wasnt happy at his place of work.
It wasnt that he
didnt like the job itself - he did, although it was beneath him.
Didnt it stand to reason that a man whod once commanded whole
fleets of salespeople stretched across the developed world, should feel
affronted to find himself now a mere member of a team? And what a
team! Most of them only spoke a version of the language Mr. Chapman
had spoken fluently all his life. Where had they learnt to speak English
like that?, he wondered; though one of the few pleasures left to him lay in
correcting their pronunciation, pointing out to them, with a friendly
smile, precisely where theyd gone wrong. . .
Although selling up and
joining the conglomerate had been the right thing to do, there were times when
he bitterly regretted it had been necessary. Still, if for the most part,
he could tolerate his colleagues, there was one member of the conglomerate whom
Mr. Chapman genuinely disliked: Herr Thielemann. Whenever Herr Thielemann
came into a room, Mr. Chapmans hands and jaw would tense in a rictus of
antipathy. Herr Thielemann spoke absolutely perfect English -
slightly accented, but impeccably pronounced, and he had a formidably wide
English vocabulary.. To Mr. Chapman, this seemed deeply wrong. It was a
transgression, an offence against the natural order of things.
drove a fast and fuel-efficient car. He let it be known that he exercised
regularly - twenty miles on the bike at weekends. In his free time - yes,
he actually had free time - he admitted listening to opera, reading a range of
books with high-falutin titles by authors Mr Chapman didnt know but
had a needling sense he should at least have heard of. Plus, the bloody
man always looked so bloody pleased with himself: hardly any wonder when he
seemed, somehow, always to get his way in discussions. How he managed
this was a mystery, as he never raised his voice, never banged the table, never
threatened to walk out, or folded his arms across his chest to signpost his
Mr. Chapman just
didnt understand it.
Fortunately, there were
things to brighten his life and he lived for the days when Mr. Terhune arrived,
supervising his fleet of delivery trucks. Mr. Terhune was everything Herr
Thielemann was not - fat, brash, coarse, and friendly. He had a
refreshing insensitivity to mood and nuance and would greet each of the
associates with an emphatic slap on the back and a cry of
HOWYADOIN? Like Mr. Chapman, Mr. Terhune also spoke no language
except English; but it was an English blurred with strange grammar and odd
locutions. Mr. Terhune wasnt subtle. He liked to describe
himself as a straight-shooting guy and viewed the other members of
the conglomerate with befuddled exasperation. What is it with these
guys? hed fume to Mr. Chapman. I can never understand
em. Whys they so fussed about things? Ya
dont need all a that regulatory crap. As long as youre makin
the bread, them things takes care othemselves! Dont they know
that it all trickles down? And Mr. Chapman would smile and nod and
muse on how comfortable he felt in the company of this man. When
Mr. Terhune invited him to take a sweet ride in his vast and
powerful motor car, he felt a burst of exhilaration that hed not
experienced since early youth, a sense of lifes limitless possibilities
opening up before him, and all the things that could be grasped if, as Mr.
Terhune put it, youve just got the balls to grab
He got a similar feeling
when they arrived at Mr. Terhunes estate - a labyrinthine baronial
complex which Mr. Terhune had bought and had done up to match his own
taste. Hed chopped down the ranges of trees and replaced them with
a basketball court - though Mr. Chapman had never seen basketball being played
there and couldnt imagine Mr. Terhune playing it. There was
an enormous hot tub in what Mr. Terhune referred to as the
yard and the Terhune family flag had been placed on every turret of every
building. Mr. Chapman had to admit it looked awful, though he would never
dream of sharing this thought with Mr. Terhune . For, if he was honest -a
luxury he sparingly allowed himself - he had to admit, he felt superior to Mr.
Terhune and this was the thing he cherished most about their
relationship. Mr. Terhune was stupid; Mr. Terhune had no class; Mr.
Terhune was a lumbering water buffalo in comparison to whom Mr. Chapman felt
venerable and sophisticated and just generally better.
He would never get that
feeling from Herr Thielemann.
Over the years, Mr. Terhune
and Mr. Chapman had talked about a different future for themselves. Mr.
Terhune would pour a martini and as he brought the glass over, hed bring
his face close so that it filled Mr. Chapmans line of vision.
Mr. Terhunes features were large and coarse and animated by a crude
vitality when he spoke:
Why dont you
n me set up together? Wed make a great team. Cut out the
middle guys, them folks with their crazy languages and crazier customs.
We could do it! You had the stuff in you once, pal, n I reckon you
still got it. You think about it, ol son, you jest think about it
Mr. Chapman did think about
it. He also dreamed about it - beautiful dreams in which he led Mr.
Terhune through vivid but treacherous landscapes: pulling him clear of
unsuspected landslips, guiding him through fogs and steadying him when they
sailed across choppy waters. Mr. Terhune was a large and unwieldy man and
he appreciated the guidance Mr. Chapman was able to offer him.
Think I woulda been a goner but fer you, buddy, hed say,
slapping Mr. Chapman resoundingly on the back before stomping off ahead of him
again. Yes: it felt good to be needed, and appreciated, and listened
to. It made all the difference .....
And one day, Mr.
Chapman decided hed had enough. He awoke one sunny June morning
with a restored sense of himself. He looked in the mirror and saw
reflected back at him a capable man - an elderly man, of course, but a man
still endowed with guts and vigour and with every reason to suppose that his
best days still lay ahead of him. Damn it, he didnt need to be part
of the conglomerate: it was only a loss of confidence that had driven him to it
in the first place. Now hed recovered that confidence, it made no
sense to stay.
And so, later that morning,
he delivered his resignation to the associates. They wished him well and
asked him when he planned to clear his office. Oh, soon, he
replied, casually. But, you know, Ive accumulated a lot of stuff
over the years Ive been here.
Ach, so, nodded
Her Thiielemann, There is no rush.
Id prefer not
to hang around. Im keen to move on
.and he curled his lip at
Herr Thielemann as he added, to better things.
Mr. Terhune was delighted
when he received the news. Oh, man, thats great
stuff!he bellowed down the phone, We gotta sort somethin out
soon as we can. But when Mr. Chapman suggested a date, he was told
that wouldnt be possible. I gotta lotta other stuff Im
dealin with right now. But, dont you worry, pal, soon as Im
through with it, then well sit down an talk turkey!
It wasnt the response
Mr. Chapman had been expecting and, he had to admit, he was sorely
But he couldnt waste
time feeling sorry for himself. He had things to do. Now he was out
on his own, he had to become entrepreneurial. He spent the next few
fevered weeks on the phone, trying to sell himself and his services. It
wasnt easy: most of his calls were to companies in distant lands, where
they didnt speak very good English and he spent most of his time trying
to explain who he was and what he was calling about. What made things
worse was that when he belatedly did his research - something he ought by
rights to have done before he gave his resignation - he was mortified to
discover the the companies hed been calling were small and
under-capitalised. He would need to trade with many hundreds, if not
thousands of them, to make up for his withdrawal from the conglomerate.
All the time he waited for
Mr. Terhune to call back, When he tried to call Mr. Terhune, he was diverted to
voicemail. All the while, his former associates eyed him with the first
stirrings of suspicion.
Finally, one autumn
afternoon. Mr. Terhune called. Mr. Chapmans heart leapt into
his throat when he heard the familiar voice drawl: Yo, Chapman! How
He was doing just fine, he
said, and tried to sound like he was. Great, said Mr.
Terhune and something in the way he said it told Mr. Chapman that he
didnt care what hed been told, and that the enquiry after his own
well-being had been no more than a wheel-greasing formality. OK:
you got out. Great Now: heres my ideas. You listen an then
you tell me what you think..... Mr. Terhune proceeded to articulate his
ideas at great length and with great rapidity. It seemed there was no
stopping the endless stream of words, horrible words. Not horrible in
themselves, but in their implication: because the arrangement that Mr. Terhune
was suggesting was not just unfair and exploitative, it was also unethical; and
dangerous. So when Mr. Terhune finally finished his monologue, Mr.
Chapman had nothing to say in reply. Whaddaya think?barked
Mr. Terhune. I think, began Mr. Chapman. I think,
Ill have to think about it.
You do that, pal and
you call me back once youve thought. Mr. Terhune put the
phone down, not bothering with a valediction. There was silence.
Mr. Chapman stared out of
the window, which echoed his reflection. He was the same vigorous gent in
the prime of life: but his expression was troubled and the corners of his
mouth tapered downwards.
The weeks passed, then the
months passed, then the years. Mr. Chapman continued to insist that
hed be leaving any moment now. It was important to his
own sense of pride to re-state his intentions, to remind himself, as much as to
remind them, that he was resolute and that once hed resolved to do
something, he carried it through. But he was secretly grateful that they
allowed him to remain in the building, even though he no longer had a say in
decisions that were made or any role within the organisation. But
tell me, Herr Thielmann would occasionally say, when are you
going? It is only reasonable that we should know. And Mr.
Chapman would purse his lips and look combatively at his opponent before
repyling, in a tight voice: Soon. Mr. Terhunes
offer remained - it hung in the air around him like a pervasive stench.
Hed thought about calling him back - hed always been good at
negotiation - but something in the way Mr. Terhune had spoken to him that last
time suggested it would be a wasted effort.
It was a bad spring,
a time of rain, storms and disease. Crops rotted in the fields, winds tore down
fences and blew the latches from gateposts; but Mr Chapman was
becalmed. He spent his time staring out of the window, at the
bedraggled landscape beneath thunderous skies, at the dark and forbidding roads
picked out by the tiny needles of moving headlights. And he tried
to steady his breathing, all the time dreading the knock on the door and the
moment when a rough hand would seize him by the shoulder and hurl him out into
that cold, damp, unprotected world.