by Marco Smith ©2016
Saturday 15th August, 5:40am
Apt. 1408, Hillcrest Tower
Joe Stevens was already awake and out on his balcony with a large mug of freshly brewed black coffee. This was his favourite time of day, just before the sun peeked over the horizon. The city below was beginning to stir, the early commuter sounds wafting up to the 14th floor. An occasional siren wailing in the distance prompting an internal analysis of which emergency service was rushing through the dawn light. The night had been hot and humid so Joe slept practically naked, atop the covers. Sitting there now in only his boxers
contemplating the day ahead, the slight morning breeze was refreshing, invigorating.
On the already made bed, Joe had laid out his clothes for the day in an almost military fashion. Black socks, white briefs and a smart white shirt fresh from the dry cleaner were all neatly arranged next to his coiled Italian leather belt. His dark grey suit hung on the door of the wardrobe. His black Hush Puppies were polished to a mirror shine and waiting by the door. He hadn’t chosen a tie yet, that was something Joe always left until after he showered and dressed. Not that it mattered, the decision was always blue. Blue was the colour of trust, peace and dependability.
Joe finished his coffee with a satisfying last gulp and walked back into the bedroom. On the desk in the corner was a list of streets with house numbers that Joe had prepared the night before. The list was printed out onto several sheets of paper and stapled together in the top left corner. Utmost on the list was a place called Browbeat Crescent, Joe’s first stop of the day.
‘Right, time to get ready’, Joe said to himself and with one last check that he had everything he needed for the day he headed off to the shower.
No. 5, Browbeat Crescent
Steam billowed out onto the landing when Roy Shields opened his bathroom door. As usual Roy had forgotten to turn on the extraction, again.
’Is it ready yet?!’ he shouted down to his wife in the kitchen.
He continued to towel himself dry whilst waiting for an answer that didn’t come.
‘Don’t ignore me woman! Is it ready?!’ he bellowed, this time leaning over the stairwell, the bannister groaning under his weight.
‘Not quite yet dear’, came the timid reply from Sandra.
She was busy making a full English breakfast for Roy. He was more amenable after eating a cooked breakfast and she would do whatever it took to make her day pass without incident.
‘Ten more minutes dear’, she added.
‘About bloody time!’ exclaimed Roy and stomped off to the bedroom leaving a trail of wet footprints which ebbed as the carpet sucked away the water with each step.
Ten minutes later Roy was impatiently awaiting his breakfast. He was sitting at the occasional table they had in the living room. Roy liked that spot because there was a full view of the whole Crescent. All the comings and goings were like a live soap opera to him.
‘Sandra, are you trying to starve me to death?’, he said with an fractious tone just moments before Sandra arrived.
She was carrying a well stacked plate and placed it in front of him.
‘Here you go dear, do you want your coffee now or later?’ she cautiously queried.
‘Yes, but don’t burn the coffee like last time and make sure you put three sugars in it too!’.
Sandra shuffled away into the kitchen closely followed by,
‘For Christ’s sake! You’ve burst one of my eggs…again! I swear I should just get a trained monkey in that kitchen’.
Sandra flinched, regretting her decision to put that broken egg on the plate.
‘I’m sorry dear, shall I make a fresh one?’ she offered apologetically.
‘No, it’s fine. I’m hungry now!‘ came his grumpy reply, ‘Just do it right next time!’
‘I will dear, I will’, she said submissively.
Roy started to go to town on the mammoth meal, impelling the food down his throat as fast he could manage. Sandra thought he would choke. Actually, Sandra hoped he would.
Roy choked, coughed and spluttered. Partially masticated bacon and egg flew through the air and splatted on the Living room window.
‘Holy shit! Can you believe it, they are here again!?’ he croaked and coughed to clear the remaining lodged food from his windpipe. He slurped down a swig of his coffee and continued with his venomous rant.
‘Look Sandra, they’re like a pack of scavenging wolves in sheep’s clothing, bloody do-gooders! Who do they think they are? Traipsing round here all holier than thou with those smug grins all over their bloody faces. I reckon it’s all about the money, I mean look at those fancy clothes, someone must be paying for it, and another thing…’
Sandra wasn’t really listening, she stopped paying attention to his rants a long time ago. It was always the same things, she had heard it all before. Over the years she had developed a kind of mental filter that kicked in when he set off on one. Outwardly you wouldn’t know, she looked as attentive as always.
‘…that’s what I think anyway. They’re as welcome as a fart in a spacesuit! Bloody Jehovah’s wetness!’ Roy said and chuckled to himself.
While his mood seemed to be more jovial, Sandra dared to ask a question.
‘Are you going to tell them Roy?’
He turned and glared at Sandra like she had just asked if he would like to get in a cage with a lion and poke it with a pool cue.
‘Have you gone soft in the head? I’m not wasting my time talking to those idiots. The only way to deal with these people is to pretend we aren’t home. Look, here they come. Stay out of sight woman, and ignore that doorbell!’
Roy ducked down in his chair so he was hidden from the view of the window.
After the morning meet, Joe had paired up with Rosalind Green so they could tackle Browbeat Crescent together. It was made up of ten houses which were actually arranged in a crescent shape with a communal garden area opposite. The numbering system broke with convention because of the layout, instead using sequential numbers instead of odds and evens. The first four houses had been uneventful, the occupiers all answering their doors but politely declaring a lack of interest in what they had to say.
‘Fair enough’, Joe thought. ‘On to the next’.
Each of the four houses now had a tick in the box next to the corresponding number under the column entitled ”No Interest”. Next up was number five.
Rosalind opened the gate and they both stepped through to approach the front door of the house. An ornate ceramic tile with the number 5 emblazoned on it in blue was bolted to the wall above the doorbell. Rosalind pressed and held the push button for a moment before releasing it.
They could hear the internal bell sound Ding…….Dong. There was always a wait obviously, unless you happened to catch someone on their way out, in which case they almost always made an excuse and hurried off towards their car or sped away on foot. However, the wait time always varied from house to house. There was no answer at number five. Perhaps the occupants just hadn’t heard the bell. Rosalind paused then tried the bell again after what seemed like a reasonable timeframe.
Ding…….Dong came the sound through the double glazed window of the door. They waited. Again the chime of the bell went unanswered. They looked at each other, shrugged and turned to leave.
Joe raised his checklist, found the row for No.5 Browbeat Crescent and placed a tick in the box under the column entitled “Call Again” and closed the gate behind them.