A saga of everyday life in the Big L and a wry look at contemporary culture
By Tony Carden
Episode Thirty Nine
‘Ah, there you are, Quinn.’
She closed the front door behind her. ‘Hello Daddy. Is Mummy in?’
‘She went to fetch your aunt Rachel from the train station.’ Not auntie Rachel! She’s impossible.
‘She’s coming here?’ Maybe she’s visiting someone else. God, let it be!
‘Well yes. Didn’t your mother tell you?’ No. And you bloody well know why. If I’d known she was coming I’d have made plans to be away. This is Mum’s little surprise for me, isn’t it?
‘No.’ Quinn pushed past her father and headed for the kitchen.
She deposited her bag on the breakfast bar before making for the refrigerator. I need a drink. She opened the door and searched the bottle rack. Ah, there’s a Sauvignon. That’ll do nicely.
She retrieved the bottle, unscrewed the cap and deposited it on the bar before reaching into a cupboard for a wine glass.
‘Why are you upset about your aunt’s visit?’ Her father had followed her into the kitchen.
Quinn looked at him. ‘You bloody well know why.’
‘Quinn, don’t swear please, it’s unladylike.’
Quinn gave him a scathing look.
He father cocked his head. ‘I know she can be a bit old fashioned at times.’
‘At times? She’s like a walking fossil.’
‘Now that’s unkind. She’s your mother’s older sister. She’s not that old.’
‘She could regale you about her time with the dinosaurs.’
‘She’s fifty-eight, or so she says. That’s not old. After all, she’s the same age as me. Do you think I’m a fossil?’ Sometimes, yes. Make that often.
‘Of course not, Daddy. What I find irritating about her are her attitudes. I mean, she voted Leave in the referendum. And boasts about it. How can you bear to have her in the house?’
‘Now Quinn, if we cut off those relatives who voted to Leave, they’d hardly be anyone left.’
‘I don’t believe most of the family voted Leave.’ I’m sure uncle John voted Remain. And the cousins. Hardly anyone voted to go.
‘Why don’t you ask them?’
‘You’re not serious.’ Are you really expecting me to interrogate all our relatives about how they voted in the referendum? There’d be an uproar.
‘If your criteria for allowing people into this house, my house by the way, is whether they are Remain or Leave supporters then you’ll have to ask them when they come to the door.’ He chuckled. ‘Or better still, put up a sign. That’ll save you having to answer the door.’ He gently stroked her hair. You used to do that when I was a little girl.
‘But aunt Rachel, I mean, really. The way she boasts about exiting the EU. How it will make us all a “better country”’. She flashed her fingers in the air twice to indicate the implied quotation marks. She really has no idea.
Her father reached behind her and pulled down a wine glass. ‘Since you’re starting on the wine, I think I’ll join you.’ He poured large measures into both glasses. ‘Perhaps she’s right.’ You can’t be serious?
‘You don’t believe that.’
‘I didn’t say I believed it; I said she might be right.’ What’s the difference?
‘But look what a mess it is.’ It’s November and we’re out in four months. They’ve still not settled on agreeing the terms. Talk about just-in-time. Parliament is in an uproar.
‘What do they say about making an omelette? You can’t do it without breaking eggs.’
‘So, you’re alright with Brexit? I always thought you opposed it?’
‘I did. I do. But Remainers having a temper tantrum because they lost the referendum and simply making trouble isn’t helpful. If only they could be constructive. But no, they’ve gone all high dudgeon about losing. I can’t believe how bitterly it’s divided the country.’
‘You mean the party.’
‘Of course. Well spotted.’ I do know you, Daddy! ‘As chairman, it’s my job to make sure the party’s interests are looked after. Not all Tory supporters are Leavers by any means. I think sometimes Mary forgets that.’ He took a sip of the wine. ‘Not bad.’ He picked up the bottle and examined the label. ‘Rumanian. Who would have guessed?’
‘You sound surprised?’
‘That the wine’s good?’ He took another taste. ‘It’s light, dry and acidic. There’s a hint of lime and melon. Everything that makes it a good Sauvignon, basically.’
She nudged him gently. ‘Thanks, Daddy.’
‘For the lesson.’
‘I didn’t teach you anything.’ But you did. He pulled out one of the bar stools under the breakfast bar and sat down. He gestured for her to do the same. ‘Are you missing Dancy?’
‘No. Not really.’ She gestured around the kitchen. ‘It seems strange to be back living at home. I’m an adult but here I’m also a child.’ She pointed at him. ‘Here you are parenting me, yet I’m old enough to look after myself.’
‘If you think I’m bad…’
‘Yes, Mummy is worse. She’s always fussing after me. Asking when I’ll get home; who I’m meeting.’
‘She has your interests at heart.’ Really? She’s more like the mother in Mad Men. What’s here name?
‘But I’m not seven anymore.’
‘To her…’ He paused briefly. ‘And to me, I suppose, you’ll always be that little girl who came crawling into our bedroom when we had a thunderstorm.’
‘I was six then. I’m no longer afraid of thunder.’ But I still remember that night. Why?
‘No, I suppose not. But there’re other frightful things out there. We want to protect you from them.’ But I’m a big girl now, Daddy. How can you protect me from what’s out there in the big bad world?
‘You know you can’t do that.’
‘Objectively, yes, of course we can’t. But emotionally, we don’t want to see our little girl get hurt.’ Ah!
‘But I’m fine.’ Well, sort of.
‘I take it, then, your breakup with Dancy hasn’t left you feeling despondent.’
‘A bit, inevitably. But it was my choice. We’re not suited. Now, I’m trying to move on.’
‘Are you dating then?’ Why you’re as inquisitive as Mummy.
‘No.’ Why do I feel sad when I say that?
‘Where did you go today?’ Yes, definitely, you and Mum are a pair.
‘To the Klimit-Schiele exhibition at the RA. With Clarissa.’
‘Was it good?’
‘Of course. You’d like it.’
‘I haven’t the time.’
Quinn giggled. ‘There’s lots of drawings of naked women.’ And many are very intimate, possibly crossing into pornographic.
The front door banged open. There was a noise in the hall. ‘Anyone home?’
‘Ah, your mother’s back.’
Quinn went out into the hall.
‘Hello Mummy. Hello Aunt Rachel.’
‘Why it’s Quinn. You look wonderful.’ Rachel’s gaze went past her. ‘Hello James. Thank you for having me.’
‘Our pleasure.’ James came forward and gave her a perfunctory hug. ‘How’s things at home.’
‘Not much happens in our rural backwater, as you know.’ She gestured meaningfully. ‘Not like London.’
‘We’ve opened a bottle. A white. Would like some? Or I can get you something else if you’d prefer. A sherry?’
‘White wine’s fine.’
James pointed at the kitchen door. ‘Isobel, dear, do you mind getting your sister a drink while I take her bag upstairs?’
‘Of course not.’ She took Rachel’s arm. ‘Come on, there’s lots to discuss.’ She caught Quinn’s eye. ‘And you too, of course.’
They went into the kitchen.
Quinn fetched two more glasses and placed them on the breakfast bar before filling them.
‘Rachel. Do you need the loo?’
‘No, I’m fine.’ She smiled benignly at her sister.
‘I’ve got to go, please excuse me a moment. Quinn will look after you.’ She gestured towards the cupboards. ‘See if you can find some nibbles for your aunt.’ She patted Rachel’s arm before heading out the door to the hall.
Quinn found some crisps in one cupboard, collected a bowl from another, placed it on the counter, tore open the packet and poured out its contents into the bowl. She pushed it in front of her aunt.
Rachel smiled at her, picked up a crisp and nibbled at it. ‘So, Quinn, dear, are you dating anyone?’ I knew it; it’s started.
‘Aunt Rachel, is that the only question you can ask me? Ask about my friends or my cat. Do you even know I have a cat?’ Speaking of which, where is Pharaoh?
‘You poor dear, alone with a cat.’ No, no, no, I’m not some fiftyish spinster. How dare you?
‘I give up.’ Quinn took a large sip of her wine before depositing her glass somewhat noisily on the worktop. You’re all so inquisitive. I hate it. Mummy. Daddy. You.
Rachel reached over and put her hand over hers. ‘I’m sorry, Quinn, that I keep asking you about your love life.’ No, you’re not, and you know it.
‘That’s alright, Aunt Rachel.’ No, it isn’t, and you should know not to pry into others’ lives.
‘Women today don’t need men for satisfying lives. They have exciting careers. How’s yours, by the way?’ You know I’m a bloody unpaid intern in Number Ten. That’s not a career.
‘I went out with a work colleague a couple of weeks ago.’
* * *
Ahmed looked around the lawyer’s office. A smart but low sofa with a coffee table in front of it was off to one side. Above it, an abstract painting in reds and yellows that looked like a child’s swirl dominated the wall. Copies of the day’s papers that looked as if they had been ironed flat were neatly spread out on the table. Who wants ta read The Times or that pink paper?
‘Mr Ibrahim, Tony Palmer will see you now.’
Ahmed turned to see the receptionist smiling at him. He went over.
A man in a dark blue suit emerged from a door beside the reception desk.
‘Ah! Mr Ibrahim.’ He put out a hand. ‘Tony Palmer. Good to meet you.’ They shook hands. Tony turned to the receptionist. ‘Which room do we have?’
‘You’re booked into 4C.’
‘This way, if you please.’ Tony gestured for Ahmed to follow him. They passed through a door and along a short corridor. A plaque on a door indicated it was Meeting Room 4C. Tony opened the door, flipped a switch inside and indicated that Ahmed should go in.
The room was small. It had no window. Lights set into the ceiling flooded the room with light. It had a table in the middle that took up most of the space. A half a dozen chairs were tucked under the table. Bloody eck, it’s like one of dem TV places.
Tony pointed at a chair. ‘Make yourself comfortable.’
Ahmed took a seat. Tony sat down opposite and placed a small carry case on the table beside him. He pulled out a laptop and opened it up.
‘You are aware, Mr Ibrahim, of how we work?’ Yah advert said you coulda help me, like.
‘You’re lawyers, ain’t yah?’
‘Indeed. But the basis of how we will be remunerated for our services, is that clear to you?’ What’s with dis remunerlarky?
‘Yah advert said it wouldna cost a penny.’
‘The way it works is that if we are happy you have a reasonable claim, we will work on a contingency basis. That is, our fee will be met from part of the compensation you receive if the claim is won.’
‘I see.’ Ahmed paused. ‘What dah I get?’ It’s ‘bout da money, see!
‘If, as it has yet to be decided, we take on your case and win, we would require thirty-five per cent of any award plus some pre-agreed expenses as our fee. You would receive the balance.’
‘And that’s it?’ Dat’s real simple, yeah, like it.
‘Absolutely.’ Tony reached over to his carry case and pulled out a pair of bound documents. ‘This is the contract.’ He passed over a copy. ‘I will give you time to read it.’ He got up.
‘Mr Palmer. I don’t need ta read this. I trust you.’
Tony sat down again. ‘It would be best if you did read the contract before you signed.’ Whatta for? Yah know the business.
‘Nah, I’m happy.’ You’re one of ‘em slick gents, like. Yah know what yah doing.
‘If you are sure?’
‘Sure, I’m sure. You’re lawyers, ain’t yah?’
‘Yes. That is why we like our clients to read the contract.’
‘I’m fine wit it, really, I am.’ He opened the first of the documents. ‘Where do I sign?’
Tony reached over for the second document. He flipped it open to the back and then pressed it flat. He then moved it in front of Ahmed.
‘You will need to sign both copies. I will sign on behalf of Prime Litigation LLC.’
‘Yah got a pen?’
‘Of course.’ Tony looked inside his case and pulled out a blue biro. He passed it over.
Taking the ballpoint, Ahmed quickly signed the document. He then opened the second one and signed that too. He pushed them back to Tony.
‘Dah. Done.’ Quite easy, really, mate. No need to make a fuss ‘bout it, is there?
Tony took out a pen from his jacket pocket and quickly signed the two contracts. He put one in his case and handed the other one to Ahmed.
‘Your copy.’ What do I want that for?
‘Whatcha I do whit it?’
‘You should keep it for your records.’ Yeah, OK, then.
‘Ah! OK, sure. Will do dat.’ Ahmed took the document and stuffed it into his coat pocket.
‘Now can we discuss the nature of your accident?’
‘Sure. What da yah want to know?’
‘You should give me as full an account as you can of the events that took place that led to your whiplash injury.’ He pressed a key on his laptop. ‘You may start now.’ Geez, I don’t like much talking ‘bout it.
‘Ah shure. Well, it went lika this…’
Much later, Tony pressed a key on his computer. He closed the lid and returned it to his case. Then he rose from the table. ‘Thank you, Mr. Ibrahim for your account. We’ll investigate the claim and let you know whether we intend to proceed or not.’
‘How long, then, before I know?’
‘It may take a few weeks. We’ll be writing to Camden Council and the police to get the facts. We will let you know when we have the information we need to make a decision.’
‘Let me show you out.’
They returned to the reception and Tony accompanied him to the lifts. He pressed a button and a few moments later a ping announced the lift’s arrival. The door opened. Tony used his left hand to stop the door closing. He reached out with his right.
‘Have a good day, Mr Ibrahim.’
Ahmed took his hand and shook it. ‘Thanks.’
He entered the lift. Tony withdrew his hand. The doors closed. Ahmed pressed the button for the ground floor.
With a sigh, the lift plunged down, only to brake as it arrived at the ground. The door opened. Ahmed stepped out into the foyer.
He had to press the exit button to allow the door to open. He went out. It was getting dark outside. He quickly found his Prius. Shit, what’s that on the windscreen? There was an envelope tucked under the windscreen wiper. An effing parking ticket.
He went over and pulled the offending document out. He ripped it open and read it. It informed him he had a penalty charge notice for overstaying his parking. I effing didn’t!
Ahmed stomped around to the driver’s door, clicked his key and opened the door. He snatched at the small square of paper on his dashboard and read it. Four seventeen. He glanced down at the digital clock on the dashboard. 16:36. Shit. Shit. Shit.
To be continued…
All characters appearing in this work are fictitious.
Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
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