This is the twenty-ninth part of a fiction serial, in 759 words.
Everyone was talking about the accident when I got to work the next morning. The Police had reported it to the Health and Safety Executive, and until they arrived to investigate, the fork-lift and the area surrounding it had been roped off.
My plan almost failed, but fortunately Derek made it work by default. As the fork lift grabbed the pallet containing four washing machines, Derek had reversed back as normal, with the heavy-duty machine easily taking the weight. Then the pressure ruptured the loose hydraulic joint and the whole machine tipped forward as the support failed. There were a couple of safety bars above the driver’s seat, and had Derek stayed in that, there was a good chance he would have walked away uninjured.
But according to the night supervisor, he jumped out of his seat to get away from the tipping vehicle, just happening to stand directly under a falling washing machine in its heavy packing case. It fell onto his back, square across his neck and shoulders. The ambulance took him to the General as an emergency, lights flashing and sirens wailing. But he was pronounced dead in the Casualty Department, with a broken neck.
That day, the boss asked me to start training on the despatch system in the office. As I sat there, I could hear all the phone calls coming and going. The night supervisor had reported the failure of the main hydraulic connection, and Tom had been called in from home before midnight. That morning he was nowhere to be seen, and I discovered he had been suspended on pay, pending the investigation.
The boss made a few calls to the company lawyers, and the insurance company. If Derek’s family sued, the payout could be huge.
Nobody asked me anything about the accident. I had been at home, and nowhere near the depot.
Quiet Alice from the accounts office came round at lunchtime. She had an old biscuit box, and was collecting money to send to Derek’s family. “Everyone is putting in, Daniel. Most have given ten quid, but you don’t get paid that much so five will do. I placed a five pound note in the box, and she smiled. “You’re a good lad, thanks”.
The enquiry was actually a big deal. The Coroner had words to say about workplace safety at the inquest, and the local TV news and papers took up the story. They interviewed Derek’s wife on TV, and she was suitably tearful. What surprised me was how attractive and sexy she was. Derek had definitely been punching above his weight in the marriage department.
Poor Tom had to go. The insurance company settled out of court with Derek’s wife, and the rumour was that she accepted two hundred grand. The company was fined another ten grand for allowing the use of an unsafe fork lift truck, and Tom was the sacrificial lamb, sacked with one month’s pay.
I felt a bit bad about that. Just a bit.
Accounts Alice didn’t come round with her biscuit box for him.
Working in the office seemed to be my ideal environment. I picked up the distribution rotas really quickly, and after three months, I was handling phone calls from ten of the biggest clients we had. They used to ask for me personally, and only liked to deal with me. The distribution manager used to look at me a bit sideways when they asked for me, but he always called me Danny, and never took the piss out of me.
He was safe.
Busy learning the ropes, I had almost forgotten about getting a girlfriend, then someone arrived who solved that problem for me.
Olivia liked to be called Livvy. I could completely identify with that. She had just left sixth-form college, and it was her first job. Her duties were general office work. Filing, typing, photocopying, and transferring phone calls. She was good at everything, and I couldn’t see her staying too long.
Everyone fancied her. Curvy, long black hair, something of a mediterranean look about her that didn’t go with her surname of Radcliffe at all. Like most young women, she wore a lot of make-up, and her skirts were very short. Our company was far from being a flagship of political correctness, and every man under the age of fifty flirted with her outrageously. A couple of the older women too, including Accounts Alice.
But I played it cool, and studiously avoided looking up her skirt, or showing out to her.
Eventually, she came to me.