Barry checks the address on his job sheet and presses the bell again. Somewhere inside he hears the ring, not very loud. He looks at his watch. He’s a half an hour early, but he can’t just sit around until the time he had arranged. He could go and have an early lunch, he supposes, but it would have to be bloody short. What he’d do, he decides quickly, is to get a pie or something from that café he’d passed on the corner and call from there, telling her he’d be a bit late. Barry turns from the door to find a young woman walking towards him.
‘Yeah,’ he mumbles. ‘I’m a bit early.’
She smiles. ‘Well, that’s okay. I’m here now. I hope you haven’t been waiting long?’
‘No,’ he says. ‘Not long. Few minutes, that’s all.’
She takes a bunch of keys from her bag and moves to the door, unlocking and pushing the door open in one smooth motion, turning to smile at him as she did so. ‘Hope it’s not too messy.’
Barry chuckles weakly. He doesn’t care. He’s going to have to make a mess anyway. He follows her up some steeply-winding stairs to a small landing, and waits while she lets him into the apartment.
Ellen puts her bag on the table together with her keys. ‘Coffee?’ she asks.
Barry had had coffee at the last job, but the pleasure of being with this woman is too good to miss out on. He nods. ‘White with two sugars,’ he tells her.
It’s her smile, he thinks. Sure, she’s a good looker, but her smile is what makes her great. In his opinion, anyway.
Ellen is in jeans, Levis by the look of them, and a navy-blue sweater, which she fills out very nicely indeed. She wears her hair shoulder-length, and it is almost red. Not out of a bottle, he thinks… a real red-head. He’s never had one of those.
Had? Well, no, he hasn’t ‘had’ anyone. Although he is approaching twenty-five years old, he is a virgin. A handsome virgin, which I suppose made his virginity even stranger.
Barry looks like Paul Newman, or at least as Paul Newman looked when he played Butch Cassidy. He has the same roguish looks, the same heart-breaking smile, the same easy movement which should signal a towering self-confidence. But doesn’t.
Barry is one of the shyest blokes you could ever meet.
Ellen looks at Barry and her heart does that flip-flop thing that so surprises young women. Ellen isn’t a virgin, not by a long shot. On the other hand you wouldn’t describe her as promiscuous, either: she’s just a healthy twenty-two year old who enjoys a reasonable level of casual sex. One thing she’s sure of, or had been up to now, is that she doesn’t intend to get tied down.
She turns to the cooker and prepares a cafetiere for two, tamping the coffee rather more than she usually does, a reaction to sudden nervousness. Over her shoulder she says, ‘I’ve decided to change all the locks. Can you do that today?’
‘Sure,’ Barry replies. ‘Depends what you want though. Got quite a few different models in the van.’ He looks around the apartment. ‘How many doors you got?’
Ellen lights the gas and turns to face him. ‘The front door, of course, and another that leads out onto the roof. But the windows need something too… they’re not very secure.’ She smiles doubtfully, aware that this is his subject, not hers. ‘I’d like you to have a look around, and tell me what I need.’
Barry nods. ‘Had a break in, then?’
‘No. No, it’s not that. But we had a lecture at work last week about personal security, and I can see this place would be pretty easy to get into.’
Barry nods again. ‘Okay, let’s just have a look, then.’
The front door has a simple Yale lock, and that would have to go. The back door to the roof just has a bolt, and a pretty flimsy one at that. Barry writes a quick note on his job sheet. ‘Windows?’ The two looking out over the street are probably okay because they are so high up. Barry unbolts the door to the roof and steps out.
The roof is made of smooth asphalt, and not in very good condition, at that; cracks meander over the surface. It’s going to give a lot of trouble some time soon.
However, that’s none of Barry’s business. He turns to inspect the window frame beside the door. It’s a sliding sash window, and because it is generally out of the sun, it’s in pretty good condition. Needs a bit of paint, though. Again, none of his business. A good lockable window bolt is all it needs, though of course the glass can be easily broken… perhaps a steel grid?
He turns and looks at the roof. He can see the top of a steel ladder curling over the parapet. He looks at the surroundings, puts himself in the position of a thief or assailant: once up the ladder and onto the roof, he can’t be seen. Easy, then, to break in. Yes, a steel screen for the window.
They move from room to room, checking the security of the windows. As usual, Barry finds a simple catch on each that wouldn’t take much forcing. He writes that down, too. Ellen follows him around, and he is unnerved by her closeness, especially when they enter her bedroom. He can smell her quite clearly, and not just her perfume, either.
Barry goes into the bathroom and, as expected, sees the manhole. Just a square of plasterboard resting on the beams. That’ll have to be rebuilt.
He turns to Ellen and finds her standing very close to him, so close that he nearly knocks her arm with his clipboard. She has been enjoying being close to him, so close that she can smell him, a sort of musky smell overridden by a cheap aftershave. She knows that he is exuding pheromones, too, that it’s not only his smell that is attracting her.
What Ellen doesn't realise is that she is exuding far more pheromones than Barry is. Women always do. That’s why she wants to stand so close to him, because that’s where most of his pheromones are. Whereas hers are all over the apartment, something that Barry has sensed without understanding the cause of his attraction.
He writes a few more notes on the job sheet, then looks at her. God, she’s pretty he thinks. And those eyes! He coughs self-consciously. ‘Reckon you need deadlocks on the front door, new, stronger bolts on the door to the roof, window bolts on all the windows, a steel screen on the window over the roof and a new lockable manhole.’
Ellen nods slowly. ‘Okay,’ she says. ‘How much will that cost?’
Barry scribbles a sum on his job sheet and tells her.
Ellen sucks in her breath. Wow. Expensive.
‘That doesn’t include the steel window screen or the manhole,’ he tells her, ‘because I can’t do those myself. I’ll have to get a chippy in for the manhole, and the screen will have to be made by a welder. We’ll get you a quote for those two.’
She thinks about her overdraft and the amount owing on her credit card, but knows she’s going to have to do it. Maybe she can get the owner to refund it. She hopes she can. But she’s going to have to do it now, or she’ll never get another night’s sleep. ‘So can you do the locks now?’
He nods. ‘Take about two hours, I reckon. Is that okay?’
She nods, and her hair shines in the sun that is streaming through the window. It’s his heart that is going flip-flop now. ‘I’ll just nip down for the gear. Van’s across the road.’
She stands at the open door watching him disappearing down the stairs. Watches his bum moving in his overall. Smiles to herself.
The door to the flat roof is easy. A new, strong bolt top and bottom of the door will do the trick. He has several of those in the van. He gathers a few different models from the racks lining the sides of the van.
The front door needs a good deadlock, and he picks out a couple to show her.
He gathers enough of the only lockable window bolts he carries with him, and drops the collected hardware into a bag. His tool box is ready, his drills fully charged. He leaves the van and locks up. His bag and the tool box on the ground beside the van, he rings the office. He gives the boss an estimate of the time it will take, and rings off. He looks up at the front door, tosses his hair back and runs his fingers through it in anticipation. Goes back to the front door and rings the bell.
A week later he returns with a chippy and the steel window screen. Ellen is excited, and runs down the stairs to let Barry in. She kisses him. The chippy is surprised. He’s got his tool bag in one hand and a prefabricated, lockable manhole, all painted in the right colour, under his arm. A big bloke. Blond. Bit of a boofhead. Went to school with Barry. Barry introduces him to Ellen, and she smiles briefly. She only has eyes for Barry, who, not surprisingly, is no longer a virgin.
A week can be a long time, sometimes. With all those pheromones wafting around the place, things have moved quickly. When Barry rang his boss about timing last week, he had sort of exaggerated. Not that he had expected anything. Just hoped.
‘How the hell can it take that long?’ Leonard had demanded.
‘It just might,’ Barry said. There was a sort of sulky undertone to his voice, and Leonard, who was a very experienced employer of young men, picked up on it immediately.
‘You mean, you might get unavoidably detained,’ he suggested, and you could almost hear him smiling.
‘Yeah,’ said Barry, realising that Leonard had seen through him and wasn’t going to make a fuss. ‘So, supposing that happens, I’ll see you tomorrow, okay?’
It’s always better to have the boss’ blessing, yeah?
Ellen shows the chippy to the bathroom, and he nods and goes back down the stairs to get a stepladder. Ellen waits at the door and holds it open for him, and then leaves him to it. ‘Cuppa?’ she says to him before pulling the bathroom door closed. It’s going to be a messy, dusty job, she thinks, with plaster-dust everywhere.
‘Nah, fanks,’ the chippy says. ‘Ad some at the last place.’
Fitting the screen takes a while, with special bolts penetrating the brickwork outside the window, but at last Barry comes back in, takes off his overall and surveys the job from the inside. ‘Needs a drop of paint, now,’ he tells her. She comes to him and stands beside him, her arm around his shoulders. She looks up at him and smiles.
‘I’m so pleased,’ Ellen says, admiring Barry’s handiwork. ‘I can sleep soundly at night, now.’
Barry has grown in self-confidence in the last week. He squeezes Ellen and bends down to kiss her lightly on the cheek. ‘I should think so,’ he says, ‘now there’s the two of us. Their foreheads touch and they stand like that for a while.
It takes a couple of hours for the chippy to finish, but Barry and Ellen manage to spend the time together without too much tedium, and after Boofhead has cleaned up and gone, they head out to the cinema together, and then to a small, intimate café they know.
It’s a couple of days before Boofhead meets a friend of his in the pub. They have a beer together, and then move away from the bar. His mate hands over a roll of notes discreetly, and their heads lean together. Boofhead hands his mate a list of addresses. ‘This top one’s not much,’ he says. ‘Easy to get in through the roof, though, cos I left the hinges with just one screw each side. Not really worth it, though. Looks like the boyfriend has moved in, and in any case they don’t have much: they got a big TV and a couple of lap-tops, but that’s about it. I wouldn’t bovver, myself.’ He points to the third address.
‘This one though, they’re loaded and I took an imprint of the front door key.’ He hands over a thick piece of card.
His mate takes it and slides it into his pocket with a smile. They both sip their beer thoughtfully.