I looked at several letters asking me to tender for engineering work on projects in London and Cardiff. None of these ever provided much work but kept my name moving around in business circles and helped support my cover. The few jobs I did take were as a subcontractor to larger engineering firms. I made a point of visibly living close to my visible income.
I read the mail, deleted two-hundred billion junk emails and looked at the local newspaper. I was bored after 45 minutes. The day’s achievement was a personal best on solitaire on my laptop. I gave up and went to the gym. I did two miles on the treadmill before giving up on that, too. I showered after some steam and a swim, and headed home.
The voicemail light was blinking on my phone when I got in. Donna had called and left a message for me to call her at home this evening. I checked my emails again and found a message I knew to be from Dave, requesting that I meet him in London the next afternoon. I replied that I would.
I phoned Donna just after seven that evening. She answered and must have recognized the number.
“Jefferson, how nice to hear from you. That’s twice in six weeks. We’re practically a couple now,” she said, a slight sarcastic tone in her voice.
“Hi Donna, You sound well. It’s good to hear your voice. I’ve been working away and comms were shit,” I replied.
“Oh I know comms are shit with you. I know almost nothing else about your work, but I know your comms
“How about a night out in London tomorrow? I have to meet some clients in the afternoon then we can have some dinner and maybe see a show.”
“I know how this works. It will be dinner and drinks and then sex. The dinner had better be better than the sex,” she said, her voice lightening a shade.
“How could it be?” I replied smiling at the tone of her voice.
“If dinner is anything better than Burger King, the dinner will be better than the sex,” she said, while laughing.
“If I remember, you had no complaints last time. I’ll book a room and sort train times and call you later with them later,” I said.
“Please, please, please, not some rotten shag pit near the airport again or some crime scene south of the river...please, please, please!”
“Ok, ok. How about Club Quarters at Gracechurch and dinner at the Blackhouse at Smithfield?” I offered.
“Sounds great. You could have had me for the Travel Lodge and a Brick Lane curry. You’re so easy when you’re horny,” she laughed again and hung up.
My train arrived at London’s Paddington Station at 11:06. I walked along the platform and then out along the taxi rank at the bottom of platform 8.
I met her at the Sawyers Arms, a small pub just across from Paddington Station, and down a side street.
She was sat at the bar drinking a Perrier next to a guy in a suit. He seemed to be admiring her chest, which was not a bad way to spend the day.
She was wearing knee length boots, jeans and a white wool fisherman’s jumper. Her leather trench coat lay draped over the back of her chair. She still wore her fur hat. Her normally blonde hair had a frosted effect to it and it seemed to blossom out from under the hat. Next to her was a suitcase that was big enough to need an HGV license to move it.
I smiled as I watched her. She was totally politically incorrect when it came to fashion. She was a life member of Greenpeace yet she was wearing fur and leather without the slightest guilt or awareness of the irony. I once thought she was naive or unaware but she has proved to be the most self aware person I know.
She didn’t notice me until I was almost beside her. She jumped a bit and squeaked a small “Oh” when she turned and recognized me. Her first reaction in her surprise had been a smile, not just her mouth but her eyes too. I liked that.
We kissed and she lingered with her arms around my neck searching for something in my face. She moved her hand and rubbed the old scar on my left cheek with her thumb. I watched her eyes as she searched my face. She smelled expensive and nice.
“Sun burn, where have you been?” she said, not as a question but more to herself. Her hands both moved down and rested on my chest. “Warm. You are always so warm,” she said, as if reminding herself of things she already knew. “What are you doing way out there, building Pyramids?” she asked.
“Not exactly, just a bit of trouble-shooting. What’s with the packing crate?” I said, pointing to her suitcase.
“My things, of course. A night out in London is not something to pack lightly for, in and out of bed,” she said, laughing as her eyes lit up. “What’s in yours?”
“A gun and some hand grenades. Let’s go, before I lose my nerve,” I said, smiling at her smile.
“You always joke about everything,” she laughed and dragged her case along on its wheels towards the pub door nearest the tube station entrance.
Two hours later, she was in the shower and I was lying on the hotel bed contemplating a heart attack when my phone message tone went off indicating an email. “Globe Public House, Moorgate 15:00”.
I stuck my head in the bathroom and shouted at the cloud of steam, “Going out to see some people. I’ll be back in an hour.”
She opened the shower door and said, “Your loss, sailor,” and struck a model’s pose with her hands on her hips.
I met Rico and Dave at a tall table in the Globe Free House. Rico was having a Mojito but without alcohol. Dave was drinking a single malt, no ice.
I sat down and nodded to them. I said to Rico, “a Mojito, in an East London boozer? How did you get them to make one?”
He smiled at me as his continuous room scan swept past me. I took in his smile and malevolent presence and said, “I withdraw the question.”
“Too bad on missing Njabo in Africa. Did you get paid for your time?” Dave said, in speculation.
I smiled at him and took a sip of cider. It was Aspall, a good bar cider, but a bit too sweet. I resumed my smile as I set the glass down.
“Ok, ok...” Steve replied to my offer of a deal. I think he hit back at KZ in Sierra Leone. We need to arrange a meeting to sort this out before things get too messy. I wished he had waited before moving against KZ.”
“Dave, you know what he’s like. He thinks they’re coming after his business,” I said. “Either of you guys would react the same way to that. It’s how this business works. You scare off your competition or take them out.”
Rico was still scanning, and I noticed him reverse his scan twice and focus on two guys sat at a table at the end of the bar.
“Thirty grand to get the message to him and set up the meeting, Work out the details. You’re about the only guy still alive that we both know. He’ll listen to you,” he said.
“Not the most comforting thought, is it Dave? Ok, same details as last time for payment. I’ll make my arrangements and see what I can do. You’re buying the attempt here, not the result,” I replied.
Rico interrupted without looking at me, “Jefferson, those two Russian fucks at the corner table across the room, they friends of yours?”
I resisted the urge to look over, but caught their reflection from a window.
“No. How do you know they’re Russians?” I asked.
“Stoly shots on a Thursday afternoon. Lunch crowd is over. Business suits but no ties. Body builder looks but going to fat. They are either Dutch or Russian. And they have an interest in either you or us,” Rico said.
“You could always walk up and shoot one of them and see what language comes out of the other one. I’ve seen you do it before,” I said.
“Thought of that. It’s my Plan ‘B’. You leave and then we will. I’ll have Roy outside follow them and see who they pick up,” he said.
“Ok, let me know what you find out,” I said.
“Likewise, Jefferson. And don’t just leave them in a skip or in an alley like Marseilles if they run at you. It would be nice to find out about it without reading it in the Evening Standard,” Rico said, still scanning the room.
“I never figured you for a Standard reader, Rico. I had you as more of a Machineguns Monthly subscriber,” I said, as I finished my pint.
“He never misses an issue. I like Rico’s plan ‘B’,” Dave said looking over in the general direction of the Russians.
“Quelle surprise, Dave,” I said, and I walked out of the bar, and headed east along London Wall.
I figured that Dave, Rico and Roy would be giving the two Russians a busy and interesting afternoon. But I had that funny feeling again that something was going very wrong.
I returned to the room at 4:20, after taking a stroll around the City, including two tube journeys and a cab into Tower Hamlets. I wasn’t being followed. Donna had gone out. She left a note:
I’m going shopping.
Meet me at the bar in the Ledenhall Market at 4:30.
I took a tin of Tiger Beer from the mini-bar fridge, opened it and drank while I changed clothes.
No tail on me after I left the meeting with Dave meant either the Russians lacked manpower, and the two guys from the bar were alone, or Dave was the target of their interest.
As they had now acquired Dave’s attentions, I didn’t expect to see them again. The problem with Dave was that he had a bit of a temper and tended to kill people who annoyed him before first asking them about their motives. But so did I.
There are four different bars and pubs in Ledenhall Market and several pubs adjoining it. I tried the New Moon at the Gracechurch Street entrance. I found her there at a tall table drinking a glass of wine. The table next to her had four suits suiting at it and they had all arranged their chairs so they could look at her. I thought about shooting them but decided to wait until after dinner before murdering anyone.
I kissed her and she kissed back. She had changed scents. Something cinnamon mixed with lavender and...sex. She looked even better than she had this morning. She chose not to show her legs tonight, and she wore a long grey skirt, a different pair of boots, and a white button shirt. It looked great on her. but I thought it would look even better on the floor.
My first reaction was to think that we should skip the dinner.
“Not showing any leg tonight?” I said gesturing to her skirt.
“Maybe later. Have you forgotten what they look like?” she smiled.
“No, but always up for another look. My memory isn’t what it was once, Doris,” I teased.
“I’m Donna, asshole.”
“Of course you are.”
An hour later we had dumped her last minute shopping in the room, not had sex, made our way over to Smolensky’s Bar in Canary Wharf and not had sex.
Smo’s was crowded and the atmosphere was ‘Pretentious’. I knew it would be full of people I would want to knock out but I also knew she loved it. I parked her near a tall table already occupied and headed for the bar.
The bar staff were quick. She had a G&T and I had a pint of cider. I was pretty sure the guy serving me had never sold one before.
I returned to her and some guy was chatting her up. I handed her the G & T and said to the guy, “How long a wait for a table? We didn’t make a reservation.”
Donna blurted out a laugh and then covered her mouth with her hand. I could see amusement in her eyes. The guy looked at me, opened and closed his mouth several times, and departed.
“That was unkind,” she said, “He was only chatting.”
“Fuck ’em,” I replied, as I lifted my pint to my mouth.
We chatted a while and went outside on the terrace where there was more room. She pulled out her cigarettes and lit one and blew the smoke away from me.
“Thought you quit.”
“I did. The divorce is stressing me out. I bought these this afternoon.”
“He’s being difficult?” I asked, looking out at a gull sitting on the water of the Middle Dock.
“Worse, he wants to see me,” she said, brushing her hair out of her eyes.
“You’re not keen, I take it,” I said, adding nothing.
“God no! He was a bully and a control freak, I had no freedom.”
“Not like us then...” I said.
“That’s the kicker. I love what we have. We see each other, we care about each other, but we live our own lives,” she said, putting out her cigarette.
“But you want more...”
She took a sip of her drink and set it on the tall table next to us, and put her arms around me. “I want more...but I know that would ruin what I love about us.”
I was supposed to say something here but it didn’t come out. The feelings were there but some dead-man switch inside me disengaged, and I stayed silent. This was a minefield and I reverted to training. ‘First, do nothing, observe and evaluate. Then extract if possible or locate and disable or make safe’.
She smiled at me, a slight shake of her head and an even slighter glisten in her eyes.
“My life is shit. And it will continue to be shit. You are one of the best things in it, but I don’t want to share shit with you. Can you follow that?”
“Maybe we should go back to what we do best, enjoy our time together, and screw like bunnies,” she said, as she finished her drink and handed me the glass.
She was smiling to herself when I returned with another. “Any trouble getting served?” she said.
“None, bar was crowded but I got lucky,” I said.
She blurted out a laugh and said, “I watched you. You terrify people. They fell over themselves to get out of your way and you don’t notice it. You have an aura of menace around you.”
“Bullshit,” I said after contemplating her words.
“It’s rum!” she said after tasting her drink.
“A double measure. I thought you could use a change of pace.”
She drank down half of it while keeping her eyes on me, and then set it down. She pushed into me, her fur hat was under my chin and she wrapped her arms around me inside my jacket. For a moment, I thought she would find the pistol in the small of my back.
“I can year your heart,” she said, her ear on my chest.
“Good to know it still works,” I said.
Later, dinner was excellent, the sex was better.