John Scarbrow was born in London. He immigrated to
Australia in 1972. He has been married to Zaira for 30 years. They have five
adult children and thirteen grandchildren.
They moved to the Bundaberg area in 1990 where he and his
wife hobby farmed, which increased when they sent fresh produce to the Brisbane
and Sydney markets.
Just his wife and himself! It was Pride and Pain with
little profit. It was a pleasure to live in beautiful, pristine Deepwater for 15
years. They moved to Bundaberg in 2004, where he now writes crime stories.
‘With love and gratitude to my mother,
Elsie Scarbrow and my grandmother Sarah French.’
It was an early
Friday morning and Ben sat in his office thinking about the weekend break. He
was bored, bouncing a pencil up and down on his desk. He always arrived at his
office early, as being the sales and marketing manager, a senior executive, he
was expected to put in the extra hours. He preferred arriving early each day,
rather than staying back an hour in the late afternoon.
His employers were a
Lebanese family named Malouf, a family of many members, all of whom worked in
the clothing business, with the exception of two doctors who were still
directors of the company. Even the sisters were supervisors on the factory
floor. Ben’s boss, someone he could work with, had recently decided he’d had
enough, and had retired to his mansion on the river. Good luck to him, Ben
thought, as he suffered from stress, mainly caused by the family squabbles. One
morning, entering the factory, he was confronted by two family members having a
wrestling match on the cutting room table. Ben was used to such incidents so
said good morning to them, and continued to his office. He found most Lebanese
people polite and affable. However, he had learnt to politely refuse the short
black coffee they offered, as it disagreed with his water works.
With the resignation
of Ben’s boss, a storm, in the guise of his brother, another Malouf, was forming
rapidly. With this family, age mattered, so when ‘the emperor’ departed, the
next in age seniority ascended the throne, so to speak. Within weeks, everyone
was convinced this man was a total idiot. The only thing this man accomplished
was confusion. He would question the validity of verbal orders, and ask a sales
assistant to phone back and ask if they wanted the stuff. The factory manager, a
brother-in-law of the same race, refused to attend production meetings because
of the new boss, which was partially true. The rest of the truth was that he was
only a couple of points smarter in the IQ stakes, so he had trouble with his
additions and thought a computer was another television! The truth was the
family did not trust outsiders so they waddled in their own mire, but due to
managers like Ben, they made good profits. The size determined the Christmas
bonus. Profits were not disclosed, only to family members, except for the
females in the family, Ben suspected.
Ben was worried
about the new boss because of the uncertainty that he had created. He had
introduced pagers, and given them out to the salesmen in Sydney. Every time they
heard a beep, they had to phone in to the office. The receptionist would then
tell them who wished to speak to them. Invariably it was the new boss. He wanted
to know where they were, which was infringing on Ben’s responsibilities. In
addition, the salesmen were complaining to Ben, as many telephone kiosks were
vandalised, so they had to go looking for places where they could phone in. This
made Ben furious as his philosophy was that his salesmen could do whatever they
liked, as long as they continued to write up good orders. This Friday morning,
the salesmen would report to the office and he would see how they had performed
during the week. Afterwards he would speak to his superior. He had to talk to
the man anyway, as Ben was heading for Melbourne on Monday morning.
covered the Sydney metropolitan area and the close countryside out to
Wollongong, and over the mountains to places like Bowral and Mittagong. Ben
called them into his office en masse, which was unusual as he normally saw them
individually. They told him how the pager beeping disrupted their sales in a big
way. For example, they could be discussing the advantages of a product to a
customer when the damned pager started beeping. You couldn’t always use a
customer’s phone so when you called in later, El Supremo told you off for not
calling sooner. Obviously sales were down but it was not the fault of the
He flicked slowly
through the written-up orders and could see the decline in sales. He phoned the
managing director, the MD, which was his title, and asked for a meeting. He was
invited to his office immediately. On the MD’s desk was a mass of files, a
complete mess. He couldn’t even see his telephone amidst all those papers. On
the files Ben could read ‘Sales Reports’, ‘Production Schedules’ and ‘Work
Rates’, ‘Wages’, etc. To Ben, a confused untidy desk indicated a confused,
‘Ben, I hear you are
going to Melbourne on Monday and you have not discussed with me your reasons for
going.’ The MD raised his head and then raised his eyebrows, which indicated to
Ben that he had been watching the expressions of a Labor Party member of
parliament on the TV. And was trying to perfect it. He thought Labor because he
knew the company contributed some monies to the party.
‘That is a strange
question, Mr Malouf. I often go to Melbourne and other state capitals as it’s
part of my job. Part of our conversation concerns my travels and what I hope to
sell and what price structure we should use. Your brother before you would
advise me of the basic cost and we would discuss if we needed an injection of
cash. We would then determine the lowest price we could go to. That is why I
travel around. Shall we discuss this before I have to inform you of a decision I
‘Ok, Ben, but I
think I should go with you. I need to show myself as the new leader of the
company. The office in Melbourne, is it worth having? I ask myself. There’s a
good saving if we close it down. That will be part of my mission.’
Ben’s face changed
colour and his pulse rate accelerated. He could not tell the man straight that
if he came, he would shock and upset customers. There was one big buyer who
insisted on a pack of beer being available whilst he looked at what Ben had to
sell, followed by a meal at a top restaurant, where he often wrote his order on
a paper serviette. How would our MD manage that? Ben wondered. This bloke was a
catastrophe and he had to think of ways to handle him.
‘Sir,’ he said, in
an effort to please the man, ‘I do not think your coming with me is wise. Do we
need the cash injection? If we do, this is a serious selling trip, with no
distractions. Our manager down there can show you around next time, and
introduce you to many important buyers.’
‘You might be right,
Ben. We do need some cash as we are midterm, so to speak. The orders are there,
but for later delivery. Production is going as well as expected but that stupid
manager refuses to do what I tell him.’
Ben thought, that’s
a case of the kettle calling the pan black. The MD passed to Ben a slip of paper
with some figures and a doodled flower on it. Ben looked at the numbers and
‘That is five
percent below list price, I stress list price. To shift, say, five
thousand units, we will have to go down ten percent above cost, so another ten
percent on top of your five percent. Your price will only produce laughs not
sales. It’s up to you, you are the boss man now. Your price would make your
brother laugh too! While we are together, I have told my salesmen to hand in the
pagers that you passed around. They are out there to sell and not to search all
day for telephone kiosks that work. Their orders this week have slumped fifty
percent in value, due to your bloody pagers. On sales matters speak to me
Ben noticed the fool
sitting opposite him half hung his neck. Was it a sign of submission? He doubted
it but he did feel a fraction sorry for the man. He had inherited this vital
position, without having the intelligence to handle it.
‘Ben, this time, and
I stress this time only, do it your own way. I think you know what price
to offer, just get the orders, we need to move existing stock. Keep in touch
when you are down there and be careful with your spending.’
Why did I know he’d
On a Friday, the
company finished work for the week at twelve noon. Ben usually didn’t hang about
and got home at two o’clock, that’s if he didn’t go for a drink with his
salesmen. Today, Ben was pleased, extra pleased, to get home to his wife, Mary.
She worked as a nursing aide but had Fridays off. Ben gave her a hug and a kiss
and accepted her offer of coffee. They sat on the verandah having their drinks
and talking of the type of day they had.
Mary had caught up
with a load of washing while Ben spoke about his chat with the new boss. She
knew he was flying off to Melbourne early Monday morning and had his clothes
ready for him.
‘Mary, I don’t know
how long I can stand this new bloke. Everything he says is a pack of nonsense.
He wanted to come to Melbourne with me so I had to tell him how the company
would flounder without his guiding hand. I hear he is going to an accountancy
course this weekend. A couple of days to learn about financial affairs, and they
say he comes back with a certificate. He will be disappointed because I think
he’s hoping for the equivalent of a university degree. He’s probably been
measured up for a gown and mortarboard already. If they mention mortarboard to
him, he’ll think it’s cement on a hod!’ He laughed, which helped relieve the
tension that had built up during the day.
‘Ben, you’re being
nasty. He can’t be as bad as you make out. Remember he is your boss, your
paymaster so be kind to him.’
He asked her if she
fancied a drink at the club, just up the road, but a five-minute drive. Mary
agreed and went to put a change of clothes on.
not a busy time at the club. It was a huge place, and besides the basic beer and
pokies, they had a top restaurant upstairs and a large auditorium where famous
singers and comedians entertained the members, many from the UK and USA. At that
time in the afternoon it was good, easy to order and with empty places to sit.
They had sat down
with their drinks, a schooner of draught ale for Ben and gin and tonic for Mary,
when they were hailed by Roberto and his wife Sofia, friends from across the
road. Sofia was Spanish and they had two kids, a boy and a girl. They were good
Mary was a bit
suspicious of them as it was rumoured they played strip poker at their place on
a Saturday night. They had seen a few couples coming out of their house late at
night, but Ben thought that proved nothing. They went over and played cards, the
game Kings, but Sofia had once suggested they play strip poker, which Mary
rejected with a laugh. Sofia always seemed to sit next to Ben and one evening,
she reached for her cards, across Ben, dropped them and her hand came up his
leg, close to his crotch. Of course she apologised saying ‘slippery hands’,
but Mary had seen.
Roberto was at the
bar getting the drinks and motioning to Ben, did he want one? but Ben shook his
head. On the way back he could see on the tray he was carrying, two schooners so
Roberto had bought him one, when he’d only just started his first. Watching him
return to the table, Ben saw a fat bloke, in a tight tee-shirt and shorts, put
out his leg towards Roberto. Ben shouted a warning but too late. He went
sprawling and the drinks landed on the legs of a couple of young blokes in
tee-shirts and shorts, drenching them. They jumped up and tried to brush the
liquid from their fronts, looking at Roberto dangerously. Ben got up and
approached the fat bloke who had tripped his friend.
‘I saw what you
did,’ said Ben loudly. By then a couple of club stewards had approached the
group. ‘Now, you toad, apologise to my friend who you tripped, and to these
young men who were soaked in beer. After that put your hand in your pocket and
pay for the drinks that you caused to be spilt.’
Mary had not seen
Ben look so angry for a long time. He expected a load of abuse but the fat bloke
put his hand in his pocket, took out his wallet and then muttered a muffled
apology. He drew out a couple of bank notes and let them flutter to the floor.
In a rage, Ben told
him to pick up the notes with his teeth, before a couple of club stewards
intervened and told him to pick them up and give them to Roberto.
They heard shortly
afterwards that they had taken the fat slob to the club manager’s office, the
result being he was banned from the club for eight weeks.
Sunday, they went to
church. Looking around, Mary saw that most of the worshippers were elderly. She
and Ben looked the youngest of the congregation. The hymns that they sang were
not the popular ones that Ben heard, in those days he went to boarding school,
when they were marched to church. The priests these days were a dull lot, with
not much fire in their bellies. Like the crowd, they were ageing as well. Their
sermons were usually about the scriptures, instead of highlighting the wonders
of God’s creatures including humans. The human body and, Ben guessed, other
living animals, was a miracle. Sometimes he sat thinking of his own body, and
its functions. The valves that open when one has to empty one’s bladder, the
brain which enables us to solve problems, we walk along the road smoothly
without thinking where to place our legs, and we have shutters to protect our
eyes from the sun and dirt particles. Who but God could have designed such
perfection? They were not regular church goers but did attend significant events
like Easter and Christmas.
Ben felt Mary’s
elbow strike his ribs.
‘Ben, you should be
kneeling. Everyone’s looking at you.’
‘Just thinking about
the human body and its functions, especially your body, Mary. All the hills and
crevices, the nice bits that I like touching and …’
‘Ben, you’re in
church. Behave yourself, people can hear what you’re saying.’
The service had
ended and the vicar, priest, whatever, was inviting people to the hall next door
where they could have a cuppa.
People were lucky in
a country such as Australia. Sure, there were floods and cyclones, but also
special trained units, like the SES, to deal professionally with those
calamities so that damage was limited. It seemed the Third World was where
natural disasters really vented their anger, and because many of the houses were
wooden sticks, whole villages were washed away. Earthquakes caused mudslides
which buried thousands of poor souls. Yet these unfortunates were the most
religious people, it seemed to Ben, in the world. He felt sad now. He should
have stayed thinking about Mary’s body!
After church, they
went to a cafe where they ordered breakfast and flat white espresso coffees.
Mary requested egg, bacon and toast, while Ben added a few extras like grilled
tomatoes and mushrooms. He wandered off to pick up a copy of the Sunday
newspaper. As usual, the main features were photos of semi-clad models whom
nobody had heard of, classified as ‘stars’, and greedy cricketers, recently
married, and selling photo exclusivity to a women’s magazine for half a million
dollars. As a contrast, a female golfer giving her winnings to an overseas
disaster relief fund was in a smaller article near the back of the paper.
Ben enjoyed reading
articles by what he called proper journalists. In addition he enjoyed the
foreign news, readers’ letters and the cryptic crossword.
When Ben returned to
the cafe, his coffee and breakfast had just been set on the table. They were
both hungry and concentrated on their food. It was ten o’clock on a Sunday
morning and that section of the main street was busy. With the sun, the outdoor
chairs, tables and umbrellas, the town had a southern European look. Most of the
customers wore short-sleeved tops, shorts, sandals and sunglasses. They enjoyed
the feel of the place. After Ben wiped his plate clean with a chunk of toast,
they got up and drifted along the river bank to home.
At home, Ben settled
down to write his schedule for the Melbourne trip. He spoke to his manager in
Melbourne and went through the appointments he had made. He suggested another
two and then asked what time the first appointment was. He insisted on an hour’s
chat at the office before they ventured out.