The rain during the night had left the footpath littered with puddles. Jack ignored all of them, reveling in his Docs. He splashed across the street, looking left first, and then remembering where he was, looking right. Big black beetle taxis raced to and from Paddington Station – obeying no-one’s traffic laws, but their own. Five days earlier, Jack and Helen had emerged from below the earth at Paddington. The trip from Heathrow had been a mess of missed stops, wrong directions, and maddening crowds. Helen hadn’t let Jack navigate since.
He walked into the shop. It was overcrowded with items from magazines on the wall, to stacks of cigarettes behind the counter, and shelves laden with anything the busy commuter could need. He paused beside the counter to marvel at the number of different newspapers available to Londoners before grabbing the familiar blue of a USA Today and heading to the back of the shop for his newly acquired addiction. He picked up three Lion Bars. He hesitated, and then added a fourth to his collection. Shaking his head, he returned the last one to the box and left the area quickly. Thirty-two years had not dulled his passion for chocolate.
“Cheerio!” Jack greeted the man behind the counter with a big grin as he handed his goods over. He received a raised eyebrow in return.
“Two sixty.” Jack handed over a colourful five-pound note.
“So, do you guys play Monopoly with green money?” Another raised eyebrow came with Jack’s change and he walked out of the shop.
The drizzle had started again, making Jack shiver as a drop from the roof of the shop went straight down the back of his neck. Angus Newlands brushed past Jack into the shop. Jack was going to kill Angus at the end of the week, but neither of them knew it yet.
Correctly remembering which way to look for careening cabs, Jack made his way back across the street to the hotel. The all-expenses trip had included airfare and hotel. The flight had been great. First class on British Airways was well beyond Jack’s limited exposure to airborne travel. The hotel, however, was not quite up to the same standards. Around the corner from Paddington was far from the glamorous centre of London. The façade was as white as anything could be in the London air, but the interior didn’t even try to make up for it. The carpet was bargain basement chic in a shade of blue that defied categorization. Jack braced as he opened to door. There was something very foreign about the way the foyer smelled. It wasn’t horrible, but it was overwhelming. It became undetectable minutes after complete immersion as his nose apparently went into denial mode.
Jack realised half way up the threadbare stairs that he’d left his key in the room again. Upon reaching the door he simply slumped in front of it, leaning his back against it. He unwrapped a Lion Bar and removed the sports section from his newspaper. The Bengals had lost again yesterday. So, all was right with the world.
“Why are you lying out here?” Helen asked from above him.
“Well, I was sitting out here, but then you opened the door.”
“And you were probably comfortable until I stepped on your head.”
“You didn’t step on…owww.” Jack rubbed his forehead. “I forgot my key.”
“Again. I’m leaving now. Last chance.” Helen had her purse and umbrella.
“I would, but I’ve got two Lion Bars to go. I don’t want to keep you.”
“Bastard. I’ll be back after eight or nine. Fend for yourself.”
“Thank you, asthma.” Jack watched her walk down the hallway. He rubbed his head again. Picking up the paper and chocolate, he walked back into the room.
He jumped when the phone rang. It was the first time he’d heard it ring and it didn’t sound like a telephone was supposed to. It was more of a beep than a ring. Or a breep. He reached over and picked up the receiver.
"Hi, I'm looking for Jack Ingram," said an accented female voice.
"That's me. Except I'm Jack Belmondo now."
"You got married?"
"Yes. No, I mean yes I got married, but my name's different because I'm using my mother's maiden name." Jack felt he'd already lost the initiative in this conversation.
"Men don't usually change their names after marriage anyway," the voice offered.
"That's right." Somehow that didn't comfort him very much. "So, why are you looking for me anyway?"
"I need to talk to you. I'm a friend of your father."
"Um… What do you need to talk about? My Dad's had nothing to do with me since I was a kid."
"I can't explain over the phone, I'd like to see you today at one. Do you know where the Sawyer’s Arms is?"
"Yeah, it's around the corner from here. I ate there last night."
"I know, I'll see you at one."
"What do you mean, you know?"