Cole Caldera sits in the corner booth of the pub cradling a bottle of Etta Street Porter. He slowly pours the thick brown liquid into a glass, a frothy head forming, then drinks it back in two or three gulps.
A bit more goes into the glass, let it settle for a few minutes, drink, repeat.
This has been his ritual lunch time for the last few years, he doesn't consider himself an alcoholic but more a connoisseur of good beer, and today's lunchtime pick is great.
A good beer with a side of burger and chips, life is good.
It's a shame work is less fantastic. It's been six weeks since he's had a job and even then it was a simple track and trace for an insurance company.
Another perfectly healthy scumbag claiming disability benefits. The government taps into the health monitors in claimants so theyknow that they shouldn't be claiming, but because of privacy rules they can't share the data with the enforcement branch so they call on detectives like Cole to get some photographs of the claimant ski jumping or something so they can prosecute.
The pay is shit; follow the GPS tag, take some pictures, send to DWP. They don’t pay much for that kind of easy work.
It was the job a few months ago that's kept him afloat drinking the good beer think long. A corporate team building exercise had gone horribly wrong, think Apocalypse Now kind of wrong, and the corporation in question sends a dozen non-payroll contractors in to try and end the stand-off.
Most of the team were ex-special forces. Well, honestly so was Cole, but the rest were ex-special forces who had kept up the level of fitness and training required to be considered 'ex-special forces' and not over-weight beer connoisseurs.
Anyway, they had been more than happy for him to take a cut out of the pay check to stay out of their way and the trip to the Isle of Man had been fun, if not a little chilly.
Since then it had been the odd benefits cheat or runaway pet job paying the rent.
Cole swirls the beer around the bottom of his glass and swigs it back, a job right about now would be a nice distraction. He’s been thinking a lot recently about Alice, and he misses her.
He had always felt he had held her back, she should be out living her life but he had never been able to help himself. He needed her in his life and he couldn't stand for anything to happen to her. London is a harsh brutal city and he wouldn't have forgiven himself had anything hurt her.
So he bundled her up in emotional bubble wrap and smothered her. Eventually he lost her anyway, as was inevitable.
The little alarm pops up in-front of him signalling the end of lunchtime and he drags himself up out of his chair, rocking the table back with his ample belly, the now empty bottle sliding dangerously close to the edge on a cold trail of condensation.
Can't spend the entire day in the pub, he was sure that would mean he had 'a problem'. Besides, there was a bottle of single malt waiting for him back at the office from an old executive too embarrassed to use corporate security to track down their drug addled son for the fifteenth time.
Cole grabs his coat and shuffles to the toilet on his way out the door.
That was the main reason he came to the local for lunch, the one in his office had broken a while back and he hadn't yet got around to getting it fixed.
There was a time when you could fix a toilet with some tape and tubing, but nowadays they were all ‘smart’ and device connected with these computerised chips in them and you needed a doctorate in rocket science to take them apart. Or a manufacturer authorised plumber.
The office is a small apartment conversion above a kebab shop in North East London, next to the small office conversion where Cole Caldera lives, above the very same kebab shop.
It is shared between Cole’s detective agency, a digital artist who seems to spend most of their time in the café next door in meetings and a social media expert who serves the tables downstairs for free rent.
As he approaches the front of his office he is surprised to see a very smartly, if not plainly, dressed man sitting poking a plastic fork at a polystyrene container full of chicken shish, as if he is unsure what to do with it.
A suited corporate type so far out of place could only mean one of two things, recent redundancies and denial or a client with a sensitive job.
Cole looks the large serious looking man up and down as he approaches, not very subtle.
"Ah! Mr Caldera, good to see you."
Samid is only this loudly pleasant to Cole to signal his arrival to a new client and usually greets Cole with silent contempt, but Samid is a businessman and knows helping put Cole together with clients usually means a smoother transition of rent into his account.
The suit looks up from the greasy meat substitute in-front of him and jumps to his feet.
"Mr Caldera? My name is Jean-Baptist, a friend of mine told me you might be able to help me with a predicament."