by Dan Keeble
In the upstairs office of the store, they stood beside their father’s portrait on the mahogany wall. Jack wanted to remove Andrew’s arrogant grin. But he was his brother. Instead, he fiddled with his shirt collar and for once found strength in his voice.
“What do you mean, it’s all gone?”
Amused by his younger brother’s bold tone, he stood as unruffled as the white shirt collars that overhung his loud sports jacket. “The money. The business. Your fancy little chats with the customers. Finito, over, done with.”
Jack’s confidence was in sharp contrast to his shaking hands. “It can’t be. Business is good. What have you done? This has to be down to you.”
Andrew had his defence prepared, despite always being able to think on his feet. “While you’ve been playing shops, it’s been me running the business behind the scenes.”
Jack fought back with surprising courage. “Ruining the business, you mean. I’m not blind to the money you siphon off in expenses and your so-called month-long business trips overseas. When I think of the sacrifices Dad made to make Harry Gibbins the top London furniture store.”
Andrew was unmoved by Jack’s red-faced attempt at anger. “Well, I wondered when Daddy would come up. Sacrifice? It was Mum who made the sacrifice while he spent sixteen hours a day in this hole.”
“Shame on you, Andrew. Some day you are going to meet him face-to-face. Then he’ll tell you what a disappointment you’ve become, as God is my judge”
Andrew looked across at his brother with disdain. “Please, cut the religious rubbish. If I met him again, I’d tell him he was a sucker. He could have made us all a fortune instead of selling cheap. Anyway, I’ll not end up with that old saint. It’ll be the fire for me,” he taunted.
Harry Gibbins had survived the Depression and believed in serving the community as his Christian faith had led him. Following WWII, there was little wealth about. He brought quality furniture within the budget of ordinary families. With the support of his devoted wife, he created a business renowned for its fair and honest dealings.
Jack’s voice quivered. “Dad’s only mistake was following tradition and naming his eldest son as his successor.”
It was Jack who carried the customer-first approach into the 1950s. He lived modestly and took little interest in the financial management of the business. Naively, he presumed that, although his brother lived well off the store, there was enough money generated for him not to worry. But Andrew was only interested in the carefree lifestyle the store provided. “So, what happens now?” he asked.
Andrew maintained the same smug grin. “We’ll claim on the insurance.”
“What on Earth are you talking about?”
“We’ll burn the place down,” he laughed.
“What!” Jack screamed. “We won’t!”
“Well, I will. I’m not ending up in some bed-sit. Do you want to be thrown out on the street?”
“It needn’t come to that,” Jack said. “We’ll fight back like Dad always did when he hit a rough patch. He knew help would come from above.”
“It’s way past that, you fool. Torching this place is the only way.”
“I’ll report you.”
“And I’ll say we did it together. I’ll take you down with me. How will Alice and the kids cope then with you in prison?”
Andrew brushed past his brother and made for the door. Jack followed him down to the empty showroom, where Andrew threw himself into an armchair and folded his arms over his chest.
Jack yelled, “I’m having nothing to do with this madness. I want a clear conscience when I meet my maker and Dad, face-to-face.”
Jack headed for the front door and Andrew called after him. “Go read your Bible, Jack, while I save us from ruin.”
Jack paused at the store entrance beside the life-size bronze statue of his late father, its shoulders polished by years of grateful customers’ hands. “I’m coming back later to take Dad home. You don’t deserve to be in the same place as him.”
That’s what you think, Andrew mused. There has to be a few hundred pounds of scrap metal there. At least I’ll have some cash in my pocket.
By seven o’clock, the cold February evening had emptied the street. Before Jack could return, Andrew drove a company van to the front of the store. He carried a toolbox, wheeled a sack barrow into the foyer, and removed the bolts securing his father’s statue to the floor. Struggling with the weight, he maneuvered the bronze figure onto the barrow, ready to wheel out.
Going to the back of the store, he lit a cigarette. Standing behind a brown moquette sofa, he drew hard on the cigarette and dropped it onto a seat. He leaned over and blew until the red glow spread to the seating material and a small flame appeared. Satisfied the fire had taken hold, he closed the sliding doors that divided the store. Calmly, he strolled towards the entrance.
Approaching the door, he turned to make certain that the fire had not gone out. Sure enough, an orange glow was dancing on the frosted glass in the doors. His foot slipped on a piece of discarded wrapping, and he fell. His hand reached out, striking the back of a small armchair, which glided along the polished floor. As he lay on his back, the chair came to a halt against the sack barrow.
The statue toppled. And before Andrew’s light finally went out, he met his father, face-to-face.
Dan Keeble hails from the furthest point East in the UK, and has enjoyed many successes with online and print publications of poetry, short stories, humour, and more serious articles.