The King of the World

Rain Clingan George liked the rain.

He liked how it made his curly hair lie flat. He liked how it made the world look like a more interesting place. He also liked how it cleared the streets of London when he was running.

One of his greatest pleasures was running along the Thames in the rain. The tourists and touts all ran for cover, the fair weather joggers stayed indoors and he ran on. The king of the world.

From those pieces of information you can deduce a few things about Clingan. He’s sporty, not particularly sociable and he’s at his best when he’s wet. And that’s more than enough information for you to follow the rest of the story.

One rainy Tuesday, Clingan was savouring a post-run espresso. He was enjoying his wet hair and waiting for the caffeine to kick in when he was approached by a woman. She was in her mid-thirties, attractive and fashionably dressed.

She made a joke about the weather, he replied with a pleasantry and asked if he could buy her a coffee.

“I just had one actually,” she said with a smile. “We met a few years ago at a house party – I’m one of your sister’s friends.”

“Of course!” he said. “I was sure I recognised you.”

“Well, happy to see I made an impression!”

He apologised for not recognising her sooner and said she’d certainly made an impression this time.

She smiled. He asked her out.

This was the beginning of the end for Clingan.

You see, Clingan is not an outgoing, romantic man. His sister’s friend, Jane, had caught him in a rare moment of extroversion. And it was on this fleeting display of charm that she built a brief and unhappy marriage.

It took Jane years to realise that her first impression of Clingan was misleading. The final straw came when he refused to complain to the landlord about the mould issues that plagued their flat.

The mould had crept from the bathroom, into the bedroom and snaked its way down the stairs and into the living room. The air was humid and Jane had developed breathing issues, yet Clingan avoided contacting the landlord.

“It’s just too much trouble,” he whined. “I can’t deal with something like that.”

Their marriage crumbled as quickly as the mould had sprouted and Clingan retreated even further into his shell. Jane was pregnant when they split, and although she quickly settled down with an older, wealthy individual, she insisted that Clingan pay child support.

He was forced to leave his job at a charity, where he worked as an administrative assistant, and took a job in a crate factory in Hounslow. Having previous experience working in manufacturing, he was given a role in quality control. He was put in charge of signing off each crate before it was sent out. He disliked the pressure and hated the socialising that came with the job.

Clingan started getting migraines. He found himself unable to sleep and stayed up till the early hours watching old TV programmes. They reminded him of happier days.

In the mornings he was exhausted and his colleagues would throw paper balls at him. Sometimes he noticed, sometimes he pretended not to notice.

One Tuesday, his line manager asked to speak to him.

“Look,” he started. “I won’t beat around the bush. Two of the crates you let out last week were defective. This is a formal warning. You need to switch on.”

Clingan nodded.

He tried to speak to Jane about his problems, but she was angry with him. She still felt he’d betrayed her by pretending to be someone he wasn’t. She had no sympathy or patience for him and besides, she was late for Zumba.

After an interminable week, Clingan was walking home in the rain, when he had an idea. He passed by Tesco on the way home and bought supplies. That night he fell asleep for the first time in months.

The following week he didn’t go to work. On the 14th he didn’t pay child support. On the 20th he didn’t pay his rent. No one tried to find him until he missed all three again the following month.

His line manager was relieved. He was going to fire him and was glad he didn’t have to. Jane didn’t think he had the balls to stay hidden for long. She thought about how angry she’d be when she saw him again. Clara, his daughter, was only one and didn’t notice.

Epilogue

Months after Clingan went missing, some crates were stolen. Their contents was quite valuable and the factory’s security team poured over the videos looking for clues. It didn’t take them long to spot a number of employees stealing the crates. They studied earlier recordings to see if they could find any other evidence.

They didn’t, but they saw something odd from the Sunday before Clingan disappeared. At around 9pm, a lone figure wearing a thick winter jacket entered the building with what looked like two shopping bags. He dragged one of the largest crates into an area the cameras couldn’t see and then dragged it back an hour later.

He then got in the crate and sealed it.

Security couldn’t work out where the crate had been shipped to. There were a few options. A similar crate had been sent to Argentina the following Tuesday. Another had gone to India on the Wednesday and the last one headed to Belgium on the Friday. Each crate had been delivered to a company and not one had complained about its contents.

My guess, based on his love of rain and dislike of adventure, is that he went to Belgium. But, people can surprise you.

Michele Martinelli is a London based writer, you can follow him on @Greatbites.

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