something of himself if he tried. He was studying law at university but took a holiday job here last summer and never went back to class. Told me he got used to having the money and couldn't cope without it. He buys an incredible amount of stuff. Every day he seems to come back from lunch with bags of clothes, books, DVDs, and CDs. I'm just jealous because I struggle to scrape together enough money to buy food, never mind anything else. Kieran spends most of his day talking to his mate Daryl Evans who sits on my right. They talk through me and over me but very rarely to me. It doesn't bother me though. Their conversations are as boring as hell and the only thing I have in common with them is that the three of us all work within the same small section of the same small office. What does annoy me, if I'm honest, is the fact that they both seem to be able to get away with not doing very much for large chunks of the working day. Maybe it's because they're friendly with Tina outside work and they go out drinking together. Christ, I only have to cough and she's up out of her seat wanting to know what I'm doing and why I've stopped working.
"What bloke?" Daryl shouts back.
"Out on the street on the way to work."
"The high street, just outside Cartwrights."
"Didn't see anything."
"You must have."
"I didn't. I didn't walk past Cartwrights. I came the other way this morning."
"There was this bloke," Kieran explains regardless, "you should have seen him. He went absolutely fucking mental."
"What are you on about?"
"Honest, mate, he was wild. You ask Bob Rawlings up in Archives. He saw it. He reckons he practically killed her."
"I don't know, just some old woman. No word of a lie, he just started laying into her for no reason. Stabbed her with a bloody umbrella I heard!"
"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 guy'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."CHAPTER 2
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 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 behavior 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 sitting 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 bulletin board covered with unread and unhelpful council posters and notices. Just to the left of the bulletin 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 around 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 shut down 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 learned 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 dialed 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 in 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 stroller being forced through the door. The stroller is jammed in the doorway and I get up to help. A short, rain-soaked woman in a green and purple jacket enters Reception. As well as the child in the stroller (which is hidden from view by a heavy plastic rain cover) two more small children follow her inside. The bedraggled family stands in the middle of the Reception area and drips water onto the grubby marble-effect floor. The woman seems harassed and is preoccupied 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."
Excerpted from Hater by David Moody. Copyright © 2006 David Moody. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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