Herewith the second chapter of my debut novel, now available to buy in the Amazon Kindle store. Book 2 in the series is underway — follow its progress here: https://quaywordsblog.wordpress.com/
Actually, the toasted sandwich really hit the spot once I’d forced myself to stop thinking about the potentially toxic device that had brought it into being. I wolfed it down sitting at the picnic table, all the while trying to discern what lay beyond the mounds of cast-offs filling the room. Other than the bar area, the whole place was a junk yard, and it all had to go. As dedicated as Aunt Maddy had been to the pub, and as professional as J.D. appeared to be, they had both clearly shared a very relaxed attitude toward the environment that lay beyond the customers' field of view. With no apparent washing-up facilities to hand, I left my mug and plate on the work top and returned to the bar.
J.D. had just opened up and was straightening tables and chairs with such precision as to put him in contention for the Nobel Prize in Geometry, if there was such a thing. Janine was busy loading the float into the till.
'Thanks for the sarnie Janine. Hopefully that'll mute the stomach.'
'You're welcome. That was just a day one perk though, you're on your own from now on.' She flashed me a grin then went back to sorting out her change.
It then dawned on me that unless I was going to rely solely on Bernie for sustenance or eat out all the time, I really needed to get the kitchen up and running pronto. Or at least get a microwave for The Crow's Nest in the meantime. Plus, I'd need a Chef (for the kitchen that is; I could operate a microwave myself). I was okay cooking the basics but nothing that I'd be happy putting in front of paying customers. When it came to anything more sophisticated than sausage and chips I was seriously out of my depth. I often wondered if my attempt to poach a salmon in the dishwasher was the point at which my marriage started to unravel. I made a mental note to sound out J.D. on that topic (the Chef that is; not my salmon à la Whirlpool).
The lunchtime shift passed without incident; not terribly busy but typical of a wintry Monday I assumed. There was no need to be ever-present behind the bar as that wasn't what I was there for and if anything, I'd just get in the way. But I hung around to get better acquainted with J.D. and Janine and learn more of what made the pub tick. Not that I was a complete stranger to the trade — I'd spent many years working the bar at “The Pulton Arts Centre” off-and-on to boost my meagre bank earnings, so I knew the fundamentals, even if those fundamentals were a bit rusty. Janine walked me through how the till worked — thankfully it was only a couple of generations on from what I'd used in the past. It had proper buttons rather than a huge touch screen with a myriad of menu choices and bright colours that I'd seen forcefully jabbed and sworn at in other establishments. And none of those bar-code swipe guns that staff have hanging off their belts on a stretchy cable that they brandish as if they were playing Laser Quest. With my confidence growing as I found my feet, I even served a couple of the few customers that showed up. There were smiles and thank you's and nobody died — all good. I was generally competent pouring drinks with two components or less because the ingredients were usually included in the title. Gin and Tonic; Rum and Coke — easy. It was when someone asked me for a cocktail that I got a bit frowny and sweaty — so many opportunities to cock things up. What on earth goes into a Mai Tai for example? There are literally no clues to be gleaned from its name. Us bar folk were expected to know all and whisk those complex creations up whilst spinning bottles and juggling ice — damn you Tom Cruise.
Around half two, with little happening in the bar I decided to take a walk into town. I was keen to advance my resurgent relationship with Pulton and there were also some essentials I was in need of. J.D. was stationed behind the bar, still engrossed in his paper. Goodness he gets some mileage out of “The Daily Mirror” — did he read every single article? Or was he working at memorising the entire publication?
'Right J.D. I am just going outside and may be some time.'
'I think we'll just about manage.' he said. I was reasonably confident this wasn't a dig at me but more a nod towards the scarcity of custom. Reasonably confident.
'Anyone need anything?' I offered.
Janine piped up. 'A boob job and Justin Bieber's phone number please. Failing that, a Twix would be fab.'
'I'll do my best to deliver on all three.'
J.D. then looked up from his paper and stared at me blankly. Sometimes it was really tricky to work out what was going on behind those big glasses. I assumed he was working out how outlandish a request he could get away with, but then he seemed to give up on the idea and went back to his reading with a simple 'Nothing ta.'
Grabbing my coat from The Crow's Nest, I was pleased to feel that my pad was much much warmer than it had been this morning before I brought the heating to life. Then I was back downstairs and out through the front door. And onto the quay. The cold wasn’t a surprise: that had been easily gauged by the freezing blast that was introduced into the bar each time anyone came or went through the front door but it was still a shock to hit the outside air. My coat was actually an old snowboarding jacket from a time when I had the energy to engage in such pursuits and could sit down and stand up without making a noise of some sort. Like me, it was feeling its age and really wasn't providing much protection from the bitter air.
Across the channel, the SharpCrest yard was bustling, but there was little activity in the neighbouring goods yards. The quayside stretched out either side of me, looking rather dim as the Winter afternoon sun started to think about winding up its act for the day. I turned left, heading for the High Street and the town, mentally checking my shopping list which comprised the key items I needed to better my life right now. These comprised some sort of draught excluder for my gaping windows, and curtains for the same. And a Twix (I'd already shelved Janine's more esoteric requests). The quay didn't look it's best this time of year — it needed the Summer sun and the Summer people to really bring it to life. Many of the businesses that made up the frontage looked closed and empty with no lights showing from inside, all just waiting for that jump in temperature and brightness to drag them out of hibernation. That said, a number of the bars and restaurants stayed open all year round and my challenge was to hook as much of the local business as I could, whatever the season. The quayside buildings were a mix of the historic and the new and garish, with few sympathetically bridging the two styles. Directly in my line of sight stood the abomination that was the monolithic modern apartment block that essentially split the quay in two. Towering several storeys higher than any other structure on the quay and dominating the skyline, it appeared to have been spawned by a team comprising an architect that specialised in designing shopping centres when drunk and a developer that challenged themselves to throw up a building that blended in with its neighbours the least. Below the apartments on the ground floor sat a massive shoe shop that clearly belonged on the High Street, not the quayside. How big was the back-hander that made all that happen I wondered? Every time I saw that awful erection and some of the others that had sprung up nearby, I couldn't help but feel saddened that nobody seemed to be looking after my town properly.
Feeling the cold sinking deeper into me, I stuffed my hands into my pockets and picked up the pace. The High Street wound its way up to the main shopping centre; I was familiar with neither these days so it was something of a voyage of discovery. The weather didn't suit a window shopping marathon so I only made the stops I needed to, but I did take brief stock of the shops that were on offer, appreciative of the few names that I knew and noting those that I didn't. All the big brand stores were homed in the shopping centre so here was an eclectic mix of smaller, independent traders, the majority of whom seemed to be selling wedding dresses, antiques or antique wedding dresses. Keeping them company was a second-hand book and comic store that would be worth a look another day and one selling fishing tackle with a run-down looking sex shop as its immediate neighbour. Those last two I probably wouldn't take time out to browse as I had no interest in fishing and should the need arise for any adult supplies, I'd prefer to order on-line. I was no prude; I'd been in a sex shop once before, albeit as the result of a dare on a mate's stag do. The challenge was for each in our group to make up an outlandish name for a vibrator, then go into the shop in turn and ask if they had the item in stock. Absolutely hilarious at the time with the amount of shots we'd consumed: even more so when the shopkeeper said 'Yes.' to one such request and pointed to the product sitting proudly on a shelf. I forget the name but I'm fairly sure 'Purple' and 'Plunderer' featured in it. I enjoyed the occasional adult film too, though I was always critical of the false impression they gave regarding how punctual tradesmen are. Some years ago, I spent several months working in The Netherlands and was recommended a hotel by others on my team purely on the basis that the porn film channels were free. There were a few other options but I gave it a try, which was a bad move as it turned out. The place was oddly decorated and had the look and feel of a dilapidated cross-channel ferry. Also, their entertainment system was on the blink so all that was available to view during my week-long stay was "The Bridges of Madison County", looping endlessly on every single channel. I was still prone to break out the odd quote from time to time; the script was part of my DNA now.
As pleasant as it was to re-acquaint myself with this part of my old stomping ground, it was disappointing to see the many unoccupied units and be reminded of that feeling of a neglected town that I’d experienced earlier on the quay. Only around half the businesses seemed to be trading; maybe less. Sure, a fair number would re-open just for the lively holiday season, the restaurants especially, but many looked closed for good, with some proclaiming their demise via 'Going out of business' or 'Closing down sale!' posters stuck to their front windows. Or by being boarded up entirely. One or two seemed to be undergoing a refit but they were few and far between. Things got brighter and busier the closer you got to the shopping centre, but in between that commercial hub and the quay, you had a stretch that mostly resembled a demilitarised zone with the occasional pocket of enterprises that were probably clinging onto solvency by their fingernails. The only really thriving businesses seemed to be fast food and handmade cosmetics. On the positive side, I did manage to score a cheap pair of curtains from one of those department stores that seemed to have no idea what it should really be selling so tried to stock a bit of everything. Being a dumb ass, I hadn't thought to measure the window beforehand so I guesstimated and just grabbed a size that looked about right.
Having covered most of the length of the High Street, I decided I'd brave the shopping centre another day. I wasn't a fan of shopping; doubly so when it came to sharing the experience with hordes of others who seemed to have nothing else planned for the day other than getting in my way and shouting at their kids. Also, the temperature was dropping as evening approached so I decided to call it quits and head back to the pub. Draught excluder had eluded me thus far so I stopped off at a newsagent and bought a few copies of the local newspaper instead to stuff in the window voids as a temporary fix. And a Twix with which Janine could stuff her own void (as it were).
Turning onto the quay again, the street lamps were coming to life which together with the other limited illumination from the quayside properties, were doing a half-hearted job of shifting the late afternoon gloom. Not so the SharpCrest yard where huge floodlights illuminated the whale-sized white hulls that gleamed even more than they had in daylight. Keen to reclaim the warmth of the pub, I was moving at a brisk trot so didn't dwell on all the new businesses on the quay or pay my respects to those that had departed. That would keep for another (warmer/brighter) excursion, though I did take a quick peek into the windows of the various bars I wasn't familiar with to try and grab a snapshot of what they had to offer. As I passed "Coasters" which was just a few doors up from the pub, I spied a menu in the window. Keen as I was to reintroduce food service to “The Pulton Arms” and with my toasted sarnie fast-becoming a distant memory, I thought I'd give it a once-over to find out what they served and what they charged. The variety was agreeable — location dictated that seafood featured heavily but you could get various pastas, a steak or an elaborate salad for a price that wouldn't necessitate a bank job or the sale of a kidney. Hmmm... maybe these guys were my immediate competition. Also, looking beyond the menu into the bright interior, it appeared that this place was one of the more charismatic venues on the quayside — less like an industrial laboratory selling vodka in test tubes and more like a joint where you could actually hang out, relax and enjoy yourself. Competition indeed. With my interest piqued, I pressed my forehead against the glass, trying to identify any chinks in their armour that I could exploit.
And then the rest of the world went away as a vision slid into view and took full control of my faculties. Someone was wiping down the tables just inside the window and she looked up to see me standing there looking in. Our faces were no more than a few inches apart. And then she smiled a smile that made me forget where I was, who I was and how I'd come to have my face frozen to this particular window in the first place. This wasn't just a forced polite gesture to acknowledge my presence; her whole face lit up with genuine warmth and brilliance. She absolutely beamed. For a moment, I was completely thrown. Then I smiled back as best I could but the cold was imposing some sort of rictus across my face so instead of radiating Clooneyesque charm, I probably looked more like some sort of unhinged cartoon villain. Tables cleaned, she turned and walked away, but I was still rooted to the spot. I'd managed to detach my forehead from the window without leaving portions of it behind at least. But I was stuck there; not wanting to move on, even though she had now disappeared from view. I'd just caught sight of the most naturally beautiful woman I had ever seen. And I mean, ever. I'd known some lookers in my time and worshipped various celebrity hotties but this girl trumped them all. She was Audrey Hepburn; but blonde; and turned up to eleven.
After a few minutes longer, the cold brought me (somewhat) back to myself. Lord knows how long I'd been staring through the window, but probably long enough to get security interested so I resumed my walk home, somewhat reluctantly. I was still a bit giddy from my close encounter with the goddess and actually felt a little frustrated I couldn't recall more of the details. And what about that smile? Maybe she smiled at everyone that way. Maybe there was nothing in it. Regardless; nobody had ever had that kind of impact on me before. I'd been incapacitated as swiftly and effectively as a satellite TV dish splashed with a couple of rain drops. I needed to get to know this girl better. Much better.
It was about five when I got back to the pub and by that time it was properly dark. My new home was a welcome sight with the outside lamps ablaze and an enticing glow emanating from inside. Freezing as I was, I took a moment to take in the scene whilst working hard at dragging myself fully back down to earth.
“The Pulton Arms” was the oldest pub in Pulton — fact. And also one of the oldest buildings in the town — fact. Historical records will confirm the latter but the former was forever argued by other establishments who tried to stake the same claim, aiming to monetise it as a selling point to get more punters through their doors. But I was deaf to such claims — how could those places boast such age or originality when they'd undergone more structural reconstruction than Cher and Michael Jackson combined? I would also argue that few of them could rightly call themselves pubs, if any. They'd been modernised and transformed into bars. Wood and character had given way to glass, steel and a cold corporate ambiance or some warmed-over theme prescribed by the chain that owned them. Plus, they didn't have pub names — if it doesn't start with 'The...', it's not a pub. But my pub had had very little work done, just a bit of internal restructuring several years ago to help the place perform its function better but in the main, it was as it was when first completed in the 1600's. She was the ageing show girl in the ever more youthful chorus line that made up the quayside frontage, but she wore that maturity with pride. And she was still striking, with her stand-out, glossy, red-tiled fascia from a time when pottery was a staple of local industry. Pulton Pottery was still a well-known name and had a presence on the quay though these days was more about collectible vases and dishes than building cladding. The pub was a listed building so other than bashing in the odd picture pin or changing a light bulb, there was little more that could be altered inside or out without getting the official say-so from the town planning committee. That, and the size of the place was probably why the developers that had mauled most of the rest of the quay hadn't tried adding it to their portfolio. Not yet anyway. Even if they could get approval to level the place and start again, I just didn't think there was enough real estate to play with to get any serious return. And I'd have had to be willing to sell first; which I wasn’t, and would never be. I was the guardian of Pulton's heritage remember. Also, if I did sell, Aunt Maddy would return from the grave and seriously fuck me up.
Brrrrrrr... time to get indoors.
On walking through the front door, I was surprised to see a suited and booted young man standing just inside the entrance blocking my way. He was a sizeable specimen, and no stranger to the gym it would appear judging by the way his sleeves clung to his biceps. Either that or he was hiding sweets up there. He had nothing more than a five o'clock shadow for hair yet sported a prodigious goatee which made his head look bottom heavy. And then the head spoke.
'I'm sorry sir but the bar is closed for a private function.' His tone was polite but entirely without warmth.
Arms folded, he regarded me dispassionately whilst I stood there trying to make sense of the scenario. I'd heard nothing about a private function from Janine or J.D. and I only recalled the pub ever having security on the door during the busy Summer season when the stag and hen parties hit town to ruin their livers and throw up into the harbour. Over his shoulder, I could see a similarly uniformed chap, with his back to the bar, staring at me. Also with arms folded. He was even bulkier than the gym bunny stood in front of me, with dark slicked back hair and several tattoos that looked like they were trying to escape from his shirt collar. There was no sign of J.D., just a rather twitchy looking Janine hovering behind the bar. And across the counter from her, next to the second suit, stood a woman with her back to me wearing a long black coat and a black wide-brimmed hat. Judging by the predominance of dark outfits you'd think I'd walked into a wake. Or Morticia Addams’ wardrobe. Looking around, there didn't appear to be any other customers in the bar. I guessed that probably wasn't unusual for this time of day but something just felt wrong and I concluded the beefy duo weren't on my payroll. Oddly, I wasn't particularly nervous — maybe I'd left my capacity for rational thought frozen to the front window of “Coasters”. I was certainly weirded out though, like I'd crashed someone else's party that was being held in my house without my prior knowledge. That said, there was no getting around the size and non-cuddly aura of the two suits glaring at me and I was conscious of the fact I was armed only with a carrier bag filled with soft furnishings, newspaper and confectionery. Also, I was to unarmed combat what Professor Stephen Hawking is to the pole vault so I decided to favour diplomacy over fisticuffs.
Turning to my immediate adversary, I opened my mouth to speak and then it struck me... I'd completely forgotten to buy a new duvet. Chances are, I would have found one in the shop where I bought the curtains had I thought to look. Alas that's how my mind tended to work — failing to provide me with a bright idea when I most needed one and shooting off at a tangent when confronted with a situation that begged my complete focus, such as the one I found myself in currently. I fear my brain was engineered using a shopping trolley with a dodgy wheel as a design blueprint. I wasn't sure how long I'd been standing there wandering the halls of my mind palace (more of a brain bungalow in my case), but when I mentally returned to the room, my mouth felt parched so it must have been hanging open for a while. The sentry guy was still at his post; the only change in his posture or demeanour being a raised eyebrow, no doubt brought on by my lengthy human statue demonstration.
Finally, I managed to get some words out. 'Hi. I'm Ken Trickett. I own this place. And you are?'
He didn't answer but looked towards the still unrevealed presence at the bar. She didn't turn around but simply barked 'Let him in.'
What the hell? Who was she to grant me permission to enter my own pub? Angered, I went to barge past the sentry guy but he took a step aside and let me pass unhindered. I strode purposefully towards the bar: the second suit maintained his position and his expressionless mien. After shedding my coat and shopping bag, I went up to Janine who was clearly relieved to see me. I deliberately ignored the woman standing across the bar from me, mostly to return her earlier indifference at my arrival but I also wanted to find out what was afoot before engaging her.
'You okay Janine? What's this about a private function?'
She shot a glance at our visitors and answered 'Erm, I'm not sure.', clearly as baffled as I was. Before I could reply, another female voice cut in.
'Not a function as such, more a private conversation with a new neighbour.'
I held Janine's gaze for a moment then swivelled to face the mystery woman. She was looking down at something she was holding so her face was almost entirely obscured by the brim of her hat.
Still bristling from her imperious "welcome", I replied tersely. 'I don't recall being invited.'
'Well, you are now.' she said abruptly and with that, she looked up at me and for the second time that day I was struck momentarily dumb. She was really quite stunning — more handsome than beautiful I'd say but she radiated a certain style, confidence and potent authority. It was tough to place her age, primarily because I'm crap at that. Late forties/early fifties maybe? She was dressed for the cold, with her coat buttoned up to her be-scarfed neck so there was very little of her on display but this actually amplified the impact of her look. She was pale and wore very little make-up, and what she did wear was subtly applied apart from her bright red lipstick that made its own bold statement. Probably one of those shades with a name like "Crimson Temptation" or "Scarlet Spank". All of this was framed to great effect by her almost pitch-black hair, the length of which I couldn't judge with so much of it being confined to her Winter outfit. I couldn't tell to what extent her height was heel-assisted but she was tall, almost at the same eye-level as me and I was a six-footer. It was an odd sensation — I wasn't attracted to her, more held in awe by a compelling force of nature. Seeing that my train of thought had been derailed (an effect of her presence which I'm sure she was both used to and actively cultivated), she decided not to wait for a response and reached out a black-gloved hand.
'Good Afternoon Mister Trickett. I am Angelique Sharp. I own SharpCrest Marine and I am here to purchase your public house.'
Having already been thrown by the impact of her unveiling, I was now entirely nonplussed (again; the original definition). After an awkward few seconds, she frowned at me and withdrew her hand. Clearly impatient with the slow progress being made with the conversation, she tried to force the pace.
'Yes well; I did hold a similar conversation with the previous owner but alas she and I were unable to agree terms. Regrettable but not a huge surprise; she never seemed to be all there to be honest. Now that she's dead, I thought I would progress negotiations with you.' Her tone was brusque and business-like, just as if I was an employee getting a dressing down from my manager during a sub-standard performance review. Or so I would imagine.
Still frowning, she continued to stare at me. 'You can still talk can't you?' Then she clicked her fingers repeatedly in front of my face. With that immensely annoying gesture and the soulless indifference she showed for Aunt Maddy and her demise, I was suddenly back in the room.
'Sorry, what? I tuned out there for a while — I've been a little distracted, having forgotten to buy a new duvet when I went shopping earlier. What with that, a deceased family member and a business to run, I'm sure you'll appreciate I have a lot on my mind. Drink?' This all delivered with blatantly fake cheeriness.
She didn't answer but studied me, unmoving and unblinking for what felt like several minutes (I was getting jaw ache from the fixed smile I'd plastered on), all the time drumming her fingers on the bar counter. Then with a sigh borne out of what seemed like resignation, she looked down to the floor (still finger drumming). At this point I thought she was preparing to pounce but instead she looked up at me again and said simply 'Gin and tonic'. Janine moved to do the honours. 'Do be sure the glass is clean.' This no doubt just a further attempt to wind me up but I didn't bite. She then placed a mobile phone and an expensive-looking handbag on the bar and took off her gloves and draped them across it. Then she proceeded to remove her hat, scarf and coat which she passed to suit number two without even looking in his direction. Every move she made had an unhurried precision to it as if she had all the time in the world to spare yet wanted every action to mean something. Having shed her outer-wear, she appeared a little less intimidating visually, yet still quietly commanded attention. She was wearing a black business suit (expensive-looking also), the cut of which highlighted a slim figure. With a white blouse, minimal jewellery and hair that now dropped well below her shoulders, she struck me as a mix of business professional and film star. A sort of Hollywood A-list celebrity bank manager.
Janine arrived with her drink and gave me a "who's paying for this?" kind of look. 'Thanks Janine. This'll be on the house.' She placed the drink on the bar then moved down to the other end as if putting a safe distance between her and a firework she'd just lit the fuse of.
'Thank you,' said Angelique, 'Most kind.'
I’d calmed down a bit since walking in, feeling more comfortable behind the bar. Physically and psychologically, it was a line of defence. 'Look, Angie..'
'Angie, I'm afraid the pub's not for sale. What do you want with it anyway?'
'This is the location of what shall be the new Sales Office for SharpCrest Marine.' A sentence delivered with an annoying level of confidence as if it were already a done deal. 'The prime location for viewing my operation and my glorious yachts. The perfect shop window if you will. Customers will be able to look out and view their prospective purchases in all their splendour whilst being beguiled by the sales pitch. I shall also moor a prime example of my wares right outside the door, so a guided tour will be only a few paces away. What better incentives for the easily-persuaded to empty their bank accounts into mine?'
Was she for real? 'Hmmm; awesome idea, but not this pub I'm afraid. Maybe you could set up a sales kiosk out there instead? You know; like the pleasure boat guys flog tickets from. Or you could walk up and down the quay wearing some natty SharkCrest sandwich boards handing out fliers? You could wear a novelty hat with a shark on it, though I'm not sure that's going to entice people to go boating to be honest.'
'It's SharpCrest, not SharkCrest.'
Her having taken the bait on the gag, I treated myself to a few moments of silent victory celebration in my head. 'Oh right. Sorry; I did mention I'd tuned out earlier. Can't you just buy somewhere else?'
'Somewhere else will not adequately serve my purpose. Your premises will. And they shall.'
'Well as I've just made very clear, they won't. Anyway, this is a listed building — you'd need planning permission to do anything more than clean the windows.'
She smiled wryly. 'Mister Trickett; this town is dependent on my business and its continued growth. The planning committee will go to great lengths to ensure they remain in my good graces, lest I decide to take my operation and my money elsewhere.' She then reached into her handbag and after some fishing about, brought out a cigarette case. She pulled one out then took a lighter from her suit pocket.
Maybe this was payback for my shark gag. 'I'm afraid your timing's a little off. If you want to smoke in here, you'll need to schedule a slot before July 2007.' (Having been an avid smoker and pub-goer around that time, the date was indelibly stamped in my memory).
She raised the cigarette to her mouth and clicked the lighter. 'And who pray, is going to know?'
At that moment, from the kitchen there came the sound of a door opening. Suit number two whirled on the spot whilst deftly tossing the items of Angelique's apparel he was holding onto one of the nearby chairs: the first significant movement he'd made since the start of this weird drama. It was only then that I realised his slicked-back hair was actually tied in a pony tail which swooshed round and bopped him in the face when he completed his spin. As amusing as it was, I felt it prudent not to laugh and point, still wary of his next move.
The noise-makers soon made themselves known, as Halo and J.D. made their entrance. J.D. took in the scene then looked at me quizzically.
'Everything okay Boss?'
'It's fine J.D. — just having a lively conversation about property acquisition and the evolution of the Health Act.'
Both suits were looking at J.D., now with their hands by their sides as if ready for action but they stayed where they were, holding station until a real threat presented itself it appeared. Blissfully unaware of the tension in the room, Halo set off into the bar in search of discarded crisps.
Turning back to Angelique, I noticed she still had cigarette and lighter in hand. I was getting tired of the brinkmanship so tried a new tack.
'Tell me Angie, how much time and money has gone into your appearance today? A significant amount I'd imagine?'
'What? Why?' For the first time, she appeared less than entirely composed.
'Just so I can derive the appropriate level of satisfaction from emptying a fire extinguisher at you if you go ahead and light up. Nothing personal — Health and Safety you understand'. Okay this was a bluff: with her two henchmen present I wouldn't have dared go that far. I just got a bit carried away now I had some reinforcements. However, she must have considered the scenario briefly, as a moment later she placed the cigarettes and lighter in her handbag. Maybe she'd simply decided not to escalate matters any further. Or maybe she just couldn't be arsed to dispose of our bodies. She went to speak but suddenly jerked sideways as something on the floor seemed to grab her attention. Ah, it seemed Halo was introducing herself to Angelique's shoes. Clearly not a dog fan, this seemed to fluster her disproportionately and for the second time, a crack appeared in her seemingly impenetrable coolness. Looking up, her lipstick seemed to stand out less as the rest of her face flushed slightly. She recovered quickly mind, and looked at me again with no indication that she was anything but entirely self-assured. The drumming of her finger nails on the bar started again, something she seemed to do habitually when deciding on her next move. Nobody else in the room moved or spoke, all being held in her sway whilst she deliberated. And then the drumming stopped and she spoke again.
'Gerard, bring the car around.' Then, pointing at suit number two without looking at him: 'You, get my things.' He was obviously in the dog house for unceremoniously dumping them earlier.
Suit one walked out the front door (no coat — blimey; these boys were tough) whilst suit two gathered his mistress's accoutrements which he then helped her into. Fully restored to her outdoors-ready self, she placed both hands on the bar and leaned in towards me.
'One last time Mister Trickett. Are you for sale?'
'Okay; I tell you what. You look like a woman of means but I'll give you a special discounted rate of £100 an hour, but no kissing on the mouth and I get to choose the safe word.'
She took a deep breath and then sighed heavily like a teacher might when faced with an incorrigible schoolchild. 'No thank you Mister Trickett. My interest in you extends no further than this property. I suggest you take that interest seriously — I could make you a wealthy man. Or a terribly poor one should I choose.'
'Your money doesn't interest me Angie. Other than a decent duvet, I have all I need thanks.'
Without another word, she grabbed her phone and handbag from the bar then headed for the door with suit number two following behind. Just before she reached the exit, she reached into her bag and retrieved her cigarettes and lighter. Slowly and deliberately she lit one, took a deep drag and blew a cloud of smoke towards the ceiling. Turning to face me, she then took another long draw and puffed a fog in my direction after which she made a theatrical show of surveying the room.
'You know; I really can't wait to start tearing this place apart.' she said. Then she dropped her cigarette and ground it into the carpet with her shoe, and left.
Bring it on you bitch I thought. Or maybe even said out loud. Either way, I swore there and then that she would never get her hands on my pub. That bitch with her boats, no way: not on my watch. From that moment on, she was no longer Angelique Sharp — she was Boat Bitch.