I was in a bar. I wasn’t drinking. I was working. I don’t drink when I work. Or I don’t work when I drink – it comes to the same thing. It all depends on which one I decide to do first.
I’d been with a group of people, but they’d all left and to tell the truth I was glad. They weren’t my kind of people – not the type you really want to meet. Because of the work I do, I have to meet with these kinds of people now and then, but the less time I spend hanging out with them the better I like it. You would feel the same, I’m sure. I stayed in the bar when they left because I didn’t want to walk down the street with them. I didn’t want them to see which way I went and I most definitely didn’t want them to follow me and find out my address.
I was sitting on this long bench-seat against a wall. There were two tables. My table was still covered by the detritus left behind by those criminal elements I was telling you about – empty glasses, little spills of beer and a half-full packet of salted nuts. A woman sat down at the next table – the clean one - and I glanced up, in the way that you do.
She was, in sharp contrast to the guys I’d been meeting with, the kind of person you do most sincerely hope to meet. She was clean and smart – and that was enough on its own, believe me. Her lipstick was scarlet and her dress was green and sort of shimmery – like the wings of some birds. She had a white coat, which she had slung on the seat beside her. What with the shiny green and red and the white fur on the collar of her coat, she gave off this kind of festive feeling, which made me feel happy because I like that sort of thing. This happy feeling of mine is to blame for almost everything that happened afterward.
She took a quick glance around the bar, sipped her drink and then looked at me and said, “Tearce.” And she inclined her head just a tiny bit and smiled.
I have to say I was disappointed. She didn’t look like someone who knew Sev. Sev was the guy I’d met – the one who’d left behind the packet of nuts and the beer-ponds in the pitted surface of the table. But then, I thought, I didn’t know Sev. I didn’t want to know him. Now I do know him I wish I didn’t. The only thing I wanted to know about him just then was if he was going to pay me. I couldn’t picture this woman knowing people like Sev and his boys, Gary and Larry. What would they talk about? She looked like she knew how to read, for a start.
Okay, maybe Sev’s boys weren’t called Gary and Larry. He never introduced them. They just sat at the table, glowering as if they’d taken a night-class in elementary intimidation. It wasn’t important who they were so much as what they could do – and what they could do was pound into pate anyone Sev didn’t like. Gary just looked like a Gary the same as Larry looked like a Larry. I guess I could call them A and B, or X and Y, but that doesn’t roll off the tongue. Only they’re Polish. So they’re probably called Jacek and Marek, or something.
But anyway she knew my name, and knew where I’d be, so I said, “You know Sev?”
“Yes,” she said, and her smile got a little wider. She had a dimple in her left cheek and her eyes were nearly the green of her dress.
“So,” I said. Stupid thing to say.
“So,” she said. She smiled again, a happy, sunny smile. She finished her drink – it was only a single shot – and got up and left.
I waited a minute then picked up the card she’d put down on the seat.
Written on one side in neat cursive script:
9pm - 1am
251, Bellingford Avenue
Desk in study, right-hand top drawer, blue file.
On the other side and in the same hand a phone number and a time. I put the card in my pocket.