By Marcus L. Rowland
"Hurt your eye, lad?" Xander looked around the cheese shop. A genial-looking middle-aged man wearing a bright red sweater was standing on his blind side, like Xander waiting to be served. He had an oddly lumpy look, like someone had made him out of modelling clay, and for a moment Xander wondered if he was entirely human.
"Kinda. Lost it a couple of years ago."
"Oh, you're American, are you?" Xander was getting used to hearing that every time he spoke. Small towns in the North of England didn't see many foreigners. "You'd be one of the people that bought the old school up t'road?"
"Ummm... yeah, that's right. How did you know?"
"Heard someone had bought the place. Americans." He lowered his voice, as though about to impart a dark secret, and said "From America."
"Lot of windows you've got there," he said. Xander wondered if this was the prelude to some sort of shakedown.
"I'm by way of being in the business." He groped into a pocket and pulled out a card.
WASH 'N' GO
WINDOW CLEANING SERVICE
62 West Wallaby Street
"I'm Wallace. That's Gromit out there in the sidecar." He pointed outside, where a bright red motorcycle and sidecar was parked. There was a bored-looking dog of unknown breed sitting in it.
"Okay," said Xander, "we're still fitting the place out, but when we're done I'm sure we'll need a lot of cleaning, mister Wallace. I'll make sure Principal Wood gets this."
"Thanks. Your turn, lad," said Wallace, pointing towards the counter. "Don't want to forget your cheese."
"Sure. Any recommendations?"
"They do a passable Cheddar, and the Wensleydale is very more-ish. The Caerphilly isn't bad either."
"Thanks." Xander turned to the shopkeeper and said "Okay, I'll have a pound each of Cheddar, Wensleydale, and Caerphilly. Oh, and half a pound of Brie and that Swiss cheese. Do you have any American cheeses?"
"Sorry," said the shopkeeper, efficiently slicing, weighing, and wrapping the cheese in greaseproof paper, "don't get much call for it."
"You might want to start getting them in," said Xander. "We're gonna have quite a few Americans through here once the school opens, and I know most of them like cheese."
"I'll see what I can do, sir. That'll be nine pounds forty-seven."
"Okay. Got change for a twenty?"
"No problem, sir. Or I can start an account for the school, settling day would be the first Monday of the month."
"Maybe we'd better leave that for the principal," said Xander, handing over the money. "I'm just helping to set the place up, won't be here much after it opens."
"You're a builder?" asked Wallace, eyeing the tool belt revealed as Xander opened his coat to pocket the change.
"Carpenter. Can't do heavy construction since I lost my eye, but there's plenty of detail work needed."
"I've done a bit of carpentry myself," said Wallace. "I'm by way of being an inventor in my spare time."
"Cool!" said Xander, taking the bag of cheese. "Maybe I'll see you around." He went out, and Wallace watched him pause by the sidecar and give Grommit a pat before heading off up the road.
"Usual order?" asked the shopkeeper. Wallace nodded absent-mindedly. That poor lad, losing an eye so young. But maybe something could be done. Wallace had always wanted to try his hands at bionics, and he was sure that he had the technology...