CW: Mild foul language
‘Where I come from,’ says Heinrich, ‘we don’t bodge jobs.’
Your boss has called you into his office to reprimand you for shoddy workmanship. Again.
‘You need to go back and fix the roof,’ he says. ‘And the accident—we’ll get to that in a minute.’
Having your most recent work christened a bodge is a compliment, really. Neglecting to install a waterproof membrane on a new roof is beyond amateurish. If the job had landed in botch territory—the land of outright failure—you may have thrown a hissy fit and kicked over Heinrich’s cardboard cutout of Princess Leia.
Think about it, a bodge implies a certain degree of success—for example: ‘I’ve bodged that door hinge, but it should last a while.’ You take the bodge label in stride, adding it to the growing catalogue of mishaps you are collecting whilst working at Robinsons Roofing.
‘At least I didn’t botch the job,’ you say to Heinrich.
‘Botch? Bodge? What’s the difference? Either way, it’s not up to standard.’
Heinrich might not know there’s a difference, but you do. To you, a bodge is far preferable to a botch.
‘There was an accident on site,’ Heinrich says, folding his fingers together and placing his hands on the desk. ‘Gary told me.’
How the heck would Gary know? He wasn’t onsite on Friday afternoon; you were alone, hurriedly laying the last of the ridge tiles. You had a gig in Brighton to get to; songs to sing in your post-punk band Drotch and you weren't about miss your train. As far as the accident goes, you were emptying the mixer of its watery dregs and weren’t paying attention. You overbalanced the machine. The drum fell two stories from the scaffolding with a metallic wallop. You can picture every detail of the incident in your mind, but you volunteer nothing to Heinrich.
The faint hum of the Portakbin’s strip lights draws your focus for a moment, and you forget the stench of your boss's breath. Aside from his distaste for your band’s music, and his preoccupation with getting you fired, Heinrich’s halitosis is his worst trait. Everyone in the workplace has their foibles, but his breath is truly astounding. It’s chemical warfare; the lovechild of hot-sauce and raw sewage. Whenever he summons you to his office—in a Pavlovian response—you reach for the menthol balm you keep handy in your top pocket and apply a generous layer under your nose.
‘Okay, what time did the incident occur?’ Heinrich asks.
‘Last Friday. Four thirty p.m.,' you say.
He clears his throat. ‘Rushing to get home, were we?’
‘I had no plans,’ you say. ‘Nowhere to be.’
He tilts his head forward and peers over his bi-focal specs; a classic lie detecting move. ‘Well, then. What was the cause of the incident?’
This is where you have to be careful; you don’t want to admit to being feckless.
‘Mechanical failure,’ you say. Succinct. Simple. This may be your best answer yet, and you believe it requires no further elaboration.
‘Explain yourself, David.’
‘The leg on the cement mixer stand had been rusting for a while. Come Friday afternoon, it collapsed.’
‘I don’t recall having seen any defective mixer stands during my inventory checks,’ Heinrich says.
‘This mixer had been out on site for months. It’s an old one.’
'Yes, but quite often, the machine isn’t entirely to blame, is it?’
You shake your head. ‘The drum fell because the rusty stand snapped. What more can I say?’
Actually, the stand was perfectly sound. If you weren’t singing along to Drotch demos in your ear buds, practising for the gig that night, you might have been paying more attention.
‘Just a moment,’ Heinrich demands, as his index finger presses one key at a time on his keyboard. In the Portakabin window, you can see his computer screen reflected clearly. He is not typing up your answers; the rotter is fabricating statements that will put your job in jeopardy. You’ve clung to the role of tradesman like a tenacious limpet, leveraging your aunt’s position in HR to full effect. Anyone else would have been fired five times over by now. Even though you’re not sure that building and labouring is what you want to do with the rest of your life, you don’t want to suffer the embarrassment of a dismissal. Riding the train to gigs isn't cheap.
You’ve always maintained that workplace accidents have been caused by forces out of your control; the erroneous ways of incompetent colleagues, or a defective piece of machinery. Staying employed at Robinsons has been something of a high-wire act, but you’ve pulled it off with aplomb. Being forensically duplicitous in your attempts to conceal evidence, you divert blame effortlessly.
This morning, you planted a genuinely rusty decoy cement mixer stand in the workshop. Past deceptions have included suction-cupping dents out of vans with toilet plungers and smoothing out scratches with T-cut. That time you tipped a digger onto its side, you clawed it back upright with the arm of another digger without leaving a scratch, so all you had to do was wipe the oil-leak stains from the exterior of the cab before handing it back to the hire company. Nobody noticed anything. When colleagues cause damage to equipment, they admonish themselves of their guilt immediately—warbling to Heinrich like canaries. You, however, have an unparalleled knack for sidestepping consequences.
‘I’d like to see the defective cement mixer,’ Heinrich says, believing that there is no such defective piece of equipment. Little does he know, the rusty decoy (courtesy of a trip to the household waste recycling centre) is sitting pretty in the workshop right now.
‘Right this way,’ you say with mock-hospitality, gesturing to the door.
Heinrich shuffles through the cramped Portakabin and follows you into the yard. Icy drizzle begins to fall as you approach the workshop. When you’ve tapped Gary on the shoulder and asked him to shut the chop-saw off so you can hear yourself think, you see that your planted evidence has vanished.
‘I left it right here,’ you say. ‘I wrapped it with barrier tape so no-one would use it.’
Gary fires up the chop-saw again. ‘Oi! Gary! Have you moved a mixer stand? You shout. The chop-saw blade comes to a gradual stop.
‘Nah,’ Gary confirms in typically monosyllabic fashion—though you still suspect him of having tampered with it. Gary has been hellbent on sabotaging you at work since he was given the romantic heave-ho by your mother almost a year ago.
You tut and shake your head. ‘Well some bugger’s moved it.’
Gary shrugs. A classic move from his passive-aggressive repertoire.
Heinrich looks like he is freezing, even with all that extra blubber. ‘David, we need to finish the report,’ he says. He folds his arms to trap some body heat and watches while you sift through an array of workshop detritus to reveal nothing that resembles a cement mixer stand.
‘Ok,’ you say to Heinrich. ‘I’ll see you in your office.’
You don't go to the office. You walk out of the workshop and slip around the corner; the perfect spot to eavesdrop on Gary and Heinrich's conversation.
‘Thanks for taking care of the evidence, Gazza.’ Heinrich says.
Those scumbags, you think. Tampering where they shouldn't.
‘No problem,’ Gary says. ‘I wish I could throw his crappy band in a skip as well. What are they called, again—Crotch?’
Heinrich cackles. ‘The insolent little bugger is threatening to get his aunt involved. If she didn’t work in HR, he’d be long gone.’
‘What a blessed relief that’d be,’ Gary says.
‘If this cement mixer incident doesn’t get rid of him, I don’t know what will,’ Heinrich says.
‘Fingers crossed—this could be it!’
When the wail of the chop-saw starts up and Gary begins cutting more wood, you stay out of sight. Heinrich reaches the Portakabin, then you dash across the yard to join him. In the office, Heinrich flops into his desk chair and the hydraulics hiss under his bulk.
‘It’s clear to me that we need to talk about your performance, David.'
‘Well, I, for one, think I’m doing great work here at Robinsons.’
‘No, I’m referring to your performance as frontman of Drotch. Let me do you a favour, okay?' He taps a biro against his mousemat for a moment. 'The speak-singing, the pretentious samples, the overdone guitar effects, the imitation Ian Curtis dancing—they’re all embarrassingly bad.’
‘So, what are you saying?’
‘You’re the worst band in the world.’
‘Worst band in the world? How old are you, five? How could anyone even know such a thing? They’d have to have heard all the bands in existence, and that’s completely—’
Heinrich leans back in his desk chair. ‘Let me put it this way, nobody wants to hear your music. It’s just angsty garbage.’
‘Alright then, I quit. Roofing is just grunt work. A single-celled amoeba could do it with one hand tied behind its back.’
Heinrich scoffs. ‘I don’t think amoebas have hands.’
‘Shut up!’ You rise from your chair and stand tall. ‘Take your job and shove it, Heimlich manoeuvre.’ You flick your boss the Vs and clamour out of the office in steel-toe-capped boots, leaving the yard and ambling onto the gravel driveway that leads out of the premises.
This a blessing in disguise, you think. Now I can devote all of my time to my music. When Drotch’s debut album charts in the indie billboard top ten, Heinrich will be sorry he treated me so poorly. And Gary. I’ll thank them both, ironically, in the liner notes of the album for inspiring me to get out of a dead-end job.
You walk to the end of the driveway. There is a rusty orange pole protruding from under a pile of rubble in a skip. After yanking the metal frame free, you identify it as the one that you planted in the workshop earlier today.
I knew it!
You wield the metal frame like a battering ram, return to the yard, and consider charging Heinrich’s window with your medieval battle apparatus. You think better of it when you decide that the glass would shatter all over you. Grabbing the rusty stand by one of its legs, you rotate three times like a discus thrower, and fling the stand as hard as you can into the window. The impact showers Heinrich’s office with shards.
‘Scheisse!’ He calls out.
When you glance over at the workshop, Gary is still cutting wood with the chop-saw and hasn’t heard a thing. You leg it out of the yard faster than you’ve run since secondary school sports day, when, by some fluke, you won the 100m race. You skid to a stop at the edge of the Robinsons premises, a hair slower than your winning 100m time. You hail a passing bus. It doesn’t matter which direction it’s going in; it makes for a quick getaway. You rush to the back seat and look through the rear window to check that there are no Robinsons vans, flanked by an army of hammer-wielding tradesmen, coming for you. Thankfully, they are not.
Well, if that doesn’t inspire a song, what will? You think.
You take out your pocket-sized notebook and scribble down lyrics with a sharpened carpenter’s pencil.
Jobbing’s got me yawning,
Hemming and hawing,
Hauling in the morning,
Stopping and stalling,
Looks of disdain,
Work is a pain,
Thinking of all I could do,
Life’s waiting for me,
If I cut myself loose
You’ve lost all objectivity when it comes to your lyrics. Are they radically poetic or just incoherent drivel? You wonder. After re-reading the lyrics again, you’re tending toward the belief that your work is deserving of being ignored by the public—much like Heinrich intimated. You tell yourself that you care more about your vibe onstage than your lyrics being good. Then you recall the gig in Brighton. Your performance didn’t land well and your mother subsequently revealed that she considered Drotch to be a pipe dream. You begin to reassess things. But you can’t make your mind up. You need the universe to give you a sign. To Drotch or not to Drotch? There is an elderly lady seated nearby. You tear your newly-penned lyrics out of your notebook and sidle up to her.
‘Excuse me, could you tell me what you think of this?’
‘What is it, dear?’ She asks in a surprised voice.
You hand the notepaper over to her; she lowers her glasses onto her nose and reads intently. ‘Well, it’s not really my cup of tea, love. Is it a poem? What’s it supposed to be about?’
‘Never mind,’ you say. You return to your seat, crumple the page into a ball, and throw it out of the window. It tumbles along the tarmac and is flattened by a truck. You wonder if it’s not too late to reconcile with Robinsons and make an honest go of being a builder. Surely Auntie Janet will be able to work her magic in HR? She's helped to get you out of countless past kerfuffles. I mean, who’s to say that the cement mixer stand made its way through the window because of you? Nobody saw you throw it through the glass. Come to think of it, you were just carrying it back to the office to show Heinrich. You slipped on some uneven ground and the wet frame slipped out of your hands and broke the window.
That’s what I’ll say to Heinrich, you tell yourself. When he hears the truth, he’ll welcome me back with open arms.
You push the STOP button on the bus. As the vehicle slows down, you slingshot yourself to the front and hop through the doors onto the pavement.
On the walk back to Robinsons, you take time to run the hypotheticals through in your head. What will Heinrich say? How can you dodge his accusatory bullets once again? When you reach the edge of the Robinsons compound, you inhale deeply. Your testimony is ready to be delivered. This could be your greatest get-out yet. Go and do your thing, David.