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Ronnie James


The office building was just up from the quayside. Lowis took the bus directly into the main terminal and walked down by himself, careful not to plunge his black wallabes into any passing puddles. He was wearing a rather fancy blue executive-style dustcoat over a plain white shirt. He hadn't worn a tie. There was no need - he'd passed yesterday's interview without one - and, in any case, he didn't own a tie; his father's were tacky and valicoloured - lots of razzle dazzle patterns and funny prints of walkie talkies, tennis racquets and kaleidoscopes. Being mistaken for Stanley Ipkiss while simultaneously attempting to plug the holes in your CV wasn't exactly appealing.
The wind made his shirt billow violently as he hurried on down to the marketing company's HQ. He was around fifteen minutes too early. So he rolled a cigarette and sat on the stone steps outside of the office. He saw entering the building one of the little guys from the previous day's first interview round-table. But he said nothing, turned his face as the boy approached. He felt a quite general and lukewarm sensation of disgust towards the other candidates. This was peculiar, and he couldn't understand it. But yesterday in the waiting room where they had all eagerly clamoured and traded nerves and compared the clipboarded CVs they had to fill in, he couldn't bring himself to even speak with them. There was the little, young-looking guy who'd just gone in, an Irish lady with rabbit teeth in a business suit, a fat blonde bint with a tan face like day-glo and a petite Asian girl in elegant high-waisted slacks and a gold blouse. He had sat down more or less in their midst, on one of the double-seater leather couches that were spaced around a claw-footed glass table. The young-looking guy really did look young - too young - but as well as that he looked smart, with a brown shirt and even cuff links. More than could be said for the blonde girl. She was fairly presentable in clothing, but the phony St Tropez gleam she wore - hours of JusTanough touching-up or Famous Dave self-administered, he couldn't tell - ruined it, as did her scratchy, adolescent voice. After being delayed in the waiting room for several minutes past her designated time slot she said, 'They're takin the cunt oot ay us!' and she rephrased this objection several times in the ensuing minutes: the cunt was truly ripped out of them, prised, they were being taken a loan of, spare pricks at a wedding. The others laughed to appease her. But Lowis did not; he kept himself to himself. He watched the walls - office walls were always taken up by crap framed prints of Manhattan, he thought. Then he had gotten called through, blitzed the interview and was here for a second/orientation.
He checked his watch and went on in. A couple of other folk from yesterday were already seated, looking a little more relaxed and easy, as though yesterday's imposition was firmly in their pasts. Lowis grinned; glogirl had sacked it, bombed, been given the marching orders. Maybe the recruitment manager was worried colleagues would contaminate radiation, or perhaps she'd made a second bad first impression. Lowis was given another form to complete by the receptionist, and sat again beside the babyfaced boy. The waiting room was a whirlpool of activity; candidates came and went, moved from reception to the couch, back to reception to return their forms, back to the couches, to the loo, to reception, to the couches, got called through, left with reps or consultants, got up to drink from the water cooler, to stretch, back to the couches.
'Ross Lowis,' the pimpled graduate advisor called. Lowis put his dustcoat under his arm and met him at the edge of the room, where a corridor led down to the offices. 'Tommy,' the man reminded him.
'Yeah, how you doin?'
'Ross, this is Gary Beardsley, he's one of our top guys,' Tommy said, his big hand shaking Lowis's. Gary Beardsley was a wiry gent in a check-striped worsted wool suit, a bad haircut like Lloyd from Dumb and Dumber. Lowis nodded at least eight times. That was important. Lots of nodding and confirmation and awkward moments of time and space. Gary had sallow skin, a ghostly pallor; in fact, he looked very much like a vampire. Lowis was told by Tommy that Gary was the person to impress and Lowis met Gary's eye and Gary blinked when Tommy said he was one of the office's top salesmen and Lowis tried not to look at his feet.
'We're dealing with residential customers today,' said Gary, 'drumming up new business and sometimes calling by new customers, making sure they're satisfied with the product and so on...'
Lowis wasn't really listening. He wanted to just say, 'Listen mate, what's the job exactly about, like, what'll I be doing, because I'm on the dole and I just saw this ad for this company looking for employees for marketing or whatever, no experience required, I just applied to be able to show the broo, Okay, I went for this, and yesterday I got all suited and booted up, comin in and still no really a clue about the job, then rushed through the interview without even an inkling of what I would be doing, like am I even qualified for this, I came out the school at sixteen, worked in Asda for a while, worked in JD Sports before getting some work as a sparky's apprentice, but we didn't get along, so cut to the chase here, what is the script, the role, the job description, residential area? As in what, we're walking about like muppets in the freezing cold? Or what, if not that then what exactly? I'm on the broo and need work but there are limits to what I'll do, plus how long am I here for today?'
But, as in the interview when Tommy had asked if he had any questions, Lowis did not have a thing to say, he just smiled and allowed himself to be swept up in the tide and momentum of conversation. Tommy gave him another hand shake, this time with a side order of austerity, and read another name off the list. Gary led Lowis out of the waiting room and into the building's cafe, just off the lobby. He bought a bottle of Volvic and then let Lowis follow him out onto the street. 'We'll wait for Tommy,' he said. 'You smoke?'
Gary tapped him a cigarette, lit it. Lowis felt a wee bit more relaxed. But Gary was still yakking, making asinine small talk and all the rest of it. More working professionals were outside the building, more marketing moguls or whatever they were. Lowis felt out of place with them. Gary was asking him about school.
'St Andrew's Academy,' Lowis answered.
'Whit age are ye?'
Gary screwed up his face as he blew a smoke ring. 'Twenty two.'
Ok, so what, very well we know each other's age, height, eye colour, educational history: these were Lowis's immediate thoughts, they came into his mind like individual pieces of sawdust, like sawdust you blow away after you've planed a surface or used sandpaper. But Lowis realised very well that the whole orientation/second interview was predicated on the condition that you devise questions to ask, you inquire, you press and be keen and a busy bee. So he asked how long Gary had been employed with the company, his last job, did he enjoy the role, perks? And when he broached the topic of pay, Gary closed him down: 'I'll tell you all that later,' he said evasively. Lowis smoothed his creased blue linen suit.
In a couple of minutes Lowis, Gary and two other sales reps (hurried introductions: Kenny, Lucas) met a horn-peeping Tommy in a Renault Mégane which pulled up at the kerb. Tommy started telling them a bunch of statistics or points of discussion he must've found on a website or in a book. 'Why is it first time pilots are statistically safer than their experienced counterparts?'
The reps began guessing. Lowis tried to smile and appear intrigued. Who gives a fuck, plane crashes were spontaneous, were they not, part human error, part malfunction in machinery, part weather issues. One of the reps got it.
Kenny: 'The experienced pilots would by proxy be less inclined - disclined? - to ask for the assistance or opinion of co-pilots, so relaxed and confident would they be with another dull shift, but a debutante is more on-edge, hyperaware, roping in the services of others in the cock pit.'
'Bingo,' Tommy said happily, tipping his invisible hat. 'Very good.' And he continued on a yarn about Canadian hockey players being born in the same season. Lowis wondered what the script was. So they were just cruising out to - where? - ok, somewhere, a destination at least, and they were - what were they doing, door chapping? Fucking door chapping no doubt. These jobs advertised over the internet, they really played you. It was cold calling then, the script, though naturally there'd be no mention of this on the ad. Which is why Tommy had asked you yesterday if you had any questions you muppet. Lowis fidgeted uncomfortably. He asked a few more questions of Gary: he was from Dunfermline, now had a flat just off Charing Cross, a fiance, a wedding planned, a honeymoon arranged in Cuba. Oh, nice. But Lowis did not want to be in the vehicle moving at sixty along a motorway, it evinced a kind of sadness in him, was this life, was life like this, was this the next thirty years, some poxy job as a cold caller door chapping folk and trying to punt them broadband or Scottish Gas or satellite dishes? Because it was a joke. He'd rather claim benefits. Here he was in his linen suit destined for some backwater village listening to these self-important tossers waxing lyrical now about sales targets and uncapped commision, Kenny challenging Gary to see which could swindle the most unsuspecting customers this after. Gary was goading Kenny about previous bets which the boy had welshed on, and Tommy caught Lowis's eye in the rearview and drummed a cheerful paradiddle on the carpeted steering wheel: 'Banter...office politics,' he explained.
After a drive which spanned about half an hour, and within that timeframe hearing that Gary enjoyed WWE and once broke his arm attempting to do an indy grab in a halfpipe when he was younger, Lowis was mentally corroded. He knew the caper was cold calling, he knew he did not like the salesmen, knew he would loathe doors being closed in his face, knew he wouldn't make any good commision, knew he'd be miserable doing the job, knew these creeps that pounded the streets and hustled you on your own stoop were anathema to the majority of people, knew he preferred the broo, knew he'd rather work with his hands, knew this was for these outgoing, slick motormouths and not rough edges like him. He had already accepted his fate and made the decision to decant. But when to tell? And what would come next? Tommy dumped them near enough in the country, a snoring housing estate at the foothills of green pastures and rearing mounds. They were stranded, for all intents and purposes. Tommy bid them farewell, and in five would have vanished back down the carriageway chute. So the simple explanation was that Lowis could not very well do a bunk until he had an escape route. For one, he had no busfare, he had only two pounds. That certainly wouldn't guide him out of this place and back into town to get the desired bus home.
'Let's get to it then,' Gary said. 'Yous take the first on the left hand side up there,' he instructed Kenny, indicating a line of houses, 'we'll start in the estate over by, do that, then come out down the end of this road, phone yous, see where yous are on sales, then we'll come right along here right-hand-side and meet yous at the end. Fair?'
The other two went on their merry way. Lowis looked around. It looked like council digs, mostly double storey with some of the top tier places having verandas, but the estate they went around to was just singles, a straight road with houses either side coming onto a grass court; for recreation you would reckon, though a sign warned NO BALL GAMES.
'This being a working class area, a lot of people won't be in,' Gary said. 'Why we stay here all day.'
'All day?'
'Yes sir, twelve-eight, I'll give you this, you can just jot down the house number with a wee tick if they answered and a cross if they didn't. So we know which ones to double back on.'
Lowis - reluctantly - took the sheet. 'So it's basically cold calling?' he asked.
'Cold calling?' Gary seemed offended. Lowis did not pursue the matter. He became aware of how tartar-stained the super salesman's teeth were. And then they approached the first house. Gary was trying to punt a phone product, attempting to get the folk to switch over with the incentive - a sort of sense-sedative - of free internet. Five or six customers dismissed him ouright as he sanctimoniously pressured and plied his trade. Lowis felt like shit. He wanted to leave. But he simply marked X's on the sheet of paper for 1, 3, 5, 7, 9 and so on forth. At 17 Gary attempted to stubbornly force a hodgepot of products on a technophone pottering to the door clutching a bottle of calamine lotion. 'I don't even know how to set ma hoose alarm never mind work an internet!' she scoffed at him. Gary subsequently tried to sell her home insurance for another of his clients.
The rain was threatening. Clouds jostled and the privet hedges along the sides of the garden railings trembled and made whispers. Lowis was out of it when the next bolt came.
'Tommy'll be back for us both around eight.'
'For both of us?'
'So this is an aw day shot? Tommy didny tell me this,' Lowis said. He was miffed.
'He should've. Is that a problem?'
Lowis slowed his step. They chapped more doors. More knockbacks plus an Alsation that went for Gary's hand (no sale), a woman who invited them in and ate up the boy's patter before mentioning she didn't have an account to finalise the DD. With every knocked door and no thanks and every crossed mark and throw-away word plugging, like polyfilla, the gaps of silence between each door, Lowis grew disspirited. He said, 'What's the base pay?'
'Aye. Base.'
Gary knocked on a fresh door. 'We'll get to it later on.'
'Naw? Hi there - '
'Not interested.' Door shut.
'I know you dodged the question earlier but I'm asking.' Lowis stood still, on the footpath.
Gary said, 'It's all commision-based.'
'All commision?'
'You're kiddin me on.'
'I'm not actually.'
Lowis cursed. 'This is out ay order, man. Nothin aboot aw commision in the ad. Not a word. Ah need a job, but ah'm no workin for nothin.'
Gary was ashen. 'All our reps make at least three hundred a week.'
'Look mate, this is bollocks.
'Aye, bollocks, you heard me.'
Gary paused. He stepped out of the gate and leaned on a lamppost. 'Fag?'
Gary sparked one. He undone the three buttons of his suit jacket. 'Look...it is what it is. It's modern marketing. It's cost-effective. Mutually beneficial.'
'It's pants, frankly. Ah'm a hard worker. But cold calling..'
'It's no so much cold calling as -'
'You know it is exactly that.'
'Well, don't go in the huff at me.'
Lowis looked at him. 'No you. Your fuckin boss. Unprofessional. Ah don't need this.'
'Well, if you -'
'Circumstances bein the way they are... money owed out to folk... ah need cash-money. Ah don't need a pay no mind job door chappin.'
Gary shrugged. 'Well, it doesny suit everybody. It suits a certain type of individual. Go getters.'
Lowis was nearing the Edge. 'Whit you tryin tae say, pal?'
'Aye, nought....well look, I canny afford to waste time. Ah've debts... serious loans to serious people. I need money fast.'
'Okay, so..'
'Well look,' Lowis shook his head, 'tell your man Tommy whatever you like. But ah'm leavin.'
Gary watched him, didn't move. It was as though he was waiting for Lowis to exhaust himself. The street they were on was empty. Lowis noticed a busted carburetor laying in someone's side garden. He said, 'Look, no offence to you...like. It's just no ma kettle ay fish. Need a steady wage, you understand?'
'Well look mate, how do I get back into town?'
Gary frowned. 'Tommy's no back till eight.'
'So what, ah just get dumped oot here?'
'Well, no one has ever just sacked it after half an hour.'
Lowis stared down the road; it was maybe going to rain. He could just imagine hitching along the side of a country road, and the perplexed look on the drivers' faces, he being suited and booted with the dustcoat flapping at his ankles.
'Let's walk,' Gary said. He began to walk forwards, and in a minute they had departed this section of the estate and were back on the road where they'd left Kenny and Lucas. Gary had a laminated I.D. card pinned to his lapel. It had a sort of elastic coil attached so he could push it into people's faces to bolden his legitimacy, a starting point for his viperish wit and sales patter. Gary brought Lowis to a bus-stop and sighed. 'Em...okay...two minutes, mate.' And he stepped away from the stop, walking over the gravel which scattered outside of a pub. Lowis knew Gary would be calling Tommy or Kenny to have a wee bitch about him, a natter, some dog's abuse. He was fuming. He sat down on the bus shelter's ergonomic bench and waited. He waited and examined his wallabes and the hairs from his dog on his trouser legs. So it would be the broo again. He'd find work at some point, it was just a case of having patience and keeping folk off your back. But he owed Kyle that four hundred and no excuse he could muster would fob the boy off. He turned around to look at Gary; he was on the phone, laughing. All a big joke to these cunts. He felt the blades of a cylindrical wind chopping at his back, rippling the coat. Gary came off the phone.
'Well look pal, get a bus.'
'A bus?'
'Aye,' Gary said, 'here intae Kilmarnock, then there intae town.'
'I've nae money...plus this is bullshit. That Tommy cunt.'
Gary shrugged. Lowis said: 'I'm gonna be up his arse like a hot rod.'
'Watch me. Look, you'll need tae tap us.'
'Fine. Well, it's a pound intae Killie, then another to town.'
'Is it fuck!'
'Nah, it is, here..' Gary handed him two gold coins. Conveinantly a bus came along the road. It was ramshackle, disintegrating. It stopped just before the bus shelter, for there was a bollard in its path. Lowis said to Gary, 'Wait,' and let doors slide open before asking, 'Fare tae Killie?'
'Pound,' the driver said, a young man in a pale blue shirt.
'Then fae there tae town?'
The driver mused; he looked at his fare board. 'Three.'
'Ta. Two seconds.' Lowis turned to Gary. 'C'mon...two quid. It's your fuckin responsibility. You bring cunts oot here for an orientation and leave them withoot a leg tae stand on.'
'I'll take it oot petty cash,' Gary mumbled, his legs trembling a little: this guy was dangerous. He handed him two more pound coins.
'Right. See ye,' Lowis said bitterly, stepping onto the bus. He paid the driver and glared at the passengers with his red face. Rain started to faintly dapple the metal roof. He sighed and walked through and upto the empty seats at the back of the bus.