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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Mystery and Crime  |  House: Tell A Tale
Grearley's is R J Dent's short story about the professional rivalry between two businessmen in a small town - and the violence that is engendered by greed.

Submitted: April 23, 2016

A A A | A A A

Submitted: April 23, 2016




by R J Dent



Everyone in town knew that Vic Mottram hated Brian Grearly.

Grearly's death meant that Mottram would probably find a way to take over Grearly's. He'd always wanted it, ever since it had opened five years ago. Grearly was the owner and manager and designer of Grearly's. Grearly's was an experiment in catering and style which had succeeded far beyond Grearly's wildest expectations.

Brian Grearly was the only child of Richard and Carla Grearly. They were both schoolteachers at the local Junior School. It was where they'd met, it was where they'd had their wedding reception; it was where they had worked all their lives; it was where they still worked – and it was, not surprisingly, where they wanted their son to work too. They probably thought of it as a family tradition or something. Anyway, Brian Grearly had other plans. When he was twenty-one, he left university with a degree in Business Studies and Accountancy and went into business for himself. He had no money – and no visible means of income, but somehow he managed to convince a local company to finance the building of his chip shop. He also managed to persuade various other local companies to supply him with his catering goods, including equipment, utensils and foodstuffs. He had obviously been a very good business studies student. He also seemed to live reasonably well during the construction of his premises. Grearly's genius had been to have his chip shop built in what's known as a 'prime location'. He also had the shop built to his specifications – again a mark of his genius, for the chip shop looked like no other chip shop on earth. And finally, all he sold was chips.

First then, the location. Grearly's was built on the biggest corner of Fiveways. Fiveways is not named on any map, but it exists all the same. It's simply the place where four major and one minor road converge. Along both sides of each of the necks of the major roads are shops and businesses. There's a supermarket, a bakery, a launderette, a post office, a barber, a hairdresser, a pet shop, a chemist, a hardware store, a betting shop, a book shop, a newsagent, a cafe, a bank, a florist, a video library, an estate agent, a dry cleaner, a greengrocer, a wine shop, a butcher, and so on and so on. Only on the major roads. Grearly set his business up on the neck of the minor road – where there were – and still are – no other businesses. He made sure there was a big patch of tarmacced parking space in front of and at the sides of his establishment. And on it he had his building built.

So now for the building.

Grearly's Chips was unusual in that it didn't look like a chip shop at all - which is probably part of the reason it did so well. What it looked like was six brick columns with a large concrete hexagon stuck on top of them. In fact, that's what it was. The spaces between the front three columns were serving counter spaces; the spaces between the back three were bricked up and rendered. There was a rear fire door, and a counter flap front right, but other than that, there was no other way in or out of Grearly's. On top of the concrete hexagon were rolls of barbed wire to deter burglars – and a huge violet neon sign that simply said: Grearly's. And that sign was like a magnet. It drew kids from all over town to it; it drew lorry drivers passing through; it drew solitary drivers and couples and families in cars; it drew bikers; it drew insomniac pedestrians; it drew cyclists; it drew joggers; walkers; on and off-duty policemen; it drew everyone to it. It was open for twenty four hours a day.

Part of it was the food, of course. The food at Grearly's was chips. You went to Grearly's if you wanted chips. If you wanted fish, or pies, or sausages, or fishcakes, or something like that, you went to any other chip shop. If you wanted chips – good chips, that is – you went to Grearly's. Grearly had a gimmick – another reason he did so well. He sold you a large paper plate of chips for a pound, which was value for money at the time. He also let you put stuff on the plate with the chips. For example, after he'd handed you your plate of chips – only after you'd handed over your coin; he never handed over food before receiving the cash – he'd always put a selection of what he called 'garnishes' in front of you. This was a large stand with six bowls of different items on it. One bowl would always hold whitebait, one would hold mixed salad, one would hold fried onion, one would hold peanuts; one would hold croutons, and one would hold crisps. These were free – as long as you bought chips. In fact, if you bought chips, Grearly would let you have some of every 'garnish' on your plate with them – if that was what you wanted. But if you didn't buy chips, you got nothing.

In all the years I used to hang around outside Grearly's, I never saw him – nor heard of him – giving anyone any freebies. Sound business sense. Kids tried, of course, but no one ever succeeded in getting Grearly to give food away.

So now for Grearly.

Brian Grearly was, by the time I was twelve, a tall thin, thirty-year-old man with curly hair and a beard. He used the beard to cover up the terrible acne he had on his face. Too much greasy food, I suppose, although I never saw him eat any of his own chips. Don't get high on your own supply. He never did. At least, not visibly. He was a man who talked little, except for the necessities regarding his business. Most of his sentences were business related: 'That'll be a pound, please'; 'One plate of chips coming up'; 'Help yourself to garnishes'; 'Enjoy your meal'; or 'Goodnight' were the sort of sentences you normally heard from Grearly. Very little else.

Sometimes people would attempt to draw him into conversation, asking him about the forthcoming match, or commenting on the current state of world affairs, but Grearly would not be drawn – he'd simply shake his curly head and say something along the lines of: 'Work means I'm going to miss the match'; or 'Yes, terrible what's going on', which seemed, for some reason to satisfy the interlocutor.

So yes, Grearly was liked by people. He seemed to be popular. His business seemed to be thriving. He was making money.

Now, sometimes, Grearly's got really busy. Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights were the busiest nights of the week. Grearly took four times the amount on those three days than he did on the other four days of the week combined. And those other four days were not slack days. So what Grearly did was hire staff for Thursday, Friday and Saturday. He hired two people – one to work counter one, one to work the counter three. Grearly would always work the centre counter – counter two – even when he worked alone.

When he worked on his own, Grearly would close the flanking counters by sliding metal grills down in front of them. The metal grills meant you could still see inside and get a blast of heat and light from the fryers and neon lights, but you couldn't reach in and take anything.

On those three busy days, the car park would be full to overflowing. Every walk of life was represented by the patrons of Grearly's. Policeman sat in their patrol cars eating Grearly chips and watching bikers sit astride chrome horses eating Grearly chips. Families sat in cars, listening to the radio, eating Grearly chips, while students huddled in groups of six or more around the rubbish bins, sharing two plates of Grearly chips between them. Teenage boys sat in borrowed cars, sharing a plate of Grearly chips with their dates. Kids played football in the car park, easily dodging incoming and outgoing vehicles, calling out to people they knew to give them a Grearly chip. Elderly men walking their dogs strolled across the car park, ordered a plate of Grearly chips, paid their money and waited for the plate of hot food as their dogs sniffed the greasy tarmac, looking for a dropped Grearly chip. It was all very cosmopolitan.

But one person resented Grearly's phenomenal success. Vic Mottram was that person. Mottram wanted the site that Grearly's was on. He'd always wanted it. He wanted to build and open a kennels on that particular site, but his bid for the land for that particular purpose had been turned down by the council. They refused Mottram's request on the grounds that any business involving living creatures had to be further out of the centre of town. Mottram pointed out that the stables and the cattery were very close to the centre of town, and that the pet shop, which had livestock on the premises was opposite the site. But he was refused. And the refusal made him angry, because he felt he'd been treated unjustly. So he decided to concentrate on his other businesses – a recording studio and an office suppliers – and wait and see what happened to the site he wanted.

In time he found out.

He approached Grearly one day and asked him – very casually – how much he'd sell for.

Grearly laughed. ‘I'll never sell,’ he said. ‘This is my life.’

Mottram didn't understand. For him, a business was simply a way of making money. A year later, he tried again and again he got the same answer.

‘I'll never sell,’ Grearly said. ‘This is my life.’

‘Ah, come on,’ Mottram said. ‘Name your price. It's yours.’

Grearly shook his head. ‘No, really. There is no price. I will never sell. This is my life.’

‘I'll give you fifty thousand - cash!’

Grearly looked at Mottram carefully. ‘I do not value my life so cheaply,’ he said.

‘Seventy-five!’ Mottram urged.

Grearly looked up from preparing his fried onions. ‘Not for one hundred, two hundred, three hundred, four hundred, five hundred or any hundred thousand.’

Mottram walked away, shaking his head in perplexity, wondering what Grearly's Achilles' heel was. After another year of not finding a lever, Mottram started a series of intimidation tactics. Vandalism was first, followed by fire damage, followed by a vehicle crashed into the building, followed by Grearly being beaten up on his way home one day. All of these Grearly took in his stride. Everyone – including Grearly – knew who was responsible, but nothing could be proved. Mottram always had good alibis.

Then things got nasty.

Earlier on, I said how Grearly hired two people to help him out on busy days. Well, over the years, staff came and went, and Grearly would hire a replacement, usually someone he felt would be reliable and stay with him for a while and not try to rip him off. And one year, when I was fifteen and needed extra money, Grearly chose me out of six potential employees.

I started at once and it took a week to get the system fully internalised: chips fried in deep fryers; two scoops to a plate; only hand over the plate once the money had been handed over – never before; garnishes out of reach of everyone except for paying customers; no free anythings to anyone – especially not friends; no long chats with friends, girlfriends, or family while working.

Looking at Grearly's from the car park, I was working the front left counter. A lanky teenager named Mike Spain worked front right. Grearly, as I've said, worked the centre one. Each of us was responsible for two fryers – one for chips, one for garnishes. After two days, the garnish fryer had to be cleaned and oil-changed. Once the new oil was in, it became the chip fryer and the old chip fryer became the garnish fryer. The cleaning and oil-change had to be done efficiently and well, during a quiet moment, usually at the end of a shift. It was a very simple system.

I had to do three eight-hour days. I worked from eight at night until four in the morning. That was the busiest time on the three days I worked. Then I went home. I always went home smelling of fried food. Chip oil in particular. Still, Grearly paid me well – certainly better than my paper round or milk round had paid.

And I liked the work. It gave me time to think. Think of stories, for I wanted to be a professional writer when I'd finished my studying. Grearly asked me what I was going to do when I left school and I told him.

‘I'm going to University to study literature, media and creative writing, then I'm going to be a writer,’ I said. I'd never told anyone else this. I don't know why I thought it was all right to tell Grearly. It just was.

He nodded and pointed to his head. ‘Are they all in there?’ he asked.

‘Yes,’ I said.

‘Okay,’ he said as he dropped the whitebait into the basket. ‘No one ever published someone's head. You get me?’

I got him. I nodded. ‘Write them down,’ I said. ‘I do already.’

‘Do it more,’ Grearly told me. ‘And fill your salt shaker.’ I looked and saw the salt shaker was getting low. 

‘Okay,’ I said – and that was it. That was when I was fifteen and I still remember it now. I always write them down – and I always fill my salt shaker. And within ten minutes of him saying that, while I was on my break, Vic Mottram turned up – with four heavies.

I'd better say something about the breaks. It's probably important. It saved my life.

Mike and I were allowed a half hour break to eat a gratis plate of chips and garnishes, drink our thermos coffee or tea, and smoke a cigarette or two if we smoked. I didn't, Grearly and Mike did. Because it was busy, we could only go one at a time. So to be fair, on the Thursday I'd go first, on Friday it'd be Mike first, on Saturday me, and so on, alternating from week to week. Grearly would go when he wanted, but he had short cigarette breaks only. The system worked and was fair for everyone.

When Mottram showed up, I was sitting on the step of the fire door, enjoying my chips and garnishes. Mike had had his break and was cleaning the fryer out. It was a slack moment. The nightclubs would be turning out soon and we'd be busy again.

I heard the car screech into the car park. I heard Mike say, ‘Fuck, it's Mottram!’ and I stood up and peered through the crack of the fire door.

‘Jordy, stay there!’ Grearly called. ‘Mike, keep working. And pass me that chopping knife.’

After a couple of car door slams, I heard Mottram's voice. It was heavy with sarcasm.

‘A plate of chips please, Mister Grearly.’

‘Certainly,’ Grearly said. ‘One pound please.’

There was a pause and I heard Mottram say: ‘There are one hundred and ninety nine thousand, nine hundred and ninety nine more of those for you if you say yes.’

‘No!’ I heard Grearly say, as he rang the coin into the till.

‘Two hundred thousand is my final – and very generous – offer. You'd be very stupid to say no to it.’

‘No!’ Grearly said again.

There was the sound of something being broken. Then I heard a splash, followed by a scream that was cut off abruptly. I heard a scuffle and a thud, then another splash. Gently, I pushed the firedoor closed and stood against the wall, my heart beating fast.

‘Okay, let's get out of here,’ I heard Mottram say. They went.

I heard the car screech out of the car park and once it had gone away, I went inside.

Grearly had been stuck head-first into the fryer. So had Mike. They were both still.

I pulled them both out and I puked. Then I called the police. They came out and examined everything and asked me what I'd seen and heard. I told them all of it. In the early morning hours, they said I could go home. I did.

The next day a group of detectives came to see me, wanting more details. I told them what I knew. They wrote it down, taped it, videoed me, asked it all many times. In the end I asked them to go away. They did.

I refused to testify. I was threatened with legal repercussions, but I held out and they let me off. They read out my witness report in court. I think Mottram got life three times over. The heavies got less. I didn't want to be recognized later on and end up stuck in a fryer.

I had – and have – stories to write.

This has been one of them.






Copyright © R J Dent (2005 & 2016)



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