Monday, 17 May 2010

two : dramatis personae

BREAKFAST. THE MOST nutritious meal of the day. Unlike most males in America, I always make sure I eat a good, healthy meal first thing in the morning. In my line of work, you have to be in shape. So it's fruit, cereal, yoghurt, juice, toast all that good stuff. Sometimes a boiled egg. In order to relieve other people of their lives, I have to make sure I take good care of mine.

Today, though, screw all that.

I'm having a Full English breakfast which is the exact spiritual, conceptual and physical opposite to a healthy start to the day.

I put the menu down and look up at the steel blonde waitress, her pen and pad held ready like it's an Olympic event. I give her the starter's pistol.

“Okay, I want the Full English but with the following modifications; I want three rashers of bacon, crispy but not blackened, not even a little bit. I need a fried egg - no, better make it two - not over easy, don't flip them at all. What I need you to do is fry them in lots and lots of oil and just keep flicking the oil onto them with the spatula. Make sure the white's cooked right through but the yolk has still got to be plenty runny. Give me three fat, pork sausages. If you don't have pork, beef will do in a pinch. Now when it comes to the sausages, they have to be cooked in the same oil as the eggs and they have to be cooked long. I want to see them black and hard, but the inside still has to be soft. If you overcook them, they'll just be dry and you won't be able to feed them to a hungry dog. On the side, I need some baked beans - I know you won't have Heinz, just do the best you can - and some plum tomatoes. Mushrooms too. Again, lots of fat. The whole thing's got to be swimming in it. Apart from the bacon, remember, the bacon's got to be crispy. I think that's it.”

The waitress' pencil is smoking.

“Um, anything to drink?”

“Big bucket of tea. No sugar, lots of milk.”

The waitress takes my menu, half-smiles like I'm some kind of nutcase and clacks off in her high heels to tell the Mexican cook in back everything I just said using the eight words of English he knows. I'm not holding my breath.

I turn back to the other four people round the table.

“Nobody wanted anything else, right?”

I'm met by a bunch of shaking heads and shrugging shoulders which I take to mean 'no', so I'm about to go back to my paper when Jody pipes up.

“Getting used to being a Limey again?” she asks.

“Once I've reacclimatised to the food, the vocab's next,” I say, “You can keep your sidewalks and pants - for the next couple weeks, I'm going back to pavements and trousers.”

“I don't get why you guys gotta have different words anyway,” Whilce says, “Why you couldn't just stick with the ones we gave you…”

“Hey, I know some more, too,” Lianne says like a kid with a new dictionary, “Soccer is football, truck is lorry and Santa Clause is Father Christmas. Come on, Mike, test me, I know 'em all.”

I fold up my paper, seeing as it looks like I won't be reading it. This is a company breakfast Shepard Insurance Sales style. My little outfit is only five people light. I'm not really that bothered about starting an insurance sales empire, I just need a mask. Superman has his day job at the Daily Planet, Mike Shepard has this.

Okay, let me introduce you around. I mean, it'd be rude not to. Jody is my office manager. She keeps folks in line, writes up reports on how well they're doing, makes sure the trains come in on time, that sort of thing. The kind of person the whole thing would fall apart without. The others are my sales force; Whilce (walking food disposal), Bud (God's gift to women) and Lianne (also God's gift to women). Then, obviously, there's me. I'm the kind of boss that's in some days, out some days, you know the type. You've had that kind of boss. Maybe you are that kind of boss. If you are, I can almost guarantee what you do when you're not in the office and what I do when I'm not in the office ain't the same thing at all.

My cell beeps. Text message. It's my revered employers.

Last kill not necessary. Giordano wud nvr have gotten thru us 2 u. U know this.

“Alright,” I look up from my screen and face my Texan salesma'am, “We say 'Fries' and they say…?”

“Chips,” she doesn't even pause.







“Bonus point – what are ‘soldiers’, and I'm talking about food not the army.”

“That's when you slice your toast up into little fingers so you can dip them into food, usually soft boiled eggs accompanied by a pinch of salt and a cup of tea.”

“Go, Lianne!” Jodie's impressed and even the guys give her a clap, “You rule, you English muffin, you!”

“Okay, spill, you never worked all that out,” I say, my eyes flitting between Lianne and my phone.

Just being thorough. Don't like those kinds of loose ends. Like living 2 much.

“Alright, I confess, I've been doing a little bit of research on the internet,” Lianne puts on her mock coy face, “I was kind of hoping you were going to invite us to the wedding…”

“Is that so?” I smile, “I guess I'd look like a pretty mean boss if I turned you down now, after you've gone to the trouble of learning English and all.”

Not a problem. U being thorough = plenty $$$ 4 us. Already sent new jobs 2 yr inbox. Fancy trip 2 Dubai b4 yr wedding?

“Well, I wouldn't worry too much about that,” Jody says, “We all know you're a mean boss already. You bring us down to Times Square for breakfast every Monday morning and force us to sit and watch you pay. You bastard.”

“Be that as it may, England isn't a place for the faint hearted,” I give a deadpan glance across the table, “I mean, who here has the mental fortitude to face sitting on the right-side of the car, driving on the left-side of the road and doing battle on a multi-lane double-roundabout? With stick shift?”

“It's okay - we can take public transport,” Lianne says, “Nottingham has an excellent bus infrastructure and we can easily get up there from Heathrow by train, there's one that leaves right out of the airport.”

Everyone's looking at Lianne like she just dropped out the sky, most of all me.

“Lemme guess – that’s verbatim off of the ‘come visit England’ website,” Whilce is somewhat taken aback.

“I'm guessing Lianne would quite like to go,” Jodie says, finishing her coffee.

“And the rest of you?” I ask.

“Yeah, sure.”

“Be cool.”

“Why not?”

“Lianne and me can go cruisin' for English chicks.”

I don't know why I didn't invite these guys in the first place.

“Okay, I guess the world can survive without us selling it insurance for a few days.”

“Oh, thank you, thank you!” Lianne wants to hug me but stops herself. Then she hugs me anyway, “You're the best boss in the world! You're not a bastard, don't listen to Jodie.”

I'll b in England. Surely someone there needs killing? Pref. somewhere in the Midlands.

“Thanks boss!”

“You're the man, man!”

“As Whilce says, you are most definitely the man,” Jodie smiles, “Even though after the wedding, your wife will be the man, but, y’know, whatever.”

Will let u know. [Agency Out]

The waitress puts a plate down in front of me. I look up at her. She's got this nervous smile, like she's waiting on the man from Del Monte.

It's art. Really. Like a Picasso, I’m thinking it’ll look better with distance. I drop a couple twenties down on the table as I stand up and reach for my coat, “Tell your cooks, nice try.”

A slightly disappointed waitress is about to take away the mutated mess when Whilce, without even looking up from his food, reaches out, picks the plate up and pours the contents on top of what's left of his mixed grill.

“You know, there must be some way we can make money off of this guy,” Jodie says, kind of impressed, kind of disgusted.

“I got people to see, I'll see you guys back at the office later. I'll expect you to have pulled in the Smithsonian account by the end of the day if you want me to pay your flights to England.”

They all groan as I pull on my coat and leave. The Smithsonian account is the world's biggest pain in the ass. If they pull that in by the end of the day, I'll go out and buy a hat just so I can eat it. But I'll buy their tickets anyway. You know why? Because I'm a good, caring boss. I should win some kind of award.

* * *

“Okay, Sarah, what was the very first thing you remember about last night?”

“The first thing, the very first thing I remember is my good friend Catherine picking my drunk arse up out of that gutter.”

“The first thing you remember is me wiping vomit off your blouse and chucking you in my car? That was, like, nearly two a.m!”

“No, wait, I remember right before you got there. I remember lying face down in the alley behind that pub, being fast asleep and wishing I would never wake up.”

“You remember being asleep?”

“I know, I'm a freak.”

“But you don't remember how you got out to that alley.”


“Do you want me to tell you how you got out to that alley?”


“You got so drunk, the landlord threw you out the back of the pub with his own two hands.”

“I thought I told you I didn't want to know.”

“At least I got to you before you shagged some deadbeat again.”



“No, Catherine, I'm sure you did. Honestly, I don't remember shagging anyone.”

“You never remember, that’s the problem.”

“Catherine, please, not so loud…”

“Sarah, you have to stop doing this to yourself. Look at you, you look pathetic. You're not getting any younger. One of these days, you're going to find yourself face down in one of those alleyways and you're going to get your wish about not waking up. You haven't touched your coffee.”

“I'm waiting for it to go away. I'm waiting for you to go away.”

“Well, that's another wish you're going to get coming true; I'm late for work on account of not being able to wake you up.”

“Should have just let me sleep…”

“For all I know, you'd have dropped into a coma, the amount of alcohol you must have sunk last night.”

“Wait a minute, how did you know where I was? How do you know what I was doing?”

“I was looking for you. I haven't seen you in days. Plus I had to pass on a message from one of your clients, they called last night. Apparently, it was urgent. Matter of life and death. By the way, you have got to stop giving my phone number as an alternative contact number for your business. You don't live here.”

“I know, I know…”

“You've never lived here.”

“How did you know where to find me?”

“There are just three bars and two pubs in all of Nottingham that you go to when you want to drown your sorrows. And you always seem to have sorrows to drown. By the way, she asked for Sarah Jackson.”

“Who asked for Sarah Jackson?”

“Your client. Why are you still using your married name?”

“I haven't got round to changing all my stuff back. You know how long it took me to change it all over when I got married? Ages.”

“You haven’t been married for a long time, Sarah. You're not Jackson. You should go back to your maiden name, that's who you are now.”

“It's been a long time since I was a maiden, Catherine.”

“You know what I mean.”

“Look, if there's a person on this Earth who can tell me who I am, I'd like to meet them. But there isn't. So, really, does it matter what name I use?”

“You know what happened to me a couple of weeks ago? This guy, white guy, he was shown to my desk and when he saw me, he seemed to go even more white and he said to me 'great – a darkie and a woman – I’m going to get great financial advice here…’.”

“What a dick. I apologise on behalf of the rest of whitekind.”

“No need. You know what I did? I referred him to a white, male colleague of mine and I moved on to the next person in the queue. You know what that's called? Being an adult. Moving on. Not wallowing in crap. Not bringing yourself down to the lowest common denominator. Am I getting through?”

“Yes and your noise is making my head hurt.”

“That’s not me, it’s your freaky ringtone. It's calling from the next room. You should answer it, it might be that woman. If it's not, I left her details on the fridge. You can't afford to throw away business, not in your situation.”

“Okay, mother.”

“I'm going to work, now that I know I'm not going to come home and find you in exactly the same position I left you in but minus a pulse.”

“What happened to that guy?”

“What guy?”

“The arse from the bank.”

“I think Jamie sold him one of those unethically high interest rate loans. Y'know, as revenge.”

“Do you want me to put a hit out on him?”

“Oh right, you're an assassin now?”

“Used to be but I gave up. Do you have any full fat milk in here? All I see is skimmed.”

“All I have is skimmed.”

“Your pursuit of health knows no depravity. I'm serious, though, about that guy. I'll take him out to some back alley and duff him up for you. You're the closest thing I've got to a best friend. You're the closest thing I've got to a friend, full stop.”

“Sarah, do me a favour please? For once in your life, try to sort out the multitude of problems you have before trying to sort out other people's. Okay?”

“Didn't Jesus say something like that?”

“I don't know. He’s always swiping my sayings, so maybe. Leave the key in the normal place when you go. And don't make me have to drag you out of an alleyway again. It's murder on my shoes.”

“Okay, thanks - oh, hey, I forgot! Want to come to a wedding with me today?”

“A wedding?”

“Yeah, an old school friend I bumped into. Want to come?”

“Sarah, I've got to go to work.”

“Nobody has to do anything. Come on! We can play that game where we try and guess how long the marriage will last. It’ll be fun!”

“I'm already late.”

“Excellent reason to call in sick. You've clearly been throwing up all morning and despite your best efforts to make it into work, your bus journey was cut short by an encore performance of 'The Exorcist' so you turned around and came back home. Then you donned your glad rags and came to a wedding with me.”

“I don't really like weddings.”

“Trust me. This one, as the yanks say, will be a blast.”

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