Tuesday, 7 August 2007

´Take One´ © David Andrew Edge

Rodney slammed the smooth sole of his expensively Italian-clad right foot as heavily as he could to the floor of the car. On its way down it engaged itself in an heroic battle between soft, smooth and expensive Italian leather and the cold, hard steel and non-slip rubber cover of a modern automobile’s brake pedal. Rodney’s sole crushed itself up against the brake pedal and didn’t think of stopping once until the pedal was pushed flat against the floor of the chassis. Rodney violently tugged the steering wheel of his tomato-red 316i BMW as hard as he could to the left. He really, really loved to make this kind of dangerous manoeuvre. He really did. He just loved it. It wasn’t dangerous to him, of course. It was only the shuffling, slobby, humanoid forms that occupied the space alongside the road that were threatened in any way - the way they were threatened being in a life-or-death sort of way. Rodney didn’t think about it much. It would only distract him from his driving.
Of course, he always said that it was only to prove, without one faint, flickering shadow of doubt that his superlative driving skills were quite obviously a million times better than the average motorist, or at least as good as any other driver with an avenging monster-ego to grind. Or at best on par with an above-average Formula One racing driver with a short lifeline heavily tattooed onto both palms of his sweating hands, which is the type of person that Rodney imagined himself to be most of the time.

But the real reason that Rodney drove like a wild horse running away from the knacker’s yard with its tail on fire was mostly because he’d watched far too many American films about fast cars. As a youth Rodney had quickly come to terms with the fact that speed meant power. He’d been the last kid in the street to get roller skates for Christmas, and the last to gain possession of a shiny, sparkling, ten-speed racing bike. While the rest of the street was hurtling off across the estate to the old quarry that was known as the swimming pool he would lurk around the back garden snapping heads off tulips. It wasn’t that his parents were that poor, it was just that Rodney’s mother had refused to countenance buying anything that could threaten Rodney’s sweet, innocent life in any way possible.
Rodney’s BMW screeched and skidded to an almost dead stop before rocketing leftwards into the yard. From the corner of his eye in the rear-view mirror he caught the plumed mist of brake lining and India rubber wisping its way at high speed down the street.

The driver of the rusty white Transit van that had been following Rodney down the street braked as fast and as hard as he could. Just as the two vehicles were about to collide, Rodney’s car had disappeared. Vanished. Not there anymore. Just a second ago it had been there, and now it was gone. The Transit driver couldn’t believe it. He’d been ready for the crash. He’d seen the red pulsating glare of Rodney’s brake lights. He’d already heard the bump and screeching grating of metal and screaming tyres. He’d seen the back window of Rodney’s car pushed up against his windscreen. He really had. Right there in front of his face. And it hadn’t happened. Nothing. Just an empty space on the tarmac where Rodney’s car should have been.

‘For Christ’s sake,’ he exhaled through clenched teeth. ‘That were......that were.....’ he gasped, tightening his grip on the steering wheel with his sweating hands. He never had the slightest chance to find an end to his grammatically incorrect sentence. The battered Ford Escort that had been almost stuck up his exhaust pipe, just before he’d braked, now had no other choice but to crash very heavily into his back doors. The back of the Transit gave way too easily to the thousand-pound force that now crushed its way towards the driver’s seat. This was probably due to the cheap welding job that every van is subjected to in its lifetime. Guaranteed to pass an MOT test, but also equally guaranteed to instantly dissolve into a thousand particles of rust and dust as soon any force stronger than a left-handed punch from a right-handed, overweight and out of shape fat man could deliver.

The force of the impact shunted the Transit speedily down the road and straight into the back of a HGV trailer. Which, unfortunately, happened to have just been loaded to its legal maximum with raw iron. The Transit driver was catapulted forward and splatted against the windscreen like a fly on the motorway. He’d been meaning to fix his set belt for months. Too late now.
‘.....neerly a’ akksident,’ the Transit driver gurgled, as he lay sprawled across the cab of the van. He couldn’t clench his teeth anymore. He didn’t have any left to clench. They were somewhere further on down the road, biting on lumps of tarmac and kerbside concrete.

Rodney didn’t hear the crash of the Ford Escort piling into the van or the loud smash a second later as the Transit crunched into the trailer. He didn’t hear the wailing of the Ford’s horn or the glass-breaking screams of the four women who had been standing on the corner gossiping and complaining about the price of soap powder and cans of Lager. No, Rodney had been far too busy listening to his all-time favourite CD of all-time at mega-full volume. His cherished compact disc that had elevated his status in life from that of a simple audio cassette buyer and digital alarm clock owner to a state-of-the-art CD enthusiast. But you couldn’t say he was listening to it exactly. Soaking it up and squeezing it in every nook, cranny, crevice and hole available is probably a better description. Letting the overwhelming blast of audio waves hammer into his body and rattle around his brain like a thousand heavy glass marbles inside a steel beer barrel. Or maybe a lot like the effect a baseball bat would have if you belted a deep-fat fryer around the back garden for a while.

Rodney's very expensive and - ‘Never sold one like this before, I can tell you that’ - custom sound system made his car throb and boom. Like a massive washing machine would if it had three wheels and was on the spin cycle. The empty CD case that was responsible for this cacophony of so-called sound lay on the passenger seat and bounced along happily to the music. But, of course it would, it was just plastic. It didn’t have ears. The pages of the booklet laid carelessly next to it were being blown wildly about by the 10-force gale emanating from the eight speakers Rodney had had wedged into the passenger doors. Rodney had also added two over-large 1000 watt bass woofers into the back. For a little bit more bollocks in the bottom end, he said. Of course, it made his arse vibrate and shake like a terminal vertigo sufferer up a tall pole, and he hadn’t had an erection in weeks.

Rodney always left the CD case on the passenger seat so the casual passer-by might look in his car window and instantly recognise its owner was a discerning and educated lover of real music. The kind of person who would be seen at all the cool concerts with a VIP backstage pass clipped lazily to the zip of his leather jacket.

It was the only CD Rodney kept in the car. He didn’t own any others. He didn’t want to. He did used to have rows and rows of them, all neatly lined up in perfect alphabetical order. But then after he’d decided to upgrade his car’s sound system he sold them all to buy the mountain of speakers and amplifiers that were now being pushed to their aural and technical limit.
‘Buy what you like and love what you know,’ he shouted to himself, as he reached across and turned up the volume an extra notch. ‘Love what you know and know what you’re buying,’ he screeched. He blindly dropped his hand to the passenger seat and picked up the empty CD case. He always knew exactly where it would be. Just about where a girl’s thigh would be if you were trying to make a pass at her. The title on the cover shone out in luminous gold lettering for anyone to see, should they happen to glance in through Rodney’s tinted window.
‘The National Philharmonic Orchestra play the Greatest Hits of Dire Straits and Queen in a Raggamuffin-meets-Punk style,’ he shouted over the deafening din. ‘Now that’s what I call Muu-ss-s-i-c.’ He banged his fist down hard on the steering wheel.
‘This is the real stuff alright, not your twaddling technoid shit.’ He banged his hand on the steering wheel again. The airbag hidden inside the wheel moved another notch closer to an explosion.
The National Philharmonic had just reached the last chorus of ‘Brothers in Arms’ as Rodney drove across the warehouse car park. He swerved his car wildly to the left and right in time with the music. The violins were screeching madly on the off-beat and the tympani drums were thrashing heavily on every third downbeat. Rodney jerked his head backwards and forwards like a hungry chicken pecking at corn. He was having a great time.
‘B-r-r-rother-r-r-s in Ah-ah-ah-ar-rms,’ bellowed the tenor in glorious 16-bit digital.
Rodney sang along at the top of his voice. Well, not sang exactly. More a sort of guttural, wailing kind of singing. Rodney's school choirmaster had been pushed to come up with any kind of name for it at all.
‘That’s not singing, Baylis,’ he had shouted before picking up the music stand and hurling it in the direction of Rodney's head. Rodney ducked and the flying web of chrome passed over him and embedded itself into the music room door. ‘If my cat sang like that, I’d strangle it,’ the music teacher moaned, before throwing himself to the floor and making choking sounds as he gripped and clawed at an imaginary cat between his fingers.
But what Rodney could never know and would have surely hated to know, was that The National Philharmonic had never wanted to record this particular CD in the first place.

‘It’s a shit idea,’ the conductor had moaned, when the orchestra’s agent had first talked to him about it. ‘It’s a completely and utterly useless, stupid, shite thing to do.’ He turned to the window and sighed loudly.
The orchestra’s agent sat back and folded his hands across his chest. ‘Right, Edward, forget I ever mentioned it, just forget the whole fucking thing, why don’t you just.’ The conductor spun around and stared. The agent carried on. ‘You go back to the little girls and boys and tell all 40 of them they’ll be down the Job Centre on Monday and I´ll fix you up with some tearoom recitals and a summer season in Bridlington.’ He paused to let this sink in. Judging by the conductor’s face it had. He carried on. ‘We haven’t got more than 5 quid left in the petty cash and the telephone’s just been cut off. And if there had been anything left in the petty cash I would nicked it and got as pissed as I could before the bills start jamming the letterbox tomorrow morning.’ He swivelled his chair slightly and gazed through the window at the cloudy sky outside.
The conductor dropped his jaw and helplessly let his hands fall limply to his side. ‘Aw, stuff it, we’ll do it then,’ he whimpered, holding his arm in the air and clutching an imaginary rope as if he’d been hung from a tree
Five million CD’s later, they were in the office again discussing if they could pull the same kind of thing off on ‘The National Philharmonic plays Staus Quo & AC/DC Ballads in a Techno-meets-English Folk Music style.’ Fortunately, for the good of mankind, they couldn’t.

Rodney flashed past the large double front doors of the warehouse and stopped by the wall directly over his own parking space. He turned the ignition off and waited a few minutes. The last notes pulsating from the speakers gradually drifted away. He turned the CD player off and hit the unlocking button on the front. The facia came away and he opened the glove compartment and dropped it in.
‘Can’t trust the thieving bastards round here,’ he murmured. ‘They’d have your wallpaper off and knocked in for a couple of pints.’ He closed the glove compartment and sat back. But sometime in the not too distant future the glove compartment would be the first place any criminal would look. Rodney couldn’t know that. He couldn’t think that far ahead.
‘My own parking space, in front of my own place,’ he said, smugly. He said exactly the same thing every time he visited the warehouse. Every single time. He thought that saying it somehow gave him his own personal affirmation of independence and property ownership. He had no idea what a personal affirmation was, but it sounded clever.
‘Yes, I know I say it every single time,’ he snapped at himself, looking into the rear-view mirror and checking his teeth. ‘But if I don’t say it, who will?’ He pushed his fingers through his hair and turned his head from side to side. ‘Smart,’ he said in an accent that he thought resembled Humphrey Bogart’s. It didn’t in the slightest, but as there was nobody else there to point this out to him, it didn’t really matter.
He pressed the electric window button by the gear lever and watched the window slide effortlessly down. He twisted slightly round to the right so he could look at the warehouse. This was the best thrill of all for Rodney. Real bricks and mortar. Hard steel, cold glass and yards and yards of corrugated asbestos roofing. It’s all mine, Rodney thought to himself.
But what Rodney thought he owned and what he was lumbered with were more than entirely different; about as different as a piece of chalk cemented into a box with ‘Chalk-6 Packs’ stamped on the side, and a piece of very mature cheese that refuses to let you believe it can be anything but cheese; because of the stench.
The pre-war crumbling brick walls of Rodney´s warehouse were stained green with a thick, oozing slime that had worked its way steadily over the years down the wall from the broken guttering above. The walls needed repointing so badly it was possible that only the force of gravity held them together. And gravity was having a good rethink about that one. It would get round to Rodney's warehouse sooner or later. After it had demolished a couple of mountains and shifted the sub-strata beneath a city full of high-rise tower blocks. Oh yes, Rodney's warehouse was on the list, somewhere down the line. It could wait a little longer.
The guttering should have been ripped out years ago, or what was left of it. The roof leaked in gushing slimy waterfalls all year round, even when it wasn’t raining. The windows were all cracked and heavily encrusted with a dirty-grey blanket of dirt that practically dared any kind of sunlight to try and poke its way through. In fact the whole edifice deserved to be torn down and flattened, and a good dose of sea salt spread about here and there, just to be on the safe side.
Even Rodney couldn’t help but notice one or two itty-bitty little things that needed a little tarting up here and there.
‘My own parking space, in front of my own place,’ he said again, fully ignoring the restless thoughts inside his head that screamed ‘repair’ in hoarse tones. He turned his head away from the window and let his hands rest softly on the steering wheel. He never got tired of saying it.

His obsession with constantly repeating this single phrase was probably only because Rodney had once worked for a well known supermarket chain. The kind of supermarket where everything was always, and was ordered by the management to be, in perfect order. By order of the management. In writing. From the first tin of brand-name special offer beans to the last box of half-frozen soggy fish fingers. From the style of cheap shoes worn by the checkout girls to the ‘Staff Only’ parking spaces at the back.
One afternoon Rodney had been lazily wandering down the wines, spirits and beers aisle counting bottles of past the sell-by date Liebfraumilch white wine, when he had heard his name called out over the tannoy system.
‘Would Mr Baylis please report at once to the loading bay,’ it had crackled.
‘Oh bollocks,’ he grumbled, slipping his leaking biro pen back into his top pocket. He readjusted his brown clip-on tie and buttoned up his regulation brown jacket. He polished his shoes on the back of his regulation brown trousers with a sewn-in crease down the front that Rodney had hated. The whole ensemble had been designed to make the employees look smart and efficient. Or so they had hoped. Rodney hated it because he thought he looked like an over-age Boy Scout. He’d asked his mother take a few inches off the waistline of the trousers and the sides of the jacket, but it didn´t seem to make any difference. He still looked like a sack of shit.

He lunged into the double rubber doors that separated the supermarket from the back of the store. The light back there was much darker than the brightly-lit supermarket. Back there it was much colder and 5 times darker. Where L-Shaped trolleys were unloaded from the ridiculously small lift that screeched its way down from the storeroom up on the first floor. Where black-jacketed trainee managers shouted at everybody and everything, all the time. They probably kept this insane screeching up to keep their minds off the fact that they were underpaid and massively over-worked, and had about as much chance of making it to a top managerial position as a bucket of vomit would of climbing out of the toilet and slipping neatly back into a pepperoni pizza box.
They had hopelessly tried to interest Rodney in the thought of becoming one of them, but he had always fobbed them off with some weak excuse. He couldn’t tell them the truth. He loathed the idea of swapping his brown sack of a uniform for a shapeless black jacket and cracked plastic name badge. Rodney knew the trainee managers were forced to work 60 or more hours a week and never got any payment for overtime. No thank you, thought Rodney, as he sidestepped the remains of a dozen eggs and the contents of a broken carton of cream that had plastered themselves permanently to the floor.

He pushed past a trainee manager and another brown sack and wove his way through the chaos. After sloping through the loading bay he walked over to yet another brown sack employee who was counting a pallet board of baked bean tins that had just been dragged off a truck.
‘Want me?’ he said.
‘They do,’ said the sack, pointing his ink-stained finger past the truck and out to the car park. ‘Manager, out there.’
‘Manager?’ asked Rodney. This didn’t sound good. Not good at all. He slid past the truck doors and walked out into the sunlight. Behind him he could hear his name being shouted.
‘Baylis, you tosser,’ he heard. ‘I’ve lost count now… Oh shit……1......2.....3.....’

Just around the corner in the car park he found the manager of the supermarket and the assistant manager staring at his car. The managers crisp black suit and the assistant managers thick grey worsted jacket were covered in rust and dust. It seems they had tried, and had obviously failed, to push Rodney’s car to the back of the parking lot.
The manager spun round and glared at Rodney. ‘This-’ he shouted at Rodney, pointing at his car, ‘-Is on my parking place…..and I do not like employees parking their cars on my parking place. It’s mine, and I don’t like it. I don’t.’ he stamped his foot ever so gently on the floor.
‘I was late...’ spluttered Rodney. Oh shit, he thought, here it comes, warning number fifty million.
‘You won’t be late anymore, Baylis,’ growled the manager. ‘You most certainly will definitely and categorically not be late ever, ever again, ever.’ He stamped his foot on the ground and stared into Rodney´s eyes.
Rodney wondered how that could be possible given the fact that his digital alarm clock constantly woke him up at four in the morning when he’d been sure he’d programmed it for half-past seven……..

The manager grabbed a fistful of Rodney’s jacket and dragged him towards his car. Rodney snapped back to reality.
‘I won’t be late?’ he answered. He looked along the manager’s arm and concentrated on the contorted face at the end of it. It didn’t look like a happy face.
‘You’ll be the late Mr Baylis,’ shouted the manager.
‘I could buy a new clock,’ said Rodney, hopefully. ‘I wouldn’t be late then.’
‘No you won’t, Baylis, no....yes, you will.. are....err - was,’ he carried on. This was getting confusing.
In his own small way the manager had been trying to inject a little dark humour into his tirade. It was the sort of thing he’d read about and thought he should try sometime. Just to relieve the boredom of walking round the store and sacking people for not having correctly polished regulation black shoes. Or for forgetting to stack the tins in the colour coordinated code system as demanded by Head Office.
‘I’ve seen one down the market,’ said Rodney.
‘Seen what?’ asked the manager, now more confused than ever.
‘A digital alarm clock,’ Rodney replied.
‘Shut up, Baylis,’ snapped Mr Peel, the assistant manager.
‘Thank you, Mr Peel,’ the manager replied. ‘I don’t think I need any help at this stage.’ He let go of Rodney´s jacket and casually brushed his own suit jacket with the back of his hand while he gathered his thoughts. The assistant manager backed away, ever so slightly.
‘I was late and the space was empty because you don’t get here until after everybody else and -’ Rodney jabbered.
The manager jerked his head up. This little prick was going too far. He’d done more than his fair share of 60 to 70 hour weeks as a trainee manager for years. One of the best things about being a bloody manager was that he could come into work later than everyone else. That, and being able to sack employees for forgetting to wear their clip-on ties.

‘That’s enough of that, Baylis,’ muttered the assistant manager. Any minute now and Baylis would probably blurt out that he always sneaked in 5 minutes before the manager did. He crossed his arms and looked at the sky. ‘You were saying, sir?’ he whined, hoping that things would get back on track.
‘Yes, thank you, err...Mr.....Peel,’ muttered the manager. He turned back to Rodney and assumed his perfected managerial stance. Arms back and hands clasped. Legs slightly astride and head up. Thank God for the company’s manager manual, he thought to himself.
‘As you obviously don’t realize, Baylis,’ he said. Rodney waited. The manager had it all now. He carried on. ‘A fast-moving company like ours can ill-afford to be hampered by an employee who blatantly disregards the strictly defined hierarchy of vehicle placement.’ He lifted his right arm up and waggled his forefinger in front of Rodney´s face. Rodney wondered what all this had to do with digital alarm clocks and parking spaces. ‘And also...and also….’ The manager paused, trying to remember. He looked across at the assistant manager who was now pointing at the order book that Rodney had to fill out every Friday.
‘Orders,’ the assistant manager said, slimily.
The manager looked as if he was searching for a way out. And he found one.
‘Yes……and because you are a liability to the company, Mr Baylis. Explain, if you would, Mr Peel,’ he shouted at the assistant manager before striding back into the loading bay.

Rodney rearranged his jacket and tie. The jacket was made of cheap cotton and had lost a few threads on the shoulder. The regulation clip-on tie had dropped off onto the concrete. Rodney stood there adjusting the top button of his shirt.
‘It´s simple really,’ said Mr Peel, sarcastically. He walked over to Rodney and carefully laid a hand on Rodney´s jacket. He loved these jobs, he really did. ‘You’re fired, Baylis.’
‘Sacked?’ said Rodney, finally realising what was happening.
‘Unemployed, out of work, on the dole, given the elbow,’ said Mr Peel. His head tilted slightly backwards so that Rodney could see his nose hairs. The assistant manager tried to smile in a way that he thought would convey the right amount of pity and concern. When he was really trying to hide the fact that he really loved watching these pathetic little urchins squirm.
‘Sacked?’ said Rodney again.
‘Shown your cards, up shit creek.’ He was really beginning to enjoy himself. ‘We really can’t afford to keep losing so much stock through pilfering and inept warehouse management,’ he smarmed, waiting for Rodney to start blubbing and asking for a second chance. Just like they all did.
‘Who the fuck are you calling inept?’ Rodney had seen this word once in a magazine, in the ´Word Power’ section. It meant something like bungling or clumsy. It wasn’t a compliment. ‘Well?’ said Rodney, tapping his foot and tightening his hands into fists.

Mr Peel wasn’t prepared for this. He stopped gazing over Rodney´s shoulder and took a pace backwards.
‘You….Baylis…well….yes…inept, Baylis,’ he stuttered. Best to keep up the pressure, he thought. Don’t let the little buggers get the upper hand. He slowly but deliberately opened the order book at the first plastic laminated page. He was going to show Rodney exactly what inept meant.
‘Yeah, well?’ Rodney said, looking at the book. It was his weak point. He hated that bleeding thing. Friday, the busiest day of the week and they expected him to start chalking order numbers with a crayon onto greasy plastic pages.
Mr Peel sighed loudly. ‘Last month you ordered two hundred and thirty boxes of malt whisky.’ He looked up from the book and smirked at Rodney.
‘It’s good stuff.’
‘We’re lucky if we sell five cases a week.’
He had Rodney on this point. Rodney had spent ages hiding box after box of the stuff behind toilet rolls and dog food tins. It wasn’t the first time. Last Christmas he had also mistakenly ordered over two hundred pallet boards of some crap beer that was on special offer. The delivery trucks had been lined up nose to tail in a queue that had stretched from the loading bay and out of the car park and even as far back as the High Street.

Sensing his certain victory over another of the cretins the supermarket felt the need to employ, Mr Peel lunged in for the kill. The problem was he didn’t have anything left to attack with. He would have to think of something pretty quickly before Baylis had time to counter-attack. This was how Peel charged his way through life. It had always frustrated him that he had been too young for the last war and too old for any other. He spent his weekends digging trenches in the back garden and urging his increasingly bored children to go ‘over the top’ in frantic bayonet charges.
But the seconds were ticking steadily away. He would have to come up with one last killer of a charge against Baylis soon, or...........got it!, he thought. Got you Baylis, got you.
‘And flagrant abuse of the allotted parking allocation system.’ That was a new one, he thought, happily. He would have to make sure he typed up a company warning to cover that one as soon as possible. It wasn’t every day that he could come up with a new reason to sack people. He leaned back on one leg and waited. He didn’t have to wait long.

Rodney head-butted him squarely in the face and he slumped backwards onto the concrete. Blood poured from his nose and down over his company tie and shirt. For the first time in his working career he was speechless. But probably it seemed as if his mouth was full of warm globules of blood.
‘Sod it,’ shouted Rodney over his shoulder as he marched over to his car and wrenched the door open. The handle came off in his hand as the door creaked open. Rodney turned around and threw it blindly in the direction of the assistant manager. It clattered past him and skittered across the concrete.
‘And you can stuff this up your arse as well,’ he shouted. He ripped off his jacket and strode over to the wastebin by the loading bay doors. He opened the lid and pushed the jacket down into the bin. The bin was overflowing with rotten remnants of cabbages and past the sell-by-date fruit juice cartons which spilled out onto the concrete. Rodney pulled his hand out and wondered what to do with the congealing mess that seemed to stick to his hand like superglue. He strode back over to the assistant manager and wiped his hand on the assistant managers jacket and shirt. Mr Peel’s aroma of expensive aftershave instantly wafted away to look for somewhere else to smell expensive. His eyes glazed over as the pungent aroma attacked his nostrils.
‘See how it feels to smell like shit,’ shouted Rodney over his shoulder as he walked away. Mr Peel semi-conciously agreed. He not only knew how it felt to smell like shit, he also felt like a shit. His bowels had suddenly given way to an explosion of last night’s gourmet home-cooking course his wife had recently downloaded from the Internet.

Rodney jumped into his car and revved up his engine. The tappets thrummed loudly like a band of Burundi drummers warming up before a good all-night session. For a second he thought about driving over the assistant managers prostrate body. Best not, he thought. Wouldn’t want to smear the back of the bumper with blood.
He reversed wildly across the parking lot, throwing his screaming car into a handbrake turn and then shooting out of the gates. Mr Peel lay on the ground spluttering and coughing.
‘It’s just not acceptable,’ he gasped. ‘We have standards to maintain. Sergeant, court martial that man.’ His words were lost in the dust storm of Rodney´s exit.