I teased you last week with a titbit from the start of the sequel to my first book Dead Flies and Sherry Trifle. If you’ve not read it you can grab a copy by going to the side bar and clicking on the image. Since it was merely a morsel, a literary amuse-bouche I thought I’ve give you an entree too.
My name is Harry Spittle and I’m an articled clerk at Clifford, Risely & Co, solicitors and commissioners for oaths. I’m into the last 6 months of my articles at the end of which I will be admitted to the Roll as a Solicitor of the High Courts of England and Wales. If all this sounds at all glamorous, then the job isn’t. It’s closer to being indentured than trained.
Jean Sampson is currently my secretary and is seriously ancient and intimidating in a hand knitted cardigan and pearl necklace sort of way. Few things annoy Jean more than personal phone calls, though her marmalade not setting properly runs it close. “Was that your father?”
I want to lie but she’ll know if I do. “Yes, he…”
“I’m sure he had his reasons to disturb you. Nothing wrong, I trust?”
I’m relieved and nod which seems to satisfy her. She points at the letters she has placed on my blotter and lifts her pencil. “Perhaps you’d let me know if you need any corrections.”
Jean is both my worst nightmare and my constant saviour. The partner I work for – Jeremy Panther – is on holiday which is why Jean is working for me though, of course it’s more the other way around. Today’s task is to sort out a Will for Sir Penshaw Grimsdale, Bart, a very important client of the firm. He’s due in later to give us instructions but in the meantime, I’ve been told he will want a note on how to execute the Will which I drafted this morning. The scribbled paper I gave her is now a pristine sheet of neat typing, sitting on the top of the heap, challenging me to look at it, daring me to change anything.
As if I would. One of her special skills is the ability to make it clear she cannot imagine how I’ll be ready to qualify next Christmas by the expedient of tapping the rubber on the end of her pencil on her chin. Technically I will be ‘qualified’ as a solicitor though Jean has made it plain she thinks ‘qualified’ should be given the same meaning as would be used in the expression ‘he has been a qualified success’.
“Shall we review the questions you need to ask Sir Penshaw about his Will?” Jean has soft, spongy ankles in contrast to everything else which is sparse and hard. “I’ve made a note that you may want to add to.” She indicates the second sheet in the heap.
How can I be a purveyor of legal advice if I haven’t the courage to challenge a secretary? I try to read the notes, but the letters seem determined to wander about the page. I look up and force myself to make eye contact; it works a small miracle. “I’ll go and fetch your tea and leave you to read them through. Five minutes.”
She knows more law than I have cells in my body. I know there’s no need to check but I look anyway. Gosh, this is good. I really don’t need to do anything; it’s all here.
My eyes are drawn to the next item: a telephone attendance note, written in Gloria’s looping handwriting. Gloria Eagle, our receptionist is a complete contrast to Jean but almost as terrifying. I tug it out and read it.
Harry. Penny rang. She wanted you to know she may be moving back in, in a couple of days. She’ll explain tonight at the Portcullis.
Penny is, was, might still be my girlfriend, but currently we are living apart. We did share a tiny room in a flat with Dobbin, Gary Dobbs, my best friend from University and Timothy Unwin a trainee actuary, who knows Dobbin from his schooldays. She moved out after a complete misunderstanding involving a mutual friend, Natalie when she found us in a compromising situation in an under-stairs’ cupboard. I tried to explain that the dusty hand print on Natalie’s chest resulted for me hunting a switch to turn on the light but neither woman believed me. To be fair, Natalie and I do have a little ‘previous’ but I felt Penny’s reaction to be rather extreme, especially as she then moved in with Natalie.
I’m pondering what she means about meeting in the Portcullis, a wine bar of the kind I hate, since we’ve not spoken in over two weeks, when Jean breaks into my reverie. “Sir Penshaw is here.”