FRESH FROM THE INKWELL

THE WAY TO THE TOWN HALL

September 25, 2016

Tags: short story, L. R. Longhurst, father, flash fiction, tale with a twist, 1952, London Opinon, salesmanship

Here is a sneak preview from my current project, Volume II of stories by my late father, L. R. Longhurst. This one, typical of his wry tales with a twist, was published by London Opinion in 1952.

THE WAY TO THE TOWN HALL

In the waiting-room adjoining the sales manager’s office sat twenty alert, hawk-eyed ambitious men. Tall and suave men, short and cocky men, thin and waspish men, plump and genial men. Each designed to a different blueprint. But all breathing in a superior brand of oxygen.

“Wanted,” the advertisement had pleaded, “Chief Salesman at £1,000 per annum. Must possess initiative and imagination. Live man. Corpses need not apply.”

At length the sales manager’s secretary popped her pretty head into the waiting-room, and promptly withdrew to put on her Wellington boots. In such an electric atmosphere some form of insulation was called for.

Entering again, she told Applicant No. 1 that the boss would see him now. No. 1 entered the holy of holies with all the assurance of one who in his time had sold as many combs to bald-headed men as he had deckchairs to people with no gardens.

Application No. 2 reckoned he could sell umbrellas in California; No. 3, sunshades in Manchester.

Likewise, Nos. 4 to 20 inclusive were all self-confessed best sellers.

The manager buzzed for his secretary. “I’m darned if I know which one to choose,” he admitted. “They’re all good.”

“Why not give them the direction test?”

“Good idea!” exclaimed the sales manager, for many a smooth talker had stumbled over that.

“Now then,” he snapped, as No.1 was re-ushered into the office, “how would you get to the Town Hall from here?”

The applicant scratched his head, for about the first time in his life lost for words.

“Er—you take the first left and second right. No, I’m a liar; it’s the first right, second left. Then at the crossroads you take a 99 bus. Or is it a 66 tram?”

To give force to his halting remarks he waved his arms about like a Boy Scout practising semaphore. The manager was unimpressed. “Send in No. 2.”

No. 2 got to the Town Hall with the aid of a piece of paper on which he drew a map that was Town and Country Planning at its most futuristic. It might possibly have led the reader into the river; certainly not to the Town Hall.

No. 3 indulged in a bout of ums and ahs, with some hand-waving thrown in. He would have made an admirable windmill but a poor Town Hall director.

By the time it got round to No. 19 the unhappy applicants were practically standing on their heads in a misguided effort to trace a route to the Town Hall. The sales manager himself opened the door to let out No. 19.

Taken by surprise, No.20 was jet-propelled into the office, the crouching-to-the-keyhole position having given him extra momentum. The manager frowned at the would-be salesman, but was secretly pleased. Here at least was a man with initiative!

“I won’t ask you to direct me to the Town Hall,” he said cunningly. “Tell me how to get to Mill Street.”

Pausing only momentarily, No. 20 rattled off: “First-right-second-left-over-the-bridge.” The words staccatoed like a machine gun working overtime. “Then- take-the-left-fork, cross-at-the-lights, then-second-left.”

The speaker didn’t need to use his hands; they were firmly entrenched in his trousers pockets.

No. 20 got the job. He was a man with initiative and imagination. There was no such place as Mill Street in the locality.