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The estate agent looked at me a little strangely when I told her I was a self-employed entrepreneur. This impresses a lot of people on the first mention, particularly in a one-to-one conversation. At the second mention, so-called dominant men usually get jealous and shut down. The women I talk to—housewives and civil servants—typically get very interested and ask more questions, so I shut them down myself. I’m not interested in women. I’m not interested in men. I’m interested in my business.
The estate agent asked me if I live alone. Any partner or long-term relationship to bind me? Any friend or relation I might give a bed for free? Might seek to profit from boarders? I said no. I wanted the whole mansion for myself. The property dealer laughed here and asked if I were hoping to live ‘the bachelor’s dream’. I asked what this dream was. A mansion to oneself, she said, a little put off by the fact I wouldn’t play her word game. I told her no, I was already living that dream. I explained this new mansion would actually be my second– an entrepreneurial base to expand my business across the city. The triple-size basement, extending far out beneath the grounds, was a huge draw.
At the mention of basements, she went a little quiet, because I think people naturally associate basements with serial killers (and attics with kidnappers). Of course, I’m not a serial killer or a kidnapper. I have my business, and eateries have their customers, and meat is expensive. There is not a person in this world I would seek to hurt. I’m apolitical, asexual, and I prefer to live alone.
The estate agent looked to Ahmed. Ahmed is the closest thing I have to an apprentice. He’s the grandson of my biggest client, who owns forty five of the one hundred and ninety eight takeaways in our metropolitan area. Ahmed is a smart lad who understands business, and that meat is expensive.
After a quick conversation, he roped the estate agent into driving us down into the city’s Edwardian district to have a look around the new property. I said Ahmed is a smart lad. That’s why when we walked up the drive and a rat darted from the bushes and ran between the estate agent’s legs and she screamed, he said nothing. He didn’t even smirk.
In his place I said, “Are you alright? No need to worry. Rats aren’t so bad. Actually, I like them.”
In the house itself we found no surplus rats. Quite a pity but I’m sure the estate agent was pleased. She apologised many times for the great abundance of dust, but Ahmed (and I) told her not to fret. The dust was not her fault. How could it be? It was the fault of whoever managed upkeep, Ahmed insisted. As I had hoped, this set her off on a little talk about the previous owner. She was breaking confidentiality rules aplenty, I am sure, but Ahmed’s presence oozes innocence, and my own is near-invisible, so I suppose as she spilled the beans she was thinking ‘who would they tell?’ No-one of course.
And she would be quite right. I do not gossip. Why should I?
In the kitchen, the dining room, hallway, and lounge, we learned the previous occupant’s name, his habits, and his wealth. He had been a gambler who taught Mathematics and made a name for himself writing books on some topic our guide was not bright enough to explain adequately. He used his mansion and its enormous basement to host poker tournaments followed by gin parties, every July, the estate confided with impish glee. She asked if this was my plan too.
“Now you mention the idea, yes”, I said, and added: “I love gin.” I do not love gin.
For some reason, the lady then laughed.
Ahmed chuckled a little here and changed the subject. He knows that I struggle to understand why such things are funny. Upon reaching the basement the gossip stopped. We stood at the doorway atop basement steps, staring into empty three dimensional space. The scale of this basement was indeed impressive. One had the impression of staring into a warehouse at night. Dotted at some of the edges were skylights. Without these we would have been staring into an abyss.
The estate agent hummed and hrrr-ed. I imagine she was imaging this space attractively lit, full of seductive mathematicians and academics, smashing their cards against each other and sipping fashionable gin concoctions. I however was imagining it full of rats. Buckets full.
Well, not actual buckets of course. That would not be economical. The thought was an indulgence. Cages. One farms rats in cages.
The estate agent pinged on the lights. The basement- still vast- took on a little more reality now. Once could see the concrete. One could spy the cracks and damp spots. She turned to Ahmed and I, smiling pearl-white. “Well look at you two! Master and servant, lording it over your laboratory. Like a regular Renfield and Dracula!” She raised her palms to chest-height and wiggled her fingers, indicating: ‘joke’. “Better not sink your teeth into me!”
I could not imagine a more disgusting prospect.
“Who’s Renfield?” asked Ahmed.
Angus Stewart is a Scot who writes- he was once told- in a style that makes you feel as if you are floating. He is regularly published in the Manchester zine NOUS, and has self-published various fun things on the Amazon Kindle store, and on his blog. In no particular order Angus likes beer, exploring, animals, and evening light.
You can check out his blog here.