by Abigail Pesta

Another day, another charming letter from my landlord.

"I noticed that you have flowerpots on the windowsills -- make sure you don't leave rings of dirt behind," this one read.

The little notes were arriving with increased frequency, ever since I told him I'd need to break the lease. I had a good enough reason: I was being transferred to Hong Kong by my employer; my time in London was up. To soften the blow, I'd even found him a brand-new tenant for the apartment, so he wouldn't lose a single cent of rent.

Still, he couldn't quite wrap his brain around it. He thought I was getting away with something.

From the moment I first told him, he was suspicious. "A company does not just MOVE someone like that," he said. When I explained that I'm a journalist and that yes, newspapers do that sometimes, he replied: "You're going by yourself to Hong Kong? Without a husband?"

Then he announced that he would be keeping my enormous security deposit.

A stocky, angry gentleman who rented out furnished flats, my landlord, Apostolos, seemed to live life on the verge of blowing a gasket. In his trademark navy sport coat and tightly knotted ascot, which he wore despite not having a neck to speak of, he looked like a cross between a pirate and a dandy.

He was of a mind that renters were there to tend his properties to his specifications. We weren't residents so much as sentinels on constant alert for dust bunnies, or I suppose he imagined.

I, however, had come to London from New York, where the opposite is true: You trash the apartment and get the hell out when the lease is up. I had left bathrooms crusted with hairspray, walls peppered with nail holes, and even, in one case, a hardwood floor pitted with burn marks. It's just what happens when your roommate decides one holiday season to light the decorative pine cones on fire to see if they smell as good as incense.

My point is this: In New York, the landlords never bothered us -- they were lucky we didn’t burn the place down.

In London, apparently, things didn't work like that. Practically every day, I'd get a new note from Apostolos under my door. Each handwritten letter came in a tidy envelope, with my name misspelled, even though I had mentioned more than once that the proper spelling is "Abby."

"Abi, there are dirty fingerprints on the walls, above and below the light switches," read one. "You will need to have the walls repainted before you go."

"Abi, you will need to have the carpet professionally shampooed," read another. "I know there are wine stains beneath the dining table that were not there previously."

"Abi, don't forget to dust the blinds in the kitchen."

Apostolos and I got off on the wrong foot the very first day I moved in. That's because the first thing I did -- even before unpacking -- was to take down the billowing peach draperies that festooned the living-room windows.

All I wanted to do was make a few things a little more to my liking. And while I'm sure the drapes must have been the height of fashion back in the 1950s or so, when they evidently were picked out by some dowager, I decided they'd look better rolled up in a ball and stuffed in the closet.

Apostolos, unfortunately for me, lived just two floors below. And when he popped by that afternoon to see how his new tenant was acclimating, he almost had a brain aneurysm at the sight. "Wh…wh…where are the curtains?" He sputtered. "And the figurines?"

He was referring to the dozen or so porcelain statuettes -- ladies with parasols, hounds on the hunt -- that also featured prominently in the apartment's decorative scheme.

"I've just moved them to the closet to make room for a few of my own things," I said.

"Why would anyone take down those lovely curtains?" he asked no one in particular, his eyes darting as he scanned the room for other things that may have changed. He marched over to the closet, where the figurines were lined up on a top shelf.

It was then, for the first time, that I saw an expression on his face that would become all too familiar: He looked at me in utter disbelief, as if I were the lunatic, not he.

I saw the same look again a month or so later, when I asked him to remove the ancient TV from my living room. Ever since the night Princess Diana died, the television had begun a slow death of its own. The TV and I were probably among the first in London to see the terrible news about Lady Di, because I was up till all hours that night, unable to sleep.

Perhaps the tragedy was all the tube could take. With its weird knobs and lack of remote control, it clearly was a relic. When you clicked it on, the screen turned a cloudy brown for several minutes before mustering the strength to produce an actual picture.

Apostolos offered to replace the TV if I would agree to pay half the cost of the new one, which naturally I declined to do. I mean, it's a furnished flat, so it's the landlord's responsibility to provide a TV.

"When I move out, do I get to take half the TV with me?" I asked him.

My refusal to pay was inconceivable to Apostolos. I guess he figured I was so desperate for TV that no demand would of his would go unmet. "What would you DO without a telly?" he asked. "What do you DO in here?"

In light of all this, you'd think he'd be happy to see me go. But in his mind, somehow I was ripping him off by getting transferred out of town.

His logic was as twisted as his tightly wound ascot: Because I had found him a new tenant to take over my lease, he was furious that he wouldn't be able to raise the rent after I left. Pointing out the flaw in his argument -- namely, he couldn't have raised the rent on me, either, if I had simply stayed -- didn't help much.

He got the idea to threaten a lawsuit against me for the remainder of the year's rent. So each new note he slipped under the door began to include this line: "May I remind you that I can legally demand payment for the full year's rent."

To keep him from going off the rails entirely, I broke down and paid $500 for a cleaning service to come in and tidy up the place. A pair of men swooped in and spent a full day scrubbing floors, lathering the carpet, dusting the blinds, touching up the paint on the walls.

The next morning, a new note appeared under my door: "Abi, I will need to charge you a fee of 500 pounds for breaking the lease. I think this is fair. Let's not forget that I can legally demand payment for the full year's rent."

This was the final indignity. The man was already keeping my $3,000 security deposit.

When I knocked on his door to discuss the fee, he basically went berserk, blurting out offense after offense -- both real and imaginary. "I know you flipped over the sofa cushions to deceive me into thinking you had laundered them!" he yelled.

I retreated back to my own flat, where 15 minutes later, I heard the telltale swish of a letter being slipped under the door. It was three pages long, handwritten, single-spaced. It began, "I'll shortly be contacting your employers, who will surely sack you once they hear of your lies, greediness and all-round unethical behaviour."

So I did the only thing I could do. I wrote out a 500-pound check to my landlord, and slid it under his door. Then I ran to the bank -- and drained my account of all my money before he had a chance to cash it. What could he do? I'd be on a plane, winging it to the other side of the world, having the last laugh.

The next day on the flight, I popped a Dramamine and smiled myself to sleep, imagining all the ways he would express his dismay once he learned the check had bounced.

Sweet victory was mine.

When I arrived at my new office in Hong Kong for my first day of work, an envelope awaited me my desk. It had come from London via FedEx. It was from Apostolos.