NO CAUSE FOR ALARM • by Alastair McIntyre

Bad news always comes at dinnertime. But then so does good news. It’s the time when Maggie and I get a chance to report on the happenings of the day, once the kids are in bed.

Last night’s news was by way of a confession from Maggie. Maggie is a worrier and spoke hesitantly.

“Someone phoned about the alarm today…”

“The alarm?”

“The burglar alarm. It was really annoying. The kids were out the back, I was trying to look out for them, and clean the floor, and this woman phones about the alarm. She said we were being offered a free upgrade, but I didn’t have time to talk so I asked if she could call back later.”

“So?” Where was this going?

“So she did call back later. Five minutes later. I mean, five minutes! She wanted to know if our alarm was monitored, if we were part of the Neighbourhood Watch scheme. I got a bit angry, got a bit flustered. Told her we didn’t want to upgrade the alarm. Told her we don’t even use the burglar alarm!”

I closed my eyes, felt my forehead creasing in frustration.

“Well done, Maggie. Tell a complete stranger we leave our house unprotected.”

“I’m sorry.” Maggie was contrite. “I got flustered. The kids were playing outside. I just wanted rid of her. I didn’t think.”

“Okay, don’t worry. I’m sure it was just a sales call. Burglars aren’t that sophisticated. Did they give a name?”

“Bolts Security, something like that. Should we report it to police, do you think?”

I shrugged. “I doubt they’ll be interested. I’ll give them a call tomorrow. Just to check it was legitimate. If I get a chance — I’m going to be busy, I’m working to a deadline.” I tried to make a joke of it, to lighten the tone. I knew I’d been a bit harsh. “No cause for alarm!”

That at least brought a smile as weak as the pun back to Maggie’s face.

I got to my deck early next morning. There was a pile of correspondence on my desk awaiting attention. Chris, the Director of Finance, was already hovering in the doorway.

“Last day for those applications, Stephen. Chop, chop.”

I nodded. “I’ll get them done, Chris.”

As soon as Chris had gone I pushed the door shut, sat back at my desk, and phoned the police station. The girl who answered sounded bored. I’m sure she wasn’t a police officer. I recounted what Maggie had told me, explained that my concern was to ensure that this was just a pushy sales call and not anything more sinister.

“Yeah,” I was told. “That sounds like Bolt-On Security. They’ve been doing a lot of that, we’ve had a few complaints. It’s Trading Standards you want to talk to.”

“Thanks.”

I pressed the ‘end call’ button and checked another number before dialing.

Another bored-sounding telephonist. “Hello, Bolt-On Security.”

“Hello. Could I speak to Mr. Barrett, please? Mr. George Barrett?”

“Who’s calling?”

“My name’s Stephen Plummer.”

“What’s it about?”

“I’d like to speak to Mr Barrett, please. It’s a personal matter. He called my wife.”

“Hang on a moment.”

Three minutes of “March of the Toreadors” followed. Fortunately I like opera. Then another voice, male and aggressive.

“George Barrett speaking. Who’s this?”

“My name’s Stephen Plummer, Mr Barrett. Someone called my wife yesterday.’

“Not me, my friend. What was it about?”

“Sales call, I think. Wanting to upgrade our alarm. It was very pushy. My wife got a bit upset about it.”

Brief pause, then grudging acknowledgement. “Yeah, that happens. Would have been one of the sales team. We’d have written out to you first, my friend. Said we were going to phone.”

“We didn’t get a letter.”

“No? It must have got lost in the post. You looking to upgrade your alarm?”

“No, I just thought perhaps an apology for upsetting my wife…”

“Apology?” The concept was obviously alien to Mr. Barrett. “It was just a sales call, my friend. Legitimate business. Your old lady ought to toughen up. Nasty world out there. That’s why you ought to think about upgrading your security.”

He killed the call. Mr Barrett was clearly a busy man.

I was busy too. There was a pile of grant applications to deal with, and today was the last day for submission. My name was on the standard grant application form as the Enterprise Agency contact so my phone would soon start ringing. Managers from cash-strapped businesses wanting to check that they had got their applications in before the deadline, to find out if they were successful.

I looked at the form I’d pulled out earlier. Good little business, just hit some hard times and needing a bit of working capital to see them through. Decent business plan, new jobs promised, just the sort of venture which merited approval. Very experienced and committed sales staff, the application form said. It had been signed with an arrogant flourish. George Barrett, Managing Director.

For a moment I hesitated. Everyone deserves a second chance. But no, I’d said my name twice, it was on the application form, and he hadn’t made the connection. That lack of attention to detail can cost a business thousands. Maybe they weren’t what we were looking for after all. Bolt-On Security’s grant application went into the shredder. It must have got lost in the post.


Alastair McIntyre lives in Scotland, practises law by day and writes crime, thriller and adventure fiction by night.

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