Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Landlords by Brooke Fieldhouse

Brian, working class and proud of it, uses his unusually large inheritance to become the dominant landlord of Florence Square - but making a quick buck is never straightforward; by Brooke Fieldhouse.

'Florence Square Brothel Exposed'

Brian plunges the diesel pump into his Range Rover, and stares with uncomprehending horror at the hand-written newspaper billboard headline.

'Oh Lord!' He must get to the toilet without delay - it's the shock. He asks the garage attendant and sits, relieving himself in the grubby, ultra-violet lit chamber, his sobbing gently rebounding off the laminate clad partitions. He is ruined.

Still sitting on the toilet, he telephones Malkie - it's Sharon who answers.

'Are you alright Bri? You haven't been arrested have you?' she asks cheerfully. 'You sound as if you're in a police cell.' Neither she nor Malkie know anything about any brothel.

'The meeting's in twenty minutes,' she adds, 'we'll be there don't worry.'

How the hell had it all come to this?



'It's a sure fire plan,' said the man in the leather jacket, as he leaned forward enthusiastically. His companion looked unconvinced.

'If I can't turn round a million profit in three years, then I'm bloody stupid - it's a gift.' The other man remained expressionless.

Brian Blouson thought of himself as a careful person - caring even. He'd had to be, he'd spent the last few years looking after his mum. When 'the old princess' was finally 'gathered in', Brian found that she'd left him something just short of £1.5 million quid. Lose a relative, gain a business opportunity, he'd thought.

It wasn't a surprise - the money that was. He remembered that pools win all right. Somehow his dad and mum had managed to avoid publicity, stuck it in the bank, and continued to live frugally in their rented 'two up two down' in... wherever. Brian was twelve at the time - kept his mouth shut. His dad said:

'We're working class lad, proud of it, and we'll stay that way.'

When Brian was older, some git at school accused him of being 'class prejudiced'. He told his dad.

'We're the bottom of the social pile,' bellowed Dad, thumping the table, 'so answer me this, how can we be bloody prejudiced? Everybody else is prejudiced against us; always remember that lad!' Brian did. After his dad died, Mum bought a semi, and the two of them went to live in the suburbs.

Brian's old school pal, Mal Contempt - Malkie to his friends - was a 'rum 'un'. More a man of actions than words, he'd done a bit of time for GBH - nothing serious. Not like those bloody paedophiles. Bri reckoned he was just the man to help with his business plan. Bri would be the brains of the team - Malkie his trusted foot soldier.

But it was looking like he'd got to work a bit harder to convince Old Malkie. So, back to the scene in the pub; two men, two bar stools, two swift pints...

'It's like this. Persevering Homes are building eighty two-bed apartments, fifteen minutes walk from the city centre, and... wait for it, ten minutes from the university campus!'

'Yeah, all right,' grunted Malkie - as if someone had just told him to leave the premises.

'No, I'm not going to live there you daft bugger...' Bri couldn't visualize himself leaving his suburban semi yet, and Malkie obviously was unable to see further than his own detached property in the country, where he and Sharon - and the three kids - had lived for years now. It had always been a mystery to Bri where Malkie's money had come from. Sharon probably had a lot to do with it - old Malkie could barely read or write when he'd left school!

'...Yeh, but lots of students are going to want to live there.' Bri could feel his own excitement building. 'There's a shortage of student accommodation in the city. It's a perfect opportunity. Two bed flats for professional couples and singles', he read aloud from the brochure.

'How are your students going to afford £850 a month rent?'

'Easy, four per flat!' Bri was triumphant. 'Boys won't share rooms these days, but some girls don't mind; so the odd sheet of plasterboard here and there, and Bob's your uncle!'

'Have you taken advice on this?' asked Malkie, with uncharacteristic caution. Bri didn't need to. It was a dead cert, any idiot could see that.

Brian had worked for the Post Office - went there when he left school. His teachers said he was bright enough for university, but he wasn't interested, wanted to stay where his mates were, and three of them went to the Royal Mail, so that was that - until he got made redundant that was.

He had the kind of face which - he thought - was... almost intellectual, but when people met him - girls anyway - they'd always say; 'you look like a postman'. Once somebody suggested he had a face like 'a startled bush baby'.

He'd never married - well he'd had the 'old princess' to look after. But now she was gone, it was a new life - unchartered waters so to speak.

'Buy off plan, now! £195,000 each! Only a few apartments left,' it said. When Brian applied, he found he was the first - had the pick of the bunch, so he chose blocks - arranged in twos, one on top of the other. That way you wouldn't get an odd owner-occupier who might be a pain in the arse. Brian bought fifteen - £2.9 million. He put up £1 million himself, the bank lent him the other £2 million - it was always easier to borrow large sums of money than small ones. Malkie purchased a cautious two.



Julian Homepride was about to downsize. His architectural business had dwindled, and - not to beat about the bush - he was getting on in years. He'd always lived in city locations, and Florence Square looked ideal; fifteen minutes walk from Marks & Spencers, ten minutes from Waitrose. His friends were envious, and each time he did a viewing, a different pal came along. The development had been up and running for about two years - so the publicity said.

'Ground Floor apartment, own front door, private walled courtyard at the rear,' the estate agent told him. 'It's not overlooked so you can sunbathe in the nude, and you can even keep your barbie in here... and at the front, your own little walled patio...'

There were landscaped gardens, and all was set well back from the main road. The tall brick wall at the rear gave Julian a moment's concern, until the agent told him that it was a convent - six acres of self-sufficient cultivated land, herb gardens, cloisters, and nine nuns praying round the clock. Imagine the chi! Julian could feel the calm, the quiet. It was Easter and he fancied he could hear the gentle chime of the angelus.



The student lets were going well. Bri had been right; the conversions into four-bedders had been a breeze. The trouble was that after the first couple of years Malkie had gone and got cold feet - in the form of a 750cc BMW motorcycle. Evidently Sharon needed the Isuzu Trooper to take the kids to secondary school, so the BMW was his transport 'to site' - that and a bit of a boyhood dream. Who could blame him? But it couldn't come out of profit, because - what with all the conversion costs - there hadn't been any yet. The upshot was that Malkie had to sell one of his apartments - number 10.

Malkie had been open and honest about all this. That was the most important thing in business - and life really; that and having respect for other people. Malkie was good at all that, he respected people, in his own way that was - mind you they had to earn his respect first, but that was the law of the jungle wasn't it?

Sometimes the two of them would disagree over something, and Malkie would stamp off - spend an hour talking to Sharon on the phone. Then he'd come back and say, 'Sharon says you were right.' You really had to admire the guy for that.

When Malkie got 'the urge', he'd hit folk - well they'd deserve it, middle class tossers and the like. But he'd never ever hit Sharon, and now they'd got Lee, Ethan, and Keilan, he was a man with respect. Brian only had himself - well, him and the business that was!

What with Malkie selling half his stake, it left an odd flat underneath Bri's student let at number 12, but it was a lovely apartment; own front door, private walled courtyard at the rear, place to have a 'barbie'. It would soon sell.

Bri's first few lots of students at number 12 had been boys, but his latest intake was girls. He was chuffed about that; 'Mah Gurls,' he said to himself. They seemed well behaved. No smoking in the apartments, no noise after eleven pm. He had sixty students in all - then there were Malkie's four, and some of the other landlords were letting to college people as well. But mainly only twos - mature post grad couples and that - folk who'd worked for a while and could afford a bit more. Out of the total population in the development Bri reckoned that almost half were students. It was very quiet in holiday times.

Bri and Malkie spent a lot of time at the development doing odd maintenance jobs. There was a management company which was supposed to contract out that kind of work, but the two of them needed to economize because there was still no profit coming in.

'Bloody hell!' palpitated Bri to his mates. 'Imagine the maintenance charges on fifteen properties.'

Brian began to notice that the girls at number 12 were slightly different from the others. Most girl students wore smocky-type tops and jeans, but the inhabitants of number 12 - well three of them anyway - wore skin tight suede trousers; there were lots of thigh boots - bottom-hugging skirts - not a pair of denim jeans in sight. He'd noticed one of them regularly going off dressed in hot pants, bare midriff, even in cold weather. It was expensive stuff, thought Bri - rich parents probably - better put the rent up eh!

They were sassy with him as well - called him 'uncle Bri' to his face, and they were older than the others. A thought crossed his mind that they were - what his mother might have called - 'tarty'. It rather excited him.

Bri had names for them all. There was African Queen, tall and slender - she was the one who wore the hot pants. Next was Boiled Baby, who looked about sixteen; petite, with a cute little figure... boiled, Bri decided, because she looked as if she spent all her time on a sun bed. They all had immaculate nail dos - manicures probably - it must take hours.

Then there was Hour Glass, a shapely head-tossing brunette, and finally a rather heavy-footed female - who unlike the others - always seemed to be dressed in track-suit bottoms. This was Pantomime Horse.

Even at their first encounter there was something familiar about Pantomime Horse. Bri had caught her smoking in the apartment once, though she insisted that she'd been standing out on the balcony. It was weeks later when it dawned on him - in a moment of horror - that she had been working as a maid at a massage parlour he had once visited.

He would bluff it out, 80,000 men a day passed through those places in the UK. There was no reason for her to remember him, but he broke into a sweat as he recalled the moment he had emerged from seeing 'the lady'. The maid - Pantomime Horse that was - had commented that he looked like a startled bush baby.

During the Easter holiday Bri checked the apartment. There were no signs that it was being used for improper purposes - but then he wasn't sure what that might involve anyway. He knew that the girls visited a local club at least twice a week.

'Yeh, we let them in free, cos they're regulars, and they pull in the men,' said the manager at Orgasmic, a local club with a reputation of considerable raunchiness.

Bri had heard of students who were 'on the game' to supplement their loans - perhaps even saving sufficient to pay them off before they'd finished the course. All it took was a printed card, with a name and a telephone number, and there would be a procession of sheepish-looking men visiting the flat on the days which followed the visit to the club.

Then Bri had an idea; he would go to Pantomime Horse and say, 'I know what you're up to, and I want you to pay me double rent for the privilege.' To hell if she remembered him, there was nothing wrong - per se - in visiting a massage parlour. This was business; it would also be their little secret - the five of them. He felt a strange excitement he had never felt before - an odd feeling of power. He wouldn't be telling Malkie about this one!



It was late July when Julian moved in to number 10. All was peaceful; in fact he barely met a soul, until one day in early October when he heard the sound of wheeled luggage on the brick pavers outside, and caught sight of dozens of young people milling around.

Julian liked students; he had taught them, his partner's daughter was one, but this looked like an invasion. He felt the crash of the front entrance door, could hear the thundering of feet up the stairs, and the sound of doors being slammed. As he looked out of his front window he could see a man standing in the communal gardens, answering questions, giving directions. He was wearing a black leather jerkin-style jacket, was bald-headed, and his face had the look of a startled bush baby.

Julian contacted the management company. They couldn't tell him anything. He obtained a copy of the most recent directors meeting minutes, and wrote to everyone who had attended. His letter was met with a wall of silence. He decided to become a director of the management company, and filled in the appropriate forms. Before long he had become a licensed director of Florence Square Management Company, and was at liberty to attend the next meeting.

One of the board members was a man by the name of Brian Blouson, who evidently owned the property above his. Julian wrote a cordial but firm letter to Mr Blouson, pointing out that the floors of the apartments had been constructed to take only 'light domestic traffic', and that if they had been intended to house larger numbers of students, then they would have been built to 'hotel specification'. He added that he hoped that next season Mr Blouson might consider finding a more appropriate tenant.

What Julian did not ask in his letter was - why was the apartment never empty? There was always someone up there day and night, seven days a week. There were noises as if the bedrooms were being 'made over' almost on an hourly basis. Julian had heard of 'stop-over' schemes for air stewards and stewardesses. The apartments were near enough to an airport to warrant such an activity, so perhaps that was it.



'Problems Malkie me old son,' warned Bri darkly. 'Toffee-nosed one at number 10 being an arse pain; complaining about noise, cigarette ends, comings and goings all times of the day and night.'

Malkie had been cleaning out the bin store and had caught sight of Homepride taking delivery of a three metre high olive tree to adorn the walled garden at the rear.

'Would look nice, that olive tree, with a pot of red paint over it,' his mouth barely moving as he spoke.

'Steady steady, gently gently, softly softly Malkie,' warned Bri, who felt neither soft nor gentle. Acquiescing Alice at the management company had told him that Julian Homepride had become a director. The man was sniffing around, looking for ways of generally being a penis to him and Malkie. Homepride had been asking questions; why was the company deficit so high, when the maintenance charges were so low? Why was no money being spent on improvements for residents, such as handrails on ramps to deter skateboarders?

Bri's mobile hummed. It was a text message from Homepride.

'Did you know that the residents of number 12 appear to be operating a business from the premises? I think it's high time you and I had a little chat.'

'Fuck me rigid!' shouted Bri. The toffee-nosed wanker had tumbled to it already. The girls might have a database of their clients on computer. If Homepride had reported it to the police and they came asking questions, his tenants could implicate him - after all he'd been accepting extra money from them. He called Pantomime Horse; she must get her computer away from the premises pronto.



Julian made himself known to the girls upstairs, in fact he invited two of them down to listen to the noise on the ceiling while a third girl walked across the floor of the apartment above.

'Well short of going everywhere on tippitoe,' a tall African lady suggested, 'there isn't a lot we can do.' They certainly weren't to blame. Blouson was clearly the problem - they were the wrong tenants for the site. It wasn't fair on folk who owned, and lived in the flat below. As Julian glanced out of the front window he was puzzled to see a fourth girl - the rather flat-footed one who always wore track suit bottoms - rushing out of the front door carrying a lap top computer, its lid still open.

Julian felt his mobile pulsing in his trouser pocket. It was a text from Blouson.

'the girls r doing nothingwrong they r adults butwhatyou r doing bi harassing them is against the law u will find' How strange, thought Julian, and rather aggressive. It was going to be an interesting directors' meeting.



Bri's mobile hummed again. It was Acquiescing Alice.

'Homepride's been trying to change the venue for the directors' meeting. He wants to host it at his flat.' She sounded puzzled. 'He's even offering refreshments.'

Bri had a vision of all twelve directors sitting in Homepride's lounge, sipping tea, nibbling digestive biscuits, while they listened to pantings, groanings, and thumpings coming from the flat above.

'Anywhere but there,' he pleaded. Alice knew that Homepride had complained about noise, but she would never suspect Bri's little secret. She could be relied upon. Missfire Management was hired by Florence Square Management Company to work in their interests, but as Bri was 'Mr Majority,' so to speak - 'Mr King Pin' - she worked for him, in practice anyway - plus there was the little annual bonus he'd been giving her. She agreed to politely decline Mr Homepride's generous offer.

'I'll book a meeting room at the local health club,' she suggested. 'They're cheap.'

'Do we really need a live meeting?' asked Bri hopefully in a round robin email to Alice and the other directors. '...surely we can deal with everything on line?'

'Yes we do need a meeting!' emailed back Homepride.

As the date approached, Bri began to have sleepless nights. He hadn't replied to Homepride's request for a private meeting between the two of them. He would keep stalling, but he couldn't do that for ever. Homepride would be prepared, would have his case ready. Supposing he used the meeting as a stage on which to expose the activities of the girls, had recorded or videoed the comings and goings - gave a slick power-point presentation complete with computer-generated images; that smart-arsed sort would. Bri would be up Shit Creek without a paddle.

He would deny all knowledge of course, but supposing Homepride had talked to the girls, threatened to call the police in, found out that Bri was charging additional rent in cash for an unspecified reason. He contemplated the possible newspaper headline,

'Police Pounce on Ponce'.

As the six pm deadline for the meeting loomed, Bri became more agitated. Close to the health club, he decided to fill up, and as he plunged the nozzle of the diesel pump deep into his Range Rover, he stared with horror at the hand-written newspaper headline billboard.

'Florence Square Brothel Exposed'.

As Bri entered the health club, he felt as if he was walking to his own execution. He was early, and as he peered through the vision panel of the meeting room door he could see Homepride busy ingratiating himself with Acquiescing Alice.

Hovering miserably in the corridor, he found himself stepping aside to allow a squad of squash racket-carrying young men pass, as they surged toward the courts.

'God you look awful,' said Sharon, grabbing his arm. Malkie took Bri's other arm, and the three of them pushed open the double doors of the meeting room.



Julian had arrived early for the meeting. He felt that things did not bode well. The management company representative, Alice, was very guarded, and having taken a quick straw poll of which of the directors actually lived in the development, he discovered that he was the only owner-occupier.

The door opened, and silhouetted against the fluorescent light of the corridor stood what at first appeared to be a shockingly obese person. As the amorphous shape bulged forward into the softer glow of the meeting room, Julian could see that it was Blouson. He seemed to have injured himself in some way, and was being held upright by Mr and Mrs Contempt.

It must have been raining heavily outside because large drops of moisture wobbled on Blouson's bald head and upper lip. The three sat down simultaneously, without making eye contact, and Blouson gazed fixedly at the oak veneered table top.

Alice chaired the meeting, introduced the agenda, and when his turn came, Julian spoke, making his points about noise disturbance, deterrents against skateboarders, reducing the deficit by increasing the service charges, and encouraging more owner-occupiers. He found no allies.

It was a seminal moment, and before he had finished speaking he had made his mind up to sell his apartment and leave. It was clear that the development was doomed to failure. Since the apartments had opened, the properties had lost £30,000 each, and their values were still plunging. With his fifteen flats, Blouson must have fallen heavily into negative equity. Repair costs were rising - particularly through vandalism, and no money was being invested in improving quality of life. It was obvious to Julian that by encouraging a transient population through short term lets goodwill had no chance to take root. The directors were creating a twilight community, and each of them it seemed had one aim only; cash in the bank at the end of every month. To Julian it seemed like purchasing a herd of dairy cattle, shoving them into a barn without food, light, or veterinary services, and expecting them to deliver high quality milk for ever more.

'Has everyone heard about the brothel fiasco?' asked a director whose name Julian couldn't remember, when any other business was called. Julian's eye rested upon Blouson's still glistening head. He looked as if he was about to lean forward and vomit onto the oak veneer.

Nobody claimed to know anything. There were nervous giggles.

'Yes, the tip-off came by way of local taxi drivers who've been inundated with enquiries, and have been operating a 24/7 shuttle service to the Square,' continued the director with a smirk. 'Its okay, the Madam has been arrested.'

On further discussion, it seemed that activities had taken place from an apartment owned by none of the directors present. Not Blouson's flat after all, but another one.

Mr Blouson received the last piece of news with incomprehensible enthusiasm. He leaned forward, raised both fists, and shook them vigorously while clenching his teeth. Others sitting around the table smiled.



What a result, thought Bri! He was in the clear, and Homepride didn't have a leg to stand on.

'You look better Bri,' said Sharon.

'Yeh, onwards and upwards, eh? If there's one thing I hate in life, it's toffee-nosed, smart-arsed, ex public school tossers. Folk who go swanning round like Lord Muck; while good, honest, down-to-earth, working class lads and lasses, who've worked hard, saved a bit, got some property under their belts, and want to make a profit, get the rug pulled from under them... But not this time eh!' Bri's dad had been right, working class pride; it was the only way to be.

Bri decided he would celebrate his victory by calling round to see the girls on his way home. It was early; they didn't go to the club till 11.00pm. It had been a close shave though; he would have another little chat with Pantomime Horse, demonstrate his magnanimousness by waiving that additional rent. Never let it be said by anyone - thought Bri - that he was a man who did not learn from his mistakes.

He swung the Range Rover into Florence Square, and parked well away from the sodium glow. Somewhere a blue light pulsed. He set off on foot, visited by a strange feeling of unease, and as he rounded a corner, he felt his stomach go for the high jump.

The garden in front of apartments 10 and 12 had been hazard-taped, and a number of figures, clad in hi-viz jackets, were hanging about in a garish ragged knot. A short distance away stood three police cars, doors gaping.

Bri stopped in his tracks, and shimmied backwards away from the glare. Arseholes from hell! He was really in for it this time. He decided to sit and wait it out in the Rover; then he would find out what was happening. But he was suddenly gripped with an overpowering need to urinate.

He had meant to go before he left the health club, and his eyes swivelled - searching for a dark corner. No it was too risky with all these police around. Then he remembered the plastic portable toilet which he kept in the back of the Rover. It had always been there on stand by, left over from the days when he used to take the old princess out - just in case she was taken short.

He sat in the driver's seat and - rather deftly he thought - introduced his member into the wide neck of the white plastic vessel. As he began to relieve himself, he became aware of a human head, inches from his own, outside the window. There was a tap on the glass.

With his free hand Bri opened up, just far enough to make eye contact with a man wearing a peaked cap, and a bright yellow coat.

'Do you live here sir?'

'...No I was just passing - saw the flashing blue light and thought I might be able to help,' stammered Bri in mid flow, desperately trying to smile.

'Not unless you can help us solve a burglary - number 14, drugs they were looking for... probably an unsatisfied customer trying to get at the occupant's stash. We've been watching him for some time.'

His mission accomplished with the portable loo, Bri felt neither relief, nor a sense of achievement, as he sat forlornly, gripping the partly-filled vessel between his knees, his fly open; his waggawagga now shamefully exposed.

'Lovely they were, these flats, when they first opened,' continued the voice. 'Small families, professional people; there's too many students now - not that I blame them. It's the amateur landlords trying to make a fast buck who are the problem. Anyway there's two blocks of apartments down the road designed specially for a thousand students, opening next month. They'll be properly regulated and managed, so we'll all be happy... won't we sir?'



It's months later when Bri notices an email from Homepride. What the hell does he want? He cleared off ages ago. It's addressed to all the directors.

Dear All,

I no longer live at Florence Square, neither am I a director any more. I left on November 16th for reasons known to each of you. However, as I appear to be still in the email loop I would like to express my concern over the issue of soaring building insurance costs at the Square - I see they have risen tenfold over four years.

I sought advice from two of my friends in the insurance world, one an underwriter, the other a broker. 'Surely', I said to them, 'insurance companies should be in fierce competition for such an attractive account as this - falling over one another in their efforts to produce the lowest tender?'

'Underwriters don't like students,' they emphasized, 'nor are they particularly enthusiastic about rented properties, and as for those market forces you talk about; remember, you're not buying or selling gold, or grain. Insurance has everything to do with risk assessment, and the demographic and living conditions which your directors have created are neither stable nor sustainable. If you want your insurance premiums to come down, then reduce the student population, and encourage more owner-occupiers.'

Well, I don't know, it's not my area of expertise, but jolly good luck to you all whatever you decide to do.

Kind Regards

Julian Homepride

The supercilious middle class arsehole! Bri will show him who is boss, he'll have the last word.

Slowly, and with one finger he types his reply.

'good luck in yorlife julian I hope u get what u deserve'

7 comments:

  1. I found myself trying--unsuccessfully--to rally behind Bri. Or at least like the chap. And could do neither. A fool and his money are soon parted. Lots of nice descriptions and, of course, the main character, Bri, is well-developed. Somewhere in there is a comment about property management/ownership and the eternal quest for the quick buck.

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    1. Thanks Jim
      A tragi-comedy, and I've tried to steer it by keeping the two hapless protagonists blundering on ignorant of what each is doing. Hopefully, the humour builds that way.

      Brooke

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  2. The story kept my interest until the ending, which I felt was rather a cop-out! There was no resolution of any kind so the whole thing seemed rather pointless. You write well, so this was disappointing.
    Beryl

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    Replies
    1. Thanks Beryl
      I take your helpful point and will give it considerable thought. Two fictitious guys; Julian, Bri, both a bit dozy, but do we always have to have a humdinger of an ending? It's a real life type story; nobody wins, probably nobody learns either, and as Jim here suggests above - somewhere lurking underneath is that message about the responsibility of ownership.

      Brooke

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  3. Entertaining story Brooke. You advanced the action nicely with skillful description and narrative. As an American I enjoyed the British vernacular and flavor sprinkled throughout the story.

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  4. A good story... and couldn't help sniggering at the lavatorial humour- surely some thing akin to the incident with the in-car potty has happened, or nearly happened to all of us?
    The unspoken commentary on petty greed and ignorance is noted, and the resulting livelyhoods developing around the apartments, all too human... so I didn't mind the pointless ending. It rather emphasised the essential harmlessness of Bri, who I'm sure would have hoped his sarky email would rankle for years!

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  5. Sorry, I didn't understand the point of this story. There was plot and conflict, but the protagonist didn't really do anything to resolve the conflict he just kind of lucked out of it and he did not seem any different at the end of the story than he was at the beginning.

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