Bruce fingered the cuffs of his jacket. It was a mannerism that affected him when he felt anxious. Why should he feel that way now? He was not sure. This young woman was attractive enough, but he was often surrounded by attractive young women – that was his regular lot. I can’t help all that, he sometimes said to himself; bees go to pollen, don’t they? Some things just are. So, why do I feel ill at ease meeting this Katie?
Ed introduced Bruce. “You two have spoken on the tube,” he said, and laughed.
Katie glanced at Bruce, and then quickly transferred her gaze to Gregor.
Excuse me, thought Bruce. No point barking up the wrong tree.
“Hi, Greg,” she said.
“Hi, Sweetie,” replied Greg.
Hi Sweetie! thought Bruce. How cheesy!
“How’s things?” Katie continued, still addressing Gregor.
“Comme ci, comme ça , ” Gregor replied. “Actually, not too bad – all things considered. I went to the dentist yesterday.”
“Oh, poor you,” said Katie. “I hope it wasn’t sore.”
Oh really! thought Bruce.
“I’m a bit of a wimp. I go for the injection the moment I sit down in the dentist’s chair.”
“I don’t mind a bit of pain,” interjected Bruce. “It doesn’t last long.”
Katie threw him a quick, dismissive glance and then turned back to Gregor. “There’s no shame in asking for a local anaesthetic,” she said. “And besides, injections are like quiche, you know.”
Bruce smarted. He had detected a note of contempt in her voice, and he was not at all sure what she meant in comparing injections to quiche. What a ridiculous thing to say. Was she trying to be clever? Who did she think she was? She was nobody. He had never seen her in any of the places in town that counted. Never.
Ed moved about impatiently. “We need to get down to business,” he said. “What’s the situation, Katie?”
Katie had been carrying a small attaché case. Now she opened this and extracted a piece of paper. “I’ve done twelve viewings over the last two days.” she said. “There’s really strong interest in this flat.”
“Good,” said Ed. “That’s exactly what we expected – and wanted.”
“You only need one offer,” Bruce pointed out. “When I was in practice, that’s what I said to sellers: ‘You only need one offer.’ Land that offer and the place is sold.”
Katie looked at him almost pityingly. “I don’t agree,” she said. “In fact, I can’t think of anybody who would agree with that these days. You need competition to get the price up.”
Bruce seethed. He did not like being corrected by this rather superior young woman – he was a surveyor, after all, and she was … what was she? A paralegal at best.
“Excuse me,” he said. “I’ve bought and sold rather a lot of properties in the past. And I can tell you: you only need one good offer.”
“One good offer,” said Katie. “But what if it’s not that good? Oh yes, you only need one buyer if you are to get rid of a property, but it may not be the result you want. Sellers want a good price – and a single offer doesn’t always have the right sum attached.” She looked at him in a challenging way. “See? That’s how it works.”
Bruce struggled to control himself. “I know all that,” he said, from between pursed lips. “I wasn’t born yesterday.” What was wrong with this woman? Why had she taken against him in this way? It was probably resentment, he decided: people resented what they did not have. She wanted him to notice her, and evidently he had not done so markedly enough. Her behaviour, then, was a cry for attention – that was it. It was as simple as that. Well, that was easily enough remedied.
He smiled at her. “You know a lot,” he said. “And those jeans …” He rolled his eyes.
She stared at him briefly, and then looked pointedly away, addressing Ed now. “We’ve had seven notes of interest, Ed. Seven is pretty good, bearing in mind it’s only been on the market for three days.”
This information pleased Gregor. “Supply and demand,” he said. “There aren’t enough double uppers available. And some of them are going on the private market. They’re not even advertised.”
“You’re quite right,” said Katie, glancing at Bruce as she spoke, as if to suggest that at least somebody knew what he was talking about.
Bruce seethed – again.
Ed did not appear to notice the undercurrents. “So,” he said briskly, “seven notes of interest. Good. Who are they?”
Katie passed Ed a piece of paper. “Here we are,” she said. “I’ve shown all of these people around. One of them came to see it twice.”
“Keen,” said Ed.
“It was two people together, actually. Two women.”
Ed waited. “Buying together?”
“I think so,” Katie said. “They were going on about what they’d do to the place. There was a lot of discussion.” She paused. “Those people will be serious bidders. You can always tell.”
“Good,” said Ed. “So, this is what we’ll do. Let’s set a closing date for offers. Next Friday at noon. Agreed?”
Gregor nodded. “It’s the usual time.”
“The offers will come in to your firm,” Ed continued. “By email, right? PDFs?”
Katie nodded. “I get them. I usually pass them on to my boss. He always has lunch on a Friday at Mortonhall Golf Club. He doesn’t get back until three. That’s when he looks at them.”
“That gives us three hours,” said Ed. “Just before twelve you identify the highest bid. You pass on the info to Bruce here, who puts in a bid that’s twenty grand higher. Then you go back to the original highest offer and tell them they’re going to have up things or they’ll be the under-bidder.”
“We can probably drive the thing up by fifty grand,” said Gregor.
Ed agreed. “At least.” He turned to Bruce. “Katie’s boss has no reason to suspect anything. He comes back from lunch and sees an increased offer from one of the bidders, but won’t know that it’s come in after twelve or that it’s higher because they heard what you had offered. So, if anybody suspects anything, it all looks dead gen. And nobody can pin anything on Katie.”
“Nor on you and Gregor?” said Bruce.
“Exactly. The trail stops dead and nobody would be able to prove anything.”
“Convenient,” said Bruce, adding, “For you.”
“Well, yes,” said Ed. “But you get a cut, Bruce. We all benefit.” He paused. “It’s good to co-operate, remember. It’s called enlightened self-interest.”
Gregor smiled. “We are very enlightened,” he said archly, winking at Katie, who responded with a coquettish giggle, cutting Bruce dead where he stood in his tracks.
© Alexander McCall Smith, 2021. A Promise of Ankles (Scotland Street 14) is available now. Love in the Time of Bertie (Scotland Street 15) will be published by Polygon in hardback in November 2021.