The next morning Garbutt told Derek he was going to run up the stairs to the shop floor, leaping up two or three at a time to make sure he had no way of counting them.
He managed to do it but found it surprisingly difficult, his brain and feet fighting against the need to measure something he thought would be easy to dismiss. As much as he hated his job, he wanted an ordinary day with only the boredom to bother him.
Out of breath, they walked into the shop floor and saw sitting at Marcie’s table a new face, a young man with cropped hair, working on his own. He had his back to them, busily binding books and oblivious to their entrance. No one else was at their tables yet and they watched him from the door, Garbutt hoping that he was an agency employee to save him from his isolated status. They walked across to him and Derek spoke first.
‘You don’t have to start work yet, you know. You’ve got ten minutes.’
The new face looked up from the desk, the cropped hair not matching the passive explanation.
‘I know,’ he said. ‘but I’m just bored and doing it to pass the time. I got here too early.’
Derek was more than glad to offer advice.
‘Listen, mate. Do what we all do when we come in early. Grab a coffee from the vendor. Read a newspaper. Shit, you can even read one of the books if you like. But don’t work for these people for nothing. That’s crazy.’
Garbutt felt a little guilty after Derek’s blunt introduction and offered his hand.
‘My name’s Garbutt. This is Derek.’
Hands were shaken. ‘I’m Dorsett.’ he replied, ‘So where’s this coffee machine? I didn’t know there was one.’
Derek nodded his head to a door in the far corner.
‘In the restroom. I’ll show you.’
The three of them walked in and Dorsett took coins from his pocket. When he realised he didn’t have enough change, Garbutt shared the cost. Instead of going back on to the shop floor to drink it as they normally did, Derek walked across to one of the small tables against the wall, the privacy preferred. Garbutt asked Dorsett the first question.
‘Are you with an agency?’
‘No. Someone told me there was a vacancy here and I applied last week.’
‘That was fast.’ said Derek. ‘Who interviewed you?’
Derek smirked at a memory.
‘Did he tell you all that bullshit about punctuality and hard work? About if you’re three times late in the same week you’re sacked?’
‘No. He just gave me a questionnaire to fill in. Qualifications, previous employment, and two references. That was it.’
‘It’s all crap.’ Said Garbutt to both of them. ‘What good’s O level English? We’re binding books, not writing them. A monkey could do the job.’
‘He sometimes reads them,’ added Derek, nodding to Garbutt, ‘but he gets caught by Marcie. Have you met her yet?’
‘No,’ said Dorsett, ‘but Mr Bensing told me that I was to be on her table. Was I on the right table?’
Garbutt and Derek became aware they had an enemy in the making.
‘Yeah, you’re on the right table, even though it’s the wrong one. Bensing probably didn’t want you mixing with the riff-raff.’
When Dorsett showed puzzlement, Derek gave a brief history of the animosity on the shop floor. After he’d heard it, Dorsett looked worried.
‘I didn’t know about that. Is there any way I can work on your table?’
‘If you asked Bensing now he’d probably catch on that you’d spoken to us and never allow it.’ said Derek. ‘I feel sorry for you. You’re the only bloke on a table of five women. At least on ours, there’s me and Garbo here, so we can have a bit of a chat. Not that he talks that much. And the girls on our table are OK. We get along.’
Garbutt considered the prospect.
‘Christ, I can’t imagine what it must be like sitting next to Marcie all day. I’d go mad. She doesn’t even talk to her husband.’
Derek repeated a joke he once told Garbutt.
‘She only knows five words. Books, fucking, stop, them, and reading.’
Garbutt and Derek laughed and Dorsett caught up a second later. Then they heard voices on the shop floor and Derek got up from the table.
‘I’m going in to talk to Isobel.’ He told Garbutt. ‘Get it over with. See you two later.’
Dorsett nodded and they watched him leave as he yelled good morning to the women before the door closed behind him.
‘He’s been after her for over a year.’ said Garbutt. ‘She’s told him she’s got a boyfriend but he won’t take no for an answer.’
Dorsett stood up to look through the window of the door.
‘She’s pretty,’ he said. ‘I hope he gets what he wants.’
Garbutt stood beside him. ‘But what Derek wants is more than she wants to give him.’ he said, ‘She’s not interested.’
‘How do you know?’ asked Dorsett.
The question caught Garbutt off guard, a reply that sounded challenging.
‘Well,’ he said, ‘she’s been putting him off for ages. I can’t see why she would suddenly change her mind.’
Dorsett looked back into the shop floor.
‘You never know,’ he said. ‘maybe today is his lucky day.’
They saw Derek returning to the restroom and sat back at the table quickly. When he came in he crumpled his empty coffee cup and threw it into the waste paper bin.
‘Result!’ he said, clenching a fist. ‘She said yes.’
Garbutt looked at him and couldn’t stop smiling. Then he laughed.
‘I don’t believe it,’ he said, ‘what did you do, threaten her?’
‘Piss off, you. I simply took her to one side away from the others, and repeated words I’d been rehearsing in my head all morning.’
He recited them dispassionately.
’Look, Isobel. I’ve been chasing you for God knows how long. Either give me a chance or let me go completely. Either way, I’ll never be a pain to you again.’
‘You told her that?’ asked Garbutt.
‘Sure. And I meant it, too. We’re out on Saturday.’
Garbutt shook his hand.
‘Where did you get that line from?’
‘I thought of it myself.’ he said proudly.
Garbutt wasn’t convinced but didn’t want to spoil the moment.
‘Good for you. Just try and keep your hands off her at work.’
Derek returned back inside and Garbutt looked at Dorsett.
‘You were right,’ he said, ‘it was his lucky day.’
Dorsett nodded but corrected him.
‘Is.’ He said, ‘It’s not over yet.’