Friday, May 23, 2008

Quayle's Ten Per Cent

Fucking Gordon Brown! The ten per cent cut has hit, and the temps are swapping rants about it as we hand in our timesheets.

‘Can’t believe it,’ one guy moans. He’s about six foot, leather jacket, not attractive. ‘It’s like you’re penalised for getting up in the morning.’

‘It would help if the agency didn’t take a third of our salaries as commission.’ I say this loudly enough for the consultant behind the desk to hear me. She’s a fat whore with a Daypower ID slung around a pastel shirt. ‘I should have gone into –‘

‘Well, Becks, if you’re not satisfied, you know where the door is,’ she tells me.

‘Don’t you ever interrupt me.’ I fix her with an aggressive gaze and hold it until her eyes drop to the timesheet pile. I then swish grandly through the exit.

Dining at the Tiger Lounge, I reflect that the agency holds all the cards. I never thought I’d go back to temping, but the latest restructuring swept my job away.

Walking down to Oxford Road, I consider the pulling prospects. What I tend to do, in these days of the credit crunch, is to chat up solvent-looking men in bars, give them a false name and rob them blind. You set your mobile alarm for eight and then just take their wallets. I figure it’s a reasonable price for giving these dullards an evening of fun.

The arches of New Wakefield Street cover a clutch of mosher pubs (I suppose one calls them ‘emo pubs,’ now) that spill out onto rows of smoky picnic tables in the shade. My temp colleagues are at the Space roof garden, specifically constructed to get around the smoking ban.

I buy a round: essential if you’re a lady, because it shows the guys that you can drink and are not to be fucked with. We drink a bitter toast to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and bitch about work until the sun goes down.
This is essentially a student/scenester bar and I feel self-conscious in my tailored skirt and office boots. You have to dress like this at work, even as a temp – again, it’s an assertion of strength – but I’m out of place here. My legs are drawing male stares and I’m not yet drunk enough to enjoy them.

The temp girls are reasonably intelligent and can take a drink. The guys have been sizing me up for the whole six weeks of our assignment (Alex, in particular, seems to think he’s god’s gift) but they’re all clueless, bitter tossers living in houseshares and wondering why they’re not Pete Doherty; no use to me, either fiscal or sexual.

Sean says, ‘You know the Daypower people are having a do tonight?’

‘Where is it?’

Sean is about twenty-three, reads Orwell during lunch. ‘Up in Tribeca,’ he says, faltering a bit now I’ve put him on the spot. ‘Engagement party or something. I just thought, wouldn’t that be the funniest thing, crashing a Daypower work’s party.’

‘I think it’s got potential.’ The boy struggles to hide his delight at my compliment. ‘I’ve never met a recruitment consultant off duty.’

‘I never met an attractive one,’ Julie says, ‘which is weird, cause most career women are really sexy, like you, Becka Quayle.’

Appreciative laughter from the men. ‘You flatter an old bird,’ I tell her. ‘But let’s do it!’

*

In Tribeca it’s the others who feel out of place as it’s a smart casual bar. Indeed, Alex is turned away for wearing Converse. This is a good development; he’s an irritating, lecherous drunk, and I relish his stricken look as I sail past him.

Sean hands me my glass of white and he can’t meet my eye. Is this night as prospectless as I had thought? Mind, shy kids like Sean can be a bit intense and you never know what they’re hiding. I want to do him a favour but I don’t want to get murdered for it.

Jules grabs me. ‘There they are!’

Sure enough, the Daypower consultants are sitting at a large booth at the far end of the bar. They are not too pleased to see their clients, but there’s not much they can do; should have booked a private room, recruitment scum. I install our group at the adjacent table.

‘I apologise for the intrusion,’ I tell the fat bitch from reception, ‘but we heard that one of your staff is now engaged, and I felt we should pay our respects. So who’s the lucky lady?’

‘Oh, it’s Sophie, here… Sophe, this is Rebecca Quayle.’

She indicates a weasel-faced tart in a bad shirt, who flashes a high-street ring. Sophie’s sitting next to some florid loser wearing Ben Sherman. I offer my congratulations.

Reception Whore turns back to me. ‘And have you found Mr Right yet, Rebecca?’

Her tone insinuates that she knows I’m twenty-seven and still single. That’s recruitment consultants for ya: they act like upmarket professional women but as soon as an opportunity to get foaled comes along, they take it; and that’s them playing at careers over.

I tell her I’ve been engaged a couple of times.

‘And did it not work out?’ the breeder asks me.

‘The first guy blackmailed me into carrying his child, and the second guy tried to kill me.’ A swig of wine. ‘After that, I found a new appreciation for the single life.’

Their awkwardness does not last, because the Daypower people are completely unused to drink and are soon falling all over the place. It’s nearing midnight and time to pull, so I home in on a flush-looking suit in his thirties.

High earner or not, he’s soon under my spell. I have a dim awareness of people coupling and grouping off, and ask him if he’d like to head somewhere quieter.

‘Sure, I’m in Chorlton…’ His pupils have dilated a little, as male eyes sometimes do when boning is on the cards. ‘Let’s get a cab.’

My mind dances with possibilities. This guy is quite high up in Daypower and there’s a potential blackmail operation here. Draw out his kinky fantasies, take some photos… well, there could be more than the two hundred in his wallet: there could be enough to get me back down to London.

Heading for the door, we run into a group of professional males entering for a late drink. My Daypower conquest recognises one of them. ‘Greg! How goes it?’

He’s obviously keen to show off the fine woman on his arm, and indeed his friend is staring right at me – but not in jealous desire but angry recognition.

‘You!’ he shouts, and yes, I recognise this guy too; from a bar on Deansgate Locks and then letting myself out of the Hacienda flats before the next dawn, having redistributed some of his wealth my way.

‘Have we met, darling?’ I ask him.

‘You bitch! Give me my money!’

Now, I can talk my way out of most difficult situations, but it’s getting late and I really have had too much to drink. ‘I’ve no idea what you’re talking about,’ I tell him in my sweetest voice, and then dive onto Canal Street.

My boots are good for jogging, but there are simply too many people around to make a quick exit.
Pushing past a drag queen on stilts, the press of the crowd against my chest, and thoughts of consequence rush in: how am I going to explain this on Monday morning? Greg knew me as Diane Kinsella, but the Daypower guy will put him straight… oh, fucking hell, how I hate recruitment consultants … my pure and beautiful hate… it’s all Gordon Brown’s fault… fucking Gordon Brown!

I finally see an opening, only to feel a male hand on my shoulder. ‘Rebecca!’

Fuck, I’m caught… I wheel round, and it’s Sean.

‘Jesus, Rebecca! Are you okay?’

‘Yeah, fine…’ I’m breathing hard. ‘Just… there was a guy in that bar I didn’t want to see.’

‘Right.’ He nods with exaggerated sincerity. ‘You looked like you were going to hit me!’

He is a sweet lad. I’ve taken a few cherries in my time, and in my experience once you get past the initial repression, these quiet kids can bang all night.

‘Listen.’ I feel for his hand. ‘Do you fancy a late drink with me? There’s a bottle of red at my place.’

Judging by the colour in his cheeks, this isn’t a frequent proposition for him. ‘Ah, sure…’

‘But no funny business, mind!’ I wag a chiding finger, laughing inwardly as his face implodes.

The rank at Piccadilly is quiet. As the taxi takes off, I get a sense that things will work out. I smile at him, and he smiles back.

The thought occurs that little Sean, dear boy that he is, won’t be of much financial benefit to me. Still, gliding back to Whalley Range, I reflect that there is more to life than money.


Max Dunbar




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