The Loneliness of Command

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Other  |  House: CLOG
This short vignette introduces Roos Wouters, the Belgian sausage maker, and describes her state of mind in the few days before she becomes a character in Strudwick's Successor.

Submitted: October 27, 2016

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Submitted: October 27, 2016

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Roos Wouters leant on the rail, and watched the greyish white cliffs slowly approach. She popped the last of her bun in her mouth, and chewed as she took in the town behind the harbour. Further along the side of the ship a group of lorry drivers stood, admiring her slim, boyish, outline and long black hair, but she ignored them. Roos was a solitary young woman, and had been so ever since she had been thrust into the management of the family business by the tragic death of her parents.

She still felt guilty about the circumstances in which she had inherited the factory. She had just graduated from Liege University, and wished to thank her father for the support that he and her mother had given her during those years of study. She had persuaded them to take a holiday, while she minded the business. It was to be their first break in six years, for business was booming and her father did not like to leave the factory unsupervised. She had seen them off at the coach park, as they headed for Malgrat in Spain, and that was the last time she saw them.

Most of the passengers on the coach had been local to Liege. Her mother was chatting to a fellow traveller, whom she recognised, in the coach park before then left. The accident hit the town badly, with fourteen dead and a score severely injured. She had encouraged them to pay extra for the view from the front seats of the coach, and now she regretted it. Their last view had been the truck approaching as their driver fought to control the vehicle after a tyre burst. Her good intentions had a horrendous impact on her life: the loss of loving parents, long hours managing the factory on her own, and no time left over for social activities of any kind.

As she watched Dover Harbour grow larger and closer, she wondered what the future held for her. For the past few months she had been exporting her sausages to an English company. It was strange the way that Strudwick’s French Polish and German Sausage Company had approached her. Out of the blue they had written to her, to set up a business arrangement. She had no idea that her products were even known of beyond Liege, and a few other outlets scattered throughout Belgium.

What at first seemed to be a good business opportunity had become a problem to her, for the English company increased their order each month, and she had reached the limits of her factory’s capacity.

She hoped to go into partnership with an English supplier in order to meet the demand, and a coincidence brought her an approach from a Sebastian Hardcastle to discuss a mutual marketing strategy in their respective countries. She had arranged meetings to view his facilities, and had fortuitously received an invitation to a function at the firm in Peckham that now bought a third of her production, during the period of her planned stay in England.

An announcement over the ship’s speaker system told her that they would disembark in ten minutes, so she heaved her suitcase upright and pulled out the handle. The wheels clicked and rumbled as she made her way to the exit. Soon she would be on the boat-train to London, and her hotel at the curiously named district called The Elephant and Castle.


 

Roos soon realised that a quaint name does make up for the deficiencies of a location. The hotel was clean, efficient and impersonal, but the surrounding area was heavily trafficked both day and night. Even on the sixth floor the noise from outside made sleeping difficult. She was conveniently located reasonably close to those places she planned to visit, but there would be little joy or relaxation until she got home. She had a full schedule of meetings during the five days she planned to stay, but her evenings were free: except for one where she was invited to Strudwick’s for a social event.


 

Roos found that she did not like Sebastian Hardcastle, of Hardcastle Cattle, Cake & Pie Co-op. The man was bombastic, and made too many assumptions about how a partnership between their respective companies would work. It was clear that he saw himself as the dominant partner, despite being less than forthcoming about his capacity and financial position. She was normally a very tactile person: touching arms and using her hands in the French manner when speaking, and of course the embrace when meeting and parting. But in Hardcastle’s case she restrained herself.

Roos doubted that she could trust Hardcastle, but Strudwick’s French Polish and German Sausage Company was making ever greater demands on her output. Her factory, sandwiched between a museum and the public baths, had no scope for expansion, and post-war development was making an additional site impractical in Liege. She needed to either enter into an agreement with serious misgivings, or else look elsewhere to solve her production problems. During her trip she had visited various livestock suppliers, with the vague idea that perhaps she should consider her own factory in England, starting small and supplying Strudwick’s from here. There were a number of run-down butcher’s shops that were having problems competing with the new supermarket chains. The capital cost might not be beyond her, but management and staffing in a foreign country would be a problem.


 

As she returned to her hotel after an abruptly terminated frustrating meeting with Hardcastle, she was handed her room key, and a message to say that a Lionel Dee from Strudwick’s would be picking her up at six-fifteen that evening. That was earlier than she had expected, and it left her with little time to dwell on her problems.


 

She lay back in the bath, and added some more hot water. Soon she would have to get dressed to meet this Mr Dee, who was to escort her to some dreary office function. So far her trip had been an expensive disaster, and now she must act sociably with these sausage sellers. She began to feel very alone and homesick.

After she had dressed she did not bother to pile her newly dried hair up in the style she had originally intended, leaving it to hang down her back over her blue cocktail dress instead. She had bought the dress to wear at her mother’s birthday party on their return from holiday, and it had hung untouched in her wardrobe for four years until she had packed her case for this trip.

She looked anxiously in the mirror, to ensure it fitted her as well as when she bought it. It looked fine, although it felt a little loose. While all her friends were rounding out and evolving from girls to mature women she alone had lost some weight in these past few hectic years.


 

She picked up her clutch bag and headed for the lift. She would wait and see who came to pick her up, and fade into the background if the prospect became too distasteful.

As she sat in the lounge she had a clear view of both the entrance lobby and the reception desk. A man parked a beige Vauxhall Victor outside, and approached reception. Roos smiled. He looked a little like her father, right down to the bow-tie he always wore. She stifled a chuckle, as she remembered how he had often commented that it was more suitable than an ordinary neck-tie when working with meat preparation.

Idly she watched as the man spoke to the receptionist. He was dressed in a black dinner suit with patent leather shoes. He was probably going somewhere in the West End, and she wished she was free to go with him. Somewhere busy, crowded and brightly lit where she could forget herself for a few hours.

Her smile widened as the girl behind the counter pointed towards her, and the man turned in her direction.


 

*****

Roos Wouters is a Belgian sausage factory owner, who becomes an essential character in the later chapters of Strudwick’s Successor. This brief vignette gives the reader an insight into her mind in the days leading up to her first appearance in the book.


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