The Biter Bit By Helen Holmes

Blank billboard in metro stationWhichever way you cut it, Property In Transit Services deals with crap: dumped crap and lost crap. You can tart it up all you like with a fancy moniker, but at the end of the day Left Luggage is humping heavy bags and Lost Property’s dealing with idiots. So where exactly is the job satisfaction that Vanessa from Human Resources keeps banging on about? That’s what Kirsty would like to know. Kirsty wanted Ticketing Services. Everyone says TICKS is the launch-pad, the passport to promotion. Without TICKS experience, there’s not a prayer of getting a job in Customer Support. CUSS is a doddle. PITS is the pits.

Kirsty can’t see how, after one measly day’s Induction, Vanessa can possibly pick out the best people to fast-track to TICKS. Stands out a mile she’s got the hots for Marcus. Batting her eyelashes at him all through Getting To Know You and passing him the last onion bhaji at lunch. And Erin’s a Vanessa clone, though she looks anorexic to Kirsty and her hair is definitely out of a bottle. It’s not fair. Come to think of it, Kirsty’s probably been discriminated against. Ma told her to be on the lookout for that. Management’s got to watch it these days. Why should Kirsty have to bleach her hair and starve herself to get a decent job? Marcus and Erin’s qualifications are probably no better than hers. And even if they are, it’s not Kirsty’s fault she had lousy teachers. Ma was always down the school complaining. No, she’s definitely been discriminated against. She’ll bring it up with Vanessa. Not that she rates Vanessa. She handed Kirsty a right snotty look when she asked about breaks and holidays during Question Time, but Kirsty knows her rights. If you don’t nail the buggers down from day one, they’ll take you for a ride soon as look at you. That’s what Ma says, and if anyone knows her arse from her elbow it’s Ma.

*

‘Okey-dokey, then, kiddo. I’m off to lunch.’

Gordon’s grin is really starting to get on Kirsty’s nerves. She can’t
see what he’s got to be so pleased with himself about, stuck here in PITS.

‘Can I just ask, Gordon,’ she says, ‘d’you always have second
lunch?’

‘Well, Deirdre used to prefer first. Said her stomach thought her
throat’d been cut by half eleven.’

‘Yeah, but I’m not Deirdre, am I? For all you know, I might have a
medical condition that means I’ve got to eat at certain times.’

‘Oh dear.’ Gordon wrinkles his forehead. ‘Have you, pet?’

‘As it happens, no.’

‘Oh … so … ?’

‘I’m just saying we need to, like, negotiate stuff.’

Gordon shrugs. ‘I’m not bothered one way or the other, to be
honest, Kirsty. You have second lunch, then.’

‘I’d rather have first, actually.’

Gordon looks a bit flummoxed. ‘Okey-dokey. See you later. Will
you be all right?’

‘Not exactly rocket science, is it?’

Gordon winks. ‘You’ve got the Manual. Ring 505 if you need help.’

Kirsty rolls her eyes.

Uh-oh, Kirsty thinks, slipping her magazine under the counter (there’s bound to be something in the poxy Manual about not reading at work), here comes a proper Charlie.

A City type is lumbering towards the counter. Pinstriped suit, flapping mac, shiny shoes. Looks like he’s seen a ghost: eyes goggling, tie all over the shop, hair standing up in tufts.

‘Excuse me,’ he gasps, propping himself up against the counter.

Kirsty looks vaguely in his direction. ‘Yeah?’

‘Has a folder been handed in this morning?’

‘What kind of folder?’

‘Manila card.’

‘What size is it?’!

‘A4.’

‘What’s it got in it?’

‘Papers.’

Kirsty can hear the man panting. She squints up at him from under
her fringe. Posh git written all over him. His face is red and shiny with sweat. He pulls out a massive white handkerchief embroidered with dark blue initials. The perfect present for the man who’s got everything. He mops his face. Kirsty looks away in disgust.

‘Where’d you lose it, then?’ she asks.

‘On the train. It must have slipped down the side of the seat.’

‘Which train?’

‘The 9 o’clock from Kings Cross.’

‘Bit careless, wasn’t it?’

The man is turning purple. ‘I’m well aware of that. Look … has it
been handed in or not?’

‘Nope.’

‘Are you sure? Can you check?’

‘Please.’ Ma always says don’t let them disrespect you just cos
they’re la-di-da.

‘Please.’

Kirsty slides off her stool and pokes her head round the door of the Lost Property store. She comes back to the counter and remounts the stool.

‘Nope.’

The man looks as if he might throw up. Kirsty leans well clear.

The man fishes in his pocket and pulls out a card. ‘Can you ring
me,’ he croaks, ‘if it’s handed in? Please.’

‘We don’t do that. You’ll have to come back.’

‘That folder contains documents of the utmost importance.’

‘Shouldn’t’ve left it on the train, then, should you? … Sir.’

Gurning Gordon’s back. Mr Yes, Sir, No, Sir, three bags full, Sir. The
punters love him to bits. Nothing’s too much trouble for greasy Gordon. Ooh, that looks heavy, Madam. No, don’t try to lift it, you’ll do yourself a mischief! Hang on a sec, I’ll come round and give you a hand. Stupid sod. If you pop that jacket inside your bag, Sir, you’ll only have to pay for one item. Creep.

And where’s it got him? PITS, that’s where. Losersville. Just goes to show.

‘All right, Kirsty?’

‘Main problem’s been staying awake. There’s a couple of rucksacks
over there that are too heavy for me to lift. I’d do me back in. Health ’n’ safety. Kirsty watches Gordon hoist the rucksacks onto the rack.

‘Oh, and there was some geezer wetting hisself about a folder.’

‘What kind of folder?’

‘Nowt special. One like they sell in Smith’s.’

‘An A4 manila folder?’

‘Yeah. How did you know?’

‘One of the cleaners handed it in.’

‘When?’

‘When you were on your break.’

‘How was I s’posed to know?’

‘The Log? We’ve also had a furry tiger hat, a set of false teeth and a
pair of pyjamas, just so’s you know.’

‘Jeez. We don’t have to write down every single flippin’ thing, do
we?’

‘Yep. Page three of the Manual.’

‘They can’t expect me to wade through all that. I’m not gonna be
here long. Where’s this stupid folder, then?’

‘Locked in the green metal cabinet … like it says in the Log. ’

‘Okay, okay.’

‘Did you get the bloke’s phone number?’

‘I didn’t think we did that.’

‘Well, we do.’

‘Norra mind-reader, am I?’

Gordon grins. Kirsty groans. ‘Don’t say it,’ she says.

*

Folder Man nearly blubbed when Gordon handed over his precious folder. Big fat face went all pink and squidgy. Couldn’t hardly sign the Log, his hand was shaking so much. Fished out twenty quid, but Gordon went all po-faced, said they weren’t allowed to accept tips, thank you very much. Tosspot. Bloke wobbled off down the platform laughing like a loony. Kirsty’s pissed off about the £20, though. No-one would’ve known. Just her luck Gordon was around when the guy came back.

Vanessa’s been snooping around again today. Walked past three times this morning when they were up to their necks, pretending she was just passing. Must think Kirsty’s as thick as Gordon. Chatting to the punters, too, sneaky cow. Kirsty turns on the charm when she’s around, of course. Cheesy grin. No problem, Madam, I’ll make sure it’s stored this way up. No worries, Sir, I’ll stand it in the corner where it won’t get knocked. Happy to help, Miss.

Gordon can give her as many funny looks as he likes, it’s time she
was moving on. Ma’s always telling her to get her elbows out.

*

‘You what?’ Kirsty can’t believe her ears.

Gordon’s grinning like a Cheshire cat. ‘TICKS,’ he says, ‘I’m being
transferred to TICKS.’

‘That’s what I thought you said. How come?’

‘Vanessa thinks I’m ready to take on more responsibility. Says I’ve
got a nice way with the customers.’

‘That’s not fair. It’s because you’re a bloke. That’s discrimination.’

Gordon’s still grinning. Kirsty feels like slapping his stupid face.

‘I don’t think so, pet’ he says. ‘Deirdre got promoted, didn’t she?’

‘That don’t prove nothing.’

‘Anyway, I’ve been here at lot longer than you, haven’t I?’

‘Is that how it works? Buggins’ turn. Nowt to do with ability, then?’

Gordon laughs and pats her shoulder. She could do him for that:
sexual harassment. She twists away.

‘They can’t expect me to do two jobs.’

‘Don’t worry, they won’t. Vanessa’s got somebody lined up
already.’

*

Kirsty leans on the counter and watches Vanessa crossing the concourse with the newbie. Vanessa’s done up like a dog’s dinner in a tight black suit. She’s putting on her usual performance, waving her arms around and babbling. Should’ve been on the stage. How she can walk in those ankle-breakers Kirsty doesn’t know. The newbie’s blond and scrawny, about Kirsty’s age. She’s staring straight ahead. Kirsty’s got the Manual and Log Book open on the counter, ready. She’s going to make certain the newbie pulls her weight. Kirsty’s the old hand now, the voice of experience. She’s entitled to a bit of respect. The newbie can learn a lot from her. Not that Kirsty plans to spend much longer in PITS. She’ll make that clear to Vanessa when she gets the chance.

‘Good morning, Kirsty!’ Vanessa always shouts, as if you’re deaf or daft, or both.

‘Mornin’.

‘Can I introduce Charlotte, your new colleague? Charlotte, this is
Kirsty.’

‘Hi,’ Kirsty says.

Charlotte nods.

‘I’m sure you two girls’ll get on like a house on fire.’ Vanessa is
never less than over the top. ‘Well, I’ll leave you to it. Kirsty will show you the ropes, Charlotte. I’ll pop over tomorrow to see how you’re diddling.’ Vanessa totters off.

‘Okay, then, Charlotte. This is the Log Book for recording lost
property.’

Charlotte sighs. ‘Surely we don’t have to record every single item?’

‘Yep.’ Kirsty’s enjoying herself. ‘Page three of the Manual.’

Charlotte stares at the Manual as though it’s just been dredged up from a sewer. ‘There’s no way I’m ploughing through that,’ she says. ‘I’m not going to be here long.’

Kirsty hoists an eyebrow. Her smile is knowing.

‘I shouldn’t be here at all,’ Charlotte goes on, ‘with my
qualifications.’

A little worm of unease begins to uncoil in Kirsty’s stomach.

‘But Vanessa was desperate to have me,’ Charlotte flicks the Manual shut with her fingernail, ‘and there are no suitable vacancies at the moment.’

Kirsty frowns.

‘There’s something you need to know.’ Charlotte fixes steely grey eyes on Kirsty’s face.

‘What?’

‘I’ve got a medical condition,’ her new colleague says. ‘Vanessa says it’s no big deal. They don’t discriminate. She says she’s sure you’ll be happy to work round it, but I’ve to let her know straight away if there are any problems.’

The worm in Kirsty’s stomach stretches itself.

‘I’m not allowed to get overtired.’ Charlotte yawns, revealing small, sharp white teeth before she puts her hand up to her mouth. ‘Oh, and I have to eat at certain times.’

The worm loops the loop.

‘So I’ll have to have first lunch.’

***

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