Jessica ran to answer the phone before it rang off.
"High Street, Garden Tea Room, two pm." The scratchy sounding voice
hung up. She had sent out applications for a second job and she wondered - could an
interview be conducted in a Tea Room?
The hectic morning at Valuemart - where she's worked as floor manager for three
years running - went by quickly. She liked the job and adored her daughter Holly whom
everyone doted on. Jessica's ex mother-in-law for instance can't stay away making
herself available to babysit "such a little lady" she often said.
On her lunch break Jessica ploughed through the High Street traffic not far from
her work. Her eyes squinting in the noonday sun she thought how the English summers have
been warmer as she felt the hot sun on top of her head. She bought a sandwich and sat on a
bench under a chestnut tree in a little park sharing her lunch with the pigeons and
enjoying her newspaper as she waited for two o'clock.
The Garden Tea Room sat on the corner of Station Road and High Street. It took
Jessica a few seconds to adjust to the darkness inside the heavily curtained room.
Choosing one of the booths in the corner she wondered how she could identify the caller on
the phone. Did he know who she was? Jessica's curiosity heightened as she sat waiting. The
busy girl behind the counter still hadn't bothered to look since Jessica entered the empty
A tall angular man entered the tearoom urgently. He held an elegant black
hardcase incongruent with the crumpled flannel shirt he wore buttoned to the neck. His
face looked comically pinched and his hair long and unkempt reminiscent of a demoralised
Inspector Clouseau. The man sidled to her, placed the case on the table but didn't bother
to sit. He whispered hoarsely, "Tell George I don't want any part of this anymore,
I'm leaving the country" and abruptly he turned to go.
"Wait! I'm not who you think I am...your phone call..."
"Please, I don't want to hear this - your business is your concern."
His eyes narrowed. "They must be desperate sending a woman for this job." He
paused halfway to the door, "Take my advice, get away while you can."
The man merged with the High Street crowd leaving Jessica nonplussed. Picking up
the case she ran out of the tearoom to find him but it was too late. Why didn't she just
tell him he called the wrong number? She felt stupid for just sitting there like a bump on
a log, just like when Allan filed for their divorce without asking her and what did she do
when he casually mentioned it to her? She made him a cup of tea...a blooming
cup of tea! She could kick herself for being such a doormat. She could not even
tell the stranger he was making a mistake.
"God, don't let this be a bomb." She murmured as she lugged the case
out of the tearoom. She'll bring the attache' to the authorities and let them deal with
it. Some lunch break, she thought.
When Jessica walked through the employees entrance her friend Denise came out of
the elevator. Denise was Valuerite's Production Manager for eight years and proud of it.
"Hi Denise, sorry I didn't meet you for lunch. I..."
Denise burst into tears covering her face with her hands. It startled Jessica to
see her friend break down like this. Jessica used to say Denise was psychotically
"Jessie, we all will be made redundant in four weeks! Eight years on the
job didn't mean anything to them. You know we've just bought a home and Derek's pay can't
cover mortgage. My two kids are ready for their A levels and now this! Jessie, what am I
Jessica thought of her little daughter. Having practically raised her without a
father she wanted to give her daughter the best. She hadn't thought this could happen to
her. "Redundant." She recited the word absentmindedly.
That evening when she picked up little Holly from Grandma, Jessica's body ached.
Valuemart's busiest day is Friday and extra pairs of hands were always needed. Taut and
tired from lifting heavy boxes at work she fell asleep on the couch soon as little Holly
was changed for bed and watching television.
"Mummy, could I have a hot chocolate?"
"Yes, Baby." Half asleep, Jessica stumbled to the kitchen and tripped
on the dufflebag. "Blast." She picked it up and flung it on the couch.
"Tomorrow." She said.
Lunch the next day in the employees cafeteria was quiet except for one table
next to the only window in the room. Sidney Pilkington Valuemart's supervisor was
appointed organizer. "We found out the company knew about this merger last year
opting not to tell us to protect their ends. Multiple redundancies are happening more
often and thus jobs are hard to find. Are all department heads in on this? It'll be a
peaceful demonstration everyday starting Friday when the market is chock - a - block with
people." Little did Jessica know that the impact of the demonstration could not
compare with the misfortunes that began to plague her.
Monday, her ex husband begged to postpone his child support payments
until he finds another job. Tuesday her Mini stalled and Denise had to pick her up for
work. That night Jessica's refrigerator broke down, spoiling one week's worth of
marketing. Thursday, little Holly suffered from a respiratory problem and was diagnosed
with Asthma, then as if on cue her landlady dropped by to tell her that the rent goes up
for another fifty quid and would four week's warning be enough.
Tears fell as Jessica looked out her window into the communal garden. She
wouldn't mind leaving this bedsit, what with the constant noise from the family of six
upstairs and a barking dog next door. But where is she to go? What is she to do? A
fantastic homemaker, that's all she knew how to be. "You ought to diversify Jessie,
learn another trade apart from being a Mummy." Denise used to tease her and when
Jessica's divorce came through it was Denise who taught her the rudiments of the computer
that that led to the Valuerite job. She will always be grateful to Denise for the rest of
Friday the day of the employees demonstration came. The day dragged on
mercilessly under the heat of the sun, until it was time to go home. Jessica would have
preferred to spend the sunny day with Holly riding on her tricycle.
"Goodnight Mummy. Will you tuck me in?"
"Yes of course baby. Which story would you like tonight...Sleeping Beauty?
"No thanks Mummy." Holly's pink cherubic face tugged Jessica's heart.
Such a sweet little girl in a horrible bedsit like this, Jessica looked at the ugly
"Tired of Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella? Honey, they're your favorite
"They always wait for the Prince. How come they can't get away from trouble
on their own?"
Yes indeed, how come? Jessica concurred silently. She
realised she was no different from Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty, waiting for her rescuer.
When Holly fell asleep Jessica formulated a plan. She will find
a better paying position in a reliable company - and tell Prince Charming to go
climb a mountain. Little Holly had more sense than Mummy. She'll go tomorrow in her finest
suit and follow up on her prospects. Maybe she can even lug the attache case along, to
look official. Jessica froze, oh my God, the dufflebag! She meant to take it to the
authorities and she forgot!
Curious to see what she had to deliver to George Jessica tried every
combination she could think of to open the lock and easily became tired and frustrated.
She shouldn't be opening the case anyway, it was none of her business. She fixed herself a
pot of tea when a thought struck her; No, it can't be that simple; or is it? She
flicked 000 and 000 on both locks and the case opened. Inside were three large manilla envelopes bursting to the seams randomly sealed with
wide masking tapes. Jessica carefully opened one and jumped from her seat when bundles of
fifty and hundred pound notes tied in rubber bands fell out from the envelope. The blood
pounded in her ears and she couldn't breathe. She rushed to the curtainless window and
flung it open. "Lord, help me!" There had to be at least a million pounds in the
dufflebag. Dizzy with excitement she made herself a cup of tea gazing at the bundles of
money on the table. There was a knock on the door and her heart fell to her feet. It's
that man. She covered the money with a furniture throw then told herself to calm down.
She opened the door with a pasted smile on her face. It was Denise. "Sorry for
barging in like this. I need your help Jessie. I know it's a bit much to ask since you're
going through the same hell as I am, but I have no one to turn to. Can you loan me fifty
quid? Derek's paycheck isn't due until a forthnight and normally I buy from Valuerite with
our discount." Jessica took Denise's arm and ushered her in and closed the door
Sidney Pilkington won the case for his redundants and his whole working force
were rehired by the new owners. Denise opened her own little Newsagents, a dream she
nurtured in her mind. Her kids are in a private school and her husband finished his MBA
degree at Eton. As for Jessica, she bought a lovely home for Holly and herself and she
opened her own catering business, a talent she always knew she had.
She and Denise gave the attache case to the authorities and Sergeant Gursky said
they could be very wealthy women if no one claimed the case within 90 days. Sergeant
Gursky was right.