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STORYLINE - 21: "WHAT'S THAT STICKING UP THROUGH THE FLOORBOARDS? It's A Tail - A Rat's Tail!"
"There it is again, it's gone under the decorators' sheet!"
"What is it, Miss O'Gennie?" Bobby Jobb the post boy asked, bemused...
He hadn't seen any rats since he was told to go down to Records and through the "Receipts" window Miss Sim-Pathie was seen standing on her swivel chair. That was months back now and the City of London pest control officer had been to check his operatives' work. Mister Tappitt the handyman was told to get in Muckett & Co the builders to have all the gaps in the floorboards blocked, before Paintlicks the decorators were then brought in and asked to see to the wallpaper and skirting boards.
Miss O'Gennie stood on her desk and pointed at the pile of decorators' sheets and tins by the skirting board on the floor at the far side of her office. Her lips trembled, lipstick smudged from holding a little hankie at her mouth.
"It's down there! I saw a thick tail stick out from under that pile of sheeting!" She wailed again, like the proverbial Banshee as Mister Trubbell sometimes laughingly called her. Her Gaelic sensitivities had overcome the starched outward appearance, and her chestnut hair fell around her small face in disorder as her bun came more undone by the minute. Most of the time he was helpful, having been a boy scout before joining the firm. His head was screwed on right, however, Bobby considered. He took his time, prodding the white cloth and paint tins, now and then with a long plastic rule, looking back at Miss O'Gennie in her black mini-skirt and crisp white blouse. He was in no rush. She was putty in his hands, he fancied. Those long legs in sheer black tights were too often hidden behind that massive walnut desk, he mused. 'Hurry up, Bobby! There's an extra five pounds in your pay packet if I'm sat down in the next ten minutes!"
Ebenezer Scrooge had been the company's first customer when Lord Allcock's great grandfather opened for business, and the company expanded, becoming Messrs. Allcock & Bulle when Director Anne Bulle's grandfather joined the firm in its offices at 23 Eastcheap, London EC3. That was before the Armistice was signed in 1918. A lot of water had passed beneath London Bridge since then. Sir Peter Luss became its Managing Director, although most of the time he was away from his desk on 'personal business'... So much so, the postboy labelled him 'Sir Pluss' behind his back. The Case Manager in charge of legal affairs, a Scotsman by the name of Ian Trubbell was taken on in the 1970s and things had hardly moved on since his girlfriend Miss O'Gennie took the post of Personnel Officer.
Not that the business needed a Personnel Officer. Between Wills and Conveyancing the staff only numbered a dozen, then there was Mrs Stella Bunn the tea-lady, Bobby the postboy and Miss T. N. Sim-Pathie with her ancient colleague Ivy Chambers - of whom Bobby had said sailed in the Ark - in Records. As far as the clientele was concerned the Old School Tie connections of Lord Allcock and Sir Peter were recruited through fathers, uncles and nephews. Lord Allcock was an Old Harrovian, Sir Peter had been at Eton, Mister Trubbell from some Edinburgh academy. As for Miss O'Gennie, she claimed to have been at Roedean in East Sussex but her accent was definitely not posh - more like downtown Dublin. When composed she behaved as though ice were colder, but Bobby knew better, didn't he!
She was not fluster-proof, either. And that side of her was borne out more than once. She liked to have her dainty, manicured fingers in more than her personnel pie, including that of her Highland Laddie Ian. Let me tell you of the time a famous actor's will went astray...
"Mrs Bunn, pray tell, why have I got a dry old lump of cheese amongst my biscuits?"
Sir Peter entertained a pair of old Oxford chums in his office one day...
He phoned down from his second floor office to the General Office in the basement, where Mrs Bunn kept her trolley in the corner by the kitchenette,
"Hello there, Mrs B", he thought he was terribly 'with it'. "Would you bring three cups and saucers with your tea urn, and biscuits if you please. Thank you!"
Mrs Bunn busied herself, took cups, saucers, tea spoons and a small, dainty plate from the 'China' cupboard as everyone called it, although what they had was fancy patterned earthenware. She took a tin of biscuits from the top shelf of the pantry, shook a handful out onto the plate - posh folk always seemed tight-fisted with the biscuits, she thought, or had no appetite - and started to boil water for the small 'directors' urn. Whilst the urn warmed up she looked up through the bay window that fronted the basement, the view onto the street somewhat restricted through the grate that almost met the window. The iron railings at street level further limited the view, but Bobby always maintained the view was worthwhile. Jim Tappitt chided, "Dirty-minded little wretch!' but no-one was interested in his outlook. The office junior, 'Chubby' Tickler was at one with his mate Bobby in his opinion of the view. Break times were usually jokey affairs during the spring and summer, when the City office girls went about their rounds to the snack bar down the street. Bobby was sure they knew they were watched from below, as they seemed to wear nothing under their skirts when the weather warmed up in May.
With the urn filled and loaded, crockery and biscuit plate loaded onto the small directors trolley with it, Mrs Bunn pushed the rattling trolley into the lift and pressed the button for the second floor. At Sir Peter's door she stopped and rapped twice, lightly, before being called on to enter,
"Entah, Mrs B!" he barked in his best Old Etonian.
She entered and bobbed her head to Sir Peter and his 'clients', set the biscuit plate on the broad expanse of his desk along with three half-filled cups of prime Darjeeling on their dark red edged saucers, dainty spoons chinking against the cups as they were set down. Lastly a silver sugar bowl joined the cups and Mrs Bunn bobbed again, leaving the trolley against the wall by the door.
She hadn't been back in the General Office long before the 'phone rang. It was Sir Peter, and not a little irate,
"Mrs Bunn", (not Mrs B), "Pray tell, why have I got a dry old lump of cheese amongst my biscuits?"
Mrs Bunn was mortified. It was more than her job was worth! What was more, Sir Peter had said it loudly enough for everyone in the office to hear.
"Stella, your poor old dear", Miss Sim-Pathie crooned, winking sidelong at Bobby and 'Chubby'.
"Sheesh!" was all 'Chubby' could think of saying before Mrs Bunn left the office like a shot, into and out of the lift like a shot - a bit like 'Wily Coyote' in the 'Roadrunner' cartoons - and into Sir Peter's office. The 'clients' sat like sentinels in the straight-backed chairs opposite Sir Peter, who pointed at the offending item on the plate and made a flicking motion for her to remove it - and herself - from his domain.
The tables would be turned on Sir Peter and Mister Trubbell, as well as Miss O'Gennie, and Stella Bunn's indiscretion would turn out to be minor compared with theirs. Their day of reckoning was nigh!
"Miss O'Gennie, are we cutting down on staff costs by training rats to do their jobs?"
Miss O'Gennie stared uncomprehendingly at Ian Trubbell. He nodded towards the desktop on her second desk, her personal desktop. She looked and screamed fit to bring the ceiling down on them both. Trubbell smirked at the sight of the rat that stood on its hind legs, seemingly operating the monitor. When it came on it made a dash for the wall and vanished through a hole in the wall.
She sobbed, saying that she thought the work had been undertaken to rid the offices of rats.
"What else did Mister Tappitt bring in the builders and decorators for, but to see off these horrid creatures?"
"Resourceful creatures, rats', Trubbell laughed and watched as the rat's tail followed the creature into the hole. His Edinburgh public school accent could cut Dundee Cake, 'Chubby' joked. He took O'Gennie's hand as she stepped down from the chair and she blushed the colour of the Saint George's cross on the flagpole outside her office window.
Once at floor level again she hugged him before turning to look over her paperwork.
"Oh, God!" The Dublin accent was strong now, "Oh, God what has happened to Lord Hawtrey's will?"
Trubbell didn't seem too troubled at this outburst. He looked around, wondering, and back at her,
"Sorry, Heather - what was that?"
"Lord Hawtrey's family is coming for a will reading in Lord Allcock's Board Room this afternoon and it has vanished from the face of the earth!"
"What - er, what were you doing with it? Surely it should have been in my office?" Trubbell's feathers were now well and truly ruffled. Now his public school veneer was gone he sounded more like Sean Connery. "This habit of yours, of meddling in my business will cost one - or both - of our jobs one day, and that might be sooner than I'd like!"
"Sir Peter handed it to me earlier, when he came in. He had visitors -"
"Cronies from Oxford!" Trubbell scoffed. "Why did he give you the document?"
"We met on the stairs on our way in. As my office was closer to Lord Allcock's -"
"He thought he'd off-load it onto you so he could chinwag with the old boys", Trubbell finished for her. "Now we're sunk, all three of us unless we can find the will. What's on the envelope - it was in an envelope, was it?"
"I-I don't rightly remember", she flustered. The 'Ice Maiden', as the downstairs staff called her, was melting. She flushed again.
"RAT-face? Who are you calling rat-face? I'll have your job! Just wait 'til Lord Allcock hears of this!"
"Miss O'Gennie", Sir Peter called on the internal system, "I believe you have Lord Hawtrey's will with you?"
"I am looking at it right now, Sir Peter", Miss O'Gennie answered, lying through her teeth.
"Good, then be so kind as to hand it to Ian when you see him", Sir Peter rang off.
"Yes, I will", she spoke into the dead receiver and turned to Trubbell. "We're in the brown stuff now, Ian".
"Who's this we?" Trubbell knew how to waltz off the blame. It was after all the same school Anthony Blair had attended, all those years ago. The ex-PM was still on his way up through society, and he saw himself following in Blair's footsteps. 'Teflon' Trubbell would score his way to the top, even if it meant a few 'corpses' along the way.
"Ian, you've got to help me!" she pleaded.
"I don't see how", Trubbell shrugged. "You should have handed it to me earlier. How long is it now, a couple of hours before the clan shows up?"
"You know as well as I", O'Gennie bit her lower lip, ice suddenly flowed through her veins. "I don't know why Sir Peter had it in the first place!"
"Will Allcock see it that way?" Trubbell was shaken by her sudden calm.
"Sod Allcock!" The Dublin came out in her voice now. "Old school ties and Oxford chums - you're no different, 'Teflon' Trubbell. I can go back to the Emerald Isle and to blazes with you! Two can play at your game!"
"Heather, what's come over you?" Trubbell was well and truly troubled.
"Then you had best get looking, hadn't you!" she spat the words at him and turned over mounds of paper in her In-tray. "Get turning over the rubbish!"
He ploughed through the envelopes, swearing as he went. They both seethed and sweated. A knock came on the door and O'Gennie almost shrieked,
"Go away, I'm busy!" She held her head in both hands and stopped in her tracks as she made her way to the door. The knock came again. "Who is it?"
Heather O'Gennie wrenched her office door open and stood staring at 'Chubby' in the doorway. He stammered,
"Er, Miss O'Genn - Miss O'Gennie", he stopped as she fixed him with cold blue eyes, the hawkish look back.
"Well? I'm busy, get on with it!"
"S-Sir Peter asked if you would see him in his office, M-Miss".
"Yes Miss. He said it was important". 'Chubby' seemed glued to the floor and she had to move him aside by clamping her hands on his shoulders.
He fell back against the wall and Trubbell fixed him with a cold stare,
"Do you know what this is about?"
"N-No Mister Trubbell", 'Chubby' touched a hand to his forehead as if in salute.
"Very well, go back to what you were doing", Trubbell dismissed 'Chubby' just as Bobby came by with the letter trolley.
"Have you something for me?" Trubbell reached out a hand, expecting mail.
Bobby pulled a thick Manila envelope from the bundle he was about to leave on O'Gennie's desk,
"Yes Mister Trubbell, sir", he handed the envelope over and passed between his mate and Trubbell. He winked at 'Chubby' on his way along the corridor to the Board Room. It was not long before Bobby was back out in the corridor, sorting the rest of the mail ready to drop off.
Trubbell pulled open the flap, drew out the document within and stared at the hand-written name on the envelope. 'This is the Last Will and Testament of Charles, Lord Hawtree of Hounslow'. He pushed the document back into the envelope and strode down the corridor to the Board Room. As he did so he thought he could hear shouting from Luss's office. Not looking back at 'Chubby', he held up the envelope to his lips and kissed it. When he reached the Board Room door Trubbell suddenly turned and asked young 'Chubby',
"By the way, where was it?"
"It was on Mrs Bunn's trolley, Mister Trubbell", Bobby looked wide-eyed past Trubbell at 'Chubby'.
'Chubby' grinned slyly. Bobby had saved Trubbell's skin, but from the screeching that echoed around the building he did not reckon Bobby had saved O'Gennie's - or Luss's - skin from a verbal hiding by Lord Allcock. When the door to the Board Room opened he could see people seated around the long table.
Allcock would offload his embarrassment on Luss and O'Gennie. Titanic meets the Iceberg, 'Chubby' chuckled inwardly and went back downstairs to await Bobby's return. Mrs Bunn would be happy.