Estate Agents… *shudder*.
We’re sure they’re lovely people deep down, when they’re not constantly calling and showing you beautiful houses out of your budget. Isn’t that bad enough? Well think again. Remember when they first showed you round your house, opening the door with their key. Well what if they still have it? What if they have all the keys!
This is the premise of Phil Hogan’s disturbing new novel A Pleasure and a Calling. It’s compelling stuff and you won’t be able to put it down until you find out what the unsettling Mr Heming does next! We thought we’d give you an early glimpse of this thought-provoking novel.
*We’re just kidding… sort of.
A Pleasure and a Calling by Phil Hogan
‘I had handled both these houses in years past. Number 4 had been extended by way of an office-study-cum-box room over the garage. I knew the house. But I didn’t recall the man. Or did I? He was walking a little dog, or, rather, yanking it along. Even at a distance, I sensed his impatience. He was a tall man, which made the poor dog – a terrier of some kind with white tufted hair – look even smaller than it was. He was wearing walking boots and hooded rainwear and his thinning hair was long and swept back. The dog was trying to sniff at gates and fences, and it yapped in protest as he tugged it away. He had the air of a man easily annoyed by life’s fleeting trifles. As if compelled by the stiff wind, I found myself following him and the dog, across the main road, down the hill at the crossroads, then just past the archway and courtyard that my own modest flat overlooked, in a low-rise, honey-bricked development. And it was here, ahead of the entrance to the green, sparkling Common on the right, that he stopped to let the dog defecate in the middle of the path.
The middle of the path. He barely gave me a glance as I approached. The dog crouched, watchful in mid-strain, then shook its bearded jowls and yawned. I expected the man to produce a bag to scoop up the mess, but he simply waited for the dog to finish, then pulled on the leash and started to walk on.
‘Hello?’ I heard myself call out to him. ‘Excuse me . . .’
The man – perhaps he was familiar – turned with a vexed look that seemed to call for the counter-balance of a civic smile and a jocular observation. ‘Sorry,’ I said, ‘but I think your dog
We both looked at the turd I was pointing at, a neat steaming coil that struck me as unusually large for a small dog. And then he stared at me. ‘Well, what do you want to do
‘What do I want to do? I rather thought you might want to do something about it.’ I smiled again.
‘Well, I do not, so piss off. And just mind your own business, you bourgeois knob.’ He stared at me, lips apart, for a second more, then yanked the leash, and turned on to the path for the Common and park. I stood and watched, the dog once more protesting as they crossed the grass and headed down the steps and along the riverside path. He didn’t look back.
Bourgeois knob? I’ve always thought of myself rather as a concerned citizen – a model citizen. There was a thin piece of card to be found in a nearby refuse bin. I eased it beneath the pyramid of cooling sludge and transferred it into a discarded fast food carton. This I carried back up the hill to the courtyard where my car was parked outside my flat. OK, I reasoned, this maniac had humiliated me, but so what? You could either burn with fury or you could do the right thing.
I put the carton in the passenger-side footwell of my car, then nipped up to my flat to consult the files I keep there. It didn’t take long. I’m very organized. It turned out we had sold the house to a Judith Bridgens in 2007. Perhaps she had resold to this rude oaf. I called the landline number I had on record.
There was no answer. I drove up there and parked some way along Boselle Avenue, then strolled back down to number 4 with an armful of sales literature covering the carton. In the garden behind the high, overgrown privet, only a passer-by glancing over the gate would be likely to see me, and even then only for a second or two. I rang the bell and called the landline again. I heard the phone ringing inside. No one answered. I produced the key now from my waistcoat pocket, unlocked the door, waited, and then stepped over the threshold. Oh yes. I always enjoy the first moment of an empty house before the spell of its silence and stillness is broken by my own breathing and movement.
I found my way to the kitchen and contemplated the clean oatmeal tiled floor. Would it do the job? Not quite. Perhaps the sitting room . . . I pushed open the door on to an airy space with tasteful dining area. French windows overlooked a patio and an uncut lawn and flower borders bedraggled by the weather and neglect. The owner was no gardener. He did, however, have an eye for attractive modern soft furnishings, not least a handsome, chunky, white – you might even say bourgeois – hearth-rug.
There we are, I thought.
I slid the turd, still improbably intact – like a novelty plastic one – into the rug’s luxurious centre, pausing for a moment to appreciate its caramel perfection, its pleasingly vile aroma – freed now to explore this forbidden interior – rising to my nostrils. The dog would almost certainly sniff it out the moment it returned
with its owner. ‘Woof, woof, master! Look at this!’
I made my retreat. Not least because of the disappointments of the morning, I would have liked to embark on a full tour of the house while I was there. Mostly, I would have loved to remain, in hiding, and see the shock and bafflement on the man’s face when he returned. But I did have a business to run. I exited
carefully, leaving a leaflet stuck in the letterbox. The wind had dropped, and with some satisfaction I retraced my steps up Boselle, posting leaflets also at the houses on the way back to the car, then drove back to my flat where I popped the key safely away. Sweet success.
But, I hear you ask, with some scepticism (and with that gun to my head) . . . of all the many splendid houses you’ve sold in your seventeen years in the business, you just happened to have the key to that particular one? To which I would answer, of course not – I have the keys to them all.’
If that isn’t enough to make you rush home and change your locks, we don’t know what will!