Wellsey watched Fiona with horrified interest. Here was a woman who not that long ago could barely tell one end of a plunger from another. Hell, a fortnight ago he’d seen her reduced to mumbling incoherence by a simple question about bath plugs. Now she was selling like Arthur Daley on steroids.
“Sure, this one’s top of the line,” she said. “But you’ve got to ask yourself, ‘do I need top of the line’, yeah? You’re doing one of those dream home sort of projects, you’ve got money to burn, then yeah, get this one. But for a place the size you’re talking about, I’d suggest this baby. Looks good, solidly built, nine year guarantee, half the price of the one you were looking at.”
“Yeah but, you know, its top of the line,” the customer said. He was a nervous looking man with a ginger moustache, who wouldn’t stop scratching at an earlobe.
“Sometimes top quality is worth it,” Fiona nodded. “But bottom line, any sink will get your hands clean.”
“So what’s wrong with that really cheap one?”
“That? Nothing. My dad has one of those. Keeps it in the garage for cleaning himself up after working on a car. But the one in his bathroom, that visitors see? He likes something better, yeah?”
The back and forth went on for another two minutes, before the man with the ginger moustache gave up and took the sink unit that Fiona recommended.
Wellsey hadn’t thought that Fiona had seen him, but she didn’t seem surprised when he stepped forward. “If he bought that one he wanted, he’d be back in a week to exchange it,” she said. “Saves us on admin work.”
Wellsey nodded. She was probably right, but that was the problem. Fiona was a well-intentioned incompetent. How had that changed, and why was it so disturbing that she had?
“That’s good work, Fiona,” Wellsey said. “You’ve been improving a lot lately, and I appreciate it.”
Had she changed her hair? As a married man, Wellsey had painstakingly trained himself to notice when his wife had her hair done, but still found it hard to tell when other women had. Fiona had done something with her appearance, anyway. The girl was still somewhere in that vast grey area between ‘attractive’ and ‘unattractive’, but she seemed more… professional, somehow?
Maybe it was her hair.
Wellsey gritted his teeth. Her hair wasn’t the issue. He was only focusing on it as a way to avoid thinking about what he wanted to ask.
“I… I notice you’re hanging around with Norman a lot,” he said.
“Yeah,” Fiona said. “He’s a good guy. We’ve got to be good friends over the last couple of weeks. He’s like a brother to me.”
“And both of you are hanging around with Axel.”
Fiona looked a little more guarded at that. “Yeah,” she said. “He’s been… giving me help with my work.”
“What, like sales tips?”
“No, no,” Fiona said quickly. “That’s your job. Axel respects that. He’s been helping me with my confidence, my self-esteem.”
Was that good or bad? That was the trouble. It could easily be either. “What I mean is…” Wellsey began, “look, Axel and I have something in common, in that we both got in trouble with the law. A lot. And now we’re both out of trouble and moving on with our lives, right? But… but it doesn’t always work like that. Sometimes people get in trouble and they never get out. They end up in gaol forever, or dead, or worse.”
Fiona said nothing. She looked at him attentively, as if trying to make sense of what he was saying. What had he been expecting? A guilty look? A poker face? Either of those things would have said something.
He continued: “What I mean is… what I mean is, ‘don’t make the mistakes we made’, I guess. You know what I mean? You’re getting advice from two former criminals. I just hope we’re only giving you good advice.”
“I see what you mean,” Fiona said.
“Do you?” Wellsey said, not certain what he meant himself. “Do you?”
“Yes,” Fiona said. “It’s okay. I’ll keep out of trouble.”
He wanted to say more, but a customer was calling. He waved Fiona on her way and stood, deep in thought.
“It’s the water, the water on the road,” came a voice from behind him. Turning, Wellsey saw Sadie McGregor. He didn’t much like Sadie. There was something about her eyes, something judgy that Wellsey didn’t care for. On the other hand, she was right. That was what had been bothering him, way in the back of his brain.
The armoured car robbery. The water on the road. Fiona hadn’t demonstrated her strange ability with water since the incident with the sink. But Wellsey hadn’t forgotten.
“Shit,” he said. “Do you think Fiona was involved?”
“I… I don’t know,” Wellsey said. He’d tried to forget all about the stupid incident with the sink and the water… Tried to reject the obvious conclusion that there was something weird about Fiona. But then, random water from nowhere… But it didn’t mean anything. Sometimes there was water on the road. So what? It didn’t implicate a strange young woman in an armed robbery.
“Wait a second,” Wellsey said. “What’s it got to do with you?”
“Nothing,” Sadie said. “What’s it got to do with you?”
“Not a thing,” Wellsey said. “I’m her supervisor. Not her Dad, not her teacher, not her parole officer, not her priest. If she’s misbehaving off the clock, why is it any business of mine?”
“If you believe that,” Sadie said. “If in your heart of hearts you truly believe that, then carry on as you were. Stand back and let her do as she will.”
Wellsey slumped and ran his hand over his bald head. There had been a time in his life when he’d been convinced that he would die young. It was sort of a relief, the thought that he might be gone before he ever had to worry about responsibilities or the long-term consequences of actions. Stubbornly, though, he’d survived. He had a responsibility to Fiona. Not a contractual or a legal responsibility. It was the other sort of responsibility, and that was the worst sort of all.
He looked up to talk to Sadie, but she was walking away. She had a stiff walk, like a wind-up toy. Perhaps there was something wrong with her knees.