Repo Part 2 (Jason's last Repos)
By Ed Crane
Number 47, Rose Street stood midway along a terrace of meagre Victorian houses – it was suffering. The paint had peeled into bare holes, the pointing had gaps up to a foot long in places. The hundred-and-thirty year old stone lentils were pockmarked; one was cracked. Remnants of broken tiles from the roof lay in the gutter. The overcast grey sky added to its dismal atmosphere
Jason groaned as he parked his car in front of it. It was risky parking here, but he figured at this time of the morning the kids from the area would either be in school or glue sniffing in a public toilet somewhere.
Barge-pole job. She’d be crazy to put this on the books.
He took his case from the car, put his overcoat on, locked the car and double checked all the doors. After a final glance to make sure he’d left nothing in view, he approached the scarred front door and tried one of the Yale keys in the grubby lock.
The door opened with a squawk of damp wood rubbing against damp doorframe. The dim carpet-less hallway led to a naked flight of stairs. Turning into the living room, Jason nearly tripped over a filthy wine coloured carpet that had been pulled away from the wall and lay in upside-down folds. He smiled a knowing smile to himself as he smelled a familiar smell. A mixture of stale beer, piss and marijuana. This place had been no, “Chez Nous.” There were a lot of these in the area.
To Jason, repos fell into two categories: either left tidy by sad ex-owners, reluctant to leave the home they’d sacrificed everything to buy, or angry ones who left revengeful damage for the banks to repair. The occupants of 47 had been very enthusiastic examples of the latter. Every panel of every door had several Doc Martin sized holes in it. The oven was in pieces, the door of the fridge hung open on one twisted hinge, exposing its mould infested interior. Hammer holes peppered those doors still remaining on the kitchen cupboards.
Jason made his way to the scullery wondering if, like so many Victorian houses, it had been converted into a downstairs bathroom. It had. He placed a pre-emptory hand over his nose and opened the door. It was clean and tidy. Oh, so girls also lived here.
Returning to the kitchen, he noticed the cellar door. Jason decided to make a quick tour of the upper floor to get the layout of the place.
‘Fifty grand top-whack,’ he said out loud, as he climbed the stairs, ‘and another fifty to get this place habitable.' Even Martin Roberts’d turn his nose up at this one.
The rooms upstairs were no surprise. Two large doubles. One was clean – ish. Someone had painted the walls purple and it had a carpet. The girl’s room. The other was filthy. Pornographic posters were glued directly onto ancient flowery wall paper. The bailiffs had made a half-hearted attempt at removing a couple before giving up. The boy’s room.
The third room – a small one – was totally bare. It didn’t look like it was used for sleeping. Jason confirmed this when he noticed a used syringe, complete with needle, wedged in the gap between two floor boards. Those lazy fuckers are supposed to clean places like this before we get the keys.
The view of the short back-yard from the rear window, showed a tumble-down outhouse and a mass of tangled weeds and a couple of grass engulfed supermarket trolleys. Eat your heart out Diarmuid Gavin.
Back in the living room, Jason rummaged in his case for a flash-light. Reluctantly, he opened the cellar and shone the beam into it. It was surprisingly clean and bright. The walls were whitewashed and no rats scuffled away. He carefully descended the stairs, waving the flash-light around. At the bottom, he saw the gas meter on the far corner. Facing him, an old-fashioned fuse box. It hung squiffily, a little bit away from the bricks. It looked unsafe. Re-wiring job.
He crossed for a closer look. When he touched the casing, the whole unit tipped forward. Behind it, a deep hole where some bricks had been removed. A plastic bag crammed with skunk florets, six large slabs of resin wrapped in foil, and pile of baggies full of white powder confronted Jason.
In a strange way, he felt relieved as he climbed out of the cellar, knowing there would be no more valuing repos today. Well, Mandy. That’s your plans buggered up.
When he had a signal on his Samsung, he swiped “contacts” and scrolled down to the office number.
The line rang seven times before his boss answered. ‘Hello, Johnson’s Estates,’ she sang, ‘one moment please.’
‘Are you with a client?’
‘I’m at Rose Street. We have a problem. You’d better go to the private phone.’
‘Oh? Can you tell me what it is?’ Her tone of voice made it clear she was with a client.
‘Down in the cellar, I found enough dope to space-out a herd of Elephants.’
‘I’ll have to put you on hold. One moment Jason.’
The hold musak, told him she was making her excuses and handing over to the part-time girl. After about a minute the line clicked
‘Jason. Just do as I say. Get out of there now and go over to the other house. When you finish, go back to Rose Street and call the police.’
‘Your kidding, right? This pace is a fucking crime scene.’
‘Don’t use that kind of language to me.’
‘What you're asking me to do is illegal, Mandy.’
‘Nobody will know.’
‘The police aren’t that bloody stupid. They’ll be asking difficult enough questions as it is. There’s a lot of gear here. If they find out I was here twice, they’re gonna crucify me.’
‘If it gets difficult, I’ll explain. I’ll take full responsibility. Jason. . . . Please. I won’t let you get into trouble.’
‘You’ll be okay, I promise. Just get out of there. NOW.’
He knew he should refuse. They couldn’t fire him for refusing to do something illegal – at least, not straight away. If he didn’t, he’d have something over the firm if things got tough.
He closed the mobile and put it in his overcoat pocket. Taking one final look around, he gathered up his things and left the house.
Outside, the clouds had broken up. Rose Street, brightened by the late winter-sun, looked almost cheerful. Jason’s car sat in its glare and the interior was warming up. He placed his pilot case in the passenger foot-well and removed his overcoat, laying it carefully on the rear seat. He wasted no further time belting-up and driving off.
Bloody Mandy. It’s alright for her. If the police get wind of this, she isn’t the one who’s going to get questioned and accused and belittled by those suspicious bastards all fucking night.
By the time Jason pulled up on the drive-way of 15, Osprey Gardens he’d calmed down. The house stood partially hidden by shrubbery in the corner of a cul-de-sac on the popular Eagle Estate. An almost new beige-bricked four-bedroom detached building. This is more like it. Nice place - nothing dodgy round here.
Jason sorted out the keys and got out the car. It was unseasonably warm in the sunshine so he left his coat behind. He stretched and looked around, assessing the area. Safe enough here.
Debating whether to take the photo while the sun shone, he stared a full minute at the house. Something not quite right caught his eye. That’s odd. the grass is cut . . . strange.
It was mid-February – two days after St. Valentines - nobody cut their grass now, even in the South and this was the East Midlands. Jason frowned, the place had stood empty for weeks. He shrugged, and let himself into the property.
The atmosphere inside the house made Jason feel uncomfortable. The hall had a strong smell of perfume. Not women’s perfume – detergents; lavender; pine and rose, like someone was spring cleaning. The smell persisted in the lounge. The expensive parquet floor gleamed and the smell of wax joined in with the others. A symphony of essences invaded his nostrils.
In seven years surveying and valuing property, Jason couldn’t say how many repos he’d done, but he could say he’d never been in one like this. Nobody left them this clean. He entered the kitchen – same thing. Everything perfect; no dust; no cooking deposits. He’d seen dirtier show houses. The place seemed inhabited. Impossible.
To make sure it wasn’t, he checked the water and power. They were locked off. He breathed a sigh of relief. The cupboards were empty, the insides cleaner than the day they were installed. Jason bent to open the one under the sink. He jumped back as if he’d received a 240 volt jolt. What the Hell?
He stared at the neat line of cleaning products. Bleach, toilet cleaner, Mr. Sheen, oven cleaner, wood polish. It was all there. Next to it lay a pile of cloths, two rolls of patterned kitchen paper, house gloves and several five-litre containers of water. Also a pack of refuse bags. Something was seriously bizarre. Bloody hell, someone’s got a key! I’ll have to call Mandy.
Feeling in his jacket pocket, he remembered his mobile in the car. Jesus, what else can go wrong today?
‘What are you doing in my house?’
Jason whirled round. A man glared at him from the kitchen entrance. He wore a blue shirt, brown corduroy trousers and tweed jacket, but they seemed crumpled. In fact, Jason thought, the man looked crumpled too. Like a crisp bag when it re-opens itself after being screwed into a ball.
He didn’t look like a squatter. Not threatening. No face piercing, no pink Mohawk or tattooed skin-head dome. Jason took a deep breath and spoke, choosing his words carefully.
‘I don’t think you are supposed to be in here, sir.’
‘What do you mean? I live here.’ The man thrust his hands into his jacket pockets. ‘I-I’ve lived here for f-four years. Ever since this place was built. . . . When I bought it!’
Jason’s training never included this. Squatters yes, and he’d forgotten the basic rules; always keep an eye out for squatter activity before entering a property; always keep a mobile with you. He could feel his pulse racing as he searched for something to say.
Smiling, he said, ‘Um, I think there must be some mistake. I need to call the office. My mobile's in my car. Excuse me.’
He moved towards the kitchen door, but the man made no attempt to stand aside. He stared at Jason’s shoes.
‘You’ve made the floor all dirty with your feet. You did that in the lounge too.’ (The floor was clean.) ‘You’ll have to go in the garage while I clean this mess up for Sandra.’ He pointed to a door next to the fridge-freezer.
The man didn’t seem to hear. ‘Please go into the garage, I-I have to clean.’ He leaned over and opened the connecting door into the garage. ‘Please.’
‘Sorry, but I need to get my mobile.’ Jason tried to dart past him.
The man jumped back, blocking the door. ‘No, no, no. You’ll make it dirty for Sandra.’
He lunged forward and grabbed Jason’s shoulder, catching him off-balance, he pushed him into the garage. Struggling to stay upright, Jason staggered backward a few paces until he stood in the centre of the spotless garage floor. He was now afraid, but also pissed-off.
‘You can’t do this. The house isn’t yours now. The bank’s reposse—’
‘The bank? You’re from the bank!’ The man’s face turned into a furious mask.
Jason never saw the knife, but he felt a searing pain in the side of his neck as the force of the blow knocked him to the floor. He landed on his back. He rolled over onto his side and tried to push himself up. His arm didn’t work. He tried to shout. His voice didn’t work.
Suddenly, he felt very tired and laid his head on the cold cement. The regular pattern of bricks and mortar filled his field of vision and something warm was moving around his cheek, heating up floor. What happened . . .? What’s going . . . on? Oh God, I think I’ve been st—.
The bricks merged into a terracotta blur. Then, nothing.
The man stepped back and looked down at his trousers, spattered with Jason’s blood. ‘I’m sorry Sandra,’ he mumbled, ‘I won’t leave the house dirty again. I promise.’
He bent over and took off his shoes, then he stripped naked and made a tidy pile of his clothes – using his shirt to wipe blood off his hands and face. He returned to the kitchen, closed the door to the garage and took some cleaning materials from the cupboard.
After cleaning the kitchen and polishing the parquet in the lounge, he replaced the cleaning materials in the kitchen, stored Jason’s case in the pantry and shuffled back to the hall with a duster under each foot. Still naked, he stood at the base of the stairs.
‘Just as you like it Sandra. It’ll be perfect for you when you come to see me.’
With a spotless kitchen knife in his hand, he climbed the stairs and crossed into the main bedroom. There were four indentations in the deep pile of the baby-blue carpet, marking an oblong space where a bed once stood; he sat down inside the space.
Using information he’d read in a detective novel six months ago – When things were good. Before the bank took everything away. Before Sandra and the kids left with that financial advisor – he pushed the knife into his left arm. When he found the main artery, he gritted his teeth and drew the tip up his arm, opening a four inch gash.
He lay in the pool of his blood, rapidly spreading across the carpet and closed his eyes. His lips formed a serene smile.
In the office, Mandy was getting impatient.
‘Jason should be back at Rose Street by now. Why the bloody hell does he always wait for me to call him?’ She pushed, “Jason” on her auto-dial.
Inside the pocket of the coat in Jason’s car, the screen on his mobile lit up.
“Here comes the sun king . . . Everybody’s happy, everybody’s laughing. . . .”