Friday, 18 March 2011

The Harsh Realities Of Life, And A Complete Inability To Do Anything Useful About Them In The Absence Of Criminal Connections.

Max sounds awful when he wakes up this morning, and he takes so long getting up that I'm ready to leave before he's even dressed.

"Aren't you going in to work today?" I say.

"Don't know if I can be bloody bothered," he says. "Seeing as my skills are irrelevant. They'd probably sell more if I wasn't there, and I doubt the customers would even notice."

"Oh, I should think Mrs Bloom would," I say - before I remember that I'm not actually sure if she even exists, or whether she's just Max's cover story for the affair he may or may not be having with Annoying Ellen. Or with the homicidal faun. Life can be so confusing sometimes.

I'm not the only one struggling with the harsh realities of life here in Northwick, though - which I know are as nothing compared to the situation in Japan, but I'm trying to focus on stuff that I can actually do something about. Given that the only alternative seems to be 24-hour news-induced sleep deprivation, an overwhelming sense of powerlessness and a lower than usual tolerance for fuckwittage.

Not that I'm implying that the latter's true of poor old Mr Edmonds' behaviour - though he certainly thinks he's been an idiot, and isn't at all his usual self when he arrives for his surgery appointment. His eyes are reddened and he looks much frailer than the last time we saw him, despite the fact that he has worn a suit for the occasion. It's a bit shiny at the elbows and knees, and hangs loose upon his frame.

"I can't believe it," he says, as soon as he enters the room. "I just can't believe it."

"Please sit down," I say, helping him in to a chair. "And then you can tell us what the problem is."

"I just hope Mr Sinclair can help me," he says. "Seeing as nobody else will. They just say there's no fool like an old fool - and they might be right, an' all."

Then he makes a sound that is halfway between a hiccup and a sob, which he tries to mask by burying his face in a large white handkerchief.

"Take your time," says The Boss, while looking surreptitiously at his watch.

He hates it when constituents cry. So do I, but it's a hazard of the job, isn't it? Especially when some people view their MP as a last resort, unlike the usual bloody suspects who'd think nothing of calling us for advice on how to brush their teeth. Or something even less savoury.

I glare at Andrew, who pulls his sleeve back down and resigns himself to waiting it out until, eventually, Mr E blows his nose and marshals his thoughts.

"The Police don't believe me," he says. "Even though they must know that Darren's a wrong 'un, seeing as everybody did. Apart from me, apparently. My life savings - and they're all gone."

He goes on to explain that he still hasn't made any real friends on the estate to which he moved when his wife died a few years ago.

"You know what people are like these days," he says. "They sometimes say hello when they pass by my house, but they're all busy with their own lives, aren't they? And I'm a lot older than most of them."

This loneliness turns out to have played right into the hands of the loathsome Darren. He owns a small garage at the edge of the estate, and was one of the few people to do more than pass the time of day with Mr E - who was a mechanic in his youth, and says that he still loves cars and the smell of oil.

"We'd just chat about motors, and sometimes he'd say, 'Want a cuppa, Grandpa?' and -"

Mr Edmonds seems to lose his thread for a minute, and then he squares his shoulders and looks straight at me.

"It sounds stupid, now," he says. "But it was nice, you know, to have a friend. Or that's what I thought he was."

It turns out that Darren just happened to discover that Mr Edmonds had withdrawn all his money from the bank after the run on Northern Rock. And then - like the considerate friend he was - he decided to "advise" Mr E of the risks, though scared the shit out of him might be a better description.

"I couldn't sleep a wink after he warned me what would happen if word got around and someone broke in while I was in bed." says Mr E.

He looks so apologetic, that it's as if he's expecting us to tell him off. I'm certainly not going to, but I glance over at Andrew, just to make sure that he isn't about to give a crime prevention lecture. (He hasn't been the same since he started attending those Neighbourhood Policing events.)

Luckily, and although he's fidgeting in his seat, for once he senses when not to hold forth, and gestures for me to speak instead.

"So what did this Darren suggest you do about it?" I say, though I've got a horrible feeling I already know.

"He said he had a safe in the garage, and that my money would be much more secure in there. 'I'm here every day, or at the end of the phone,' he said. 'So you can get at it whenever you want to. I probably work longer hours than the banks!'"

Our Darren's obviously not stupid, is he? Even I'd have been tempted by that sales pitch - especially if I thought I could get a cup of tea and a friendly chat whenever I had to withdraw some cash - instead of a snotty text from the bank like the one that arrived this morning. God knows how Max and I are going to manage to clear the accidental overdraft now. We'll probably be as broke as Mr E by the end of the month, once they add those bloody awful daily charges.

But this isn't time to be thinking about me. I'm supposed to be helping someone else.

"So what happened then?" I say. "Did you give Darren the money to look after for you?"

"Yes," says Mr E. "And it was all fine, until last week when I wanted to withdraw some to pay the last instalment of my Council Tax."

Now he's crying again, but he's determined not to stop talking this time - not until he's told us everything.

"So I walked round to the garage, and asked Darren if I could get some of my money out of the safe," he says. "And he just looked at me like he didn't know me from Adam and said, "Sorry, mate - do I know you? And what money are you talking about?'"

Honestly, aren't some people shits? The Boss and I are both so livid about the whole thing that, after Mr Edmonds leaves - having been promised that I'll speak to the Police as soon as today's surgery has ended - we both take a couple of large swigs from a bottle of Igor's vodka that has mysteriously found its way into Andrew's briefcase. And then we take a couple more.

"Christ," I say. "What kind of society are we turning into?"

"I don't know," says Andrew. "But the Japanese put us to shame, don't they? There they are - short of food, water, and with death and destruction on every side - and yet they wait in line, treat each other with courtesy and barely complain. And what have we got? The Darrens of this bloody world, taking advantage of a lonely old man."

"Yes," I say. "Who really only wanted a friend."

I might be able to see that clearly but, when I start making enquiries on Mr Edmond's behalf, it turns out that it's not just Japan that I'm powerless to help. He didn't get a receipt from Darren, and so there's no proof that a crime was even committed, and nothing that the Police can do. Not while Darren continues to claim that Mr E is senile, and that there never was any agreement to "look after" his money.

"Shame none of us know a good forger," says The Boss. "Then we could create a receipt. Set a thief to catch a thief."

Which sounds much worse in the light of the expenses scandal than it might otherwise have done.

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