Over breakfast of tea, cereal and toast, I ask Mike how he is feeling this morning.
“Like death warmed up,” he replies. Good: enough of a hangover to remind him of his over indulgence. I can’t resist a smirk.
I lead him through a post-mortem of the previous night’s events. I am surprised, and we are both embarrassed, by how much he can remember.
“I’m sorry, Patrick,” he says. “Showing myself up like that. How much do you think I had? I’ve no idea.”
“I was trying to work it out last night. I reckon two thirds of a bottle of wine and a large brandy or two.”
“That much wine? I thought I was drinking slowly and had only had a glass or two. I don’t remember my glass being empty and refilling it. No wonder I was pissed.”
“How much do you usually drink?” I want to know and not just to put last night’s consumption in context.
“Maybe a couple of pints a week at home. I told you before, I don’t go out any more. Even when I did it wasn’t for more than a pint or two so as not to be over the limit. I always had to drive home.”
Mike reaches across the table for the teapot to refill his cup. He will need to rehydrate. His action triggers a doubt in my mind. I start to move the sugar, the marmalade jar and the butter dish around on the kitchen table.
“What are you doing?” Mike asks.
“I’m trying to remember where we were all sitting in the dining room last night. If that’s me and you were sitting on my right,” I say, pointing at the butter and marmalade. “Where were Doug and Brenda?”
“Doug was to your left.” Mike pushes the sugar to the right place. “Which means Brenda was on my right between Doug and me.” He plonks the teapot down in the relevant spot.
I stare at the arrangement trying to visualise the table and the group of us sitting around it.
Got it! I move the milk to a point between teapot Brenda and Doug, the sugar.
“That is where the wine was.” I say in triumph. “All night after the first glasses were poured. I had one glass, Brenda wasn’t drinking and Doug only had one small glass; I was keeping any eye on him.”
“So how come I finished the bottle without realising?”
“Your glass was between you and Brenda. She must have been topping it up when you weren’t looking.”
“Why?” Mike asks. “I told her the other day I don’t drink much.”
“Because she thinks we should get together. You and me.” My tone conveys what I think of her actions whatever her motive. “I think she wanted to get you tipsy enough for you to make a move on me but miscalculated. She didn’t expect me to get the brandy out and you to get wrecked.”
“Instead you have to put me to bed and clean up after me,” he says. “You did get to have a grope though!”
I force myself to see the funny side. There is no point being miserable over it.
“Very enjoyable grope it was, too. Perhaps we can do it again sometime,” I am being uncharacteristically forward but try to cover it with sarcasm. “But not when we are befuddled by drink.”
We clean up the breakfast things and get ready to go to work.
I am worried that Mike will still be over the alcohol limit for driving, so he rides with me and will pick his car up this evening. That will set some tongues wagging when we are both seen to be getting out of the one car.
As I drive to work we agree that we will say nothing to Doug, Brenda or anyone else about what happened.
Colin is talking to Doug in the main office when we arrive. Nothing is said, but we are briefly on the receiving end of a pair of salacious grins. Doug must have been telling Colin about last night.
We say our ‘Good Mornings’ and Colin starts to talk with Mike about some system problem that has arisen overnight. They head off to their den. I ask Doug to follow me to my office. I close the door and we both sit. Doug has a grin on his face again.
“Before you ask,” I say. “As you know, Mike was drunk, I put him to bed. Nothing happened.”
Doug looks disappointed.
“Now a word of advice. The girls in the main office, like girls anywhere, can hear a chocolate wrapper at twenty paces, but when it comes to gossip, they can listen to three separate conversations the other side of a football pitch. Have a chat with Colin by all means, but if you want to discuss anything personal, take it somewhere private.”
He is suitably embarrassed by the implied reprimand. It makes him look cute though.
I put that thought aside.
“Now,” I say to indicate a change of subject. “I forgot to ask you yesterday. Have you heard any more about the hostel closing?”
“I haven’t heard anything from Social, if that’s what you mean.” Doug’s dejected posture telegraphs what he says next. “Looks like I’ll be back on the streets.”
“I don’t think it will come to that.” I watch him to gauge his reaction. “I have a proposition for you: you could live with me.”
Wrong turn of phrase: he looks wary, hunted even. I press on quickly in case he rejects my suggestion before he has heard it in full.
“Proposal would be a better word. You have seen how much room there is in my house. You would have your own room. In fact you could probably have the top floor to yourself.”
There is a loo and sink up there so it is pretty much self-contained apart from meals and showers.
“It would be a strictly financial transaction. You’ll pay me a rent like any lodger would.”
Doug looks relieved, as if he thought he was going to be asked for payment in kind.
“How much will you charge?” he asks.
“Ah. There you have me,” I reply. “I haven’t had a chance to work anything out yet. I only had the idea it last night, and I had my hands full with Mike.”
Another wrong turn of phrase: this time the reaction is an amused grin. Dirty minded little devil.
“If you’re interested, I’ll work something out and let you know. Are you interested?”
“If I can afford it.”
I know what Doug is earning working for the company. I will pitch it so that he can afford it.
“I’m sure we will be able to agree a rate that won’t break the bank.”
He nods and grins, and I send him off to the main office and get on with my preparation for the showdown when Scott, the Sales Director comes back off holiday.
Just before lunch, Bert, the Finance Director, walks into my office with a handful of papers.
“George wants to have a review of where we’ve got to on Friday at eleven,” he says. “We had better have a run through first thing tomorrow afternoon so that we can compare notes and see if we can think of anything we’ve missed.”
“Okay. In the conference room?” I ask. “There’s more room in there and we can set it up for Friday.”
“Good idea,” he replies. “By the way, George thought it would be a good idea if we did some digging on the customer. This is what I have got from the Companies House website.”
He drops the papers on my desk.
“See if you can pick anything out of it,” he says as he leaves the room.
Sales should have done some research when we took the customer on, but I expect they will only have looked at the obvious bits if they bothered at all.
I get up to stretch my legs and make myself a cup of coffee. Standing by the window while I sip my drink, I see Colin and Doug walking back from the sandwich shop. They are bumping into each other the way older school kids sometimes do. Doug is that age I suppose, and Colin is young enough to regress with the right encouragement. Doug seems to be the right encouragement. I am pleased for both of them that they seem to be getting on well. If anything further develops, I just hope they take it slowly.
Seeing Colin gives me an idea. He said he lives in digs. I ring Mike and ask if he knows how much Colin pays in rent.
“I overheard Doug asking him before they went out,” Mike says. He tells me the figure before continuing. “Doug blanched a bit at the amount. I must admit I thought it was on the high side.”
I think I would agree with that. I won’t be charging Doug that much.
“Doug wouldn’t say when Colin asked why he wanted to know. I think he knew I was listening.” Mike chuckles. “You’re not thinking of taking him in as a lodger are you? If so you might get two. Colin has always said he wants to get out of where he is.”
I finish my coffee and pick up to the papers that the FD has dropped on my desk. There are reports for several companies in the bundle. Our customer must be a subsidiary of another company. Bert must have made the effort to trace the ultimate holding company through a couple of tiers by the looks of the pile.
There is too much for me to look at now. I will have to take it home and look at it this evening. I go back to delving into what it would mean if the customer refused to pay their debt. I will have to run it past the FD in our meeting tomorrow, but I think we will be able to weather it as long as we don’t let the debt get any bigger. We need to stop supply immediately and get the account up to date before we think about starting deliveries again.
Mike meets me for his ride to my house to pick up his car. He is full of it. Brenda rang him about half an hour ago and told him what she had been up to.
“She has found out that Sam is going to a holiday club at his school during the day until term starts next week. It is not far from the house so the ex lets him walk on his own,” he tells me. “Brenda thinks that represents a safeguarding issue we can use against her. More importantly for me, it is a time when he is on his own where Brenda and your mum can talk to him.”
“Mother?” I splutter. “What has she got to do with it?”
“Brenda said you would say that. Your mother will play the little old lady wanting help across the road so as to engage him in conversation. Brenda thinks she will be able to tell if he is unhappy at home or being hit. Apparently your mum doesn’t miss much — ‘eyes like a shithouse rat’ were the words I think Brenda used.”
I have to admit Mother will be a natural in the part, and Mike already knows of her interrogation skills. Mother won’t miss anything but my concern is that she will ignore something if it doesn’t support her idea of what’s what. At least Brenda will be briefing her. If anyone can set Mother in the right frame of mind it is Brenda.
“They will try to talk to him tomorrow,” Mike says, “and again on Friday if necessary.”
“I hope it works out,” I say.
The house feels empty again as I prepare and eat my evening meal.
I spend some time thinking about how much I will charge Doug for his room and board. I don’t really need to charge him anything: the house is paid for and I have to pay the bills anyway. I earn enough that I should be able to keep him as well, and I would have had to if he was my son. On the other hand, I think it would be better for him psychologically if he was paying something. He would feel he was contributing to the household and not leaving himself under any special obligation to me. I saw how he reacted when I used the word ‘proposition’ when I suggested he might live with me.
In the end, I decide that he will pay a small proportion of the running costs and we will share the food bills. I am hoping that doing it that way will avoid adding unnecessary complications to my personal tax affairs. I work out roughly what I think it will cost him on average each week.
The rest of the evening I spend looking at the accounts and other papers the FD left on my desk. There is nothing exceptional about the accounts themselves. More interesting is the structure of the group. There are two levels above our customer and both are unlisted private companies. Bert has also downloaded the lists of directors of the various companies and, as I would have expected, most of the names are the same and their contact addresses are the companies’ registered offices.
What Bert has not given me are the shareholding records. Maybe he didn’t think them useful. More likely he thought we still had to pay for downloads.
I go online and search the Companies House website. I find what I am looking for: the majority shareholder of the holding company. Not surprisingly, he is one of the directors of all the companies. His contact address as a shareholder is the same as the company’s registered office. I am not sure if that is normally allowed. Perhaps he is afraid of being harassed by irate creditors. To complete the picture, I look at the minority shareholders. From their names they are obviously family, but their listed addresses are not the same as his. One seems familiar but I can’t think why so I print off the schedule. It will remind me to investigate in the morning.
Another thing I find interesting when researching on the Companies House website is the list of other appointments held by directors. So I indulge myself and search for the name of the majority shareholder. It brings up a long list of his appointments held in other companies showing the date of appointment and the company’s registered office address. Most of the addresses are the same but one in particular catches my eye. It is in the same road as Maggie’s brother’s old business and might even be the same address. My printer churns out the list of appointments. I have another thing to check in the morning.