The Last Expulsion
Pushed into the jaws of evil, there's only one way out ... the most illogical and loving way ...
This was a wonderful story. So disappointed when I came to the end of the section. I was gripped. Lovely development of the plot which only added to the whole story and improved the pace. I feel so intrigued to know how the story develops.
I also adored the characters and feel intrigued to see how they develop into the story. The story has a light comical touch to it. I did feel that the nationality themes were over done a little bit but not to the expense of a wonderful story. Congratulations on a great story that completely held my attention.
I found it an exciting read and it drew me in once we got past the deep stuff. Great scene in the cafe and although larger than life, it really hooked me and I wanted to know what was going to happen next. Possible romance with Wendy? Involvement in dangerous activities for the two students? Would Greg now be in real danger? Oooh, yes I wanted to read on!
~Alex M Martin
The first chapter ...
Feeling as cold and lonely as the last bus home in the rain, I started packing my desk up. I knew I’d never see it or anything else in this familiar office again. What do I keep and what do I take? There would be no chance to come back for anything; once I was out the door, I would never be back. When one door shuts, another is supposed to open. Today, however, only the sound of slamming doors could be heard in my soul.
I shook my head, hoping the world would turn back into the one I was used to, but it just hurt my head and everything was still upside down. I was the only one who seemed to notice. There they were, dozens of heads on shoulders, staring at computer screens just like they always did. They controlled the world with their little buttons, and my world was out of control. I had just been deprived of my little buttons and my screen to a world concocted by Microsoft, Mozilla and Money, as well as the desk on which they sat, along with my comfortable executive chair. They had divorced me … no, I had just been told that they were leaving me because I had been unfaithful. I had proudly blogged to six followers that I had a job at Empire Bank Ltd and, since banks were all about secrecy, that was forbidden. A naïve, country boy in a suspicious city.
I shook my head again, but the vast office was still filled with ordinary people doing an ordinary job on an ordinary British day, and no one noticed my shaking head. I was not at the CIA or MI5. Nope, no badges or guns or secret agent stuff about me I confirmed as I patted myself. Just an ordinary pin-stripe suit as befits a bank’s corporate trainer.
I shook my head as I couldn’t think of a more useful thing to do. I smiled but the rest of my body couldn’t respond to a mind that refused to start.
“You alright, mate?” asked Martin.
What do you say to a question like that? I’m fine, Martin. I’ve just been sacked for being thrilled to be working in this great place—the job of my dreams. And everyone else thinks it’s okay, doesn’t care or doesn’t know. If I start thinking about it anymore, I’m going to get bloody nasty, punch your stupid pink face in and burn this lousy place down. Probably best not to say that. I could feel my anger rising as my mind went into first gear. I stopped it going into second for fear of the consequences. I quelled the revving motor inside and tried to think of an answer that had nothing to do with my twisted reality but would suit the other world in which ordinary, employed people live.
“Yeah fine, Martin. Just great,” was the best lie I could dredge up.
Every year of my life was leaping into my face, demanding explanation for this sudden turn of events.
“All these years at university – wasted!” hissed my twenty-three-year-old self, vehemently.
“Yeah but I was only …”
“And all that time as an accountant and business coach,” whispered my thirty-three-year-old self, sadly, interrupting my reply.
“But it wasn’t all wasted …”
“Not wasted? Not bloody wasted?” demanded my thirty-nine-year-old self, menacingly.
“Well, no, and I didn’t know …”
“Didn’t know? Didn’t know, he says!” shouted my forty-year-old self into my echoing brain as I tried to concentrate on clearing my desk and computer under Martin’s watchful eye. “You always loved to break the rules!”
“But they didn’t explain them properly …”
“Explain them properly. You never ruddy listened,” interrupted my twelve-year-old self in my cranium, sounding suspiciously like my father.
“But it was only a family blog, easy to delete …”
“Family blog? It was a blog, dumb arse! Blog equals the whole wide world,” offered my thirty six-year-old self (from last year), helpfully.
“But … an innocent mistake … I just wanted to tell my friends how proud I was of this job …”
“So proud you get turfed out,” said my twenty-two-year-old self with vague strains of my mother in its voice.
“Oh hell, I didn’t mean to stuff it up …”
“You okay, mate?” asked Martin hesitantly, a real voice interrupting my inner rant as I said goodbye to my desk.
“Ooh, aah, yeah … well, not really,” I said, quickly returning to the tangible world as I turned and we set off, the bank’s green carpet passing beneath my black business shoes. We walked shoulder to shoulder past desk after desk after desk, all containing heads-down-pretending-to-be-working inhabitants.
“Damnably awkward,” said Martin helpfully, perhaps afraid of the silence that had descended in this massive acreage of office.
“Awkward? Bloody unnecessary, actually,” I said, louder than I’d meant. A bout of sniggers burst around us and was quickly quelled by Martin’s withering look at the red faces.
“Just keep it civil, old chap, huh,” he whispered as we neared the double doors; one of several double doors my security card opened – the card that was now safely deposited back in the HR department’s custody … the security card I would never see again.
“Look, thanks Martin, I can make my own way out from here. You go back to work if you like,” I suggested as we crossed the foyer.
“Thanks Greg, but I need to take you to … aah, go with you to reception,” he said as we strode past the lift doors to the stairs. Easier to be walking down stairs, doing something, than standing together in a lift, mutely and mutually embarrassed.
“To make sure I don’t make off with the crown jewels, huh?” I said lightly. He smiled wanly. “Look Martin, I know it’s not your fault, mate,” I said as our shoes clattered down the stairs, echoing round the fourteen-storey chasm. I stopped, wanting to console him. Wanting to … I don’t know … perhaps taking in a few last mental snapshots for the family album.
“Come on, we need to keep moving. The cameras cover the stairs too, you know.”
“Cameras? What? Oh, security. Yeah,” I said as my mind struggled to rise above the tide waters of embarrassment, fear and anger, to the logical things of life and take in one more useless detail. I looked round, one more quick snapshot, and started down again, looking furtively at Martin’s stoic, inscrutable face. The poor sod, I thought, twenty years in the same job, his daily three-hour commute by car, bus and two trains, and the same again in the opposite order, every night because of his wife’s part-time psychic/palm reading business. He might wear the pin-stripe trousers, but he didn’t crack any whips in his household.
Four flights of stairs is one heck of a long way when you really don’t want to go, when no one’s talking, when you’re pretending to the business suited athletes going up that it’s just another day, when you’re on a mission to hell. Caught between the equally tempting bouts of self-pity and self-righteous anger, I kept my mouth shut and my brain in neutral.
“Hey, aah, you had breakfast?” asked Martin as we reached the double doors at the bottom. He held his plastic badge up to release them.
“What? Breakfast?” My brain struggled to find somewhere relevant to file this unexpected question.
“Yeah, breakfast, you had it? You need a cup of tea?”
“Oh, right, yeah, had breakfast but could murder a coffee.” I realised, with frightening slowness, he was offering friendship. I appreciated the gesture and also saw him as part of the enemy, the bastard employer that didn’t care a toss about employees. I didn’t know whether to hug him or slug him. I could easily have done both.
“Coffee? Aah, yes, you Kiwis prefer your coffee, don’t you,” said Martin. I sneaked a look – so he wouldn’t see me looking – at his lopsided grin.
Poor bugger, I thought, so easy to embarrass.
“You shouting?” I asked with more bravado than I felt, not expecting him to accede and do something he’d never done before – have a chat out of the office with anyone he worked with. Twenty years in this place and neither he nor anyone else in the office knew much about anyone else’s social or family life. The English way, you know.
“Shouting? Oh, you mean buying? Buying coffee? Yes, well, of course.” I could feel the heat of his embarrassment from here.
“You sure it’s okay?” I asked as we approached the high reception desk, the last blockade. “You know, fraternising with the enemy. Shouldn’t you really go back to work?”
“Probably not okay at all, old chap,” he said stopping and looking me in the eye for the first time today. “But I need … aah, some air, a cup of tea, something. Dash it all, Greg, I’ll see you off the premises and we’ll have that cuppa, that coffee, what.”
“Only if you’re shouting,” I said punching him lightly on his pin-striped shoulder.
“Ooh, perhaps you shouldn’t do that. Cameras you know …”
“Ah, yes, sacked employee apprehended for grievous bodily harm to boss.” I tried to stifle a giggle but the giggle won. “Hi Penny, I’ve just been sacked and so I think I have to sign something on my way out.”
“Yes sir, this here,” said Penny, the receptionist, pointing to a form without changing her plastic welcoming expression. As I went to sign the register, I noticed a folded piece of paper there. I picked it up to hand it to Penny. She looked fleetingly at Martin and then frowned at me, her hand going in and out of her jacket pocket.
“Somebody must have left …”
“Sir,” she said, her frown deepening as she shook her head imperceptibly. “If you would just sign the register, please.”
“But there’s …”
“Sir, the register, please,” she hissed, looking quickly at Martin again. He’d wandered away a little and her hand began to stuff something in her pocket again. I smiled sheepishly, signed the register and slipped the paper into my pocket. She smiled broadly, nodding happily. Feeling the prickly heat of embarrassment – and a little curiosity – I thanked her and turned to Martin.
“Look Greg, actually … I’m not really sure I should …”
“Yeah, obedient as ever, Martin,” I said, unable to keep bitterness from my voice. I wondered how long I could keep up my veneer of civility. Probably not much longer. “And on your grave they’ll write, He always complied. Never lived but always complied. Happy complying, mate.” I strode off shrugging on my overcoat, relieved I wasn’t near enough to slug him on the jaw. It was past ten o’clock but the sky wasn’t admitting it yet. Bloody English weather.
“Aah, look, old chap … aah,” stammered Martin, puffing, his brogues chattering on the cobbles behind me. Walking from car to bus to train and then across the office for lunch was probably the only exercise he’d gotten in twenty years.
“Hell mate, you’re breaking out! The thought police are gonna be down on you,” I said, turning, unable to keep my head from shaking in wonder. “Better keep your head down – snipers will get you from the roof.”
“Uh, what?” he muttered, ignoring my bitter sarcasm
“You sure you wanna do this, Martin?” I asked, my hand on his forearm. “I can do this on my own. I know my way home.”
“It’s not for you, Greg. Not just for you, if I’m honest,” he said, patting my hand and pulling away discretely. “I need … aah, I, aah, gosh, you know, you just do stuff. You just cross the world, move house, take risks, change jobs …”
“This sacking wasn’t my choice, mate. Not at all.”
“Yes, yes, I know that and I’m … I’m awfully sorry you’re going.” His face crumpled and so did his shoulders, like he was going to cry.
“Well, that’s the nicest, most honest thing anyone’s said in the four years I’ve been in this country. I’m touched, Martin, I really am.” I patted him on the back of the shoulder, pushing him forward gently. “Let’s get ourselves to the Sad Bastards Saloon, partner, and get us some drink.”
“Sad Bastards Saloon. Then again, maybe we just pop over to The Coffice or Has Beans, huh?” I suggested as we moved off together, probably both wishing we were in each other’s business shoes, in some ways.
“Has Beans? I’ve never been there before,” he said as he found his crooked smile again and buttoned his overcoat against the cold dampness.
“You been to a café, ever?”
“Aah, no, I don’t recall that I have.”
“Actually, I don’t think you’ll get in – wrong dress code,” I said, desperately trying to keep the smile from my face.
“Yeah, you’ve got the wrong shoes. No brogues allowed.”
“No brogues?” asked Martin, stopping and looking confounded as he pushed his glasses up his nose a little.
“Just kidding, mate! You’ll be the best-dressed dude in coffeedom.”
“Coffeedom?” he said chuckling. Then he looked concerned. “They do have tea, don’t they?”
“Probably fifteen shades of tea, knowing the English cafés,” I said as we came out of St Nicolas Lane and into High Street.
Happy Easter shoppers were struggling with parcels, children, prams and empty credit cards. Happiness everywhere except in my mellow heart. Happy Bloody Easter, Greg Cousins. Happy Bloody Easter to ya all!
After the usual queue at Has Beans we found a table by the window and Martin looked around uncertainly like a child in a toyshop – scared, overawed and excited all at once.
“You feel a bit out of place in here?” I asked, savouring the odour of my latte. An orgasm for the nostrils. “They don’t pull pints, have dark roof beams or have doors for midgets. It’s called a café, not a pub and it’s modern. Weird, huh!”
He smiled uncertainly, looking askance at me.
“You never quite know with our Kiwi humour, do you,” I said, sitting back. “It’s almost like you’d like to bust out but the chains of six hundred years of inbreeding keep you bound to a life you’ve only ever known – never the life you’d like to dream of, should you dare.”
“Look, Greg, aah, this is all very awkward,” he said, suddenly looking me in the eye. “I actually feel like a rotter, you know. You’re being so good about all this when you could be angry. Could be hating me.”
“Yep, to be honest, Martin, part of me hates you, hates that fat Justine in HR who just sacked me, hates the inscrutable English who never say what they think and stab you in the back with such politeness and no remorse,” I said, surprised at the words that spilled out. “I hate the hypocrisy. I mean, look at all these poor families, the 100,000 accountants who were made redundant in London six months ago and they still spend thousands on Christmas and Easter gifts they don’t need because that’s what their relentless history has taught them and because they’re too frightened to say they’re not coping. I hate you a bit and I pity you a bit. I also like you a bit too!”
“Gosh, yes, I don’t know what to say,” he said, pushing his glasses up, his action of indecision, of confusion.
“Look mate, I know the bank’s in trouble, the downturn – the Credit Crunch of October ‘08 they’ll probably call it – two months ago hit everyone hard, especially the banks,” I said, stirring sugar into my coffee. “We both heard Don, the CEO, talking about negative interest – maybe having to pay people to look after their money. That’s never been contemplated in the 2,000-year history of banking, ever before. Times are tough and it’s cheaper to toss me out under the pretence of a breach of security; that my blog broke the non-disclosure rules I’d signed. Better that than to admit they have to make me redundant as they’re up that street without gumboots, financially. Saves having to pay me anything, cheap skates. Like all these parents who can’t admit they can’t afford presents, the banks can’t admit they can’t afford employees so they lie and cheat their way out of it and here I am, jobless, frightened, angry and bloody relieved I don’t have centuries of inbred emotional constipation and lying to myself. Hate you. Pity you. Love you. I got the whole gamut flying round in my head right now.”
“Oh gosh, Greg, I don’t know what to say.”
“You always say that. Saves you having to admit to any feelings,” I said bitterly. Then regretted my words. Wished I could have hunted them down and slaughtered the buggers right there and then. Too late. “Sorry mate, guess it’s awkward having these ever-present antipodean feelings in your face. I know you’re not used to it.”
“Well, no, we tend to, you know, be more circumspect,” said Martin, picking up his cup of tea to hide behind.
“Yeah, make some rules and then you can say the rules made you do it. Saves having to take responsibility for your actions, for firing people left, right and centre.”
“Hold on, old chap, this is a bit rich,” he said, cup suspended. “We’re not all that bad are we?”
“No, not really, Martin,” I conceded, seeing my anger had climbed out of its lair a yard or two too far. “You’re no more or less ruthless than any other nation. It’s just that you wage war with more politeness, less feeling. All your rules save you from having to feel.”
“Now listen old man, I’m sure we have as much feeling as the next chap.”
“You do, you certainly do,” I said looking out the café window. Amid the thronging crowd I could see four groups of people collecting for one cause or other. “This is the nation of charities. You poms give to more charities than anyone else. You care about everyone except yourselves. Maybe that helps you avoid looking at your own needs.”
“Oh gosh, I hadn’t thought of it that way,” he said, his face brightening slowly. “And rules. They mean nothing to you, do they?” he asked, quietly, uncertainly.
“Not if there’s no reason for them.”
“You seem to like flouting them just for the heck of it,” he said, looking bewildered.
“If I don’t know it’s impossible and you do, it’s easier for me to do it. You won’t try,” I said, suspecting this was a painful subject for him. “If the rules are pointless, if they get in the way of progress, you change the rules.”
“But you can’t just go changing them on your own.”
“I wasn’t on my own. Jason and I talked about it. We discussed it with David and Maxine in marketing,” I said and then realised I was about to dig myself into another hole. No matter. I didn’t work there any more.
“David and Maxine? What’s this about?” he asked pushing his glasses back as his pink face turned a brighter pink.
“Look, we were short of customers … oh, yeah, you were away with the flu’.” I said, remembering he didn’t know. “Anyway, the NigerJason government had cut it’s spending in half because of the petrol price drop and they were seventy percent of our clients, as you know. So Jason and I decided to approach clients we hadn’t seen for a few years, see if we could run courses for them again. David and Maxine said it was a good idea and they’d bring it up at the next meeting. And you know meetings – it’d take six months and, by then, our department would be sunk. We said we’d go ahead anyway and they said no, it was their job, marketing’s job, not ours. They got a bit irate about it, as irate as English people can. So we said we wouldn’t and did it anyway. Our future was at stake.”
“Ahead with what?” he asked, his pale face now reflecting the sky – sort of grey and blotchy.
“We just rang some government departments. Jason had worked in Kenya and Cameroon and I rang the SyrJason and Egyptian finance departments and their tax departments. They seemed quite amenable …”
“They seemed amenable?” he muttered. He seemed to be sweating a little and pulled at his collar.
“They sounded quite pleased to hear from me. They’d apparently received new funding from some source – both countries as it happened – and were looking to upgrade their training in the finance areas, for all departments …”
“Syria? Egypt?” he muttered. “You did all this against marketing’s advice? Without my say so?”
“Look Martin, our department’s in the schtuk. Governments were pulling back and, if we didn’t, there’d be no department and no jobs for any of us, including you.”
“Yes but … but you can’t just go calling anyone!”
“Why the hell not? They want their staff trained. We’re good trainers. We get paid to train them. Everybody happy”
“Greg!” he shouted, his cup clattering to the table, missing the saucer. Several people looked around at us and then pretended to be looking past us at something else as I looked back at them. Martin blushed bright pink and looked around nervously. He leaned forward and spoke quietly – a hiss, really. “Look, Greg, sometimes there’s more than just us and our jobs to consider. Sometimes the rules are there for a reason. There are certain countries we’re not to deal with …”
“We don’t always know, we’re just sometimes given lists by our government,” he said, obviously forcing himself to calm down and take it slowly. “Look, Kenya’s fine …”
“Nah, they’re useless. Jason couldn’t get any work out of them.”
“It’s not the work, it’s not about us, old chap,” he said looking as impassioned as I’d ever seen him.
“Well what? They got rabies or something?”
“Syria and Egypt are HSDs.”
“Highly Sensitive Domains. We’ve been told not to deal with them right now.”
“We don’t know,” he said, wiping his moist brow. “Somebody knows but I don’t. I’m sure they have a good reason.”
“And when was someone going to tell Jason and I about this forbidden stuff?”
“Look, I’m really sorry, Greg. We … I never thought anyone would breach department rules …”
“Two things, mate. One, kinda’ hard not to breach rules if you don’t tell us they exist and, two, we were bloody desperate and marketing were obviously doing nothing.”
“They had good reasons …”
“Good reasons Jason and I knew nothing about. Bloody mushrooms.”
“Keep us in the dark and feed us on shit.” I said, sitting back and smiling at the stupidity of it all. Then a thought struck me between the eyes. It hurt. “You don’t suppose that’s why I’ve been sacked, do you? You know, the real reason?”
“Don’t know, Greg, don’t know at all,” he said weakly.
“Sorry, mate, you come back today from two weeks sick to all this,” I said sitting forward, feeling sorry for the old chap. Old chap? I thought, hell, I’m thinking like them now! I looked out the window and could see a scuffle around one of the charity collectors. A crowd was gathering. “Isn’t that Don, your boss, in there?”
“No, couldn’t be, Greg,” he said, looking away.
“It bloody is mate. That’s Don alright,” I said. “He’s the ringleader, waving his fists at the collectors.”
“Look Greg, I really must go. I’ll be noticed by now,” Martin said unsteadily. “It’s been all rather upsetting. Perhaps we should have told you and Jason about the HSDs but, you know, we’ve never had these problems before. We’ve never been desperate, financially desperate, enough to break rules, not in our 175 years of existence.”
“Yeah, changing times,” I said, trying to focus both on Martin and on the scene Don was making outside. “It’s been good knowing you, Martin, and we must do this again. We learn more in cafés than in any board meeting!”
“Yes, Greg, it has been a real pleasure working with you and, whatever the reasons, I’m not happy to see you go. That’s a personal response, not an official one, you understand,” he said smiling warmly. He put his pink hand out and I shook it. He looked like he could do with a big hug but he’d probably be off sick for another two weeks with apoplexy if I did that. I watched him shuffle hesitantly out the door, giving the scuffle in the high street a wide berth.