As the sun began to set behind the leafy cliff line, it desperately threw the last of its heat into the valley below. January was a bitch. Evening was rapidly approaching, but there was no respite from the heat, and it scorched what little greenery remained in the valley. Cavernous warehouses stood silently, perspiring on large lawns of concrete. Rivers of molten bitumen flowed in a perfect grid around them. It was the kind of day where crossing the road in bare feet would mean blisters for days. This was despite the fact that the ghost-town industrial district was only a kilometer from Warriewood Beach. It sat in the valley, and missed the sea breeze.
In the stingy shadow of a barbed wire fence, stood Errol Jeffries. His hands were interlocked on his head, as he tried to air out his armpits. It was an empty gesture. The black cotton of his security guard uniform sweated profusely. He could feel a bead of sweat rolling down his spine, and he squirmed as it joined the pool amassing just above his thick leather belt. He often wondered why he needed to wear the uniform. After all, in the six months he had been working in the valley, he had seen about five people wandering the streets, and each one of them looked as though they were hurrying to leave. He had never had to do any guarding of anything! The uniform was wasted on him, and the summer heart. He was reluctant to raise this with the pharmaceutical company who employed him, in case they reconsidered whether a security guard was even necessary. So everyday, he showed up to work immaculate: A shirt so well ironed you could set your watch to it. After every wash cycle, he would spend an entire episode of The Goodies picking the white fluff of a discarded tissue off his black pants. And each day, he would return home, sweaty and bored. In some ways, it was a terrible waste. He had long dreamt of chasing a masked thief down the road. In his fantasy, he ran like Daniel Craig; purposeful, athletic, and stylish as hell. The thief, upon seeing the perfectly pressed black shirt, and the streamlined black pants would tear off his balaclava, and surrender in a thick Russian accent. Errol would be crowned a hero, and his mother’s eyes would shine as he received his medal… But in other ways (which Errol wasn’t ready to admit to himself), the lack of activity was a blessing, for one simple reason:
Errol Jeffries was a coward.
Even the job choice was cowardly. He had ruled out joining the police force in case he got hurt. He couldn’t risk that… but a gig as a security guard only had the illusion of danger. Much safer, much more attractive.
His mother named him after Errol Flynn, hoping it would instill some sense of charisma into the boy, that he would grow up debonair, a real swashbuckler. But even she would admit to her friends after a few chardonnays, that he was anything but.
"Oh Errol, I would give everything, NOT to be like him!” The kids at the local high school had had a field day with that one. Errol hated Australian Crawl for it. That’s most of the reason he became a security guard. After all, what’s more intimidating and brave than a seco? Well, if it happens to be Errol Jeffries swinging the baton, most things.
He sighed, and wiped his forehead with his sleeve. A pimple burst on the way through, and he looked at dismay at the yellow stain on his once pristine shirt.
He picked up one of the tiny pebbles that lay scattered across the barren driveway, and looked around for something to throw it at. A stop sign stood tauntingly close. He drew his arm back and threw as hard as he could. Silence. A profound a miss. A startlingly accurate metaphor of his life.
Down the end of the street, next to Terry's Auto-electrical, a white Camry screeched around the corner. A small smile crept onto Errol’s face, and for the first time that day, he was glad. Firstly, he was glad that there was no one to bear witness to his shocking marksmanship, but also because the white Camry belonged to Rory.
Rory was the only person Errol ever saw in the valley. He had no reason for being there as far as Errol knew, but he sure appreciated the company.
"Heeeey buddy" Rory's Irish accent rang out the whir of his tired fanbelt.
"Hey Rory!" Errol was upset how sycophantic that phrase had left his lips. He regained himself. "S'happening?"
Rory walked across the road. He had a spring in his step that made it look like he was triple jointed. It was a strange rhythm, but somehow graceful. Errol had once told his mother that Rory reminded him of Captain Jack Sparrow. She had rolled her eyes at the comment.
"How is my favourite security guard on this awful afternoon?"
Errol shrugged. A looked north into the setting sun, with what he hoped was a faraway look in his eyes. He had been watching Game of Thrones, and had begun to romantically view himself as the lone watchman on the wall. He turned to look at Rory.
“Just keeping watch man… Holding the fort.”
Rory nodded. "Y'know, I'm surprised you're still in the full uniform. Especially in this weather," he said nonchalantly, starring out towards the cliff line, scanning the cars crawling down Mona Vale Road. He held out one arm to block the sun from his eyes. "Most of the other secos don't wear the hat. Harrison even unbuttons the shirt. Blesses the entire valley with his majestic physique."
Harrison was 130kgs, and had body hair that would have made a bear blush, but the joke hadn't registered with Errol. He was incensed! All that time spent ironing, de-fluffing! If Rory hadn't been around, he would certainly have had another pot shot at the stop sign.
"Woah, you all good matey?" Rory peered in under the hat, beginning to grin as he saw Errol's jaw locked shut with rage.
In his fury, he imagined what he would do if he saw Harrison with his gut hanging out between the sweaty curtains of his uniform:
“Have you got no respect? No professionalism? If you don’t wear your uniform right, you’re a crap guard! Sort yourself out”. Errol would storm off as Harrison, caught in a religious like bout of conviction would begin buttoning up his shirt, his stubby fingers shaking with shame.
Rory clapped his hand on Errol’s sweat moistened shoulder. "If it bothers you that much, you could tell someone… I mean, you’re a smart guy, so I’m sure you have a some good ideas, but you could write a letter or something…"
Errol nodded slowly. The beginnings of a plan began to form in his mind. He would write his boss a letter! Synaptic connections began to fire, and a slight smile unlocked his jaw.
"I’m not trying to be petty, but a lot of guarding is about intimidation, and you can’t be intimidating if you look like crap. I take that very seriously!” he motioned to his own uniform and pivoted on the spot. A few plucky beads of sweat rode his momentum and streamed around to his hips from lower back. He winced, and become instantly more resolved, as though this somehow proved his point.
“When I home, I’ll write a strongly worded letter to the CEO... and... and then-"
"Noooo, nonono" Rory cooed. "Why wait?" He started "why" with an H sound, and despite himself, Errol smiled. "You should do it now. While the fire is in your belly! Capture the emotion!"
"Huh," Errol put his hands on his hips, and shook his head in amazement. "You are SO right! Man, you’re a genius!"
Rory bowed. "And you sir, are more perceptive than most! Here, my laptop’s in the car. You gotta keep it on the charger though, so you'll have to sit in the car. Being a freelance trader, you don't own fancy laptops..."
Errol crossed the street and lowered himself into the passenger seat of Rory's Camry. It was unreasonably hot. The combination of blistering leather seats and the warm hum of the laptop almost made him delirious.
'Dear sir or madam,'
He cracked his fingers together, hoping it looked like some no good bandito, or an IT hacker about to wreak havoc. He surreptitiously glanced to his left and right to see if Rory noticed. Damn! A wasted gesture! He turned his attention back to the letter. Did they award medals for this kind of thing? He wasn't sure, but he was sure as hell going to find out!
‘Time to spit some venom’, he thought to himself.
'Thank you for taking the time to read my letter...'
2 days later
Errol Jeffries was feeling an unfamiliar sensation: pride. It had burst into existence when he had received a call at 9:30 that morning. It was the secretary for the CEO of Phillips Pharmaceuticals. Mr. Phillips himself was asking to see him. Him!
His mother had helped him put together an appropriate outfit for the occasion. Errol had suggested his father's three-piece suit, but his mother disagreed. It was probably a little bit too formal, she had said. As Errol walked through the sliding doors, which he had only ever guarded, he wasn't sure she was right.
"Errol Jeffries to see Mr. Phillips?" He said to the secretary, barely able to keep a smile off his face.
"He's expecting you, go right on through."
That would be the best moment in Errol's life. He tried to calm himself. What could he expect? Employee of the month? Was employee of the year a thing? Did they take a photo and hang it somewhere? If so, the three-piece suit would have been a great choice. He cursed his mother’s naïveté.
He reached the door, took two deep slow breaths and knocked too loudly.
"Come in" came the muffled reply from behind the frosted glass.
Errol pushed the door open to see Mark Phillips seated behind a big oak desk, and Frank Herrera, the head of security, sitting on the other side, his back to the door.
"Ah Jeffries, speak of the devil..."
Errol drank in the scene. His first moment in the big leagues! Mark Phillips was smaller than Errol had imagined. His charcoaled hair ran a horseshoe around the back of his head, which accentuated his pink liver spotted scalp. His features were fine, but beginning to wither with age.
"Thank you for your letter," Mr. Phillips began pleasantly, his voice somehow at odds with his aging demeanor. "Your observations were deeply concerning to us, so we did, as you suggested review the security footage. In fact, we have it here!"
He motioned his computer, which he twisted to face Errol.
"Here you are two days ago, wearing your uniform with gusto!" He shot Errol a roguish wink. His heart rate quickened. A wink from the CEO!
"Aaaand, on the rear camera, here is a masked man, jimmying open the door…. And back to you, writing that truly wonderful letter... And back to him, coming out the backdoor with $15,000 worth of vitamins."
That graceful, triple jointed walk. He even jumped and clicked his heels together as he threw the boxes over the back fence. Errol’s jaw dropped.
"Doesn't stop there, Jeffries," he went on. “We reviewed your last few shifts.” He seemed to be enjoying this in some sadistic way. "Here's this man giving you the crossword. You seem pretty stumped. Seven down a real doozy was it? Must have been because Lo and behold, here's our friend doing the exact same thing!"
Errol sat frozen, watching the black and white footage of Rory doing the Charleston on the spot in the alley, next to another large box. On the chair beside him, Herrera was red in the face, still determinedly avoiding Errol’s desperate glances.
"He told me he was a freelance trader," Errol said, and then immediately wished he hadn't.
"Well now he's trading prescription drugs for cash," said Herrera through gritted teeth.
"You're lucky that Herrera has convinced me that you’re incompetent, rather than nefarious. Or you'd be awaiting the same fate as our thief." Phillips’ voice was steadily rising and the facade of calm camaraderie was collapsing. "As it happens, you are merely fired, and will be remembered as the worst security guard in the history of pharmaceuticals! You're welcome, and get the hell out of my office!"
Errol sat still, stupidly.
Phillips nodded towards the door.
Errol looked desperately at Herrera.
Herrera was red faced and shaking slightly.
Errol made a sudden line for the door. He fumbled with the handle.
“For the love of…” he heard Phillips groan behind him. The handle clicked, and Errol disappeared down the hallway.
Errol drove home, his jaw slightly agape in such a way that would have looked funny had the scene not been so pathetic. His outfit, which he had been so proud of, now looked measly and deflated. He turned the corner past Terry's Auto-electricians. Witty comebacks formed in his mind, which he had neither the comedic timing, nor bravery to deliver in person. He pursed his lips for a second before violently hitting the steering wheel three times. Images came to him of Rory blazing into the sunset in Camaro, a girl in a bikini sprawled across the passenger seat, both of them popping vitamin C’s like they were tic-tac’s… These cruel fantasies plagued him the whole way home.
As he pushed the front door open, his mother lent around from the kitchen. Her face was alight.
"Well, what did you get?"
He knew the subtext: I would give everything, not to be like him.