The Dreaded Miss Heathcliff
When I arrive at the store, at five-thirty P.M, I see Danny at his workbench; head slumped down over a typewriter. I know Miss Heathcliff is running him ragged. He has been looking very tired and very pale lately.
“You asleep on the bloody job Danny?”
“I ain’t feeling so ‘ot, me old mate.”
“I’ll get you a glass of water.” I say and head for the loo.
Running water always makes me want to pee, but I hold it, as I’m worried about Danny. I rush back, give him the water and an aspirin, and he says he’s feeling better. I rush back to the loo and take a piss. A faint smile crosses my face remembering the many times before at work when I’d have a quick wank.
Wills, I think, how can you have such thoughts when Danny needs you!
Was only a bloody passing thought, I did wank did I!
When I return I’m shocked to find Danny passed out on the floor. I scream at Dave “Help me!”
We lie Danny in the back of the van, and I drive as fast as I can to Connault Hospital. On the drive I think everything through, what’s the worst thing this could mean. If Danny’s hospitalized I will have to take leave from Stanwood’s, to run the typewriter business. Better still, if I was in hospital Stanwood would pay me. With this in mind I check Danny in as Alan Wills. The nurse in the emergency room says she thinks Danny has pneumonia and admits him.
The next morning I awake early, and have no intention of going to work at Stanwood, but instead head to our store. I call the hospital. They confirm that it is pneumonia, and that he will be confined to the hospital from one to three weeks. I call Stanwood’s and talk to my manager. “I’m sorry, Mr. Grey. I must have been overdoing it trying to sell off all those trade-ins as quickly as possible for you. Well I’m at Connault Hospital, and they say I have pneumonia, and that I will be confined here for at least three weeks.”
“Dear me, Alan, that’s very serious. Pneumonia can be very nasty. You look after yourself. Get lots of rest. Don’t worry about the trade-ins, they’ll still be here when you get back. Be sure to bring us your discharge papers when you are released from the hospital. Good luck old chap.”
I feel less pressure now that I have time to run our businesses. Although I can clean and do minor adjustments on typewriters, Danny is the mechanic. It’s just two days since he went into the hospital, and a vicious typewriter gremlin has taken over at the Swift Shirt Company.
It’s now a week Danny has been in the hospital. I have been called to the Swift Shirt Company every day, and I now have ten machines in the shop that need major work. Consequently all ten loaner typewriters are now at Swift. Danny, being a competent mechanic is usually able to repair the typewriters on the spot. Therefore, we had never before used more than one or two loaners a month. Since we are out of loaners, I pray that Danny will be back to work before another typewriter bites the dust.
Have you ever noticed that your prayers sometimes fall on deaf ears? Or, even worse, that the horned feller, carrying the oversized toasting fork, and wearing the red suit, intercepts them.
Today I receive a call from guess who, at Swift Shirt.
“Hello, Mr. Wills. This is Miss Heathcliff from the Swift Shirt Company. An inordinate number of our machines seem to be malfunctioning. We now have two more that are totally out of commission. Can you come right away?” Miss Heathcliff asks, sounding like a stern English schoolmarm.
“Oh yes, Miss Hea’fcliff. I’ll be right there. Don’t you worry?”
Out of commission was an understatement. Both machines are seized up tighter than a duck’s ass, and that’s watertight. I do everything I can with my limited experience, plus some calculated, out of desperation taps with my hammer. I even close my eyes and talk to the big mechanic in the sky. But I guess he must have been out tuning harps or something, as I get no reply. So I pluck up the courage and head for Miss Heathcliff’s office. Anticipating her fury, I gingerly tap at her door, hoping she won’t hear.
“Come! Come!” she yells, in a sergeant-majors voice.
“Yes, Mr. Wills?” her loud voice startles me back to reality, as I enter.
“Well, Miss Hea’fcliff, your two typewriters are sick and will have to go to the hospital,” I say, trying to make light of the situation. But, judging by the deafening silence, my humor fell on deaf ears.
“So why are you telling me? Just install two replacement typewriters and be on your way. I’m a very busy woman you know!”
“Well, you see, that’s the problem. I don’t have two more loaners.”
“What?” she bellows like a water buffalo in heat. “What? You don’t carry adequate replacement machines? Mr. Wills, Swift Shirt Company is the largest shirt manufacturer in Great Britain. We type hundreds of invoices, labels, and letters every day. We must have those typewriters in working order, at once!”
“Oh yes! I totally understand, Miss H.” Again it went as quiet as if someone had brought a ham into a kosher kitchen. She tilts her head back thrusting her nose in the air.
“My name is Miss Heathcliff, and I’ll thank you to remember that, young man!”
“Yes, of course! I mean, whatever you say, Miss Heathcliff.” I almost bow as I shuffle backwards, then bump into the doorpost “I’m sorry. I…”Christ! She must think me a real idiot apologizing to the doorpost. I half open the door and make a hasty retreat.
I have only been back at the shop for fifteen minutes, and haven’t even started to look at the two typewriters, when the phone rings. I just know it’s old thunder thighs.
“Mr. Wills, this is Miss Heathcliff. Are those two typewriters ready?”
“Well, not quite. You see, me partner, Danny, is in the hospital and…”
“Now, you listen, and listen good! I don’t care about your petty problems. You get me two typewriters NOW! Or I will see to it that your contract with the Swift Shirt Company is revoked. Do you completely understand? Do I make myself clear? Mr. Wills?”
“Right, yes, very clear! Clear as a bell, Miss Heath…..”
She hangs up in my ear, something that’s now not new to me, but it still makes me mad. I kick the solid wood leg of the workbench and hurt my foot. Hobbling around, I call her everything but a lady. I decide to phone Danny at the hospital, to consult with him about how to repair the typewriters.
“I’m so sorry,” says a sympathetic sounding nurse. “Your friend developed appendicitis, and has been sedated and rushed to surgery. But you will be able to visit him in a day or so.”
Why me, God? When I was young I went to church, sort of regular, was a Boy Scout helped old ladies across the road, and even carried the Union Jack flag in church. You know, sometimes I did fake singing hymns but it was really in your best interest. You of all people know I have a lousy voice. Oh, and I guess You know about me using the money me mum gave me for the collection plate, to buy peanut brittle from Mrs. Strut’s sweetshop. But even so, don’t You think losing the money on the fairing business was repayment enough? Let’s make a deal. You get me out of this scrape with the bloody typewriters and I’ll go to church regularly, or at least semi regularly.
It becomes really quiet in the shop and I wait, for what I’m not sure.
OK, God, I’ll donate ten percent of the Swift Shirt contract money to the poor. Again I wait and listen. So how about fifteen percent? Oh, yes! I forgot that you have turned a deaf ear to Alan Wills this month. So is this the payback for my illegal deeds my mother warned me about?
Instantly the phone rang. Realizing that God communicates in strange ways, I grab for it in hope.
“Mr. Wills, this is Miss Heathcliff from the Swift Shirt Company. Are you there?”
“Oh yes, I was just expecting someone else!”
“You remember me, don’t you?”
“Oh YES! Of all people how could I forget you, Miss Heathcliff?”
“Well, Mr. Wills, our main duplicating machine won’t print and it’s the only one that will make legal size copies. Can you come right away?”
“I’ll be there before you know it, Miss Heathcliff!”
“Will you be bringing the two typewriters with you?”
“Now, what’s more important”, I hedge, “the duplicating machine or the typewriters?”
“The duplicating machine! My boss is in a big meeting with the solicitors and must have copies within the hour.”
“Be there quick as a wink, Miss H… I mean Heathcliff.”
I take the back off the huge, old, duplicating machine, and I can’t believe my eyes. Before me is what I can only describe as a frightening conglomeration of gears, rollers, and strange devices. Devices, I might add, that my four years of electronics school had never remotely touched on. I experience the fear of a coal miner being asked to perform brain surgery.
I take a deep breath and try to compose myself. Wills, let’s consider the facts. You are not stupid. You have passed every practical exam for electronics and TV repair. Tape recorders and record changers never give you a problem, and they are mechanical devices. This is just another device. A scary device, I’ll grant you, but still only a big mechanical device. A man designed it, a man built it and servicemen no smarter than you repair it.
That’s right, I think. So what am I worried about? I’d better get busy and repair it before the old battle axe, Miss Heath-bloody-cliff, returns.
I am just becoming more relaxed, when suddenly, my long screwdriver hits something and there is a big FLASH, and a BANG! Then all the lights in the office go out.
As the door opens, I didn’t need to look up to know who is standing there.
“Mr. Wills! What on earth have you done? I heard this enormous explosion and all the lights went out in the offices.”
“Yes, I heard that too. Must be something outside! A power outage or something.”
“Power outage, my foot! You blew all the fuses! Are you qualified to work on the duplicating machine?”
“Qualified? I’m overqualified! City and Guilds degree and a five-year apprenticeship. This box of tricks is a piece of cake. That fuse had nothing to do with what I’m doing, but I’ll be glad to go down in the basement and check the fuses for you, Miss Heathcliff.”
Once at the fuse box I quickly jump the blown fuse with a piece of solid wire that a bomb couldn’t blow,
Back behind the monster, duplicating machine, I know that I must repair it or Miss Heathcliff will definitely see to it that our contract is cancelled.
As I work I fantasize; Miss Heathcliff inviting me into her office. “Lock the door young man’, she commands, standing there wearing one of those old fashioned corsets with the bone ribs. She also is wearing navy blue, knee length fleecy school bloomers, and holds a school cane in her hand. “Take me, and save your contract,” she’d say, ripping the corset apart with both hands. I pictured her huge boobs hitting her knees, and I shudder. Boy, do I understand why she is still a bloody Miss. I shake my head to focus.
As I delve deeper into this mystery box of tricks, I gain newfound confidence. Although it is messy, with greasy gears and inky rollers, it disassembles quite easily. I carefully lay out the millions of springs, levers, drive-belts and ‘C’ clips in order on a table next to the duplicator. So far, I have not found a problem, so I decide to delve deeper, which requires removing a large metal screening box. After I remove all the retaining screws, the box will still not come loose. Gently I tap it with the handle of my large, fuse-blowing, screwdriver. It appears to move, so I tap it a little harder and it moves again. Placing a hand on either side of the box, I give it a huge pull. Unexpectedly, it comes off with such ease that I stumble backwards, knocking over the wood table. Rollers, gears, springs, clips, levers and a thousand unknown parts go flying everywhere. Before the last part hits the floor, Miss Heathcliff is at the door.
“Mr. Wills! In exactly five minutes, Mr. Witherspoon, my boss and Director of this company, will expect me to hand him copies of his legal papers. Do you understand? I must have those copies or it will be my job. What do you think, Mr. City and Guilds with five years apprenticeship?”
Once again in my life something or someone is working my mouth. Even I can’t believe what I hear coming out, “What do I think, Miss Heathcliff? I think you’d better start looking for another job!”
As you might guess, we lose the Swift Shirt contract. Danny, still in the hospital, is fit to be tied. He tries to get on the good side of Miss Heathcliff, by sending her flowers and a very nice “Sorry we fucked up” note. But we have not heard from her.
I try to console Danny by telling him “You did everything he could to get on her good side. But that old battle axe obviously doesn’t have a good side, Danny!”
End of Chapter 42
By Alan Wills
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