by John Pilling
Charles Leyburn liked his job and he was very good at it, a fact that had recently been remarked upon favourably by Mr Curtin his area manager. Unfortunately, it did have one major drawback in that the people he met in the course of his duties invariably ended up disliking him intensely.
He had never regretted this particular side effect more than when he saw the face of the girl studying some papers at his favourite table in the bow window of his local café. For a moment he hesitated, then sternly reminding himself of why he was there he approached her.
“Excuse me” he said, “do you mind if I share your table?” She glanced up then around at the busy café.
“Not at all” she replied. Pulling a chair back he sat down and looked across at her. She had returned to her close study of the papers in front of her. She was very attractive, about his height and age, slim, dark curly hair framing an oval face. She was, in short, a girl he would normally have been delighted to share a café table with and he found the idea of her looking at him with dislike very depressing. His chain of thought was broken by the cheerful voice of the waitress.
“Morning Mr Leyburn, your usual is it?”
“Good morning Bella, can I just have a black coffee for now please?”
“Of course Mr Leyburn, anything for you Miss?” she asked.
“I think I’ll have the same thank you.” The girl looked across at him with a smile.
“They seem to know you pretty well.”
“I have lunch here most days,” he said. “My name is Charles by the way, Charles Leyburn.” She smiled again.
“Georgina….. usually called Gina.”
“Gina it is then, are you a student?” he said indicating the papers strewn across her side of the table.
“No, not now, although I sometimes wish I still was. I’ve got a job interview tomorrow morning so I’m trying to learn as much as I can about the company.” Mr Leyburn nodded sympathetically.
“I know it’s not easy nowadays, what job are you applying for?”
“It’s advertised as office manager but frankly I’d take anything that would pay me a wage at the moment, job seekers is just not enough to live on. If it wasn’t for my mum helping me out I wouldn’t be able to manage.” Mr Leyburn nodded again.
“Yes, I remember those days” he said, “not much fun at all.”
“Do you work locally?” she asked.
“Yes, I’m at Brents the department store down the road. I see you have been doing some shopping there.” He said, nodding towards the distinctive plastic bag on the floor by her chair.
“ Oh, yes,” She said rather hesitantly, “Are you an assistant there?” He paused before answering, aware of her sudden tension.
“I’m the deputy manager in charge of security.” He said. The voice of the waitress broke the sudden silence between them.
“Here we are, two black coffees. Shall I put them on your bill Mr Leyburn?”
“Yes please ,” he said glancing at the white stricken face across the table. There was a long pause, then she half whispered.
“Did you follow me here?”
“I’m afraid so,” he said, “I was on duty and saw you take the dress and leave without paying.” After a moment he said.
“Gina, what on earth did you think you were doing? I can tell you’re no shoplifter, no sneakthief.”
“I haven’t anything decent to wear for tomorrow… I’ve just got to get this job, mum can’t carry on supporting me, she’s only got her pension.” She hesitated, then leant forward across the table to touch his hand.
“Please,” she said, “I’ll give you the dress. Can’t you just take it back to the store for me and forget you saw me?” For a long moment he looked at her then he sighed and said.
“I’m sorry, it doesn’t work like that.”
“We could go out together if you like.” she said “I can tell that you like me.” He reddened as he took in the implication of her words.
“I don’t think so,” he replied stiffly. “Now if you would please pick up your things….” He noticed that she was looking at something over his shoulder as she straightened up and said.
“Pretty conclusive I reckon, don’t you Dad?”
“Yes indeed.” Said a voice. Swinging round he was astonished to see Mr Curtin standing just behind him.
“What on earth?” he began.
“I’m afraid you’ve been set up Charles,” he said. “With your promotion coming up we had to be sure that we could rely on you so we thought up this little test. One you’ve passed with flying colours I may say. Look I have to go now, enjoy your coffee and I’ll see you in the office later. By the way this is my daughter, Gina.” There was a lengthy pause after he left, then Charles said.
“You’re a very good actress, you had me completely fooled.”
“Thank you.” Gina said smiling at him, “I get a lot of practice with our local drama group.”
“I’ve often thought I’d like to try that.” He said.
“Well we are very short of men,” Charles settled back in his seat.
“Tell me,” he said firmly “All about this shortage of men.”