16 Mar

Home Advantage

An excerpt from my contribution to Stories For Homes, an anthology of 63 short stories of all styles and genres on the theme of ‘Home.’ There are families, lovers, friends, neighbours, and a surprising number of dead bodies. It’s an excellent read, and as a bonus, all profits from the sale of the anthology go to support the UK housing and homelessness charity Shelter.

Suzanne Wilson stood in the marbled lobby and prayed for patience as her nineteen year-old meal-ticket squared up to a man more than twice his age. The job should have been easy. Show the kid (sorry, client) a selection of the best rental properties in the area. Wait for him to choose the one he liked. Send humungous invoice to his management company. Receive payment, placate bank manager, high-fives all round.

The building was brand new, but the concierge was old-school, suited and booted, with shining shoes, ramrod posture, and a military-standard haircut. His face was professionally blank, but his feelings about her client as a potential tenant were crystal clear.

Johan Moore gave the old soldier a final scowl and spun round on his good leg. His sweat pants fell even lower on his hips, showing a good three inches of underwear bearing his name on the waistband.  He hitched them up, and they slid back down.

“Let’s go.”

“Go where? You haven’t even seen the place.” 

“Don’t need to.” He chewed ostentatiously, snapping his gum half a dozen times; she gritted her teeth and reminded herself that he was not her son. “I don’t like it here.”

“Mr Moore -,”

“Jo,” he corrected. “Or JoMo.”

“Jo. This is the tenth place we’ve seen today.” Unlike him, she was wearing formal shoes, and after two days her feet were screaming for relief. “We viewed ten yesterday. Perhaps we should discuss why you didn’t like any of those before I waste your time showing you another ten tomorrow.”

“I don’t like this neighbourhood.” He flicked a glance over his shoulder at the concierge. “It’s all fancy restaurants and old lady salons.” He reached up to groom his hair, shaved close and dark to somewhere high above his ears, where a tight tangle of custard-yellow curls clustered improbably. “I need somewhere more me. Clerkenwell, or Shoreditch.”

Clurkenwell or Sure Ditch. His biography said he’d been born in Yorkshire, but he’d grown up in Florida, and his accent was pure Sunshine State.

“Unfortunately, Jo, neither of those places is within fifteen minutes’ drive of the National Tennis Centre.” She tapped the client questionnaire on her clipboard. It was the only thing he’d been clear about. “Shoreditch to Roehampton would take you more than an hour on a good day.”

He muttered something that made the concierge stiffen even further, and stomped outside. He was favouring his good leg, which spoiled the effect.

“Sorry about that,” she said over her shoulder as she hurried after him.

“Best of luck, ma’am,” followed her through the double doors.


He was sitting on the bench in the manicured gardens, hunched moodily over his phone. She sat carefully on the other end, slipped her feet out of her shoes, and waited for him to finish tweeting his displeasure to his many thousands of followers.

“What’s on the list for tomorrow?” he asked, without looking up.

She flipped through the remaining options.

“Two double bedrooms, both en suite, own entrance, a few streets from here?”

“No way.”

“Beautiful loft-style apartment with fantastic kitchen?”

“Pointless. Don’t cook.”

“River view?”

“I’ll be in the gym. I won’t see it. And I bet it stinks in summer.”

“Spectacular penthouse?”

“Don’t like heights.”

“You don’t want a garden. You don’t want a house. You don’t like old buildings because the floorboards creak.” She listed yesterday’s disasters. “I have to ask you, JoMo,” she gave full weight to his ridiculous nickname and he slanted her a sideways look, “what do you want? Please tell me and put us both out of our misery.”

His eyes slid away from hers and he turned back to his phone. “I’ll know it when I see it.”

 “Frankly, I’m not sure it exists,” she said.

“Why do you care?” he muttered. “You’re getting paid anyway.”

Not until you sign on the dotted line, JoMo.

This was getting them nowhere. Her feet rebelled at the idea of further torture, but the prospect of facing Mr Brown at NatWest empty-handed was far, far worse.

“Tell me something, Jo,” she said. “You’re the next great hope of British tennis, right?”

“I’ll be top 50 soon.” Good grief, the kid actually cracked a smile, and his face didn’t break. “I’m going to be top 10 before I’m 21.” He stretched his leg out, and his expression clouded over again. “As soon as I rehab my knee.”

 “What do you do when you’re playing somebody for the first time?”

He shrugged. “Do my homework. Make a plan. Play to my strengths. Exploit the other guy’s weak points.”

“What if your plan doesn’t work?”

“Change the game,” he said automatically. “Try something else.”

“What if you’ve tried everything you can think of, and you’re still not getting anywhere?”

“Never, ever give up,” he said. “Keep trying to make him do things your way. If all else fails, attack.”

Out of the mouths of kids and clients.


Read the rest of this story, and 62 other quality short stories in Stories For Homes, available as a paperback or e-book on Amazon.co.uk, where it has an average customer review rating of 5*. Please give it a try and get some good karma with your good reading. Thank you!

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