Chance Encounter.

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Chance Encounter

“I really need this job,” said Katrina rushing for the bus. Like so many young graduates, she’d been out of work ever since leaving uni and even then she was working far below her qualifications–but just to have a living wage rather than bloody benefits–would be so good.

Her mother had loaned her fifty quid to buy some clothes for the interview. It wasn’t the first time she’d had to borrow from her mum–but if her dad ever finds out, there’ll be blood on the moon.

Katrina and her dad don’t quite get along–they’re polar opposites. He was a Tory with a capital T, but then he could afford to be–in fact it was expected of him–he was after all a Conservative member of parliament, and a minister to boot, at the Home Office, where his racist, homophobic, xenophobia might prove an asset. He was also an imperialist–‘Look at the state of all these countries since we gave them independence–all Banana Republics now–barely able to feed themselves let alone make anything for export.’ She did consider pointing out that America was a former colony that exported more than bananas, but he wouldn't listen.

As Katrina had a joint honours degree in Physical Geography and Anthropology, she should have been a shoe in for a teaching post at Warwick–except she got involved with a demo against the police over the repatriation of immigrants–illegals or otherwise–they should still be treated with respect. One had died being manhandled onto the plane, another had died from rough handling at a holding centre and two had committed suicide–preferring to hang themselves than face being repatriated.

That they were known gay men who were being sent back to Iran, didn’t seem to stop the government’s intention to ‘thin the population of illegals out and show them we’re no soft option’.

Katrina couldn’t see how suspending oneself over the drive shaft of juggernaut for hours was a soft option, or how hiding in containers with little fresh air, no food or water and no toilet–seemed easy–these people were desperate.

The demo had got rough, the horses were used to break them up and one of the mounted police got yanked off and suffered a fractured skull. Katrina could see it now, like something from a slow motion movie–the horse came through scattering people and one of them ran behind it, leapt on its back–just like a stunt from the movies–and pulled the rider off. He landed on his head.

Once one of the oppressors were down, they got very rough and drove the protestors into a cul de sac where they attacked them with batons and riot shields until all of them were either taken off in ambulances or black Marias.

Katrina was arrested with them–a woman friend, Josie, got bashed on the head while trying to walk away–she fell bleeding from a head wound–and when Katrina went to help–she was hit as well.

She woke up in hospital under police guard and was taken to court the next day. Her mother bailed her until her father found out–he went unsurprisingly ballistic and disowned her. He’d been moving towards the ministerial ranks and suddenly it stopped–his child was an embarrassment.

Despite concussion and no evidence offered to show she’d been involved in the attack on the equestrian police officer, she was found guilty and like her friend received a suspended prison sentence. Her dad, already at odds with her over politics and other issues disowned her. She hadn’t spoken to him for over two years.

She tried to get work, but the universities closed ranks, even though they knew she hadn’t done anything more than demonstrate and protest peacefully. The job she thought she had, disappeared and her academic career was over before it got started.

She drew benefits and after living in a hostel for several months where anything you had of value got stolen in the first week, she begged her mother to loan her enough to put down as a deposit on a bedsit. Her mother came back with a better bedsit, and Katrina took it, paying half the rent, her mother the other half–until she found a job.

The fifty quid had gone a long way in the charity shops and she’d managed three outfits she could mix and match to make them look more. As she earned some money, she’d be able to accessorise and look even better.

She’d done some voluntary work for a woman’s refuge and the lesbian group of which she was a member–another point of contention with her dad and to a degree with her mum–who couldn’t understand what women did with each other. Mind you Katrina could hardly believe her parents did it more than once–then thinking of her father, when she thought about his hairy paunch and silly moustache she wondered how her mother could do it the first time. Her mother was very myopic without her glasses–so possibly that explained things.

The bus pulled up in the high street and Katrina walked and trotted towards the offices–she nearly skipped as she went–she was early–but then she was keen–and–she’d be getting paid for it. She barely noticed the drizzle falling, she was walking on air.

The first week was all induction–learning the protocols for this that and the other. Health and safety bored her senseless; lifting and handling as it used to be called is now referred to as manual handling–which she saw as pure tautology. Pensions and sick leave–wow, she had to be there six months before she qualified for any sick leave–but it didn’t matter because she’d crawl to work from her sick bed if she had to.

The job wasn’t permanent–once again, because of her criminal record, which she’d declared at interview–they reserved the right to a six month probationary period. She couldn’t complain–she nearly died when they offered her the job–it was heaven. She even bought a 18.75cl bottle of wine to celebrate and almost got tipsy, it was so long since she’d had any alcohol.

She took off her coat–the one she’d got in Oxfam for three quid, but needed some work–she made the repairs and dyed it from off white to a French navy colour. It took her all night, but it looked okay and kept the wind and rain at bay.

She checked her long red hair in the hand mirror, she tied it back although it threatened to burst free at the slightest provocation. Her father had a thick thatch of red hair as well–obviously she took after him for that–he however had blue eyes, while she had bright green ones and loads of freckles, which she hated but everyone else loved, especially Josie–except Josie had gone.

The blow she’d received had caused some changes in personality and she’d gone from being a total ray of sunshine to being constantly depressed and anxious. She accused Katrina of being unfaithful and after a huge fight they split up.

Katrina was so upset, she moped about for weeks–Josie took an overdose and died. Everyone in the community understood it wasn’t Katrina’s fault but she felt suicidal herself and had weeks of counselling at her GPs.

She thought about Josie as she settled at her desk in the refuse and sanitation department of her local council. It was her turn to answer the phone and email enquiries.

She reckoned she only got the job when they asked how she would approach the job and what use her previous experience would benefit her. Her reply was delivered dead pan, “I suspect that being a geographer with an interest in people means I won’t get too lost and will hopefully be able to understand what enquirers and colleagues are talking about.”

She had a silky voice which tended to calm most people and after two weeks was receiving plaudits from her colleagues–she burst into tears one lunch time–no one had ever made her feel so welcome. Half the office was upset for her.

She engaged in the banter and when the girls talked about boys–she reminded them she didn’t do boys. She’d been up front about her lesbianism and the council, who had a Labour majority, pursued a genuine diversity and equality policy. In fact their chief exec was black, one of only three in the whole of England; who most people liked and who had a dazzling white smile–the whiteness of his teeth enhanced by his dark skin.

There was a major row over refuse collections–the unions came out on strike and even Katrina had trouble calming the enraged rate payers.

After the dispute had been running for two weeks and tempers were very frayed, the Chief Executive, Emanuel Chippendale, visited the department to see things for himself.

Although it was a Labour council, and Chippendale was a staunch socialist, he was also a graduate with a first in PPE and an MA Cantab. He was nobody’s fool and he knew the dispute was hurting both the council and the residents. He needed it sorted because government were leaning on him and the fact that there had been angry scenes between pickets and ratepayers meant he needed something done and fast.

He stood in the sanitation and refuse department watching people work, waiting for their manager to come back from a meeting about the dispute. His eyes alighted on the pretty redhead sitting in the corner and dealing with phone enquiries.

He watched the willowy woman answer four enquiries and keep everyone happy–she even made the throwaway, “Have a good day,” seem sincere–perhaps to her it was.

When Roger Bing came back Chippendale asked who the redhead was. “She’s not your sort, Mannie–she swings the other way.”

“Roger, just because I have a certain reputation in the trouser department, doesn’t mean I want to shag everything in a skirt–I’ve just watched her deal with four enquiries and I thought she did it very well, mind you I couldn’t hear what the punters said.”

“We record every call, so if you like I can get you a copy of the tapes.”

“Yeah, do that–I don’t remember her being here last time I came by, is she new?”

“Yeah–a rare find, our Katrina.”

“She sounds Scottish, is she?”

“Don’t think so–not by her Home Counties accent.”

“She seems to have a bit of something about her.”

“She’s got form–demonstrating against the government–was involved in the unseating of a mounted copper–she says she was innocent and was assaulted by the police–but she got a suspended over it.”

“She told you this at interview?”

“Yep, and that she’s gay.”

“Why are all the pretty ones in this place bloody lezzies?” asked Chippendale and Bing shrugged–‘Sod’s law, I expect,’ was his reply.

The unrest increased and both sides were invited to arbitration as ACAS but by then the government were involved and ready to kick hard a Labour council who had previously waved two fingers at them over its policy on libraries and old people’s homes. The council had got away with it then–getting a judicial review–in their favour–the government were looking for revenge and the Secretary of State had announced a visit to see things for himself.

Chippendale was worried, he assembled a team to show the ministers round and included Katrina in it. She was very apprehensive, she was the new kid on the block and had been promoted to this team after just three months in post. She bought herself a new outfit–a suit–her first and it wasn’t from Oxfam–it was new. In cornflower blue wool, with her white blouse she looked really special. She’d even bought new court shoes in navy although they pinched her toes, and made her feel eleven feet tall, she was only five foot eleven with them on, and their three inch heels.

With her help, the minister went off appeased, her sweet smile and dancing green eyes won him over and retribution was avoided. Chippendale was impressed and appointed her as his PA. His old one was leaving for a job in London, she was dating a Labour MP and he’d opened doors for her. It suited Chippendale perfectly and he seconded Katrina immediately, to shadow Zoe before she left. Katrina was good and even Zoe, who loathed ‘skirt lifters’ as she called lesbians, said so–in fact–they were in danger of becoming friends.

The job went well for two months when they had a bomb explode in a mosque with dozens of casualties. The police were like ants swarming over everything and where there’s news and sound bites the politician’s gather.

The Home Secretary herself had visited and led a ministerial team to meet with the council–Chippendale briefed his team and they each sat either side of the long table of the council office, each with their team of helpers sitting behind.

Katrina ran the support for the meeting liaising with the Home Secretary’s PA to make sure it all went smoothly–after all there wasn’t any conflict between government and council; just who was responsible for organising what. The local cops ceded leadership to the Met, who had an anti-terror department and Special Branch also showed up to annoy everyone by trying to pull rank.

“Kat, I need twenty copies of this now–and more tea please,” said Chippendale and she dashed off to organise more refreshments and the photocopies. Ten minutes later she was dashing back to the meeting with the paperwork when she collided with someone coming out of the toilets. No one was hurt but she dropped the paper and he grabbed her to save her from falling.

He looked her in the eye as she blushed and apologised. She froze and he sensed her becoming rigid in his grasp.

Paul?” he said his eyes popping.

Katrina, now, Daddy.”

The End.

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