Nice Pair by Jack Doherty

“Can I get two more of those Judy?” I asked, in hope rather than expectation.

“Two more what?” she replied. Judy never was a very good listener.

“The full lamb kebabs.”

“No problem. Do they want salad?” It was a good question. I’d have to check. The customers didn’t look like they wanted salad. But then, they didn’t really look like they wanted anything. Who really wants food at 2am? Especially tepid lettuce.

The two lads in front of me were your usual Friday night fodder: messy hair, tight shirts and, of course, perhaps most importantly, completely legless.

“Do you want salad with those?” I asked the customers, repeating Judy’s question.

“No tar,” replied the taller of the two. It was a smart call. I’d left the salad out on top of the fridge all day and, to be quite honest with you, it didn’t look great. Though I don’t suppose they’d care. They clearly had more pressing matters to attend.

I started working in the shop a good 10 years ago. I’m not entirely sure why. It just seemed to happen one day. One week I was a taxi driver, and the next I just appeared behind the till at King Kebabs 2. Weird name, isn’t it? King Kebabs 2. I’ve never understood it. Was there a King Kebabs 1 somewhere? Was this shop some sort of fast food sequel? Who knows? Maybe the owner just liked the mystery of it all. I suppose the name does make the shop sound a bit exciting, doesn’t it.

The lads’ food was ready in no time. Judy might be a crap listener but by Christ she’s a dab hand with the electric knife.

“Can I have some extra garlic on mine?” asked the taller of the two, let’s call him Bobkin, because, well, he looked a lot like a Bobkin to me. And yes, before you say anything, it’s a name. Look it up.

“No problem dear. Do you want it in a tub or on top?” I asked.

“Tub please,” said Bobkin.

“That’ll be 50p.”

Bobkin rustled around in his pockets for an unnecessarily long time.

“Ah shit, I don’t have any change. Any chance I could just owe you one?”

I hate it when people do that, it puts me in such an awkward position.

“Sorry. We’re not allowed to give the sauce away for free. Our manager would have our heads if we started doing that!”

“Go on, can’t you make the exception, just for me?” said Bobkin, leaning across the counter. I think he was trying to flirt with me. He wasn’t very good at it. Wasn’t my type either. Far too pruned for my liking.

“Sorry, love. The salt and vinegar’s free if you’ve not got the 50 to spare.”

“Fine” said Bobkin, conjuring up a 50 pence piece from his back pocket. His desire for garlic sauce clearly trumped his pride. Good man. I’d have done the same in his shoes.

I gave him his tub and he was off on his way, strolling into the night with his little friend.

Working here for so long you start to do little things, just to pass the time really. I like to play a little game where I imagine what the customer’s lives are like. You know, what sort of jobs they have and all that. It’s quite fun. I enjoy it anyway.

If I had to guess, I’d have said Bobkin worked in manual labour. Maybe a bricky or something like that. His friend though, he was harder to place. He didn’t look as well built as Bobkin. Maybe he had an office job or something? Could be on the dole? God, who knows? Kids these days do all sorts of rubbish. For all I know Bobkin could be some sort of computer whizz.

“Hey, Paul lad, we almost had that fat cow there, didn’t we. Nearly got ourselves an extra 50 of garlic for free,” said Ben, trotting down Barnes Road with his overcooked lamb shreds.

“Not really. Needed it though, didn’t it. This shit is fuckin’ like a granny’s boot.”

Unsurprisingly, neither of the two lads were called Bobkin. It was a bit of a long shot, to be honest.

Paul & Ben had been out since lunchtime and, in the 11-odd hours since, they’d racked up a fair few pints. It was sort of a tradition. Each Friday they’d finish work early and meet in the Saunders Arms for a frankly shocking amount of lager. It tasted like shit, but it was cheap, and that’s all that mattered.

“Forgot to ask earlier mate. Where’d you get those shoes from? They’re smart as.” Ben flicked a sauce-soaked chip in the general direction of Paul’s feet.

“Don’t be getting any of that shitty garlic on these shoes mate, they cost an arm and a leg,” said Paul, clearly annoyed.

“Sorry, Paul. They are dead nice though. So where did you get them? Down Clarks or something like that?”

“You kidding me? I’m not in fuckin’ year two with my flashy light trainers am I? Nah, I got them somewhere else.”

“Where though? Wouldn’t mind getting a pair myself, what with it being payday.”

“I bet you would. Not as easy as that though mate I’m afraid. Place I got them from, well, it’s a bit exclusive.”

Ben stopped walking. He had a bit of that small man syndrome you see. Wanted things to go his own way. Didn’t like people getting in the way of him, especially when it came to clothes.

“Go on, Paul, I won’t get the same ones as you, I promise. Have you seen the shit I’ve got on my feet?” Ben, again with a chip in his hand, pointed to his, admittedly scruffy, brown leather boots. “I’ve had these bad boys for five years now.”

“You can tell, mate; the soles are falling off. You sound like a fucking penguin when you walk.”

Paul and Ben erupt at this, mediocre at best, joke.

“But honestly, man, give us the name of the place,” pleaded Ben, once the laughter had died down.

“Fine. But I swear down if you end up getting the same pair as me…” replied Paul.

“I promise, mate.”

“Alright then. Well, the shops down the other end of town. The posh bit.”

“Yeah?”

“But it’s not one of these normal shops. You can’t just be walking in and that.”

“Yeah?”

“You need a number. You have to give it a ring to book an appointment.”

“You kidding?”

“Nah. Look do you want the number or not?”

“Go on then.”

“5318008.”

Ben stared at Paul, waiting for him to continue.

“That’s it?”

“Yeah that’s it.”

“You’re taking the piss you.”

“Believe whatever you want mate. If you want these shoes though, give that number a ring between 1pm and 2:17pm next Tuesday. You’ll get right through.”

“Alright, cheers, mate. Will do,” replied Ben, sarcastically.

He didn’t believe Paul one bit.

Ben sat on the edge of his bed. It was 2:15pm the following Tuesday. He’d been staring at his phone since 1pm, debating whether or not to ring the number. He was scared that Paul had stitched him up. Scared that he’d ring the number and Paul would be on the other end pissing himself that he’d managed to mug him off, or worse, that he’d take the joke one step further and set up some sort of prank once Ben arrived at the shop.

It was certainly a risk, but there was something special about those shoes Paul was wearing. He had to give it a go. He took a few deep breathes and dialled the number.

RING RI..

“You’re late” shouted the voice down the phone. This caught Ben off guard.

“Urr Hello, is this the…”

Shit, thought Ben. Paul hadn’t given him the name of the shop, what was he going to say.

“Is this the what?” asked the voice.

“Hi yeah, is this the… well, my friend gave me this number. Paul?”

“I don’t know anyone called Paul.”

“Oh, of course, why would you. Well, yeah, like I said, my friend Paul gave me this number. Said to ring about getting a new pair of shoes?”

“Right well I’m very busy. See you at 11pm.”

“Okay.”

“Don’t be late.”

“Oh yeah, wait a second. I almost forgot. Whereabouts is the shop exactly?”

The voice sighed. “God I need a new job… It’s above Laketon’s bakery. The door’s round the back.”

“Right, I think I know where that is.”

“Okay. Bye.”

The phone cut out. Ben was very confused. Was it all an elaborate prank by Paul? It can’t have been, surely? The man on the phone didn’t sound anything like him. But then maybe the rest of the lads were in on it? Maybe it was Alex? He was quite decent at impressions and that. Whoever it was, it didn’t matter now. The moment Ben had dialled the number, his decision had been made.

He was going shopping. Shoe shopping.

Ben arrived early. Well, at least he thought he’d arrived early. It was actually quite hard to tell if he was in the right place at all. To say the room he’d found himself in was minimal would be an understatement. There was no branding on the walls, no till in the corner, and, perhaps most importantly, there were no shoes anywhere.

Stupidly, Ben had never asked Paul for the name of the shop, so he was a bit worried that he wouldn’t be able to find it in time. Luckily, this didn’t turn out to be much of an issue. As soon as he’d arrived around the back of Laketon’s at 10:30pm he was approached by a lady dressed head to toe in black. Black beret. Black shorts. Black everything. He wasn’t exactly sure why, but she really looked like the type who might work in, or even own, an appointment-only shoe shop.

“Am I in the right place?” asked Ben.

“Yes,” said the lady. “Follow me.”

At the time, Ben had found this interaction perfectly normal, but once he’d had time to think about it, he was almost certain that he was about to die. That lady could have been anyone. Why did he let her guide him into a small room in what was almost definitely the attic of Laketon’s bakery?

Once Ben processed what had just happened, he started to panic. He got out his phone and text Paul.

Mate what the fuck have you got me in to???? I’m calling it now. This is definitely some sort of stitch up! Nice touch with the woman though. V creepy!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Just as he hit send, everything went into motion. An extremely large door at the far end of the room burst open, revealing the silhouette of what can only be described as a giant.

“Hello there. Ben, is it?” asked the hefty silhouette.

“H– Hello?” replied Ben, shitting himself.

The silhouette lunged out of the doorframe towards Ben, revealing himself to be a giant, just as Ben had expected. The giant stood at around eight feet tall, but seemed much taller. Ben wasn’t sure about the qualifying height, but he was fairly certain this man broke the giant threshold comfortably. Like the lady, the giant was dressed head to toe in black. Black beret, black shorts, black shirt, but, suspiciously, no black shoes. In fact, he wasn’t wearing any shoes at all. This confused Ben. Surely cobblers should have shoes? It would be like a heart surgeon without a heart, or a carpenter without a carp.

Ben thought about asking the giant about his lack of footwear, but soon thought better of it. The questioning might anger him, and he didn’t want that.

“I understand you’re here for some new shoes?” asked the giant.

Ben tried to compose himself.

“Yeah th– that’s right. Am I in the right place?”

“Of course you are, young man. Now, let me see those feet of yours.”

“Right, so, I meant to say before, on the phone, my friend gave me your number, said you were the best in the business?”

“Your friend is a very wise man. Now, if you could please take off your shoes.”

Ben complied with the giant’s request, out of fear more than anything else.

The giant bent down and began inspecting his feet. To say this process was a slow one would be an understatement. He grabbed each of Ben’s feet in his palm and caressed them slowly. This process went on for a good 20 minutes. Ben didn’t have a clue what was going on, and from the look on the giant’s face, neither did he.

“Right. Very good. We’re almost done here. I think I have just the pair for you. Give me two minutes.”

With that, the giant dropped Ben’s feet, got up, and left the room.

Ben wasn’t sure what had just happened. He didn’t know what to do. Was this an opportunity to escape? Or should he sit it out? If he left, who knew what that tall freak might do to him, but, at the same time, if he stayed, was he not playing right into the giant’s hands? Either way, Ben felt he was fucked.

Realising this, he decided to leave it down to fate. He reached into his pocket and drew out a filthy twenty pence piece.

Heads he’d wait for the giant to return, tails he’d leg it down the stairs and not look back.

He flicked the coin high into the air.

Heads.

He was staying put.

“I like to throw coins in the air sometimes. It’s quite a laugh, isn’t it?” said the giant, who had returned to the room unnoticed during Ben’s mini meltdown. For someone so tall he wasn’t half sneaky.

“God, that was quick. I thought you’d be gone ages” replied Ben.

“What do you mean? I said I’d be two minutes.”

“Yeah, I know, but I thought you’d be much longer. Actually, I sort of… well, I sort of thought you might be planning to kill me.” Ben chuckled, trying to make light of his suspicions.

“Why would you think that?” The giant looked hurt.

“Well, it’s just… it’s just all a bit strange, isn’t it”

“What’s strange?”

“This whole thing. None of it’s really making any sense.”

“It’s just a shoe fitting, m’lad. I guess it’s not the most normal way to go about selling shoes, but it works for me. I’m sure you’ll be more than pleased with the outcome.”

The giant nodded to the pair of shoes in his hand.

“Do you want to try them on?” he added, handing the shoes over. “Go on then. Shoes are for wearing, not staring.”

Ben took the shoes and slipped them on with the minimum of fuss.

“God, you’re right. These things feel great,” said Ben, strutting around the room, feeling fantastic.

“They should do. I’ve been doing this job for a long time. I’d like to think I’d got the hang of it by now,” said the giant.

“Do you want to see how they look in the mirror? I think they really suit you.”

“Thanks, mate. Nah, I’m alright. I know these are the shoes for me. What’s the damage by the way? I’ve only have a tenner on me right now, but I could nip to the cashpoint?”

“Don’t be so foolish. I cannot take payment for my work.”

“Fucking hell. You serious?”

“Of course. I’m not in the shoe game for the money.”

“Mate, you’re one of a kind.”

“Just like those shoes,” said the giant, pointing to Ben’s feet.

Ben erupted in laughter. It was the funniest joke he had ever heard. He’d be sharing that one with Paul next week down the pub. They’d have a right good laugh about it. It was a classic bit of banter. Almost as classic as his new pair of shoes.

Almost.

About The Author

Jack Doherty writes from his home in the North East of England. After almost a decade writing music reviews for publications such as Drowned in Sound, Loud and Quiet, CLASH and DIY Jack has decided to started to branch out into the world of short form fiction. More of his writing can be found at: https://link.medium.com/ZQz5FkJtl7

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