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The Casual Vacancy, Page 24

J. K. Rowling

Part Three Chapter VII



  Up in the little white house that sat high above the town, Simon Price fretted and brooded. Days passed. The accusatory post had vanished from the message boards, but Simon remained paralysed. To withdraw his candidacy might seem like an admission of guilt. The police had not come knocking about the computer; Simon half regretted throwing it off the old bridge now. On the other hand, he could not decide whether he had imagined a knowing grin from the man behind the till when he handed over his credit card in the garage at the foot of the hill. There was a lot of talk about redundancies at work, and Simon was still afraid of the contents of that post coming to the bosses' ears, that they might save themselves redundancy pay by sacking himself, Jim and Tommy.

  Andrew watched and waited, losing hope every day. He had tried to show the world what his father was, and the world, it seemed, had merely shrugged. Andrew had imagined that someone from the printworks or the council would rise up and tell Simon firmly, 'no'; that he was not fit to set himself up in competition with other people, that he was unsuitable and sub-standard, and must not disgrace himself or his family. Yet nothing had happened, except that Simon stopped talking about the council or making telephone calls in the hope of garnering votes, and the leaflets that he had had printed out of hours at work sat untouched in a box in the porch.

  Then, without warning or fanfare, came victory. Heading down the dark stairs in search of food on Friday evening, Andrew heard Simon talking stiffly on the telephone in the sitting room, and paused to listen.

  '. . . withdraw my candidacy,' he was saying. 'Yes. Well, my personal circumstances have changed. Yes. Yes. Yeah, that's right. OK. Thank you. '

  Andrew heard Simon replace the receiver.

  'Well, that's that,' his father said to his mother. 'I'm well out of it, if that's the kind of shit they're throwing around. '

  He heard his mother return some muffled, approving rejoinder, and before Andrew had time to move, Simon had emerged into the hall below, drawn breath into his lungs and yelled the first syllable of Andrew's name, before realizing that his son was right in front of him.

  'What are you doing?'

  Simon's face was half in shadow, lit only by the light escaping the sitting room.

  'I wanted a drink,' Andrew lied; his father did not like the boys helping themselves to food.

  'You start work with Mollison this weekend, don't you?'

  'Yeah. '

  'Right, well, you listen to me. I want anything you can get on that bastard, d'you hear me? All the dirt you can get. And on his son, if you hear anything. '

  'All right,' said Andrew.

  'And I'll put it up on the fucking website for them,' said Simon, and he walked back into the sitting room. 'Barry Fairbrother's fucking ghost. '

  As he scavenged an assortment of food that might not be missed, skimming off slices here, handfuls there, a jubilant jingle ran through Andrew's mind: I stopped you, you bastard. I stopped you.

  He had done exactly what he had set out to do: Simon had no idea who had brought his ambitions to dust. The silly sod was even demanding Andrew's help in getting his revenge; a complete about-turn, because when Andrew had first told his parents that he had a job at the delicatessen, Simon had been furious.

  'You stupid little tit. What about your fucking allergy?'

  'I thought I'd try not eating any of the nuts,' said Andrew.

  'Don't get smart with me, Pizza Face. What if you eat one accidentally, like at St Thomas's? D'you think we want to go through that crap again?'

  But Ruth had supported Andrew, telling Simon that Andrew was old enough to take care, to know better. When Simon had left the room, she had tried to tell Andrew that Simon was only worried about him.

  'The only thing he's worried about is that he'd have to miss bloody Match of the Day to take me to hospital. '

  Andrew returned to his bedroom, where he sat shovelling food into his mouth with one hand and texting Fats with the other.

  He thought that it was all over, finished, done with. Andrew had never yet had reason to observe the first tiny bubble of fermenting yeast, in which was contained an inevitable, alchemical transformation.