‘The boards in your place creak. The pipes clang. The doors bang. And sometimes I find it a little hard to sleep.’
Extract taken from The Devil Upstairs
By Anthony O’ Neill
Published by Black and White Publishing
Cat had been trained to deal with difficult people – to charm them, establish a rapport with them, manipulate them. She was proud of her record in doing so. And she backed herself to get results now.
The following evening she raced home from work and changed into her running gear. She felt slightly out of shape – moving in, setting herself up, then adjusting to Moyle’s routines had all taken their toll – but she knew she still looked OK in Lycra pants. She tied her hair back in a swishy ponytail. Even considered stuffing her bra.
Then she sat in her armchair, trying to read a book about Julius Caesar, and waited for Moyle to come home.
Frustratingly, it wasn’t until ten p.m. But when she heard the kah-lunk of the building’s stair door and clap clap clap of his boots on the granite steps, she was ready. She took a deep breath and started down the stairs past the malfunctioning light.
She met him for the first time outside the door to Number Three.
‘Hi,’ she said as brightly as possible, thrusting out a hand. ‘You must be Dylan.’
He had unruly shoulder-length hair, a lank beard, a bloodless complexion and ruthless dark-brown eyes. He was wearing an inflexible scowl, a dog-collar tattoo and a leather jacket over a ragged T-shirt bearing the words HOUNDS OF HADES. He couldn’t have looked more like a hard rocker if he’d stepped off the cover of a death metal magazine.
He accepted her hand with a desultory shake but was still giving her a million-mile stare.
‘I’m Cat, Cat Thomas,’ she went on, still smiling. ‘I’m living in Flat Five, right beneath you.’
He continued looking at her blankly.
‘I’m sorry I didn’t introduce myself earlier,’ she said. ‘But I think you were away for the first few weeks I was here. This is really some sort of place, huh? So atmospheric – I love it.’
He finally seemed to have realised she was talking to him. ‘Cat,’ he said. ‘Thomas Cat. Tom Cat.’
‘Yeah!’ She laughed, as though nobody had ever made that joke before. ‘Catriona actually, in the Scottish style, but where I grew up no one knew how to pronounce it, so I shortened it to Cat. Tom Cat, yeah.’ Another pointless chuckle.
Moyle continued staring at her. His eyes roamed her body, but he didn’t look impressed.
‘Oh, well,’ said Cat, ‘better be on my way. It was great to meet you.’
She turned away and started down the steps. But almost immediately turned back. Because now came the ‘afterthought’.
‘Oh – Dylan?’ And when he slowly rotated back in her direction: ‘I don’t know if you’re aware, but apparently there’s nothing insulating the space between our two apartments – just empty air. So I can hear everything. Everything. And, you know, I’d really appreciate it if you could be mindful of that. At night, I mean. The boards in your place creak. The pipes clang. The doors bang. And sometimes I find it a little hard to sleep. Which is a problem because I’m settling into a new job and . . . well, you understand.’
She’d said it all with upraised eyebrows and the sweetest of smiles – completely unthreatening and non-aggressive, just a new friend asking for a favour.
But in response Moyle’s forehead furrowed, as if he was struggling to work out why she was bothering him with such trivia. And finally:
He said it as though he’d belatedly recognised her accent. As though it explained everything. As if her nationality were some sort of disease.
Cat could only laugh politely, treating the reaction as a joke, then turn around, head down the stairs again, and go out for her run.
But as she scaled the hills of Ravelston – half-heartedly, and absurdly late at night – she had a terrible feeling in her gut. A sense that her charm, her wiles, all her strategic manipulations, had come to naught.
And so it turned out to be.
That night she lay awake in bed, hearing the klunks, the creaks, the kee-wahs, and the shhhhhhhhhhhh of the hissing pipes. If anything, the noises were more insistent than ever. She slept in fits and starts, drifting in and out of psychedelic dreams, her solutions becoming ever more biblical.
The Devil Upstairs by Anthony O’ Neill is published by Black and White Publishing, priced £12.99