the man under the stairs

In the early 2000s I had an office in a Business Centre in Brighton – a building which had multiple offices, each rented out to individuals and small companies.

Most mornings I used to go through a side door and take the stairs up to the office.

Almost every time I went in - regardless of the time - there was a man standing the other side - under the stairs - in a small space ...

he looked around 50, a lean and rugged face, slightly weather beaten … but always pleasant, smartly dressed, always talking on his mobile, with a notepad on one of the stair pads.

Later in the day he wasn't there, but I'd occasionally see him in his office on the same floor as mine - with a couple of colleagues - usually all working silently.

One day - a couple of weeks after I’d first talked to him as I walked past him up the stairs, sometimes stopping to chat, sometimes just a nod, raised hand, and a smile … I realised that – despite my varied arrival times, it seemed as if he was saying exactly the same words each time I came through the door and started to climb the stairs …

“Yes, 3 months of a full page in all the major international property magazines. I’ll let you consider that, and call you back early next week”…

sometimes then closing the call down and chatting with me for a few minutes, sometimes just putting his hand over the phone and silently mouthing “Hi Daniel”.

From that day on, I consciously noted what he said as I stepped through the door and started up the stairs.

It was, I found, those words … exactly … every time.

I also noticed that he'd go missing for a few mornings every couple of weeks, then be back under the stairs as usual.

One day as we were briefly chatting, he suprised me by saying that he knew some of the places I’d worked in – knew Jeddah and Delhi well, and had visited Manila and Beijing many times …

places I couldn't recall mentioning ... but couldn't be sure whether I had or not.

Just the once I talked with him in his office.

We passed in the corridor - he said his team were off that day, and asked if I had a moment.

Over a coffee we chatted, and at one point he asked me what sort of work I’d done in the places we both new.

I chose my words carefully - it had been a long time since anyone had asked me that question.

With a smile, he said, “Yes, that’s almost exactly what I tell people when I’m asked”.

Then, one Friday morning, I was silently followed into the car park by three police cars ...

and watched as six officers, all holding hand-guns, lept out ... one staying each side of the side door, one going in via the main entrance, two going straight in ...

I started to get out of my car, but was waved back by one of those outside the door.

A few minutes later the man under the stairs came out, in handcuffs, and was bundled into one of the cars.

Later that morning I callled in to his office to ask about him - and found them ready to leave, carrying briefcases and laptop bags.

They told me that he'd been accused of serious offences by the authorities in India, who'd applied for his extradition.

"False allegations" one of them said "but we'll be away until it's all cleared up.

Around a month later his colleagues appeared in the office again. I stopped and asked them if there was any news of him. They both smiled and one told me that the extradition request had been refused due to insufficient evidence - and that he'd been released from custody.

When I asked if he'd be coming back to the office, they smiled again and the other one said "Maybe. But not just yet".

A month after that, I received a text from a mobile I didn’t recognise.

“Hi Daniel …

now you know I’m not selling property magazine advertising …

if you want a part-time job, I could do with a helper ... lots of travel - but not India :)) - and you'd still be based in Brighton …

I’ll let you consider that, and call you back early next week.

Regards – The Man Under The Stairs”