Trick or treat – a tale about the art of deception

Simon checked his Rolex and made his final call of the evening. It was Halloween, and children were already playing trick-or-treat along the street as he rang the number again. He smiled to himself – the kids would get nowhere with him – after all, he was the trickster, wasn’t he? After several rings, someone answered.

“Mr Maybury? My name’s Simon Cushing.”

“Oh yes?”

“I believe you called into our show room? K2 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 detected the receiver going down and added hurriedly 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 coming down the line and used the spike. “And we just happen to have a final set of windows and doors available. We have to sell them by the end of the quarter, 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? Hot cakes? I live abroad, in Spain, and I’m thinking about selling this place. But I was only looking for a door, not a deal.”

“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 the end of the month, but I’ve got a horrible week ahead. Booked solid. There are others…”  He knew he had to clinch the deal before Maybury could reflect and regret.  “What about tonight?”

The reply came quickly. “Right, let’s get on with it. I’ll see you at eight o’clock. and no trick or treat, okay?”

And that was that.

Simon left the office feeling exultant and allowed himself a premature air-punch. He had done the job long enough to smell a pushover, and this one reeked. His customers usually put up much more of a struggle so that he had to say things like, ‘I spoke to your wife / husband last week and they said I should speak to you’, or with genuine reluctance, ‘I’m including a free holiday in Majorca, but the special deal ends tonight’. And if they were old and frail and probably didn’t need new windows, then it was time to pile on the pressure. They always gave in, eventually. It was all about the art of deception, in the end. Like the man said, trick or treat.

Deep in self-congratulation, 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 and set off. 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 pumpkin lantern flickered wickedly by the door. He rubbed his hands together and knocked using the rusting, cobwebby wrought iron ring that hung above the letter box. The man who opened the door appeared considerably younger than he sounded, drying his face with a towel. Simon was pleased. Younger buyers tended to be less shocked by big loans.

“Hi, I’m John Maybury. Do come in. I’m afraid it’s a bit of a mess.” The man extended a brown hand and Simon noticed the Rolex on his wrist. Fake, probably.

Maybury led him into the living room, which was filled with packing cases. The only items not packed were an old music centre comprising several separate clunky units with big knobs on the front, 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 ash-tray containing cigar stubs.

Maybury sat opposite on a plain wooden chair. He must have noticed Simon’s expression as he stared at the old hi-fi, because he said, “I suppose you could give me some advice on the latest models. 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 hurt his eyes.

“As I said, I need to sell this place and I’m shipping the stuff to my place in Spain. Batchelor, are you? 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 Gibralta, so a bit less.”

“I had a real one, a vintage Submariner. But I got mugged for it, and decided it was too risky to wear a genuine one to work. It’s okay for parties and so on. I mean, I could be anyone, couldn’t I?”

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 the demonstration home and this deal.” He leaned forward, hands on knees. Simon would not have been too surprised to see his tongue to hang out like a thirsty dog.

Simon replied in his most earnest voice. “I’m sure that you know how much it costs to make windows and doors to measure. It can cost up to fifty thousand quid 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 £5000 in commission. Not bad for a night’s work. Trick or treat.

Maybury did not 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 with me. 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 ok. 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, which had suddenly gone dry. “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 paper work. We’re a bit traditional at K2.”

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 and he had the dosh but he would not take his latest girlfriend with him. But 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, then he would need sun blinds for the conservatory as well.  No, not stupid. Discerning, that was the word. He laughed out loud – trick or treat.

Glancing in the mirror a little while later, he noticed an old Honda Jazz following. Surprising how many were around. Still chuckling at his wit, he turned into the entrance to his own drive, and minutes later was listening to his Bang and Olufsen music centre, a chilled glass of white in his hand. On reflection, he took of the Rolex and placed it lovingly in the display case, arranging it on the slate ledge above the brushed steel fireplace. The gas flames flickered coldly.

The next day he was back at the old house. Maybury led him quickly through the dingy hallway into the equally dark living room, the curtains still closed against the brilliant sunlight. He waved Simon to a chair and left the room, shouting over his shoulder, “You know, I think we could be mates when this is over. You must come out to Spain.”

Simon laughed, enjoying the rich tones of his own voice. He couldn’t believe the way it was going.  He was about to start measuring up when Maybury called to him again. “I’m just nipping out for a bit. Help yourself to coffee. I’ve left a spare key for you on the table by the door. Back in a couple of hours, okay?”

“Okay,” he replied as the door slammed.

Simon was surprised at how many windows the old house had, but he already knew it would be a big sale. He did not think that Maybury was too bothered about the amount, the man was obviously very 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 had finished measuring the doors and windows, he locked up carefully and put the key in his pocket before driving to his office to prepare the offer.

By three o’clock he had finished, and drove back to the house. It 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 outside. 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 don’t know who you are, sir, or how you have a key to my house,” he snapped, “I’m Maybury. Who the deuce are you, sir?”

Simon was confused. “There was another man here”, he stuttered. “He said that 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 of the two policemen spoke. “I see, sir. Sounds like double trouble. This Mr Maybury has just come back from his 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, then shook 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, and an image of the man with a towel on his face popped into his head. “Well, he was…tall, I think. He had dark hair. I couldn’t see his face clearly because of the light. And the dark.  Wait a minute- he was wearing a Rolex. Only he said it was fake.”

The detective sighed. “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, he was driven in the back of the police car like a criminal, sitting next to the second Maybury who fumed quietly. The car parked outside his house. The older detective gazed at it. “do well, do we sir? Must take a lot of commission to afford this lot.”

Simon led them up the drive and unlocked the door. A pumpkin lantern squatted beside it, but Simon barely noticed.

The old man pushed past him and marched into the living room. “Look!” he shouted, pointing. “He’s even got my things here. Thieving bastard.”

Simon followed him 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, computer and television he had last seen in Maybury’s house. The slate ledge above the fire was empty. It was the art of deception perfectly executed, and he began to laugh at the irony. Trick or treat for sure.

A cassette was playing in the music centre and the older policeman tilted his head to look at the case. “Well well well, the late Stevie Ray Vaughn singing Double Trouble. One of my favourites.”

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