I'd been lying on the couch when the doorbell rang. I decided to ignore it; the curry I'd had for tea had been excellent and I'd eaten rather more of it than I really should have done -- there would be no left-overs for tomorrow's breakfast -- and was quite enjoying sinking into a spicy coma.
The crash was rather unexpected, and I froze, wondering what the hell was happening. Then there was a lot of loud swearing from someone with a voice like a nut-sorting machine on high-speed and more crashing. I relaxed a little, and then tensed up in a different manner, and pulled myself into a semi-reclining position. I was just patting the cushions into place behind me when MacArthur hopped into the living room, my letter-box wedged firmly around his other ankle.
"Your letter-box is broken," he growled by way of greeting. "It's a bit more of a cow-flap now."
"You mean cat-flap, Mac?"
"Only if your cat's as big as a cow."
I reached for my notepad to write down that I'd have to get the front-door replaced tomorrow. MacArthur's eyes gleamed as he watched, and he fumbled in the pockets of his trench coat.
"I have a bone to pick with you," he said, his fingers finding a cigar stub and a fold of matches. "You never let me have any friends."
"You don't know how to make friends! And don't smoke in here."
"Sure I do," he said ignoring me and lighting the cigar stub. A dull orange glow suffused the end and a curl of greasy smoke made its way leisurely to the ceiling. He tossed the matchbook on the table. "You sit down next to someone in a bar and introduce yourself."
"You sit down next to people in bars and spit in their drinks."
"It saves them having to offer to buy me one. Speeds up the friendship thing."
"You also sneeze in the barsnacks, don't always leave your seat to go to the bathroom, and assassinate the entertainment."
"That was once!" Mac had the cheek to try to look injured.
"Which was once?"
Mac shrugged, but otherwise ignored the question.
"I need some friends, someone more than just you. You suck."
"What for?" Mac's cigar suddenly burst into flame and he spat it out onto the carpet where he ground it with a shoe that looked as though it had lived a long life, been buried, then dug up again, worn by a tramp for a few years and then passed on to Mac.
MacArthur smiled, showing yellowing tombstone teeth, then gave up.
"Collateral," he said, sounding guarded.
"Real friends don't get used as collateral," I said, trying to be patient.
"What's the point in having them then?"
"And this is the root of your problem, Mac. This is why you don't have friends."
"Bah." He spat and shook the letter-box on his ankle, which stubbornly refused to dislodge. "I don't know why I bother talking to you, you're never any help."
"Feel free to stop," I said with sincerity. "Any time."