And so Monday came, and within the boundries of the store was found a smaller store. A department, far away from any of the myriad that seperated the main shop, long walled off and compartmentalised. This used to be Steam and Pressure, but now had a different purpose: Training.
There’s a thing in London that the black cab drivers do. It’s a kind of test, a final exam in some cases. They call it The Knowledge. Scientists – a catch-all term which here refers mostly to cranial biologists – have worked out that The Knowledge, a deep and holistic understanding of the streets of London and how to get from point A to point Z without getting caught in the lights at junction T, actually and obviously changes the mappings of your brain.
Training for Malicesons came in three parts: Part the first – how to deal with customers; Part the second – how to deal with Malicesons; and Part the third – the largest and most conveluted part of all: How to find things inside the store, which is where The Knowledge came in. Malicesons was a empire of fiefdoms, of relative might or pettity, with a complex series of alignments and delegations as to make an organisational diagram a five dimentional nightmare, capable of shattering the fabric of the world. There was, for example, a department of “Men’s Clothing”, but “Suits” was not a part of it, being the modern form of the “Formal Wear” department which had devolved into the “Suits” and “Ballgowns” departments when the husband and wife team who ran the united department had divided in 1921…
Alice filled her brain with the relationships and the routes, surprised how easily it fit into her brain. The procedures of dealing with customers came easily to her, and soon she passed the training program and went into the shop proper, taking a prime role at the front door to greet and guide the customers where they needed to be.
A couple of weeks later, it was Christmas.
Of course it wasn’t actually Christmas yet, but with the passing of November, all pretence of patience had vanished like molten snow. The lights had gone up on the lamp-posts around the square seemingly instantly and all the shops around it had sprouted tinsel like shiny, tacky beards. Malicesons remained resolutely unfestive, however.
“It started off as a tradition,” explained Alice to an increasing number of customers as the weeks went on, “but ended up being a sensible business decision. Apparently the number of people who are absolutely fed up with christmas carols by the time they start their seasonable shopping results in a substantial boost to our bottom line”.
Later, she was on a break in the employee cafe when Jenny sat down with her. “I heard you earlier spouting that line about christmas being good for our bottom line. You know it’s bollocks?”
Jenny was short and blonde and worked in the Accounts department. By coincidence of break times and lack of tables they had become aquaintances, and by talking to each other they had become friends.
“They had an entire Christmas Department back in the early 80s for a year, embraced the whole thing, and had the highest take-home for years.”
“Wasn’t that the year they had the gas explosion on Christmas Day?”
“Coincidence is not a good enough reason for a business decision.”
“You know, I’ve never actually heard of a gas explosion being a real thing. It sounds so much like a cover for something underhand.”, said Alice lampshadedly.
“Maybe it is. Maybe celebrating Christmas blew up the store”
“Maybe it did. I can ask in my next meeting with his Grace, if you like”, said Alice.
“Keep me out of it.”
“Anything I need to tell him?”
“Not sure. Might want to check out Whites & Ranges. They put in a chit for a decoration budget that I don’t see signoff for. Still out tonight?”
“Yeah, I’ll join you around eight thirty, after I’ve checked that out.”
“See you then.”
The afternoon marched on, and the evening marched in. Crowds flooded in, bought wears, faded and went home, and as the store closed at seven thirty, the staff faded too, leaving the still and silent store soaking back in its emergency lit grid again. It would be six hour or so before the cleaning crews swept though like a highly efficent broom, and half an hour before Alice was supposed to join Jenny and Kate at the pub. Whites and Ranges was a floor down and near the back of the store, and Alice strode towards it.