A saga of everyday life in the Big L and a wry look at contemporary culture
‘Pharaoh! What have you done?’ Quinn followed her cat’s wet pawprints on the carpet into the kitchen. She stepped into a puddle. You’ve made a mess. Then she spotted a small pool of water that came from under the sink. It had advanced halfway across the floor. Oh, my God! There’s a leak! Pharaoh ran past her out into the hallway. I’ve got to do something.
She went over to the sink and opened the drawer. Inside, the unit was soaking wet. Water was dripping down from the pipes. Oh no! It’s pouring out.
Quinn rushed out of the kitchen in search of a towel. The water. I must do something about the water. She couldn’t remember what she’d picked up about leaks. This isn’t good. I need a plumber.
She found her phone and used it to search for local plumbers. She gazed at the list of firms. She called the first one.
‘Is that Ace Plumbing?’
‘I’ve got a leak and need someone to deal with it. It’s pretty bad.’
‘Luv ta help yah, but I’m in Croydon doing a job. Where are you? I could perhaps pop round.’
‘Too far, luv. Could be there tonight—‘bout six.’
‘I need someone now; the kitchen’s flooding.’
‘Have you turned off the water?’ No. I didn’t know I could do that. ‘What should I do?’
‘Close the stopcock.’
‘I’ll do that.’
‘I could be around this evening to fix it.’ That’s no good. I need someone now.
‘I’ll consider it. I’ll call you back.’ She cut him off.
She went looking for the stopcock. That’s the pits; I’ve no idea where it is; nor what it looks like. After a while she gave up.
She phoned the next plumber on her list.
‘This is Brian Blanton. I can’t be contacted right now. Leave me a message and I’ll get right back to you.’ There was a beep. Quinn punched the cancel on her phone.
She tried the next one. It must have been an old reference because all she got was a disconnect tone. What now?. She scrolled down the list to see if she could spot anyone who would be more likely to be able to come immediately. Her eye fell on Pyle’s Plumbers. Wasn’t that the PM’s husband’s outfit? Ah! It offers a 24/7 emergency call out. In desperation, she rang the number.
‘Pyle’s Plumbers. How may I help you?’ It was a woman’s voice.
‘Oh, hello there. I’ve got a leak and I need a plumber.’
‘We have a service for that. Where are you?’ Quinn gave the woman her address. ‘Wait a moment.’ There was a short silence. ‘We can have someone with you in 25 minutes.’
‘They’ll be an emergency call out charge and parts and labour will be in addition. Plus VAT. Do you want me to give you an indication of what it will cost?’
‘I’m sure it will be fine.’ Just get here double quick, please.
‘I’ve arranged for the despatch. Mike Reynolds will be your service representative today. Your order number is CAP 28-453. Got that.’
‘Yes. Thank you.’ She terminated the call.
I must do something. Quinn found some towels and went back to try to use these to dam the flow in the kitchen. Oh no! the floor was now almost completely flooded. She dropped her towels—they were almost immediately soaking wet. This is an utter catastrophe. She had a momentary panic. What will Dancy say? His flat’s ruined.
She left the towels as a dike blocking the water from spilling into the hallway and fled to the living room. She called Dancy only to get his voicemail. Blast. You’d know where the bloody stopcock is, wouldn’t you? Answer damn you! She had a vision of herself swimming through the flooded rooms in search of the mythical stopcock. It bloody doesn’t exist, does it? She was reminded of the movie, Tsunami. That didn’t end well.
She paused in her funk-come-anger at the worsening problem. I must call in to say I’ll be late today. She dialled Carberry, her manager at Number Ten. She got his voicemail. ‘Quinn here. There’s a leak in the flat. I’ve got a plumber coming. I’ll be in later.’ She rang off. Blast! I might have put it better. I’m not managing this very well, am I?
She lurked by the front window looking out onto the street hoping to spot the Pyle’s Plumber’s van.
A motorcycle arrived, parked outside and the rider dismounted. Taking off his helmet, which he tucked under his arm, he came towards the door. There was a ding-dong as he rang the bell. What does he want?
She opened the front door. ‘Pyle’s Plumbers. Mrs Harcourt-Smithers?’
‘You called about a leak.’
‘It’s in the kitchen.’ She waved him through.
He stopped at the threshold, surveying the floor. ‘Oh-ah. Didn’t ya turn off the water?’
‘I couldn’t find the stopcock.’ You’ll bloody tell me I’m an idiot for not being able to locate it. ‘It’s not my flat.’ He nodded.
‘It’ll be in the cupboard.’ He opened the hall cupboard and pulled out various items before kneeling down and reaching in. ‘There. It’s right at the back. Hidden behind stuff.’ He got up. ‘You got a dustpan?’
‘I think there’s one under the sink.’ She’d never used it. What did he want one for, anyway?
He pulled out his mobile. Tapped it. ‘George. It’s Mike. We’ll need the pump. Place’s flooded.’ He listened a bit. ‘Yeah. OK. Looks like a loose connection. Yeah. Probably need that.’ He rung off and pocketed the phone and turned to her. ‘It’ll be about twenty minutes before George gets here.’
He stepped over the now soaking towels that judging by the dark stain on the hall carpet were doing little to stop the water. He headed for the sink. Squatting down, he inspected the pipes before retrieving the dustpan. He spent the next few minutes using it to scoop water from the floor into the sink.
The doorbell chimed. Quinn went to open it. A man stood there holding a gadget that looked like a large vacuum cleaner. Quinn was nonplussed. He’s brought a Henry. What’s that for?
‘Is Mike here?’
‘Oh yes, he’s in the kitchen.’
‘Thanks.’ The newcomer brushed past her and headed for the kitchen. She stayed by the door, not sure what to do. She could hear the two of them conversing together. This was followed by a whirring sound.
‘Miss.’ It was Mike. He gestured to her to join him in the kitchen. She came over. George was busy using the vacuum to suck up the water on the floor. From a pipe connected to the machine, a steady stream was splashing into the sink. ‘There’s a faulty joint. Looks like the screw’s shredded.’ He pointed at the pipes beneath the sink. ‘We can either tighten it and use some mastic or replace the section. I’d replace it, if I was you. Safer.’
‘Ah. OK, fine. Please do that.’
‘OK lady. Give us a mo.’ He slapped George’s back to get his attention. ‘We need the pipe and joints.’ George nodded and, passing over the vacuum, headed out the door.
He was back a few moments later with several lengths of pipe and a large toolbox, which he deposited on the kitchen table.
Mike stopped the machine. He grinned at her. ‘Be about twenty minutes.’
Quinn left them to it and made for the bedroom. She used the time to make the bed and tidy up. She called Dancy once more, only to get his voicemail again. She left a message.
There was the sound of footsteps in the hall. She heard Mike call out. ‘We’re done.’
Quinn emerged from the bedroom to nearly run into George, who was carrying out the toolbox and pieces of pipe.
Mike sauntered after him. He gestured towards the kitchen. ‘You better see what we’ve done.’ He led her into the kitchen. The flooding was gone, though the room smelled damp, as if it had been raining.
‘Nah. It’ll be fine when it dries out. Take a while mind.’ He noticed Quinn’s pained expression. ‘You can speed it up, luv. Put on a blow heater and open the window.’ He went out into the hall.
George had returned from his van. He clutched some papers in his hand. ‘Here’s the bill.’ He passed it to her. She looked at it. Good God! A hundred and eighty-five quid. Plus, VAT! How long where they here? She figured about forty minutes or so.
‘I’ve got a card reader.’ Mike produced the gadget. ‘Then it’s all done.’
‘Perhaps we can interest you in our service cover?’ He passed over a glossy pamphlet.
‘I’ll think about it.’
‘Suit yourself. You can go on the website to sign up.’ He passed her the reader. ‘Here, luv, tap your pin in.’ She did what he asked. A hundred and eighty-five quid. And VAT.
‘Thanks.’ He pulled off a receipt and handed it to her. ‘They’ll send a full breakdown in post.’ He caught Mike’s attention. ‘Gotta go. Another call’s just come in.’
‘Oh yeah.’ Mike picked up his helmet and put it on. ‘Works guaranteed. So, any trouble, call the hotline.’
‘Uh? Oh, yes. Will do.’ Two hundred and twenty-two quid. How could it have cost so much? She looked at the two men. Have I been conned? The thought made her mad. What had her father said? Know what you’re getting into. She had failed to follow his cardinal rule.
The two men went out leaving the door wide open.
Pharaoh appeared from the living room. It spotted the open door and before Quinn could grab it, dashed out into the street. She called after it. ‘Come back here.’
She charged after it. It spotted her and ran off to hide under a car. So that’s your game. Her sphinx was an indoor cat. Pharaoh, be careful. It had no experience of the outside. There’s lots of dangers.
She was distracted. With a roar, Mike’s motorbike shot off down the street. The Pyle’s Plumber van followed at a more sedate pace.
The interruption meant Quinn had momentarily lost sight of Pharaoh.
She started looking under the cars parked in the street to see if she could spot it. After the seventh one, she found it. Pharaoh was hunched down. Its big eyes stared at her. ‘Come to Mummy.’ The cat just looked at her. Blast. She reached in. Not far enough. Pharaoh backed away. Ah ha! If I get you to move back I can reach in from the other side. She lunged at her cat. It backed off towards the offside.
Quinn got up and dashed around to the other side before kneeling down. She spotted the Sphynx. It started to move. She grabbed its hind leg and pulled. She was rewarded with a scratch. It hurt like hell, but she held on. She pulled the struggling feline out from under the car and grabbed it with her other hand. ‘Pharaoh. Be good.’ It was hopeless, the cat continued to lash out and now Quinn had scratches on her other hand. Blood was seeping out from the gashes.
She pinned it to the ground before she got hold of its front and rear paws. ‘Stop it. Stop it.’ I don’t know why I’m trying to calm you down—you don’t understand, do you?
Lifting it up, she held her shaking cat to her bosom. It continued to stir alarmingly but did not scratch her again. She could see blood smears on her hands. Oh, you beast! Look what you’ve done.
‘Oh! That’s dreadful, that is. Poor thing.’
Quinn turned around to see an old lady wearing a blue raincoat, a crimson beanie and red scarf, and totting a battered M&S bag. ‘Sorry?’
‘Ways ‘em ‘ooligans have shaved that cat.’
‘Oh. It is naturally like this. It’s a Sphynx cat.’
‘Ain’t natural if you ask me. Cats ‘ave fur. Be miserable without it.’ She wandered off.
Quinn held Pharaoh tightly. Are you miserable?
* * *
Dancy gazed out from the Sky Tower at the Abi Dhabi skyline. The City of Lights shone around him. He turned as Rocco approached. He had spotted his boss in the glass’ reflection. ‘Impressive, ain’t it.’ Rocky waved at the vista.
I don’t know. ‘It’s a strange city.’
Rocco laughed. ‘Everything about this place’s strange. I expect to wake up and find myself in Manhattan at any moment.’
Dancy changed the subject. How are the clients going to take my presentation? ‘How do you think it’s going?’ You’ve done this before. Give me some reassurance I’m saying the right things.
‘Oh, I’m cool on this.’ He fingered the glass leaving a smear where he had touched it. ‘They’re a bit worried. They’ve never gone with a hedge fund before.’ He slapped Dancy’s back. ‘We’re frigging blowing their minds.’
So, you think we’ll get the money. And then I can go home and sort out the flat. From what Quinn has said, it’s a wreck.
There was a call from the door to the conference room.
Rocco turned to acknowledge it. ‘Come on boy, time to cut a deal.’ Rocco, I’m not your boy. I’m twenty-seven and grown up. With a live-in girlfriend. He had a sudden panic. For how long?
Dancy followed his boss into the meeting. The five Arabs who represented their client were sitting at the table. Rocco settled back into the chair opposite them. Dancy quickly took his seat beside his boss. He looked at the men opposite. I can’t tell whether you’re happy or not. This whole place, this set-up is weird. I don’t like it here much. Give me London, anytime. Abu Dhabi was proving no different to Dubai. Both looked incredible—as if the future had arrived. It’s not as if I’m out in the desert in a Bedouin tent, is it? They’ve got all the trappings of civilisation. So why does it feel like a nightmare? He couldn’t understand any of the signage, nor what people said. His only relief was that they used English in the hotel. And the heat. He was extremely grateful that the buildings were properly airconditioned.
‘We’d like you to go over the method you use to select investments one more time.’ Dancy noted it was one of the men who hadn’t yet spoken. His English was good. Didn’t he understand how they made their investments?
‘Sure. Why not.’ Rocco turned to Dancy. ‘You’re up for it, ain’t yah?’ I’ll try. If we come away empty handed, and you blame me for the failure, I’ll be out of SilverRock before I get home. Won’t I?
‘Of course.’ With some trepidation, Dancy got up and went over to the screen and activated his presentation. He chose the short version. They’ve heard it all before. I think they’re just testing us. He hoped he was right. Rocco hadn’t given him any clues.
‘I would like to explain why SilverRock is the fastest growing hedge fund in the world…’ He presented a range of statistics carefully chosen to emboss the fund’s performance. He clicked to the next slide. ‘We achieve high absolute returns through a sophisticated quantitative analytical framework…’ He went on into the technical details of their screening process and algorithmic model, how an investment in their fund would help diversify a portfolio and act in a counter-cyclical manner to smooth returns.
Some way through, Dancy paused briefly and glanced towards his boss. Rocco’s expression was blank. Tell me for God’s sake if I’m doing the right thing. Rocco sat as if in a dream. $%@&. He resumed his talk.
Eventually, he came to the end. He looked at the clients to see if he could read their expressions. Nothing. I’ve screwed up.
His heart racing, Dancy re-joined Rocco.
‘Well, what da yah think?’
The man who had initially spoke looked at his companions. They nodded. ‘We will have our lawyer check your contract. If it is acceptable, we will invest six hundred million. If you do as you say, we may increase our stake.’
‘Why that’s grand.’ Rocco got to his feet and went around the table. He stuck out his hand. ‘Let’s shake on that.’
The Arabs looked somewhat surprised at his abruptness, but each in turn solemnly shook Rocco’s hand. Rocco turned to Dancy. ‘You too, boy.’ Don’t call me that!
After the formalities were over, Rocco and Dancy headed down the lift and sought a taxi to get back to their hotel. It meant stepping out into the heat. Almost immediately, Dancy began to sweat.
A Nissan Altima with a taxi sign on it pulled up. They got in. Despite having the air-conditioning on, the taxi was warm inside so by the time they got back to the hotel, Dancy was quite sticky.
‘Let’s celebrate!’ Rocco led him into the hotel bar. Rocco caught the barman’s attention. ‘Champagne.’
They settled in some chairs near the window. This gave a view out over the bay. Dancy noted several boats and jet skis were out on the waters. Off to his left, a traditional dhow, its sail curved back, was making a majestic entrance into the marina.
‘Pretty cool place to holiday, eh? Pity it ain’t got no boards.’
‘I’m not sure Rocco. It’s only April and it’s pretty hot outside.’
‘Ah you Brits. If it gets above sixty-eight, you cook.’ He laughed. ‘You’re a real shoobie.’
The waiter arrived with their champagne in a bucket of ice. He filled their glasses and departed. Rocco handed one to Dancy and took the other. He raised it up. ‘To success, kiddo.’ They clinked glasses. Rocco downed his in one. Dancy sipped his before following his boss’ lead. Rocco quickly refilled their glasses.
Dancy looked around. Two blond young women had arrived unseen. They were hovering beside a nearby potted plant. They seemed nervous.
‘Hello gals.’ Rocco jumped to his feet. ‘Do I know you?’ One of the girls giggled.
The slightly taller of the two stepped forward. ‘I’m Natalya.’ She turned to her companion. ‘And this is Raisa.’
‘Come join us.’ Rocco waved at two nearby seats. He even went on to re-arrange the seating into a square, so they could converse. The women sat down. Rocco gestured to a nearby waiter who was eyeing them disapprovingly. ‘Another bottle of champagne—and two glasses.’ The waiter waltzed off towards the bar. ‘So, ladies, what brings you to Abu Dhabi?’
‘We’re here to enjoy the sun. It’s warm, not like Russia.’
‘You don’t say.’ Rocco turned to Dancy. ‘See, these gals like the idea of going down the shore. And they like the heat.’ Don’t rub it in Rocco. Can’t you see these are hookers? Or don’t you care?
The waiter returned. He placed the glasses in front of the women and then filled their glasses.
After he had left, Rocco raised his glass to offer a toast. He grinned at the women. ‘What you do you say in your country when we have a drink together?’
‘Well, sah lubyoy.’ Rocco downed his glass. The women sipped theirs, as did Dancy. What’s he doing? Open your eyes, man. They’re after your money.
‘So are you long here in Abu Dhabi?’ Now seeing Natalya in profile, Dancy suddenly realised she bore a passing resemblance to Quinn. How I miss her. I can’t wait to get back to London.
‘Well, it’s our last night here. We’re celebrating,’ Rocco gently patted Raisa’s hand, ‘with you two beautiful women.’
‘We like it too.’
I must make Rocco realise who he’s talking to. ‘So, boss, you’ll be heading home to your family in Zug.’
Rocco shot him a glance. ‘Possibly. But there’s things to do in London. Details.’
‘You live in London?’
‘I don’t.’ Rocco pointed at Dancy. ‘He does.’
Raisa smiled at Dancy in an inviting way. ‘I’ve never been to London.’ I’m not taking you, that’s for sure.
Rocco bounced around on his chair enthusiastically. ‘You’ll love it. You’d have a great time. There’s so much going on.’ He topped up their glasses, draining the bottle. He took a big swig from his own. ‘Waiter.’ The man came over. Rocco waved the empty bottle in the air. ‘Another bottle.’ The barman went away to collect a bottle. Rocco, you’re drinking a lot. I’ve never seen you behave this way before.
‘I go powder room.’ Raisa got to her feet and headed for the ladies.
Natalya took a sip from her glass. She gestured furtively at her departed companion. ‘You like, Raisa.’
Rocco slapped the armrest of his chair. ‘You gotta be kidding me. She’s a million-dollar doll.’
‘She said she liked you too.’
‘Well, ain’t that swell. Two strangers in town who happen to like each other. What do you think Dancy?’ I think you’re drunk. He got to his feet. ‘’Scuse me a minute. Bathroom.’ He staggered off.
‘Dancy?’ He looked at Natalya. She fluttered her eyes at him.
‘Do you have something in your eye?’
‘No, no my eyes good.’
‘Oh, you seemed to have difficulty seeing.’
‘No, I see you.’
‘I’m glad it’s nothing.’ I must have been mistaken.
‘So, you go home tomorrow?’
‘Indeed. We fly straight to London. Our business here is done.’ And what a marathon it’s been. Without Rocco, I don’t think I’d have survived. He looked around to see where his boss was. Where’d you go?
‘You lonely?’ Well, yes. This place isn’t home.
‘It’s not too bad. Rocco and I are out here together. And business takes up most of our time. So, there’s no chance to be lonely.’
‘No woman?’ She shifted suggestively.
‘I’ve a girlfriend back home.’ And one I was thinking of asking to move out. How stupid is that? I need to get back to Quinn. He looked at the Russian. In no way do you compare to her. He got up. ‘I must go.’
‘I was hoping we be friends.’
‘I’m leaving tomorrow, so we don’t have time to get acquainted.’ He headed for the lobby and the lifts. He daren’t look behind him.
All characters appearing in this work are fictitious.
Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.