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A Man of Few Words - by Swan Morrison

Premises, Premises

During my first week as Administration Manager at the Home Office, I familiarised myself with the Department and the office procedures, and I met all staff.

I began my second week with a budget review. At once, I noticed an anomaly. Fifty thousand pounds per annum was unaccounted for from the staffing budget. Under a related budget, over a period of years, other untraceable items appeared. These included two desks, blue paint, wallpaper, an orange carpet, curtains, filing cabinets, stationery and, within the past month, one set of premium quality golf clubs and a set of solid silver cutlery?

I began to feel as Clyde W. Tombaugh must have felt when he predicted the existence and location of the planet Pluto. I had identified an as yet undiscovered office! Indeed, in viewing the list of purchases, I visualised the room and its contents perhaps in the way that Mendeleev had visualised the properties of predicted, but as yet undiscovered, chemical elements.

It was early January, so at 4.00 PM, after it was dark, but before everyone went home, I instructed all known staff to switch off the office lights. I walked around the outside of the building, down a narrow alley and there, at basement level, was light.

I walked down some steps, opened a door and entered the world I had constructed in my mind from the inventory.

‘Hello,’ said an elderly, balding man sitting at one of the desks, ‘Who are you?’

‘I’m the Home Office Administration Manager.’

‘Very pleased to meet you.’ He rose and enthusiastically shook my hand. ‘No one from the main office has come to see us for years. We sometimes joke that you must all have forgotten we exist.’

George Morris introduced himself and his colleague, Doris Sims.

‘What do the two of you do?’ I enquired.

‘This is the State Execution Administration Department,’ Doris proudly informed me.

I must have looked none the wiser so George went on to explain that they made all necessary arrangements before and after hangings.

‘No one has been executed since 1955,’ I pointed out.

George thought for a moment. ‘After Ruth Ellis, things certainly became rather quiet.’ He beamed at me and changed the subject. ‘Anyway, we’re pleased you’ve come today, of all days.’

‘What’s special about today?’

‘Today is the day,’ replied Doris, ‘that George and I retire. As you’re the boss, I wonder if you would be kind enough to say a few words and present the leaving gifts? Those golf clubs are for George and the cutlery set is for me.’

What could I say? I made a short speech thanking them for whatever they had done over the years and presented the gifts. As I ended, the chimes of Big Ben could be heard striking 5.00 PM.

‘Time to leave for the last time,’ said George, a tear in his eye.

‘I’ll miss the old place,’ responded Doris.

They bade me good luck and farewell, and departed the office together.

I never saw them again.