76. A Changed Man
Raeburn Todd, generally known as Todd, joint senior partner of the firm of Macauley Holmes Richardson Black, Chartered Surveyors, had not expected that morning to see Bruce sitting in the reception room of the firm’s new offices at the Fountainbridge end of the Union Canal. The architect who had designed these offices was of the school that did not believe in walls, except where utterly necessary to prevent the ceiling from falling down. As a result, it was possible from anywhere within the firm’s premises to see clients who came into the waiting room as they entered it; just as it was possible for everybody in the office to observe who was doing what in the coffee room, or indeed anywhere, except, of course, the washrooms, where the architect had reluctantly agreed to provide walls of smoked glass. Even so, with the light in a certain direction…
Todd and his brother, Gordon, had talked about this matter of walls and dividers with the landlords’ designers, who had been responsible for the internal arrangements of the office, but these designers had simply become glassy-eyed, as designers do when confronted with people who clearly know nothing about design. They had got nowhere. The designers knew that people eventually became accustomed to open plan arrangements and stopped complaining. Of course there were some clients afflicted with a nostalgia for walls, but for the most part they knuckled under, which Todd and his brother eventually did, although they reflected on what both Macauley and Richardson would have thought, had they still been in harness. If old-fashioned Edinburgh had enjoyed a reputation for being tight and closed, then Macauley embodied those qualities to a striking degree. He always kept his coat on in the office, and indeed Todd had been in the firm for some months before he finally saw Macauley’s face, which had until that point been largely concealed behind scarves, screens and newspapers. And as for Richardson, he locked himself into his room at the office and had to unlock the door to admit anybody to the room. Edinburgh in those days was not an inclusive place.
But it was not with such thoughts that Todd now occupied himself. He frowned. Was that not the obnoxious young man he had fired? Anderson? Bruce Anderson. It was! That chin, that peculiar hair which for some reason always smelled of cloves; it was definitely Anderson.
Now he was talking to the receptionist; flirting with her, no doubt. He was always doing that, and Todd remembered having to talk to him about a complaint from one of the secretaries. He was incorrigible.
And then Todd saw the receptionist rising to her feet to bring Bruce over to his glass cubicle. He felt irritated, but at the same time intrigued. It took some nerve to come back to a place from which one had been decisively thrown out.
“You remember me, perhaps? Bruce Anderson.”
Todd reluctantly took the outstretched hand and shook it. He was Edinburgh; he was polite. “Yes. I remember you. How are things going for you? You went to London, I hear.”
Bruce was invited to sit down. Todd was civil and there seemed to him to be less cockiness in Bruce’s attitude.
Bruce swallowed. He had decided to be direct, but it was difficult. Todd was staring at him; he was civil but unsmiling.
“I’ve changed,” said Bruce simply.
Todd raised an eyebrow. “Changed jobs? Not a surveyor any more?”
Bruce blinked. “Changed inside. I’m a changed man.”
Todd looked nervously over Bruce’s shoulder. Had this young man converted to something?
“If you let me,” said Bruce, “I’d like to explain. When I worked for you, I let you down. I was sloppy in my work. And then there was that incident with your wife, in the restaurant…”
Todd stopped him. “I don’t want to go into that, if you don’t mind.”
“But you must let me explain,” said Bruce. “I know what you think of me – and I deserved everything that came my way. But when it came to that, I was innocent.
“There was nothing going on. It was just lunch. We had met in the bookshop in George Street and it was lunchtime. Purely social.”
He finished, and looked at the floor. “I’m sorry,” he went on. “I really am. I was a bad employee. I was full of myself. I was a real pain. But now I’m sorry.” He paused. “And I want you to give me another chance. If you’ll have me back.”
For a while Todd said nothing, but looked directly at Bruce. Bruce held his stare. He did not look away.
Todd thought: he never spoke like this before. He’s a young man. Everybody makes mistakes. And he remembered, years before, when he was barely qualified, how he himself had… no, it was best not to think of that again.
He made his decision. “So, you’re telling me you’ve turned over a new leaf? Is that what you’re saying?”
Bruce nodded. “Yes. I have. And I’m not just saying it. I really have.” He paused. “Do you have any openings at the moment?”
Todd spoke reluctantly. “As it happens, we do.”
“Well, would you consider me?”
Todd pursed his lips. “What have you been doing since… since you left us?”
Bruce opened his mouth to speak, but closed it again. Then: “Wasting my time.”
Todd’s eyes widened, but then he suddenly laughed. “That’s an honest answer.”
“I’ve started to be honest,” said Bruce.
“Well, it’s good to hear that,” said Todd. He hesitated, but only for a moment. “All right, Anderson, we’ll take you back.”
Bruce rose to his feet and took a step forward. He seized Todd’s hand. “I won’t let you down, Mr. Todd. I promise you. It’ll be different.”
“I hope so,” said Todd, smiling.
“Thank you so much,” said Bruce. “And now: how are you doing? You’re looking in great shape, by the way.”
Todd inclined his head.
“No, I mean it,” said Bruce. “You don’t look a day older.”
Todd was pleased. “Well, I’m still playing a lot of golf. It’s good to get out on the golf course and get the wind into one’s lungs.”
“But do you use moisturiser?” asked Bruce.
Todd looked puzzled. “On the greens?”
“No,” said Bruce. “It’s just you said something about the wind on the golf course. It dries out the skin.”
Todd shook his head. He was not interested in such things.