Bloody Health & Safety.
A short story by Paul Cardin.
r. John Fairfax MP was born free, but the people of his constituency were in chains. Today, a reckoning was coming, one which he was determined to turn and face.
He’d been relishing this encounter and was fully prepared for battle.
Smartly turned-out, he wore a tailored suit and flaunted his trademark shock of unruly, white hair. Running late, he emerged breathless from the train station and out into the April drizzle. Blinded by his sunglasses – worn to mask his identity – he accidentally bumped into a lamppost, dropped his train ticket and carried on walking.
“Hey fella,” a woman’s voice rang out. “Are you littering? Gotta be careful around ‘ere. The council goons will ‘ave yer for a hundred quid fine.”
Fairfax had heard only one word; “littering”. Affronted, he challenged the woman – a middle-aged, working-class person by the look and sound of her. He strode to within inches of her face. “What? How dare you?” he demanded angrily. “Do you know who I am?” Removing his sunglasses, he waited for recognition to dawn on the woman’s face.
She was calm, unmoving and held his gaze.
“Yeah. I do. I was only tryin’ to ‘elp yer,” came the response.
“Shut up, you ignorant pleb,” Fairfax growled, slamming his shades back on. He spun on his heel and strode off down the street. He despised such people. The woman’s voice could be heard fading behind him but he blocked it out and marched on. “Bloody fishwife”, he muttered, knowing he’d be late. With each footfall, his mind sank deeper into a miasma of hatred for humanity.
His thoughts went to the recent death at the factory. Bloody Health & Safety. No wonder his business had gone under. A toe-rag teenager consumed by the machinery – best place for him.
The heavens opened noisily as he tramped onwards through dank, residential streets. He pulled up short as cold rivulets of rainwater hit his neck and raced down his back. Damn. He’d left his umbrella somewhere. Snarling, he knew he’d be getting soaked from head to toe.
Setting off again, he found himself trudging between row upon row of drab, working class, terraced houses. Arseholes-ville, he snorted, making the unwelcome realisation that he’d lost his bearings. He rebuked himself; good God man, what will you lose next, your mind? How did you end up late, drenched, and in the middle of nowhere, inside this shit-hole of a town?
Fairfax differed from his fellow MPs. In fact, Fairfax was a complete one-off.
He sat totally aloof, above what he regarded as the dregs of humanity. Secretly, he abhorred people; male, female, old, young, rich, poor, and whatever their ethnic origins. Be they middle or working class, retired, students, housed or homeless.
And why should he put himself out for them? He was a busy man. People meant nothing to him. His hatred was all-consuming and it didn’t discriminate. Except of course, where an elite, well-connected few were concerned. Royalty, for example, would always be met with his fawning admiration. Particularly if he could secure something worthwhile in return.
With nobility in mind, he drew himself up to his full height. I, the Right Honourable MP for my town, am too important to be troubled by those who’ve chosen the paths of poverty and fecklessness.
Fairfax also knew that the riff-raff – as he called them – had their uses. As long as they continued to breed, their hardship could be hi-jacked, granted publicity and used to cast him in a favourable light. Foodbank photo-opportunities were a fine case in point; an excellent means of promotion.
He scowled, shook the rain from his hair and marched onwards.
Turning the next corner, he was greeted by the much grander backdrop of the business quarter, the stately Wensleydale Square. He let out a sigh of relief. This was more like it. As he removed his sunglasses and peered through the murk, his destination finally came into view; Parsons Insolvency Practitioners.
The venue was a smart, Georgian structure located in one of four opposing rows of listed buildings, set around a picturesque, central plaza. Shielding his face from the rain and checking his watch, he hastened up the steps and through the ornate entrance, ten minutes behind schedule.
Turning towards the reception area, he sought to regain a measure of control. Skewering the girl behind the desk with his most imperious scowl, he barked, “Here to see Parsons.”
“Can I take your name please, sir?” asked the receptionist politely, avoiding his gaze.
In normal circumstances, he’d up the volume, announcing his full Parliamentary title, The Right Honourable John… etc. relishing the opportunity to see a subordinate wilting in his presence.
But instead, after furtively checking over his shoulder, he leaned forward and whispered, “Fairfax”. His eyes flicked to the “Sarah” on her name badge.
Sarah tapped at a piece of tech and registered his arrival, before looking up and meeting his eyes uneasily, “Take a seat please, Mr. Fairfax.”
Without a word of thanks, he turned, sank into the nearest armchair and glanced around, noting his surroundings. He was alone. Sarah had already faded from existence.
Decent place this, he thought. Spacious – all light blues and beiges – minimalist, big windows, lots of light. Becoming more focused, his thoughts turned to the matter at hand; the debt situation had run its course and he could now finally come clean. But he’d be taking control, imposing his will, and ensuring that above all else, his identity was protected. This was absolutely vital.
The news that John Fairfax MP had gone bankrupt could never be allowed to emerge.
Once the loose ends were tied up, he could put this episode behind him, then focus on next month’s election as it came marching over the horizon. He’d been ploughing this godforsaken furrow for five decades now – and a peerage could finally be in the offing.
The key to finally entering the House of Lords was keeping this damn thing under wraps. Although his confidence levels were high, he did feel the gravity of it all. In his mind’s eye, he pictured his own hunched figure, shuffling through the wreckage of his broken business empire. The creditors’ group – fuelled by revenge – had been gathering to scrutinise his every move. They’d be present today, keyed-up, expectant and circling like vultures.
He instinctively looked skyward, only to be greeted by a broad expanse of light blue ceiling tiles. The bleak, forbidding heavens, he thought. Casting his eyes downward, the carpet was a desolate, beige-coloured savanna; a hostile expanse. When summoned, he’d be making his way across its dusty surface.
Sinking into morbid reverie…
…he inched forward slowly. The vultures above were poised to descend, waiting for their quarry to falter, collapse and fall still. Fairfax’s final, rasping death rattle would be their cue to land. They’d approach purposefully as the rush of his breath came no more.
Flesh and innards would be quickly stripped and devoured. In time, only a ragged, white, skeletal form would remain, its soul long departed…
…Fairfax jolted, his breath coming in a rush as he broke from these dismal thoughts. He berated himself. What on earth was I thinking? I shall not be vanquished. Not without a fight!
Over my dead body.
He managed to re-focus. In cold business terms, today’s formalities were routine, unremarkable; just the final stage of the process. He was the creditors’ one-time associate; the man they’d placed their money and trust in. They wanted redress.
Which meant divesting him of his fortune.
And his possessions.
And his property.
They’d come for the lot.
But what petrified him more than anything was the risk of exposure. A careless word to the papers or on social media would be all it would take to ruin him completely. Fifty years of hard work, loyalty, and public service – annihilated.
And what of his election prospects?
To him, it made no sense. Surely I, John Fairfax MP – person of substance – should not be subjected to such shoddy treatment – conduct to which the lowest footman would object.
He tapped his inside pocket with satisfaction. Secretly, he always carried ‘insurance against further losses’. Always. This was something they could never take from him, not while he lived and breathed.
From my cold, dead hands.
“Ah, Mr. Fairfax,” lisped a female voice. It belonged to a tall, smartly-dressed lady in a dark trouser suit, who’d just emerged from a side door. “I’m Mrs. Ebbs. This way please”.
Fairfax followed Mrs. Ebbs closely as she ushered him down a narrow passageway, then left through a door. Entering, he saw an oval desk, positioned centrally. A squat, bald gentleman was seated at its head. Another six chairs – three on either side – were taken by familiar figures, his smiling creditors. All present were formally dressed. They muttered their greetings as Mrs. Ebbs left the room.
The bald man coughed, clearing his throat. “Take a seat please.” Fairfax took the position opposite, getting a good, clear view of the Chair.
“Hello Mr. Fairfax,” continued the deep, sonorous voice, “I’m Parsons, your trustee.”
Presumably, this was the company owner. A middle-aged man, brusque and officious. His jowls wobbled in unison as the steady voice boomed forth.
“Okay – this shouldn’t take up too much of your time. Today’s interview is being conducted in accordance with Section 333, the Insolvency Act 1986. You, Mr. Fairfax, shall appraise me, as trustee in bankruptcy, with such information as to…”
As Parsons droned on, Fairfax took the opportunity to size up the enemy, mentally recalling their nicknames one by one; Jezebel James, Angry Hughes, Excitable Rogers, Liar Lamb, Benj Franklin, and Smiler Shaw.
Parsons was rounding up, “…the Perjury Act 1911, in particular, Section 5. If you provide false answers to my questions you may be committing a criminal offence. By law, your circumstances will become a matter of public record. Do you understand?”
Fairfax was astounded – public record. “What? Oh…yes.”
“Right, thank you very much; that’s the formal bit out of the way. So in your own words, can you provide some of your personal background and why we find ourselves in this unfortunate situation today?”
Shaken, but recovering his composure, Fairfax began, “Erm… as you’ll be fully aware, I am the Right Honourable John Fairfax, MP for Burkhamstead. And as you will also be aware, I’ve been deeply involved in bettering the life chances of thousands of my constituents and their children ever since entering Parliament in the late 1960s.
“Turning to commercial matters if I may, I conceived of a new start-up company – a tarte supérieur atelier, if you will – Fairfax Social EnterPies – back in 2015, but sadly, I failed to secure EU funding. It was at this point I cast my net further afield, successfully winning a total of £3 million private backing from eager local investors, all of whom are present and correct today. My company’s mission was two-fold, to assist my town’s youngsters by providing employment opportunities and to…”
Excitable piped up, “Why did you have to bring bloody politics into it? I shoulda known better.”
“Mr. Rogers, I’m afraid politics is my very lifeblood”, said Fairfax, in a condescending tone, “it courses through my veins. The more jobs I create, the more young tearaways come off my streets.” Warming to his theme, he continued, “And… the better the antisocial behaviour figures for my town, the greater the prospect of my success in the forthcoming General Election. And I can confidently predict here and now, I shall prevail yet again. It’s very simple…”
Excitable was on his feet now, raging, “So it was your own bloody self-interest driving it!” He was red-faced and fuming, “NOWT TO DO WITH THE KIDS!”
Jezebel intervened, “Buck, please!” She addressed the room, “I’m afraid there’s a much darker matter. It’s not just our money.” She turned towards Fairfax, “It has finally emerged that a very serious crime has been committed, and poor David Jennings need never have died so horribly.”
“What’s that got to do with me?” demanded Fairfax.
“The Health & Safety Executive has determined that as Company CEO, you failed to take adequate precautions to ensure that your machinery was guarded in accordance with the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998.”
“Never mind all that nonsense. Those toe-rags were dying to come and work for me…”
“And they did Fairfax…they did”, said Smiler. “Save your story for the police. They’re on their way here – right now.”
At that moment, Fairfax heard the ghostly, banshee wail of a siren in the distance. Shocked by this sudden turn of events, he leapt to his feet.
Reaching into an inside pocket, he withdrew his ‘insurance policy’; a smart Glock 7 pistol, pre-loaded with 17 bullets – more than enough. He raised and levelled it at Jezebel, whose startled, accusing eyes were making him seethe. Feet planted apart, Fairfax trained the gun on all of them, moving it from side to side – safety catch off – covering all seven, showing he meant business.
“You die now…you all die!!”, he blazed.
Exhilarated, he felt that familiar surge of power and psychopathic delight flooding through him.
“Wanted my money, did you? Wanted my first, second and third homes? Wanted to seize everything did you? And the clothes I stood up in? HA! Well, damn you all!
“And that kid who got devoured. He was a lazy little runt – until my industrial mincing machine disturbed his slumber. You’re going to have to kill me for your money. But you can’t, can you? I have the upper hand. My peerage may be gone, but it is I – it is I who will kill you all!
“IT IS I WHO WILL MURDER YOU A…”
Fairfax stopped abruptly in mid-sentence; eyes wide open; his mouth a large “O”; his jutting, quivering tongue in full view.
A stream of clear dribble escaped his bottom lip, ran down and dripped from his chin. He swayed from the vertical and began to tip forwards, as if in slow motion. Surely, a foot would come out quickly to arrest his fall – but no – he continued; down; all the way down…and quickly now – like Tower Bridge in rapid time lapse – until his whole body struck with a loud, sickening thud onto the cheaply-laminated floor.
Behind where Fairfax had stood – suddenly revealed – was a smaller figure, stock still, expressionless; a working-class single mum whose son had died some months earlier; Patsy Jennings. Right arm raised, in her clenched grip was a knife, its six-inch blade gleaming blood-red from point to heel. At her feet was a green umbrella; on its curved, wooden handle could be seen the UK Parliamentary crest. In her left hand was a First Class return train ticket, issued in Westminster.
Raising the ticket aloft slowly, by degrees, she murmured, “I told yer, yer dropped this, mate.”
The ticket slipped from her fingers and fluttered down slowly, coming to rest on John Fairfax’s lifeless body.
Never. To. Be. Redeemed.