He stepped boldly up to the door and rang the bell with the same hand that was holding the clipboard. In the other he held a mock leather briefcase. It was rectangular with straight edges, held shut by two shiny brass clasps that could be secured by a small key turned in the locks they fitted into. He waited several seconds then rang again. After several more seconds there was still no answer. This was as he’d expected, indeed had hoped. He held up the hand with the clipboard, using it to block off the sun’s rays, and tried to peer through the window next to the door. Although the curtains themselves weren’t drawn, net curtains meant it wasn’t really possible to see anything.
He’d called at several houses along the street he was in before this one. Generally he’d got no answer. From the three that did reply, his polite enquiry as to whether they’d like to change their electricity provider had resulted in a swift ‘no’ from two of them followed by a hasty, and somewhat impolite, closing of the front doors they’d opened. The third one had been opened by an old lady who’d invited him in to discuss it further over a cup of tea. He’d been sure she just wanted the company rather than it being a serious enquiry as to what he might be offering. He’d explained that he wasn’t really qualified to discuss the matter himself but was merely making appointments for a colleague that would be following in a couple of days. He’d taken her details down on one of the blank pages clipped to his board – he hadn’t let her see that they were all blank of course – and had arranged a suitable time for his colleague to call round on the following Tuesday.
It was a simple enough ruse, a way of finding out which houses were occupied during the day and those which weren’t, and if spotted, someone carrying a clipboard going from house to house was a common enough sight. Neighbours, if they were in, would think nothing of him approaching the next house. He’d hoped the property would be empty when he’d seen the ‘To Let’ sign proudly standing in the front garden with the agents details below its main message.
He swiftly moved round to the rear of the house letting himself through the low gate that divided the front and back. Getting the patio door open was no obstacle to him, a little juggling with the plastic card he had ready for the purpose being all that was required. He stepped inside, sliding the door shut behind him. The house was furnished but empty. The one cabinet in the spacious lounge was bare, as were all the other surfaces he could see.
He walked briskly across the lounge and out into the hall then up the staircase that led from it. When he reached the top he opened the first door presented to him – it led to a bathroom. A quick scan told him this too was now empty, waiting for new occupiers to fill its shelves with their personal paraphernalia. He shut the door again quietly. The house was detached from any other but the fact he was here illegally, and his reasons for being so, made this feel necessary. The second door he tried led to a single bedroom. It was again furnished, a single bed taking up a lot of the room’s space and a white table and drawers set under its one window, but devoid of anything to proclaim ownership or occupancy. The one white wardrobe still had its sliding doors open. Raoul wouldn’t have been that surprised if the empty hangers on its central rail were still swinging, the room had that sort of ‘just left’ air about it. They weren’t, of course. They hung perfectly still, any energy given to them when clothing had been removed having long since dissipated. He stepped up to the window. It overlooked the house’s back garden, and the back gardens of the houses in the next street. It was, in fact, exactly what he’d been hoping for.
He tried by moving as close to the window’s frame as possible to see where the houses started, so that he could count up to the number he thought the man he’d followed had gone in but he couldn’t get a good enough angle to see. It didn’t really matter. One of the back gardens he was overlooking was the one he wanted, and he could see all of them clearly enough through the net curtains that allowed him to see out without being seen himself. He looked down at the gardens, all pretty similar to each other, one at one end of his view containing a wooden shed in which its owner no doubt kept the various tools and machines needed to maintain the tidy garden in its well groomed state. A few doors along a newspaper fluttered occasionally on a large round glass table set at the centre of a patio and surrounded by grey metal looking chairs. The table had an umbrella at its centre, closed now and covered with a hood. It obviously provided shade when the weather was hot and the sun strong. Two of the other gardens were set out similarly, tables different shapes and made from different materials and one of them not having an umbrella at its centre, but near enough the same as made no odds.
He didn’t need to watch very long before he saw Riaz appear in one of the gardens. It looked as though he was carrying a drink of some kind. He sat at the round table, actually one house down from the one Raoul had thought he’d been in, and picked up the paper. From the way he flipped part way through then stopped with the paper open on a particular page, Raoul guessed it was a task resumed rather than one started. He needed nothing further. He now knew where Riaz was, the purpose of the exercise. He left the room, closing the door behind him as he’d found it and left the house by the same patio door he’d entered by.
As usual he waited until he was quite a distance from the house before hailing a taxi. He chose a busy parade of shops to be dropped off at about half way between where he’d been picked up and his U.K. contact’s address that he was headed for. He picked up two pay-as-you-go mobile phones from two different shops and used one of them to let his contacts know he was on his way over. He could have told them what he needed over the phone but was as ever conscious that the call might be listened to at some later date, maybe even before he could collect his desired purchase, so that the authorities would be there waiting for him to do so. He turned off the phone and casually dropped it into one of the street bins as he passed. The conversation had been innocuous enough, nothing more than letting them know he was coming. He was conscious though that they could very well be taken in for some other reason and that this phone, if he kept it on him, might be traced for reasons totally unrelated to his own activities and desires. Better the cost of a few W$s than to take that risk.
He took another cab to them, explained his requirements and left again shortly after, taking a different taxi back to his own vehicle outside the house he’d followed the man from that morning. He was disappointed to see a plastic wallet fluttering under one of its wipers as he approached the vehicle, though not really surprised. He’d got a parking ticket. He drew the ticket out of its wrapping which he threw the ticket onto the passenger seat as he climbed in. The ticket. He sighed and slipped the ticket into his jacket pocket. He’d pay it later. Before heading back to his hotel he put in his regular appearance at the Simone’s and at the shop there. It was much later than he usually did it but better to be late than not show up at all he felt, especially now that tings weren’t going as he’d first planned. It was increasingly possible that he might need the cover he’d carefully put in place.
When he reached the Simone’s he announced that he would be taking them to London Zoo the following day. This fitted with their own plans. Actually, they didn’t have any so anything he announced would have fitted. He stayed there the usual couple of hours then left to collect his car and head back to the park. It was another nice day, so he’d finish his book before returning to the hotel at much the same time as he usually did.