Still in the office? Here’s part two of a three part special focusing on poor old Geoff. Part one is here.
The mysterious visitors had left. Geoff resumed his pacing.
As he crossed the room, he realised that there was a scrap of paper by the door which hadn’t been there before. He bent over to pick it up. It was torn from a notebook.
“Professor Sanders, I came to introduce my daddy and to wish you happy holidays. My daddy would like to meet you. He is here from Hong Kong.” It was signed Cheng Shan, with a phone number. There were a lot of students in biology, and normally Geoff wouldn’t have known who any of them were, but this name rang a bell. Was that the student whose father was said to be unbelievably wealthy, a Hong Kong financier or something? It was assumed that he’d applied to Burston Central by mistake, instead of the University of Burston, but nobody had dared to ask. Other than that, Geoff knew nothing about him.
He stepped over to the window. He could see two figures just emerging from the tower block and walking towards the park. Why not? It was a good excuse not to go home. He switched on the office light, and picked up the phone.
“Dr Sanders here. You just put a note through my door?”
“Ha, ha. Of course I’m still here! Lots to do. I must have just stepped out for a moment.”
“Always switch the lights off when I leave the room. Can’t have the biology department wasting precious resources!”
“Yes, well, anyway. I just called to say that I’d be delighted to meet your father. Would you like to come up? Or I’d be pleased to take you for a drink somewhere?”
“Well, of course, tea, whatever. Where are you now?”
Geoff could see the two figures standing at the entrance to the park. Even from this height, he thought he could see them shivering.
“Oh, that’s great. Not far away! Can you hang on for a moment, and I’ll come down to you? Why not just pop back into the building? ”
“Perfect. See you in a minute.”
Geoff hung up. He opened the top drawer of the desk and took out a packet of mints. He popped one into his mouth, then put the packet into his pocket. He’d possibly had more whisky than one mint would mask.
He had a quick look round the office. Was there anything he needed for the holidays? He looked at his laptop. No. It could stay there. He picked up his coat and keys, kicked the desk drawer again, to no effect, and left the room.
Downstairs, there was no sign of any security staff. The student and his father were standing in the semi-dark near to the revolving doors. They looked cold. Geoff advanced towards them, holding out his hand. “Mr Cheng, lovely to see you again. And this is your father, also Mr Cheng, I presume?”
The student shook his hand limply. He looked surprised. As well he might – Geoff had probably passed him dozens of times in the corridor without showing any signs of acknowledgement, or welcome. “Yes, sir, professor, I present you my father, Mr Cheng. Visiting.”
“Quite so, quite so.” Geoff shook hands vigorously with Mr Cheng.
He looked carefully at Geoff. “Nice to meet you, Professor.”
“Oh, call me Geoff. We aren’t too formal here! And I’m not a professor, anyway, just a humble doctor,” he added, almost sotto voce.
“Geoff. Fine. I am Cheng-Gong.”
“Cheng-Gong.” Repeated Geoff. “Marvellous. Lovely to meet you. How are you finding Burston?”
“Cold.” Mr Cheng shivered, as if to emphasise the point.
“Oh dear. Well, it is winter. Shall we go and find somewhere for a cup of tea?”
“I wouldn’t like to keep you from your work, er, Geoff.”
“Oh, I was just about to leave anyway. It’s quiet at this time of year.”
“So I see.” Mr Cheng looked up at the darkened building.
“Yes, well, it’s good for everyone to get a break. My team work so hard all term.”
Mr Cheng said nothing. Geoff wondered if he’d raised an eyebrow, but it was quite dark. Difficult to be sure.
“Let’s go.” Geoff led the way out of the building. There was no catering on campus on Christmas Eve. He paused outside the building and looked up and down the street. Burger bars. Fried chicken shops. Convenience stores. Not really what he was looking for. He walked past these establishments every day on his way to the station, but never really registered them. Why would he go out of the office for coffee, when he could make his own at a fraction of the price?
Where would be suitable? He vaguely remembered someone in the department mentioning a place down Challoner Street. Chicky’s? Cheeky’s? Smiling at the Chengs, he put out his arm in an encouraging gesture, and ushered them towards the main road.
Challoner Street was dimly lit, but he could see the café about half-way down. He led the Chengs confidently to the door and thrust it open, ushering them inside with a magnanimous gesture. A bell clanged somewhere as the door opened. His face fell as he looked around the room. He hadn’t realise that such places still existed. The orange plastic chairs surfaced dim memories of Wimpy Bars from his childhood.
Not for the first time, he marvelled at the difference between Burston city centre and Rumchester, where he lived. Twenty minutes on the train, and it was like another world. Rumchester was bursting with chi-chi coffee bars, each serving their own special blend of estate coffees to be sipped whilst installed on fine leather sofas reading an uncreased copy of your choice of broadsheet, or using the free wifi to catch up on Buzzfeed on your iPad.
The Chengs were looking at him. He gestured them towards the nearest table. There were no other customers, but the bell had summoned a woman to the counter. Behind her, he could hear a TV.
Geoff recovered himself. “Thought you might like to see a bit of local charm. Famous for its coffee.” He laughed nervously. “What can I get you? My treat.”
Mr Cheng looked carefully at him, as though trying to decide if Geoff was mocking them. Then he looked at the counter area. “I think I’ll have tea. Same for you, Shan?”
His son nodded.
“Great. I think I’ll try the famous coffee.” Geoff took the two paces to the counter with great decision. He smiled at the woman. “Two teas, please, and one black coffee.”
She nodded, and picked up a kettle, filled it, and switched it on. Geoff watched as she took three mugs from a shelf. She put tea bags in two of them, and a teaspoon of instant coffee in the third. The kettle boiled. She filled the mugs, stirred them all, extracted the tea bags, and then added generous quantities of milk to each. Geoff opened his mouth to say something about the coffee, but it was too late.
“There you go. Three pounds, please.”
Geoff fished in his pocket for change. He wondered if he’d stepped into a timewarp.
Part three is here.