Animal he liked to be called and he was bloody full of it. He was the cavalry, Metcalfe reckoned, answering the bugle call of our plummeting sales. It had all started first day back after Christmas. We were sweating out booze, straightening crumpled ties or thumbing grits of sleep from our eyes when Metcalfe said it was time for us to shape up or ship out. Kelvin Prentice said: ‘What’s that supposed to mean?’
‘What it means Mr Prentice is it’s time for some of us to take a long hard look at ourselves,’ Metcalfe said.
We were thinking about rent, student loans, car loans and promises we’d made, but Kelvin was old enough for pride to tip his scales or perhaps he no longer cared. ‘More work but no more pay. Mm. Seems fair, doesn’t it?’
Metcalfe took off his glasses, pinched the bridge of his nose in a gesture that said this was all hurting him a great deal more than us and said: ‘You’ve two choices, my friend. You knuckle down or it’s off-ski.’
When Kelvin turned round looking for the support he’d been promised over coffee earlier the others got busy with phones and laptops. Well I couldn’t fight this one alone could I? I dropped my gaze, scribbled an imaginary note.
Just to rub it in Animal got Kelvin’s desk and his was the desk everyone was after. He wasted no time kicking back with a frothy coffee, putting his feet on Kelvin’s Magical Mystery Tour mouse mat and asking what ‘the word’ was.
‘The word begins with C,’ Gary muttered.
Later, when Metcalfe slid away making his usual excuses about traffic snarl-ups and school-runs I got to work proper. It took me thirty seconds to find Animal was really Timothy Winkle. I stifled a grin and focused on my screen, ignoring his attempts at laddish chat. Who do you support? Oh, you don’t like football. Well, I support my legs, cos my legs support me.
You hitched then or what, bud? Christ, I thought, we’re not ten frigging years old. When he finally shut his yap and got on with some work maybe a couple of minutes passed before he clicked his fingers and said ‘job’s a good ‘un’ as he completed an order and sat back in his groaning chair, hands behind his head as if it was a hammock.
I checked his profile online and it took me no time to find his last job was selling bathrooms for the North West’s premier salesroom. Yes, he was Cheshire’s King of the Bidets. I took a screenshot and emailed it round the office. I saw the little envelope pop up in the corner of Gary and Phil’s screens and Danny click his mouse. I’d clipped a yellow plastic duck and pasted Winkle’s head on it. ‘Course, Winkle knew something was going on. His neck reddened and he fiddled with his collar, but he’d nothing to confront me with. I rewarded myself with a cuppa and a Drifter and I might’ve whistled as I fetched them.
I was visiting the little boys’ room after when I had a flash of inspiration. Nan’s bathroom’s had got a porcelain plaque that hung above the toilet on a little chain. I searched Google images and found one just like it. I added in a verse or two enclosed in flowers and hit send.
If Winkle sprinkles when he tinkles
He should be a sweet and wipe the seat
Gary snorted and sunk down in his chair. Phil clamped a hand on his mouth.
‘What’s the joke?’ Winkle said.
‘Sorry?’ I said, staring at my screen.
‘There seems to be some sort of joke doing the rounds.’
‘Nope,’ I said. ‘Not that I’m aware of. I do know I’m up to my eyes with the Shaw account though, so…’
‘Only what with me being new I just thought…
I could tell he was sizing me up, wondering how he was going to play this. I quit Excel and logged onto Twitter. We had a work account but Metcalfe checked it and anything that might be verging on spontaneity or humour was discouraged in favour of links to product deals or crappy selfies of managers at industry award ceremonies. I had a look at what our customers had to say. I often did when I needed cheering up. They’d written:
You’re meant to talk to your customers not post this shit
Bore off losers
My favourite, written under a photo of Metcalfe at the Bristol conference read: My advice: Don’t let the shiny suit with a comb-over anywhere near school playgrounds. I didn’t need to go looking for Winkle. He’d followed us the day he joined and posted some sycophantic tosh about our company rep being second to none. Yeah, right. I cracked my knuckles and began to read through his posts. I scrolled down and saw he’d got into a row with someone, someone from school by the look of it, who kept calling him Twinkle. Ha! Timothy Winkle – T Winkle, otherwise known as Twinkle. I got to work on a badge, a nicely crafted nameplate with a little fairy on it casting stars with her wand and Twinkle written above in pink ribbons. I’d have it waiting for him, dangling above his workstation first thing.
I was up at six ironing a fresh shirt and even adding a few dabs of Hugo Boss, most unlike me. I pushed through the double doors, shooting my cuffs and whistling Twinkle, twinkle little star. It took a heartbeat to see something was wrong. There was no sign of the plaque I’d left, not even a broken thread dangling from the ceiling. Twinkle was gulping down porridge, honey drizzling down his chin the filthy get. He was flicking through our new product catalogue showing me how unruffled he was. He was calling the shots.
‘Francis wants to see you,’ he said, without looking up.
‘Francis?’ I said.
‘Yes, Mr Metcalfe. He’s in his office.’
I straightened my tie and as I reached to knock the door opened. ‘You’d best take a pew,’ Metcalfe said. I did as I was told, sitting with a hand on each kneecap while Metcalfe made me wait. ‘I’m disappointed, I really am.’ He took a sheet of paper from a file and set it down on the desk before me. I glanced at it. Blood roared in my ears and my collar became tight.
‘You don’t deny you wrote it?’
I didn’t say a word.
‘Then there’s nothing to say. You’d better clear your stuff. Here-’ he said, thrusting the sheet at me. I saw the logo I’d designed for my blog and I swore.
‘Quite,’ Metcalfe said.
I didn’t need to read again what I’d written about Metcalfe, his bullying and his bumbling attempts at strategy. I’d been drinking heavily back then, I’d had a better job offer (that came to nothing) and I’d got carried away. A bottle of Johnnie Walker and a grievance that needed voicing was my downfall. I’d abandoned the blog and was certain I’d deleted it. But I hadn’t, of course, and it was out there somewhere floating in the ether. I swallowed and glanced out of the porthole window in Metcalfe’s office. Twinkle was grinning, waving goodbye.