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FICTION on the WEB short stories by Charlie Fish

Playing Games On The Gravy Train
by George Rolph

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Harry walked in to his new job in the crèche. All around him he could see bright and happy kids playing with the bright and happy, mostly female, supervisors. Harry knew he was going to enjoy this new job.

He changed into his new crèche uniform. He knew he looked incongruous in the white and pink stripes but he could deal with that. Harry was going to have some fun at this new job and he could not wait to get started.

He watched everything with a very critical eye. He mentally noted every single thing he could find fault with. When his list was long enough to satisfy him he began to voice his opinions to the other staff and to the mothers and fathers when they came to pick up their kids.

He was careful how he sowed his poison. He did not just rage. Instead he framed his arguments very carefully. Little by little he was able to feel very satisfied with his work. Three months later the whole place was full of turmoil. The crèche staff were up in arms about their job conditions. The mothers and fathers were up in arms about the lack of facilities open to their children. The children looked unhappy and stressful surrounded by angry dissatisfied adults. The once happy scenes had descended into a chaotic mess of anger and rage and Harry was delighted.

The council meeting was packed. Councillors on the podium were wary. The audience was angry.

Harry sat in the back waiting his chance.

The meeting got underway.

Councillor Davies stood and addressed the assembled crowd.

"We are aware that the crèche facilities in Napstown are not perfect," he began, defensively.

The audience immediately began to shout comments. Councillor Davies looked anxious and his face was flushed. A vein in his temple began to throb heavily and his teeth were locked together with stress causing his jaw muscles to bulge. He took a long, slow, deep breath and continued.

"The council have spent £65,000 this year alone trying to provide the best possible environment for young single mothers to leave their children in safety, while they pursue their careers and job opportunities." He drew a breath.

"Well," someone shouted, "you have done a crap job of it haven't you!"

A round of applause rippled sporadically around the packed hall. Angry chants filtered through the windows of the hall from the demonstration outside. Harry was grinning and sitting with his arms folded, watching events unfold in obvious glee.

Councillor Davies began again. He was desperate to try and diffuse some of the anger and get the discussion back on an even keel. He raised his voice a notch and injected an air of authority into his voice.

"We are here to have a discussion and not a shouting match. We are reasonable people who are willing to listen to your concerns and work together with you to solve these problems. However, we cannot help you if all you do is shout out comments. It makes discussion impossible and lowers the meeting to the level of a school playground. None of us here tonight want that do we?" He paused to let his words sink in.

The crowd were silent and some were shifting uneasily in their seats. Councillor Davies continued.

"If you wish to speak, please raise a hand and I will point to you. We want to hear your views and we will make sure everyone has a chance to speak if it takes all night. Now, who wants to be first?"

A forest of arms were raised and Councillor Davies chose one of them.

As the discussion flowed and order was restored a door at the back of the hall opened and David Lewis entered the room. He scanned the crowd looking for the familiar figure of his friend Harry. Finally sighting him he made his way through the seated assembly and sat down on the empty chair Harry had saved for him.

"How's it going mate?" David asked Harry.

"It's a bit flat at the moment Dave. I will liven it up in a minute. Watch this space."

After a while a member of the audience asked the question Harry was waiting for.

"What are you going to do about our pay levels?" the woman asked.

Councillor Wilson was in charge of the council's crèche budget. She rose confidently to speak.

"We hold the pay structures of our employees under constant review," she began.

Harry perked up.

"We have to work within the yearly budget handed down to us by central government, or raise money by increasing council tax on all the residents in the borough..."

Harry shot to his feet and, as he shouted his comments, he walked menacingly towards the podium where the assembled councillors were seated.

"Let me ask you a question Councillor Wilson," Harry bellowed, his voice angry and full of menace.

"How much are you paid by the council?"

Councillor Wilson looked uncomfortable.

"How much do the council tax payers give you a month to make sure that the people who work in the borough have the wool pulled over their eyes by this double-speak you keep spouting?"

Councillor Wilson opened her mouth to reply but Harry was not going to let her speak. He had stopped three feet from the edge of the podium and was glaring up at her. She swallowed, heavily. A tiny bead of sweat appeared at her temple and began to run down her face before falling from her jaw and landing on her heaving breast. Harry half turned towards the audience and gestured with his outstretched arm.

"These people either work in, or have to use, the disgusting facility laughingly called a crèche provided by this pathetic excuse of a council. You charge each one of those poor lone parents sat here an exorbitant fee to use it. You provide second rate, cheap equipment to the children to keep them amused. You pay incredibly low wages to your staff to work in difficult and, frankly, appalling conditions. So tell us, Councillor Wilson, how much are you paid to enforce this slavery on the people of this borough?"

A murmur went around the room and people began nodding in agreement with Harry's questions. Councillor Wilson looked flustered.

"I really do not see what my pay packet has to do with anything we are discussing here tonight. I..."

Harry interrupted again.

"Oh, I see!" he shouted in the general direction of the assembled people.

"Little miss I-control-the-budget-ain't-I-the-clever-one-here does not want to tell us how much she earns. I wonder why not? I wonder why she is so embarrassed about her wages, but she does not give a damn about yours?"

As one the audience shot to its collective feet. Harry's voice rose to a roar to cut above the din from the now very agitated meeting. On the podium, Councillor Davies rose to his feet, his hands extended out in a gesture of calm. His face betrayed his frustration that the meeting was once again in disarray.

"Sit fucking down!"

Harry's voice slammed into Councillor Davies and he sat again meekly. Harry turned towards the audience.

"Listen to me. Listen to me!"

The crowd gradually settled down and returned to their seats. Harry lowered his voice a tone.

"It is funny isn't it. These tin pot politicians are always telling us about budgets and how we have to work within limits. When did you ever hear about one of them taking a pay cut for the common good of the people?"

More murmuring assent circled the gathering.

"When did you see the Mayoress say that she would give up her Bentley that does ten miles to a very expensive gallon? When did you last read in your local paper that she declined to go to some lavish banquet so as not to make the poor people in the borough have to fork out more council tax to keep her belly full of caviar and Champagne?"

Every single pair of eyes in that hall was now fixed on Harry's face intently. They were drinking in the rhetoric. Harry turned toward the podium and raised his arm dramatically, pointing an accusing finger at the assembled councillors. He raised his voice once more.

"You people come in here with your smart briefcases and posh suits. You sit there like a collection of little Hitlers pontificating about how you can't afford to pay these decent, simple, hard working people a living wage."

Harry's accusing finger never wavered. His voice rose with each accusation he hurled towards the assembled, and now very uncomfortable, local politicians.

"You don't think of council tax payers while you swan about from meeting to meeting in your expensive cars. Your bloody hypocritical green policies don't matter as you fill up with more petrol to run them either. You are a bloody sham, all of you! You don't care about these people or their kids. You don't care about their poverty. You don't care about their working conditions. You don't care a single, stinking, iota about their children playing with crappy toys in that crèche. All you care about is looking like you know what you are doing and ripping people off with your inflated pay packets every month. Your problem is that we all know it! We know how you give the best council houses to your own bloody relatives while the rest of us live in the crap you don't want. Well, you had better hear us and hear us well. We are not going to put up with it any more. Either you pay the people in your employ what they are worth and give the children of this borough some respect, or get the hell out of the job. The gravy train stops here!"

The crowd roared their approval and the meeting descended in chaos. As Harry made his way back to his seat people all around him slapped his back or shook his hand. Harry wasn't quite finished. He started a chant that gradually filled the room and was taken up by the other protesters in the street outside. "The gravy train is empty... we won't pay!"

Harry and David Lewis sat in the pub chuckling over the press reports in the local papers.

One headline screamed:

"Near Riot At Council Meeting - Councillors Forced To Resign"

Another said:

"Shamed Councillors Resign Over 'Unfair' Policies"

"Well Harry. You did it. I have to say it was a masterful display. Here is your money." He handed Harry a large envelope containing three thousand pounds.

"I like a man who pays his debts," Harry said.

"It's a pleasure, Harry. Now, we need you to come up to Sheffield and repeat the exercise. The opposition have a stranglehold on the council. We want it back. How much?"

"Ten thousand pounds," Harry said blankly.

"Done," said David. "Now I have seen with my own eyes what you can do I am sure the committee will not have a problem with the fee."

Harry smiled and raised a glass in a toast. "To democracy," he said.

"To democracy," David echoed.

Both men drank deeply from their pint glasses and then laughed together, happy to be colleagues in their game.

As they parted from each other on the street corner David turned to Harry.

"Tell me Harry, where did you learn your trade?"

Harry chuckled. "From the feminists David. They taught me how to make people unhappy with something that works. How to make people hate something they used to love and then make everyone think they are right to hate it. See you later."

The two men walked off into the night knowing that they would soon be meeting again for some very profitable work.

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