He leads you down the corridor beyond, into an office at the corner of the building. Mismatched filing cabinets and cupboards squash into the spaces between the windows, and on one of these is a kettle. Metcalf checks the water level with an exploratory slosh of its contents and clicks it on. “The coffee’s only instant, but it’s better than what comes out of the machine,” he says, before staring for a moment at the raindrops blattering against the window panes.
He kicks one of the chairs opposite the desk out, and sags into his own behind it. You click open your briefcase to retrieve your exam certificates, but he waves them away with a patricianly smile. “I’m sure they’re all in order, and it’s the references we’re really concerned about. The job’s not exactly rocket science, and what we need is someone who’s reliable and honest. That’s about it. Your referees tell me you fit the bill, so sit yourself down while I tell you what it’s all about, and we can take it from there.”
The kettle boils, and he gets up again to make two coffees – black, no sugar – before dumping one on the desk in front of you. You start to relax. It sounds like you’ve got the job already. Metcalf sits down again, wheels himself back and puts his feet up on the desk. You cradle your coffee, which actually smells of coffee, while he explains your duties.
“It’s mainly for the insurance. They insist that someone’s here overnight. The reason is that the tower doesn’t comply with the health and safety regs any more. One staircase where there needs to be two. No sprinkler system. Too few fire exits. Legionnaires in the ventilation, twice. Insufficient toilets, nothing for the disabled. And there are problems with the concrete. Basically, it’s got to come down, but it has to be emptied first, then stripped of asbestos, then demolished a floor at a time.
“All you have to do is be here. Check the doors when you arrive at ten, make sure everyone’s out of the building, then make sure it stays that way until six in the morning, when the first contractors turn up. That’s pretty much it. You can have a walk around every couple of hours, if you want. You can sit on your backside, read books, do the crossword, teach yourself Esperanto…” He looks across the desk at you. “Whatever it is you young people do. Something on your phones, I expect. We don’t really mind, as long as you’re on your own. Because otherwise, we’re not insured, and we’ll have to let you go.”
You could do the job. You could do it asleep, in fact. You probably will do it asleep.
“We’ll need you Monday through Friday. At the weekends, there’s separate cover. There aren’t many perks to this job – you can put on one of the overalls if you want – but we don’t want you to do anything much. If something happens you can’t deal with, call one of the keyholders and hold the fort till they arrive. What do you think?”
You blink, and nod. If only getting a proper job in an office was this straight forward. For those, though, there’s a lot more competition. This one? Not so much. “Yes, yes, that’s fine. It’s for three months, yes?”
“If you get a better offer, by all means, take it. I mean that.” Metcalf dragged his feet off the desk, and shuffled some paper on his desk. “All I’m asking for is a couple of weeks’ notice. Sign here.” He pushes a contract towards you, and pulls chewed biro for you to sign it with. You scribble your name on the paperwork, and try not to sound too grateful as you pass it back.
“How soon can you start?” he asks, as he checks everything through. He glances over the top sheet at you.
“I haven’t got anything else on, if that’s what you mean.” You’re unemployed. And no, you haven’t got anything else on. Nothing at all.
“Is tonight too soon?”
It’s not. You’ve got bills to pay, debts to honour, and food to buy. But you sense there’s a subtext here. Metcalf is hoping you’ll say tonight will be fine, but it’s more than that.