A free short story for September 2017 – ‘Health and Safety’

HEALTH AND SAFETY

“Pontlanferenith – where the hell is that? And why me?”

The look the boss threw at me said it all. “What the hell are the council doing landing me with an Englishman?” Instead, in her usual day to day tone of speech when dealing with me, she said

“It’s along the M4 up the Pendridog Valley and it’s the third village you go through. And why you?” She drew breath before fixing me with a cold stare, “because it’s a nice little shop, which never gives us any trouble and shouldn’t tax your brain too heavily. It was always Gareth’s favourite visit.”

Gareth, Gareth, Gareth I am so sick and fed up with hearing that name. The Health and Safety Executive’s superstar inspector only buried a month ago and impossible shoes to fill.

I look at my watch, and it’s already gone four o’clock.

“By the time I get there and do the inspection I won’t get home before seven.’

She does not say a thing, just smiles and gets on with her paperwork. Bitch.

In fairness, I miss most of the rush hour traffic and arrive outside the shop, just after five o’clock, which is perfect because the place is already open and trading. I study the signage before I enter.

‘THE HAPPY DRAGON – GENUINE WELSH/CHINESE CUISINE’

Sounds pretty dire to me, but there are already three customers queued at the counter when I walk in, which causes me to glance at the price list – it’s not cheap, in fact expensive in relation to the local community, but I must admit the smells coming from the kitchen are fairly making my mouth water.

“Can I help you?” The girl behind the counter tilts her head slightly as she speaks. She is more Chinese than Welsh and very, very pretty.

“Ah yes my name is Daniel Ferguson and I am here to do your annual health and safety check.” Her face frosts over with sadness.

“Poor Mr Gareth. He was such a lovely man. He was very partial to our Chicken Chow Mein. What can I get for you Mr Daniel?”

“Please call me Daniel, “the smell from the kitchen was irristable, “and yes Chicken Chow Mein would be lovely.” She scribbled a note on a pad which she tore off and beckoned me to follow her into the kitchen.

I’ve only lived in Wales for a few months and they do talk rubbish a lot of the time, so I admit I was caught unawares when I saw the chef preparing my meal. He was not as tall as one would imagine, but there could be no doubt whatsoever – the food was being prepared by a dragon and it was fire breathing from his mouth that was heating the wok. He dominated the kitchen space which was actually remained quite cool as he his wings gently fanned the room. As an Inspector class one you cannot allow yourself to be easily intimidated in this job, but there was something about him that demanded my immediate respect. The girl slapped my order ticket on the counter before addressing the cook.

“Lin-Lin this is Mr Daniel, he has taken over from Mr Gareth.” I swear a tear trickled from the chef’s eye at the mention of Gareth’s name, and he sort of acknowledged my presence with a nod of his head. I struggled for the right words as I turned back to the girl.

“Um – you have a very tidy kitchen…” I did not know the girl’s name.

“Yin. Mr Gareth was also very fond of Lin-Lin’s banana fritters. “

A loud whooshing sound behind me was terrifying and suddenly the temperature in the kitchen was sweltering. Yin strode towards the cook, waving her finger.

“You are such a drama queen – now put that fire out and get back to work.”

Have you ever seen a dragon frown? It’s not a pretty sight. Yin turned to me.

“I’m sorry if Lin-Lin comes across as a bit grumpy, but he does not get on too well with figures of authority, it took Mr Gareth several years to gain his confidence.”

“Several years…how long has the drag…Lin-Lin worked here?” As I asked I was feverishly going through my notes. Not one single mention of a dragon and the forms went back over a twenty year period.

“Well he was already here when we arrived and that was twenty five years ago.”

“How about employment laws, there must be forms to be filled to employ a dragon.”

“Mm I don’t think so. Anyway we don’t employ Lin-Lin he’s a partner in the business.”

There was some sort of tax avoidance going on here, but that wasn’t part of my job to follow up; however cleanliness and hygiene certainly was. I looked around the kitchen, and not a single thing could I find to fault, but I was now on a mission.

“And toilet facilities – can I inspect them as well please?” It was just as I thought!  “You don’t seem to have adequate facilities for your chef, there is most certainly not enough room for him to go to the toilet and wash his han…thingies.”

“That’s never been a problem – dragons only go to the toilet once every hundred years and…let me check the journal…yes he’s not due to a toilet break for another forty three years. Your Chicken Chow Mein is ready. Eat in or takeaway?”

I scribbled my signature on the form TACHDS6, and tucked it back into my briefcase – nothing detrimental to mention in my report today.

And the Chicken Chow Mein? My god – it was delicious and incredibly hot!

 

 

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