Clara’s Coffee – Chapter 8

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Mid-afternoon that day, less than a week ago, Sylvia had finally learned from the police that the two male occupants of Oliver’s wrecked Jaguar had been taken by air ambulance to Leeds General Infirmary. A phone call to the hospital revealed that one of the two men had been pronounced ‘dead on arrival’ and despite their best efforts, it had not been possible to resuscitate him. The other man was described as having suffered serious injuries and was undergoing surgery. There was no more information available at that time.

Urgent calls to both Marion Chancellor and Diana Rathbone, led to them both dropping everything and dashing off to Leeds.  When Marion arrived at the LGI, she was able to establish (by describing Peter and the clothes he had worn that morning) that it was, indeed, Peter who was undergoing surgery. Consequently, she had been on hand to console Diana when she arrived minutes later and to call Sylvia to let her know.

Still in his office, Nigel had been trying to ascertain if the two men had been on their way to meet Penn Saunders (whose office & warehouse he had discovered was at Pontefract) or whether they were returning. If they had been on their way back from an earlier meeting, he was concerned that he might be too late to prevent the signing of another contract. It was with some relief (while still fearing for the fate of the two men) that he discovered from further traffic reports that the ‘incident’ had occurred on the southbound carriageway.

Following Sylvia popping her head around his office door to update him on what she had heard, Nigel made a call offering condolences to Diana, who unsurprisingly was distraught and seemed unable to respond. He then spoke to Marion who was doing her best to attempt a veneer of calm whilst taking care of Diana. At least there was hope for Marion but it seemed that it was going to be some time before there was a clear prognosis for Peter. She said she was going to stay at the hospital until Peter was out of surgery. He asked her to let him know the situation with Peter as soon as she knew anything more. And to let him know if there was anything he could do for her or Diana, that might be urgent and needed attending to.

Switching his attention back to the business at Clara’s, he knew that he now had a couple of key priorities to attend to. First, he had to ensure that with the death of Oliver, the purchasing function was fully covered. And secondly, he had to ascertain what other horrors might be lurking in the department. He then called Mark Simmons, Peter’s number two. Nigel had not spent much time with him so far, but the impression he had was of a bright young man. Although too early to take any definitive action, he could use the delay to get to know Mark and the whole purchasing situation better.

“Mark, Nigel here. Can you spare me a few minutes?”

“Rightaway!” was the response and two minutes later he was knocking on Nigel’s door.

“Do sit down. I haven’t had much time to get to know you yet but first I have some rather unfortunate news to share.” He then gave Mark a brief run-down of the events of the morning. Mark’s response was respectful but the impression Nigel gained was that, beneath the obvious initial shock and the appropriate choice of words, there was something in his eyes that showed a degree of relief.

“It’s far too early for us to start thinking of any reorganisation plans, especially until we know more about Mr. Chancellor’s situation. However, with immediate effect, you will report directly to me, on a pro-tem basis. The other three in the department will report to you, again pro-tem. No mention of this to the others for the moment but, if everyone else is in, I’ll pop down for a word later and explain what’s happening. OK? You think you can hold the fort for me?”

“Absolutely, no problem.” Again, a respectful nod but the light in his eyes showed ambition rather than apprehension.

“Good. One more thing, I’d like to take a look at the contract details for all of our major suppliers, together with any comments you might have especially relating to quality (both goods and service) and costs. I’d just like to bring myself up to date with the current situation. As quick as you can, please. Again, no need to mention anything to suppliers yet, we can discuss an official announcement over the next day or so as soon as we know more.”

“On it now, boss!”

Nigel was impressed with Mark. Late twenties, tall, smartly dressed & clearly well educated, he gave off an aura of confidence & competence that he hoped could be sustained. He wasn’t a family member so, perhaps, he could be relied upon to give unbiased advice.

Just a half hour later Mark came back clutching an armful of files.

“Here are the files you asked for Mr Havering and I’m putting together some key points along the lines you requested. As I don’t need the contract details for that, I thought you might like the files straightaway? I’ve also put them in order of their annual purchase levels.”

“Very efficient! Thank you, Mark. And by the way, it’s Nigel”

Nigel was not surprised to find the file for Superlative Holdings on the top of the pile. Quickly scanning the contract, he found that it expired at the month end – just over two weeks away.

Now, the day of the funeral dawned grey and overcast, matching the mood of the mourners gathered at the graveside. The shock of the sudden death seeming to magnify the gravity of the occasion. It was only four days since the horrific accident but it seemed that Diana wished the funeral to take place as quickly as possible.

The service had been short and lacking the eulogy, that Nigel would have expected. However, given how close the two of them had been, perhaps if Peter hadn’t still been in the intensive care unit (drifting in and out of unconsciousness) he might have put up a glowing account of his departed friend.

“Diana, may I say how sorry I am at your sad loss.” Offered Nigel gently as he approached Diana at the graveside, “I know that Oliver will be sorely missed by everyone.”

“If it wasn’t for you, they might not have been dashing off down the A1 that day!” Hissed Diana turning to face him

“I’m not sure I understand.” Responded Nigel, aghast that she had responded in this way.

“That’s the problem with you, Nigel Havering. You’ve never been a real member of this family and you just lack the empathy to understand anyone other than yourself!” She spun on her heel & walked briskly away, leaving him speechless.

Shaking his head, he felt an urgent desire to spend time with Melissa. They spoke on the phone almost daily, usually to discuss progress on Chester, but hadn’t met up for some time. Standing there amongst the graves and the mourners, he felt it was too depressing an occasion & he realised just how much he was missing her. On his way back to the carpark, he glimpsed someone he hadn’t noticed earlier, deep in conversation with Marion Chancellor. There was something about the short, thickset man that looked familiar.

He spoke briefly to Cynthia, explaining something had come up over at Chester and he had to dash off. He arranged to come over to spend the day with her on Saturday and gave her a kiss and a hug.

As he drove away, Nigel was wracking his brains over the vaguely familiar face of the man speaking to Marion. Then it came to him; it was Saunders! Given the short time since the accident, it had been decided by Diana that any general announcement to suppliers and the trade could wait a few more days. She hadn’t wanted a large gathering with the possibility of the local press in attendance. So, how had Saunders been informed? The penny then dropped, Saunders would have been waiting for them to arrive that fateful day. He had probably phoned one or both of their mobiles when they didn’t arrive, got no answer and then called the office. It could easily have been Sylvia, caught up in the hectic events who had informed him before the decision had been taken to avoid talking about the accident until after the funeral. But it could also have been Marion or Diana he had called. One more detail to discover.

He pressed the short dial number for Melissa and said as soon as she answered

“Hi, I’m thinking it’s about time we had dinner and hope you are free this evening if I come over.”

“Well, mmm,” Melissa giggled, “It’s really short notice but I think I might be able to shuffle things around.”

“See you do then and tell you what, judging by your expenses, I notice they have what must be a rather fine restaurant at that Chester Grosvenor Hotel. Make sure you get us a table! Oh, and while you’re at it, you’d better get me a room.”

Author: Tony

Image courtesy of : Ethos3

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