Monday, 13 May 2013

Non Paying Tennants and The Da Vinci Code


I knew it couldn’t be the very reasonably priced painter and decorator that we had hired to paint the showroom, because he’d finished, and had been paid up, but I had definitely heard a noise coming from the workshop, I was on my own in the garage and as I went to investigate I knew it could only be someone that shouldn’t be there, as I got to the mottled glass door which divided the showroom from the workshop I could see their outline, I could also see they were dragging a large toolbox.

The toolbox was very heavy and must have had a square wheel as it wasn’t exactly gliding across the workshop floor, I had the keys to the front door in my pocket so I ran to it, put the lock on it so he couldn't get out and told the intruder to “pack it in” and go home, I knew him, and although he was an intruder it was debatable whether he was stealing the tool box as I suppose rightfully it was his, but I was holding it and some other stuff hostage till he paid us what he owed.

Looking back on the incident now, I am sure I could have handled it a heck of a lot better. It had all started a few weeks earlier, when I noticed a stranger repairing a car in the unit we were renting out next door,  I asked him where the regular guy was, expecting him to say that he was ill, and he was standing in for him, but it was like I had injected the guy with Sodium Pentathol (the truth drug) he gave me chapter and verse, his reply was “Oh he’s had enough of this place, he won’t be coming in any more, after he picks up his stuff tonight, “Over my dead body he will, and you can clear off and tell him that he better come and see me, Urgently! , he never came to see me, so  I made sure he couldn’t come back that night after I had gone home by changing the locks on the workshop and parking a van sideways across and about ¼ in from the door.

The guy he was referring to was our tenant and he was about 3 months behind with his rent. After the gypsy squatters ( separate blog http://bccars.blogspot.co.uk/2012/10/my-big-fat-gypsy-squatters.html ) we had decided it would be better if the buildings were occupied and then it wouldn’t be as tempting for, Gypsies, Kids, Vandals and the local little Banksy’s (for Banksy substitute “Bastards” or Street Artists if you prefer ). We had put an advert in the local paper and we were inundated with enquiries, mostly from Fast Food franchises, but if it was turned into a  Kentucky Fried Chicken shop, I would have weighed about 50 stones and I wouldn’t have lived to see 25.

The unit next door was equipped with a ramp and a rolling road brake tester, it was a great little workshop and it would have been a shame to rip it all out and replace the stuff with deep fat fryers. Originally when it was built it had been an MOT station but the regulations had changed, and in order to comply now it would need to be extended about 10 feet, the previous owners of the building (Esso) couldn’t do that as it backed directly on to the boundary line of our land, and we didn’t want to sell any of it to them as we were short of space already. Opening an MOT station would have been the next logical step to expand our business, but that would have meant taking on more staff, we'd had enough of the ones we'd got already, ( http://bccars.blogspot.co.uk/2013/02/light-fingered-staff-page-3-models-and.html ) we didn’t want any more, so our only option was to rent it out.

We had done a deal with Esso to buy the place and in return for a substantial discount we had promised to use their products in future. Esso products were quite a lot dearer than our existing supplier, but buying the old Petrol station was the only way we could expand our used car display so it could be seen along the main road, we only wanted the frontage, and not the buildings. The person we would eventually rent the garage to would have to agree to use Esso products and not set up in competition with our workshop. One of the enquiries stood out from the rest and he sounded ideal, when we met him he seemed like a good lad, and after talking to him we agreed a deal.

Even in those days it was hard to get a new business off the ground so as part of the deal we gave him a few weeks free rent so that he could get sorted out, do a bit of advertising and get some work and some money rolling in, we also gave him a  reduced rent for the first 6 months until he got established, he assured us that he already had a few regular customers so meeting the rent wouldn’t be a problem, but soon he began to spend more time in our workshop than his, he was taking on jobs that were beyond his abilities, and his tools, it was obvious that he wasn’t a mechanic he was a simple oil, filter and service guy and that was it.

I tried to keep a watchful eye on him and to me he seemed to spend more time messing about on his computer than he did fixing cars, Computers were a relatively new thing then, I really wanted one and we didn’t have one so I was very jealous, he was far better set up than us on the automated billing side but he struggled to do the actual repair work, he was always asking our mechanics for help, or if he could borrow tools, I didn't mind this so much, but he never brought them back so when we needed them we had to go searching for them and wasting more time, we were a Main Dealer and our mechanics had to fill in time sheets, each of our job cards had to be costed manually using the tear off front copy, and any warranty jobs would fail the manufacturers audit if the mechanics time wasn’t allocated on the back, it soon became clear that our services and repairs were starting to take longer, and our sold man hours were going downwards because our mechanics were too busy helping the guy next door to do his work, rather than doing theirs.

We used a manufacturers recommended service menu pricing book so the cost of our mechanics extra times were never passed on to the customers, but as a business we were losing out, I made a mental note of the times our mechanics spent next door and if I had charged our tenant for our labour costs as well as his rent, his business wouldn’t be able to stand it. Our overheads had increased but we persevered hoping that we would be paid back in the long run by having a trusted tenant next door for a while to come. One of the things that made us choose him was that he had told us he didn’t have to rely on servicing work as he made a lot of money by sourcing non running cars, then fixing them up when his workshop was quiet and selling them for a good profit, so long as he didn't start buying the same sort of cars that we sold, that wouldn't be a problem to us.

A couple of months into our rental agreement, in my opinion he had gotten too ambitious and made a huge error in judgement, he bought 2 cars exactly the same, it was a model that looked great but they were notoriously temperamental, unreliable and difficult to keep running at the best of times, let alone fix them when they broke down. He had bought them cheap, one of the 2 cars was a non runner supposedly it had a duff engine, but a very tidy body and interior, the other one had a good engine but was a pretty rough car, his idea was to swap the engines, retail the good car and sell the other for parts, in theory it sounded like a good plan but unbeknown to us he had used all his money and taken a gamble that he would be able to fix the car and sell it before the end of the month, if he didn’t he wouldn’t be able to pay his rent.

He swapped the engines but then he couldn’t get the good engine to start either, and he was left with 2 un saleable none running cars. Looking back I think desperation then set in and when you’re desperate you don’t think straight. I tried to help him by suggesting that I didn’t think it was a fault with the engine, and that he should be looking for an electrical problem instead, my reasoning was that it had worked in the donor car so it was more logical that the engine wouldn’t start now after it had been transplanted in to this car due to a fault with the Electronic Control Unit, or even simpler it could just have been a problem with the alarm immobiliser function. I did try to soften the blow that he had probably done all this work for nothing, by pointing out that if he could find the problem he would then have 2 cars with good engines and would make a lot more money.

He had jumped to the conclusion that the engine was faulty what he should have done was eliminated all the other possibilities first before concluding that it was the most expensive problem, the engine, but he couldn’t see the wood for the trees. I had learned the hard way, when I was younger if there was a right way and a wrong way to do something, let’s just say that I would have needed at least 2 goes. He chose to ignore my advice, and more or less told me to mind my own business, luckily for him up to that point I hadn’t been doing or we would have evicted him already.

He started taking the good engine to pieces looking for a problem that didn't exist, but he managed to make one and it never ran again! - he devoted all his time trying to fix it, and he stopped taking on paying work, he was unable to pay his rent for the next 2 months and another payment was coming due in a couple of days, but rather than tell us that he had decided to pack in, he was going to do a “Moonlight” (disappear overnight) instead, he would have succeeded if his “friend” hadn't just cocked him up and spilled the beans. I was very annoyed, because I thought we had done everything we possibly could do to help him succeed; he had let us down badly. I was still fairly new to the motor trade and didn’t realise that soon, being let down badly was to become the norm.

Our tenant didn’t come to see us to try and sort out an amicable solution, but his girlfriend rang and left me a number to call in case of emergencies, she never explained what emergencies she could foresee, but she was right I would be needing it a couple of weeks later. We had decided to try to rent the workshop out again, this time instead of putting an advert in the local paper we put a to let sign on the unit, we tidied it up and moved our old tenants tools into our workshop.Incidentally it was doubtful that we would ever get our money back as he could have gone out and bought all his tools brand new 10 times over with the amount he owed us, but God loves a tryer!

So back to my story, I had stopped him getting out with his tool box but he had started taking smaller items out through the side door and through the showroom, he couldn't have got his tool box through there as the doorway was too small, and so were the gaps between the cars. I threatened to call the police if he didn’t leave, he took no notice so I called our local community Bobby, who I knew well, he used to call in for brews and a chat, and he was a good guy, he would apply common sense to the matter instead of the letter of the law, I knew he would just warn our tenant and take no further action, I wasn’t looking to get him arrested, but I wouldn’t be able to face my Boss and tell him that I had just let him come in and take the stuff without at least trying to stop him.

I needed to detain him till our community Bobby showed up, so when he went back into the workshop I got my keys out to lock him in, that’s when to my horror I discovered why the guy we had hired to paint the showroom was so reasonable, the man was a complete idiot, for reason’s best known to himself he had blocked the keyhole in the workshop door up with filler, sanded it down and painted over it, I couldn’t even see where the key hole used to be, let alone lock the door from the outside!.

Our tenant was a lot bigger than me and I certainly didn’t want to get into a fight, but I can be a little bit stubborn and Gung Ho, more to the point I didn’t want him to get one over on me either, so I took a deep breath, stepped into the workshop, locked the door behind me, and prepared myself for a scuffle.  It occurred to me that I didn't want a big guy routing through my trouser pockets either, so I made sure that he saw me put the keys in my jacket, just in case he decided he was going to forcefully retrieve them. There was no talking to him, so I dialled the emergency number on our “state of the art” cordless telephone and spoke to his girlfriend who I hoped would make him see sense, I told her what was happening and then passed the phone to our tenant he just ended the call without speaking and put the phone down, he was a man on a mission, but so was I.

I had delayed him long enough for the Community Bobby to get to the garage, I unlocked the workshop door and let him in, while I was explaining what had happened, our tenant calmly walked past us carrying more of his tools out to his car.

The policeman followed him outside and stood in our doorway, warning the tenant that if he tried to set foot on our premises again he would be arrested for “Breach of the peace” I thought that would be the end of the matter but it wasn’t, he tried to gain entrance by pushing past the Police Officer, knocking his helmet off in the process, saying “You Don’t Understand” he was right, our community Officer didn’t, he picked his helmet up dusted it off, said  “right, so that’s assaulting a Policeman and Breach of the Peace! You’re nicked mate!, then he got his handcuffs out. As I said our local Bobby was one of the good guys, and he just put our tenant in a cell till he calmed down, read the riot act to him about what would happen if he did it again and let him go.

I had been wondering what exactly he had meant by ”You don’t understand”  it couldn’t have been any simpler, he wanted his tools back, and we wouldn’t give him them till he paid the rent he owed us, I understood perfectly, or so I thought.  A few weeks later I was on my own in the garage, it was only about 11 am on a Sunday morning and we didn’t officially open till 12, I would have been out late the night before, as I always was back then, so I was sat in my office, feet up on the desk, reclined on my chair, eyes shut and more than likely I was in the land of nod,  when suddenly my office door was yanked open with such force that one of the panels in the suspended ceiling was sucked out, I dropped my feet to the floor and sprang forward.

There were 2 rather menacing figures stood in the door way, well actually the first menacing figure was so big he filled the doorway, so the other menacing figure had to stand behind him, there was no way to get out of the office other than going through them, and that wasn’t going to happen. If they had only come a bit earlier I would have stood a chance, I always went clay pigeon shooting on Sunday Morning before I went to work, Just 20 minutes before, and I would have been awake and in the middle of cleaning my shotgun, I’d like to see them barge in when I was holding a Twelve Bore, but unfortunately my Browning was now, cleaned, oiled and dismantled in its case and safely packed away under my desk.

The big guy pointed at me and said “You’re the one that reported “######” to Five O?”  I deduced  that he was from another country, firstly because he had a strong accent, secondly because it was several years after Hawaii Five O starring Jack Lord had finished and 30 years before the new series where the character of one of McGarrets original Big fat Male Hawaiian sidekicks "Kono Kalakaua"would then be played by a very thin woman, also here in England we don’t call the police 5 O so that was a bit of a giveaway too, sheepishly, and trying not to wet myself,  I replied “erm yes that would be me, and added rather apologetically  “but I only did it because he owed us money”, He looked and spoke like Bad Attitude Baracus  (Mr T) out of the tv program The A Team “You  got something of mine” he said, I expected him to say “Fool” at the end of his sentence like Mr T did, but he didn’t need to, I already knew I was a “Fool”,  and our tenant was right, I didn’t understand, there was more at stake than a few dirty old tools, he had been hiding something from me and I wasn’t in possession of all the facts.


I asked Mr T what it was, that we had?  Not wanting to get beaten up, I said that if the item belonged to him and not our tenant I would be more than happy to retrieve it for him if I could. Mr T wouldn’t tell me what it was, which in my experience also meant that what I didn’t know couldn’t kill me, so I asked him how big it was? He moved his arms forward and made 2 L shapes with his thumb and forefinger, I didn’t know whether he meant he was going to strangle me if I didn’t stop asking questions or he was making  a square, if it was the latter I judged that the sides would have been about 6 to 8 inches, but I’m a guy so realistically it could have been quite a bit smaller.

His answer aroused my curiosity, so pushing my luck a little and half expecting to be throttled, i said OK, let me ask you another question, if  this thing of yours that I’m supposed to have is only that big, and is important enough for you and you’re mate to come charging in here trying to put the shits up me (and succeeding I might add), why didn’t “####” (our tenant) retrieve it when he had the chance, instead of trying to take a massive tool box, he could easily have got it, and been in and out of the workshop without me even knowing, and for that matter why on earth did he get himself arrested? they both looked puzzled and I could almost hear their brains working, they started to mutter to each other, I heard one of them say “he has got a point” then they both turned and walked out of the showroom. I followed them out and watched them jump into a Blue Jaguar, and drive off. In the back seat of the car, looking more than a little bit scared was our tenant.

I called the Police and reported the incident but heard nothing more, I assumed that our tenant had tried to buy himself some time by telling his “friends” that I had their item, hoping they’d come looking for me, while he packed his bags and caught a plane to Timbuktu,  his plan had backfired when they brought him along for the ride, I did wonder why he sat waiting for them in their Jaguar though rather than taking the opportunity to scarper, perhaps he'd repaired the door locking on the car and now it wouldn't open or he had been handcuffed again, who knows perhaps it was part of a bluff to show he thought he had nothing to fear from them be cause he was innocent.

That night making sure that I wasn’t being followed I went to the place where we had stored the confiscated equipment, I was going to search very carefully and very thoroughly through every item until I was 100% certain that there was nothing illegal, the last thing I wanted was to get “caught in possession “ of something that I would have a difficult time explaining to cops, I found nothing, the only thing I had left to search was his tool box which was locked, it wasn’t exactly insurance approved and after a few minutes messing about I had opened it, in one of the drawers was a box of 5 1/4 “ floppy discs, perhaps this was what Mr T was meaning, if it was, our tenant obviously wasn’t the brains behind whatever scheme they had going on, and he must have forgotten his key when he came to retrieve the discs, so he was forced to try and liberate his whole tool box. 
 
I never saw B A or his partner again, and I never found out exactly what happened to our tenant,  I felt safer not knowing, but I can tell you he is OK, It’s possible that he either remembered where he’d put their contraband, had kept backup copies elsewhere, or came up with another explanation and an acceptable repayment plan,  In reality I think they were perhaps involved in nothing more sinister than trying to collaborate to make one of the first computer games and they'd had a fallout.

It’s also possible that when he was f####g about on his computer instead of repairing cars and making money to pay his rent, he had inadvertently solved the Da Vinci Code and B A was actually a member of Opus Dei who’d come looking for the answer, either way he’s still alive as I saw him in PC World a couple of years later buying a new computer.

Five 0,  erm sorry,  the Police came back to interview me again, but it was only to rule out B A Baracus as a suspect from a shooting that had occurred in a local pub, the witnesses who saw the shooters getaway car had described it as a dark blue saloon car, they had got a partial plate number and a description of the Hit man, the Police were investigating the possibility that there was a link between the 2 incidents,  I eliminated B A from their enquiries, I had gotten the complete registration number of his Jag when he was driving off our forecourt, and that wasn’t the getaway car, the description of the shooter was as far from B A as it was possible to be!, but it did make me wonder was it a square 5 1/4 inch floppy disc that B A was making with his thumbs and forefingers, or could it possibly have been two guns!

Hopefully I will never know!

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