Guys who’ve messed up and gone off track, they’ll work in the place for a while but once the boredom seeps in, they’ll get themselves sorted out with something else. Years later a guy like Phil will call in to buy something, a car seat for the baby say, and it’ll be, Barry, you still here mate?
Yeah I’m still here.
Said with a smile, a smile and a shrug, because it isn’t that bad. It can be a laugh when you do the thing where you pick what you hope to be the most obscure item from the catalogue, and if anyone orders it you have to pay all the others a fiver. Has to be pricey enough because otherwise somebody could get one of their pals to come in and buy the thing so you have to shell out. And it has to be something that could reasonably be ordered and picked up in the shop. Dishwashers or tumble-dryers are out. A Scuderia Ferrari Men’s XX Yellow Black Chrono Watch maybe. Or a Haven Fresh HF710 Humidifier—Black. A Tefal ActiFry Fryer—Silver. Barry’s had a good streak so far with the Flower Flush 8 Light Ceiling Fitting; he picked it over eighteen months ago.
People steal stuff from the shop, as you’d expect. A box is brought to the collection point for a customer but then it gets swept before anyone has a chance to do anything. The security guard in tassels and epaulettes stands at the door. He says the trousers are cut that tight he can hardly move in them. That security guard always seems to be at the other end of the shop when it happens. People settle themselves on the display sofas like it’s their own personal living room in the city centre. Bring a packet of biscuits, why don’t you. Kick off your shoes and get yourself comfortable. I’m putting the kettle on, anybody want a cup of tea?
Fair amount of hassle some days. The product doesn’t work and they want a refund. Some old guy hands you over a toaster that doesn’t work and when you take it a load of crumbs drop out the bottom. Sir, I am sorry but since you’ve used this, I just can’t give you a refund. You haven’t used it? You both stare at the crumbs, saying nothing, before you sweep them off the counter with the back of your hand. Uh huh, uh huh, I do hear what you saying but I’m sorry I can’t give you a refund. I don’t make up these rules. The best I can do, Barry says, is to send it back to the manufacturer for you. No I don’t know how long that would take. Not too sure about that. If I could give you a new toaster I would, he says, because if he could give them a new toaster he would. The old guy looks murderous.
A bank of ten sleek tellies on the shop floor, the repeated image crisp and saturated. In the staffroom out the back there’s a radio, a kettle and a microwave. Barry’d rather mooch round the town for half an hour in the lunch break, smoke a fag in the lane, rather than go to the staff room. Even by two o’clock the town feels tired like it can’t be bothered with the afternoon either and longs for the shutters down.
Some of the others, Phil and all that, sometimes say after work to come for a drink, just the one like. But he’d prefer to get back to the flat. Not much to see at his place. Living-room bedroom kitchen bathroom. Bathroom’s full of his creams, Vitamin D analogues, corticosteroids. Flakeybake they called him in school, Flakemeister. Slather on the skin stuff morning and night: just one of the things you have to do. Walls here are wafer thin and he hears his neighbours fighting sometimes: she goes guttural, he goes squeaky. They throw things about before they make up and Barry sees them heading out somewhere, the woman’s hand in the back pocket of the fella’s jeans. They’re alright; they lent him a corkscrew when Annie brought wine one time. And if they find his music annoying, they’ve never said anything. They’re not bad at all.
Annie looked around the place and declared, Well Barry you haven’t exactly embraced the concept of interior decor. Grand Designs this ain’t. Alright, the flat’s pretty spartan, can’t deny it. There’s only one thing on the wall, a picture torn out of a magazine of a Gibson Les Paul guitar, bleached pale because it’s near the kitchen window and that spot always catches the sun. Barry used to play the guitar, messed around on it anyway, a good few years ago now.
Annie had been one of the bosses for a while, an unusually well-liked one. Everybody knew she drank, but they didn’t care because she wasn’t operating heavy machinery nor was she personally responsible for any individual’s safety. It was never a massive problem that she often had to be busy with administrative tasks out the back until after midday. Only a shop after all, where everyone was an adult. In her younger days she had been into the whole rock scene and she still dressed in that style all the years later: poodle perm, floaty scarves, a biker jacket although now she went with cheap, fake leather. They called her rock hen. Phil started it then everyone else joined in. Never mind those there rock chicks here’s the rock hen. She’d liked it though, thought it was funny. Annie was married to some Scottish fella who had one of those illnesses where basically everything shuts down slowly over time. Annie said he used to be in the Hell’s Angels, except this crowd were called the Blue Angels.
The first time Annie and Barry got together was after a Thursday late night in the run-up to Christmas. Town was tinselled up with rain and lights and they swigged from a bottle of brandy near the waterfront. Cold enough down there so the brandy was welcome. Back at his place they were leaning on the door as he tried to find the key and when it opened they tumbled into the dark hall. How long had he lived there and he couldn’t find the light switch! In the bedroom he did know where the switch was, but he didn’t put it on.
There was another time when they both had a day off and she came round at about half ten in the morning with a bottle of wine.
Is it not meant to be maybe a coffee and a biscuit at this time of the day? Barry said.
According to what? Annie replied. Barry Young’s Guide to Modern Living?
They borrowed the corkscrew and because he didn’t have any wine glasses they drank out of mugs. The rock hen was just a bird with nowhere where you couldn’t feel the bones, whereas he seemed to himself a crude and hulking lump. Barry didn’t feel guilty. Why should he? It was nothing to do with him, nothing at all, the husband in the wheelchair or whatever it was. He had a fleeting thought of him surrounded by wires and monitors, a skeletal ghoul in motorbike leathers.
Afterwards, when they were lying there, Annie’s hand reached out to touch his hip.
Barry, she said. Come on. It’s really not that bad. Seriously. It’s not.
Yeah, sure, he said. And he reached for his t-shirt and trousers squashed at the bottom of the sofa.
She looked around the room. You know what it’s like in here, it’s like a monastic cell, she said.
Just the way it is, he said.
Well if it suits you.
It does—you live in a palace yourself? he asked.
You know I don’t. You know I don’t, Barry.
She half put on her top and then took it off again. She wasn’t wearing a bra. Look at me, she said. I want you to look. You seen the, well I hardly need to point any of it out to you, I would rather not give you chapter and verse here, but what you are looking at is not really babe material. What’s in front of you isn’t exactly a hot piece of ass. Barry. You taken a look? Look.
He said, There’s nothing wrong with you.
Course there is, she said. And the she did put on her top, and her jacket. She needed to go. Someone was looking after her husband for a few hours but she needed to get back so that they could head on. Her time was up.
Barry’s morning routine: out of bed, do the creams, get dressed, get a takeaway coffee from the garage, get on the bus. It’s the same people, more or less, on the bus each day. Tinny beat of that guy’s cheap headphones, the woman always doing her makeup. Some, like him, are tagged with the logos of their work. The uniform’s alright. A polo shirt with a sweatshirt for the winter. When he gets off the bus and walks round, he always has at least ten minutes to spare.
Barry has a usual spot for a smoke. He sees his own cigarette butts when he looks down. Looks up and there are empty rails for clothes on the first floor of the building opposite. Beside him the hoardings surrounding a vacant space are covered in weathered, flaking posters. Building on the space was meant to start months ago. They advertise long past club nights, a psychic who visited a hotel on the outskirts of town.
This morning there’s been a big delivery so that means lots of stuff for them to unpack. They have to slice through the cardboard and ties with blades. Some of the other guys were there early this morning for the van coming through; you need to go on a day course if you want to be able to unload the lorry but Barry hasn’t attended it, nor does he want to. The new manager won’t be around for much longer because he is looking to move to a bigger shop. It’s alright unpacking the stuff: you get into a rhythm as you work away. You think about things. Don’t think about things. Think about things. Barry goes through the track listing of various albums, tries to remember the back cover of Second Helping, Lynyrd Skynyrd, the guitar listing. That new woman on the bus, Polish maybe, the line of her jaw as she wiped a circle in the condensation on the window, but now it’s Annie and he feels her leaning against him and laughing as they tumble in his front door. Don’t switch on the light.
But didn’t everyone say the sun was great for clearing up your skin. The good old sun works wonders. Lying in the park, first summer after he’d started tech, trying to see if everyone was in fact right and that the sun could work some magic. He was down by the old bandstand on one of those early July days of melting tarmac and yellow grass. There were a few fellas from the college going through the park. They came over, sat down for a while, then headed off. They were going off to a party that night.
You wanna come?
No. You’re alright.
You sure? What the fuck’s the point just hanging around here by yourself?
Hot, hot day. The guys from tech ambled off but then another bunch came and started throwing a frisbee to each other not far from where he was lying. When the frisbee hit him for the second time he thought about the cool of the kitchen and going home.
Two playgrounds in the park, one at each entrance. The new one had a zip-line and fresh rides, the old a rusty climbing frame and forlorn couple of tyres.
Hey, she shouted when Barry was walking past. Hey there, can you help me?
A girl was dangling there in the old playground, fat legs a few feet off the ground. She was maybe nine or ten. Her hands clung to the rusty bar above her and she couldn’t get free because she was hooked to a broken pole by her pants. Face shiny from crying and the sun. Barry reached up and freed her. He held out his hands so that she could take them and jump down.
What happened you? he said. How you get stuck?
They’d all been messing around, she said, but then one of her big brothers had gone and done that to her. They’d all cleared off on her after that.
My brothers are always doing stuff like that on me, she said. They have me tortured.
She fixed her skirt which had got all twisted, pulled up her socks.
Well, Barry said. That’s you down now anyway. He felt around in his pocket and found a 50p.
Take it sure, he said. Get yourself something. Away on, off you go and get yourself something. Get an ice-cream or some sweeties.
She took the coin and walked off towards the gates, breaking into a skip as she got closer.
Did none of yous think when you were unpacking all this stuff that there seemed to be a bit of an excessive amount for us? James the manager says. None of yous boys think about that?
Some of the stuff they have just unpacked should have gone to the other shops. They are overwhelmed with ironing boards.
Not really, Barry says.
Nah, never thought, Phil says. You told us to unpack the stuff, so that’s what we did.
Well I’m gonna have to arrange for them to be taken away again, James says. So don’t be doing anything more with those ironing boards.
They stack them in the only empty space in the store and get back to unpacking more stuff but James comes back through again and tells Phil that he needs him out the front. Annie always said, would you mind, in work. Would you mind giving me a hand. Would you mind coming out the front. Nobody ever did mind. When Annie didn’t appear in work for the best part of a month nobody knew what had happened. Barry tried to phone her but there was never any answer. One night he was going to bed when she appeared at his door. How could you be skinny and bloated at the same time? She said she wouldn’t stay long, she’d come in for just a minute or two. He made a couple of cups of tea in the mugs where they’d once had the wine.
When you coming back? Barry asked. Place is going to wrack and ruin without you.
Oh yeah, right enough.
Yeah. We got all these temporary managers, haven’t a clue. Everybody misses you big time.
She said that she wouldn’t be coming back to work again because it had all got too much.
You know what I’m talking about, she said.
He asked if they were moving her somewhere else.
I don’t think so Barry, she said. There comes a time when I think you just have to call it a day.
Well, said Barry, yeah. Suppose so.
I do though, he said, I do miss you.
Yeah well. Something for you, she said. It was a set of glasses. They were popular those glasses because they only cost £8.99. They were the four pack Belgravia wine glasses 38cl. On the cardboard there was a soft focus shot of a pretty woman holding one of the glasses to her lips. Barry knew he and Annie probably wouldn’t see each other again unless by chance.
Thanks, he said. I’ll make sure that these are used next time I’ve got somebody round for a drink.
Well Barry, Annie said, I would love to hear that you were using those glasses.
Back from the park the house was still and dark as he knew it would be, and the water from the tap tasted so cold. After tea he was lying on his bed listening to something or other with the headphones on when his ma opened his door.
You need to get downstairs, she said. Quick, Barry.
There’s a policeman! she said. She was untying her apron, fixing her hair in the mirror on the landing.
Yes. You better go down Barry. What on earth’s it about? They want to speak to you. You haven’t even got your shoes on, where’s your shoes?
Here’s Barry now, his dad said when he came to the door. The policeman was young and smiling. He said that all they needed was just a quick chat with him, wouldn’t take long at all they hoped.
The policeman nodded.
You need to speak to me?
The policeman nodded.
Had there been a terrible crime that he’d not noticed himself witnessing? He didn’t know anybody that got in trouble with the police. One of the fellas from tech that he saw earlier had been smoking a bit of grass in the park. Had somebody seen that? Was that what it was?
He asked the policeman what happened. Was it something he’d done?
The policeman was pleasant. He smiled. We just would like you to attend the police station for the purposes of assisting us with an investigation, he said.
Excuse me sir, are you arresting Barry? his dad asked.
Oh no, we’re asking him to attend the station voluntarily.
His mum came down the stairs holding his old school shoes. The policeman watched him as he put them on. Old school shoes and jeans. He felt suspicious already.
In the car the bulk in the front seat was another policeman. He said nothing when Barry got in and the three of them drove along in silence. Then the car stopped at a garage. The young one went in to get something so it was just Barry and the other one in the car. He turned round slowly and deliberately to give Barry a long stare. He put down the window and spat onto the garage forecourt before giving a weary sigh. Barry started to rub at one elbow and then the other.
They turned out of the garage and drove back down the way that they had come. They passed the bottom of his road and suddenly it looked beautiful. The sun was hazy in the trees and there was a guy out washing his car, clots of suds gleaming on the road. Barry thought how he never knew before that he loved that road. It was just the road. All those people at the bus stop. You could see the cranes and beyond them the hills. The adverts in the estate agent’s window set out in a grid, all those little houses, he loved everything about it, and the people coming out of the Chinese with their takeaway. It was all so fragile, who would have thought? His ma, at the kitchen sink, doing the dishes, holding up a bowl to the light to see if it was clean.
At the station he was put in a room. They told him they were waiting for his dad. He needed to be there before they could ask him any questions. They hadn’t realised his age, that he was under eighteen. It smelled like the changing rooms in school in the room. They all knew his name, Barry this, Barry that. Then they took him through to another room where his dad was sitting, now wearing a suit. An eternity ago his dad had got up to answer the door, only maybe forty minutes ago, and now here he was at a police station wearing a suit he never usually wore. Stapled on the cuff there was still the dry cleaner’s pink paper after the previous time. The woman on the other side of the desk thanked his dad for coming.
Barry, she said. Do you want a coffee?
He said yes even though he had never drunk a coffee before. He needn’t have worried because the coffee didn’t ever come anyway.
She explained that they would need to record the interview and then a door opened and another man came in.
So, she said we need to ask you a few questions. And you’ve come here voluntarily. We need to ask you about a girl who’s gone missing. Young girl of eight by the name of Megan Nichols. Now Barry have a look at this please. I am showing Barry a photo of Megan Nichols.
Looked straight off the mantelpiece, still in the brown cardboard frame of the annual school photo. She was wearing the same primary school uniform that he wore himself when he was a kid.
Do you know Megan Nichols? the woman asked.
Yeah, she’s a kid I saw today, Barry said. She’s a kid that I saw, I saw her today, but I don’t know her. So, no, I don’t know her.
She’s gone missing, the woman said. Every parent’s worst nightmare. Can you imagine?
No, said Barry. I mean, yes I can.
But you saw her?
I saw her in the park. In the kids’ playground. The old one near the way in.
The kids’ playground, the woman said. Alright. Would you have any idea what time that was at?
Maybe a bit after four, Barry said.
The woman leaned back in her seat.
And where exactly were you when you saw her? she asked.
I was in the kids’ playground.
You were in a kids’ playground?
No I went in to the playground because I saw her there.
Barry swallowed hard.
You spoke to her?
Why were you speaking to this little girl Barry?
He felt his dad turn slightly to listen to his answer.
She shouted at me to come over because she was stuck on a climbing frame. She was crying and she was stuck.
Yes we know you spoke to her. You were seen speaking to her. Speaking to Megan Nichols.
There was a knock at the door and then the woman left the table, and then the room.
Dad I’m sorry, Barry whispered, I don’t know what’s happening here, I’ve done nothing wrong at all.
Nothing wrong at all, years ago now, years ago, and so much in between. He cuts through the orange ties on another delivery that is stamped This Way Up. All the cardboard cut, all the items re-stocked, the notes taken, the cards read, receipts given, marking the distance between now and then. Displays rearranged, the garden furniture and the barbecues, wood-burning stoves with their artificial in-store fire, Christmas trees and the year’s new toy, engagement rings under glass, wedding rings under glass, things put in bags, things pulled out of bags, times stepping on to the bus, times stepping off the bus. Washing your clothes, drying your clothes, getting them dirty again.
The woman came back in, apologetic. The guy looked at her and she nodded.
So, the woman said, you say that Megan Nichols was stuck.
I got her down from the climbing frame. She was stuck on the climbing frame.
So why couldn’t she just get down herself?
Because she was stuck. I had to get her down.
Her knickers were caught.
The word hovered somewhere above the table
Her pants, he said. They were caught on the frame. That’s why she couldn’t get down.
The woman leaned in a little. Did you touch her pants, her underwear Barry? Did you touch her pants?
The guy coughed and put his head down.
I couldn’t not have touched them when I was trying to get her down from the frame. She was hooked on by her pants.
The woman said, You couldn’t not have touched her pants.
You just said that you couldn’t not have touched her pants?
To get her down! Barry said. For Christ’s sake. I’m trying to tell you she was stuck on the climbing frame, the other ones had wedgied her there and I got her down. There was nothing funny about it.
And it was all being faithfully recorded.
The woman said, That was the only physical contact you had with her?
Yes, said Barry. It wasn’t really physical contact though, that sounds bad, it was like, three seconds, getting her down.
And you’re sure about that?
Yeah I’m sure about that, Barry said. Totally sure.
We’re asking questions because a child is missing, the man said.
So after you touched her underwear, the woman said, what happened then? When she was down on the ground? What happened, Barry?
I, and he didn’t want to say it, I gave her some money.
What did you do?
I gave her some money.
A child you didn’t know? Why would you give a child you didn’t know money?
Because she was upset! Because she was by herself and her friends had left her and she was upset and crying. 50p to buy an ice-cream or a can of coke and then that was it, she went off and I didn’t see her again and that is all I can tell you.
The woman sat back on her seat. Fact remains though Barry, she said, fact remains that you seem to be the last person to have seen this girl. Look at her photo again Barry. Look at Megan Nichols’s picture and let’s start all over again.
Barry’s dad spoke up then. He’s told you, he said. He’s told you what happened. Can I just check, is Barry under arrest or what is the situation here?
We’re just asking him a few questions. He’s come along voluntarily. To answer a few questions.
Her gaze was steady. So, she said, thank you very much.
We’re meant to have a solicitor. We’re meant to have someone else here, his dad said. Look at the state of him.
He hadn’t realised that he had been working his skin, that his neck was up in weals. The crooks of his arms were on the point of bleeding.
What are you doing that for? the man said. Why’s he doing that?
Stop doing that, the woman said.
She said they would take a break. Barry and his dad were shown through to a waiting room off where the main desk was. There was a man in a corner with the dregs of a black eye looking at his hands, one and then the other.
This is some to-do, his dad said. Some to-do indeed. I don’t know solicitors. I’ve no dealings with solicitors. The only solicitor is the one we had to go to when your granny died and we were selling the house. It was a man in Carrick. He wouldn’t know what to do here. He’s all to do with selling houses. Selling houses and wills.
Barry wondered if he’d go to jail. It didn’t matter if they hadn’t done anything, sometimes people still ended up in jail.
Another policeman came through with a blue tub. Maybe you want to try putting that on, he said. She sent it to you. Our boss.
Should I put this on? Barry said.
If you think it’ll do any good, his dad said. Stop that scrabbing.
There was thick silver paper on top of it and underneath gluey cream.
The perfume of it seemed to be everywhere in the waiting room. Did the guy with the black eye look over because he could smell it.
Barry felt he should put it on. The woman would maybe be angry if she came back and he hadn’t put it on. That sort of stuff was pointless though. It was for women’s faces. It wasn’t medical. It clung to his fingers and he knew it would do no good but he put it on one arm and then the other.
You won’t be going to that park again, his dad said. There’s always bad sorts around that park. Around all parks. What’s keeping your woman? They’ll be bringing us a solicitor now no doubt. You’ll have done nothing wrong son I know that, I know that. The solicitor will get it all sorted out. He looked around. Should I speak to somebody about the solicitor?
I don’t know.
You hadn’t even ever seen the wee girl before sure you hadn’t? No? Well there you go.
Her parents’ll be beside themselves, he said. Bad people about.
There was the end of that film where a young fella in jail slits his wrists lying in his bed and you see the blood come seeping through the sheet.
The woman reappeared. She was looking different. Could she see he’d put on the cream? Was she happy because he’d used the cream?
We’re letting you go Barry, she said. There’s a sighting of Megan Nichols just shortly after she left the park.
Barry handed her the tub of cream.
But that’s not to say we won’t need to speak to you again. You understand that?
Barry had nothing to do with anything, his dad said.
His ma rushed down the stairs when they came into the house. His dad put his hand up and shook his head.
But what’s happening? Don’t go upstairs yet Barry, his ma said. I’m just straightening out your room. Nearly finished.
The police had been round. They had gone to Barry’s room to remove some stuff. Although what were they going to find, his ma said, other than dirty socks and pants? Isn’t that right Barry? You’ve not done anything wrong, have you? There was a police van outside. Mortifying, his ma said, them carrying stuff out. Never anybody on this road but suddenly there’s a whole bunch all gawping.
The next day was a Saturday but there was still no sign of Megan Nichols, nor on the Sunday either. She moved up the order of the headlines on the news. Megan Nichols’s mother was on the screen, her two dark-eyed boys beside her. People in the neighbourhood arranged searches, posted flyers through doors. But no one came to Barry’s house. When his dad went for the paper on Sunday morning all talk stopped when he went into the shop. Barry knew what they would be saying. You see the bags came out of the house? Heard the polis held him for hours. No smoke without fire. Right odd-looking bloke, that fella, you’ll have seen him about. Big guy with the skin. Don’t judge a book by its cover, yeah I know, but even so. You heard about them taking anybody else in? No. No smoke without fire.
They were eating their dinner that night when the radio said that Megan Nichols was still missing. Poor wee pet, his ma said. Barry’s dad got up. He said he thought he heard something out the front. What he saw was an egg running down the window. And then Barry and his ma were there too, watching one egg and then another. This was followed by showers of what sounded like gravel. Handful after handful.
Should I call the police? his mum asked.
No, said his dad. Don’t do that.
On the Monday morning Megan Nichols was discovered. She was found by the caretaker opening up the primary school for the couple of teachers who liked to come in at the start of the summer to tidy up their rooms. Megan had spent the weekend eating old packets of biscuits left by teachers in the cupboard in the staffroom. There was a whole box of crisps too, from the end-of-year disco. Megan said she played with the school tortoise and messed about with the paints. She’d gone in to the school because she thought she’d seen Mrs Foster’s car and she wanted to say have a nice summer to Mrs Foster who’d been absent on the last day. But she couldn’t find Mrs Foster and then the place got locked up. Why didn’t you use the phone in the staff room to ring for help? the woman on the telly asked her when she was briefly interviewed. She paused. I was liking the peace and quiet, she said. For a while that was a joke with people. If you wanted to take yourself off for some peace and quiet you were doing a Megan Nichols.
Barry’s mum was out that morning, brisk and efficient, dealing with the eggs like it was nothing other than a spring clean. There was paint on the front door, pale green, the colour somebody might have used for a bathroom. His da had to go to the DIY place to get the remover for it. It was decided that Barry would go to stay on the other side of the town with an old uncle of his dad’s. It was only ever presented as a temporary arrangement because sure didn’t everyone know that Barry had done nothing wrong anyway? The uncle ate pies that came in tins and listened to the cricket on the radio. But Barry lasted a year in the old uncle’s place until he moved out, first into a damp old house with some others and then, when he got the job in this place, into the flat. And now he meets up with his parents in the town every few weeks or so, somewhere that does a business lunch or an early-bird meal because that’s what they like. They’ve started getting vouchers that they print off the internet, complicated arrangements involving arriving and leaving restaurants at certain times. They’ve been to his flat, but they’d rather meet in the town. He goes back home for Christmas and that’s alright because with the lights and the decorations and the empty streets on Christmas morning it feels like a different place. He always leaves in the afternoon. Can’t hang about too long. Always working Boxing Day. Just the way the rota always seemed to work out. His dad gives him a lift.
Phil comes through from the front of the shop. Barry, he says. Barry, you wouldn’t come out here would you? Only going to take a minute.
Barry puts down the blade and folds up the packing slips that he’s laid out on the floor. They’ll be coming again soon, the two of them, into the town for a meal. They’ll ask about work. They’ll ask about the flat. He’ll say everything’s alright, because it isn’t that bad.
Glitch in the system, Phil says.
And where’s James our manager? asks Barry.
Don’t know, says Phil. Nipped out a couple of minutes ago. Said something about wanting to buy a shirt. Needs a white shirt. Got an interview for somewhere else this afternoon I think. Some amount of managers running through this place, him, that other guy the fat fella, Annie—
Yeah, Barry says. I know. Just the way it is.
Aye, so, two people have paid for the same item at exactly the same time, Phil explains. But there’s only the one of the items actually in stock.
What they looking for?
Johnstone’s Matt Emulsion in Cadillac.
You tried seeing if it’s in the other shop?
Yeah, course I have, says Phil. But nah, no luck.
OK, says Barry. Well there you go. They’ll have to decide between them who gets it.
Well they both want it.
That’s as may be, but if there’s only the one tin.
Oh Barry you go and speak to them, Phil says. You’re good at all that sort of stuff.
Yeah right, Barry says.
You are, Phil says. No messing. You got the knack.
Okay, okay, Barry sighs. And he goes out to the front to deal with the customers who are both holding their receipts for Johnstone’s Matt Emulsion in Cadillac.