Paddy came spruced up and fully dressed, out of the shower, and dropped the wet towel on the bed. He adjusted his tie and polished his shoes by standing, stork-like, and rubbing the toe on the back of his pinstriped leg and rubbed at the slight growth on his chin. He pulled out his cigarettes and stuck one in his gob. ‘Got to go to work.’ He held out the fag packet. ‘You want a couple of these to tide you over.’
Sarah was taming her hair with hard brush, drier and spray. Her face was pancake-pale was she was applying slashes of blusher before doing her eyes. ‘How do I look?’
‘Terrible.’ He lit his cigarette. ‘You want wan of these or no?’
‘No, I’ve given up all vices – as of now.’
‘Great.’ He shut the packet and slipped them into his inside pocket. Tapping his side pocket to locate the fob for his car. Turning to go. He glanced at his phone, checking the time and to see if Marie had phoned. She hadn’t.
‘Hi, wait a wee minute.’ She checked her face in the mirror and frowned, her cheekbones were pink and accentuated, but still fat. ‘Don’t I get a wee hug before I go?’
‘No,’ he foot-tapped, desperate to open up his car showroom. Scared he’d miss a customer. If he wasn’t careful he’d be late and he was never late. ‘You know what happened the last time.’
‘Aye, you’re excused. I don’t usually keep the company of old men, unless I feel really sorry for them. I won’t be making that mistake again, either.’
‘Look, don’t be like that.’
‘Look Paddy, just fuck off.’
‘Right then.’ He lit his fag and breathed in smoke. ‘What about that wee lassie, you want me to track her down and get your bank card aff her?’
Sarah reached across to the bed and pulled on her housecoat. ‘It’s always freezing in here.’ She glanced at Paddy. ‘I’m not sure.’
‘Right, I’ll be going then.’
‘Wait a wee minute. I mean, I’m not that bothered about the bank card – or even the money. But I might want to speak to her myself.’
‘Jesus Christ.’ He foot-tapped. ‘Make your mind up.’
‘What you wanting wae her anyway? If anybody stole fae me I’d cut their fingers aff, one by one. Stick them in their mouth and make the cunt eat them.’
She stared hard at him and he realised why and blew out a long breath, as if he’d been winded.
‘I don’t mean it that way. It’s just like when you have something in the back of your heid.’
‘Aye, a rusty zip.’
Then he was rushing away, shouting over his shoulder. ‘Look, I’ll text you her address and phone number. Not that she’ll answer the phone. And I’ll catch up with you later on, at the AA meeting.’
‘No bother,’ she said to a front door that slammed behind him and shook the building. And muttered to herself, ‘I wish he wouldnae dae that.’
She was out the back at the bin shelter, with a plastic bag clutched in her hand, when she heard the beep that a text came through. Rain drifted down in a fine mist and she didn’t have a coat on, but was glad to get a bit of fresh air. She bundled her rubbish into the wheelie bin, a bit pissed off that somebody else was using her bin, and pulled her phone out of her pocket.
Paddy’s message was short: a phone number and an address. He hadn’t even added an electronic x to denote a kiss. She shouldn’t have let that bother her, but climbing the stairs she had to admit that if he was there she’d have slapped his baldy napper as a reminder that it doesn’t hurt to play nice.
She phoned her work, managed a feeble cough, rattled on about a chest infection and didn’t want to chance giving it to anybody else and told them she wouldn’t be in.
Whiteinch wasn’t far, about a fifteen minute walk. She wore tasteful shoes with next to no heels and a long coat to keep off the rain, but didn’t bother with a brolley. Passing the Honda car showroom she took out her phone to re-check the house number, off Dumbarton Road, beside the billboard and she was almost there. She stood outside the close not sure how she was going to play it.
Louise’s flat was 2/1. She pressed the buzzer, but nobody answered. Waiting a few seconds she pressed it again and wondered if Paddy had sent her the right address. She tried another buzzer, 3/1, and getting no answer tried 3/2.
‘Shoo is it,’ said a voice on the intercom.
‘Sorry to bother you, but I was looking for Louise.’
No answer, but the buzz of the close-door being opened. She pushed through and into the close. Tiles had lost their glaze and on the turn of the stair were missing from the wall. Three black bin bags and a pink kid’s bike, with white stabiliser wheels and a flat back tyre, sat outside one of the doors on the first-floor landing.
Louise’s flat was the on the left. She chapped the door, but nobody answered. Then tried it again. She peeked through the letter box. No carpets on the floor. The walls were scraped of wallpaper, off-colour, and still waiting to be painted. It was quiet, no television or radio, but she sensed something in the air, somebody was inside.
She pulled out her phone and checked the message Paddy had given her and saved the phone number he’d sent to the SIM card on her phone. Then she dialled the number. She could hear it ringing on the other side of the door. Then a hesitant voice, ‘Hallo’.
Sarah switched to the plummy accent she used when dealing with Westend clientele at the doctor’s surgery. ‘Hallo, is that Louise Dougan? I’m phoning you about your claim for Employment Support Allowance.’
‘Yes, aye, it’s me.’ There was a thread of panic in Louise’s voice. ‘I meant to phone you about that.’
‘Well, we’ve actually sent out one of our representatives and he said he was unable to get a reply. Said he’d left you a card, asking you to contact us. I’m afraid we’re left with no option but to suspend your claim.’
‘You can’t do that. It’s the only money I get. I never got a card.’
Sarah heard the living room door opening and the scuttle of feet in the lobby. She chapped the door in the way a policeman would and the door flew open. Louise wearing fleeced top and joggy bottoms stood with the phone to her ear.
Sarah barged past her and shut her phone and claimant off. ‘I’m here to get my bag back, my bankcard and any money you’ve got left, ya thieving bitch.’