This is part of a series based on my life in the law as a property lawyer.
Some clients were easy going and some not; some were bright and some not; some were patient and some not. And then there was Clive. He was one of those blue touch paper people who, like yogurt plants and a snotty nose, just kept on giving.
Stress, pressure, questions, deadlines. They all came the same to Clive.
We shouldn’t have been acting for him. Not really. His company of property development specialists was the client so acting for one of the directors had the potential for conflict. But trying to tell Clive that was like trying to explain to Vladimir Putin that Crimera was ok on its own, thanks very much.
‘The missus needs a pee-aid a tear’ which, as it turned out wasn’t so far from the truth.
The ‘missus’ in this story was a Bolivian refugee from some right wing political coup with hair like one of those Hubble photographs of nebulae and eyelashes that resemble the sorts of rope bridges that intrepid explorers use to cross gorges that have the characteristics and dimensions of Dolly Parton’s cleavage to reach the Holy Grail. Hortense. Or some such. Whatever it was – Clive only ever used ‘the missus’ in her absence and ‘sugar’ in her presence and her accent never did translate well to the western European ear.
Hortense shopped with the same single minded determination and wild-eyed fanaticism that she had previously brought to a South American government’s overthrow. As such it was becoming difficult for her to maximise the exercise she gave Barclay and Amex, her two constant companions what with the longer opening hours permitted by the libertarian urges that followed Mrs Thatcher’s Boadicea like sweep through the established order of life in the UK. She couldn’t be at Harrods from the store’s opening, till it closed and make it back to mid Surrey in time for mint juleps and Corrie.
‘She needs the best.’ We realised, fairly early on, that being a force of Latin nature was probably the only thing that could intimidate Clive. Maybe we could take lessons?
The ‘best’ turned out to the the top two floors of an extraordinary building – the bastard love child of the demonically possessed apartment block in Ghostbusters and something Hieronymus Bosch dreamed up as a home for his mother in law. Clive knew the developer and was offered a lease on favourable terms if he signed up, ‘off-plan’. We advised him to be sure it would suits his needs but he shrugged off any worries. ‘If the Missus wants it, she’ll ‘ave it.’
And so he signed up. Now, while Clive was a sociopathic bully with a Napoleon complex, he did listen to his lawyers and made sure he took out all appropriate protection against defective architects and thoughtless contractors. And, if the Fates were as nervy about how Clive might react to disappointment as we were, then they ensured the two floors were handed over to the second set of contractors who would be let loose with Hortense’s instructions and Clive’s credit card to fit the place out in a style fitting…
You know, I’m really not sure there are adjectives in the English language that could do justice to the opulence, the ambition, the sheer bloody mind-boggling chutzpah with which that ‘leetle ‘ome’ was brought to life. Creators of psychotropic drugs would give up and become vegan once they had seen the inside of this place. If asked for a categorization it might be ‘drag queen chic’ but that would be dowdy by comparison.
I took an age but, since Hortense loved the whole employer shtick Clive was content to let it run and run. Or so we thought. We almost forgot that it had even been a thing when…
Clive had three modes of address.
- what the fuck have [you][he][they] done? when some little glitch emerged in one of his projects
- we’ve got the fuckers (note the theme) when some kind of nefarious trickery was paying off
- how fucking much? You can guess what he had just received.
But the use of my name? Never. He sounded subdued.
‘Yes, Clive. How are you?’
I didn’t really know what to say. The chance that Clive would eventually pick on someone whose response would be physical was always hovering somewhere in the back of my mind but I assumed he was probably comprised 70 percent granite chips held together by unreasoning prejudice so the odd punch would hurt the protagonist more.
Before I could frame the question he added, ‘She’s left me.’
Hortense. Now for all his many foibles, I had an admiration of sorts for Clive so losing the love of his life had to hurt.
‘It was that bloody apartment. I knew it was going to be trouble.’
Ah, now maybe we were building to something here, some sort of pain deflection that would involve me in donating a kidney to his supper club. ‘Oh. How’s that?’
‘She ended up in hospital. Bloody incompetent morons.’
Maybe he was looking to us to sue the builders. I asked if that was why he was calling.
‘Nah, the basic scheme’s excellent. It was her fitting out people.’
I took my time, teasing out the problem.
Hortense had a number of set ideas a lot of which stemmed from the unsanitary conditions she had often found herself in, in her early rebellious days. The result was that, now she could design her own bathrooms she insisted on everything being hands free – taps, soap dispensers, dryers and flushes. The seats even lifted and lowered without the need to touch anything.
The plan for the ensuite to the master bedroom was detailed and complicated and there were it seemed many changes as the project developed which meant much abortive cost for Clive but some unfortunate compromises behind the panelling for the contractors. Eventually the work was all done and Hortense arrived, ready to enjoy her new home that had been created in her imagination.
Clive’s voice dropped as he reached he point where his ‘sugar’ became hospitalised. It appeared to revolve around the moment she went to use the toilet for the first time. Because of the ‘no hands’ requirement the flush was sited on the wall behind the seat. So when Hortense leant back she accidentally set the flush going.
And in normal circumstances that might have caused a moment of surprise. A squeal perhaps. However the whole concept of normal had no application to this ‘end of empire’ rococo extravaganza. And the poor befuddled contractors, in creating her vision had had to employ some Heath Robinson compromises to achieve Hortense’s desires.
‘So what happened?’
’They fitted the hot water to the cistern and coupled it to the pump for the power shower. One minutes she’s thinking about lunch the next her pussy’s been poached.’
I didn’t know how to respond. I began to pity the contractors, for Clive was sure to want to eviscerate them. ‘But why is she leaving you? It wasn’t your fault.’
Silence wasn’t a tool employed by Clive where demented screaming was available to him. But silence I got.
‘It was me. told them to finish and I didn’t care how. I was costing me a fortune.’
‘She’s said she’ll stay…’
‘Oh. Well that’s good…’
‘… as long as I pay for a complete refurbishment.’
‘The whole flat?’
‘Not her flat, you moron. Her fanny.’
Another long silence. ‘And you’re telling me this because…?’
‘I need your best man, someone who knows about these things. I’m not getting screwed again.’
The metaphors seemed to be getting out of hand. That said I worked with a lot of talented people whose specialties could be described as esoteric, but nobody who, so far as I knew, had experience in the gentrification of the genitals. I tried to explain my dilemma.
‘I know. But could you ask around?’
I promised to try.