As my old mother might have said if I’d ever met her, “It’ll end in tears,” and it usually did along with a rain of other, less disposable bodily fluids.
I was sitting in the living room of a terraced house opposite Bill and Bella McKinstry, their two kids Montel and Imani running around hyper and hysterical, which from the non-reaction of their elders appeared to be the default position. Bill and Bella sounded like a comedy duo, but nothing could have been less amusing than this god-forsaken set-up.
The room itself was rectangular with two sets of windows facing the front and back gardens. Seventies décor reigned supreme complete with mustard brown swirly carpet and stone fireplace in front of which an electric fire squatted like an enormous toad. Through the window, over Alec’s shoulder, darkness routed the day and the sodium lights began their thankless vigil even though it wasn’t 4pm yet.
Bella heaved herself off the fake leather sofa muttering about putting some lights on, although that didn’t turn out to be an improvement. The kids had drawn on the walls over the peeling, yellowing woodchip and there was a mound of dirty washing spilling out of the adjoining kitchen to within inches of my feet. Bill was small, thin and wizened, dark eyes looking out soulfully from beneath a base ball cap onto a world that hadn’t been kind to him in the past and wasn’t expected to change anytime soon. He was chain-smoking roll-ups and a small graveyard of the butts lay in the large glass ashtray bearing the legend “World’s Best Dad.” She by contrast was large, blond and anxious, wearing a dirty pink shell suit, small mouth set in a permanent sneer of disgusted disbelief as though that was the only expression she had had any use for and couldn’t remember the rest. I couldn’t decide what age they were: it could have been over forty or under twenty. Poverty and nae luck tended to do that to a person.
I was about to find out how far their run of bad luck had really stretched, although the mere fact that they needed my services spoke volumes.