Old Bill wasn’t the type of person who you would like to fall out with.
He wasn’t really old. But now in his early fifties, he had acquired the title of old Bill through his hostile attitude and his skulking appearance which he had adopted by the time when he had reached his forties.
Bill was avoided by most people. They were generally wary of the pent up anger permanently welling up inside of him, “Not a full shilling,” was how most thought of him. Although Bill did have a few friends of long standing, being six foot plus in height and weighing around sixteen and a half stone, with a quick temper, Bill was generally feared and disliked by most.
Bill could be seen on most days—and evenings—always smartly dressed in suit and tie, sat on a stool at the bar in the Hillcrest Hotel, on his favourite corner seat, hunched forward, elbows on the bar, chain smoking fags which he held between his nicotine stained fingers. A large scotch would always be in front of him, with a jug of water to hand, and an open packet of cigarettes on the bar.
Bills chosen seat at the end of the bar enabled him to have a full view of the Hotel entrance, where he would gaze at all day grumpily scrutinising all who entered the establishment.
Sat next to Bill also drinking scotch and sharing Bills fags, would usually be Glenn; his long standing girl friend. Glenn was the absolute opposite of Bill. Whereas Bill was permanently angry, Glenn was polite and gracious. Glen was also very attractive—what the hell does she see in him—was the remark often heard, out of the reach of Bill’s hearing of course. She was intelligent, and worth a few bob, thanks to a substantial divorce settlement some years earlier from her wealthy Italian husband.
Bill’s trade was as a glazier. He had started in business some years previous thanks to some substantial financial input from his father in law who later washed his hands of everything to do with Bill, after his daughter Florence divorced Bill.
A few years after divorcing Florence, Bill in one of his typically rash actions invited his ex wife for a meal one evening in the restaurant at the Hillcrest with Glenn. The evening was an absolute disaster. A drunken Bill, declared his undying love for both women, causing Florence to storm from the restaurant, and crush a motorcycle as she drove from the car park. Her car was immobilised and after storming back to the restaurant while awaiting a taxi, Florence was subjected to the tearful remonstrations of owner of the motorcycle who was a young waiter that had just started at the restaurant.
Having observed Florence through the window getting in the taxi, Bill as usual got the plot wrong and ran outside to accuse the taxi driver of being Florence’s lover and promptly gave the driver a thumping right hook which laid the driver unconscious across the bonnet of his cab. When Bill had cooled down and Florence explained that he was just a taxi driver, Bill mumbled an apology as the driver came around and stuffed a fiver in his top pocket for his troubles.
Bills fortunes had slowly gone downhill over the last few years. After a number of business failures, mainly due to Bill’s uncompromising fiery attitude to others and his addiction to scotch, he became even more alienated from nearly everyone.
His last job was a sub contract which he was awarded for a large exhibition hall at Liverpool, only to be sacked by the developers for threatening behaviour and barred from site—an act that on the night he was sacked caused him to stay in the Hillcrest bar drinking until 5.00 am, and then getting a taxi to site in an attempt to burn the Building down with a box of matches.
It mattered nothing to barmy Bill that the building was totally fire resistant but with the box of matches that he had purchased from the bar, he became the laughing stock of the establishment as he set off declaring to all, his intent to raze the building to the ground.
After living with Glenn for about ten years he eventually married her but, after beating her up on a number of occasions, Glenn left him. Although Glenn’s money had all but dried up due to Bill’s extravagant spending on booze. With her departure from the scene, he was now penniless, and becoming more morose as each day passed.
As he went in a downward spiral, so did his appearance.The smart suit and tie had long gone to be replaced by a shabby sweater which was far too large for even Bills frame and it concerned him not, that the sweater would go unwashed for weeks at a time.
Bill was barred by now from his beloved Hillcrest bar and most other bars in the area, mainly for upsetting customers and bar staff.
He had became increasingly bitter, often resorting to picking fights with anyone that he had even a mild disagreement with, and eventually after an argument with a young customer at a pub, Bill asked the customer outside to settle their differences and although not a punch was struck, Bill on leaning backwards to avoid a punch…fell, and broke his skull.
Eight years on, while working in my office, a man with a black briefcase was shown in by my secretary.
‘I’ve been trying to contact Bill Stretch the man explained, I believe that you used to work for him a few years ago,’
‘Work for him? No, I never worked for Bill.’ I replied.
‘Yes you did…I met you at Bills office once…don’t you remember me?’
I shook my head. ‘You’ve got the wrong man.’ I said. Who are you anyway?
‘Oh…I’m very sorry, John Cowan’s the name Cowan’s Leisure Solutions is my company. I called at Bills old office and the receptionist kindly directed me to you. I met you with Bill at the old office inWidnes…you were there with his secretary, do you remember now?’
The penny suddenly dropped. Yes I remembered alright…but that was back in 1986, over twenty years ago. Yeah, I remember, I muttered as all the events of that time slowly flooded back in to my mind.
That was the time when Bill, who didn’t have his own office facilities, had asked me if he could use my office for the purpose of a meeting and a site visit with John Cowan the following week.
Yes… everything came back to me now. I remembered vividly.
Bill and Glen had moved away to Amsterdam for a while and had met a Dutch executive named Van Der Klerk who owned a company which manufactured a new building product called Polycarbonate. Van Der Klerk had an English contact who happened to be John Cowan, who was hoping to be awarded the contract, to build the exhibition hall at the Festival Garden centre at Liverpool.
Now co-incidentally, Bill just happened to know something about Polycarbonate through his interest in the glazing industry—enough to be able to talk knowingly—and enough to be able to persuade John Cowan that he was the man to be considered for the cladding work on the sub-contract.
Bill, having made a breakthrough with his new contact was on a high that night, He and Glenn downed the strong Dutch ale at the Amsterdam Veldt bar like it was going out of fashion. Later, on discovering that they had spent all their money and were broke, they slept in the car after removing their shoes and leaving them outside, only to be disturbed by the police. Fearing that they would be breathalysed, they sped off in to the night, only realising later that they had left their shoes behind.
The next day, Bill drove back where they had been sleeping, but the shoes were no where to be found, and on hearing the tale, the manager of the Veldt bar allowed Bill to borrow the money to buy shoes for him and Glenn as a thank you for spending all his money at the bar. A good investment, he probably thought having heard the previous night of Bill’s impending good fortune.
Bill, on return from his stay in Holland had formed a company which he had named Dutch Glasshouse, and was hoping to exploit Polycarbonate, which he was proposing to specify for the exhibition hall inLiverpoolfor which John Cowan was now the favourite for the main contract.
‘Yeah, I don’t mind you using my office,’ I agreed, ‘but you’ve lost me here, what do you expect to get from this Cowan guy? What’s in it for you?’ I asked .
‘He’s the main contractor for the exhibition hall—the one being built at theFestivalGardencentre,’ replied Bill. ‘I’m using your figures for the steelwork and I’m going to get the contract for the cladding from Cowan.’
I stood bemused. ‘Bill you need a team of designers and a drawing office to design that building and…’
‘Don’t worry…I’ve got it all sorted,’ interrupted Bill, ‘just leave the talking to me. Now you’re a structural steel man,’ he said producing a large brown envelope.’ Just work out the steel sizes for me on this.’
Bill produced a set of torn and dirty drawings which he placed in front of me.
‘Bill… I’d need weeks and a couple of assistants to work this lot out, what do you think I am…bloody Einstein?’I protested.
‘You can do it…just give me a rough idea,’ said Bill.
‘Bill you don’t…oh well I’ll give you a rough idea…and I do mean rough, it’ll take me a couple of hours, and I’m telling you it won’t work…you’re wasting your bloody time,’ I told him.
‘Good man,’ said Bill. When you’ve worked them out, just jot them down on the back of this fag packet.’ he said tearing a cigarette packet open and handing it to me.
‘On the back of a fag packet, are you real? I exclaimed. How can you present a tender from figures on the back of a fag packet?’ I protested.
‘Yeah, write them on the back of this fag packet. It’ll be alright,’ said Bill.
‘No, that’s alright, I’ll get them printed out properly,’ I offered.
‘No…no problem...I’ll find it easier if I can keep it in my inside pocket.’
‘But …but you can’t just…’.
‘It’ll be fine,’ interrupted Bill.
‘Jesus,’ I muttered shaking my head.
That evening after roughly working out the steelwork sizes, I called in at the bar for a drink. There was quiet a large crowd of regulars in and I kept them entertained by explaining that I had been commissioned by Bill to produce drawings and calculations on the back of a fag packet for his forthcoming project at theFestivalGardencentre.
‘He’s getting worse…an absolute nutter,’ I moaned.
‘A prize idiot,’ said my friend Keith.
‘The man needs putting away,’ I said.
‘He’s skint too. At the end of the day, who do you think will get all the crap,’ I protested as the crowd burst in to jeering laughter.
The laughter subsided as Bill and Glenn made their entrance in the bar leaving us to mutter amongst ourselves.
Bill though had the last laugh on all of us however because three weeks later, Bill and Glen were drinking bottle after bottle of champagne in the Hillcrest bar.
I was dumbstruck when on asking him what the occasion was, Bill announced triumphantly ‘I got the contract, yeah they awarded me the contract today, I told you to leave all the talking to me, didn’t I.’
To say that I was dumbfounded was an understatement. There was no way that I could see how Bill would get that contract. He was an idiot…a complete idiot, and yet he had a contract for Four hundred thousand pounds. Bloody impossible I thought.
I returned from my trip down memory lane to see John Cowan staring inquiringly at me.
‘Sorry about that,’ I apologised.’ ‘I was miles away. I’m sorry but, Bill died five years ago; he was killed in a fight. Bill wasn’t the brightest spark in the world, and I was thinking of the day in which he told us that he’d won that contract.’
‘Oh…oh, I am so sorry,’ a clearly shaken John said…’I am so, so sorry.’
John sat at a spare desk with his head bowed and his hands clasped in front of him. Suddenly he looked up and said angrily…
‘And you said that he wasn’t the brightest spark in the world?’ John retorted. I thought that he was a bloody genius.
‘But he was a nutter. He got himself thrown off the site,’ I exclaimed.
‘Yes, I know…he just didn’t see eye to eye with the project manager.’
‘And he tried to burn the bloody place down with a box of matches,’ I added.
‘Burn it down? Burn it down with a book of matches from the Hillcrest bar? Said Cowan. Do me a favour the building was fireproof. Now let me tell you why Bill was invaluable to me on this contract.’
‘You see…Bill gave me a set of dimensions and steel members for that building, and they were mathematically perfect…spot on. The designers checked all the sizes and dimensions…perfect… All I had to do was produce steel fabrication drawings and general arrangements based on Bills figures.’ Have you any idea how much that the savings were on design fees alone?’
John continued. ‘Look…I know that Bill had a short fuse, and that he upset a few people, but that’s nothing…The job was built and finished wasn’t it?’
I was lost for words. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. ‘But…but these figures which Bill gave you…how…or where did the drawings for them come from? I asked. ‘I’ve never seen…’
‘Oh…I kept those, I’ll always keep them,’ interrupted John. ‘I keep them as a reminder of the time when I made a small fortune on that exhibition building. I will always be thankful to Bill and I’m so sorry to hear that he is deceased because I always promised Bill that I would look after him.’
John reached for his inside pocket, produced a white envelope from which he retrieved a bankers draft. ‘Here’ he held it in front of me.
‘That is half of what I saved on design charges. It’s many years late because I had to fight the developers through the courts. We eventually won our case a month ago,’ explained John.
My eyes nearly popped from my head as I ogled the bankers draft which John had placed on the table in front of me, it was made payable to W Stretch for the sum of Seventy Thousand pounds.
I was speechless, amazed. John opened his brief case and produced a small gilt frame and placed it in front of me. In the glass frame was a dirty beer stained fag packet with cigarette burns on the side, and scribbled in pencil on the rear of the packet were all the dimensions and sizes which I had jotted down for Bill, fifteen years ago.
I was stunned, shattered. My rough calculations which I had jotted down on the back of that fag packet were perfect…absolutely spot on. I just couldn’t believe it.
‘Couldn’t have done it without Bill,’ said John sullenly. ‘The man was a bloody genius.’
I struggled to put my feelings to words. ‘But I don’t believe it,’ I blubbered. ‘I mean…well It’s…That was my…oh well, can you believe that? They were my bloody figures,’ I blurted out.
‘Yes mine, I produced all those figures for Bill.’
John paused and stared at me for a short while.
‘Come off it …do you really expect me to believe that?’ he said disbelievingly.
I was distraught. ‘Why not,’ I protested.
‘Because,’ explained John, if you had worked out those figures, they would have been presented properly and filed on your own notepaper. Only Bill would work them out on the back of a fag packet. Bill warned me about you. He said that you were a thief. You are trying to steal his thunder. He said that you would try to get the credit for that job.’
John gathered his brief case and turned toward the door.
‘Sorry,’ he said as I slumped at my desk, ‘There’s nothing down for you,’
John stood his brief case on the floor, took the bankers draft payable to W Stretch, tore it in a hundred pieces and dropped them in the waste bin.
‘I’ll bid you goodbye,’ he said as he gathered his brief case, turned and departed from the office slamming the door on the way out.
The echo of the slammed door was the only sound from our office. Just the echo and I… staring open mouthed at the waste bin, attempting to release words from my mouth which wouldn’t come, and my shocked secretary holding her hands to her head in disbelief.
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