What Ken wants is Columbo in HD. He has waited, he says, long enough for the release of the complete series. On shiny disc. In full HD. The UK has had series 1, he says. And, yes, that did include both pilot films, but the releases stalled after that. Australia had two releases in HD, with the rest on sub-par DVD. Only Japan got the lot in HD on Blu-ray. They have all 69 episodes from Prescription: Murder all the way through to Columbo Likes the Nightlife. Region free, Ken believes – presented in a faux cigar box packaging. Which, yes, might seem the same as the UK complete series DVD packaging, but this box has proper hinges. Or that’s what it looks like in the listing. Just like that Dark Shadows complete coffin set he’s also been looking at. But hasn’t yet committed to wanting.
“I know what I told you last time, but circumstances have changed,” Ken tells the gent in the too blue suit with the name badge and the smile copied directly from the bank’s TV advert. Ken turns to me, as if to check on his choice of words, and they’re good, I reassure him. They’re good.
“I see,” says too blue suit gent. He has the computer screen. He has the keyboard to tap. He makes full use of his screen, both literal and figurative.
“So, you’re…” The too blue suit gent flurries his fingers at the computer and then at Ken. “You’re not living where you were when you last spoke to us?”
This is the best he can do. He doesn’t want to upset Ken. Doesn’t need to ask what happened with the new circumstances he’d reported only a few months back, when he had come in for a car loan and whatever else he could stump up for an intended house move. And holiday for three.
“That’s right.” Ken gives his address as it now is. Without shame. Without comment.
The too blue suit gent does his best to understand. Even when Ken asks him, when they’ve finished discussing the repayment of the unspent loan and the interest still owed, whether he might be able to get that box set of Peter Falk’s finest work with what remains.
“So, you’re a fan, then?” I ask him, as we make our way back on the Paupers’ Chariot. The Number 48 was, as ever, late and it takes him nearly the whole journey back to reply.
“It’s got hinges,” he tells me, as he peels the chewing gum from the sole of his loafer. “Looks like wood, too,” he tells me. “35 discs,” he tells me.
“Still, it’s a bit pricey, isn’t it?” I say, which is as much as I ever have said on the subject. I have to press the button for the bus to stop because Ken still hasn’t got used to his new address. Or neighbourhood.
“Get it for 400 imported, all-in,” Ken tells me, and he leads us down the bus to the doors and lets me thank the driver for him as we get off.
Ken has to unpack the kettle in order to make the promised cup of tea. His tap water is Irn Bru coloured. The pipes rattle all the way up the wall and into the flats above him. No one complains. Not even Ken. I find myself a seat amidst the boxes still unopened from the move. I clear the sofa of post and pizza flyers and red demand bills that can’t be paid until too blue suit gent’s work today has been processed.
The tea is poured. Ken hands it to me and I accept, even though I know the rules about accepting gifts. Just as I know the rules about entering a client’s home. But I can be forgiven, surely, for the level of concern.
“Any Old Port in a Storm,” says Ken. “Best one. Donald Pleasance is in that. He bumps off his brother. They own a winery. Locks him in the wine cellar and he suffocates. Best one.”
I agree, because where’s the harm in agreeing with him? And I am, truth be told, trying to see that he doesn’t come to harm.
“I just think, you know,” I tell him, “that perhaps you could wait a bit until some of these other things are sorted.” The bill to my right on the sofa cushion is from the water company. I wonder if he has already been cut off and he’s down to the dregs. Something has to explain the rust in the water and the film on the surface of the tea.
“I mean,” I add, and it does have to be said, “it’s not like you…” I indicate the empty TV stand. It wouldn’t take TV’s brightest detective to work out my meaning. Although didn’t they always know who the murderer was right at the start in Columbo?
“Inverted mystery,” says Ken. “You know who did it from the first,” Ken says. Before sitting down and opening up his Amazon wish list again on his phone.
“You know who did it from the first,” I repeat.
“Yeah. They show you,” Ken says. I wonder if he’s managed to turn the one-click ordering back on. I wonder how many more credit cards he can have applied for since the last time we had an audit. “Right from the first,” he says again, pressing something on the screen and his face lighting up with the closest I’ve yet seen to delight from him. “They showed all of Donald Pleasance’s preparations before he did his brother in.”
“Uh-huh.” I finish my tea. I contemplate the mould at the bottom of the mug. I think about Ken’s referral and what little they had actually known when he’d been admitted to the ward. Before he had been directed on to me.
“They show you who did it from the first,” I say, mostly to myself. “Yes, I think I can see the appeal.”