You’ll Never Believe A Man Can Fly, Part 5

Posted: 11 January 2013 in fiction, writing, You'll Never Believe A Man Can Fly
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Chapter Three

The Guardian, 30th October 2012
A review of The River at the Royal Court theatre in London was amended to correct a description of the bait a character said she and a young poacher had used to catch a sea trout. It was not a pickled onion, but a pickled onion flavour Monster Munch.

The office was a nice one. Davies had been in it many times, often to get praise from the senior director for some deal that he’d secured or some campaign that had gone well. In each of those meetings, he’d always known that he had the respect of the older man, that his employer had looked upon him as a valued member of staff. The fact that Davies had added sufficient value to the organisation to ensure that the director’s hefty bonuses became almost obscene was, Davies was convinced, not entirely unrelated to the bonhomie which usually greeted his presence there.

Of course, he was not immune to mistakes, but on the single occasion the error had been serious enough to merit a rebuke, the resulting meeting to which he’d been summoned had been far too casual to be accurately labelled that. Even on that occasion, Davies now recalled, the senior director had looked at him with gentle puzzlement, leaving him with no doubt of the personal respect in which he was held.

This time was different. If there was any gentle puzzlement in the room, it emanated from Davies, who was wondering what the hell was going on. The other men in the room, forming the management board of the company, showed Davies one single palpable reaction: fear.

He glanced at them, standing and talking quietly in a group across the room while he sat in front of the senior director’s desk.

Davies could quite understand their reaction, since on one level, he was scared shitless himself. He’d been telling himself for two hours that it was just a joke, that he’d been set up, that at any moment one of his colleagues would own up to sabotaging the table.

But there was no mistaking the memory of that loud crack as his hand had broken the sound barrier on the way down to the table’s surface. And the physical evidence in the floor of the boardroom was jammed into the carpet solidly. He lifted that same hand up now and looked at it. It didn’t look anything special, other than the previously noticed healthiness of it.

It occurred to him that even if he had been responsible for the rapid journey from table to floor of that hand-sized piece of wood, there should have been bruising of some sort, but there was none. He noticed a small, hard hangnail by the little finger. Quickly, before he could change his mind, he pincered it between his other thumb and forefinger, and pulled… hard. A split second of pain signalled the hangnail’s removal and there was instantly a small red dot in its place, which started to well. Then, as he watched, he saw the blood dissolve back into his skin and in seconds you couldn’t have told that moments earlier he’d had a hangnail, nor a wound. The skin had completely healed.

This shouldn’t have been as big a shock to him as it was, he realised, remembering both the disappearing shaving cut and the vanished scar on his forearm. What the hell had been in that stuff?

His thoughts were interrupted by the sound of a cough. Looking up, he saw the senior director, Peter Monkton, and two other directors sitting, gazing politely at him, having taken their seats behind the huge desk. Monkton was a large man, but his body was in complete proportion. You didn’t get the impression, looking at him sitting, that he was much larger than average. Until he stood up, and then carried on standing up for some time. When he’d finished, he was six feet ten inches tall and was about three feet wide. Many people had thought to mock him over this, until Monkton loomed menacingly over them. He was very good at looming menacingly, and had considered taking it up professionally at one time until he realised that he’d never take to the discipline of the police force. Despite his wealth and ostensible old-school style, he on occasion betrayed his origins as a market trader who’d decided at 17 that he could earn a lot more in an office than in a street market. Davies had been in dozens of meetings with Monkton, respected him hugely, and had always admired his ability to handle any change of circumstance with equanimity. Nothing had ever seemed to surprise or phase the man.

But at the moment, he was sitting with his colleagues, looking hesitantly at Davies, as if expecting him to say something. Davies realised that he’d been so consumed in his own thoughts that he’d ignored whatever it was that Monkton had asked him. “I’m sorry,” he said, “what did you ask?”

Monkton looked as if he’d rather be anywhere other than in front of Davies.

“What I asked, young Mr Davies,” Monkton said, “was whether you had any idea how this, this, this…” he paused for a moment and then, gathering his fortitude, he continued, “this vandalism occurred? And once again, I ask you. Have you?”

Davies was tempted to reply “yes, I hit it,” but he didn’t think that would help the situation. Instead, he leaned forward in his chair, noticing as he did so, how the three men on the other side of the desk leaned away from him. To his surprise, he quite liked the effect.

“No,” he said slowly, judging his words carefully. “No, I don’t have any idea. I mean, the spider was there, I hit it and…” He stopped, knowing that what he was about to say was just plain daft, but then the whole day had been weird so far. Why stop now? “I hit it,” he repeated, “and… well, you saw what happened.”

“Indeed,” said Monkton and looked at his fellow directors. They nodded, and Davies realised that whatever they were about to say had been decided upon before he’d entered the office, and merely confirmed during their brief chat.

“Mr Davies,” said Monkton, standing up as he did so. “I think it would be wisest if you were to take the remainder of the day off.”

Davies shot a look at the large grandfather clock in the corner of the office. “With respect, Mr Monkton, it’s almost half-past five.”

“Your point being…?” asked Monkton, as if Davies had made a crucial interjection, but one of which Monkton couldn’t understand the relevance.

Davies shook his head. “Nothing, forget it.”

“Very well,” continued Monkton, “as I was saying, take the rest of the day off, and we’ll reconvene tomorrow to see if we can, together, understand the events of this afternoon.” He sat again, and smiled not unkindly at Davies. The change in his demeanour was immediate. “Look, Ian, it’s obvious to me that you didn’t plan it. So why don’t you sleep on it and see if you can devise some form of explanation. Because, frankly, if you can’t, you’re buggered, old son.”

With that, he stood again and offered his hand. Davies shook it and left, still shaken at the implied threat to his future prospects in the agency.

After Davies left the room, Monkton walked over to a cabinet and opened it. The bar revealed within the cabinet had a wide selection of drinks, but he went straight for the bottle of scotch and poured three large ones without asking his colleagues. He walked back to the desk and offered a glass to each of his fellow directors who’d now moved from behind the desk to in front of it.

He sat in his chair and asked, “Well?”

He was pretty sure of the response he’d get from Lester Williams, a man he had at one time personally detested, but now merely disliked intensely, at least on a personal level. Professionally, Monkton couldn’t help but admire the man. Williams was genuinely of the old school, two of them in fact, Eton and Harrow, before a double first at Oxford. “A first class brain inside a first class shit,” Monkton had heard him described as, and it was, Monkton thought, a superb analysis of the man, until you got to know him. Not many achieved that hallowed state of affairs though.

Williams was without doubt the best reader of people Monkton had ever come across and it was his quite open and frank analysis of Monkton’s original partner at Williams’ interview that had led to him replacing the not particularly missed Mr Doncaster on the board of directors. Since then, not a single deal had gone through the agency until Williams had met the client and decided whether they were right for the company of Doncaster and Monkton. The man appeared to have no guile, which was his secret weapon when concluding deals, and Monkton knew he was the most unshakeable man he’d ever met.

Williams took a sip of the scotch, smiled in recognition of the good stuff, and then took a large swallow. “Well, in my opinion, he hasn’t a clue what happened. But I’ll tell you something for nothing: that isn’t the same man I interviewed for the agency three years ago or worked with on the PHJ account last month.”

Monkton started. “I beg your pardon? I’ve worked with Davies on half a dozen projects since he joined us. Of course he’s the same man.”

Williams shook his head. “No, I don’t mean that someone’s taken his identity. There’s something very, very different about him. The way he sits, the look in his eyes, even the way that he fidgets. There’s something that’s changed.”

The third man in the room leaned forward, interested. A relatively new addition to the agency, Andrew Patt was a non-executive director, added to the board to give it some weight in the City’s eyes. He had retired from a long and successful military career in counter-espionage, and it was with some surprise that he’d found he enjoyed the more cerebral aspects of his new employment. “Are you saying that he’s playing a role of some sort?” Unfortunately, Monkton knew, in times of pressured crisis, he could be petulant, overdemanding and a nightmare to work for. Still, his skill in sorting the wheat from the chaff was superb, and Monkton was pleased to have him on the board, despite his ability to irritate.

Williams rolled his eyes. “Don’t be an idiot, Andy. No, whatever’s happened to Davies isn’t a role. But…” he paused and looked at Patt, sitting ramrod straight, even when leaning forward. “If I didn’t know better, I’d say that he’d spent some time in the forces. He sits like you do, straight. And,” he paused again, briefly, “he looks as if he’s grown an inch or two.”

Patt laughed at that, but stopped laughing when Monkton admitted, “yes, I didn’t know whether I’d imagined that, but I’d noticed it as well.” Monkton looked at the pair of them, and then at Patt. “Andrew, my dear fellow, have you maintained your contacts with your previous employers?”

“Yes,” said Patt cautiously, knowing what was coming.

“I wonder if you could get any of the science section to wander over. I don’t think it would be a bad idea to get that table looked at, do you?”

Patt was relieved. It had saved him making the suggestion. “Certainly, Peter. I’d be happy to.”

“Soon as you can, Andrew, eh? I’ve a feeling that this can’t wait.”

– o –

© Lee Barnett, 2013

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