The White Horse
"You and me," he says, sliding the five-pound note across the counter, "we could get into some serious trouble."
Jen nods, says, "That so?"
She's heard it all before, and then some. Comes with the job, guys hitting on her all the time. She doesn't mind though, not really, even the drunks and the losers and the sad old men who dribble into their pints and have nowhere to go. These days, she takes anything she can get. This guy's different, though. She shakes her head. Can't believe what she's just said. They're all different, she thinks, till you get to know them.
Michael looks around. The White Horse on a Tuesday night. The place is a fucking dump. A few empty tables in the corner, a games room on the other side of the swing doors, five or six rooms upstairs.
It's been quiet all night and it's just the two of them now.
Jen leans forward, elbows on the counter. Close enough for him to smell her perfume. Close enough to get a good look at her. He guesses she's around sixty, maybe older. Cherry-red lipstick, big head of red hair, like an old movie star. Figure to go with it, packed into a little black dress that clings to her like a second skin. Bit too much makeup, if he's being picky. But just a bit. And he's not picky.
"How about it?" he says. "You and me?"
"So, I'm married." She holds up her hand, shows off her ring. "Twenty-two years."
He shrugs. "I've got a room upstairs."
"Good for you."
She thinks about it, but not for long. "Okay, why not."
The husband sits in the corner on the other side of the swing doors. There's an old pool table in the middle of the floor. One of the legs is missing, the sagging corner propped up with a makeshift pile of bricks. The husband sits in the dark and watches the table, expecting it to collapse under its own weight at any moment. He can't remember how long he's been sitting there, but he's heard everything he needs to hear.
Okay, why not.
He listens to their footsteps as they leave, sits there for another few minutes, and gets up. He walks through the swing doors and into the bar. He sees the guy's drink on the counter. He picks it up and swirls it around and knocks it back in one. He'd hoped it wouldn't come to this, but knows deep down it wasn't going to end any other way.
He grabs a bottle from behind the bar and makes his way upstairs.
It's a single room with a double bed. Not much else, just a small desk, a plastic chair, a cheap TV. A kettle, some tea bags but no cups.
Jen's at the window, looking up at the dirty grey sky. It's not too late, Michael thinks. She can still leave.
He watches her slip out of her dress, wriggling her hips, bending over. Too late now. She kicks her heels off and comes to him. Michael reaches out and caresses her shoulder. Her skin's soft and cold and white. He starts to take his jacket off, slowly. Stops when he hears the knock on the door.
He turns away from her. Doesn't look at her.
"I'm sorry," he says.
Michael said he'd wait downstairs. He'd have a drink, collect the rest of his money when the husband is done. Payment for a job well done, or something like that.
He pours himself some Scotch, some of the good stuff from the top shelf. He wonders why it doesn't feel right. Maybe because he can still smell her, can feel her cold skin on his fingers. Maybe because she's upstairs and he could still do something about it.
But he does nothing. Just pours another drink and raises his glass.
"To me," he says, emptying it in one go, feeling the burn in the back of his throat.
He leaves through the back, and walks away as fast as he can.
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