The new air conditioning was working very well in the sumptuous office: the moment the thick, yet delicately fragranced, cigar smoke plumed from The Don’s mouth, it was casually and somehow discretely spirited away, leaving just an aftertang of high quality Cuban tobacco, hand rolled on the thighs of virgins. The Don was satisfied, and it was now time to take care of business. He pressed the button on the intercom.
In the outer office, Brain sat, trembling with fear and watching the quiet goings-on going on around him and paying him far less attention than he was paying them… and today was about payment. The buzzer sounded, and Gloria leaned forwards, pressed the button and The Don’s voice bade her – and anyone listening – to usher his… guest… into the Inner Sanctum. Gloria confirmed with a cheery, “Right away, Boss,” and nodded to Mikey, who nodded back and stepped towards the trembling Brain.
“Dthe Dhon will see you now,” Mikey intoned without any menace necessary, for such was his voice – a result of being an almost six-foot cube of solid muscle (another result was that no one ever made fun of his collection of miniature doll’s houses…). Brain stood and followed in the wake of the massive Mikey; through the double doors and into the rococo-styled yet tastefully furnished den of The Don. “Stand here,” Mikey intoned again, pointing to a spot just in front of the huge mahogany desk. The Don’s chair was turned so the back was to the room, and The Don gazed appreciatively at his large and well-tended gardens. Mikey cleared his throat (he liked to do this as he felt it gave the occasion – well, a sense of occasion) and in a softer tone said, “Boss, Brain is here for you.” The Don spoke without turning the chair around.
“Thank you, Mikey. Please wait by the door.” Mikey complied, facing the room, just inside the closed double doors. “Brain, Brain, Brain, Brain, Brain,” sing-song sighed The Don, sadness in every syllable. “I have given you so much…” A heavy sigh, and a slight pause. Brain would have said something, but he did not want his voice to tremble. He needed to compose himself. “…and this is how you repay me… by not repaying me what you owe.”
“Don… please,” began Brain, but he was silenced by The Don turning the chair to face him. The Don looked upon him with heavy sadness in his heart and determined business on his mind, and silenced Brain by holding up his hand.
“You see behind me my magnificent estate,” The Don commented. “It has taken me many years to accrue the necessary capital to attain and maintain this estate in the manner to which it should be kept. I am a generous and patient patron – am I not, Mikey?” Mikey murmured his agreement. “I believe in respectfulness to all, especially as they attempt to build a better life for themselves.” The Don stood, all five foot four of him, resplendent in his hand-tailored Italian three piece suit. “Yet you – YOU – one of my most favoured, take advantage of this generosity without doing me the courtesy of – ”
“Mr Jeffries, we’re ready for you now, if you’ll come with me,” jarred the Northern accent, juicy with undertones of unculture attempting to be importantised with slight twang of Received Pronunciation floating around in there. Needless to say, Peter was not just brought back from his imaginings, he was forcefully grabbed by the ghoulies and dragged kicking and screaming into reality. The seen-better-days bank inner reception, all modishly pastel and scuffed to blazes glared at him under the harsh fluorescents set into the acoustic tiles in the ceiling. He stood from the modular chair and followed the bank’s operative, all Northern accent (with – blah blah blah) and Top Man off-the-peg, not-quite-fitting-properly suit. When they got to the small bare office with its desk and couple of chairs, Peter noticed he was in the company of someone easily ten years younger than he, someone who probably had just started shaving… and definitely should acquire a more discerning taste in ties. They sat. The Suit rifled through a file with some papers in it. He closed the file and then looked up at Peter, who mildly regarded him back.
“Now then, Mr.Jeffries – or can I call you Peter – ”
“You can,” Peter quickly replied, “but you may not.” After all, he thought, we must have our boundaries. Suit bristled.
“Yes,” Peter interjected, “I’m rather unhappy about that. You see, I’ve had all my facilities withdrawn and I have to go through the indignity of begging and negotiating for my money – that I have earned through hard honest labour – and I don’t think the service is good enough.” Suit just about managed to contain his rage.
“That’s right,” he nearly shouted, “it’s a lickle matter of your cashflow being inadequate for your lifestyle which is why we’ve basically shut your account. You’re a six month behind wit’ yer mortgage and constantly overdrawn… at the end of the day, Mr Jeffries, we want that money off you.”
“You can’t have it. My wages get paid directly into my account and you bleed me dry from there. I don’t have any money.”
“But at the end of the day, it isn’t good enough, is it?” Suit was trying to be stern but gentle, as if negotiating with his younger brother. Peter could tell this, and having realised that his earlier drawing of the battle lines had been either ignored or (more likely) not spotted, decided not to let his anger get the better of him and turn Suit into a smear on the wall.
“All I ask for now,” Peter intoned through gritted teeth, “is to have a cash allowance of £20 a week until further notice. I am prepared to accept this. I can just about get by a week on that.”
“But at the end of the day, we’re not a charity, Mr Jeffries…”
“Alright then,” he said. “It’s about your account – ”
“I realise that, but this is all beyond my control,” Peter explained patiently. “We’ve had hours cut at work – less money. New contract for real-terms pay cut. No overtime. And interest rates and inflation – both way beyond my control – have shot up, as you very well know. Now are we going to work together to resolve this or what?”
“Mr Jeffries,” sighed Suit, “at the end of the day – ”
“At the end of the deeeeey,” Peter spat, braying an impersonation of this ridiculous boy’s accent (somewhat unkindly) and standing quickly, leaning forward on the desk, “I can’t get to sleep for worrying you lot are going to repossess my flat! At the end of the deeeeey I can’t afford to eat properly! At the eeeend oooof the deeeey you can’t have any more money off me because I can’t get a better job because I am trapped in the one I have and I AM SCREWED! DON’T YOU GET IT?” After a moment, Peter sat back down. “Help me come up with a solution or keep being part of the problem,” he sighed, just about holding back the tears. Suit had tidied the file and papers away, and looked at Mr Peter Jeffries with his due regard – something to be avoided as a thing to be stepped in.
“That’s not a helpful attitude, Mr Jeffries,” he intoned, his voice oozing with contempt. “Now, address the situation forthwith or we will take measures.” The words hung in the air. Peter sighed and looked at Suit.
“Okay,” he said. “If I agreed to £15 a week, can I at least draw that from the cash machine? Instead of having to embarrass everyone and beg you for it?”
“I’ll go ten,” said Suit.
“No good,” replied Peter. “My weekly bus ticket is £12, and if I can’t buy that, I don’t get to go to work and therefore no wages, which in turn means you don’t get any money at all.” Suit considered this. “Besides which,” Peter continued, “think of all the interest you’re charging me.” Suit then agreed.
Downstairs in the lobby, Peter drew out the £15. He went to the filthy and badly maintained falling-apart 1962 vintage bus station and queued in the spectacularly grubby office to get his weekly bus pass. Because he had been having only a sandwich a day for few weeks, and saving a few pence, he decided to splurge and bought himself the cheapest quarter bottle of whiskey he could find. Walking home through the light rain – because it suited his mood – he revelled in the sombreness of the dilapidated lower high street of this pocket-sized city… getting in, he put on the kettle, made a mug of instant budget coffee – no milk or sugar – and poured the entire contents of the whiskey bottle into a tumbler. It made him feel a little richer, more normal, better, with that small, almost unaffordable and priceless luxury ready to be savoured. Sitting at the table with the obsolete word processor loaned to him by his best friend, he sipped some coffee and chased it with a bit of the Water of Life. The hole in the screen opened and he began to drift into it, starting to write…
AS ALWAYS, THIS is the time of year when ghosts are flying around me like the hopes and fears of all the tears never to be shed, and the grief of those already flowing into the river of time like a small tributary…” read more
© Jeremiah Savant – used by permission
Jeremiah is ashamed to be British and has fallen through almost every safety net. Finally finding a voice, read his explosive memoirs... Jeremiah Savant’s Adventures in Mental Health