On the day my career at Fireplace Mutual began, six of us recruits filed into the smoke-filled office of the Supervisor of Adjusters, Mr Kreisky. His office smelled like the inside of an old taxicab. There was nothing on the walls. I remember feeling disappointed. I wanted my boss to have a fancy office. Mr Kreisky sat in shirtsleeves and necktie behind a large, grey, metal desk. I expected someone who looked well fed and at least a little jovial; someone fatherly. Kreisky was maybe fifty-five or sixty. It was hard to tell. He was very lean and leathery. He had pock-marked cheeks and bony-looking shoulders, and he didn’t have much hair. He had a way of narrowing his eyes and staring at you until you felt uncomfortable. The minute I saw him sitting there I had the feeling he’d never met a person he liked or was afraid of.

Kreisky didn’t get up to greet us. He didn’t offer to shake hands. He sat back and looked us over slowly, one by one.

I felt very lonely standing there, waiting for my turn. I wore my best suit, and I carried a brand-new fake-leather attaché case. I didn’t have anything to put in it, but I had thought it lent me the right touch. Kreisky’s eyes lingered on it. ‘What you got in there, your lunch?’

The Night of the Railwaymen’s Ball
Night Prayer