Working alone was Cole's raison d'être. The silence was uplifting and inspiring, a field of green pasture for his thoughts to wander and graze unencumbered. No orders barked from the client, no workshy colleagues regularly slipping away for a crafty Lambert & Butler and, most appealing of all, no Radio One. If there was one thing he'd learnt in his 18 years in the trade, it was that no matter who presents the breakfast show, it can only appeal to those whose brains are in the last stages of atrophy.
Cole had never been a popular colleague. He refused to laugh at the sexist jokes, tore down the page 3 clippings in the cab of the van and winced at the industrial language which was the norm among his fellow craftsmen. He'd seen off many an apprentice. A week or two in his company and, without fail, they wouldn't bother turning up the following Monday.
He scratched his bum cleavage, dolloped another lump of plaster onto his hawk and picked up his float trowel. He'd almost finished the final skim. Solitary working was the key to expediency. He'd be done by 3pm, the van would be back at the yard by 3.08pm and he'd be in the Red Lion – at his regular stool by the end of the bar – by 3.11pm. Clockwork.
His knew his boss, Bywater, would be pleased. Another job finished ahead of schedule, on budget and with a tidy profit. Bywater had given up snagging Cole's work. It was pointless. His work was always exemplary. Never a callback and never a complaint. The holidaying client would be yet another satisfied customer.
He picked up his mixing bath, filled now with his cleaned-up tools, and took them outside to the filthy, rusting van and dumped the rubble sacks in the skip on the street. Cole re-entered the house, ran the palm of his hand along the damp, arrow-straight wall and admired a job well done.
And without a second thought about the now feint tapping of his bound apprentice frantically gasping for air on the other side of the wall, he pulled the door shut.