Dougie Betjeman cleaned windows. He hadn’t always done this. Before the pool closed down because of the asbestos he had been a lifeguard. He didn’t so much guard lives as sit on a bench, cracking his knuckles and counting the number of tiles on the opposite wall. This had to stop when pleural plaques had been found in Jimmy’s lungs. This upset Dougie. Not because of the plight of Jimmy, whom he thoroughly disliked, but because he really enjoyed cracking his knuckles and counting the number of tiles on the opposite wall. At the end of every evening, when Aquafit For The Over 70s (Its never too late to get in shape!) had finished he would walk around the edge of the pool and made a small black cross on the tile he had reached that day, with a marker pen he carried with him for this very purpose.
It didn’t take much to entertain Dougie.
Dougie hadn’t been good at being a lifeguard, but he was atrocious at cleaning windows. When someone passes out in a swimming pool and the lifeguard is busy cracking his knuckles and counting the number of tiles on the opposite wall, another swimmer generally notices and, unless they have an utter disregard for human life, drags them out of the water and pinches, slaps and inflates the unconscious form back to the land of the living. Windows don’t have initiative and so besides quietly rattling vague but friendly phrases of support to their neighbours are utterly defenceless against apathetic window cleaners.
Dougie had stolen his grandfather’s Steccone Squeegee the week before last but had no idea how to use it properly. He was ignorant of the rainbow and the corner wipe. He smeared grime about the glass and left streaks that grinned horribly when the light caught them.
He was politely but firmly asked to leave the neighbourhood where he had begun to work and a bounty was secretly placed on his head (which otherwise would have been completely bald) by the local Neighbourhood Watch who considered it their civic duty to not stand for that sort of thing. The bounty was taken up by an ex-sergeant-major of the St. John’s Ambulance Brigade but in a strange quirk of fate he collapsed at a Brigade reunion the following day and died when no one had the presence of mind to put him in the safety position.
All of this was unknown to Dougie as he made his way to the other side of town and found himself and his—or rather his grandfather’s—Steccone Squeegee in a beautiful street filled with blossom trees and with a row of tall Georgian houses on either side.
He propped his wooden ladder against the wall of the first house and climbed all the way to the second floor window. He balanced his bucket on the sill and pressing his nose to the glass, peered in.
The sight that met his eyes chilled the blood in his veins.