This is a dull job, but the money's good. It mostly consists of glorified filing: logging things, assigning numbers, checking work in and work out in rigid chronological order, and opening the boss's post. Apart from me, the department consists of five wisecracking lads, two men with beards who sit at tables silently moving around bits of paper, the boss and his deputy. The boss is called Mike. He goes to meetings a lot. I haven't met the deputy, Alec, yet.
"That's about it," says Jackie, slamming shut the drawer where the date stamps live. "You okay, you think?" "Yeah, I guess". "Great. Well, I guess I'm out of here, then." She glances at her watch. "It's nearly lunchtime," she says. "Don't suppose you fancy going for a drink to celebrate my freedom? No one else has time." I'm a bit surprised she's asked me, but can't think of a reason why not.
We go to one of those olde-worlde themed pubs with sawdust on the floor and plastic beams, and sit in a corner with spritzers and packets of pork scratchings. Jackie raises her glass and finally smiles. "Cheers," she says. "Cheers. What's your new job, then?" "Oh," she says, "I haven't got one." "No?" "No." "Why are you leaving, then?" She shakes her head, looks sour again. "I just couldn't stick it anymore." "Oh." I feel my stomach turn. "Don't worry," she says. "You'll be okay for a month. I just feel sorry for the poor girl who signs up to do it permanently."
"What's wrong? They all seem okay to me." "Oh, yeah," says Jackie. "It's not the guys you work with that are the problem." "Well, what is? You might as well tell me. I've got to deal with it, after all." Jackie makes a face like she's just seen a bulldog licking its bum. "Alec," she says. "You probably noticed he wasn't there this morning. Deliberately absented himself so he didn't have to say goodbye to me." "Oh."
"Yerr," says Jackie, "Oh." "What's wrong with him?" Jackie drinks half her spritzer in one gulp. "Everything," she says. "I don't even know where to start. He's the worst boss I've ever come across. I genuinely think I hate him. We all do." "Why?" She shakes her head again, makes a sort of "Khaagh" in the back of her throat. "He used to be an army sergeant. Thinks he knows about man-management from six years of bossing people who are trained to click their heels and shout `Yes SIR!'. He's got rules for everything. Everything. You almost have to ask permission to go to the loo." She's getting flushed. "He throws himself around the place barking orders, and he never listens to anyone. Just shouts things like `I don't want excuses, I want solutions!' and `The buck stops here!' and `Not next week, now!'. I can't stand it any longer."
"Crikey," I say. "I've stood it for three months," she says. `I'm the fourth person to leave since he got here." "Oh." She drains her drink, looks spiteful. "And another thing," she says. "He's revolting. Tattoos and no legs. And a hair transplant. I know it sounds stupid, but there's nothing worse than being talked down to by a man with a hair transplant." I laugh. "No," she says. "You'll see. Do you want another one of those?" My watch says I've only been gone 20 minutes. "Yeah, okay."
At half-past one, I return. Standing with his back to me is Popeye's twin brother. He turns, approaches, and I see that his scalp is pocked with tufts of hair a centimetre apart, like a cheap doll. "Alec Hurst," he says. "You're the temp." "Hi," I say. "I don't remember anyone saying you could go to lunch," he says. "Check with me from now on." Behind him, Phil, the red-haired reprographics boy, rolls his eyes and grinsReuse content