This is the seventh part of a fiction serial, in 758 words.
John waved me over when I walked in. He took me into the corner and spoke very quietly. “I have just had Mary Coughlan on the phone. They are taking all their business away from us. That’s rental management of twenty-six properties, plus anything they buy or sell. She says she is transferring it all to Drake and Molloy, and wants me to send the files over in a taxi. I asked her what the problem was, and she said to ask you. So I’m asking, and I want the truth”.
My story was true, and I told John that, and exactly what happened. Before I could talk to Gerry Coughlan about anything, the old lady called him back. She whispered something to him, pointed at me, and he said the deal was off. That was all I knew, and I swore to John I hadn’t done a thing wrong. John sighed. “Old lady Coughlan might be in her eighties, but she’s as sharp as a tack. Her son Gerry never goes against her over anything. She pretty much rules the roost. I didn’t bother to tell her that Drake and Molloy is part of the same company as us, but that’s not the point. We will lose branch revenue, and that won’t look good”.
As I didn’t know what else to say, I shrugged and went back to my desk. Better make it look as if I was trying to sell something. As luck would have it, the next phone call was from the prospective buyer of a smart two-bed semi with a conservatory, a short walk from the station. It was a corner plot, so was unusual in that it had a double garage to the side. He had viewed it twice, and wanted me to make an offer to the seller. One of the best properties on my own list, it was for sale at three hundred and twenty thousand. The buyer wanted to offer ten grand less, so I told him I would put that to the owner and get back to him.
It took me three calls to track down the guy, who was driving on the M25 and speaking from his car. “Three-ten you say? No, that’s not enough. We have had seven viewings, and the interest is still high. Ring him back and tell him three-seventeen, and it’s off the market. Let me know what he says”. I looked down at the pad on my desk, and the numbers I had written down during both conversations. 320, 310, and the last one, 317. Even before I rang the buyer back, I knew he was going to say no.
And of course he did.
Many people might have been shaken up by all this 317 stuff, but I was beginning to find it just plain annoying. That many number coincidences were just impossible, but they were all there, and could mostly be explained. As for Ma Coughlan, I had no idea what had rattled her chain. Maybe she hadn’t liked my crumpled grey suit and striped tie.
Time to talk to someone about it, and I knew the only people who would take me seriously were Joel and Mark. On the way home from work, I rang both their mobiles, suggesting we meet at the KFC for some grub, then head into the White Horse for a few beers. Unlike any of the chain pubs in town, The White Horse was old school, and we could still find a quiet corner to sit in. They both jumped at it, as I suspected they might.
My only two friends from school, Joel and Mark had been around since we were all eleven years old. We stuck together to avoid the bullies, none of us were any good at sport, and we didn’t attract any of the cool guys, or the better-looking girls. Joel had left without taking any exams, and gone into his dad’s business as a kitchen fitter. After having a trial for Colchester in his teens, and not being picked for the squad, he nonetheless became a self-proclaimed football expert. An avid fan of Southend United, he went to every home game, and most of the away matches too.
Mark never went anywhere. He worked from home in a converted garage, as a software support person for a tech company. To be fair, he earned well, much more than me, and he could do the job in his underwear if he wanted to.
Outside the KFC, I saw them coming toward me, both grinning.