She saw the advert in the Yorkshire Evening Post and it was as if it spoke to her soul. ‘Wanted,’ it said, ‘lass to work in chippie. Hard graft, but good rewards and free scraps.’ She read it again and again, and she knew it was fate calling. This was a job made for her, with the sensual feel of fat and batter.
It was up in Leeds, but she wasn’t going to let distance stop her from following her fate. The next morning she dressed well in her fanciest coat, taking the rollers out of her hair before she finally put on the new headscarf from the market her mam had given her for Christmas, and took the bus from South Elmsall.
The journey was tortuous, but that only strengthened her resolve. If she could get there before three, the job would be hers. She willed the driver on through the puddles, noticing how, as she moved north the people began talking funny, saying town instead of tarn and right instead of reet. It scared her, being in this alien land.
She found the place at five minutes to three. Green’s Fish & Chips, the sign read, and her heart raced to see it, scarcely contained by her lacy 38F bra. A world of promise lay inside.
‘Eh up, luv, what that having?’ a girl said to her. She was dressed in whites, the clothing pristine and pure except for the stains across her front.
‘I’d like to see t’owner,’ she answered, he voice as meek as a mouse in a cattery. ‘About t’job.’
The girl nodded at a door with the word ‘private’ painted on it. A door of temptation and promise, she thought.
‘Go through there, luv, and up t’stairs. Office is at top. I’ll ring him for thee.’
‘What’s…’ she began, and had to force herself to breathe before she could continue. ‘What’s ‘is name, please?’
‘Herbert Green. Right bugger wi’ ‘is hands he is, too.’ She surveyed the lush form in the low cut dress. ‘He’ll be over you like a rat on a corpse.’
Herbert Green. Even the name sounded magical, she thought as she climbed the stairs to a small waiting room with two old chairs and a coffee table. She balanced her handbag on her lap and waited, crossing one leg over another. Finally, after five minutes, a door opened and a man stood looking at her.
‘Thas’s here about t’job?’
He had a deep, masculine voice that flowed liked water through a slag heap. His belly bulged invitingly against a 1974 Leeds United home shirt, and over the waist of his brown terylene trousers. He had a thin, cruel mouth, and he gave her a smile that would have been overwhelming with a full set of teeth. She felt the heat flow through her. She’d never seen a man like this, one who exuded power and the smell of mint humbugs in equal portions.
He began to turn away from her, back into the office. She stood quickly to follow and tripped over the rug, sprawling behind him. He offered a hand to help her up.
‘Do that near t’fat fryer and tha’ll be ruining a tenner’s worth o’ chips’ he warned her. ‘Can’t be going arse over tit here.’ She held his hand a little longer than she needed, relishing the strong grip. ‘And summat else, lass, you forgot to put your kecks on this morning.’
She blushed deeply, embarrassed by her stupidity, the haste in which she’d dressed to come her following him into the office. The windows looked out onto a row of back-to-back houses and the desk was scarred wood. This was a man’s office, she thought, the centre of an empire.
‘What’s tha name?’ he asked, and she could feel his eyes boring into her. She could never have any secrets from this man.
‘Aye, right. What experience do you have, Doris?’
‘None,’ she admitted, lowering her eyes. ‘I’ve done nowt.’ Suddenly there was pleading in her voice. ‘But I’m eager to learn. I want this. I want it all.’
‘Steady on, lass,’ he said quietly, reaching across the desk to pat her wrist. So there was tenderness in him, too, she realised. He was a complete man. ‘Can tha make a decent cuppa?’
‘Pot to the kettle,’ she said, ‘and let it steep for three minutes before I pour.’
He smiled and she knew. The job was hers.
‘When can tha start?’
‘Now,’ she said impulsively. She had nowhere to stay in this strange town, no money, no spare clothes, not even a pair of knickers. But life was giving her a chance, and for Herbert Green she was willing to take it.
‘Champion,’ he told her. ‘Champion.’