The decorator who turned up on my front doorstep, ten minutes after our agreed nine o’clock, was hot, notwithstanding the impressive shiner over his left eye. By quarter past nine, he’d annoyed me immensely. I’d expected Ray, from Ray Bowler’s Rollers (a faux-amusing piece of wordplay better spoken aloud than on the written page). I’d met him when he came to price up the job. Satisfyingly punctual, the eponymous Ray Bowler embraced paunchy middle-age with gusto, complete with grey combover and the local Devon accent. He also boasted average height and breadth.
Whereas this striking Viking (see, Ray? we could all play word games) had none of those attributes and towered over me, blocking the daylight as his bulk filled the doorway. “Hi! I’ve come to paint your house. I work for Ray—I’m Ragnar Aleksander Sigurdson Eggebraaten.”
Was he coughing up a particularly troublesome lump of phlegm?
He laughed easily. “Hey, mate, thanks for the offer. But I’ve got a black eye and the world’s shittiest hangover. I can’t promise I’m up to performing on demand with a total stranger, but I’m always game to give it a go.”
My face turned scarlet. Usually it was me who delivered the snarky lines. “I meant your name; I didn’t catch it.”
He laughed again; I swear those teeth must have been artificially whitened. Otherwise, life was plainly unfair. “I know what you meant, mate. I was only taking the piss. Call me Eggy. Everyone else does.”
“Clement Constantine-Church. How do you do,” I replied waspishly and gave his hand a brief shake. It felt warm and work-roughened, dwarfing my soft palm.
“Fucking hell, that’s not a name, dude—it’s a firm of solicitors! What do you like to be called?”