Simon checked his Rolex and made his final sales call. It was the night before Halloween and the ghastly trick or treat kids would be out in hoardes, but they would get nowhere with him – after all, he was the trickster king. Life had taught Simon that hard lesson, growing up on mean streets.
After several rings, a man answered. He sounded surprised. “Yes?”
“Mr Maybury? My name’s Simon Cushing. I believe you called into our showroom – BenNevis Windows? My company’s looking for a demonstration home in the area for our replacement windows, and we’re very careful about who we choose as candidates.”
Simon sensed the call about to end and added in his most confidential tone, “I shouldn’t tell you this, Mr Maybury, but most of our demonstration homes increase in value by seventy-five thousand at least and they sell like hot cakes. That’s off the record, of course.”
He sensed a prick of interest. “And we just happen to have a final set of windows and doors available. We’ve got to sell them by the end of the quarter and so I can give you an amazing deal. I’m virtually giving them away.”
A pause. Simon waited to see if the bait had been taken. It had.
“Seventy-five thousand, you say. I was only looking for a door.”
“Pity. A door on its own won’t get you a return. It’s throwing money away.”
Simon could hear drumming fingers as his prey deliberated. “Ok, when can you come around?”
Simon counted to ten. “We really need a decision by Friday as it’s approaching the end of month and I have others who are interested…” He needed to get in before Maybury got cold feet. “What about tonight?”
The reply came quickly. “Right, let’s get on with it. I’ll see you at eight.”
Simon allowed himself a premature air-punch. He’d done the job long enough to smell a pushover and this one reeked. He usually resorted to, ‘I’m including a free holiday in Majorca, but the special deal ends tonight.’ And if they were old and frail and probably ought to book a funeral instead, then it was time to pile on the pressure. They always gave in eventually. It was all about the art of deception. Trick or treat.
Simon loaded his samples of double-glazing (‘guaranteed for twenty years’) and references from a retired football manager with obvious high blood pressure (‘we couldn’t even hear a jumbo jet, they go right over our house’) into his Mercedes estate car. Before he set off, Simon checked his immaculately groomed, honed features in the rearview mirror and smiled, liking what he saw. As he drove to the client, he mused how gullible people were. Of course, once he was in the house, he would always get a sale – even if it meant talking until midnight. Once they started to sweat, they were going to buy.
When Simon arrived at the house it was already dark, but he could still see the state of the window frames – the awful green paint had mostly peeled away to reveal rotting wood, and the front door was in a similar condition. An ancient Honda Jazz sat in the drive. A large, grinning pumpkin lantern flickered wickedly by the door and unaccountably gave him the creeps for a moment. He rubbed his hands together and knocked using the rusting, cobwebby wrought iron ring above the letter box. The man who opened the door appeared considerably younger than he sounded, and Simon was pleased. Younger buyers tended to be less shocked by big loans.
The man extended a brown hand and Simon instantly noticed the Rolex on his wrist. Fake, obviously. “Hi, I’m John Maybury. Do come in. I’m afraid it’s a bit of a mess.”
The living room was filled with packing cases. The only items left out were an old music centre comprising several separate clunky units with big knobs on the front and joined by a tangle of wires, a dusty brown television and a computer from out of the ark.
“Please, sit down.” He waved at an ancient, faded sofa and Simon sat.
In front of him was a stained coffee table on which stood a glaringly bright chintzy lamp and a dirty old ashtray containing cigar stubs. Simon tried to ignore the pervasive smell of mould from the sofa, brushing dust from his Armani suit. Maybury sat opposite on a plain wooden chair, relaxed in his white tee-shirt, jeans and trainers. He must have noticed Simon’s expression as he stared at the ancient hi-fi, because he said, “All inherited from my parents along with the house, I’m afraid. I couldn’t bear to get rid of them. I expect you could give me some advice on the latest models, though. I keep meaning to replace them but just haven’t got round to it.”
Simon nodded earnestly. Always find common ground with the punter, no matter how painful. “I’m afraid I like to have the best – Bang and Olufsen, Sony. You’ll be able to when you sell this house with new double glazing. It looks like you’re planning to leave quite soon.” He squinted at Maybury, but the lamp light hurt his eyes.
“That’s right, I’ve got a place in Spain. Batchelor, are you, Simon? Living alone? Modern pad, all the trimmings?”
Simon was impressed. “Yes, as a matter of fact. I guess we share quite a few interests – if you know what I mean.” He pulled a face and Maybury laughed roguishly. Simon checked his watch.
Maybury said, with an envious glance, “I suppose that’s a real Rolex?”
“It’s a genuine Cosmograph Daytona. Retails at twenty-three grand, but I got this in Gibraltar, so a bit less.”
Maybury appeared wistful. “I had a real one, a vintage Submariner. But I got mugged and decided it was too risky to wear a genuine one to work. It’s okay for parties and so on, I suppose.”
Simon checked his watch again, admiring the coppery colour and the way it caught the light. “Now, I’m sure you would rather be doing something else at this hour, so shall we…?”
Maybury nodded. “Sure. Tell me about this deal.” He leaned forward, hands on knees. Simon would not have been too surprised to see his tongue dangle like a thirsty dog.
“I’m sure that you know how much it costs to make windows and doors to measure. It can cost up to fifty thousand to install in a house this size.” He looked around appreciatively and tapped random numbers into his calculator with a confident air. “If your house is chosen as a demonstration home, we might be able to reduce the bill to twenty thousand for the windows, and say, thirty grand for the lot. That’s a huge discount.”
What he didn’t add was that he would take five thousand pounds in commission. Not bad for a night’s work. Trick or treat.
Maybury didn’t seem shocked. “Sounds reasonable if it adds fifty grand on the house. What do I get for that amount?”
Simon managed to keep his voice level. “Everything – doors and windows replaced, rubbish removed. We do a photo shoot before and after and video the job. Our fitters are amazing – it only takes two days usually. Let me show you the samples I brought. They show how much better our products are than anything else out there.”
This was where they normally began to sweat, but Maybury held up his hands submissively. “Hey, I’m sure the stuff’s okay. I know you’re being straight, I’m in the housing business myself. It does sound like a good deal.”
Simon peered at him. It all seemed too easy. “Why don’t I leave the samples with you? I can pick them up any time.”
Maybury showed his approval. “I’m impressed with your honesty. I think I’d like to go to the next stage. Let’s talk numbers.”
Simon licked his lips. “The first job’s for me to measure up. That takes about an hour – then I go back to the office and work out the costs. Because I like you, I’ll negotiate an even better rate with my manager. Then I’ll come back here with the paperwork. We’re a bit traditional at BenNevis.”
They shook hands like old friends, and Maybury waved to Simon as he turned his Mercedes around in the drive. As he travelled home, Simon was already dreaming of what to spend the money on. He had liked the idea of a place in Spain when he had the dosh, but he wouldn’t take his latest girlfriend with him. Why take coals to Newcastle? He had heard all about the kind of girls you could meet on holiday on the Costa Del Sol. There was even a chance – just an outside chance – that Maybury would be stupid enough to be talked into a conservatory. Of course, he would need blinds as well. Not stupid, though. Discerning was the word.
Still chuckling at his wit, Simon turned into his drive, and minutes later was listening to his Bang and Olufsen music centre with a chilled glass of Sauvignon in his hand. On reflection, he took off the Rolex and placed it lovingly in the display case on the slate ledge above the brushed steel fireplace. The gas flames flickered coldly.
The next day he was back at the old house. He put his new iPhone and keys on the hall table next to Maybury’s old Nokia and hung his Hugo Boss overcoat next to the parka. Maybury led him quickly through the dingy hallway into the equally dark living room, the curtains half-closed against the brilliant November sunlight. “I’ll leave you to it. You know, Simon, I think we could be mates when this is over. You should come out to Spain.”
Simon laughed, enjoying the rich tones of his own voice. He started measuring up, adding a percentage just in case, when Maybury called to him from the hall, “I’m just nipping out to the library. Help yourself to coffee. I’ve left a spare key for you on the table so you can come and go. Back in a couple of hours, okay?”
He was surprised at how many windows the old house had, but he already knew it would be a big sale. He didn’t think that Maybury was too bothered about the amount, the man was obviously well off. Simon wondered what he did in the housing market – estate agent, was the most likely. Daylight bloody robbery, those people. Still, he had fleeced quite a few punters himself. When he’d finished measuring the doors and windows, he locked up carefully. Maybury’s car was back in the drive but he wasn’t around. Simon drove to his office to prepare the offer.
He drove back to the house at 3 p.m. The offer was eye-wateringly expensive including his commission, but he was sure that Maybury would go for it. He rang the doorbell, hardly able to contain his excitement. No one answered even though two cars were parked on the road, but Maybury’s Honda was not there. Simon took the spare key from his pocket and let himself in and was surprised to see two policemen and a very angry elderly gentleman sitting in a row on the sofa. The rest of the room was now completely empty.
“Where’s Mr Maybury?” Simon demanded.
The elderly man stood up. “I’m Maybury. Who the deuce are you, sir?”
Simon was almost lost for words. “There was another man here. He said he was you. I mean, Maybury. He was going to live in Spain and he wanted to sell this house and so I came round to discuss putting in double glazing…” he tailed off, weakly.
The older policeman spoke. “I see, sir. This Mr Maybury has just come back from a holiday in Spain to find that his house has been burgled, and all his belongings have been nicked. By coincidence, you then enter his house using a key.”
Simon nodded before shaking his head. “No, that’s not right. Maybury told me he’s selling up-”
The detective frowned. “Selling up, so he decides to replace all the windows. So what exactly did he look like, your Maybury?”
Simon crawled through his memories. “Well, he was…tall, I think. He had reddish hair. Youngish. I couldn’t see his face clearly because of the dark. Wait a minute- he was wearing a Rolex. Only it was fake.”
“So a tall, dark-haired man with a fake Rolex. That narrows it down. I think that we should pop along to your home to discuss this further, Mr Cushing. Shall we?”
Simon was furious at the man’s obtuseness. “I’ve got nothing to hide. You can bring your friend with you.”
Much to his annoyance, Simon was driven in the back of the police car like a criminal, sitting next to the second Maybury who fumed quietly. They parked outside his restored Victorian semi with new windows. The older detective gazed at it. “Doing well, are we sir? Must take a lot of commission to afford this lot.”
Simon led them up the drive and unlocked the door. A large pumpkin lantern squatted on the step and it seemed to be laughing at him.
The old man pushed past and marched into Simon’s living room. “Look!” he shouted, pointing. “He’s even got my things here. Thieving bastard.”
Simon followed into the room and stared, sweat seeping from his hairline. In place of his own impeccable, brushed aluminium equipment sat the ancient and dusty music centre, stone-age computer and television he had last seen in Maybury’s house. The slate ledge above the fire was not empty, though. The fake Rolex had been carefully arranged on it.
“It’s obvious what happened,” he yelled at the police. “He’s stolen my things too.”
“You’re the only one with a key to both properties,” the older policeman pointed out.
It was the art of deception perfectly executed. Simon was laughing at the irony when he heard the sound of little feet crunching up his gravel path. Soon after, the doorbell rang. The younger policeman went with him as he answered the door. Three children stood in the darkness, dressed as a skeleton, a pirate and a ghost. They looked up at him expectantly, holding out little hands. “Trick or treat,” they chanted in unison.