(Malcolm, Iris’ husband, is an engineer specialising in ergonomic design. He recently left a large organisation to start up on his own – or rather, with a partner in the shape of his old friend, Colin. When Iris has her accident, Malcolm was on the point of telling her that things were not going well. Now, it doesn’t seem like the best time. His only hope is Colin…)
Malcolm looked over at Colin, absorbed as usual with his racks of tubes and his shelves of petrie dishes. Colin’s shirt and beard were a log-book of the day’s food and drink, his trousers had quite visibly been pulled on over his pyjamas, and on his feet was a pair of slippers apparently fashioned from an old hotel carpet. He was muttering to himself as he scrutinised each dish in turn, and then typed his observations into the computer. Colin was not somebody to send out on a blind date with a potential client, even in local government.
Malcolm looked at his watch. Nearly time to go home. He felt vaguely guilty not to have gone to fetch Iris back from hospital, but as he’d pointed out, it was hardly his fault that there wasn’t a car to fetch her in. He thought he’d been pretty restrained, considering how lovingly he’d always tended the Jeep, and how financially ill-equipped they were to replace it.
And he was needed here, to drum up work. Maybe Colin could do the drumming for the rest of the day. He swung his chair round to face Colin’s as he folded the invoice into its envelope. ‘How’d you get on with that incinerator in Woodford? Colin? How d’you get on with that…’
He was used to having to put every question two or three times; Colin reacted badly to paper pellets as a mode of attracting his attention. Slowly, like a diver surfacing from a deep ocean, Colin turned from the screen to face Malcolm. ‘Woodford? Did I – oh, Woodford.’
‘You know, Woodford. The incinerator.’
Colin thought for a moment, then pushed his chair back towards the screen. ‘Local protest. Nimbies. Plans on hold. Probably cancelled, I should think.’
‘Anything else come up this week?’
Malcolm hated interrogating Col like this, but it made him feel efficient and managerial, a free man in charge of his own destiny, rather than a marginal might-have-been who’d jumped just at the wrong time. ‘I’m off then…’
He slipped the invoices in his pocket to post on the way, and slid the chair in under the desk. Should he take this week’s ‘Ergonomics in Practice’ to read on the Tube? He’d left it on top of the pile to remind himself. But somehow, his hand reached in under it and found MotorSport Italiano. Even the feel of it was rich with promise; six thick millimetres of pure inspiration. It would take more than ‘Office Design Puzzlers of the Week’ to anneal the pain of the Northern Line.
‘… Don’t work too late, and don’t forget to lock up.’
He always left with these words, but he had no evidence that Colin ever stopped working, or ever needed to lock up, for that matter. Less than a week after they’d moved in to what had, at that point, been a relatively attractive, if bland, corner of the Kilburn Lane Science Park, Colin had arrived one morning with a rolled-up inflatable mattress which he’d tucked surreptitiously into the corner behind his desk.
The next morning Malcolm had arrived to find the mattress inflated and spread out on the floor of what was intended, eventually, to become the reception area, once business picked up a bit. Colin had muttered apologetically and deflated the mattress, making sure Malcolm noticed this manoeuvre took a good thirty minutes of valuable work time. After that, the mattress had stayed, though of course only until the next visitor. So far, there had been no visitors.