Writer, history researcher, biographer

Call Centre Carnage - Chapter 1

Posted by Suze Appleton on Sunday, May 5, 2013 Under: Serial novel
And so it begins


The trainees looked around at each other in disbelief. How could Adrienne be leaving just as they were learning what to do? After four days of training the only tutor they could trust to know the job was transferring to another department. The other trainers, Marilyn, Jo and Terence, either didn’t know or couldn’t care.

On the back row of desks Matt turned to Krystal sitting next to him and groaned.

'She's the only one that teaches us anything,' he said, 'what are we gonna do with that lot left in charge?'

He jerked his head in the direction of the other tutors who were pretending to look interested, apart from Terence. He was concentrating on writing in his folder. Even the trainees knew what he was writing; his name on the sketch of a yacht. It was all he ever thought about. In fact it was unusual that he was there at all. He usually sent Jessie, his assistant, whose job was actually admin support, not training.

Okay, working in a call centre wasn't rocket science but for this job they had to know everything about all the products, and some were certainly strange. The company sold products that were mainly advertised in the back of Sunday supplements. The old fashioned clock with a model of the Titanic stuck on the top was odd but the one that Matt most struggled to understand was the diamanté garden set of a trowel and a fork. 'Digging for treasure' it was called, but it was beyond him why anyone would want glitter on an item designed to get dirty.

He also failed to understand why anyone would willingly get down on their hands and knees to dig into soggy, wet earth where slugs and worms lived, and in his opinion belonged. He preferred his hobbies clean and technologically efficient. He loved his computer and Playstation with his collection of fighting, shooting and exploring adventures. With them, he could enjoy the pleasure of shooting the enemies, blowing up suspect packages and flying to other planets to get supplies. It was so satisfying and he was totally wiping the floor with his competitors. Aardvark in Slough was his closest rival but Johan523 in Stuttgart was getting close to Matt's best score.

Krystal snorted derisively and pointed her pen at her sketch of an axe in a head with long flowing black hair down its back, or was that blood? It was always difficult to tell with Krystal. Long past the time when she should have moved on she had never lost the Goth look. Even her clothes were menacing and she was always talking about mysterious death or suffering coming to someone who had wronged her.  She really didn't care who she upset and was only just hanging onto her place on the team, probably because the trainers didn't want to take a chance on annoying her and testing whether or not she really would carry out her threats.

They had worked together at a different call centre for a couple of months before the team leader had sacked Krystal, and Matt knew she was all talk. She liked to threaten and make noises about being tough but he'd seen her softer side when she had fallen for their team leader. She had been so coy for a little while but when he had not returned her feelings she had resumed her vengeful attitude.  Matt had been genuinely surprised that she didn't carry out any physical revenge. She had settled for ringing his wife and implying that they had had an affair before she stalked out of the building, grinning like a Cheshire Cat.

Matt smiled and nodded. It was always safer to agree, whatever it was. It made for an easier life. He noticed Mina, sitting on the other side of Krystal. She looked on the verge of tears but that was no surprise. Mina was permanently on the verge of crying. In the four days since they had started that was all she had done. Whenever they had a break, Mina could be seen with a tissue to her face trying to hide the fact that she was crying. She made an attempt to return Matt's encouraging smile but the effort brought a tear to her eye and he turned away, embarrassed.

He looked back to the front as Adrienne, tall, confident and charismatic, continued to explain that Marilyn and Jo would be running the training while she made the transition to the fifth floor to work for the section producing corporate video training courses. Marilyn and Jo stepped forward, almost clinging to each other, to give a little speech of thanks to Adrienne and it was clear that they had no idea what they were going to do without her.

Marilyn, a rather dumpy middle aged woman with girlishly-long black hair that she was forever flicking over her shoulders, had been at the company for years, ever since the CEO, John, had set up an Internet based sex toys business in a one-roomed office over a shop. She had been hired as despatch clerk, taking the overnight orders off the website, processing the card payments and wrapping the goods for posting, in plain brown envelopes of course. That business had been very lucrative and had led John into the Sunday supplement items that his company now sold; the lifelike baby dolls, novel foot muffs with pockets for TV remote controls and, of course, diamanté encrusted gardening sets. Adrienne had been brought in to set up the call centre as the business expanded, having successfully expanded a rival’s business in the same way. John had made it his business to recruit her at any cost, and Marilyn had been pushed to one side.  Despite being at a loss to keep up with the technology she had held on grimly to any role available.  It was obvious to everyone that she carried a torch for John still and her hair flicking became even more agitated whenever he was around.

Her associate, Jo, was a younger woman, who was thin and spiky to match her dyed-blonde hair, and she was a more recent acquisition for the team along with Terence. They had been brought in as John felt the need to bolster up his organisation with some outside expertise, the kind of polish he felt he didn't have. Jo had her own successful business selling jewellery and other trinkets via videos on TV shopping channels as well as having her own show on one of the more obscure satellite channels.

It was clear that she was far more interested in her own business than the training she was being hired to give. Her training consisted of little more than making them sit through one of her shows to make notes while she went outside to make phone calls. It wouldn't have been so bad if it hadn't been a three hour session. Three hours of watching Jo's forced smile even had Matt sketching a head with an axe through it.

Terence had convinced John to hire him as a troubleshooter but he had little interest in the job.  He was there for one reason only, to be invited onto John's yacht in the Caribbean. To Terence, John had everything he wanted out of life; wealth, houses, the luxury lifestyle and young girlfriends. Terence had managed to find himself the young blonde girlfriend but she wanted a boob job and he didn't have that kind of money, not to pay for that and child support to his ex-wife.

Some days he wondered if he was boxing himself into a corner but he felt good when all the guys looked enviously at him. True, it meant wearing tight shoes and the same shirts as his teenage son, which made him feel a little ridiculous at times, but to be invited into John’s circle of friends he knew he needed to look the part. He even accepted being called Tel, even though it grated on him, if that's what John wanted to call him.

Marilyn and Jo finished their thanks and called for a round of applause for Adrienne. A half hearted ripple ran around the room as she swept out, thanking them and wishing them luck. The two women and Terence followed suit, almost running from the room, saying the trainees could have an early finish. Matt checked his watch. Twenty to five. Big deal, a whole twenty minutes early. As everyone charged for the door he carefully packed his stuff into his backpack and turned to Krystal.

'Fancy a drink? My bus doesn't come for forty minutes, time for a shot or two at Bar 365.'

Krystal brightened up.

'That mean you're paying? I got witnesses. You coming Mina?'

Mina stayed in her seat, looking worried.

'I can't. But I'm not in a rush to get home. Auntie will give me the third degree if I'm even a bit early. She won't believe anything I say then she'll make some rubbish up to tell my father and then he'll try to move me somewhere else. Oh...'

Krystal dragged her up out of the chair.

'Oh no, Mina, not again,' she declared. 'C'mon, it's only twenty minutes, you don't have to have a drink if you don't want to but don't cry again. C'mon, you're a mate now. Anyone you want taking out, you just tell me and I'll sort 'em out.'

Behind Krystal, Matt caught Mina's eye and raised his eyebrows. She smiled in spite of her fear and stood up.

'Okay, then. Just for a bit. It would be nice. I've always wondered what it was like to go for a drink after work, it seems such a friendly thing to do.'

With Mina between them Matt and Krystal walked round the corner to the bar, almost carrying her in bodily as she pulled back at the last minute. Once inside she was fine, happy that no one she knew could see her in the bar. Krystal was the first to speak.

'Well, that's a bag of shite then, in' it?'

Matt nodded at her as he stood at the bar trying to get the barman's attention.

'Yeah, okay mate,' he called as the lad looked his way. 'Yeah, s'me next, ta. Two vodka slammers and a coke, diet coke yeah?

Krystal steered Mina to a table in the corner away from the window as Matt brought the drinks over to them. He and Krystal knocked theirs back as Mina excitedly sipped at her coke.

'This is great, thanks,' she enthused. 'My dad would would have a fit if he knew where I was. It's all about working hard and meeting the right people, y'know? He’s so old fashioned.'

She sighed.

'Yeah, right. No talk about your dad, right? It's banned in here,' growled Krystal, looking so fiercely at Mina that she cowered.

‘Alright, alright, back off killer,' soothed Matt, using the nickname Krystal had been given at their last job. 'Don't frighten off everybody. Mina doesn't know you like I do and you might scare her. You okay Mina?'

Mina nodded and smiled at Krystal.

'It's okay, Krystal,' she replied, 'I know you mean it for my own sake and you're right. I won't talk about my d..., sorry, I won't talk about people I don't like in here. That's a good rule. I must come in here more often. If only I dared...'

She tailed off, her brief burst of courage quickly fading.

'We can't have a rule about not talking about people we don't like,' put in Matt quickly. 'Otherwise we couldn't bitch about those stupid managers we just got lumbered with. Of all the people to train us, the two ugly sisters and the useless prince are the worst. It would've been better if they'd put Drew in charge, at least he understands the systems.'

'I think we should blow the whole lot up,' added Krystal glowering. 'I'm sure I could get my hands on some gelly, y'know, gelignite.'

'Oh shut up Krys,' retorted Matt. 'The only jelly you can get your hands on is the stuff they sell in Tesco's.  You could get your hands on another couple of shots though if you’re quick. C'mon, your round. You okay Mina?'

 Grumbling, Krystal jumped up off her stool and bumped into Jo, just entering the bar with Marilyn and Jessie.

'Watch where you're going,' began Krystal, then seeing who it was, settled for a scowl before going up to the far end of the bar, trying to get away from them.

Tutting and hair tossing, the two managers followed her along the bar to a table at the far end, giving Jessie their drinks order as they carried on talking. Jessie, a pleasant woman, happily obliged and went to stand next to Krystal, attempting to strike up a conversation.

'So, what do you think of it so far?'

When this got no response she tried a different approach.

'I love that top you're wearing, those rips look so authentic. Where did you get it from?'

Krystal barked her order at the barman and turned to look at Jessie. It wasn't that she disliked her personally but she had been trying to listen in to the managers’ conversation and objected in principle to anyone trying to find out about her.

'It was in a bag of clothes outside a charity shop. I nicked it and the rips I put in myself after a bad day at work with a nosy manager,' she snapped, picking up her drinks and turning to leave.

When she got back to the others she banged the drinks down on the table.

'Shitty managers! Patronising bitches! I will find something to make them suffer and that's a promise!'

'Sshh! Keep it down, killer.' Matt was used to the way she talked but didn't want her to get them all banned from another bar.

'Whatever,' sniffed Krystal. 'Anyway, wait till I tell you what I heard them talking about. They're going to put us in groups to make sales videos. Something about it being a growth opportunity. Sounds to me like a scam to save them doing any work.'

They finished their drinks gloomily and left to go their separate ways, wondering what they were in for the next day.


In : Serial novel 

Tags: "call centre" trainee managers 

Welcome to my page of stories. It will be a mix of short stories and serial chapters of a novel that I am currently editing, a process that isn't going as fast as I want. My intention is to post at least one piece of work per week and your feedback is more than welcome, either here, on Twitter or on facebook. In the case of the serial it may even change the course of the story...

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