There’s a stranger at the door.
He says ‘I’m looking for Alan Kirkby.’
Linda says ‘There must be some mistake. You’ve got the wrong address’.
He shifts his weight from foot to foot. He’s not enjoying this at all, but he has a job to do. ‘I’m afraid there’s no mistake’.
He’s surprisingly professional. Not gruff and aggressive like the bailiffs on the telly. He has all the facts to hand. Missed payments; procedures; protocols; final demands; court summons. Most of all he has apparently perfect recall of her failure to respond. She has failed to reply to the offer of staged payments or debt counselling. Everyone’s been trying to help.
How English, she thinks, to be penalised for bad manners. And how ironic. She’s the only mother she knows who makes Billy write a thank you letter for every present he gets. Not a text or an email. A proper letter. In an envelope with a stamp. It is a point of honour. She never lets a letter go unanswered. At least she didn’t. Not in the old days.
She looks towards the table. Towards the pile of unopened envelopes. Perhaps in retrospect she should have opened them. Rather than arranging them in perfect piles, the largest at the bottom, the smallest at the top.
He is spelling out her options. Immediate payment of outstanding fees plus penalty charges; or…
‘OK’, she says, ‘OK. I need to make a phone call.’
Phone a friend. As though she has any number of lifelines. People who won’t ask any questions. People with instant access to a thousand pounds in cash.
She should have read the post. Much good it would have done her. Jesus she could use a drink. She should have stocked up on screw-top bottles like that stupid woman said.
And then it dawns on her. That stupid woman with the half-arsed rigged up office. With the bean-bag and the futon from IKEA. The woman who hasn’t got around to buying proper furniture. As chance would have it, the only person in the world who knows that Alan isn’t in the picture; who understands she can’t just call her husband and get him to sort it out.
She has her business card somewhere. It’ll be in the third draw down with all the other rubbish. With the corkscrew and the fondue forks and the Mario’s Pizza menu. And the wind-up torch that never works.
Bruno doesn’t miss a beat. ‘Tell her you’ll buy the lot so long as she signs for it. Acknowledges receipt.’
I say ‘Have you seen her furniture?’
‘No. What’s it like?’
‘It’s avocado green velour.’
‘It’ll go perfectly in here.’
I take the phone off silent. ‘How much do you want for it?’
She says ‘£2,000. In cash. ’
I wouldn’t pay £200 for it. Ordinarily I’d pay £200 for somebody to take the stuff away.
I say ‘That’s an awful lot of money for a second-hand living-room suite’.
Especially one like that. I’m thinking maybe I’ll offer to lend her whatever she needs to make the bailiff go away. Let her keep her three-piece suite.
She says ‘You can have it on long loan for £1,000. But I need the money now.’
I imagine the Kirkbys’ lounge without its furniture. Linda standing at the picture window, weeping softly as construction work encroaches on her view. Billy sitting on the carpet. Dreaming about the days he had a kickabout pitch to play on. A sofa to curl up on. A mum who wasn’t crying. A father who came home.
I say ‘It might be a while before we come to pick it up. Is it OK if we just store it at your house?’
She says. ‘I need the money now.’
‘I can’t get my hands on that kind of cash. Not without a bit more warning.’
There is muttering at the other end of the phone.
She says ‘Do you have a cheque guarantee card? If you do, he’ll take a cheque.’
Bruno says ‘Don’t go just yet. Give me a minute.’
He is writing at the breakfast bar, frowning with concentration.
He’s written: ‘I, Linda Kirkby, do solemnly acknowledge that I have sold one sofa and two armchairs and associated cushions to Dee Delaney for the total sum of one thousand pounds in cash.’
He says ‘Get her to copy the whole thing out.’
‘Can’t I just get her to sign it?’
‘We won’t be able to tell anything from a signature. It might not even be legible.’
‘She’ll think I’m completely bonkers.’
‘Tell her it’s a precondition of the sale.’
So here I am. In Linda Kirkby’s hallway. Poised to write a company cheque for a thousand pounds we can’t afford.
I say ‘I’ll need written confirmation of receipt.’
The bailiff produces an official looking pad.
I say ‘I meant from Mrs Kirkby.’
She says ‘The cheque needs to be made out to him, not me.’
So what do I say now? ‘I need a significant sample of your hand-writing. Otherwise the whole deal’s off?’
Maybe not. I write the cheque out meekly. Accept a receipt from the official-looking pad.
Bruno’s affidavit stays in my pocket.
Linda shows me to the door. She says ‘Thank you. When will you come and collect it?’
I say ‘Keep it. You can have the money as a loan. Until you find your feet.’
She walks me half way down the path and says ‘I’d sooner you took it with you. They can’t take the stuff away if I don’t own it any more.’
I sigh. I guess I’ll have to hire a van.
I’m half way down the street I work out how I should have played it. I race back up the road. Knock on Linda Kirkby’s door. She doesn’t answer. I don’t blame her. I call through the letterbox. ‘It’s me. Dee. Dee Delaney.’
She says ‘What do you want now?’
As though I’m forever pestering her. As though I haven’t just bailed her out.
I say ‘I can’t put the company in a position where we could be accused of hiding other people’s possessions from the bailiff. I need written confirmation that we’ve bought them.’
‘I thought we agreed you’d borrowed them.’
‘We still need proof that it’s a legitimate transaction. That money’s actually changed hands.’
She shrugs. ‘OK, whatever. Do you want to write something out for me to sign?’
I hold out Bruno’s affidavit. ‘We’ll need you to copy the whole thing out.’
She says. ‘It’s fine. I’ll just sign it.’
I say ‘I’m afraid you need to write it out in full.’
She gives me a long hard level stare.
I say ‘Maybe just write “Received with thanks”.’
Bruno says ‘What’s that? “Received with thanks”?’
I say ‘It was a challenge getting her to write anything at all.’
He says ‘Where’s the note?’
I say ‘What note?’
He says ‘THE note. The poison pen letter. Let Sleeping Dogs Lie.’
I say ‘I’ve no idea.’
He says ‘I need it to compare the hand-writing. Can you go home and get it?’
‘I’ll have a look in the recycling. But I can’t promise it’ll still be there. It depends what day I threw it out.’
He says ‘Please tell me you’re joking.’
I am shuffling my feet.
He says ‘You’re not joking, are you. You really might have thrown it out.’
I’m positively squirming.
‘So just explain this to me slowly. How exactly did you anticipate that we were going to do a positive ID on the hand-writing without referring to the original document.’
I say ‘I guess I didn’t think it through.’
He says ‘That’s it. You’re fired.’
‘I hate to break this to you but you report to me. If anyone’s firing anyone it’ll be me that’s firing you.’
He says. ‘I’m releasing you from your duties as a private investigator. You’re the most incompetent detective I’ve ever met.’
‘I guess I’ll just stick to the day job.’
He says ‘You better hire a van.’