Victor was a heavily set young man in his early 30s. His tousled blonde hair was longer than suited him, as the current fashion dictated, and fell into his frowning face to be wiped away by a grumpy hand every couple of minutes. His clothing was too tight for a man whose tailor should be covering not revealing his love of an extra helping. Victor had married well, that is to say to a woman of wealth who adored him. This appeared to only add to his discomfort.
“My boss is keen to destroy my life, Flashy” Victor intoned. He leant in too close and treated me as a confidant, liberally and unconsciously copying John’s impertinence. I smiled and bought him a fine single malt in the hope that the burning liquid might inspire a moment’s pause in his revelation.
“He wants me to work for every meagre penny. I can’t bear it. Work life balance is meaningless to him…” He filled his tumbler to the brim with ice and drained the malt in a single draught. The coolness of the ice appeared to salve his throat and he carried on with a story the details of which escape me.
“I have a small stake in a going concern in the city…” I told him. “Why not change course. I am sure that I could find you something entertaining to do that would give you more time for contemplation.” HIs pupils narrowed, giving away his underlying purpose. In a moment of revelation I realised Victor was here to protect John from me. This meant John knew ours was not a chance encounter, that he had come prepared and had brought back up. I carried on as if nothing had changed, telling Victor that a man of his talents would be a boon to an ambitious company such as the one my partners and I had established. Victor leered and preened at the attention. He promised to think about my offer. I could think of nothing but how to persuade him to leave so, in desperation suggested supper. Food was the last thing on my mind.
By this time we were back in the bar of the Club and John had attracted a swathe of admirers keen to bask in the light of the latest new kid on the block. “Where can we eat that isn’t here?” I said in a voice too loud to be misunderstood. A young ‘restaurateur’ (the new title for those who employ the feckless to heat up ‘street food’ in a microwave and sell it to the bored) told us there was a new Chinese place that had a select upstairs private room for the cognoscenti. John, having not failed to notice that private rooms appeared to organise themselves when we drank together raised an eyebrow. Victor demanded wonton so we trudged towards the appointed outskirt of Leicester Square.
The key to private rooms is to sweep past the waiters on the ground floor as if one is expected upstairs and is already fashionably late.
“Have you booked” a confused woman mumbled.
“This table will be fine,” I said, “Is your wonton as good as I have heard?”
She smiled nervously and proffered menus. I waved them away. “Bring us your favourite and enough for three.”
Victor and John sat at one side of the table. I sat at the other and ordered beer and plum wine.
“Have you heard ‘The Hearing’ has had great reviews?” John said. His throw away casual tone let me know he wanted me to accompany him to what was the most talked about show in London.
“As it happens I have been offered tickets for tomorrow’s matinée. Would you care to join me?”
“Poor Victor is working tomorrow,” John beamed, “You can pick me up at 11. It will pass the time.
Victor looked daggers and, in an instant smiled weakly, “My boss you see. How good of you to look after John. Perhaps we can meet up afterwards.”
Perhaps hell might freeze over from the chilly overflight of all those pigs, I thought. I had an afternoon to find out what John knew. Nowhere better than a play to study the reactions of a Londoner on the make.
John and Victor insisted on walking me back to the club. En route John froze. “That Big Issue salesman there has it in for me,” he said with real fear in his eyes. “Perhaps we should take another route.”
“Nonsense,” I said, dropping his arm and striding across the road leaving John and Victor open-mouthed. I palmed a tenner and approached the miscreant.
“Any chance of a bit of a hand to help me get a room for the night,” he said in a thick Scouse accent. “Does SIS not pay you annoy passers-by?” I whispered, pushing the tenner into his hand. A look of terror crossed his face and then he whispered back, “I didn’t recognise you Flashy, you have aged terribly.” “Swear at me and walk away now or you will recognise me,” I hissed. The tenner convinced him his luck was in and he swore and walked.
I returned to my two startled companions.
“What on earth did you say to him?” Asked Victor.
“That the manager of Pret had forgotten to lock the bin and it was full of pastrami” John giggled and grabbed my arm. “A last drink Flash? Then Victor and I must fly”. ‘You could undoubtedly find a way to fly, my sprite’, I thought, ‘but there is no way Victor is getting off the ground’.
“Don’t mind if I do…”