‘Round you come,’ he growls. ‘Watch your left there. To me. To me.’
I jump out, straight into a puddle.
‘Mind that,’ he says.
‘So who’ve we come to see?’
‘This way, fella. It’s the damndest thing. I wasn’t even supposed to be working today. Lucky I was or who knows what might have happened. Through here. Mind your head – although you should be all right.’
He leads us into a low-ceilinged building crammed full of machinery – machinery with chains and levers, machinery with blocks and beds and wheels to move them; machinery with great screws and plates to press and raise and separate; machinery that’s been stripped down to sad arrays of wires and switching gear and PCBs; and then stacked precariously in every available space, plastic crates of bits, plugs and sockets, valves, and screws, and brackets, and fixings of every shape and size. There’s scarcely room amongst it all to make your way through to the office at the back – office, in that it has a desk, a computer and shelves of files and directories. They’ve nominally marked out the space by building two breeze-block walls right and left with a curtain of plastic sheeting taped to hang across the opening from the ceiling. There are no heaters that I can see, certainly none working. The air is brutally chill, our breath misting in front of us. It feels more like a cold store than a workshop, despite the insulation of so much stuff, tumbling up incoherently to the pressed asbestos sheets of the roof, where the husks of countless dead spiders hang with their legs frozen in the tucked-up position.
Malcolm is sitting on a swivel chair at the desk. He’s dressed like his friend, layers of old clothes, great winter boots and socks, a beanie hat. His face looks even redder than his friend, though, clean shaven, lacking that vital layer of animal hair as proof against the cold. The end of Malcolm’s nose is particularly raw, and even in this poor light you can see that it’s been abraded by some violent action.
Lion Man tells us he came in and found Malcolm face down on the floor having a seizure. It lasted a couple of minutes, but he seemed to come round fairly quickly. He told him to lie where he was, but Malcolm ignored him and got himself up again.
‘I’m fine. Honestly. I’m fine.’
He rolls himself a cigarette, scattering tobacco across the papers on the desk as his hands shake.
We ask him a few questions and start to figure out what may have happened – but suddenly his phone goes.
‘Do you mind if I... hello? Yep. Yeah. Okay....’
He turns on the chair, puts the cigarette in his mouth, finds a pen, and starts taking notes.
‘Yep. Three point one? You sure, mate? I think you’ll find that’s usually a point two. Yep. Uh-huh. With the trip? On a nine-fifty? Okay. Let me just check that for you...’
He draws diagrams, makes notes, the ash from his fag drifting down onto his hands.
Lion Man sighs and folds his arms.
‘I keep telling him he’s got to slow down but he won’t listen. He’s driven. Absolutely driven. He was here till three yesterday.’
‘In the afternoon?’
Lion Man snorts.
‘Of the AM variety,’ he says. ‘And that’s not unusual. We’ve got orders to fill, deadlines coming out of our ears. It’s tough, you know. Times is a-hard. You can’t afford to sit around and cry about it. Make hay while the sun shines.’ He glances back through the workshop to the yard outside. It’s just started to rain again.
‘Well – you know what I mean.’
We both look back at Malcolm. I catch his eye as he swivels round on the chair to pull down a directory from one of the shelves. He nods and smiles weakly, then puts the directory on the desk and – crooking the phone between his cheek and his shoulder - starts to thumb through it.
‘The nine-eighty, you say? O-kay. Let me just get a price on that for you...’