Saturday, November 13, 2004

Day 12

OK, I'll admit it, I'm operating a day behind, so this is really Day 13. Mainly because I didn't do anything fresh on Friday, just rewrote a chunk of material. So now I'm playing catch up and I won't be happy till I'm back on target. That means doing 2,500 words tomorrow. Better get my plan written up or else it'll be a struggle.

Tuesdays and Wednesdays I worked at the Sub Stop from four till ten. As I said before I don’t know why I did it, it was a hangover from the days from when mum was first diagnosed and we were struggling to meet the mortgage payments on the combined wages of my take-home from the Book Exchange (which were minimum earnings, just about) and mum’s then job as a dinner lady at the local primary school. The Sub Stop had just opened it’s first franchise in town and had advertised for ‘sandwich artists’. I had my doubts that Sub sandwiches were going to catch on in Britain, the business had originated in the north west of the USA but that didn’t necessarily mean it would transfer to the north west of England, even if the climates were similar. Still, the wages were reasonable and they were OK to work for, even if the repetitivity of the tasks you had to carry out was a little wearing. Basically, there were four tasks you could manage, sandwich assembly, cash till, bakery and kitchen or shop floor, but in practice these roles mixed and matched depending on how busy the shop was. And I’m boring myself just talking about it, as Tim quite rightly commented in The Office when he was talking about his dull life.

It was around halfway through my shift, when the door burst open and three girls swept in, giggly and capricious with drink. Normally, I would have tried to slink into the kitchen at this point but there was only me and Bernice, a German girl working her way through college, in the shop. The other guy who was working, Ashton, was out the back having a fag break. However, when I positioned myself in front of the bread selection and looked closer at our potential customers, I realised with a start that one of them was the girl from the Book Exchange. She hadn’t even registered my presence but was debating the choices that were displayed on the menu board above my head. I was glad that I’d decided to wear my contacts that night and done something with my hair for a change rather than just let it hang down as it normally did. Eventually, one of the girls, a brassy looking blonde in a halter neck top approached the counter and asked for a combination of fillings that we didn’t do. I tried to correct her without seeming supercilious and suggested a couple of other alternatives. She eventually settled for Teriyaki Red Onion and Chicken on Granary, one of the most fiddly sandwiches we did, because I had to warm up the chicken in the microwave. Meanwhile, the other girl had decided she wanted the same, which left ‘my girl’ dithering. I decided to put Be Lucky! into practice, while I waited for the chicken to ping in the microwave.
“Is there anything I can get you?” I asked politely.
“Er, I’m not sure,” she said. She sounded vaguely foreign, certainly not northern anyway. “What’s the ‘Cold Cut Trio’ like?”
“It’s ham, turkey and smoked salami, usually with honey mustard sauce but you can have whichever sauce you like.”
“Hmm, OK, I’ll take that then.”
“Which bread would you like?” You’ll understand I wasn’t normally this polite or patient with customers, and I think the other two girls had picked up on it, especially as the microwave had already pinged. I scooped up the chicken and scattered it haphazardly onto two granary subs, before sliding them on towards Bernice to add the salad and sauces. Then I paid full attention to the girl.
“I’ll have the Parmesan Oregano, please.” I was picking up French, or maybe Swiss, maybe it was the way she pronounced parmesan.
“Did you enjoy the book?” I ventured.
“I’m sorry?” she asked, quizzically.
“From the Book Exchange. It was me. Tim Moore.” I said.
“Oh, hello, er, Tim,” she held out her hand for me to shake, I couldn’t help but smile and I took her hand, even though I had one of those hygienic gloves on, but I didn’t offer the one I’d doled the chicken out with. Her hand was very soft I was interested to note.
“Sorry, no I’m not Tim, my name’s George. You bought a copy of Tim Moore’s book from the bookshop I work in last week.”
“Oh, I am sorry,” she giggled. She was unbelievably cute, my stomach did a funny flip-over and I had to make sure I wasn’t piling on more chicken than I should onto her sub. Damn right I can multi-task, baby. “My name’s Astrid, and yes I am enjoying the book. It’s very, um, humourous.” I noticed out of the corner of my eye that her friends were paying for their Subs and nudging each other. Good job the time and motion people weren’t in, we were supposed to have each sub assembled in a minute or less, from start to finish. I rattled through the salad choices myself (she went for tomatoes, olives and green peppers) and the sauce (plain mayo). Bernice didn’t look that impressed that I’d transgressed into her area, being Teutonic she obviously thought it was her right to cross other people’s borders not vice versa. I handed Astrid her sandwich and tried to think of some way to finish without being crap. As it was I looked into her eyes, as Guy had told me to do and just said “enjoy the rest of the book.”
“Thank you,” she said, “and I’ll enjoy the sandwich also.” Then she turned to catch up with her braying chums, one of whom was taking the piss saying “enjoy the rest of your book” in a comedy northern accent.
“Die soon,” I muttered in her wake. Bernice looked up sharply but I don’t think she’d heard me properly. I was left wondering how on earth I was going to engineer another chance meeting with Astrid. God knows how Be Lucky! was going to help me out there.

It was another two days before I got round to looking up a detective to engage for Shuggsy. There were two in Yellow Pages but I eventually rang one that I found in the local rag’s classified section who advertised himself as having thirty years experience in the police. At least he might have an idea of the legal standpoint as well as being able to track down Tony. However, when I presented myself at his anonymous office, which was situated above a dentist’s, my first impressions were not good. I’d been hoping for Van Der Valk, but the bloke who shook my hand was more like Van Morrison. Ted Churchill was in his early sixties I guessed, but the gin blossoms on his nose and face must have prematurely aged him. His wispy hair and ill-fitting suit hardly added to the template of the kind of hard-nosed badass that was going to kick doors in all over town and bring me Tony’s gonads served on a silver platter either. After I’d explained the scenario to him, he sat back in his chair and considered the facts for a while. I imagined that he’d usually taken the role of indifferent cop in interviews, sitting in a smog of fag smoke and self-satisfaction until the accused got so anxious they confessed everything. To be honest he gave me the creeps, but he outlined the kind of enquiries he would carry out on my behalf and asked me a few supplementary questions about Tony and his relationship to Shuggsy, who I’d referred to as Allan throughout. All we really had to go on was a description of Tony, where he drank and some possible areas where he lived and the mobile phone number he’d given Shuggsy. To his credit, Churchill assured me he was quietly confident he’d be able to track Tony down with the minimum of fuss and time, which was just as well seeing as his fees were two hundred notes a day, plus expenses. I always wondered if that expense thing was just a scam to hike up their prices, but Churchill said that all expenses were itemised. After he’d given me his plan to identify Tony, he gave me a few examples of some of the crims he’d nicked whilst he worked for the police illustrated with some anecdotes that he’d obviously trotted out more than a few times with the boys in blue over many pints. Then he shook my hand and showed me out of the office. It was only as I stepped back out onto the street via the stairs at the side of the dentist office that I realised that he hadn’t asked me what I was going to do with the information after he’d found Tony or made any comment on Shuggsy’s innocence or lack of it. I supposed for two hundred quid a day he could afford not to be too interested in the ethical arguments in the case. It probably had more to do with the fact that I didn’t look like the sort of bloke who was going to go on some sort of revenge mission with a shooter. Maybe if he found Tony in double quick time, I could get him to track Astrid down as well. As it turned out, I didn’t need to worry on either score.

“No way. I’m not having it. There’s just no way, and I’ll have money on it.” I didn’t argue with Marlene that often, but when we did, it was generally over some trivia or other. This time I was very confident I was in the right though.
“Let’s have this right then. You’re telling me that David Bowie does the backing vocals in The Waterboys song ‘The Whole of the Moon’, yeah?” I said, laughing as Marlene went all defensive.
“That’s it, not all of it though, just that bit at the end.”
“OK, the bit that goes ‘You. Saw. The. Whole. Of. The. Moo-oon.’” I sang, in an approximation of the song. Admittedly it does sound a little Bowie-esque but there was no way I was having it.
“Right, let’s prove it then,” Marlene said confidently and marched off to her room to fire up the internet. I loved it when she thought she was right, I just wound her up more. After a few fruitless Google searches though, we were no closer to knowing and since neither of us owned the album, we couldn’t check the provenance. Marlene had heard the song on the radio at work and came home obviously thinking she could tempt me into one of our fruitless altercations. And she was right. Previously I’d lost an argument about who played one of the characters in Fast Times At Ridgemont High (another excellent American high school movie, check it out. And no it wasn’t Phoebe Cates, I wouldn’t have got her wrong, it was her mate who lost her virginity in the swimming pool changing room. I swore it was Mary Stuart Masterson. It’s Jennifer Jason Leigh.) Anyway, Marlene decided the only way to settle it, short of ringing Dave Bowie himself, was to order the Best of The Waterboys from Amazon. With the conflict at an impasse, we went back into the living room. Then I really made a mistake. I told Marlene about Astrid. At first, she didn’t seem too bothered, in fact she dismissed my story as mere coincidence but then got shirty when I described how cute she was.
“Where do you think she’s from with a name like Astrid?” I said
“I don’t know, Gaul?” Marlene said, flippantly.
“That’s Asterix, anyhow, there’s no such place is there?” Marlene shrugged.
“She might as well be, you’ll probably never see her again.”
“Hang on a minute, why are you getting out of your pram?” I asked, “you’re not jealous are you?” Shit, that was a dumb thing to say.
“No, George, not jealous. Just grow up will you.” With that she picked her book up and stalked off to the stairs. “I’m going to bed, don’t stay up fantasising all night will you?”
I can be such a dickhead sometimes. I wish I had gone to bed just then as well, but I stayed up to watch Terminator yet again on Channel 5 and when I eventually went to sleep I had a visit from the Dream Police.

At first, I couldn’t recognise the symptoms. I was back in the Sub Stop and Shuggs and Marlene were there, both eating. Then Astrid walked in, wearing an Arsenal top and jeans. That’s when I realised I was dreaming. Then I felt the familiar coldness and the fear gripped me. They seemed to be all around me, dragging me away and although I was still in the shop, none of them seemed to notice what was happening. Next, I was in a room, bright white with no visible walls, but I knew there was no way out. They were there, two of them, I couldn’t see them but they were a presence and my hands were tied behind me. Then one of the walls seemed to melt away and I saw Shuggsy being beaten by two prison guards, his face covered in blood and cowering as he tried to protect himself from his faceless captors. Then the chair I was tied to spun round ninety degrees and I was faced with a tableau of Marlene in what looked like a hospital, looking down at a body on a bed, the face covered with a sheet and wires protruding from it, a nurse hugging her as she wept uncontrollably. The chair spun again and I saw Astrid on her hands and knees, frantically scrabbling into the earth and when she looked up she had raging red eyes and talons. Then I was pushed back so I landed on the floor, crashing my head and when I looked up I was looking into the face of one of the Dream Police, only it was Ted Churchill laughing demonically while holding up an itemised receipt, which just had the words ‘removal of Tony’s head’ written on it twelve times. Finally, a window appeared and I saw mum sitting quietly in her wheelchair shaking her head slowly and holding a single red rose in her lap, the thorns pressing into the flesh of her hands. Then I knew no more until Marlene shook me awake and held me when she saw me blink, her eyes damp with fright and her body shaking against me.

Daily Word Count: 2,438
Total Word Count: 20,640
% under target: 4.99
Words to go: 29,360
Word of the day: demonic


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