When Your Number’s Up | Ian Harrison

When Your Number’s Up

By Ian Harrison

For the What We Talk About When We Talk About Love Award


“Hey Rhonda, when’s your birthday?”

Rhonda blushed. Micky never paid her much attention; he was nearly twenty years younger.

“The fourteenth of…”

“Ta.” He started to walk away.

“You don’t want to know what month, or what fragrance I like?” She teased.

“What? Oh, nah, sorry Rhonda, no. I’m a bit distracted. D’you hear the lottery jackpot finally went off? And now Jimbo’s gone M.I.A.” He circled the fourteen on a scrap of paper.

“You’re so suspicious, Micky. His mum’s sick and Jim’s a dutiful son, looking after her like that. That’s all,” she said to the retreating back.

“Not suspicious. And I know what he claimed, to get time off…” muttered Mick.

He pushed through large semi-opaque acrylic flaps that divided the office area from the warehouse. It was chaotic on both sides.

Apart from being the one who organised the lottery syndicate, Jim was the receiving manager. When shipments came in, he’d match paperwork to the goods, and have Rhonda and storemen break shipments down to regions and suburbs, pushing wheeled cages around the warehouse for temporary storage.

With Jim taking carer’s leave, Mick had been run off his feet. Admin were also down one with the flu’ going around. Rachel’s turn now – she’d been on bed-rest all week. For a small, busy courier company, having two off simultaneously meant chaos reigned, especially in the lead-up to Christmas.

That’s it. I’m interviewing people on Monday, thought Mick, as another couple of vans reversed up to the dock and a driver leapt out. He couldn’t force drivers off the road to keep the warehouse running smoothly. More than half of their work involved deliveries to workplaces, and that imposed its own timeframe limitations.

Danny smiled easily, clapping Mick on the back. He mimed pouring a drink.

“Just taking for a quick break, then I’ll load up with Rhonda… ooh, what’s this? A nice bottle of bubbly from our mates at the Lotteries, I reckon. Lucky bastards.”

Mick was still occupied when Danny returned, smelling of smoke, with checklist in hand.

“It’s out of my area, but Rhonda reckons no-one else is headed that way this arvo. We shouldn’t keep ‘J. Walsh’ waiting.”

“J. Walsh? You’re kidding,” said Mick, alarmed.

“Clear as a bell, check for yourself.”

Danny laughed. “You’re so suspicious, Mick! How many ‘Walshes’ are there in the world? Gotta be millions of them. Jack, John, Jeremy, Justin, Jason, Jeff?”

“James,” said Mick.

“You still brooding?” laughed Rhonda, who’d already finished matching the manifest and overseen Danny’s van getting re-packed for the next run. “It could be addressed to a woman, you know, or hadn’t you thought of that? Jacqui, Joanne, Judy, Jessica, Jennifer, Jacinta, Justine?”

“Jim,” stressed Mick. “Jim bloody Walsh. The cheek. Dan, I’m riding along.”

“No, Micky, we’re too busy here…” complained Rhonda.

“And I wasn’t planning on coming back to the depot tonight,” said Danny. “I gotta hot date.”

“Tough. Boss’ prerogative. I want in on this. I’ll ring the lottery agency on the way, as per. They can meet us at the doorstep with the cheque and the photographers, do the little press conference.”

“Mick, forget it. Jim lives over the other side of the city – more’s the pity, this lottery winner is already cashed-up, judging by the address.” Rhonda said.

“Or just moved in. You ready yet?” Mick was firm.

“Just need to clear some stuff off your seat,” Danny replied, resistance fading.

“Well, chop-chop. This bubbly’s not getting any colder. Rhonda, you’re in charge until we get back.”

Danny realised that complaining wasn’t going to win him any favours, and he was dying for another cigarette. He could take liberties with speed limits, but not with the boss tagging along. He had Mick look up the addresses as they approached destinations, and Mick seemed pleased with the easy rapport Danny had developed with their regulars.

“Repeat business,” winked Danny. “OK, last one before we have to head back.”

Mick looked at his watch pointedly. “And you were going to knock-off now? You’ll easily have me back at the depot by five-thirty, traffic permitting.”

A tense silence swept over the van as they travelled the last twenty minutes. To Danny, it felt like any time Mick wasn’t staring at the address label for the umpteenth time, he was craning to peek at the speedometer.

“This it?” Danny asked.

Another van was already at the address, cameraman, make-up artist, sound recordist and an attractive red-head with a microphone and oversized novelty cheque awaiting their arrival.

“Yep,” said Danny. “Just try not to make a scene, will you?”

“No promises,” grumbled Mick.

They had set up quickly, trying to keep the house’s occupants unaware that anything was going on (unless they peeked through their curtains). Cameras rolled as Mick rang the doorbell.

A young woman answered, wearing a bikini and sarong.

“So… your flu’ seems to have cleared up, Rach,” fumed Mick.

“Jim about?” Interjected Danny. “We’d like a quiet word.”