Light seeping from the entrance door trickled red neon over the wet pavement like blood from an open wound. The bar was full and the sound, a soft metronomic arterial thumping, was pumping into the street.
I swallowed. This wasn’t how I’d envisaged meeting her. Twenty-five years had passed and the memory was stuck in my thick skull in full Technicolor even as real photographs faded to sepia. The damned woman was still in my head. I leant against the lamppost and stared into the blackness of my shadow and remembered.
She’d swayed into my life when I was twelve. Standing stupidly in a stupid school corridor in a stupid school uniform, all stupid arms and legs and covered in spots, I’d stared in awe as she’d sashayed down the corridor towards me. My hormones must have helped paint a picture that my brain could never have seen. Sunlight streamed golden into the corridor where she, backlit with God’s spotlight fully upon her, glowed and effervesced moving through a mist of dancing dust-mites like an angel.
I watched entranced as her long and luscious black hair swayed and flowed over her shoulders in what I would only much later understand as pure sensuality. Up until that moment my only passion had been bikes, and bikes for all their wonderful excitement, had never left me incapable of movement or speech. Except perhaps for that one time when I was catapulted over the handlebars whacking my nuts painfully mid-flight. In retrospect I suppose, I was left in a fairly similar condition, being in both cases wholly unable to breath and with an uncomfortable tightness in my groin.
On towards me she floated, arms swinging languidly by her sides, her hips swaying and all in some kind of strange time-dilated slow motion. Everything was so exquisitely highlighted, I was instantly smitten. She may have been thirteen, but to me she was all woman. That little bastard Cupid, wielding not a bow and arrow but a heavy piece of 2x4 wood studded with rusty nails, had whacked me directly over the head. I’d discovered girls.
I gaped and did a fair impression of a drowning fish standing on two legs dressed as a schoolboy while being electrocuted. For her part, she imperiously and in a manner that Caesar would have admired, wafted past me without a glance. And as she passed, her aroma and presence invaded my chest and burst my heart. The awful truth came up and smacked me right between the eyes. In a flash of understanding, I knew that despite being rendered incoherent by excess hormones, awkward by nature and ravaged by acne, I was also, tragically, a year younger. I didn’t stand a hope in hell. In an instant I was sentenced to five years of tragic failed attempts to prove my existence to her whilst attempting not to go blind.
But that was then. I patted the cold steel of the thirty-eight holstered against my chest. This was the thing closest to my heart these days. I looked at my watch, a battered old Seiko Dive Master. The hands told me it was nine pm and time. I was twelve again. All the awkwardness came flooding back. Trying to speak, to impress. Gurgling in a hormonal strangled daze as I tried to speak, say something, anything, as she wafted by in her personal cloud of scent. I was always invisible to her. It wouldn’t be like that today, not tonight. I shook my head clear of the ghosts and walked inside.
The atmosphere washed over me in a fetid wave, blasting away the outside coldness but not my darkness of spirit. I stood there trying to recognise faces from the past. But the ghosts of my memory had aged beyond recognition. The first school re-union I’d been to and probably the last - especially after I’d done what I’d come here to do.
A figure, a woman, detached itself from the crowd and came over. She was a sophisticated looking brunette with calm, confident eyes and a drink in her hand, but the drink wasn’t for me.
“Hi, oh, do come in, don’t be shy, you here for the re-union? I’m Sue Jackson, left in ’78, what year were you in?”
“Well, I left in 76 ...”
“Oh, I was in third year then, you look familiar … Jack, Jack Spalding, right?”
I tried to hide my surprise and embarrassment. I didn’t recognise her, or her name.
“Yes, Jack Spalding,” I held out my hand and she took it with a firm grip, “you’ve got a good memory, I’m impressed!”
“Don’t be,” she shrugged, giving my hand an extra squeeze before releasing, “I’ve been studying the school mug shots and I’d recognise you anywhere, you haven’t changed all that much. Here, take this, everyone has one, they’re name cards, in case anyone forgets.”
Her eyes sparkled with amusement as she pinned my nametag to me. I frantically searched my memory to find any trace of the young third-year girl standing next to me. Then she sighed.
“You don’t remember me, do you?”
“You don’t, do you?
I hate being wrong footed and shrugged helplessly. It had been a long time since I’d felt myself blush.
“I’m really sorry, but did we, erm, know each other, back then?”
Sue shook her head, and stared at her drink. An awkward silence was forming and I began to look around for an escape.
“No, not really … but I had an awfully huge crush on you back then.”
“A crush!” Sue repeated, grinning. “You were Head Boy, and I thought you were the best thing since sliced bread. Used to try and provoke you. Anything to get your attention I guess.”
I closed my eyes; the image of a skinny girl pestering the life out of me began to swim up from the depths. My embarrassment deepened as I remembered - I hadn’t been very kind to her at the time. Brushing of all her attempts to talk. To be friends.
“No, I’m sorry, you’re right, I don’t remember your name, but I do remember you now - I must have seemed a real bastard, cruel even, back then.”
“Yes you were. I really hated you for a while afterwards as well, but I know it’s not your fault, we were kids after all, and I was, what? All of three years too young for you.” Sue’s sudden and infectious laugh broke the awkwardness and I found myself beginning to relax. But I still had a job to do.
“Childhood crushes eh?” I said, rolling my eyes.
“Here’s to them!” Sue raised her glass. “You’re still not bad looking you know. I mean for your age. A bit of a paunch, but not too bad overall.”
I patted my stomach ruefully. “Well thanks, and I have to say, without a word of flattery, you do look fantastic.”
“Why thank you …” Sue’s eyes twinkled over the rim of her glass as she took a sip.
“Married?” I asked.
“Yes, very happily.” But somehow she didn’t sound as though she believed it.
“I’m glad.” I said, “Kids?”
“No, and you?”
“No, no wife, did have once, and no kids.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.”
“S’ok, no big deal, these things happen, my job just got in the way.”
Before Sue could ask awkward questions, I asked her if she had seen Fiona.
“Ahh, the lovely Fiona, all the boys had a crush on her I think, didn’t they?” she said, giving me a knowing look. “Oh no, not you to? That why you want to find her?”
“Not really. But you’re right, I did have a crush on her, I guess very boy did, but that was a long time ago.”
“FIONA! Someone here wants to see you!”
I closed my eyes for a second, I really didn’t want the whole damned room alerted to what I had to do, but it was too late. And there she was. Walking towards me with that familiar swing to her hips, looking just as damned attractive now as she had back then. My gun felt tight against my chest. Or perhaps the tightness was in my heart? Shit.
“Oh hello, yes, I remember you, Jack Spalding isn’t it?”
Her perfume invaded my lungs and teased out the remnants of forgotten emotions. Hurt and longing swam up and grabbed my throat. I forced them back down into the depths, into the past, where they belonged. No room for sentimentality. Not now.
I nodded, my throat dry. Then she smiled that smile - half mocking, half seductive. She hadn’t changed a bit.
“Jack, you know, I always thought you were going to ask me out, but you never did, such a shame,” she said in honeyed tones, but darker, more seductive than I could remember. She leaned forward to kiss my cheek, her hand upon my chest.
Her hand froze and her eyes locked onto mine. I guess the shape and feel of the gun beneath my jacket was unmistakable. I didn’t return the kiss. She slowly stepped back, looking at me quizzically.
“Jack? Why are you wearing that?” Then she turned in alarm towards Sue, “Sue, he’s got a gun …”
“What?” Sue’s eyes widened.
I didn’t want to do it this way, but now I had no choice. I reached inside my jacket and pulled out my wallet, flicking it open. Fiona’s eyes widened as she saw the badge glinting inside the leather. She turned to escape.
“Don’t! Don’t make me draw my weapon, stay where you are! It’s over Fiona …”
Her beautiful eyes flickered rapidly between the badge in my wallet and my face. Calculating the odds, weighing her chances. Then her body relaxed as the tension burst, flowing out. I took her arms, turned her around and snapped on the cuffs behind her back.
Sue was staring open mouthed. Within an instant, she had composed herself.
“No wonder your wife left you. What has she done? And why do this here? At our re-union?” Anger and shock had replaced the sparkle I saw earlier in her eyes.
“Yeah, I’m not to happy about it either Sue, believe me. But she’s been on the run for years. This re-union, well, she was the queen of our high-school after all and when this invitation came through I just had a hunch she couldn’t miss it, whatever the risk.” I was gabbling. It was suddenly important to me that Sue understood.
Fiona began twisting to free herself.
“Let me go Jack, you can do it, just say I wasn’t here … Sue, help me!”
I almost let her go right there and then. Almost. But I knew how she used that soft and so-sincere aura of vulnerability to entrap her victims. I wasn’t buying. Maybe the jury would.
“I’ve chased you longer than you’ll ever know Fiona – you don’t know how sorry I am that it’s ended this way.”
“You’re one real bastard, Jack”
“Yeah, I know.”
I started to leave, but Sue stopped me in the entrance.
“Look, I’m sorry I spoiled the evening Sue …” I shrugged hoplessly, meaning every word.
Sue stared at me, hard, for three long heartbeats. Then she reached into her purse and gave me a card, her number.
“Call me. That is, when you’re … free. You can buy me a drink. We can catch up on old times …”
Sue turned and left, her scent lingering in my brain as I dragged Fiona out into the dank night and to a date with a judge. Time to put her and the past away, I had my own date to think about.
(My little nod to the graphic comic, and there really was a girl called Fiona.)