He had given twenty-nine years of his life. Twenty-nine. He had seen changes, big and small. He had seen the lad growing up, following in his father’s footsteps. He had taken care of him in the office, keeping him amused while they went out on their Christmas shopping sprees. He had graduated from a lowly clerk to bookkeeper, to practically running the firm. He knew more about the business than they did.
Pat O’Brian held the piece of paper in his trembling hands – the words on the page, blurring and merging into a single, unbroken sentence, ‘Owing to a recent downturn in business, we regret to inform you …’.
The phone rang. Pat answered. ‘Wyckland Accountants.’
A voice on the other end said, ‘Pat, is that you?’
He gripped the receiver. ‘Yes.’
‘Are you ready?’
‘Yes, no. I mean, yes – yes I am. You’re certain this call is secure – certain it’s not recorded?’
‘I’ve checked, no it’s not.’
Pat believed him. Wyckelands was too arrogant to install surveillance. Their employees, especially Pat, of all people, would never have the nerve to cheat. Blessed are the meek – for they shall inherit the earth. A part of the furniture – they liked to say.
‘There won’t be any hiccups?’
The voice on the other end of the line reassured Pat. They had been over it a million times.
As Pat listened to the soothing words, his mind drifted off to the past. Once, when he had been about to marry his girl, old Wyckland had sneered. ‘Women are gold diggers Pat. Why give up what you’ve got?’
Then old Mr Wyckland had promised to train Pat as an accountant, but that never happened either.
So, for 25 years he had lived alone in the same flat, on the same street in the village. He had had his job, his home and garden, and the church – only now he didn’t have his job.
When old Wyckland died, his son didn’t do as his father had done. Pat watched as the scion’s profligacy increased, and his own office was downsized, and downsized, and downsized. When Wyckland junior took on an apprentice with a short skirt, Pat was moved to a broom closet at the back of the main building.
The voice at the other end said, ‘Shall I read you the numbers now, Pat?’
He looked out of the window of his tiny office. A tree branch was hanging over young Wyckeland’s car. What if it fell, just as his lordship was stepping out of the Merc? What a tragedy that would be.
‘Yes, go ahead.’
The voice gave the code, a secret code that meant they couldn’t trace things. Pat tapped the numbers on his keyboard and glanced at the screen. Done.
‘Ready for the account?’ The voice asked.
‘Yes, I’m ready’.
The voice gave more numbers. Pat tapped them in. ‘Just one question.’
‘You won’t tell them? My daughter I mean, she won’t find out t’was …’
‘She won’t find out Pat.’ Said the voice.
Pat looked at the online photographs again of the woman he had once loved, now sick and in a wheelchair. She had never asked him for anything after that last day in the park when he had told her … but why had he assumed their child was a boy?
He allowed himself a moment of pleasure imagining the joy that the unexpected windfall would bring to their lives.
‘Now press enter, Pat.’
He pressed enter.
‘Have you done that Pat?’
‘Good! Good! Now log out.’
Pat logged out.
Suddenly, he felt afraid. ‘Are we meeting at the Dog and Duck later?’
Pat arrived at the Dog and Duck at 6 pm as arranged. He waited in the corner with a glass of beer, looking out of the diamond shaped window panes. The car that pulled into the car park was black. A man stepped out. Was that him? Pat remembered the words, ‘It’s not right Pat, not right. There comes a point when you have to say to yourself, ‘enough is enough.’ I’m doing this for you Pat, to help you.’
They had a wonderful dinner together at the Dog and Duck, including a bottle of wine, all paid for by the voice. He was a posh gentleman, wearing a cashmere coat, and he spoke so beautifully, with such refinement, just like old Mr Wyckland.
Pat finished his drink and left the pub by the back door as planned. He turned a corner and walked up into the high street.
There sat the beggar, on the same step, under the war memorial in the centre of the village. Old Wyckland had always disliked people sitting there. It was offensive to the war dead, old Wyckland had said. The beggar was staring at the ground as Pat approached.
Pat stepped in front of him. ‘How old are you?’
The irony was not lost on Pat. He laughed as he tossed his keys into the beggars’ cap, and he laughed even more at the amazement on the young man’s face.
‘Down there, first turning on the right, number 3,’ Pat told him. ‘Let yourself in, make a cup of tea, and get a decent night’s sleep for a change.’
The man scrambled to his feet, his grubby blanket falling from his shoulders – his bearded face, filled with anxiety. ‘Look, Mister, I don’t want trouble with the cops. Take those keys back, I ain’t no burglar.’
‘Help yourself to whatever I’ve got.’ Said Pat and he walked on, leaving the beggar stunned behind him.
As Pat walked up the high street, he thought about the village – the pub, the church, the graveyard, Wyckland’s Victorian facade with its obnoxious brass plaque, the rows of cottages, all prettied up with their trailing boughs of lavender. Over the bridge he went, and on towards the park, feeling light-headed.
As he walked, he thought again of his saviour with the Oxbridge accent.
‘Leave it all behind Pat.’
And he had.
They found young Mr Wyckland sleeping on a bench under a Cherry Blossom tree. He answered all their questions, but he couldn’t remember Pat, or what he had looked like or anything.
Someone came along and signed a piece of paper, and Wyckland junior was asked to step into a van. He was taken away to a big grey building.
People took care of him there, and he was happier than before.