The Unsuccessful Candidate
An excerpt from a new story by Thomas Chadwick, published in the first Splice anthology
A week after the interviews the unsuccessful candidate showed up at the office. He walked across the room and sat down at the spare desk opposite Liv. At first Liv hardly noticed, but when she returned from the kitchen he was still sat there with his back to the desk, staring out across the room as everyone arrived for work.
The unsuccessful candidate was dressed in the same grey suit he’d worn to his interview a week earlier. He wore the same white shirt and polished brown shoes and his tie was the same pale blue that looked as if it had been dusted with sugar. Liv remembered noticing that tie as he’d waited outside Jane’s office to be called in. She remembered thinking that, while it was a very nice tie, it was probably too flashy for someone working in accounts and it was no surprise to her when Jane and Mr. Daniels chose to employ someone else.
Liam Langton had started the previous Thursday. He jogged across the office carrying an energy drink and hurled his gym kit under his desk. Liam was a member of a successful five-a-side team and had already told Liv a number of things about West Ham United that she had no wish to know. When Liam bustled in that morning, he found the unsuccessful candidate at the adjacent desk. The unsuccessful candidate held a pen and was rolling it back and forth between his fingers as he stared out across the office. Liam simply nodded at him and logged on to his computer.
The unsuccessful candidate was still there after lunch. When Liv got back from the supermarket where she and Fran went to buy the sandwiches they always intended to make at home, she found him sprawled across the desk with his head on his arms. There was an empty sandwich packet in the bin by his desk and he must have made himself a coffee while they were out because one of the mugs from the kitchen sat beside the monitor.
“Who is he?” Liam asked in the kitchen as he took another energy drink from the fridge.
“They’re restructuring in the Birmingham office,” Fran said. “Probably something to do with that.”
Liam shrugged and started gulping his energy drink. His Adam’s apple bobbed like a body beneath a duvet. Liv took her coffee back to her desk and studied the man at the spare desk. He wasn’t from Birmingham. He was definitely the unsuccessful candidate from the week before. He sat there with his head still at rest on his folded arms. Only at five did he get to his feet, take his mug back to the kitchen to rinse it, put on his coat and leave. As he walked towards the exit he nodded at Liv.
“Have a nice evening,” he said.
Liv got home late that night. There was something wrong with her bike and it took ages to cycle up the hill to her flat. Liv had lived in the same flat for six years with her friend Julie. Liv knew Julie better than anyone, including Julie herself. For instance, Liv knew that Julie’s walk was completely silent; that however firmly Julie placed her feet on the floor, the ground rose up to meet them, cushioning their arrival and suffocating sound. Julie would have made an excellent spy and when they’d first moved in together — back when they were still trying to figure out what to do with their lives — Liv had spent hours trying to convince Julie to apply for MI5. “How about I fill in the details for you,” Liv said, opening up the online form. Julie laughed and told Liv she was mad. Liv soon got cross and started filling out the form anyway until she came to a space for a bit of information about Julie that she didn’t know. By this point Julie had scuttled off to the kitchen.
“You simply have to join MI5,” Liv said when she found her. “For our safety.”
“I do have an interview tomorrow,” Julie said.
Eventually one of the consultancy firms gave Julie a job. They didn’t know that by employing her they were depriving the nation of probably its best ever spy.
Liv sometimes took comfort in the fact that if Julie was actually a spy she would not be allowed to tell people. Every time Julie was vague about what exactly she did for the consultancy, Liv reassured herself that the whole consultancy thing was a façade and that Julie was in fact desperately collecting information on unknown threats. Most likely MI5 got bored waiting for her to apply and headhunted her. Headhunting did happen. Liv knew this for a fact. Apparently Julie was headhunted by her current consultancy.
A year or so earlier, because she was so tired from being a spy at the same time as working for the consultancy, Julie had allowed herself to be seduced by a vastly inferior man called Roy. Roy’s arms seemed to be permanently attached to Julie and when they weren’t touching her they were hanging limp in the room like clothes left to dry on a line. When Liv got back from work she found Julie and Roy in the kitchen, tittering over a pan of tomato sauce. Liv had wanted to talk to Julie about the fact that the unsuccessful candidate from the interviews a week earlier had spent the whole day sat in the office, but instead she ended up watching Roy clasp himself to Julie’s legs as they tried to eat pasta for dinner.
Read ‘The Unsuccessful Candidate’ in full in the first Splice anthology, which is available to order now.