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First Chapters: Under The Rotunda

Under The Rotunda
Danny Bernardi

Tony’s boss, Russell, operated what was known as ‘an open door policy’,
this didn’t actually mean his office door was open all that often.

It just meant he strolled around the open plan section where the minions toiled and told them his door was always open. Russell tried his best to be available for the staff but nobody dared approach him in case he gave them more work or sent them on another pointless course. When it was serious, when they were going to dispense with someone’s services then Russell usually shut the fancy blinds which graced the windows of his expansive office.
Russell thought people couldn’t see him when the blinds were shut but they could. In fact Tony could quite easily catch the clinical light bouncing off Russell’s bald patch. He could also just about make out the huge woman from personnel in there with him. It was too much to hope Russell had shut the door and drawn the blinds for a quick ration of passion before departing for the weekend cottage.
Tony shuffled some papers, armed himself with a pen and proceeded to scribble the word slaphead four times across the blank pad on his desk. At a loss for anything else to do he turned around the biro, placed the blunt end in his ear and flicked out a satisfyingly solid globule of dark ear wax, removing it in one deft stroke. He then dragged the wax, rather artistically for a chartered accountant, over the four words on the paper in front of him.
Russell wrapped sausage-like fingers around the office door.
'Tony, could you come through please?’ he requested in his characteristic nasal monotone.
'Just got to speak to a client. Promised to call her back. We’re pitching for the audit work next week so we ought to keep her sweet,' Tony pleaded, playing for time before the inevitable swish of the corporate blade.
'Now please Tony!' Russell barked.
The condemned man strolled calmly towards his fate. Adam, his unco-operative trainee, grinned knowingly while Vicky, the secretary he shared with Russell, shot her head forwards in mock concentration as if she were some kind of demented chicken. The scene confronting Tony was stiff and staged, like an amateur drawing room farce. Russell’s usually cluttered meeting table had been cleared especially for the task. He was going to do it clean. Blank pads and sharpened pencils were laid out surgically in front of Tony’s two executioners.

The large lady from personnel (or human resources as they now preferred to be known) was smiling and sweating whilst Russell appeared to be giving some papers far too much attention. There were usually five chairs crowded around the rectangular meeting table in Russell’s office but this afternoon the two spares lurked in the corner, stacked atop one another as if turned away from the impending blood shed. Tony collapsed into the only available seat, squinting at the smug pair in front of him. All that was missing were thumb screws and a bright light. Russell was wearing his suit jacket; he never wore his suit jacket in the office – in fact, the first thing he always did on arriving every morning was to remove his polyester weave before placing it carefully on the back of his mock executive leather chair.
'Sit down,’ Russell ordered, glancing up to be confronted by Tony already slumped in front of him. 'This is Velma, Head of Personnel … I mean … ummm … human resources.'
'Yea,' Tony nodded, 'you came to talk at the managers’ induction thing at the training centre.'
'Indeed. Now look … Russell’s asked me to be here this afternoon mainly for your benefit,' Velma announced automatically as if reading from a script.
' What’s this all about?' Tony asked. The truth was he knew exactly what it was all about and he wasn’t going to make it easy for them.
There was a long silence before Russell commenced the prologue.
'Right,' he announced, 'this is all off the record. What I’m saying is it’s not like a formal disciplinary or performance management thingy. Thing is Tony we can’t go on like this can we?'
'Like what?' Tony fired back defensively.
Undeterred Russell attempted an alternative approach, choosing his words carefully, realising one slip in procedure could bring the full weight of an unfair dismissal claim tumbling down on his thinning pate.
'Are you enjoying your new role? I mean it’s a big step up to the plate for you and what with relocation and everything,' Russell continued.
There was another long silence before Velma chipped in.
' Adjusting to the responsibility of management can be quite a challenge for some people. Research has shown …'
Tony cut her off before she could come out with anymore HR bollocks.
'Look say what you’ve got to say … what you’ve obviously been planning to say. I’ve got stuff to do!'
This was Russell’s cue, enabling him to jump cut to the endgame far quicker than either he or Velma had anticipated in their lengthy pre-meeting review.
'Let me put it this way Tony … I think … well umm … I guess what I’m trying to say is that it would be better if you started looking for alternative employment.'
'Better for who?' Tony demanded incredulously. Russell averted his gaze while Velma pounced.
'The human resources department is perfectly happy to refer you to our counselling service for departing employees.'
'I tell you what Velma … why don’t you stick it, eh?' Tony screamed at the top of his voice.
'No need for that!' Russell replied meekly. ' Naturally you’ll receive a generous severance and suitable references providing you leave … umm … I mean resign with immediate effect. Your reference will confirm the terms and length of your employment and state we are, of course, extremely sorry to see you go.'

As he struggled upstairs with a cardboard box balanced over one arm, and the accountants’ standard issue pilot case in his free hand, Tony was convinced he’d been followed on the final part of his expensive cab journey from the city centre. In the communal hallway two floors up he had a bird’s-eye view of the car park at the front of the block of flats. At five o’clock on a miserable Friday afternoon in the suburbs of the second city, the building echoed with Tony’s lonely footsteps. It was Stella for sure. He could tell from the car. He’d been with her when she’d bought it, just to ensure the salesman didn’t give her any bullshit about the finance agreement. He called down to her mobile.
'It’s me. You coming up or are you going to spend the evening down there?'

She sat in his green chair, staring straight ahead in silence.
'You’ve got to stop coming around like this Stella,' Tony told her gently. ' It’s no good for you … or me for that matter,' he reasoned.
'I don’t understand! I just don’t understand why you’d rather be here than …?' she trailed off with falling tears washing thick make-up down her face.
'Told you I wasn’t happy! We’ve been through it a hundred times. Look, I’m not in the mood for this … I’ve had a bitch of a day!' he snapped, devoid of empathy.
'Now you know how I feel!'
'You’re not staying! I’m going to the pub and then I’m supposed to be going out for dinner.'
'What is it about her? It’s probably just a crush or something. It happens to some men at your stage of life apparently.'
Tony stared at the blank television screen, more out of habit than interest. He’d rarely seen his new flat at twilight realising, as he surveyed the living room, that it was covered in a fine film of dust. He made a mental note to get a cleaner. It was a cliché. Most of what Stella had done and said since their split had been a cliché. She’d used phrases he’d heard a thousand times on soap operas and in the stilted Radio 4 plays which Andrea sometimes listened to after they’d made love on Saturday afternoons. Tony stood, towering over a now distraught Stella.
'I’m going to make you a cup of tea and then you must go,' he told her. ' You must go and you’ve got to stop following me! You’ve really got to get over this Stella!'

This is the first Chapter of a completed novel entitled, ‘Under The Rotunda’ by Danny Bernardi. It is set in the UK’s second city, Birmingham. If you like it. let the author know.

© Danny Bernardi March 2006

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