This is the sixth part of a fiction serial, in 745 words.
Until Penny got back with the car, I went through the motions of ringing a few prospects, and chasing up the outstanding offers on some terraced houses in Pitsea. With the market doing well, sellers were geting edgy about accepting low offers, and playing the dicey game of holding out for the full asking price. There was no point talking to anyone at work about the weird 317 business. They might think I was losing it.
In between calls, I jotted down almost every combination of the numbers, realising I had forgotten to reverse them. So I ended up trying to think if 713 had any relevance, then I tried 731. But for the life of me, my mind was blank on all of it.
Penny dropped the keys on my desk. “The tank’s half full, so you should be okay”. She never had a lot to say to me, and made it very clear she didn’t think much of me. When I started there, she had only been there a few weeks herself, but that didn’t stop her acting like she was somehow in charge of me. Her husband was a copper in London, a detective of some kind. She liked to boast about all the serious cases he was involved with. She was his second time round, so considerably younger.
Coughlan wasn’t there when I parked the Mini outside the dismal-looking lot. I got out of the car and made my site appraisal in ten seconds flat. It would need a lot of work on the ground before anyone would use it, and once you allowed space for a portakabin or office shed of some kind, you would be lucky to squeeze ten cars onto the front. Then there was water, sewage, and power. It would cost a fair bit to have all those reconnected.
The big four by four arrived, and he put two wheels up on the kerb as he parked it. I looked at the shiny car, less than six months old, by the registration number. Not much change out of sixty grand for that top of the range model, and I doubt he even had insurance. How come nobody ever asked where some Pikey got all the money to pay for that?
His face was red as usual, high blood pressure probably. The beer-belly strained his shirt buttons, and hung down over his belt almost covering the fly on his trousers. As he walked forward with his hand extended, someone got out of the passenger side of his car. A woman. He had seen me a few times previously, but never asked my name. After the briefest of handshakes, he got straight to business. “Well, what do you reckon? How much are we looking at? Straight sale, or better a monthly rental”.
Before I could answer, the woman walked forward from the car. She was wearing a black coat over a black dress that reached down to her ankles. Her long hair was also jet black, and certainly dyed. She seemed to be about a hundred years old, but when she spoke, her voice boomed. “GERRY! STOP! COME BACK!” Coughlan jumped at the sound, and turned quickly, walking back to the woman. He bent down to listen as she whispered in his ear. Raising an arm, she pointed a bony finger in my direction, then moved it slowly to my left, then my right. He bent down again to hear her next whisper, then nodded his head.
Without walking back, he called to me from the side of his car. “Don’t bother. The deal’s off, we will use someone else”. With that they both got back in the car, and he drove off at speed, as if being chased by the police. Part of me was glad to see the back of him, but I knew John would be pissed off that I hadn’t secured the sale.
Back behind the agency, I parked the car, and walked down the alley. Then I popped into Sammi’s and bought a packet of cigarettes, a diet coke, and a Twix. That would be my lunch. I handed over two notes, a tenner and a fiver. As was his habit, Sammi counted the change into my hand, as I watched his turban bob around.
“Two pounds, one pound, Ten, fifteen, seventeen”. I looked at the coins in my hand. A two-pound coin, a one pound coin, ten pence piece, five pence piece and a brown two pence.