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Open Features: Truffle Balls

Is Fred the seets salesman really a nice man? Derek McQueen brings us another surprising tale.

Fred’s customers needed a call from him every six weeks. His company's 'Truffle Balls' product was a phenomenal success and had been out-selling 'Kit Kat' and other leading confectionary brands, for months.

Looking after sixty customers was a big undertaking for Fred, with paperwork to sort out most evenings. The good news was that his commission was the highest he had enjoyed in five years with Bailey's Sweets. His secret stash in a newly opened bank account in Pudsey was growing rapidly.

Today Fred was calling on 'Nellie's Comforts' in Halifax High Street, and very much hoping that Nellie's daughter Rosie would be in the shop. There was definitely something going on between Fred and Rosie despite the age difference, at least Fred was hoping so. Fortunately Nellie was rarely in the shop since she fell off the steps in the summer, reaching for a jar of mint rock.

Fred was good looking with dark wavy hair, always immaculately dressed and at six feet three, still an attractive man. He came late to sales. Having trained as a Town Planner in Huddersfield it came as a real shock to be made redundant, at the age of thirty-eight. Huddersfield's loss was Baileys gain, or so it appeared. He had been top salesman for the last four years. Married with two children, the strain and shortage of money when he was out of work for two months, brought Fred's marriage to breaking point. His very attractive wife June finally announced that she was leaving him and taking the children with her.

In many ways it suited Fred to be on his own. The marriage was a sham in most respects. June no longer took care of her appearance and had lost all interest in lovemaking. June told a close friend that she wasn't leaving because of the money problems. It was Fred's violent temper that frightened her. He had started to get physical and had slapped her around several times.

*

It was bitterly cold and threatening rain when Fred arrived at 'Nellies Comforts' sweet shop, his last call of the day. He was chilled through and hoping for a warming drink if the shop wasn't too busy. His cumbersome brief case and sample bag seemed to weigh a ton.

The shop was brilliantly lit and hundreds of jars of sweets glistened on the shelves. Barley sugar, lollipops, jellybeans, mint humbugs, pear drops, aniseed twists, glacier mints and éclairs and several dozen more. The sugary sweet smell of the pear drops took you back to childhood. The whole place had an old fashioned feel to it. Hands full, Fred pushed the door open with his back. He felt sure there would be a sizeable order waiting for him; a hot coffee as well with any luck. He blinked in the bright lights of the shop.

To his surprise and disappointment, there was a stranger behind the counter.

'Not a new assistant surely, 'Fred thought. The man, in a smart green sweater was certainly pleasant enough and offered to make him a cup of tea.

"Where's Rosie," Fred spluttered. "I'm Fred Derwent, rep' for Baileys Sweets. Rose usually gives me an order. She knew I was calling today I don't understand it." Fred gabbled on, clearly put out.

"Jim, my name, Jim Stockwell" the young man said. He was about Rosie's age and very smartly dressed. "I'm a good friend of Rosie's - she asked me to do her a favour and look after the shop for a few days. I can give you an order if you like. Or you could come back next Tuesday; she might be back by then.
Your truffle balls are still selling well," Jim went on. He had sensed Fred's agitation and was trying to relax the conversation. What he didn't dare tell him was that Rosie was upstairs in the stock room hiding from him. He was covering for her, by minding the shop for an hour until Fred was on his way.

"I could give you an order now if you like," Jim said? "What would you like to do? We need truffle balls, four large jars of mint éclairs and two jars of liquorice bon bon's. Oh! and six trays of brazil nut toffee."

There was a scraping sound from the floor above. Fred looked up at the ceiling; he was already sensing that Jim's story didn't hang together. And where was Rosie's mother Nellie, in all this?

"So Jim, do you mind telling me why Rosie's not here. It's not like her to leave someone else in the shop." Fred's agitation was beginning to show. He was becoming unpleasant and Jim didn't like it one bit.

He knew that Rosie had taken a dislike to Fred and now
he could see why. She had told Jim that Fred had scared her a couple of times recently and would he please look after the shop for an hour when Fred's visit was due.

Jim began to make out an order, as Rosie had shown him. 'I wouldn't deal with this guy for all the confectionary in China,' Jim thought.

There was another scraping sound over their heads.

"Rpsies's in that damn storeroom upstairs isn't she?" Fred said.
"She's bloody hiding from me. What's that all about eh?"
"Rpsie, are you up there? Rosie!'' He strode across to the stairs at the back of the shop.

He was on the third stair when the sweet jar came crashing down.

Fred slumped in a heap as truffle balls scattered over ther floor of Nellie's Conforts shop.

**

For more of Derek's stories please click on http://www.openwriting.com/cgi-bin/mt-search.cgi?IncludeBlogs=1&search=Derek+McQueen

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