Handyman wanted

It’s a while since I posted any short stories, but recent real-life events trying to find reliable workmen, had me taking my frustrations out on paper rather than doing something drastic. I’m not sure what direction this will take but I have a feeling it won’t be pleasant.

Part 1.

Wanted – Handyman.

Handyman wanted to carry out various repairs and renovations in remote country property.

Young single man preferred as option to live-in until work has been completed.

Must be experienced in all aspects of plumbing, electrical and carpentry.

Excellent rates of pay plus possibility of generous bonus if work is satisfactory.

Apply in the first instance with full contact and current employment details, recent photograph and availability to

P.O.Box 666. Alderslay

This looked promising. You would imagine with the easing of virus restrictions people would be crying out for a handyman, but I’d been looking for work for a couple of months with no success. Perhaps there wasn’t the money around, or perhaps with the time spent in lockdown amateurs had resorted to DIY. I’d trained for years to obtain all my certificates, and I could imagine some of the bodged jobs which would need putting right when they turned out to be dangerous. For now though, I was jobless, penniless and on my own.

I’d looked on Bill as the father I’d never known, and he had taken me under his wing when I was on the verge of going off the rails. He wasn’t a push-over and I had to work hard for the wages he paid me, but as my skills grew so did my salary. After teaching me all he knew, he was the one who encouraged me to go for the qualifications.

‘It’s all very well knowing how to do things,’ Bill told me once, ‘but these days you also need a piece of paper supplied by a guy in a smart suit who’s probably never used a hammer in his life. Keep the books fair and square and the tax-man happy, Frank and you can make a comfortable living.’

Although he’d never said in so many words, I suspected he intended to pass the business over to me when he retired. His wife had died a few years previously and as far as I knew, he only had one son who lived somewhere abroad, and from whom he was estranged. I was devastated when Bill succumbed to Covid, and was mourning his loss when the letter from the solicitors arrived in the post. I appreciated the fact Bill had left me a small cash legacy, but what I really wanted was to carry on the traditional company he had started. I knew the customers and they trusted me, but his son had other ideas. It seemed he was annoyed at the small sum I had received and went out of his way to make things awkward for me.

‘I take it I’m speaking to Francis,’ the pompous voice said when I answered the phone during a visit to the office. As the business had grown, Bill had taken a room in a serviced office block so we had somewhere to keep our files and financial records. It had four chairs, a small table, two cabinets and a computer only I used, but it was useful for the 24-hour reception which took calls while we were out on site. As the rent was paid up until the end of the quarter, I’d taken to popping in every few days to collect messages, so I could phone people back to relay the sad news about Bill. Eventually I would divert the calls to my mobile but for now everything was in a state of flux.

‘It’s Frank not Francis,’ I answered the caller, ‘but I was Bill’s junior partner. What can I do for you? I’m afraid we’re not taking on new work at the moment as we sadly lost Bill recently, but I’m hoping to carry on once things are settled.’

‘That’s no more than I expected. Stealing my father’s business before he’s cold in his grave. This is Arnold, his son, and I warn you my solicitors have been made fully aware of your intentions. If I’d had my way you wouldn’t have received a penny from his Will, but that’s all you’ll manage to con out of him. You’ll be receiving a letter instructing you to vacate the premises and return any keys as soon as I can arrange it. Give me your home address and mobile number.’

I was so angry I found it difficult to answer without turning the air blue, but eventually managed to respond through gritted teeth.

‘Well, Arnie,’ it was a cheap shot but I knew I’d hit a nerve and it served him right, ‘Bill’s solicitors have all my contact details so we can allow the legal representatives to liaise. I had hoped we could meet and sort something out between us but that’s obviously not your priority. If there’s anything else, you could try leaving a message with the reception here. Unlike some, their first thought was not about money but where to send flowers. Good bye.’

I had to sit for a few minutes to compose myself before going down to the main desk to collect the messages, but meanwhile had a silent conversation with my former boss and friend. In my mind I found it hard to understand how such a genuine guy had fathered such a prat, but it was no longer my concern.

‘Sorry Bill, I feel I’ve let you down but no way could I work with the man, even if he is your own flesh and blood. No wonder you didn’t communicate with him.’

When I next visited the office a few days later, Jenny on reception looked uncomfortable.

‘I’m so sorry, Frank, I don’t quite know how to say this so I’ll just come straight out with it. We’ve had instructions to get your keys back from you and not to allow you entry into your unit. I know what Bill thought of you and it makes my blood boil how his idiot of a son has treated you. By the way, I’m not very good at my job and it was careless of me to leave this envelope with all your messages on the counter. It’s not my fault if you pick it up and sneak past while my back is turned, or recover anything personal from the office while there’s no one around. You’ve got five minutes.’

Bless her. She was sticking her neck out for me, but I didn’t want to get her into any trouble. I dashed up to the office and for a moment thought of taking the laptop, but that would be too obvious. Then I remembered the database of customers I had set up, so it took only seconds to copy them to a memory stick for future use. A quick browse through the accounts file showed only that I was paid a salary and occasional bonus, so that was something for Arnold’s accountants to sort out.

The temptation became too much. Seeing Bill’s favourite mug, I stole it. Arnold wouldn’t miss it but for me it was precious. Locking the door behind me, I headed back to the main entrance, ignoring Jenny and keeping my head down as I walked outside to the car park, then turned and re-entered the building.

‘Evening, Jenny,’ I smiled, ‘any messages?’

‘I’m sorry, Frank’ she winked at me,’ all the messages have been collected and I must ask you for the keys back to your unit.’

I followed the direction of her discreet nod, and noticed through the open door behind her the manager of the building in conference with Arnold.

‘Of course, Jenny,’ I said handing the keys over, ‘it’s been a pleasure knowing you and perhaps one day we’ll meet again.’

‘I hope so, Frank. Best of Luck.’

To be continued.

© Val Portelli February 2021

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