WHAT FOLLOWS IS ABSOLUTELY TRUE
(EXCEPT MAYBE THE HALITOSIS PART)
Being Elizabeth George's somewhat
amusing account of how she was cheated in London by a man who was
going to sell her furniture.
When I first met Mr. Norman
Ashford of Francis Smith Antiques of Chelsea in London (that would
be Francis Smith Antiques at 107 Lots Road, by the way), I had no
idea he was going to cheat me. Now, you will say that his general
appearance—not to mention his halitosis, which slithered across the
room toward me in a most insalubrious fashion—should have been a
giveaway. But I am not one to judge people by that which suppurates
from their unhealthy complexions and I’m certainly not one to
dismiss a fellow human being out of hand for the spinach which
clings to his front teeth like a supplicant unwilling to be
dismissed. So when in January 2008, he showed up to evaluate the
furniture that I had to sell before I closed my London flat forever,
I attempted to overlook the small details that screamed here is a
man not to be trusted.
Alas. I have only myself to blame for what occurred. I
had, after all, employed a private investigator in the past prior to
hiring an architect to design my home and a builder to build it. But
then, surely I can be forgiven for not hiring someone to look into
the loathsome Mr. Ashford, can I not? For I was not asking him to
design a home or to build it for me. I was only asking him to sell
my collection of antique furniture, a few baubles, and some
I had found him in the London phone book, which was
probably my very first mistake. In the past, I had hired people only
upon someone’s recommendation and using this approach, I had never
been cheated and never been let down. Two women I had never even met
had decorated the flat in 1994 and had not absconded with a dime (or
should I say ten pence?) of the twenty-five thousand pounds I gave
them to do so. A carpet layer came in while I was in the United
States and removed one carpet and lay another without damaging an
article in the place, let alone stealing something. My cleaning lady
let herself in and out for over a decade and never removed or
damaged a single object (thank you, Rosa). Painters painted, meter
readers read, telephone repairmen repaired, and the only time there
was a hint of trouble was when the security system engineer visited
and my friend Debbie’s diamond ring disappeared. Since Debbie is
prone to losing things (she’d already lost her wallet by leaving it
in a Parisian taxicab on that very same trip) and since the man
hotly and passionately denied even seeing the ring…I don’t know. I
felt I had to give him the benefit of the doubt.
But I digress. Mr. Norman Ashford of Francis Smith
Antiques faced me across the aforementioned new carpet and solemnly
told me how things would be: He would go through the flat, he would
evaluate the furniture, he would give me a written account of said
evaluation, and the furniture would be auctioned off within the next
two weeks. A check then would follow. Everything would go smoothly.
He would try to get the best price he could get. If things didn’t
sell one week, they would go to auction the next week. If they
didn’t sell then, they would go into the next sale. Etcetera and you
get the idea, I hope.
Aside from his appearance and the rather snide and
unwelcome comment he made about the woman who had purchased the flat
(she happened to show up while he was there), he made proposals that
sounded legitimate to me. Besides, I had five days only to clear the
flat and fly home to Washington State, so I was inclined to accept
his proposition. More the fool I, as you will see.
Perhaps three days after I met with the loathsome Mr.
Ashford, the removal men came, packed up the furniture, and took it
away. I closed the flat for a final time, flew home to the U.S., and
waited to hear from Mr. Ashford.
Alas once more. After several weeks and no message from
him, I phoned to inquire as to the state of the sale. Oh, he replied
airily, things were moving right along and he would get back to me
directly. He would, in fact, send me a fax “on Monday” to tell me
how we were doing.
Naturally—you see where this tale is heading, don’t
you?—he did not. I phoned again but he was “not available” as he was
“out assessing someone’s furniture at the moment.” Not unreasonable
for a man who is a putative seller of furniture, I’d say.
But when subsequent phone calls went unanswered and
unreturned and when faxes were not replied to, the handwriting on
the wall transformed itself into a neon sign. The sign constituted
two arrows. One pointed at me, and it also read patsy. One pointed
to the loathsome Mr. Ashford. It also said liar and cheat. And by
this time it was the month of May.
Still, foolish girl, I did not give up. First, I could
not bear to think Mr. Ashford—despite his halitosis, the spinach in
his teeth, his suppurating sores, and his general air of
dishabille—was actually going to cheat me. Beyond that, I had in my
possession the ultimate weapon: the loathsome man’s mobile phone
number. Thus, I was not without resources. Or so I thought.
I phoned him. I punched in the numbers
011-44-07910-347-339, and a young lady answered. I asked to speak
with Mr. Ashford (even dropping the loathsome, which I considered
rather generous of me at this point), and she said, “It’s for you,”
to her companion. He said to her—and loud enough for me to hear--
“Who is it?” and she told him she did not know. Intrigued, I
suppose, he took up the mobile and asked who was calling and when I
identified myself, his one response was “Jesus.” Thereupon, we were
somehow—and God only knows how—disconnected. I can’t think Mr.
Ashford would actually hang up on a customer, so I can only assume
he somehow wandered into a zone dead to mobile phones at that
precise moment. Especially since he did not answer that phone upon
my subsequent calls to him.
The end of the tale? Well, you can guess, can’t you?
Mr. Norman Ashford of Francis Smith Antiques of Chelsea in London
made off with whatever money he gained from the sale of my antiques.
And while the fault is mine for hiring him out of the telephone book
without having him investigated (apologies to Bruce Haskett, my very
fine private investigator), it does seem to me….well, rather nasty
of Mr. Norman Ashford of Francis Smith Antiques of Chelsea in London
to have been so naughty. What do you think?
They say that “karma never looks the other way,” so I
know Mr. Norman Ashford will one day come face-to-face with his
comeuppance. In the meantime, my grandma Rosa Rivelle will take care
of him. She’s been dead for more than fifty years, but believe me,
that won’t stop her.
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