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Hobbs’ Journey – A short story by Dominic Holland

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Download the original version of Hobbs’ Journey by Dominic Holland HERE to read on the go…

First published by Dominic Holland in 2003

Hobbs ambled along London’s Park Lane. It was a warm June evening and he was proudly wearing his dinner suit which had served him so well over the years. He couldn’t recall buying his one and only suit. Perhaps it had been given to him. As usual, he was excited as he made his familiar journey up the illustrious lane and particularly so this evening although he didn’t know why, it was just a feeling he had. Where would he eating tonight and as whom? He had no idea yet, which was all part of his excitement.

There are many noteworthy things about Park Lane in London. First of all and most obviously, it is not a lane. And given that it is arguably the most illustrious road in one of the world’s great cities, it is unusual that it is in fact, a very busy dual carriageway. Such salubrious roads are most usually very quiet and tucked away. Not the world famous Park Lane. Noted for its affluence and location, bisecting Hyde Park and Mayfair, it is most famous for occupying the number two position on the monopoly board. A fact that probably always irks its residents paying through the nose for their address and postcode.

Connecting Marble Arch to Hyde Park Corner, it is aligned with poncy-named estate agents employing lots of Amelias and Sophias; car showrooms for the chronically insecure and five star hotels; and that’s about it.

Park Lane’s hotels are suitably few and reassuringly expensive and perversely they offer a gateway for the common man in to the rarefied world of luxury. People who could never afford to rent a room for the night but are able to scoff a dinner in their hallowed ballrooms. This is because most evenings, the Park Lane hotels throw open their function room doors to the world of corporate dinner and industry award ceremonies.  Coming up from Marble Arch, first up on one’s left is the veritable ‘daddy’ of the corporate lunch, the Grosvenor House Hotel, followed by the smaller but more illustrious and discerning Dorchester, letting on to the London Hilton, standing tall with views over the park and the snarled up traffic. The London Hilton is a lovely place to spend some time, but one suspects that many men arriving on Park Lane from across the United Kingdom would rather spend an evening in Paris Hilton.

Until the industry lunch was born, most people’s personal association with Park Lane’s hotels were confined to the famous board game. But now every self-respecting profession or association has a ‘dinner’ and Park Lane cachet makes it the ultimate destination. Each day, many thousands of businessmen squeeze themselves in to ill-fitting suits to attend anything from the Garage Forecourt Trader Awards to the British Direct Mail Gala Evening. Yes that is correct. The people responsible for filling up our recycling bins before they are due for collection have an evening on Park Lane to honour themselves. Ceremonies which others might well scoff at; but, to those involved, these are their Oscars and respect is due.  Normally, a certain average Joe might just be a petrol garage owner from Cleethorpes, but tonight he’s hired a suit, he’s at the Dorchester and he is nominated in the ‘best crisp display’ category. And if he wins, the photo of him clutching his award with a BBC newsreader will be displayed proudly in his garage shop, one presumes by the crisps.

There is no such thing as a free lunch!  This is a cliché which is particularly apposite here because, whether it’s an industry jolly or a firm bash, somewhere down the line, no matter how indirectly, everyone pays for their fare.  Not in Hobbs’ case, however, because in his simple life the ‘free lunch’ really was free because, of all the Park Lane dinners that he had scoffed, he hadn’t been invited to any of them.

Hobbs preferred the term tramp to the more politically sensitive and modern word, vagrant. And terminology does not matter anyway because the facts remained the same. Hobbs had spent the last twenty years of his life living on London’s streets with only intermittent winter stays in various hostels keeping him alive. Hobbs had lived through and survived the late 90’s when homelessness peaked as it chimed with the grunge movement and became almost fashionable. But Hobbs and his lack of a home was not a fad. The various agencies and charities who had trawled the streets gathering people up had caught Hobbs too but he always slipped through and outdoor again. After so long living in the big house without a roof, Hobbs was now what they refer to as institutionalized ‘street’.  Over the years, countless people had hurried by him anxious to avoid costly eye contact whilst asking themselves the same question: ‘how the hell could things have gotten so bad for this poor wretch. And there’s me wanting a house with a bigger garden…’

No single explanation of how people descend society’s social strata is ever the same and, in Hobbs’ case, not even he was aware of how he had come to hit the bottom. Everything had been fine, until he woke up one morning next to his cold, grey and stiffening wife and he simply hadn’t ever recovered.  It was probably the shock as well as his sense of loss. He had fallen to sleep with everything and woken up with nothing. His life had changed irrevocably and he was completely impotent. He cuddled his lifeless love of  his life and in that moment, he realised that much of him had died in the night as well. It had been so cruel. There had been no warnings; she’d had no aches, no pains, nothing; she just slipped away and Hobbs was desolate. That morning, his entire world had imploded and he was not important enough for anyone to notice. Nobody was available to grab him and stop him falling. He never returned to work, nor cashed his final pay cheque and by the time the bank finally foreclosed on his small maisonette, he had long vacated it and from here things continued to spiral downwards. One day, Hobbs wandered into a hostel complaining that he couldn’t feel his hands and he had no idea of how he had come to such a juncture in his life. That was twenty years ago and now he owned nothing other than his memories of his wife. Oh, and a dinner suit. Almost everything else in his past was a complete blur. Where he had worked, grown up, any family, it was only his wife that kept him company. Everything else from his past was either forgotten or locked away. He did not know which and nor did he care.

For a man with so little in life, it was an anomaly that Hobbs could still conceive of and relish certain luxuries that life had to offer, like for instance, black tie dinners on Park Lane.

Hobbs kept his suit at the Salvation Army Head Quarters. He was well known there and liked. He showed up fairly regularly, a few times a year and had been doing so for so long, nobody ever thought to question him or ask how he came by his locker. Sometimes he would arrive, just shower and leave and sometimes he would change in to his evening suit. And he scrubbed up pretty damn well and would transform from looking like a homeless person in to a dashing sixty something professional. Resplendent in his suit complete with cufflinks, patent leather shoes and a bow tie that needed to be tied.

An event in America had forced him to curtail the number of times he could venture on to Park Lane. The event was called nine hundred and eleven which he did not really understand. For whatever reason, security had become more apparent but Hobbs looked the part and certainly did not appear threatening and he was rarely bothered.  Still, he was seen much less on Park Lane as a result. Tonight was the first time for longer than he could recall. A year possibly or even longer?  It was never hunger that motivated his charade. It was just when the mood took him and today the urge was stronger than ever. It had been nagging at him for a while now and when woke up this morning in Battersea, it had been irresistible.

Hobbs mooched around the Dorchester’s lobby.

“Can I help you sir?” a servile lady member of staff enquired.

Hobbs smiled and gestured confidently that he was fine as he moved past her towards the ballroom to establish what function would be taking place this evening. Hobbs depended on three things for his supper. First the correct attire of course, secondly an assured swagger that said he belonged but most importantly of all, Hobbs relied on No shows. Invited guests who for one reason or another couldn’t make an appearance. No shows were Hobbs’ ticket and the seating plans were his directions.  Hobbs favoured charitable balls where diners very often didn’t know one another and the no show was not missed by anyone already seated. But no matter, Hobbs had developed a survival instinct and had a strategy for all eventualities and very rarely went home hungry.

He wasn’t very hopeful about the Dorchester this evening. The place was very busy with Indians in all their finery and Hobbs’ suspected that a young couple were about to tie the knot. A wedding is difficult to crash and he wasn’t dressed for it anyway. Within seconds he was back on Park Lane. The Hilton, the Intercontinental and now the Dorchester had all let him down but he wasn’t worried. He had the Grosvenor to come and he had a good feeling about it. It was why he had got ready and he probably should have gone there first.

The Grosvenor could not have been designed without any more consideration for the plight of the hungry and needy gate-crasher. It is enormous with more entrances that can be manned and even then, his confidence was his pass. This evening, they even held the door open for him. Welcome sir. Once inside, there was usually also a choice of function. The Ballroom on the upper level, big enough to squeeze in four hundred or so and then on the lower level, the cavernous Great Room and where he had most of his success. Big enough for almost two thousand diners and easy for an errant tramp to go unnoticed.

During the war, The Great Room served as London’s largest officer’s mess and since then, it has seen so many stand-up comedians die that it should really erect a monument to them. These men died valiantly in the pursuit of laughter, followed by a list of names which would read like a who’s who of British comedy.

The room has a balcony where diners convened for drinks and Hobbs could look down on to the ballroom below and spy out the odd dinner going begging. Two great big staircases fan their way down to the plush room below with tables laid and serving staff at the ready.

Tonight’s occasion was the 12th Bloom Ball, a charitable foundation established by the famous City financier Gerald Bloom. This was ideal for Hobbs although he did have a slight concern that he might have attended a Bloom ball before, maybe even the 7th or the 8th and he had no idea as whom.

“Champagne, sir?”

Hobbs thanked the waiter and replaced his empty flute on the tray and took another. Underpaid hotel staff, many of whom worried about being deported flurried about the place with bottles of fizz. Bollinger wrapped in serviettes to keep them cool but crucially so that the famous livery wasn’t obscured. Skimping with Cava or more lately, Prossecco wasn’t Bloom’s style even in these straitened times, which probably accounted for the alarmingly low number of spare seats as the dining room below steadily began to fill up.

“Once again, please… if you could all kindly take your seats, ladies and gentleman please. Thank you very much,” the master of ceremonies bellowed at the assembled ranks of the City’s finest. Hobbs peered down from above as his options rapidly evaporated.

…table 38 currently has two spaces left… Hobbs sighed as he clocked a man haring down the first staircase with his wife hobbling angrily in tow. …table 32 is now full. …table 8 has gone. Two spaces each on 13 and 15…

Hobbs walked along the balcony so that he could see the other half of the room. He noticed another couple of latecomers. He had to be mindful before he approached a table. He needed to be sure that the spare seat was actually a no show rather than a very late show.  Try explaining to someone delayed on the tube how you have come to be in their seat not to mention with their steak in your gob. Hobbs shuddered at the thought.

They were half way through their starters now and Hobbs could see that there were only two spare seats in the entire room, both on table 13 – unlucky for some, he thought. It had to be a couple, probably with baby-sitting problems or something and this suited Hobbs perfectly. He started to get anxious as he studied the seating plan to try and establish the names of the two no shows. He wouldn’t assume their identity of course but it always helped if he knew the sorts of people he was about to join. Professions, double barrelled names, that kind of thing. He would normally announce that his table was overbooked and could be squeeze in here? No one ever objected. Why would they?

His knobbled finger slid shakily down the list of people at 13. Mr and Mrs George Fraser of Micro Systems, Mr and Mrs Chris Raith of Barclays, Mr Saurabh Muntala and his wife, Mr and Mrs Chris Ivy of Heath Group, and finally, Hobbs’ finger suddenly froze. Imperceptibly, he shook his head and for a moment he felt unsteady on his feet and had to reach out for the brass rail. The last two names on the lost were Mr and Mrs William Hobston. He stared hard at the name which naturally prodded his mind. The plug to his memory and former life was suddenly jolted and it was unnerving.

Hobbs quickly turned around to make sure that he was not being observed before turning back once again to study the sheet of paper ahead of him. William Hobston! The name firing up an old synapse in his brain and his dulled memory began creaking like a rusty screw finally giving a little. It was a name he hadn’t heard for over fifty years, not since he was at school, and even then it was only his teachers who called him William. And suddenly for the first time since his wife had died, he could recall his school. How peculiar and Hobbs looked about again. He needed to be quick before staff came over with offers of help. What an extraordinary coincidence, Hobbs  reasoned to himself as his mind suddenly allowed him to peer back at his past. To his school and his childhood. At home, he had been known as Billy until he was fourteen and since he left school, he had simply been known as Hobbs.

He wondered whether this was not a warning sign, telling him to bail out now or indeed, to go over to table 13 as Mr William Hobston, which he was perfectly entitled to do. But the real Mr and Mrs Hobston might not be the no shows and might already be seated?

‘Hello. Sorry I’m late ladies, gentlemen.’ Hobbs smiled broadly at table 13 but crucially didn’t announce who he was. Well he couldn’t yet, could he? He didn’t know. The people at the table peered at the new arrival curiously. There was something about him. Something not quite right; peculiar almost, but none of them knew why.

‘Chris Raith, hi – Barclays Capital – this is my wife, Maureen.’

Hobbs should his hand and crossed him off his list.

‘I’m sorry I didn’t catch your name?’ Raith called over the considerable ambient noise which Hobbs always found a very useful thing when needing to avoid questions.

‘Nice to meet you too.’ Hobbs replied, shutting him down immediately before stretching his hand to a portly man who was doing his best not to get out of his seat without appearing to be rude.

‘George Fraser – Micro Systems – pleased to meet you. And you are?’

Dunno yet. Not until I’ve met this bloke. I might even be myself for once?

“Hi Chris Ivy…’

Hobbs smiled easily. Chris Ivy did go on to name check his firm but Hobbs didn’t catch it and nor did he listen to the final couple because they were Indian and unlikely to be Mr and Mrs Hobston. Which meant that William Hobston and his wife were indeed the no shows. How considerate of them and how perfect that Hobbs should be here in their place. Taking  his seat, he had a good feeling about the night ahead. Tonight was going to be special, he could feel it.

“I’m Bill Hobston. Sorry, I’m late, bloody tubes.”

Mrs Raith was clearly a lady unaccustomed to the London Underground system and couldn’t help her involuntary sneer at such a thing. It was obvious that in her day, Mrs Raith had been a very striking woman, beautiful even, but it was also equally apparent that she hadn’t accepted the onset of old age with any grace at all. She couldn’t have smiled even if she had wanted to which was appropriate enough, because happiness was the last thing that she reminded Hobbs of.

‘Who did you say you worked for?’ Raith asked firmly now.

Hobbs coolly poured himself a large glass of red. The evening had taken on a sense of the surreal and Hobbs’ confidence had soared.

‘Er, Hobbs and Major: we’re stone masons. We specialize in grave stones.’

Hobbs watched the familiar site of faces falling around the table. He’d learnt through bitter experience that, at these dinners, he needed a fictional job that fellow diners wouldn’t want to dwell on. And a job they wouldn’t be familiar with either, thereby avoiding the inane, Oh, do you know so and so… conversation. In the early years, Hobbs had gone with banking and spent the whole evening floundering.

‘Do you do kitchen work tops?’ a lady sitting opposite asked.

‘Oh, yes, we’re having our kitchen done as well, aren’t we darling?’ Mrs Raith chipped in, sensing an opportunity to snare her husband.

‘Yes, darling, you are.’ Raith joked but his wife was not amused and glared back at him angrily. She couldn’t do happiness, but her surgeons had still allowed her plenty of scope for anger.

‘No, we just do headstones,’ Hobbs answered, quite literally stopping the conversation stone dead. No one had ever asked him if business was good and he was usually left alone to get on with his supper.

‘Is your wife coming?’ another gentleman asked. It was the portly man, Mr Fraser perhaps. Hobbs took a moment. No one had ever mentioned his wife in more than twenty years and he had never discussed her with anyone either, although he saw her and spoke to her every single day.

‘No, I’m afraid my wife is dead.’

The table collectively sighed. Until Hobbs had arrived, table 13 had been perfectly convivial. A bunch of people who didn’t know each other and were getting on with cursory conversations to establish which couple or individual is the table’s biggest hitter. But now Hobbs’ had arrived and people wished that he hadn’t with his profession in death and how his dead wife. It suited Hobbs well enough however. He could now get on with his dinner in relative peace, to fill his stomach like some giant snake that only eats once a season. One man, though, hadn’t yet said anything but had kept staring at Hobbs curiously, ever since he had sat down. Hobbs had noticed it and it was becoming uncomfortable.

‘Bill Hobston?’ the man said inquisitively as if the name meant something to him. Hobbs looked worried and raised one of his bushy eyebrows at him. He loved these evenings for their splendour and he also enjoyed the company and belonging to a large throng but he preferred to do so with less drama than had already taken place this evening.

‘Not William Hobston?’ the man continued. Hobbs nodded and immediately worried that he was making a mistake by admitting as much. His memory jogged again, startling him and adding to his growing sense of unease. The man who was a similar age as Hobbs now smiled broadly and was clearly delighted.

‘It is. I can’t believe it. William bloody Hobston. It must be what, forty years…’

Hobbs was panicking now.

‘Chris Ivy.’ The man slapped his chest for good measure.

‘Vegetables, sir?’  a waiter asked him referring to Hobbs’ plate with a lone lamb fillet waiting to be accompanied.

‘Er, yes please, everything.’ And you’d better make it quick.

‘Christopher Ivy…’

‘Er…’

‘We were at school together.’

Bloody hell, were we? Just what the hell was happening here? First the name coincidence and now an old school mate? Hobbs lobbed another lump of lamb in to his mouth and there was no time for chewing. Other people hadn’t been served yet but he couldn’t wait for them no matter how rude he appeared.

‘Cardinal Vaughan. We were both at Cardinal Vaughan together.’

Hobbs’ face flickered as a distant bell tolled some way off in his memory. The name sounded familiar and Hobbs instinctively nodded. He was more amazed than anxious now and his long lost friend laughed raucously.

‘I can’t believe it. I knew it was you when I heard the name. You don’t remember me do you?’

Hobbs just whimpered.

‘No, well, I wasn’t as infamous as you were.’

Hobbs looked at his curiously, now completely at sea with the turn of events. Could he really have been at school with this man sitting opposite him? The name of the school had a rind to it now but outside his wife, Isla, he didn’t really know anything about his past life and he couldn’t imagine ever being infamous.

“So you two are old school chums then?” Someone at the table inquired incredulously.

“Yes, I haven’t seen Bill since he left school – and Bill didn’t leave school in the normal way, did you Bill?’ Chris smiled ruefully and might as well have said, nudge, nudge, wink, wink. Along with everyone else at the table, Hobbs now looked intrigued and was waiting for an explanation.

‘Bill Hobston was a school legend.’

‘Er…’ Hobbs faltered. People’s interest had been piqued. They were never going to let this go. Hobbs finished his lamb, possibly just in time. He noticed that Mrs Raith had yet to start, or maybe she just doesn’t eat?

‘… er, my family moved away.’ Hobbs continued. ‘Overseas…’

‘What?’ Chris hooted with laughter.

‘Oh, yes, where?’ Raith asked keen to re-focus attention off the newcomer and back to himself.

‘Er, France.’ Hobbs answered in panic. France was hardly exciting and not exactly overseas either. And definitely not overseas in the plural sense of the word. France is just one sea away. Hobbs glanced to the staircase and wondered if he shouldn’t just make a run for it. A toilet break from which he would never return. And yet he couldn’t. He felt he needed to stay. He wanted answers as much as everyone else.

‘We’ve got a place in France.’ Raith announced nonchalantly and with it, the unofficial wealth and success game was back on, which Raith loved to play and had almost always won.

‘Where? Down south?’ Fraser asked, rising to the challenge.

‘St. Tropez.’

‘Very nice. We looked at France but we plumped for Portugal instead for the year round sun.’ Game on then.

Chris Ivy was happy to let Foster and Raith fight it out and then he would enter the game later with his three boys at Harrow and his place in Tuscany but, for now, he was fascinated by his old school friend.

‘ How’s that leg of yours?’ Chris asked and Hobbs’ eyes widened. His heart now raced. Under the table, he slowly moved his left ankle until it cracked. His ankle still hurt him to this day and only now he could recall how it had been injured.

‘Bill here was the best football player that I have ever seen? And I will never forget the game when you broke your leg. God it was awful. Just at the ankle; it was almost snapped clean through. Even the ref was in tears.’

Hobbs’ swiveled his foot again and it dutifully cracked again like a reminder of his past.

‘You must speak French then?’ Mrs Raith asked. For the first time, she seemed almost impressed.

‘Er, no, not really. I’ve forgotten it.’

‘Oh.’

Not for the first time, people looked at Hobbs oddly. Can a language be forgotten? Isn’t it like riding a bike?

Chris Ivy now waded in more fully. ‘He never went to France. Or if he did, that wasn’t why he had to leave school. Not the William Hobston I knew anyway.’

Hobbs was now rooted to his seat as his mind flooded with memories. It was his seat after all. He was the boy who Chris Ivy was referring to after all and Hobbs smiled at him warmly.

‘Bloody hell, Bill, are you going to tell them, or shall I?’

Hobbs smiled again, unsure of the story himself.

‘Bill was expelled…’

Suddenly another bell sounded. Hobbs saw himself sitting in a school master’s office with his dad looking very grave. Hobbs was never going to win the table hierarchy game but he was now the focal point of everyone’s attention. For the moment, he was the table’s silver back and his fellow diners were happy to indulge him and pick metaphorical grubs out of his coat. He might even get to sire Mrs Raith later on, an honour he would pass on.

‘Okay then, Bill can I?’ Ivy asked and Hobbs nodded. Please do.

‘Okay, I can honestly say that it was the funniest thing that I have ever seen in my life, a story I have been telling for years…’

‘Okay, then, get on with it.’ Raith demanded, keen to get back to the hierarchy game.

‘We were on a geography field trip to Ireland for a week, a farm in Tipperary at a place called Bally William, and down the road from our digs was this place that we were told we were not allowed to visit.’

Everyone around the table laughed, anticipating exactly what all inquisitive children would do in such circumstances.

‘So, of course, William here and a few others go straight over there. And it was just the most beautiful farm any of us had ever seen. Honestly, you’ve never seen grass like it.’

‘Green was it?’ Raith joked, but no one laughed.

‘The place was stunning; with paddocks and stables so clean you could have eaten off the floor in them. Do you remember, Bill?’

Hobbs nodded slightly but now he really meant it as his memory loosened and relaxed, almost as if Chris Ivy was massaging it himself.

‘Take my word for it, it was beautiful…’ Chris went on, ‘and it had the most elegant-looking horses we’d ever seen. Great big beautiful looking things they were. And even to us townies, it was obvious that these were no ordinary horses.’

‘A stud farm then?’ A lady ventured.

‘Hang on,’ Chris pleaded.

Hobbs’ head was now a cacophony of noise with his memories blasting away on all cylinders and memories from his previous life came floating to the surface. Chief among them presently was an old black and white horse.

‘…so anyway, one night, none of us can sleep because of this awful moaning coming way off from one of the fields. Some of us were terrified but not Bill. He goes off in the middle of the night to investigate and it turns out to be some knackered old pony tethered to a tree down the lane…’

Hobbs saw the horse again.

‘…a real old workhorse it was with Pritt Stick written all over it. It wasn’t even one solid colour. Black and white it was.’

Hobbs smiled, his mind now free and able to race ahead of his old school friend. Clear images now bombarded his mind. The faces of his family. His mum and his dad. His older brother and the day he went off to war and how his mum sat in the garden a year later, sobbing with a telegram in her hand. And his wedding day to Isla, his beautiful and lovely bride.

Hobbs observed the table before him spellbound and laughing at what Chris had to tell them. He was right, it was a funny story and one that a normal person was never likely to forget. The premises up the road were indeed a stud farm and during their school trip, it was home to two very valuable mares in season and waiting for the attention of a stud arriving the next day. The insemination would have been administered by hand and so perhaps Bill was being kind to the animals when he decided to give the old black and white horse the night of his life. He led the braying beast up to the stud and he watched as nature took its course. Not that the Mares seemed to mind either. A horse is a horse and always better than a gloved hand and the old fellah almost killed himself servicing them both with his heavily polluted seed. It would have been fitting had he died on the job. What a way to go. Hanging out the back of a race horse?

Understandably there was hell to pay. It turned out that the two mares had come from America looking to sire future Kentucky Derby winners but, after Dobbin’s efforts, they were now nurturing tubes of glue. Hobbs laughed even more than the people at his table because it came with the joy of rediscovery as well. Hobbs recalled the cheer his classmates had given him, when he had returned from the police station, without charge he noted. There had been some heated debate about what crime had actually been committed. It wasn’t clear and there was no precedent for it and the stud owner decided against a charge for fear of any adverse publicity. But Bill was promptly expelled from his school and a legend was born and now some fifty years on, here he was, being feted on London’s Park Lane.

Port, sir?’

‘Yes, please.’ Why not?’  Hobbs asked himself. He deserved a glass of port.  It was now well after 11pm and the charity auction was thankfully drawing to a close. Currently up for grabs were two first class tickets to anywhere on earth with British Airways and Mr Jonathan Ross was appealing for another paltry five hundred quid.

The charity auction is where the table hierarchy game is thrown open to the whole gala dinner, a chance to be crowned the wealthiest and usually the most vulgar of all. Raith had won the table contest easily and was now pressing for the ultimate crown having already purchased a pair of Kylie Minogue’s signed hot pants for twenty grand. He gestured his fat hand in the air and Ross quickly seized on it.

‘Fank you. I have nine grand on table 13. Fank Gawd for that bloke on table 13.’

Raith was delighted by the reference but no one in the room bothered to clap the flash bastard any more. The whole room just wanted the thing to end so that they could get home before some bloke pretending to be Freddie Mercury took to the stage.

‘Is that it then, ladies and gentlemen? Nine grand? For the kids wemember?’

Raith grimaced. Bang the hammer down you twat. Raith wasn’t doing this for the kids, he was doing it for himself.

‘Sold.’

Raith smiled and basked a little more in his self-appointed glory.

‘And now laydees and gentlemen, that just leaves me to do the prize dwor, which as ticket holders, you are all entered for. Last year, if you recall, a BMW was won and promptly sold I should imagine…’ Ross added cheekily, ‘… which is why this year, Mr Bloom has decided to award a cash pwize.’

For the first time since the urbane television presenter had taken to the stage, the room now fell absolutely silent, which wasn’t lost on Ross.

‘Oh, right, you go all quiet now don’t ya. When you might be in for some cash? But how much eh? That’s the question you’re all asking yourselves isn’t it? I can almost hear your greedy little minds whirring away…’ Ross paused for effect, enjoying the power that he had.

‘Laydees and gentlemen. The Beamer last year was worth twenty five grand, so anything less would be an insult. Recession or no recession, eh, Gerald?’

Gerald Bloom shrugged nonchalantly. What recession?

‘Laydees and gentlemen, I am delighted to announce that this year’s pwize dwor is…’ Ross looked up from his lectern, full of mischief, ‘…firty five grand in cash.’

The room burst in to excited applause. Thirty five large was large indeed and suddenly fifteen hundred people were allocating how they would spend such a sum and how much they would need to earn gross to come by such an amount.  Ross plunged his hand in to the tombola and silence fell on the room once again. Ross produced a ticket and he held it aloft.

‘The winning ticket is on table…’ He paused for good measure. ‘… table 13.’

A huge sigh of disappointment immediately rung out across the room which quickly turned to excitement as all attention was focused on table 13. Raith had a chance to break even and clenched his teeth. Everyone on the table held their breath, all with the exception of Hobbs. Because by now he knew the outcome already. He couldn’t explain it, but it was obvious. He was already the biggest winner in the room tonight by reclaiming back his life and yet still he felt that the night had more surprises for him.

‘The winning ticket is… Mr William Hobston…’

Of course it is. Hobbs smiled to himself. What else could he do?

 

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