The Crash: Chapter Nine
Last week in The Crash, Jason and his new Engineering Manager were put on the spot by a client concerned about the quality and safety of some of their car parts. This week, the pressure is piled on, and Jason's receptionist gets some bad news too.
Once again, Gaby was overwhelmed by the noise of the machinery, and Brad's conversation with Harry was lost to its clattering. The noise was almost painful, but by dint of standing very close to Damian and far back from the machines themselves, she was able to engage the young man in conversation while his father and Brad stood near the largest press, engaged in intense discussion, intermittently supported by arm-waving, pointing, and picking up bits of metal to demonstrate a point.
"Have you always wanted to work in metals?" Gaby asked, straining to make her usually gentle voice heard above the ear-wrenching grinding and scraping.
"I've always known I would. It's in the family. Granddad was a metal-worker, Dad followed him into the business and then set up the firm, and he's been taking me in to look round since I was knee-high." After a while, Gaby found it a strain to hear every word, but from the bits she caught, she was able to piece together the story of Damian's entirely predictable journey into the family business, and to establish that he was happy enough there, having very little idea of what he might have done instead. She was curious whether he had a girlfriend or wife, and if so, what she thought of his career, but asking would have seemed impertinent, particularly when the question was shouted at the volume that was needed to carry over the sounds of the workshop. She'd just noticed that, on top of all the machinery, there was a radio playing, although she could only barely pick out the sound of a latest top ten track. The whole place seemed to be designed to be as painful as possible to the ears, and despite the fact that Damian was easy-going and pleasant to talk with, she began to wish herself away as soon as possible.
Her wish was almost immediately granted when a female voice came over the tannoy. Blended with the everlasting crashing and banging, and muffled by poor electronics, it was hard to tell who the voice belonged to, but Gaby guessed it was Donna on reception.
"Call for Mr Jackson-Jones on Line 3. Mr Jackson-Jones, please pick up Line 3."
Jason turned from his conversation with Brad and Harry to catch Gaby's eye.
"Could you pick it up and take a message, please?"
"Are you sure? It's probably urgent, or Donna wouldn't have paged you. She knows you're with a customer."
"I'm sure," Jason said, in a withering tone which suggested that anybody who questioned his orders was either a lunatic or an imbecile.
"Sorry," Gaby backed down hastily. "I'll pick it up now. Where's the nearest phone?"
"Go back to reception. You won't hear a thing out here."
Gaby saw the wisdom of this, and was relieved to follow his advice.
In the reception area, it was blessedly silent, but her ears were still ringing from the noise of the factory floor as she leaned across the reception desk and picked up the receiver.
"Triple J Auto Parts, can I help you?" she said briskly.
"This is Peter Ronaldson, from the Sheffield Evening Herald," said a faintly familiar sounding voice on the other end. "I was looking for Jason Jackson-Jones."
"I'm sorry. He's not available at the moment. I'm his personal assistant, Gabriella. Can I help?" Something told her to be on her guard. Journalists rarely rang for a friendly chat.
"I was wondering," he said in a suspiciously sweet voice, "whether Mr Jackson-Jones would care to comment on the rumour that the M18 crash last week was caused by a defective car part, which would have been supplied by Triple J Auto Parts."
"I'm afraid he's not available at the moment," she repeated, while inwardly cursing. Why did the journo have to pick this moment to try and interrogate the irascible Managing Director? "I'll pass on the message. What number can he reach you on, and how soon do you need a response?"
Gaby scribbled down the journalist's name and number, along with a huge, circled, '3:30'. With luck she'd be able to catch Jason on the way out of the factory and have a private word with him, leaving Brad to entertain the visitors. Though she couldn't imagine Jason willingly leaving anyone else to look after an important client for any length of time, and she wasn't looking forward to being the bearer of the bad news that his company might be implicated in the local bad-news story of the week, the three vehicle pile-up which had kept the motorway closed for six hours the previous night.
"Thanks. I'll pass on the message," she repeated to Peter, who was persistently looking for a response from Gaby if he couldn't have one from Jason.
"Bad news?" asked Donna, as Gaby put the phone down, and Gaby had to admit that it wasn't the best.
"What is it with today?" Donna asked, taking a large swig of what seemed to be stone-cold coffee, since it had been sitting there since Gaby came in that morning.
"Why? Are you not having a good day either?"
"No," Donna said, with feeling.
"I'm sorry. Anything I can help with?" Gaby looked more closely at the pretty receptionist and saw the deep lines etched at the corners of her eyes, the slightly smudged make-up and the nibbled nails. This looked like more than just work worries.
"I doubt it," Donna sighed, putting down the coffee cup and leaning back in her chair with a weary sigh. "My Mum's not well and we're waiting for test results. They think it could be cancer."
"I'm so sorry," Gaby repeated, her eyes prickling with sympathetic tears.
"Sorry, I shouldn't be talking about it at work. But sometimes it just gets..." Donna trailed off and dabbed at the corner of her eye with a tissue. Her attempt at bravery made Gaby want to hug her, but presumably that was something else that shouldn't be done at work.
"I know. It gets too much. Besides, you can't help being a human being, even at work. Nobody can."
Donna gave a tremulous laugh.
"Sorry," Gaby went on, "I didn't word that well, but you know what I mean, don't you?"
"I think so," Donna nodded half-heartedly.
"You might have to be at work for eight or nine hours a day, but that doesn't mean the rest of your life just disappears when you're here. Anyway, I reckon most of us have put in just as many hours thinking and worrying about work when we're at home as we have thinking about family and friends when we're at work, so it's a fair deal."
"Don't let Jason hear you saying that!" Donna gave another weak laugh, though it sounded as if it might teeter over the edge into sobs at any moment.
"Jason's human too," Gaby said firmly.
"Really?" Donna quirked one eyebrow, and though her comment was made humorously, Gaby had the impression there was an underlying seriousness to it. To the pretty, pleasant receptionist, her pushy, hard-hearted boss really was a different species.
"Really," said Gaby. "Come on, he's got two arms and legs like the rest of us. He gets up in the morning and puts on his trousers one leg at a time, the same as the rest of us. He's married. He's got a daughter. He owns a house, drives a car, eats dinner and sleeps at night.
"I bet he never sleeps. I bet he spends the night memorising part numbers and production figures."
Now it was Gaby's turn to laugh. She could see how Donna had come to that conclusion. It was hard to imagine Jason doing normal things like playing games with his family. He was probably fiercely competitive, even at cards.
Before Gaby could go further with her enumeration of the ways in which Jason was like a normal human being, a phone rang. It wasn't the loud, determined ring of the company switchboard phone, though. This was a cheeky, chipper tune, obviously a mobile.
Donna rummaged in her handbag.
"Sorry. I have to take this, in case..." She didn't have to finish the explanation. Gaby understood. She smiled and nodded.
Donna fished a small silver handset out of her bag.
"Don't tell Jason," she cautioned, and pressed the 'Call Answer' button.
Gaby smiled again, nodded, and waited near the reception desk to pick up any other calls that came in, her back half-turned so that Donna wouldn't feel she was trying to intrude or eavesdrop. Still, it was hard to miss the gasp of terror or the tearful, brave statement that she understood and would be there as soon as she could.
For a moment, Gaby almost believed it was already over for Donna's mum, but then she caught odd words about treatments and procedures, and realised that they had diagnosed cancer and were preparing a plan to deal with it. It would still be tough for Donna, but many cancers were treatable, especially when caught early, so there was hope.
"Thanks. Yes, I'll be there, when I can, but I'm at work now. I'll call back," Donna repeated, and hung up, just in time as Jason, Brad and the visitors emerged from the double doors. Donna shoved her phone back in the drawer and took back their protective equipment.
"We're all going for a quick bite of lunch," Jason said. "Should be back by two. Anything needs a response before then, call my mobile."
And they were gone as rapidly as they'd appeared. Gaby stared after them. How had Jason failed to notice his receptionist's distressed manner? And why hadn't she said anything to him about her need to leave early?
"Are you going now?" Gaby asked.
"No," Donna said thoughtfully. "I guess I'll work through lunch and leave at four thirty. I can't afford to lose any time now. I might need more time off later."
"Don't be daft," Gaby said firmly. "Go to your Mum. I can do my work down here and cover reception."
"Jason won't like it."
"What's he going to do? Fire me?" The great thing about being short-term was you had nothing to lose and everything to gain by doing the right thing.
"Fire me, more likely," Donna said, sourly, and Gaby wondered again why she continued to tolerate this job and her dictatorial boss.
"He won't. I'll make sure of that. He'll know it was my decision that you went, and if he needs to take it out on anyone, it'll be me. Now go to your Mum, and don't come back until you're ready."
"If you're sure," Donna said, doubtfully, gathering her bag and jacket but holding back from making the final move towards the door.