'Service' by Daniel Searle
Sir Alan Sugar thumped his hand down again on the counter-top. The butt of his fist was meaty with age and success, though his thumps were weakened now, his forearm see-sawing without power or control.
The coffee machine replied with its dull echoes, quieter each day. Sir Alan Sugar looked around, appearing as pointedly frustrated as he could muster. It was an expression designed to convey his total indignation — he had been waiting almost four days to be served, after all — but there were no customers in the café to respond with an empathetic smile, no staff behind the counter to hurriedly rectify their oversight. There wasn’t even anyone passing by on the street outside, as far as he could see, who might be able to make him a panini.
“Useless!” growled Sir Alan Sugar.
He’d almost fully drained the water dispenser on the counter; a small puddle lay sump-like at the bottom, blotched with slices of long-dead lemons, and the sides of the glass dome were cloudy with, well, whatever got left on glass by water. Water paste, probably. After emerging from the bunker a week ago he’d spent the first three days unsuccessfully searching for someone to serve him some food, before deciding to set up camp in this place, reasoning that the staff would have to turn up for their shifts eventually. The door had been unlocked, the sign had said open — the lights were all out, of course, but that seemed to be the case right across London — so quite where the bloody staff had got to was a mystery. They’d probably run home to Mum and Dad when faced with the prospect of buckling down and doing a proper day’s work.
Sir Alan Sugar shifted on his high stool and tapped the base of his water glass against the ringed wood of the counter. There was a chance, he conceded, that the staff weren’t skiving but had in fact been killed in the recent incident. If they had, well. More fool them. They’d all had the opportunity to make it, just like him. He’d come to London in the 1970s with maybe a hundred pounds in his pocket at most, and used his initiative to set up a business. Fast forward a year or two and he’d saved the deposit for his own place, moved out of his council flat, and was employing other people to do the hard work for him. Making it in business wasn’t difficult — people were just lazy. There was no reason at all why every single person in the country couldn’t be running their own company, overseeing their own team of staff, if only they’d aspire to follow his example. Then they could’ve been in the bunker alongside him and the other go-getters, they would’ve survived, and they’d be here to serve him a bloody sandwich.
Sir Alan Sugar pulled his shoulders and elbows in, and checked once more that his coat was snugly buttoned. It was surprisingly cold in the café without paninis being grilled, without the coffee machines snorting out steam and boiling water, without the usual heating. He also hadn’t eaten for a week, which didn’t help. Since he’d arrived at the café he’d been distracted by his reflection in the mirrored wall behind the till, seen his skin stay the same size while the flesh and muscle had gone someplace else.
Then he saw it. He’d been here for days and somehow all along, hiding in plain sight, had been a panini, just a few feet in front of him. On the work surface by the back wall, in the gap between the unlit, condensation-fronted chiller cabinet and the silent coffee grinder, there it was — long, rounded, beige.
Sir Alan Sugar slid off his stool with an uncertain grace, buoyed by sudden levity but sandbagged by weakness, and stepped heavily, slowly to the service area, a hand on either counter for support. He began to give thanks for his good fortune, but took a sharp deep breath and corrected himself — he had been the one who had spotted the panini, not anyone else. Once again he’d used his initiative and once again he’d been rewarded.
Sir Alan Sugar picked up the panini and felt it give way in his hand like a fusty strawberry. It shrank, as if fearful of him, folding into a rough nothing in his grasp.
Sir Alan Sugar felt the world swim around him, the air suddenly too loud, too thick, too bright. He looked again at the panini, his panini, now a crumpled manila napkin. There were dimples in rows along one edge, and in the centre, a triangular symbol of three green arrows.
Sir Alan Sugar fell to the floor of the café. He smelt stale coffee grounds, a distant brine, and was fired.
Copyright. Daniel Searle.
Daniel Searle is a northerner living down on the south coast, writing professionally about various niche engineering concerns such as cranes and metal packaging. The remainder of the time he writes poetry about things he's had for lunch and the forthcoming climate apocalypse, and has performed his pieces at festivals and gigs - such as the Poets vs MCs series - across the UK. He also writes satirical short stories, and is completing his second novel, which he's fairly sure will be better than his first attempt.