Chapter 1 of 'The Quay'

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Humour, romance, mild peril, much wine and occasional swearing on the South Coast of England. This is the first full chapter from my debut novel. All feedback very gratefully received. Enjoy (hopefully!)

Christ it was cold! I mean seriously bloody freezing! If I didn't end up losing several toes and/or fingers to frostbite, I'd be astonished. Also I was fairly sure my balls had retracted so far into my body in their quest for warmth it would take more than gravity to get them back out. Extra-long forceps perhaps. Or an over-sized corkscrew. So this was to be my fate it seemed — a slow death by refrigeration. For a moment, I pictured myself stranded on the Northeast Ridge of K2, hemmed in by ravenous weather with the hopes of achieving the summit or even surviving beyond the next few hours rapidly fading as I gnawed on the leg of one of my fallen comrades. For survival that is: I wasn't just snacking. The reality was actually a little less brutal. I was in bed, in a flat above a quayside pub in a town called Pulton on the south coast of England, on a January Monday morning. And Winter was making its presence very much felt. My only defences against the unfriendly elements were the many layers of clothing I was wearing, a duvet so thin it was transparent (I never realised you could have a negative tog value) and the aged, wooden, warped, curtain-less sash windows that fitted within their equally aged, wooden, warped frames so badly that a seagull could probably fly in through the gaps with its wings fully extended. Or an eagle; possibly. I was pretty sure the only item in the room that was putting out any heat at all was my smart-phone which I had clasped in my hands (where's a 'fan heater' app when you need one?). I had a pillow over my head as an additional shield from the incoming icy breeze but like the rest of the bedding it was damp from the exposure to the sea air so it wasn't really keeping anything warm. So, current mood = cold, moist and particularly moany. Bed was usually my favourite place to be and not just because its where sex tends to happen (and by 'tends to happen' I mean 'might happen once in a blue moon.'). I loved to sleep, I loved to doze and I loved to dream, because there are some great adventures to be had in The Land of Nod. I still had the vestiges of last night's mental excursions floating around my head (maybe vestiges last longer at low temperatures?) — after a lengthy but successful pursuit of her affections, I'd taken the plunge and proposed to Michelle Pfeiffer. My advance appeared to have been well received initially but then she insisted on reviewing my entire internet browsing history before committing to a decision. Ah; bugger. Dreams can't all be happy clappy experiences but that's all part of the fantasy fun. I remember the row that ensued after accepting Carol Vordeman's kind offer to complete my tax return on my behalf. Very short fuse she's got; impressively chesty though. Once she saw my filing "system" and poorly collated invoices and receipts she went ballistic. Additionally, I'd kept my records using a spreadsheet program she wasn't familiar with either which soured her mood even more. I recall little of the actual dialogue other than her assessment of me as an "organisationally stunted arsehat". I took that as a negative. Difficult times. Anyway, with things having taken a dark turn with Ms. Pfeiffer, I was almost glad when the cold and my ever-increasing need for a pee prodded me into waking.

I lifted my clammy pillow and blinked at the room. There was daylight; albeit rather murky so the sun was up but didn't appear to be trying very hard. My phone told me it was just after nine. It didn't actually tell me; it was the time on display when I looked at it but I understand some smart-phones will speak to you if you ask them the right question. Getting that intimate with an appliance is perilous to my mind — one minute you're asking them the time and the next, they've learnt your weaknesses and evolved into sentient overlords hell-bent on eradicating the human race. With attitude: and big lasers. So no thank you my Terminator-In-Waiting — we'll maintain a non-vocal relationship and you'll remain confined to showing me what day and time it is, the weather forecast and how overdrawn I am whilst providing me with a means to send words and pictures to friends and family. And maybe even make or receive the occasional telephone call if there's no other option than actually talking to them. Also playing games and music, but that's it. And YouTube clips.

With the morning getting into its stride, my bladder making its presence ever more felt and my need to break up the bed for firewood I decided it was time to get up. Also, I could hear movement downstairs; someone was in the bar clearing up from last night and getting ready for lunchtime opening and I wanted to make a good impression on my first day. Suddenly I felt a surge of enthusiasm as it dawned on me that this really was day one of a brand new adventure. The Pulton Arms was my new home, my new business and my new life. That prospect and the realisation of the many acid elements I'd left behind from my previous existence lit me up like a Christmas Tree (no flashing lights though: I hate those — so untraditional). For the first time in months, I'd woken up stressing about nothing whatsoever (other than the aforementioned frostbite) and was revelling in the long-forgotten feeling of looking forward to the day ahead. Those high spirits were then tempered by a pang of sadness for the loss of Aunt Maddy — the generous, fascinating, worldly lady who had gifted this new life to me. Aunt Maddy owned and managed The Pulton Arms for as many years as I could remember and she always had a soft spot for me. Growing up, I only saw her at occasional family gatherings, those gatherings usually being held in the pub so she could be present as she rarely missed a shift. We hadn't been that close in recent years as I'd moved away from Pulton for work reasons but I'd always drop into the pub to say hi when I was in town. So I was gutted when I got the news back in December that she'd passed away.  I did make it back to Pulton for the funeral and the celebration of her life that was held at the pub afterwards. There were more friends and family present than could comfortably be accommodated in the bar, testament to how beloved she was. I know for sure that's what she would have wanted, if only to keep the till ticking over. And then a few days later I was taken completely by surprise when I was informed that her will had been read and that she'd left the pub to me, together with a sizeable cash gift. I was the new owner: the owner! This was doubly surprising as she'd never once intimated that she was considering me for that role and I was confident I'd never done or said anything to give her the impression that I'd be even remotely competent at it. Still; how hard could it be? Also the pub already had a manager who took care of the day-to-day running of the business so I would be looking after the high-level strategy, the overall game plan, the big picture, re-stocking the peanuts — things like that I presumed. As sad as I was to see Aunt Maddy go, her timing could not have been better as at that point my career, my marriage; pretty much my entire life was squarely on the rocks. The "Costa Concordia" would have been easier to salvage. Being at a bit of a loss as to how I might extricate myself from that increasingly soul-crushing predicament, when the chance to return to my home town and reboot my existence arose, I simply had to take it.

So; new opportunities awaited me and I was going to grab them with both hands! Time to fling off the duvet and go for it!

...

...

...

 

(Still no movement)

...

...

Okay. Maybe just another ten minutes before I take on the world. Or pee the bed, whichever comes first.

In the end, the stand-off with my brimming bladder ended just a few minutes later so temperature be damned, I leapt out of bed and sprinted to the bathroom. This meant navigating the lounge en-route and the sizeable collection of clutter therein — cue much swearing and shin bruising. But then — relief beyond measure...

It was still damn cold but a little warmer than earlier as the sun now seemed to be doing its best to heat things up a bit as the morning matured. Feeling (and probably smelling) pretty ratty, I decided to brave the shower — I needed to be reasonably presentable for my public. There was a towel hanging from a wonky rail in the bathroom but by the look of it, I'd need to don full HazMat gear before risking even going near it. It looked like a cross between the Turin Shroud and someone's underwear on the last day of the Glastonbury festival. So I went back to the bedroom (cue more swearing and shin bruising) and grabbed the essentials from the bag I brought with me last night. Then after completing the usual daily essentials I hopped into the shower. It was one of those old, over-bath, electric, fairly dribbly affairs but it did the job and at least it dispensed warmth! For a good few minutes I took great pleasure in soaking that up as I scrubbed myself respectable, whilst I pondered the new chapter in The Life of Ken.

It was fabulous to be back in Pulton after a few years away and I couldn't wait to get to know it all over again. A lot had changed in my absence but alas not all for the good it appeared. I'd spotted a host of new developments on the quay and elsewhere that really looked out of place — modern builds designed solely to entice the cash from the holiday-home crowd, thrown up with no respect or regard for the historical aesthetic. This issue had actually been a major influence on my decision to take on the pub. Sure, my life was a train-wreck at the time and I was desperate for an out but even so, I felt I'd been offered the role of guardian of a piece of Pulton's legacy. And that was a noble and privileged calling which would have been irresponsible and mean-spirited to ignore. How else could I be sure some undesirable wouldn’t buy the place and turn it into some seedy hangout for no-goodniks, full of tracksuits, drugs, short-legged dogs with metal spiked collars and shouts of ‘Leave it Karen she’s not worth it!’.

Soon my pondering shifted direction to what I was going to have for breakfast as my stomach was starting to make those noises that suggest extreme neglect and demand imminent reparation. Somewhat reluctantly, after a few more minutes of heated bliss, I turned off the shower and grabbed my towel. Or rather I grabbed 'a' towel. Out of habit and without thinking I reached for the one on the towel rail that I would have "laundered" with a flame thrower as soon as I saw it, had I had the appropriate equipment on me. Luckily, I realised my mistake before I got too intimate with it so I just dropped it on the floor then turned the shower back on for some feverish hand-washing before the advancing bacteria turned me feral or caused bits of me to fall off.

With the correct towel selection made and drying completed, I headed back to the bedroom. Whilst traversing the obstacle course that was the lounge once more (now with more-practised, almost ninja-like dexterity), I spied something uplifting to the left of the bedroom door — a central heating thermostat. It was one of the older style turny wheel ones and on closer inspection, I found it was turned as far right as it could go. So I cranked it all the way to the left and heard a satisfying click that told me that somewhere a boiler was dedicating itself to answering my call. With the thought that proper heat was potentially on its way, I strode into the bedroom feeling very pumped up by my find. Alexander Fleming must have felt the same way when he discovered penicillin down the back of his sofa. Or Isaac Newton when he figured out the cause of bruised fruit. I grabbed some fresh clothes out of my bag and got dressed. With the residual warmth of my shower and a gradually heating flat, I felt human again for the first time in quite a few hours. Before heading downstairs to the bar, I took a few minutes to get better acquainted with my surroundings as I'd only had a quick tour during a previous visit. It was time for a look around.

The flat didn't appear to have been lived in for Lord knows how long and it did look very dated. It was also full of all kinds of crap. Predominantly, it seemed to be the place where all bar furniture and equipment that had passed its best came to die — chairs, tables, coolers, optics and fossilised bar towels stiff enough to surf on: it was all here. There were also boxes of Christmas decorations that had been adorning the walls of the bar until just a few weeks ago, now looking a bit forlorn and unloved. The decor was mostly 60's with an abundance of wood-chip wallpaper, heavily-patterned coving, swirled Artex and brass ceiling lights with frilly glass shades — a heady mixture indeed. The carpets were a similarly eye-stressing collection of colours and textures, going from threadbare main traffic routes to shag pile deep enough to lose a badger in. The walls were unadorned and the paper was doing its best to part company with the plaster in many places. One exception was the lounge that sported a large painting on one wall. It was awfully grand and only really suited its surroundings due to its subject matter: a seascape. It depicted a group of sailors in a boat during a hairy storm, doing all manner of things with ropes and sails whilst a group of their colleagues sat nearby, apparently just chatting and doing bugger all to help — idle gits. As well as the mounds of clutter, there was furniture in most rooms in various states of repair with most matching the decor period-wise. The remainder was much more modern, mostly self-assembled white melamine coated chipboard affairs that looked flimsy enough to be levelled by a hard stare.

The bedroom and the adjoining lounge occupied the front two rooms of the floor, both with windows overlooking the quayside. The lounge had the bathroom behind and outside the bedroom was a hallway with stairs up to the second floor loft which I assumed was the main dumping ground that my flat was currently acting as the overspill facility for. One to explore another day I thought. There were a couple of steps down from the hallway to a landing with stairs down to the pub and doors to another couple of rooms. I stuck my head in both: also bedrooms it appeared. No kitchen alas but I was pleased with the space I had — all of which needed bringing into the 21st century (or at least the 20th) but this was entirely do-able given time, serious graft and cash.

I took a look out of the bedroom window — there were some small patches of ice inside and out but these were melting pretty swiftly and although the windows were almost as dirty as the horror towel in the bathroom, I could make out the view. And that view was Pulton Quay in all its grey, January weather-clad glory. I could see the quayside with several brightly-painted harbour tour boats moored up in the channel which connects the main harbour to the left to the Hull's Bay marina to the right. Just a few hundred metres away, the other side of the channel was home to some of the more industrial areas of the town. You had a choice of two lifting bridges that spanned the channel to get there — one of which was built in 1927 and needed little more in terms of maintenance than a few drops of oil every year and the other that was built in 2012 for £40m, required more upkeep than a Disneyland theme park yet still seemed to break down every ten minutes. There were a few goods yards that still accommodated some sizeable cargo ships — I could see a number of cranes alongside mounds of aggregate, stacks of steel beams and what looked like grain silos. But what really hogged the view from my window was the SharpCrest Marine yard. SharpCrest Marine was the town's biggest business; that business being the manufacture of enormous luxury motor yachts for the world's well-heeled. There were monster vessels moored up in the channel and others up on ramps outside aircraft hangar sized work sheds, each of which bore a super-sized SharpCrest logo on its front doors. The boats were all gleaming white hulls and black tinted windows, collectively giving the impression of spacecraft hovering around the mother ship. SharpCrest had many sites around Pulton but this was the HQ — this was where the boats were finished and put in the water. Sure, the scale was kind of impressive but they had limited wow factor for me — if anything I found them rather obscene. This was for two reasons:

  1. Spending all that money on what is essentially just a blaring proclamation of extensive personal wealth is a travesty with all the poverty we had in the world (it's essentially just a dick measuring contest for the super-rich).

And,

 

  1. I couldn't afford one.

But SharpCrest wasn't going to dent my mood today. The draft from the decrepit windows was strong enough to fan my hair but it was just so invigorating having the sea right outside my window. Other than long-serving sub-mariners and tsunami victims, who wouldn't get a buzz out of that? (Passengers on a transatlantic flight too perhaps). And that was a buzz I could look forward to enjoying on a daily basis because this place was home and the perch from where I would survey and rule my empire. It was my Oval Office; the flight deck of my USS Enterprise; my Chamber of Secrets; my ....... I forgot where I was going with that. I named my perch 'The Crow's Nest' there and then. Sorted.

And so to work! Feeling excited and nervous in equal measure, I headed down the stairs which creaked loudly as if they were protesting against being employed for the one task they were created to carry out. They were mostly carpeted but very well-trodden and I was sure the assortment of stains on them would keep a full forensics team gainfully employed for some time. That thought suddenly reminded me of the horror towel. Now I'd set it free, I was worried where it might crawl to and lie in wait for me so I went back upstairs, picked it up gingerly between thumb and forefinger and dropped it into the bathroom bin whilst setting a new personal best time for not breathing in. I resisted the urge to re-shower but I did wash my hands yet again, not keen to go down in history as the man who re-introduced The Black Death to Pulton. And so to work; again.

At the bottom of the stairwell, a scruffy white-painted door opened out into the kitchen with a doorway immediately to the right that led into the bar area. The pub didn't currently serve food (though this was something I meant to address; and soon) so the kitchen wasn't terribly functional and seemed to act mainly as a staging area for barrels and crates of empty bottles which took up most of the available space. Judging by the magazines lying around and the picnic table and chairs in the middle of the floor, it also seemed to serve as a break room for the bar staff. Due to the clutter, it was hard to tell what was installed in terms of actual cooking facilities. Food was on offer some years ago I remembered but it would take a lot of work to get us there again. Lord knows the legal hoops you had to jump through these days to get approved but I'm pretty sure any self-respecting Food Standards Agency officer would take one look at the current state of the place, toss a few grenades into the room and leave, never to return. Still; one step at a time.

I walked into the bar rather tentatively and then spied J.D. leaning on the counter poring over a newspaper. J.D. was the pub manager and it would be my name alongside his above the front door as co-licensee when the paperwork went through. He was, I'd guess, late forties, maybe early fifties with shoulder length black hair with plenty of grey threaded through it. He wore quite large, thick glasses which occupied the majority of his face. Teamed with his white shirt, brightly-patterned waistcoat, jeans and trainers — the overall look struck me as 'rock star physics professor off of the 80's': which actually looked good on him I thought. I was poised to throw out a jaunty 'Good Morning!' but my empty stomach beat me to it and announced my arrival with a growl that I'm sure rattled the glasses stacked nearby which caused him to look up and smile.

'That wasn't me, it was the dog.' I said rather lamely whilst subconsciously putting my hand on my belly which helped to invalidate my claim massively.

'Well, I'll be sure to take that up with her when she gets back from her walk.' Still smiling, he walked up to me and firmly shook my hand.

'Officially welcome to The Pulton Arms boss.'

'Thanks J.D. — I'm officially happy to be here.'

'Sleep okay?'

'Bit off and on: new surroundings; chillier than The Boomerang Nebula; you know.'

'You should have put the heating on.'

'Yes. I've mastered that process now.'

'Sorry it's a bit of a shit-hole up there. Mads always meant to sort it out but never got round to it.'

'It's okay — I'll do it. I wonder what the high score is on The Antiques Roadshow?'

He looked a little bemused by my "humour". So was I to be honest. High score? What?

I'd only met J.D. a couple of brief times before today so I hadn't had opportunity to get the measure of him yet but from my first impressions of him and the high regard with which he was held by Aunt Maddy, I was confident we'd get along. But for now, perceived awkwardness dictated that I should fill any silent moments with some sort of dialogue. Plus, although the handshake had finished (successfully I thought; doubly pleased that I'd washed my hands about twenty times that morning), he was looking at me expectantly. Clutching at conversational straws, I gestured to his open newspaper and asked 'So what's today's big news?'

Returning to the paper he glimpsed at the front page then flicked through the next few. 'North Korea has carried out a pre-emptive nuclear strike on Guernsey and The Spice Girls have announced they're releasing a new album'.

For a few seconds I was completely nonplussed (and by that I refer to the original definition of the word where one is so overwhelmed by events as to be unable to proffer a response or take action, not the more modern Northern U.S. definition which is interestingly almost the opposite, meaning that one is entirely unperturbed by what has just transpired. Anyway...). Then the penny dropped: 'Christ that's bloody awful news!! The Guernsey situation's not great either.'

He smiled in a 'This guy might be okay' kind of way and I felt I'd passed a test of some sort. Keen to keep the momentum going I followed up with 'So; anything need doing round here?'

'No we're all set: opening in twenty.'

I surveyed the room and it did indeed seem very "set". J.D. had a very relaxed demeanour but was clearly all over the job in hand and didn't miss a trick according to Aunt Maddy. The bar was clean, tidy and well-stocked. He must have been busy earlier as last night we had a full house with an Elvis tribute act. I think they're particularly naff but they are surprisingly popular. J.D. had just called last orders as I walked in the door and judging by the mound of glasses awaiting washing it was clear it had been a busy shift. He simply said 'Hi Ken', took my bag and dropped it out back then returned and poured me a large whiskey without me asking. It was a good call after several frustrating hours travel to get here. Bloody trains. "Elvis" had finished packing up his act and he came and stood next to me at the bar and ordered a beer. At least I think he did — I couldn't quite make out what he said but J.D. seemed to understand and served one up. With the alcohol quickly soothing my rather frazzled brain and being keen to embrace my new community, I thought I'd engage the star of the evening.

'So how was your gig tonight? Plenty of bums on seats?'

Still in costume with the fake rhinestones glinting on his white jumpsuit, still with shades on, he turned and said something that sounded like 'Wassssssurrrllllleven' then turned back to his beer. It was half-growled and half-slurred — maybe he was staying in character or maybe he was suffering a minor stroke. I wasn't sure how to follow that up. It's like when someone tells you their name and you don't catch it and you ask them to repeat it a couple more times but you still don't get it so you give up because international laws of etiquette neither allow you a fourth attempt nor allow you to ask if they could write it down for you. However, I pressed on.

'So what's your favourite Elvis song?'

He took a sip of beer then (I think) answered with 'Oliver's Army' which went some way to confirming my initial medical diagnosis. By that point, my irksome day and the scotch were catching up with me so I simply responded with a lame 'Cool! Me too.' I then caught J.D.'s eye and pointed upwards to indicate it was bed time for me. He grabbed my bag then led me upstairs to The Crow's Nest.

But here we are: a new day and we're ready for business and I couldn't be more chuffed as I surveyed my new estate. This place always felt really welcoming to me every time I walked in. The bar area wasn't big but it had personality. As soon as you walked through the front door (front and centre of the building that leads directly from the quayside) you were presented with the bar a few paces away that ran most of the length of the back wall and a grand selection of mismatched chairs and tables to settle into. The decor was predominantly wood which I loved — panelled ceiling and walls with brick pillars here and there with many boaty pictures and old black and whites of the town adorning most surfaces. These mingled with umpteen maritime artefacts including a ship's wheel and many framed examples of knots — staples for any pub with even the loosest nautical ties. The ceiling was low so it felt quite intimate and cosy. And it was warm! I just realised I was now completely defrosted. It was well-lit though so never dingy and although it had an historic theme it neither looked nor felt dated like much of the rest of the building. The one nod to the modern age was the ubiquitous flat-screen television that hung in the corner at the leftmost end of the bar. I wasn't a fan of tellies in pubs, conversation killers that they are. Also now I was a proprietor, I was doubly against the idea as they took customers' attention away from drinking and spending their money. That said I'd never seen it turned on during any visit that I could remember so maybe it was saved for special events. Or broken. But overall, the place looked and felt like a pub. A real pub. My pub.

Suddenly I was ripped away from my thoughts as my stomach roared with sufficient ferocity to put the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer lion out of a job.

'Fuckin' 'ell! Somebody skipped breakfast!' came a voice from the kitchen door behind me.

I turned to see Janine, one of our bar staff, who covered as many shifts as her college schedule allowed. And at her feet, padding towards me was Halo — J.D.'s pug who'd obviously just been treated to "walkies". I got a cocked head type curious look, a thorough sniff of my trainers then a loud snort (all from Halo not Janine) then off she trotted to scavenge for dropped bar snacks (again; Halo not Janine).  Halo was a fixture most days it seemed and I was fine with that. From what I'd seen she was a low maintenance hound, spending the shift dozing in her basket under the bar or slowly criss-crossing the room like one of those robotic vacuum, cleaners clearing anything edible that hit the floor. She'd bump into a punter and wag her tail, get a pat and a stroke then head off to continue the search. Goodness she'll be in for a treat when we start serving food again (and possibly morbid obesity). Janine was studying for a Level 3 Diploma in Hairdressing — I know this as it stuck with me from a previous conversation due to the potential it offered for free haircuts. Originally from Birmingham, Janine had been down south long enough to lose most of her accent but would occasionally come out with something so Brummie that anyone within earshot felt duty-bound to mimic her — something she suffered with good grace. I liked Janine — she was a good-looking girl, endlessly flirty with a wicked sense of humour and from what I'd seen, she was a good worker too. She had quite a mouth on her but kept it appropriately censored when around the customers. It didn't hurt that she brought other twenty-something college mates into the pub from time to time too.

'Morning Janine — how you doing?'

'Better than you it sounds like — come on; let's fire up Bernie.' With that she turned and walked into the kitchen. I turned to J.D. enquiringly but his nose was back in his paper so I trailed in her wake.

She went over to the worktop and flicked a switch on a wall socket. 'This is Bernie.' she said gesturing towards a sandwich toaster that on closer inspection appeared to have last been cleaned around the time that disco was ruling the music charts. It looked like it was only held together by the web of strings of once molten cheese that it had accumulated over its many years of service. I really wasn't keen to put Bernie through his (or her) paces but Janine was presenting him with the same kind of pride and reverence with which the scientists at CERN must regard the Large Hadron Collider. So I dug deep into my fake enthusiasm reserves and managed a 'Ooh yum!'

'Fancy a cuppa?' she offered.

'I could murder one thanks.'

She flicked the kettle on and opened a couple of the various caddies on the worktop with disappointing results it appeared.

'Why the fuck am I the only one that keeps these topped up? Is Earl Grey okay?'

I just managed to stop myself from saying 'No I'm afraid he's dead; didn't you hear?' My testing of the comedy water had garnered mixed results so far this morning so I thought it best not to get over-ambitious.

'Lovely, thanks'.

Actually the toasted sandwich really hit the spot once I 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 whilst trying to discern what lay beyond the expansive clutter in the room. Other than the bar area, this whole place was a junk yard and it all had to go. As dedicated as Aunt Maddy was to the pub and as professional as J.D. appears to be, they both clearly shared a very relaxed attitude toward the environment that lay beyond the customers' field of view. With no apparent washing up facilities, I left my mug and plate on the work top and went back 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 dawned on me that unless I was going to rely solely on Bernie for my subsistence or eat out all the time, I really needed to get the kitchen up and running. Or at least get a microwave for The Crow's Nest in the meantime. Plus, we'd need a chef (for the kitchen that is; I can operate a microwave myself). I can cook the basics but nothing that I'd be happy putting in front of paying customers. When it comes to anything more sophisticated than steak and chips I'm out of my depth. I often wonder if my attempt to poach a salmon using a dishwasher was the point at which my marriage started to unravel. I made a mental note to get J.D.'s thoughts on that (the chef that is, not the salmon).

The lunchtime shift passed without incident; not very busy but typical of a wintry Monday I assumed. I didn't 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 what made the pub tick. I was no stranger to bar work — I'd worked a few pubs and spent many years behind the bar at the Pulton Arts Centre; a few of those as cellar-man so I knew the fundamentals, even if those fundamentals were a few years out of date. 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 a small LCD display but proper buttons rather than a huge touch screen with a myriad of menu choices and bright colours that I've 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 few of the few customers that showed up. There were smiles and thank you's and nobody died — all good. I'm generally competent pouring drinks with two components or less because the ingredients are usually in the title. Gin and Tonic; Rum and Coke — easy. It's when someone asks me for a cocktail that I get 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 the name. Us bar folk are expected to know all and whisk these creations up whilst spinning bottles and juggling ice — damn you Tom Cruise.

It got to around half two and with little happening in the bar, I decided to take a walk into town. I was keen to progress my resurgent relationship with Pulton and there were some essentials I was in need of. J.D. was stationed behind the bar still reading his paper. Goodness he gets some mileage out of The Daily Mirror — does he read every single article? Or is he working at memorising it?

'Right J.D. I am just going outside and may be some time.'

'I think we'll just about manage.' He said without looking up. 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 nice'.

'I'll do my best to deliver all three.'

J.D. looked up from his paper and stared at me for a few seconds. It’s really hard to work out what's going on behind those big glasses sometimes. It was like he was working out how outlandish a request he could get away with but then seemed to give up on the idea and went back to his reading with a simple 'Nothing ta.'

I headed up to The Crow's Nest and grabbed a coat. I was pleased to feel that it 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. I knew it was cold out: that was easily gauged by the freezing blast that was introduced into the bar every time anyone came or went 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 warmth. Across the channel, the SharpCrest yard was bustling but there was little activity in the goods yards alongside. The quayside stretched out either side of me, looking rather gloomy 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 are a mix of the historic and the new and garish with few sympathetically bridging the two styles. Directly in my line of sight was the abomination that is the huge modern apartment block that essentially splits the quay in two. It's several storeys higher than anything else on the quay so dominates the skyline and appears to have been spawned by a team comprising an architect that specialises in designing shopping centres when drunk and a developer that challenges themselves to construct something that blends in with its neighbours the least. Below the apartments on the ground floor is a massive shoe shop that clearly belongs on the high street, not the quayside. I wonder how big the back-hander was that made all that happen? Every time I see that awful erection and some of the others that have sprung up I can't help but feel saddened that nobody seems to be looking after this town properly.

Feeling the cold I stuffed my hands in 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. It wasn't the weather for a window shopping marathon so I only made the stops I needed to but I did take 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 name stores were homed in the shopping centre so this was an eclectic mix of smaller, independent traders, the majority of which seemed to be selling wedding dresses, antiques or antique wedding dresses. There was also a second-hand book and comic store that would be worth a look another day and another selling fishing tackle with a run-down looking sex shop next door. Those last two I probably wouldn't take time out to browse as I have no interest in fishing and should the need arise for any adult supplies I'd rather order on-line. I'm no prude; I've been in a sex shop before, albeit as a result of a dare on a stag do. The challenge was for each of the group to make up an outlandish name for a vibrator then go into the shop in turn and ask if they had it 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 on a shelf. I forget the name but I'm fairly sure 'Purple' and 'Plunderer' featured in it. I enjoy the occasional adult film too though they do present a false impression of 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 on every single channel. I'm still prone to break out the odd quote from time to time; the script is part of my DNA now.

As pleasing 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 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 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 in their front windows or by being boarded up entirely. There were a small number that seem to be undergoing a refit but they were few and far between.  Things get brighter and busier as you get closer to the shopping centre but in between that commercial oasis and the quay you have a stretch that mostly resembles a demilitarised zone with the occasional pocket of enterprises that are just about staying afloat. The only really thriving businesses seem to be fast food and handmade cosmetics. On the plus side, I did manage to score a cheap pair of curtains from one of those department stores that seems to have no idea what it should really be selling so tries to stock a bit of everything. Being a dumb ass, I hadn't thought to measure the window so I guesstimated and just grabbed a size that looked about right. I covered most of the length of the high street but decided I'd brave the shopping centre another day. I'm not a fan of shopping and doubly so when it comes to sharing the experience with hordes of others who seem to have nothing else to do but get in my way and shout at their kids. Also the temperature was dropping and it was starting to get dark too so I decided to head back to the pub. Draught excluder had eluded me so far so I stopped 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 on to the quay again, the street lamps were coming to life which together with other illumination from the quayside properties were doing a good job of shifting the late afternoon gloom. Huge spot lamps illuminated the SharpCrest yard making the white hulls gleam even more than they did in daylight. I was still walking briskly as I was keen to reclaim the warmth of the pub so I didn't dwell on all the new businesses on the quay or pay my respects to those that had departed. That'll keep for another (warmer/brighter) day though I did take a quick peek into the windows of the various bars I wasn't familiar with to try and grab a quick snapshot of what they had to offer. As I passed "Coasters" which is 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 look to see what they served and what their prices were like. The variety was good — location dictates that seafood features heavily but you could get pasta or a steak or a fancy salad for a price that wouldn't make you feel the need to do a bank job or sell a kidney. Hmmm... maybe these guys are my immediate competition. Also; looking past the menu and into the bright interior it appeared that this place was one of the more charismatic venues on the quayside — less like an industrial laboratory and more like a place you could actually hang out, relax and enjoy yourself. Competition indeed. Keen to find out more I pressed my forehead against the glass to see if I could identify any chinks in their armour that I could exploit. And then the rest of the world went away as a vision glided into view and took full control of my faculties. Someone was wiping down the tables just inside the window and she looked up and saw me standing there looking in. Our faces were no more than a few inches apart. And then she smiled at me — a smile that made me forget where I was, who I was and how I'd come to have my face frozen to this window in the first place. It wasn't just a polite gesture to acknowledge my presence, her whole face lit up with genuine warmth and brightness: 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 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 had managed to detach my forehead from the window at least. But I was stuck there, not wanting to move even though she had disappeared from view. I had just been introduced to the most naturally beautiful woman I had ever seen. And I mean, ever. I've 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 more 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 headed for home. 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 the 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 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 and it was properly dark by that time. The pub was a welcome sight with the outside lamps lit and an enticing glow emanating from inside. Freezing as I was, I took a moment to take in the scene whilst working hard at bringing 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 is argued by other establishments who have made the same claim, aiming to use it as a selling point to get more punters through their doors. But I was deaf to those claims — how could any part of these places be that old or original when they'd undergone more structural reconstruction than Dolly Parton and Michael Jackson combined? I would also argue that few of them can rightly call themselves pubs, if any. They've been modernised and transformed into bars. Wood and character has given way to glass, steel and a cold corporate ambiance or some warmed-over theme prescribed by the chain that owns them. Plus, they don'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 age with pride. And she was still striking, with her stand out, glossy, red-tiled fascia from a time when pottery was a big part of the local industry (either that or they over ordered when they refurbished the bathroom). 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's little more that could be done to it without getting the official nod from the town planning committee. That, and the size of the place is 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 real return. And I'd have had to be willing to sell first; which I was not and would never be. I was the guardian of Pulton's heritage remember. Plus, 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 chap 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. 'I'm sorry sir but we're closed for a private function.' He spoke politely but 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 recall 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 dare each other to jump into the harbour. Over his shoulder I could see a similarly uniformed guy with his back to the bar staring at me, also with arms folded. He was even bigger than the gym bunny stood in front of me, with dark slicked back hair and a number of tattoos that looked like they were trying to escape from his shirt collar. There was no sign of J.D., just a rather nervous looking Janine hovering behind the bar. And standing across the bar from her, next to the second suit, 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 Addam's wardrobe. Looking around there didn't appear to be any other customers in the bar. I guess 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. Unusually for me I wasn't particularly nervous — maybe I'd left my capacity for rational thought frozen to "Coasters"' front window. I was a little weirded out though, like I'd crashed someone else's party that was being held in my house without my prior knowledge or permission. That said, there was no getting around the size and non-cuddly nature of the two suits glaring at me and I was conscious of the fact I was only armed with a carrier bag filled with soft furnishings, newspaper and confectionery. Also, I am 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 tends to work — not providing me with a bright idea when I most need one and shooting off at a tangent when confronted with a situation that begs my complete focus, such as the one I found myself in currently. I fear I have a brain that was engineered using a shopping trolley with a dodgy wheel as a design blueprint. I'm not sure how long I stood 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 very dry 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.

I managed to get some words out finally. 'Hi. I'm Ken Trickett. I own this place. And you are?'

He didn't answer but looked towards the mystery woman 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. I strode purposefully towards the bar: the second suit maintained his position and his expressionless mien. After shedding my coat and shopping bag behind the bar, 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 on 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; just a private conversation with a new neighbour.'

I held Janine's gaze for a moment then turned 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 today I was struck temporarily dumb. She was really quite stunning — more handsome than beautiful I'd say but she radiated a certain style 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 effect 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 statement, emphasising her obvious confidence. Probably one of those shades with a name like "Crimson Temptation" or "Scarlet Spank". All of this was framed to great effect by her dark hair, the length of which I couldn't judge with it being confined to her Winter attire. 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'm six foot. It was an odd sensation — I wasn't attracted to her; more held in awe by a 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.

'Hello Mister Trickett. I'm Angelique Sharp. I own SharpCrest Marine and I'm here to buy 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.

'I did have this conversation with the previous owner but alas she and I couldn't agree terms. It wasn't 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 brisk 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.

She looked at me still frowning: 'You can still talk can't you?' Then she clicked her fingers repeatedly right 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 since forgetting to buy a new duvet when I went shopping earlier. What with that, a dead Aunt 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) whilst she drummed her fingers on the bar counter. Then with a sigh of what seemed like resignation, she studied 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. 'Make 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 over it. She then 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 accuracy to it as if she had all the time in the world to spare yet wanted every action to mean something. Having lost her outer-wear she appeared a little less intimidating whilst still quietly commanding 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 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 the other end as if putting a safe distance between her and a firework she'd just lit the fuse on.

'Thank you,' said Angelique, 'Most kind.'

I had calmed down since walking in, feeling more comfortable being behind the bar. Physically and psychologically, it was a line of defence. 'Look, Angie..',

'Angelique.'

'Angie, I'm afraid the pub's not for sale. What do you want with it anyway?'

'It’s going to be the new Sales Office for SharpCrest. (said with annoying certainty as if it was already a done deal) This is the prime location for viewing my yard and my yachts. Customers will be able to look out the window and view them in all their splendour whilst listening to the sales pitch. I will also moor a prime example right outside the door so a guided tour will be only a few paces away. What better incentives for them to empty their bank accounts into mine?'

'Hmmm; sounds lovely but not this pub I'm afraid. Maybe you could set up a kiosk on the quayside instead? Or 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.'

'It's SharpCrest, not SharkCrest.'

(Cue the victory celebration in my head as she took the bait on that one — score). '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. It will be here'.

'Well as I've just made very clear, it won't. Anyway: it's 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 flicked the lighter.

'Who's going to know?'

At that moment there came the sound of a door opening from the kitchen. Suit number two whirled on the spot whilst deftly tossing Angelique's clothing he was holding onto one of the nearby chairs: the first significant movement he'd made since the start of this theatre. It was only then that I realised his slicked-back hair was actually tied back in a pony tail which swooshed round and bopped him in the face when he completed his spin. As wary of his next move as I was, I found this highly amusing but felt it prudent not to laugh and point. 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. with their hands by their sides as if ready for action but for now, they stayed where they were, holding station until a real threat presented itself it appeared. Seemingly unaware of the tension in the room, Halo set off into the bar room 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?' This was the first time she'd looked genuinely surprised about anything.

'Just so I can derive the appropriate level of satisfaction from emptying a fire extinguisher at you when you light up'. 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 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 composed. The drumming of her finger nails on the bar started again, something she seemed to do habitually when working out 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.

'Gerard, bring the car round.' 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 are 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 close to 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 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.'

'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 and 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. Without hesitation she lit one, took a deep drag and blew a cloud of smoke towards the ceiling. She then turned to face me and took another long draw then puffed a cloud in my direction after which she made a show of surveying the room.

'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 The Pulton Arms.

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.

 

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