Following is a longer piece of short fiction. The background, for readers outside Australia, is the demise of small, volunteer based, charity shops as charities adopt more corporate models…
‘Kelvin Curtley,’ he says. ‘Head Office sent me.’
‘Head Office?’ says Merle.
‘Harry mentioned something,’ says Doreen.
‘So is Harry Head Office, now, is he?’
‘Must be,’ says Doreen. ‘Suit rack’s over there, lad. That one’s way too big.’
‘I thought you were Kevin.’
The door out the back clicks. ‘That’ll be Stan,’ says Merle.
‘Did they tell you why I’m here?’
‘Nup.’ Merle grabs two cups from the shelf. ‘Cuppa, Dor?’
‘Oh yeah, lovely thanks.’
‘What about you, young fella?’ she asks.
‘Eh? Oh, no thanks. I’ve just…’
‘Had one, eh? Macchiato, was it?’
‘Don’t snivel boy. We know why you’re here. You’re going to do us over like the others.’
‘Do you over?’
‘Tell us how to run things. Eh Dor, remember that lass with the fluffed up hair and the bloke’s spectacles. What was her name?’
‘She had one of those MBAs.’
‘Yeah. Mighty Big…a…a…opinion of herself. What ‘ve you got then, Kevin?’
‘Don’t think he’s got an MBA, Dor.’
‘A diploma,’ says Kelvin
‘Oh a diploma,’ says Merle.
‘Goodo,’ says Doreen, ‘you can add up the book for us.’ She pulls an exercise book from under the counter.
‘What can you tell me about your stock, ladies?’ says Diploma Boy.
‘Ladies, Dor. Very hoity-toity.’
‘Don’t get antsy lad? Strange question. Nothing beats a ham hock in my book.’
‘Marrow-bone girl m’self,’ says Dor. ‘You got a bone of choice, son?’
‘What are you…?’
‘More of a chicken boiler, are ya?’
‘I have no idea…’
‘You brought it up, lad. Well, anyway, you’d better tell us what you’ve got in mind.’
‘Simple really. Evidenced based analysis of supply chain, stock control and customer needs. Alignment with retail trends. First up, though, I’ll just observe for a while.’ Diploma boy takes a seat and opens his leather clipboard.
‘See, Dor. It’s simple. He’s just going to watch. That should be helpful. They pay him for that, I suppose. Don’t sit there Laddy.’
He looks around like some old dog that’s peed on the carpet.
‘That’s Stan’s chair.’
The bamboo-strips at the end of the hall clatter.
Slowly—very slowly—Stan shuffles towards the front of the shop.
‘So what does Stan do?’
‘Stan? Stan’s Stan,’ says Doreen. ‘Morning Stan.’
Stan grunts and flops into his chair.
‘They’ve sent us another one, Stan.’
A couple of goth kids swing through the door. ‘G’day, girls. Stanley, how ya doin’, mate? Any new stuff in?’
‘Box of records out the back,’ says Doreen.
Angie, the girl, spots Diploma Boy, slumped in a bean-bag. ‘Oh God, they’ve sent you another one.’
‘He’s just looking, he reckons.’
‘That’ll be useful,’ says Angie.
It’s a good morning. There are lots of mums out looking for kid’s gear. Terry drops by for a chat on his way to the mission. The smarmy bloke with the market stall comes in and buys two toasters. Diploma Boy says, ‘that’s the sort of customer you want.’
Angie and her boyfriend emerge with an armful of records.
‘What d’you reckon Merle?’
‘Make it ten, eh?’
‘Um, sorry to bother you…’ It’s Diploma Boy looking sheepish.
‘Oh you don’t bother us,’ Doreen says.
‘…but can you tell me where the toilet is?’
‘Down the back. It’s one of those old ones. Not very trendy. Works a treat.’
‘It’s got a chain for flushing,’ adds Merle, ‘We call it the supply chain.’
Diploma Boy shuffles off.
‘Quick,’ whispers Angie. ‘See what he’s written.’
‘Oh Angie, we couldn’t.’
But the boyfriend has grabbed the clipboard.
‘Look out girls. It’s got lots of red on it.’
‘What’s he say?’ says Merle.
‘Governance controls, question mark.’
‘Who does he think we are,’ says Merle, ‘the Prime Minister?’
‘Pricing policy. Stocktake required. Delete old stock.’
‘Great way to run an op-shop,’ says Merle. ‘Just keep the new stuff.’
‘Redesign layout, shelving, counter, signage & public realm interface.’
‘That’d be the window, ‘ says Angie.
The boyfriend turns the page, ‘What! That bastard. Pardon me Merle. But he’s…he’s…’
‘He’s coming. Quick.’ Merle grabs the clipboard and gasps. ‘That bastard!’
‘What is it dear?’
She turns the page towards Doreen. In thick letters it says, Attract better clients. Get rid of Stan.
The back door creaks and Merle flings the clipboard back onto the beanbag. Nobody says anything. Diploma Boy nods as he enters. Slowly—very slowly—Stan edges his walking stick sideways; catches the lad round the ankles. Diploma Boy falls face down in a box of smalls.
Then slowly—very slowly—Stan’s hand comes up. He’s holding something. Something big. Hard looking. Very hard. It’s a pressure cooker. Very heavy. It comes down fast, with a CLANG like a church bell. Blood drips onto ancient bloomers.
‘Oh, Stanley, honestly. Not again,’ says Merle.
Stan drops the pot.
‘Nice one, Stan,’ says the boyfriend.
‘Nice Italian suit,’ says Doreen.
‘Best we close up early, I reckon,’ says Merle. ‘Cuppa anyone?’