Part 3 of Bunny.
The opening to Beethoven’s Fifth chimed down the hall of the neat mid-terrace.
Inside was unnaturally tidy. An upright piano shared the under-stairs space with the electricity meter, and the living room had an open fireplace. The mantlepiece was empty except for a clock with a crack that forked across the glass of its face.
The second bedroom was a good size, accommodating a small double bed and desk as well as the usual bedroom furniture.
In the kitchen, Mr Warren – Robert – opened the door to present a narrow back garden. At the far end, a pigeon flapped, its leg caught in plastic netting.
“I’d better free the poor thing before next door’s cat gets it.”
I watched the rescue from a tiny patio. Smartly casual in pale grey, he appeared younger, less constrained, until he jerked to attention at the sound of the doorbell.
Another viewer perhaps? Disappointment lurched within me. “Shall I get it?” I offered.
The skinny redhead wasn’t expecting me to answer the door, and curtailed whatever opening had been prepared.
“I’m here tae see Bunny.”
“Mr Warren’s coming. He’s tied up at the moment.”
“So who might you be?”
“I’m here about the room to let.”
“Din’t waste much time, did he?”
“Sandy? What do you want?” Robert was behind me so I moved from the door.
“I’ve come for my gear; I couldnae get in before. You’ve changed the f****** lock.”
“Well, what did you expect? Wait there, I’ll get your things.”
He shut the door and disappeared into the living room, returning with two bulging black bags. I opened the front door for him to thrust the bags outside. He closed the door again without comment, hands shaking as he fastened the security chain.
“Sorry about that. I should have warned you to hook the chain before you opened the door.”
We watched from the living room window as Sandy heaved the bags into the back of a red Mini and drove away. Robert sighed. “Who would want to live here with the threat of that turning up on the doorstep?”
“I would,” I said. “A comfortable room, an approachable landlord, close to work… what more could I ask?”
“A quiet life?”
“If I wanted a quiet life I’d be staying with Mum. How much are you asking?”
We agreed my deposit over a pot of tea and I said I’d move in next weekend. He said he’d have a rent book for me by then, and I made some joke about doing it “by the book”.
He shook his head and said, “That’s awful. If that’s the level of humour I’ll be living with, I should be charging more,” and I said I wasn’t taking advice on puns from someone known as Bunny Warren.
“Colin would love that,” I said, and his mouth fell open.
“You wouldn’t. Promise you wouldn’t.”
But, by now, he knew I wouldn’t, and we both ended up giggling. Who’d have guessed our meticulous music librarian had a fluffy side.
I didn’t want to outstay my welcome and left when I’d finished my tea. I got as far as the corner.
“I hope you didnae sign anything, pet. There’s things you should know about oor Bunny.”
I tried to walk on, but my arm was seized in a tight grip. Sandy’s slender fingers were stronger than they looked.
“Well, if you’re not interested I reckon that snotty library where he works will be.”
Stupidly, I sneered. “Maybe where you come from. Down here, we’re more civilised.”
The tussle to free my arm dragged us back around the corner. The street was empty on this quiet Sunday morning. Where were the nosy neighbours when you needed them? A leg hooked behind mine to unbalance me, and now I was the one hanging on to stop myself falling to the ground. Sandy kicked out wildly and I felt myself slipping.
Then a whirling blur of white and grey was laying into my assailant with a fireside poker. I fell to the ground as Sandy backed away sobbing.
“I swear, Sandy, if you don’t leave me alone I will have you prosecuted. Assault is still an offence, as far as I know.” I sat up and rubbed my arm. “Are you all right, Al?”
“A few bruises. I’ll live.” The ones on my legs clamoured for attention, but I resisted the impulse to rub them.
He helped me stand. “Go away, Sandy. Just go!”
And Sandy went.
We watched the Mini out of sight before walking back to Rob’s. I caught him glancing at the poker as if wondering how it got there. In spite of his bemused expression, there was a new assurance to his movements.
In the kitchen, he put the kettle on and told me to sit. He wanted to check my bruises.
I liked the sound of that.