Thursday, April 28, 2005

Chapter 28

WILLSON
At Conrad’s the heavy fathers were circling. Potter, Mandeville and Lenehan had been in the office since 7.30 a.m. deciding on the order and manner of interrogation. Then Mandeville installed himself in the kennel and began the process.
Ron was first. Afterwards he walked up to Christy at the counter. ‘You’re next mate. He said to knock and go in.’
‘Shit.’ As he walked towards the kennel Christy turned back to Ron. ‘Any advice?’
‘Yeah,’ Ron said. ‘Dick Potter before Potter dicks you.’
Mandeville offered Christy a seat. He got the pleasantries out of the way, then he started poking around inside Christy’s mind. ‘Part of the reason I’m here today is about morale. About whether people feel valued.’ He looked at his list of names. ‘Do you feel valued Christy?’
‘How do you mean?’
‘Well, Mr Potter tells me you haven’t been fully yourself lately; anxious, off sick quite often. And apparently there was some confusion over your payrise last month.’
‘Confusion?’
‘Happy now though, I take it? Managing financially and so on?’
‘Suppose so.’
‘Quite some responsibility you’ve got. Cashing up. The invoices. I could understand you feeling a bit resentful. Over money.’
Christy frowned.
‘Coping okay though? Up-to-date with the invoices and so on? None going missing or anything like that?’ Mandeville leaned back in his chair and formed a steeple with his fingers.
Christy clenched his toes and thought of the growing pile of papery mush in the gap between the toilets and next door.
Mandeville counted to thirty. ‘How did you feel about the Ken business? Us having to let him go?’
‘Surprised.’
‘We expect a bit of that to happen. The odd bag of cement split on purpose, people being a bit generous about offcuts for the price of a pint. But then I suppose you know all about that anyway.’
‘No.’
‘More chance for that in the yard really. Must grate a bit doesn’t it? The others getting a few perks and nothing for you.’
‘Sorry, I don’t know what you’re on about.’
Mandeville ignored Christy’s response. ‘Mr Lenehan and I have evidence that a disturbing amount of stock and cash has been vanishing over the last year or so.’ He paused, looked at Christy, and looked away. ‘Since last summer actually.’
Inside Christy, one feeling began turning into another.
‘We’re keeping an open mind,’ Mandeville said. ‘But I’d like to ask you about the process when you cash up.’
‘When me or Bernie cash up.’
‘Yes. Either or both. Who potentially has access to the cash drawer?’
‘Well, anyone could get in there during the day. If me and Bernie weren’t about and the key got left in it.’
‘Let’s stick with the normal routine for now. Mostly it would be you and Bernie who had access?’
Christy tried to think. ‘Once we’ve cashed up Potter takes the money up the night safe. Mr Potter.’
‘We’ve been doing spot-checks. On seven of the days checked, the takings were adrift. According to Mr Potter, on three of those days you cashed up alone. At this stage I’m just pointing out that the opportunity was there.’
The unfamiliar feeling was vibrating through Christy again. He still couldn’t name it. ‘You think I took that money? You cunt.’
Mandeville looked at Christy, deadpan, judging. Then he allowed himself to appear surprised. ‘I don’t think you took that money. No.’
‘I’ve had fucking nothing me. Nothing off nobody. Ever.’
‘I’m not accusing you Christy.’
There was a silence.
‘Is that it?’ Christy asked.
‘Yes.’
Christy stepped towards the door.
Mandeville spoke. ‘Cross?’
Christy turned. ‘Cross? I’m fucking livid.’
Mandeville raised a hand, in charge again. ‘If you’d done anything wrong I don’t think you’d be this angry. Of course, it’s never that simple.’
As Christy walked across the loading bay, Potter stepped out from the main office. ‘Alright Christy? You were in there a long time.’
Christy wanted to kick Potter’s face until it was just meat.

Mandeville and Lenehan were in the kennel again. Without Potter. Like dogs detecting coming thunder, Christy, Vince and the others sensed something was about to happen. They hung around outside the loading bay. Christy bit his nails. ‘I hate all this. Not knowing what’s going on. Scares the shit out of me.’
‘Don’t be daft,’ Vince said. ‘They’ve got nothing on us lot.’
‘I reckon either Steve or Potter’s favourite,’ Ron said. ‘Hands in the till up to their armpits.’
‘Besides,’ Vince said, ‘if they were doing one of us they’d probably have the police here in case we kicked off like Ken that time.’
Steve arrived and took over from Bernie on the counter. He answered Bernie’s puzzled look with a cryptic, ‘Better here, out of the way for a bit.’
At 10.30 Mandeville stepped out of the kennel and walked over to Christy. The group made a late attempt to look busy. Mandeville looked at Christy. Christy’s insides churned. ‘Has Steve arrived yet?’ Mandeville asked.
Bernie answered for Christy. Mandeville went to fetch Steve. As Mandeville walked away Ron rubbed his hands. ‘Excellent. They’re doing both of them.’
Mandeville reappeared with a smiling Steve. Lenehan joined them. Mandeville told Bernie to cover the counter. Bernie pulled a face like a child being sent to bed early. The three suits walked into the main office. Twenty minutes later they came out with the sacked Potter. They shepherded him across the yard and stood over him silently as he emptied his belongings from the company car and handed over the keys.
Later, once busy important acting manager Steve had broken the news, Christy asked Vince exactly what they meant by maladministration.
‘It means Potter’s a greedy, thieving twat,’ Vince explained.

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