23 October, 2006

Arresting developments

I was woken at 6.20am this morning by the sound of my intercom buzzer being pressed repeatedly.

After a split-second of utter panic, chiefly caused by the shock of being suddenly dragged from a deep sleep, my next thought was to ignore it completely. I presumed it was some neighbour or other wanting to be let in to the building, and that having found no response from my flat would try another number on the keypad by the main door. But no. The buzzing continued.

Struggling out of bed to put a stop to the screeching din (the buzzer makes a sound like a million lorries reversing), and pausing to note only it was pissing down with rain and completely dark outside, I answered the call. "Is that Callum Harvey?" said a voice. "Er no, it's not," I replied somewhat lamely. "Can I come in?" inquired the voice. "It's a warrant officer."

I had no choice, of course, and let the man in, utilising the few seconds it takes for someone to walk all the way up the stairwell to my front door to try and compose myself.

I already knew what this was all about. Ever since I moved into this flat eight months ago, stern-looking letters have occasionally arrived addressed to Callum Harvey. Some were final demands. Some looked like they were from an official inspectorate or other. I don't know how long ago Mr Harvey lived here, but he'd clearly exited the premises leaving a lot of unfinished business behind him. Now some of that business was evidently catching him up.

When I opened the door I was conscious of how utterly undignified and vulnerable I was, having 60 seconds earlier been completely asleep. In front of me was a man dripping with rain but dressed very formally and brandishing his ID at me. "Callum Harvey?" he asked again. "No no, he doesn't live here," I replied meekly. "I'm not him. I've got some ID."

The warrant officer was resolute. "You're not Callum Harvey?" "No. I've lived here for eight months. Mail still comes for him, though," I added pathetically. Why couldn't I sound more confident, assured, in control? "Could you show me some ID?" the man continued, stepping inside my flat. "Of course," I responded hastily, and scurried off to where I keep all my bills, bank statements and personal documents.

I returned with a folder full of paperwork. "What would you like to see?" I began. "I've got..." "Just a utility bill," the man muttered tersely. "There you go," I countered, trying to sound more dispassionate and drawing his attention to a letter from Thames Water. "That's fine," he grunted and promptly turned on his heel to leave.

"I've got plenty of other..." I continued, somehow feeling compelled to argue my defence even though I wasn't guilty of anything. "No. That's fine," he concluded, and disappeared.

The warrant officer returned to his car in the road outside. I watched from my bedroom window, in darkness, as he sat writing something down. After a minute or so he drove off. And that was that.

Except it wasn't. The whole unexpected, brief and blunt encounter had been seared into my brain and it was impossible to go back to sleep. I lay in bed pointlessly trying to calm down. At least it wasn't too early and I only found myself forfeiting an hour or so's rest. Thank goodness he didn't call round at something like 4.00am.

Was I forceful enough in persuading the man of my identity? Could I have done more? Why was he so quick to terminate his investigation? Will he be returning for a more protracted visit?

Wherever and whoever Callum Harvey is, I wish he'd turn himself in. Then I can forget worrying about any of those four questions. And maybe get some sleep tonight.


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