I’ve brought the boys to work.
Bruno looks a little quizzical.
I say ‘It’s bring your kids to work day.’
Sonny says ‘Our teachers are on strike.’
Bruno says ‘We could use the extra help.’
I could kiss him.
He bustles about. Business-like. Dragging extra chairs in from the kitchen. Scrabbling around for pens. Playing for time. Wracking his brains for something he can give the boys to do.
The boys look round disapprovingly.
Sonny says ‘Have you been to Daddy’s office?’
Bruno says ‘I thought your Dad was a photographer.’
‘He runs a pho-to-gra-phic agency.’ Its amazing just how pompous a six-year-old can sound.
I guess it’s not the time to tell them Daddy doesn’t have an office. Then again, perhaps he has. Perhaps he has a corporate empire. There are things about him I don’t know. Where he lives. What he does. If he’s ever coming back.
I settle for ‘I haven’t. Why, what’s it like?’
‘It’s a proper office. With spinny chairs.’
Billy Kirkby’s ambling round the field. I guess his teacher’s on strike too.
Kit says ‘That kid’s got a football.’
I say ‘That’s Billy. Billy Kirkby. Why don’t you go and play with him?’
Lester wants an update on the strip of land beside the Kirbys’ house.
I say ‘We have a moral dilemma. It’s worth maybe five thousand pounds to them; a whole lot more to us.’
‘That doesn’t sound like a moral dilemma. It sounds like the basis for a bloody good deal.’
‘So how much should we offer?’
‘Five thousand. If that’s how much they think it’s worth.’
She, not they. We can’t get hold of him. She’s not daft. She knows its worth much more to us.’
‘So what is it worth to us?’
We kick some figures about. Guaranteed admission to a decent school. Predicted impact on house prices: ten per cent, perhaps fifteen. Better access to the shops. Quicker sales. Better cashflow. Lower borrowing costs. And the kids can walk to school. Which means the planners might settle for fewer parking spaces. Which means space for extra houses. Two or three at least. It needs a proper look, but perhaps as many as five.
Back-of-the-envelope calculations. Billy’s kickabout pitch is worth the best part of a couple of million pounds.
Lester stands his ground. ‘It’s purely academic. At the end of the day it’s worth whatever we want to pay for it.’
‘We could give them a fraction of what we think it’s worth to us and cover the Kirkbys’ mortgage payments for the next five years at least.’
‘Why would we do that?’
‘Because we’re decent people. Because she’s behind on mortgage payments. Because there’s a real chance that the house will be repossessed and a different owner might not want to deal with us at all.’
‘If we offer over the odds straight off we’ll look too keen.’ Says Lester. ‘If we start looking desperate she’ll start wanting proper money.’
‘Don’t we want to seal the deal as quickly as we can?’
‘Maybe we should wait until she’s desperate for the cash.’
‘It just feels a bit mean.’
‘It’s all upside for her. A windfall. There aren’t many people in her situation, with a strip of land to sell and a ready buyer waiting in the wings. Whatever we end up paying it’s a lucky win for her.’
I imagine telling Linda Kirkby it’s a win-win situation. A future where the cul-de-sac where Billy learnt to ride his bike becomes a busy thoroughfare. Where a steady stream of traffic slows down to turn outside her house. Where the garden with a view has a road on one side and housing on another. Where Billy’s kickabout pitch becomes a public right of way.
‘It’s a tough job. We have to make some tough decisions.’
Lester brings the conversation to an end.
‘Talk of the devil.’ Says Bruno ‘The Black Widow is about to grace us with her presence.’
I look out of the window. At Linda Kirkby striding purposefully towards us. I’ve never seen her stride before. It doesn’t suit her. That’s something she has in common with her grandmother. They both glide instead of walk.
She is standing at the door.
‘Have you got Billy?’ She says accusingly.
As though there’s a fair chance we’ve got him hostage.
‘He’s outside with my children. They’re playing football on the field.’
‘You didn’t think to let me know.’ A statement, not a question.
Her consternation is confusing. Billy’s playing where he always plays. On the field. Out the back. She can see him from her kitchen window. You’d have thought she’d have been delighted that Billy’s found some friends to play with. That he doesn’t have to kick his ball against the wall.
Bruno says ‘We haven’t been introduced.’
‘This is Bruno. Bruno Brown. This is Linda Kirkby.’
He says ‘I’ve met your grandmother.’
‘Yes. She said.’
Bruno says ‘I bet she did.’
Linda blushes slightly.
She says ‘I hope she wasn’t rude.’
Bruno gives a look that says ‘She was, but I can handle it.’
He says ‘I was going to make some tea. Would you like some?’
I’m not sure we have a kettle. And Bruno never drinks tea.
She says. ‘No thanks, I have to go.’
‘While you’re here….’ Says Bruno in a wheedling voice. ‘I meant to add your grandmother’s details to our database. Could you write down her address?’
Linda recoils slightly. You’d think he’d propositioned her.
‘I don’t think she’d want me to give anyone her details.’
‘It’s for the mailing list. So we can send her our monthly newsletter. She was keen to be kept up to date.’
‘You can send the newsletter to me. I’ll make sure she sees it if she’s interested.’
‘Of course,’ says Bruno graciously. ‘Could you write down your address?’
She looks at him a little oddly.
‘Dee has visited my house on three occasions. You don’t need my address.’
Bruno looks crestfallen.
Finally, I get it. He’s trying to get a sample of her hand-writing.
I shoot him a look that says ‘Stop being such a child.’
There’s a commotion at the door. Billy and Sonny and Kit. Boisterous. Belligerent. Full of righteous indignation.
‘Billy says you’re going to build a road over his kickabout patch and houses on his field.’
‘Well, ye-ess.’ I say. ‘That’s pretty much the plan.’
They look at me in horror. They were expecting a denial, an explanation. Ammunition to put Billy Kirkby in his place.
Sonny is the first to find his voice. ‘Why would anybody do that?’
He is saying that a lot.
Bruno looks embarrassed. Linda Kirkby clears her throat.
‘Out of the mouths of babes.’ She says. ‘Come on Billy. Let’s go home.’
The boys look at me indignantly. As though I’ve let them down. I want to say ‘Those houses that we’re building pay my wages, pay the mortgage, buy your clothes, your food, your…’ But I know that wouldn’t be fair. Besides I have my pride. I want them to understand that my job is important. I am pursuing a heroic vocation. Not eking out a questionable living to put a roof over their heads.
I say ‘We have to build new houses. There are lots of people in this country who don’t have anywhere to live.’
‘Yes.’ says Kit. ‘But not where kids play football.’
That’s absolutely the last time I bring the boys to work.