The Kindness - Chapter 1 cont'd...
The Kindness, Chapter 1 cont'd:
Fresh from guiding Gracie over – and still feeling the prickly embarrassment of being goosed by her greedy hands – Mr. Bliss had returned to his wood-panelled office. One of many available to him. He was not a man prepared to tolerate the pervasive iniquity of hot-desking. It wasn’t asking much to lay claim to a desk you could call home. Especially given his workload.
As he sipped at a cup of Earl Grey, he ran through a phone call he had taken earlier. Found himself thinking of Gabriel Lowry. No matter which computer he switched on, regardless of the office, that name waited. He had fought vehemently against having to transfer his records over to computer, a written ledger having worked since he’d first put stick to sand. Despite his resistance, he’d been swiftly overruled. “It’s the way of my world right now,” she had said. There was no further discussion. Now, every time he opened his collections spreadsheet, there was one entry that taunted him:
Name: Lowry, Gabriel Randall
DOB: 11th July 1942
Current Location: Ceredigion, West Wales, UK (confirmed)
Previous known location: Manchester, UK
Due date: OVERDUE
Mr. Bliss could not abide red overdues. They reflected badly on him professionally and they irked him personally. He only had to do one thing in his role. No excuse for anyone who managed to overstay their welcome. Many people (or at least those given to reflect on such matters) imagined that for Mr. Bliss the hardest part of his work was calling to collect the children. For a long time, it had been. Then the Bubonic Plague forced him to toughen up. The overdues, he had never made peace with.
Mr. Bliss craved tidy lines and sensible angles. The overdues were baggy. They also meant pressure from above, and it wasn’t like his role wasn’t pressurised already. Occasional overdues were to be expected. A day or two, perhaps even a week – in winter months and colder climates – and were something of a given, with a prodigious industry of war the last three hundred years or so.
Gabriel Lowry, however, had eluded him for a long time. That’s when he found the likes of Davey Garry useful – and he had a ‘Davey’ in most countries. Those gifted enough to help him track the ones he struggled to locate and collect. It was all location, location, location. Travel for Mr. Bliss was immediate, time nothing more than a mediocre Scrabble score. He also received a very generous mileage allowance, so taking this into account, collection could usually be made on the due date the majority of the time. Davey Garry had folded at his first threat and given up Gabriel Lowry.
Few were pleased to see him, overdue or not. More often than not it was a genuine shock (suicides the most stunned). That was when the bargaining started. Convoluted bribes and bargains (he’d stopped counting the times he’d been offered games of chance, coin tosses, riddles to solve and insufferable games of chess) and on occasion, outright threats.
He had been doing this job long enough to have heard every conceivable excuse, reason or attempt at bargaining that you or anyone might painstakingly construct. He’d been offered money, islands, property, secrets, pyramids, cars, keys, gold and silver, precious gems, women, men, answers, liquorice hummus, horses, ancient manuscripts, children, rare records, space travel, unicorns, all manner of autographs and artwork, alchemy, complete continents, oceans, planets, a box of unopened Cabana bars, every sexual favour imaginable and entire kingdoms.
There was no bargaining with Mr. Bliss. It was not for him to negotiate. He just turned up. Granted, there had been occasions when he had called in sick. Everyone needs a duvet day once in a millennium. When Mr. Bliss came calling, however, there was only one power that could stop him – and that power was certainly not Gabriel Lowry.
Mr. Bliss straightened his tie before checking his teeth in an ornate Victorian mirror he had imagined. Knowing it would rain he’d slipped on an overcoat. He had been to the Welsh coast many times. Hardy like arctic birches those Welsh. He’d fancied a drive and whatever car he needed appeared wherever he wanted it. He was not profligate, so he settled on a very comfortable Volvo with power steering and heated seats. It was waiting outside his office. The car smelled new, with a fragrance of rubber mats and cherry air freshener. He enjoyed sucking on a couple of Polos as he navigated the coastal road, revived by some Chris Rea at a modest volume.
He’d not been far from Gabriel Lowry’s location when his music had been interrupted by a vibrating in his pocket (a work mobile telephone another modern consternation he’d been unable to stave off). Cursing, he pulled over and brought up the message. It was an instruction he was unable to ignore. Thumping the steering wheel, he swung the car round and headed for Aberystwyth, to collect on a three-car road traffic accident.
He moved unseen through a muddle of emergency service vehicles. A car had been forced through the roadside barrier and now lay on its roof at the bottom of a steep, grassy bank. Two other cars were squashed half-size, having bounced off one another to block the road in both directions. Petrol fumes filled the air as thick smoke billowed from the grille of a car. Traffic was collecting either side and someone pressed a horn repeatedly. Others strained from car windows filming events on their mobile phones. A drove of police officers talked and pointed as they waited for recovery vehicles. Lines were drawn, plans were made. People were forced to pause.
Making his way down the embankment Mr. Bliss saw paramedics around the vehicle. He was here for a four-year old girl named Amma. One paramedic had crawled through the smashed side window, in an attempt to assess her injuries. Amma’s mother had been able to be moved from the vehicle with minor injuries. She sat on the bank, dazed in a foil blanket, prevented from returning to the car by two police officers. Amma had heard her mummy screaming her name, but couldn’t make her talking work. Daddy had been driving and was pinned by the steering column, the femur and fibula of his left leg shattered like porcelain. Unable to turn, he had managed to reach a hand into the back of the car and stroked Amma’s knee.
Mr. Bliss shifted his appearance. Although only Amma would see him, he thought it not reassuring being approached by a man who looked like he might sell her parents insurance. Crouching, he looked into the opposite side of the car to where the paramedic had crawled in.
“Snuggly-bear!” squealed Amma.
She felt herself sliding free of the car, sliding through the metal with a whooshing sound.
“What are you doing here!”
Stood off to one side of the car, Amma’s view was blocked by her favourite teddy-bear, who prevented her from seeing what was happening. He was so much bigger than normal. A light wind rippled his soft, sandy coloured fur and his glassy brown eyes stared as he held his arms open wide with his crooked stitched-on smile. Amma buried her face in his fur. It was warm and he smelled just like he did when she cuddled him in bed, when they fell asleep together every night. “You’re so big!”
Amma giggled as she watched him smile down at her. Then she heard Snuggly-Bear say it was time for them to fall asleep. She looked at the sky, then back to Snuggly-Bear.
“But it’s not night time, silly!”
With a paw around her shoulders, Snuggly-Bear guided her away from the car. He swiped his other giant paw across the sky and instantly it changed to night-time, a crescent moon bright and friendly in one corner. Holding tight to his large, fluffy paw she gazed wide-eyed. This was more stars than she’d ever seen in her whole life!
“See, it’s night-time now, Amma. Time for sleep,” said Snuggly-Bear as he led her toward a starry darkness made from the sky.
“But Mummy & Daddy haven’t come to say goodnight!”
“You have Snuggly-Bear though. Night-night Amma, sleep tight.”