Queen Architectural Services
“They’ve given the job to who?” the angry tones of Gus French rang round the draughtman’s office. Jim and Evelyn casually meandered towards the coffee machine which, entirely co-incidentally, was right outside the managing partner’s office. Not that they made any coffee, oh no, for that machine was downright noisy, they just faffed around with ingredients and had a jolly good listen. And that’s where Gus French found them when he stormed out of his office. “I despise sneaks” he yelled at them, “if you want to know something, knock on my door and ask!”
Jim and Evelyn slunk back to their drawing boards looking sheepish, eliciting looks of sympathy – and one or two of glee – from the varying factions in the office. French’s Ferrari roared into life in the car park, followed rapidly by a squeal of tires – he was clearly intending to burn some rubber before returning to work. The office settled down to its regular hum and that’s what Jeremy Johns – French’s business partner – saw upon his arrival. Raising his eyebrow at Matt in the front row and asking “Gus still out?” he shugged in acceptance at the brief nod he received in return, before helping himself to coffee from the machine and taking a seat in French’s office.
That unmistakable Ferrari engine roar signalled French’s return before he strode back into his office. Odd fragments of conversation floated out of the office “we’ve lost bids before, why are you so angry?” “ … total amateur …” “… going to look like some sort of grotto …” so when Jeremy got up and shut the door, the disappointment was palpable. This time, no-one dared go near the coffee machine, even if they actually wanted one. Gus French was infamous for his sharp tongue and elephant-like memory. Everyone knew that Jim and Evelyn would be getting the drudge work for a while, and they all had absolutely no intention of joining them.
But then Diana – Jeremy’s american wife and office manager of the practice – joined her husband, and the office started to buzz once more. Diana was known to be indiscreet when the gossip was good. And there were decided signs that it was going to be …
The next day, the news broke that the new big shopping mall contract had been awarded to QAS and the events of the day before slowly slipped out of office recall. Till the office christmas party that is. As usual, Jeremy and Gus only attended the earlier – more formal – part of the do. Their leaving was the signal for the booze to start flowing and for everyone to chill. Diana always stayed for this part and she flitted from table to table like a gracious hostess, leaving the huge long table which was traditionally provided for the draughtsman’s office. Diana always kept them till last, as they were “her guys”. She wandered over and suggested they fill up their glasses and go onto the balcony “to grab some fresh air”. There was much clanking of glasses and bottles, those who smoked grabbed their cigarette packets and lighters, before making a headlong dash to the balcony. This year, there was a feeling that the gossip would be really good, and everyone wanted to get close in to hear Diana’s whispered asides.
With “her guys” around her, Diana commenced. “Y’all remember QAS getting that shopping mall job?” she asked. “And y’all surely remember Gus being so pissed about it?” she asked again. To the chorus of “oh yeahs” she smiled and licked her lips. Everyone leaned in closer, this had the potential to be better than they’d imagined. “Welllll …” started Diana, “it’s like this. Seems Gus and Titania of QAS have history …” she paused to have her cigarette lit and to inhale “… a very hot and heavy history.” There was a fair degree of whopping and hollering, before the chorus of “shhhhs” came from the back.
Enjoying being the centre of attention, let alone having the dirt on Gus – her least favourite person – meant that Diana took her time as she recounted the details of Gus and Titania’s past romantic relationship, until she could avoid the questions from the audience no further. “So, what happened then?” “Why did he marry that Gillian girl?” “Wellll …” drawled Diana “it’s like this. Y’all know the story of Titania in Midsummer’s Night Dream, doncha?” Cue chorus of nods. Unable to stop chuckling Diana managed to get out “Titania persuaded Gus to dress up in costume for her – for Valentine’s. She had him wear long donkey ears and the top half of a pantomime donkey’s costume but … no bottom half.” Cue chuckles and chortles. “Better yet, she sent pictures to the local press!” Cue hysterical laughter. “They still have that front page with those pictures on file. Jeremy and I went down to their archives when we heard and got us a copy. I heartily recommend y’all do likewise.” Cue noisy agreement. “But, but, but … don’t any of y’all try to use them round wage negotiation time. I will not look favourably on anyone who does that.” Cue good natured muttering in the ranks …
“But y’all should feel free to pin a copy to your drawing boards …”
© Debra Carey, 2017
Best laid plans
The novice sucked the end of his stylus and looked out of the window. Autumn was dispalying its full raiment of reds and golds, but surely it could not be long before leaf-drop and the icy storms of winter? The Borders monastry was on the coast and prone to drafts, especially in the dark days of winter.
Lost in thought, he did not hear the thump-thump-thump of the elderly brother’s staff on the stone floor.
“It is a beautiful scene, is it not?”
Despite the age of the speaker, the voice remained firm and there was genuine enjoyment evident in the tone. The novice started, jolted from his reverie and looked up from his writing desk into the deeply lined face of the elderly monk. Rumour, rife amongst novices (and some of the brothers too), had it that the man had once been a mendicant and had fallen into bad company when younger. It was said that the Prior hated him, that the Armarius barely tolerated him, and that the Abbot only permitted him to remain because of pressure from one of the monastary’s powerful sponsors.
“I’m sorry Brother Tuck.”
“Why are you sorry, Matias? For enjoying the picture that God has set before you? You must be mindful of your work, it is true, for in this we give glory to God. But if you do this at the expense of acknowledging his creation when it is before you, then I rather think that you are failing in your duties.”
“I do not think that Brother Prior or Brother Armarius see it that way.”
“Hm. They have a particular view of the world, it is true. Their view is shaped by these grey stones, which for the most part they have not set foot outside since they were novices themselves. Ah well. And I suppose it is as well to return to our work. How goes your design of the new daughter-house?”
“Oh! Brother, please don’t mock! All know that it is your design. The novices are all amazed at how you have drawn the forest into your plans. But it was this that caused me to become distracted by the autumnal scene outside. I become confused as to the right course of action. If we change your design, like so, then the Old Oak becomes integral and is the focal point of the new monastry, but does this then put us in danger of sin? Will we in effect be worshipping the Oak?”
“A very proper concern to have. But do you not think that if there is a danger that this might be the case, then those at risk are perhaps not very good at being monks? No matter, no matter. It will not be possible to change the plans in the way that you suggest. There are other issues that must be considered. Carry on with your completion of the notes to accompany the plans. Building work is to commence in the spring.”
And with that, the old man hobbled away.
© David Jesson, 2017